April 4, 2019
28 adar II
Dear Friends,
              I write this as I return home from the annual CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) rabbinic convention that was held in Cincinnati, Ohio.
              Part of the package of rabbinic benefits that is included in most congregations’ contract with their rabbi generally includes funds to cover opportunities for professional development. The congregational leaders who help develop the rabbi’s contract recognize the importance of this on-going learning, and know that the congregation will ultimately reap the benefits of this expense. I am grateful and proud that Kol HaNeshamah is among those congregations that recognize this.
              This convention was a rich and meaningful one. Below are a few highlights:
  • 50 Years of Women in the Rabbinate: On Tuesday morning, a group of rabbinic “actors” presented a series of monologues written by female colleagues. The monologues were short vignettes that reflected some of our varied experiences as women rabbis. Some stories demonstrated the sometimes subtle but more often not-so-subtle examples of sexism or gender discrimination we’ve encountered during our careers. Some reflected our struggles with power or the lack of it in our various positions. Some told of the painful, poignant, and complex choices and realities we’ve faced concerning having children, not having children, and/or balancing our demanding careers with our responsibilities not only to our congregational families, but also to our own families and ourselves.   Some stories were funny, some were upsetting, and almost all were very moving. I was both tickled and honored that two stories from my own journey as a woman rabbi were included. Tomorrow evening, Friday, April 5th, I will share one of them.
  • The Imperative of Criminal Justice Reform: On Tuesday night, we were privileged to hear from Bryan Stevenson, who spoke passionately and stirringly about the imperative to reform the criminal justice system. Working tirelessly to exonerate those on death row, Mr. Stevenson reminded us that the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world; today, 2.3 million people are in prisons in the United States. He showed how the US criminal justice system is an extension of a culture and infrastructure of racism that has for generations allowed and perpetuated violence and discrimination against people of color, particularly those who were brought to this country as slaves. Their descendants continue to be oppressed through both overt and covert racism. You might assume that those of us in the audience would have been depressed and disheartened by his remarks; on the contrary, Mr. Stevenson’s words were inspiring and served as a catalyst for action. One of the solutions to this seemingly intractable problem, he suggested, is to get “proximate” or close to the poor and oppressed. Drawing on his own experience working for those caught in or by the prison system, he said it is only when we get proximate that we can understand the true nature of their suffering; it is when we are proximate that we can we wrap our arms around those who are suffering and affirm their humanity and their dignity. He reminded us that people of faith have an important role to play in helping to create the kind of world that we want to live in; this includes not only those of us who are faith leaders, but all of us whose traditions teach us about the inherent dignity of every human being.
  • Pursuing Justice: Using Law to Confront Anti-Semitism  On Tuesday evening we heard from Roberta Kaplan and Amy Spitalnick, who are suing the white nationalists involved in the rally held last year in Charlottesville, North Carolina. Roberta (Robbie) Kaplan represented Edith Windsor in the landmark case of United States v. Windsor, in which the Supreme Court held that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, leading to marriage equality two years later. Amy Spitalnick is the Executive Director of Integrity First for America, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to holding accountable those who threaten longstanding principles of our democracy. They spoke about the rise of anti-Semitism here in the United States and abroad. Their presentation was frightening and sobering. It is not that I did not know about this reality; rather, I wasn’t ready to fully acknowledge it. For some time (since the shooting last October at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh) I have been thinking about how we as a congregation might address and respond to the rise in anti-Semitism; now, I know that we must not delay in doing so. You will be hearing more from me about this in the near future.
  • Reform Pay Equity Initiative: And finally, on Wednesday afternoon I attended a workshop on Pay Equity led by the Executive Directors of the Women’s Rabbinic Network and Women of Reform Judaism, along with a labor attorney who works with many Reform rabbis and congregations. They addressed the fact that on average, women in the United States earn less than men in every occupation for which there is data. This applies to women at all levels of employment; the higher the level of education, the greater the income gap. Though we in the Jewish world are faced with many, many other pressing issues of social justice that must be addressed, they suggested that this issue is one that we can solve by ourselves, without needing to pass any legislation. Because of this, they argued, we in the Jewish world must begin to see pay equity as a human rights issue. Using the book The Sacred Exchange: Creating a New Jewish Money Ethic just published by the CCAR, I hope that we at KHN can create our own task force that will look more deeply and carefully at this issue in the near future.
And of course, so much more.
              Friends, my plane will soon land. This afternoon I have a rehearsal for an upcoming bar mitzvah service, and tonight a class for the few adults currently studying to become b’not mitzvah.   There will undoubtedly be many emails to return and tasks to do in order to get ready for Shabbat. As often is the case, I know I will hit the ground running. I hope and pray that we will find and make time for these important topics.
              Before then, let me thank you again for supporting your rabbi to have this time for professional development and time with colleagues. It is so important–not only for my own intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth and well-being, but also, for my ability to serve you and our community better.
              I do hope you’ll join us this Friday evening, as I share a few stories and reflections about the experience of being a woman rabbi.
Until then,
              Rabbi Zari