A Rabbinical Student's Blog

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Kehillot Kedoshot (Posting #5): Day 3

The two main programs Tuesday morning were breakfast and the second Beit Midrash session. There was a special breakfast get-together for all of the rabbinical students in attendance. Although the discussion was largely, though not solely, about remaining in contact with each other, perhaps having some sort of network with each other. However, I was interested in no such thing, so I didn't find it to be so pertinent to me.
The second beit midrash session used the story about the members of the Sanhedrin deposing Rabban Gamliel as the Nasi and then eventually reinstating him, but with certain limits (Berakhot 27b-28a / ברכות כז:-כח.) as a jump-off for discussion about leadership models and social organizing. It was interesting, especially since I have read this story before, but now doing so in a new light.
Anyways, the conference came to an end shortly after that session.
I came away from the conference with finally getting a much better and more complete picture (albeit not as full as possible - but full enough) of social organizing and social justice work through faith-based organizing. I was glad I did so as I now know that I do not have such an affinity for trying to incorporate this work into my future rabbinate. However, there are tools that are aspects of this work that I do hope to utilize - most significantly, one-to-ones, as well as developing relational relationships and the importance of [developing] public relationships.

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Kehillot Kedoshot (Posting #4): Day 2, Evening

After מנחה (afternoon prayer), I was chatting with my two fellow YCT students who had attended the conference and we came to dinner a bit late. On account of needing to depart on time for the evening's program, we had little time to catch up. Although the food was good (and the dessert was amazingly yummy - a great chocolate cake or chocolate mousse cake), I was definitely feeling stuffed afterwards.
We then attended an "action" at a relatively nearby synagogue (an "action" in community organizing parlance is "
usually an event at which the community comes together to hold decision-makers accountable on a particular issue, piece of legislation, etc…" (source)). This action was my first, which was good to see, as we had discussed them plenty over the course of the last semester in our social organizing class. One important thing I learned at this action was the recognition of the politicians attending as well as other assorted VIPs in attendance. The shocking thing to me attending this action was that all along I have heard that actions are where politicians are "put to the fire" - basically, being asked tough questions and to deliver on their promises as well as not being so easy sometimes - but this turned out to be, as another attendee called it, a "lovefest". It was bizarre to me that all of the politicians were so into this idea and committed to it, it was weird. After speaking with other people, I found out that this is, indeed, the exception and not the rule for actions as well as that there had been talks in the weeks leading up to this action that were unlike what came across.
Anyways, all throughout the action I wasn't feeling well and remained in that condition when we returned to the hotel for the evening.

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Kehillot Kedoshot (Posting #3): Day 2, Afternoon

After Training Session II (see previous posting), there was lunch, followed by denominational caucuses. For the Orthodox, that meant, essentially, the Chovevei guys who were attending the conference to talk about the issues about this work and bringing it into Orthodox shuls. It was interesting to discuss, as some of our issues are different and sometimes opposed to the non-Orthodox movements.
Following the denominational caucus, we had our third and final training session. Of four choices, I attended the session entitled "Relational Power: How to Analyze and Engage Power". Except for a little at the beginning and the end, most of it seemed like a review for me (similar to the first training session). I thought the session was going to be more about analyzing power, but it barely touched upon it, even though that was in the title. A more fitting session during the same time-slot would have been "Power Mapping/Matrix: A Powerful and Mighty Tool", but that sounded too technical of a session title to me. Oh well.
After this, we davened מנחה (the afternoon prayer service) in our respective spaces (which, again, for the מחיצה (separate seating) people meant davening (praying) on our own).

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Kehillot Kedoshot (Posting #2): Day 2, Morning

Drew and havrusa JillStarting off our day with davening wasn’t so grand, as the מחיצה (separate seating) service did not achieve a full minyan. Afterwards, I went to the fitness center and used the elliptical, which was a great way to start off my day. Following which, I came into breakfast [a bit late, due to my exercise escapade] into the midst of a guided conversation about this work at a table of rabbis and rabbinical students, which was a helpful conversation to have. Immediately right after the breakfast discussion, we had our first בית מדרש (beit midrash) session, in which we looked at some of the texts regarding Moshe and the burning bush incident as well as some midrashim on this and examined it with questions guiding us to look at the scene through the lens of social organizing.
One term that kept popping up during the speakers who spoke after we had looked at the texts was “covenantal relationship”. I was immediately bothered by it because it was assumed we all knew what this term meant while I had never heard of the term, but moreso after figuring out, to some degree, what they meant by it. Eventually, I came to understand that they meant by this some sort relationship that's built up between people that creates some sort of relational imperative. It bothered me mainly because the paradigmatic covenantal relationship - the Sinaitic covenant - seemed to be unimportant for many of the attendees of the conference. This was somewhat frustrating to me, I think, because my main connection to Judaism comes through this covenant and to see it ignored by many of my correligionists is sad to me.
Following this session, we had our next (second) training session of the conference. For this session, we had two options: go to one on "The Art of One-to-One Conversations" and one on "Cultivating Personal Narrative". As I had heard a lot over the last semester on one-to-ones and knew nothing of the latter, I chose the latter. I made the right choice. I got the most out of this session than any other in the conference. I struggle, myself, with narrating my personal stories and this skill is something that is important for oratorical performances, which is a must for a rabbi. Two very important points that came through in this presentation were to, aside from telling a story (which includes a context, a protagonist, an antagonist (the last two of which provide a tension), a climax, and a resolution), revealing oneself is important and the other is to use a calculated vulnerability. One last point that I caught during this session was interesting about relationships in this social justice work was that they are not relationships of charity, but, rather, relationships of solidarity.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Kehillot Kedoshot: Day 1

Drew at JFJ conferenceThe conference started off with a two-hour welcome and keynote speeches, followed by some little discussion groups, helping us to get to meet people. With these speeches, one question that was on my mind was how does this Jewish justice/social action stuff figure into a synagogue’s schedule/activities/functioning? What does it do to the energies of the shul. I’m still not sure about this. Following this, came dinner. Yeah, Jews and food. However, whenever Jews and food come up, one cannot help but think of kashrus – that is kosher food. I’ve been to previous Jewish conferences and usually there is kosher food served – that is, everybody hYCT students at JFJ conferenceas the same food. Not so here. Although those of us who had requested kosher food received special, separate kosher food, I still felt it was unfortunate. Yes, most of the people here do not adhere to the Jewish dietary laws, so I could understand why the conference organizers didn’t want to get that for everybody if the kosher food cost more than the non-hekhshered food (food that is certified as kosher). If the cost was prohibitive, then I can understand. But if it wasn’t, then I don’t, especially since one of the buzz-terms is unity. If unity is supposed to be so important, then we should break bread together (even the bread put out on tables wasn’t hekhshered, though the bread in our special kosher meals was). This seems to be the exception and not the rule in my experience at Jewish conferences, but it’s certainly interesting, nevertheless. Following dinner (and birkat hamazon (the post-meal blessing)), we davened ma’ariv. Although the Orthodox among us all moved to the YCT represents at JFJ conferenceside (it actually to the eastern side) and davened on our own, it was still weird to see a vast room of people davening ma’ariv around dinner tables. I had never seen davening immediately in a space of eating with the food (people were still eating dessert) and furniture not moved out of the way. I’m not sure I would schedule that sort of set-up. After dinner, I went to the first of our three training sessions. I went to the one I had been selected to attend [according to the assignments sheet]. It was entitled “What is Broad Based Organizing?” It was fine, but it seemed like חזרה (a review) of what I had learned last semester in our social organizing class, but in a brief, pretty compact time block. Also, I was exhausted by this point. Even when it started around eight, it was still eleven o’clock EST for me, plus I hadn’t slept on the plane, nor much the night before (the flight left before nine). Following this, there was a late-night debriefing session amongst the rabbinical students with some of the leadership wherein we discussed some of the things we had encountered. Of interest was a little bit of discussion regarding the training sessions – that some of us were randomly put in to the various sessions and that if we were not finding any given session to go to one where we would find it important. The first afternoon and evening of the program thus concluded.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

JFJ Conference

Hi, I just arrived to California (for my first time) for Jewish Funds for Justice's second gathering of synagogue leadership. I, along with my classmate, Ben Greenberg, and fellow schoolmate, Michael Schultz, are attending on scholarship thanks to JFJ (thanks!).
I plan to blog about my experiences at this conference. Stay tuned.


Friday, February 09, 2007

My Class: YCT Class of '09

My class at YCT ('09) is currently on its way to becoming the sixth class to graduate from YCT (last year's graduation was the third such event). We are currently comprised of twelve students (as of this time), being one of the larger classes within the yeshivah currently.
Some of us (five to be exact), including me, have been with the yeshivah since being in the mechinah program, the first year of that program (whose name has now been changed to Beit Midrash program).

My Class Helps Out For Hesed Week

Drew painting the ceiling and smiling at the camera at the Metro House on 18 December 2006During our last week of school prior to our intersemester break, 18-22 December, my class went to various places - in the Bronx for the first four days - and helped out as part of a special Hesed Week.
On Monday of that week, we went to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty's Metro House in Univ
ersity Heights and painted a couple of kitchens there.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings, we went to the Beth Jacob-Beth Miriam School in Pelham Parkway and sat and helped out with seventh- and eighth-grader boys.
Tuesday and Thursday afternoons found us at a couple of different apartment buildings where, although there used to be a much
greater Jewish population in them, there still is a significant number of Jews. We helped entertain residents there with songs and schmoozing, along with elementary schoolchildren on Tuesday.
On Wednesday afternoon, we were at the Bronx Community's annual Hanukkah celebration, helping to distribute beverages, latkes, and sufganyot (jelly donuts). Those four days of experiencing the Bronx were very interesting to me to see how little is remaining of Jewish life there, whereas only 50-60 years ago, it would have been quite the scene of abundant Jewish life. It was s
ad to hear that there used to be dozens of kosher butchers in the Pelham Parkway area and now there's only one kosher store around. Apparently, aside from the Riverdale section of the Bronx, the Bronx has only several little enclaves of Jewish life, as many Jews have left the Bronx in the last several decades in favor of the suburbs. The Bronx community Hanukkah celebration on Wednesday further helped in giving me a better sense of a picture as to what it used to be.
Lastly, on Friday, we went to a place on the Upper East side of Manhattan to work with some developmentally disabled persons.
The main point of this week was to get us a better [and hands-on] sense to what is out there for our future congregations to be able to do. I think we did get some of that.

To see more pictures and short video clips, click here.

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About This Blog

Why am I starting another blog certainly is a legitimate question, especially since my main blog hasn't experienced a new posting in over a month. Nevertheless, I thought I should start this blog at some point. The main reason I thought to start this blog was in order that people shouldn't think that my main blog is supposed to be representative of how I would like people to think of my future rabbinate - it is my blog (perhaps there is something in there that has led me to a certain blogging paralysis...). Plus, there are things I probably could put up on the YCTChevre blog, but that may find a better venue elsewhere. Thus, this blog has now been created. A special feature of this blog will be my posting various experiences of a rabbinical student.