Friday, June 29, 2012

Moving on'

This is a new beginning.  We've almost completely moved into our new house.  The kids are adjusting to their preschool.  And all my books are already in my office at temple.

At the same time, I recognize that this is also an ending.  We're leaving behind friends who have become family.  Familiar places.  Favorite restaurants.  A school that has become a community, and a preschool that enhanced our ability to parent our children.

All endings are also beginnings, and vice versa.

Therefore, it's time to move on.  This blog site was appropriate for our five years in the midwest.   But now we're returning home.

Please check our new blog, Lovings in Sacramento, for this next chapter of our lives.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My people

The food court in Costco had more compost bins than trash cans!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Transition pictures

I need a break from unpacking, so here are the last of the pics.

 A sample of the grandeur of Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati.

 Me at the ark, being ordained by Rabbi Ellenson.

Happy happy me!

A few days later, eating lunch.

 Playing at Nancy's before we left for Long Beach.

Again at Nancy's.  I was so relieved, it was all over!

And now to Long Beach: all three cats chowing down in my mother's kitchen.

Me asleep.  Ari... not.  His lip looks odd because he fell and bruised it the day before the Temple Israel service.  It's all better now.

 Now this one I love.  You should all know that Xander loves being tucked in at night.  Simcha was asleep on the couch, so of course, Xander put the blanket on him.  Little naked Ari toddled up and pet him, and we snapped the picture right as he walked away.  But Simcha never moved throughout the whole affair.  He was out so hard that his mouth fell open - you can see his teeth!

Eating TWO kinds of melon, yum!

Simcha on the neighbor's roof, meowing in fear.

About to take a walk, but very concerned for the kitty.

And now we're in Sacramento.  But there are no pictures yet, because every spare moment we have is dedicated to taking items out of boxes.  We visited the kids' school, I went down to the temple today to meet with my predecessor, and through it all, we've been dealing with a very sad three year-old.

"I don't like California."
"Why not?"
"Because it's new.  I don't like new things.  I don't like new houses.  I like old things."

He's very articulate, at least.  And I know it will get better.  I can't wait to see his face, for example, when I finish organizing the play room. :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Moving weekend

I don’t think I’ve spoken about my mother’s house yet.  It all started with water pouring from her bathroom ceiling vent.  We got it checked out, and it turns out, not so much just the vent that’s sodden.  The entire bathroom ceiling and walls and ¾ of my mother’s bedroom ceiling and walls are completely soaked.  And today, we found out that the drywall that’s soaked apparently contains asbestos.  So the back half of the house has been unusable, and will be literally ripped out next week.  Thank goodness for house insurance.  She’ll have to move out for a week and everything.

Oh yes, did I mention that this all happened Friday afternoon, as we were getting ready for services?  It was a hard mental turn-around, but we did it. 

The service at Temple Israel (really the JCC, since the temple itself is being renovated) honoring Miriam and myself was wonderful.  It was at the JCC.  The pre-oneg before had so many hors d’ouvres, it was like dinner.  My nametag said “Rabbi Loving,” which was very surreal. J

As for the service itself, there must have been 150 people there, it was standing room only at the sanctuary (they brought in extra chairs, and it still wasn’t enough).  People were there from all corners of my life: Carol, my own preschool religious school teacher; Ben and Danielle, two kids who I taught in 6th grade before I left for rabbinical school; parents of a girl I grew up with but hadn’t seen in 15 years; adult students of my mother’s who I’d only met once or twice before; my 1st grade teacher in secular school; family friends, and more.  Miriam and I have known each other since early childhood, grew up together, and so many of her people were there too, we truly felt surrounded in the bosom of family.  During the regular sermon time, both of us spoke for a few minutes (I remember saying “if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes you as a temple to raise a rabbi")  and by the end, everyone was crying.  After the service I went out with her and her fiancĂ© to Main Street in Seal Beach, and we schmoozed about upcoming jobs, relationships, parents, and life.  It was very celebratory! 


Saturday was the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific with Gwen and Sylvan.  What a fun place for kids!  They had tanks with fish of every size and color, and huge maps of California and educational videos on the ecosystem.  We watched a sea lion show, pet some starfish and stingrays, watched the seals being fed, saw the penguins, and overall, had a great time.  Following that was lunch with Eric and Jean, and then the all-important nap time.

Sunday, Father’s Day, was even better.  We went to El Torito for their breakfast buffet… mmmm I’ve missed horchata!  And good fajitas.  And pico de gallo.  And tamales.   And avocado as an automatic side to everything.  And of course, good flan.  (No offense to Don Pablo's in Cinci, but it just didn't compare.)  Jonathan left to drive to Sacramento, mom took the kids, and then…

Gwen and I went SHOPPING!!!   Clothes shopping, for a professional wardrobe.  It was incredible, I’ve never been on a spree like that.  I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, with her in the back, two sales clerks bringing in clothes, and a seamstress (literally) hemming at my feet.  Talk about surreal.  I can’t thank her and Sylvan enough.

Then, of course, it was back to kids.  And packing.  The movers arrived at the Sacramento house  with our furniture on Monday, I flew up with the kids, and here we are!  (Note though: I do NOT recommend flying with two cats and two kids alone, especially when the littlest one was hit by a vomiting bug. Not fun).  

The house is amazing.  But filled with boxes.  There are a ton of pictures from the past week, to be posted shortly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Looking forward and back during transition

Jonathan compiled these lists of what he'll miss in OH and what he's looking forward to in CA.  My additions at the bottom have asteriks.

- Graeter's ice cream
- Donato's pizza
- fireflies
- thunderstorms
- snow
- icicles
- no lines in public places
- leaves turning color
- forests everywhere
- cicadas
- not having to water my grass
- Skyline chili (yeah, that's right!)
- JCC and Early Childhood Center (and their awesome indoor pool)
- Dewey's pizza
- great parking
- King Arthur's Toys
- Great Wolf Lodge
- kid play areas everywhere
- my 1901 house
- *Aglamesis ice cream parlor
- *Already having community (the very last night in Cinci, our family and Nancy went to Aglamesis for dessert, and I ran into someone I knew!)
- *HUC and AJA people
- *HUC library resources
- *Rockdale temple Tot Shabbats and subbing religious school
- *home birth community

- gaming community
- extremely open people
- riding my bike in the winter
- CBI community
- hanging with Glenn
- driving to San Francisco
- Jamba Juice
- real diversity
- redwoods
- family
- master bathroom
- Further Confusion conference
- CA transit system
- *Star Trek conventions
- *CA Judaism
- *IN N'Out
- *authentic Mexican food
- *being in the same time zone as southern CA family and friends
- *being able to send the kids out to play in all seasons
- *big Renaissance fairs
- *more accepting of natural medicine/childbirth/chiropractors etc
- *my love for Hollywood and is no longer strange in this part of the country :)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Back in the home state

I just had to switch the time zone on my laptop from Eastern to Pacific.

It's real.

The last few days have been an absolute whirlwind.  Packing.  Cleaning.  Professionals coming in to pack more, Nancy taking the kids.   Jason arriving from Seattle so that Jonathan would have company on the drive.  City inspector coming to sign off on the house as a rental.  Emptying the fridge and freezer.  Movers coming to take furniture and boxes.  Freon leak in the air conditioner.  Jonathan and Jason leaving, Xander crying.  Nicole taking the kids when the movers started getting serious.  Talking to our renters.  Nancy coming to drive us to the airport.  Mom flying in from Long Beach to sit at the gate for three hours, then coming outside so she could go through security and fly back with me, the kids and two cats.  Flying with exhausted but not sleeping children and meowing unhappy cats.  Arriving.  Going to bed at 1am Pacific Time, 4am for us.

Jet lag

Next up: appointments with the chiropractor, optometrist, hair stylist, dentist, and then services at my home temple.  Jonathan is keeping tabs on the Cincinnati house while on the road: Molly Maids, carpet cleaning, handyman to fix our broken AC, etc.

After that: SACRAMENTO!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ordination festivities

 Hooray, we're real rabbis!  Class of 2012/Cincinnati.

Xander ponders the meaning of rabbi-hood.

Ari bemused by Jeffrey.

My dad came all the way from Israel.

 So who do I look more like? :)

The closest-knit: Jonathan, me, Jan, Antonio, Billu, Jeffrey, Robin.  Holly had left to go back to the hotel by the time the pic was taken, otherwise she'd be there too!


After the Friday night ordination service at a local temple, my immediate family plus Holly, Robin and Antonio headed to Outback for dinner, courtesy of Gwen and Sylvan.  Ordination lunch for 34 people was at Brio's Tuscan Grille, courtesy of Savta, my grandmother (who actually called me at the restaurant to say mazel tov!!).  After lunch, the kids went down for nap, and then when they woke up, Holly came over with her two boys.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


- Yesterday I stood in McDonald's and had a three year old literally run in circles around me.

- Xander came in to Jonathan's office with a sour expression on his face.  "This water tastes bad!!" he proclaimed, holding up a large bottle of water.  We looked closer: it's a bottle labeled Dead Sea water.  

Pictures from ordination festivities are still being sorted. There are over 300.

And Mr. Rogers remixed:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

For those who missed it...

Rabbi Rick Jacobs' Address at HUC-JIR/ Cincinnati Ordination 2012/5772

“Dvar Zeh Talui Bi -- This Thing Depends on Me”
Parashat Naso
Ordination Address
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President, Union for Reform Judaism
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion / Cincinnati 
June 2, 2012—12 Sivan 5772

Class of 5772, we’ve been waiting for you to reach this day.   No pressure, but we desperately need your idealism, your creativity, your dedication and your stamina.  We’ve been counting the days, and now, here you are, poised to take your rightful place at the helm of a Jewish community that stands at a crossroads.  The Jewish world that you are about to lead is awash in change and challenge. 

Naso et Rosh—“Count the leaders,” say the opening words of this week’s parasha.  The usual translation is “Take a census,” but literally it means “lift their heads.”  Naso et Rosh--So let’s count the leaders this morning: we have thirteen soon-to-be-ordained rabbis before us.  Our sacred task this morning is not just to count you but also to lift up your heads.  

The opposite of having one’s head held high is to be bent down.   New Colleagues, hold your heads high as you boldly set out to lead the Jewish people.  Our people thirst for the Torah that you know and teach.   The Judaism that you love and live is inclusive and imaginative, passionate and probing, serious and spiritual.  Proudly preach and pass your Torah to the many students who need you, even if they don’t yet know your names.  They will.  That I know.

Naso et Rosh—Lift up your heads to see the wider landscape of Jewish life.  See the challenges and opportunities that await you at every turn.  Ties that once bound Jews to our traditions and to each other are fraying.  The number of interfaith couples continues to rise, with many still not finding any open doors in Jewish life. While 80% of American Jews affiliate with a synagogue at some point during their lives, no more than half are members of synagogues at any one time.  Unless we change our approach, there is little chance that many Jews in their twenties and thirties will even enter the revolving door of synagogue affiliation.   Hoping is not a strategy.  Class of 5772, we’re counting on you to reimagine Jewish life.

Don’t be caretakers of the status quo. This moment in Jewish history demands bold thinking and big ideas. It’s time to reinvent the architecture of Jewish life. It’s a time to cast a broad net, to explore options rather than to rule things out, and to recreate a movement of meaning and depth.  Naso et Rosh—Lift up your heads to become the Jewish leaders we need you to be.

Parashat Naso outlines some of the glory of Jewish leadership past, present and future, but it starts with quotidian tasks of sacred service.  The elite Kohanim have the privilege of blessing the people with poetic words of prayer, a sacred task that we rabbis fulfill at so many holy life passages.  But the opening words of Naso remind us--not so fast.  Yes, there will be high moments of exalted leadership, but as the Kohatites, Gershonites and the Merarites learned, Jewish leadership demands plenty of sweat equity. They disassemble, pack and schlep the sacred furniture of the ancient Tabernacle to each new place on their journey.  Yet all these seemingly mundane tasks are holy work for them and for us.   

The rabbinic mantel we place on your shoulders today represents great kavod but also implicit danger that has always come with the territory.

I'm reminded of a story in the Yerushalmi, the Jerusalem Talmud, about a congregation hiring a new rabbi: 

The townspeople of Simoniah came to Rabbi Judah HaNasi and said: “We would like to hire someone who can interpret Torah for us, judge us, supervise our synagogue affairs, teach us written and oral Torah, and meet all our needs.”

Judah HaNasi gave them his disciple Levi Bar Sisi.

The people of Simoniah made their new rabbi a large bima, sat him upon it and approached him with an arcane question concerning the laws of Chalitzah, but Levi could not answer their question. 

They asked him another question, and again, he did not reply.  They said, “Perhaps he is not an expert in Halacha.  Let us ask him to explain a verse from the Book of Daniel.”

They did so, but, still, he had no answer for them.

They went back to Rabbi Judah HaNasi and said, “Is this the way you satisfy our request?”

He replied, “I swear I have given you someone as good as myself.  Bring him here.”

Rabbi Judah asked him the same three questions, and he immediately gave substantial, appropriate answers.

So Rabbi Judah asked, “Why did you not answer them when they asked?”  His disciple replied, “They made me this huge bima and sat me upon it, and I became so enthralled by my own self-importance, that I forgot what I knew.”

Class of 5772, while you are students in this great academy you may clearly see the weakness and pitfalls of Jewish life, but then you enter placement and land your first position.  As you settle into your study, with your computer, your phone lines, your stationery, people saying, “rabbi this,” “rabbi that,” you stand on your bima hearing your voice resound through well-heeled holiday throngs.  Every one of us could become a Levi Bar Sisi--we can all forget what we know. It’s easy to get caught up in the trappings of rabbinic life. 

Some of you will lead from a large bima, others from smaller ones, while still others will lead our people without pulpits at all.   But no matter what form your sacred service takes, you will all be pioneers in the new frontier of Jewish life. 

Ashraynoo, how greatly we are blessed today to honor our beloved colleague and pioneer par excellence, Rabbi Sally Priesand.  Sally broke through the barrier forging a path that so many have followed.  And just this week, Rabbi Miri Gold broke through another barrier, which has kept non-orthodox Israeli rabbis on the periphery.  She will be the first non-orthodox rabbi to be paid a salary by the Israeli government.  Halleluyah!  May the Holy One give strength to all of our rabbis who, like Sally and Miri, boldly leap onto ever-new paths of blessing, holiness and equality.  

In this new Jewish world, we are called to engage unaffiliated Jews outside the walls of the organized Jewish community.  But not only that; too many of those we count as affiliated remain uninspired to live Jewish lives of depth and purpose.  

We in North America need to learn new rabbinic skills from our Israeli colleagues. Galit Cohen Kedem and her Israeli rabbinic colleagues are true pioneers.  As a rabbinic student, Galit is growing a new Reform congregation in the middle of Holon, an Israeli city of almost 200,000 people just six kilometers south of Tel Aviv.  When she began, there was nothing: no building, no support staff.  And no people.  Each day, she makes new connections bringing individuals into a growing community of spirituality, learning and activism.   Entrepreneurial skills such as Galit’s are essential for this new epoch of Jewish history.  Working to build connections outside the walls isn’t about neglecting the good people who belong to our congregations, but rather it is an opportunity to lower the barriers that keep too many of our people outside our walls.

It’s not just our parasha that describes priestly leaders.  Frequently, we modern rabbis find ourselves in priestly roles.  But those roles are shifting from the priestly rabbi, who vicariously observes and studies Judaism, to the rabbi who enables or empowers others.

During his farewell address to the CCAR, the late Rabbi Joe Glaser, gave a powerful sermon about the state of the rabbinate.  In his talk he said:  "We hear it said more and more that the rabbi should be a facilitator.  For someone to say this is hubris and flies in the face not only of the Jewish tradition but of effectual institutional life.  For a rabbi to say this is abdication of responsibility."

Joe worried that the new, less hierarchical style of leadership would diminish the unique and central role of the rabbi.  Joe was right to warn us that we must not abdicate our rabbinic mantle in favor of being mere facilitators, but I think it is wrong to assume that by being less priestly, rabbis will lose their rabbinic power or authority.  Empowering others can actually demand more of a rabbi’s strength and backbone than the priestly mode.

Sometimes we are required to practice a kind of tough love as a way to force people not always to turn to us but instead to value their own spiritual resources.

A farmer and his wife pleaded with the Maggid of Mezeritch to intercede on their behalf: 

“We are childless; we want a son."

“Very well,” said the Maggid.  That will be fifty-two rubles [fifty-two being the numerical value of Ben, the Hebrew word for son].

The couple bargained, offered half.  But to no avail.  The Maggid would not budge: 

“You want me to pray for you?  Then you must pay the price.”

Finally the peasant became angry, and turning to his wife, he said:
“Let's go home, we'll manage without him, we'll say our own prayers and God will help us without charge!”

“So be it,” the Maggid said, as he smiled at his success.

The Maggid's example shows us that we are not the first generation to understand the need for rabbis to empower congregants.  But in our day this task has become more than an issue of leadership style.  Our very survival is at stake.

Marty Linsky of the Kennedy School at Harvard gives us the side of leadership we tend to resist, noting: “Leadership would be a safe undertaking if your organization or community only faced problems for which they already knew the solutions.”

The easy facets of leadership are the technical problems.   Emailing information to temple members solves a technical problem of the high cost of printing and mailing.  But the big challenges facing synagogues are adaptive challenges, like how to reverse the trend that sees participation in Jewish life as fee-for-service instead of lifelong commitment.

Here’s another adaptive challenge.  Robert Putnam, one of our country’s preeminent social scientists, writes about a phenomenon called NONES, not the nuns who wear black and white habits.  NONES are people with no religious affiliation.  Back in 1958, only 3% of Americans were NONES.   But by 2008 17% of Americans defined themselves as unconnected to any faith or religious community.  Among young people in their 20s and 30s, that number was between 30 and 40%.  This is a huge adaptive challenge to religion in the 21st century.  When Putnam met with our Reform Jewish Think Tank in Boston this past March, he challenged us to stop thinking about this as a transitory phenomenon.  

It is hard to imagine our religious future with this group continuing to grow so dramatically.  Some in the Jewish world want to write off the NONES and focus on those who are already deeply committed to Jewish life.  To my thinking, this is not a responsible option.  We cannot walk away from millions of people who are simply uninspired.  Inspiring them is at the core of our job descriptions. 

There are so many wise teachers who can keep us on track, including Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter who was known as the Sefat Emet, the one who spoke the truth.   His name is derived from a Proverbs text: “Sefat Emet teekon la’ad” “Lips of truth will stand forever.” (Proverbs 12:19)

Indeed, the key to the rabbinate is to tell the truth, which is not always easy.  It’s easy to tell ourselves comforting myths about how effective our synagogues are but as descendants of the prophets we must speak the truth.  

At our recent Biennial in Washington, DC, Jonathan Stein, the rabbi of Temple Shaaray Tefila in Manhattan and the president of the CCAR, demonstrated rabbinic courage in speaking painful truths about his rabbinate. He said that two years ago, he officiated at the B’nai Mitzvah of 70 young people in his congregation.  This year, he has seven students in his Confirmation class.  What a courageous act to stand in front of our Movement and admit the painful truth that in most of our congregations we are failing miserably!  By the time they reach twelfth grade, 80% of our Reform B’nai mitzvah have dropped out of Jewish life.  Class of 5772, you must help reverse this painful statistic.  The first step is to speak the truth.

A few months ago, Synagogue 3000 published a study that included a remarkably encouraging finding:  79% of Reform leaders said their congregations are “willing to change to meet new challenges.”  Colleagues, these lay leaders are ready to be your partners in shaping a more engaging Jewish future.  We can do better, but not by doing the same things the same way while hoping for a better result.

The Sefat Emet also taught that his life was possible because he stayed connected to the “root and source from which the life force ever flows.”   It sounds simple, but in the frenetic world of busy rabbis, it is easy to lose that connection to God, the ground of all that is.   Dear Colleagues, movers and shakers of tomorrow, stay connected, not just to the endless waves of information that flow forth from our digital universe, but more importantly, to the deeper sources of truth and holiness.  You need that sustenance.  And, even if they don’t know it, your congregants and followers need you to continually drink from those precious waters.

Our parasha begins with Naso et Rosh and concludes with Yisa Adonai Panav Elecha—first we are taught to lift the heads of the leaders and if we succeed they will help lift God’s countenance upon all those who will seek blessing on their life journeys.

By lifting our countenance to the world of possibility before us, we will sometimes experience God’s countenance shining upon us.

Our teacher, Rabbi Jerry Davidson wrote, “A rabbi’s world is a vision that others often cannot see.  Rabbis find themselves bringing to their people frequently not what they want, but what the rabbi feels they need. Not seeking to make them comfortable and content, but rather challenged and disturbed.  And often the rabbi is alone.”  Colleagues, the balance between leading and listening, agitating and comforting is art--not science.  

Dig deep into the well of our tradition and into your own soul to find your rabbinic compass.  When you feel the need to go the opposite way from the crowd, stand your ground--even as you remember that your view is never infallible, but it remains authentically yours. 

To the Jewish people’s thirteen newest rabbis, savor this day, linger in the promise of this moment, because soon -- I promise, soon -- you will leave this grand bima and this holy moment of consecration to lead our people forward.   

In conclusion, in tractate Berachot of the Babylonian Talmud there is a teaching for all of us who lead the Jewish people.   God tells Moses, "lech rayd," "go down from the mountain," because the people have lost their way.   God tells Moses to get down from Mt. Sinai, but also from his inflated idea that his position of honor is separate from the fate of the people.  God tells our greatest rabbi that his position of greatness is forever tied to the people.   So when God threatens to destroy the people of Israel, instead of just feeling relieved that he will be spared, Moses realizes: "Davar zeh talui bi," "this thing depends on me." Moses then immediately stands up and challenges God to withhold the threatened punishment.

Moses finally hears God's threat of destruction as a call to action; he understands that something is hanging in the balance, and that the actions of one person deciding to step forward can shape the course of future events. These four words change his world: "Davar zeh talui bi," "this thing depends on me." Moses models for us what it means to take profound responsibility for our lives and for the lives of others.  That’s what rabbis can do. 

To our newest rabbis:  In the coming years, as you and our people face difficult circumstances, remember “Davar zeh talui bi—this thing depends on me.” Don’t worry that everything depends on you, but just as surely do not doubt that your holy work can transform lives. Remember that our position of honor in our communities as rabbis and as leaders is permanently bound to our people.  And yes, for the Jewish people, and for the ideals that anchor our lives, we can challenge anyone, including the Kadosh Baruch Hu, the one who creates and sustains creation.

Our Newest Colleagues, Lech Rayd, go down from this liturgical mountain, for your people calls to you.  As you head down, remember Naso et Rosh—Hold your heads high.  And as you do, Yisa Adonai Panav Elecha, May God lift up God’s countenance upon you and grant you peace.   Amen.