The Test of Our Generation

20 Sep

I am conducting High Holiday services online for B’nai Zion Congregation in Chattanooga, TN, from my studio pulpit in Boynton Beach, FL. Here is my message for the second day of Rosh HaShanah. Wishing a peaceful, sweet and healthy year to all.

 

Synagogue During COVID and Beyond

19 Sep

I am conducting High Holiday services online for B’nai Zion Congregation in Chattanooga, TN, from my studio pulpit in Boynton Beach, FL. Here is my message for the first day of Rosh HaShanah. Wishing a peaceful, sweet and healthy year to all.

 

 

Message for Rosh HaShanah Evening

18 Sep

I am conducting High Holiday services online for B’nai Zion Congregation in Chattanooga, TN, from my studio pulpit in Boynton Beach, FL. Here is my message for the first night of Rosh HaShanah. Wishing a peaceful, sweet and healthy year to all.

 

 

The Rabbi in the Streets: Rabbi Susan Talve reflects on Black Lives Matter and her career in Jewish social justice

14 Aug

 

Rabbi Susan Talve

Rabbi Susan Talve is the founding rabbi of Central Reform Congregation, the only Jewish Congregation located within the city limits of St. Louis. On My Teacher Podcast, she reflects on her rabbinic career, her fights for social justice and her teachers who guided her through this work. Listen to our conversation, and subscribe to My Teacher Podcast on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Google or iHeartRadio. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Ed Bernstein

 

Despair is not a strategy: Ruth Messinger reflects on her career

2 Aug

 

Ruth Messinger, Global Ambassador and Past President of American Jewish World Service and former Manhattan Borough President.

I’m pleased to present this episode of My Teacher podcast in which I interview Ruth Messinger on her remarkable career in New York City politics and social justice advocacy leadingAmerican Jewish World Service. She discusses the influence of many teachers in her life, with special emphasis on her mother, Marjorie Wyler, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Marjorie Wyler had her own distinguished career at the Jewish Theological Seminary where she produced the acclaimed program The Eternal Light program on radio and television.

Loving Both Jews and Judaism: The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Louis Jacobs

10 Jul

Rabbi Louis Jacobs, 1920-2006

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, Park Avenue Synagogue

 

 

Rabbi Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was one of the most significant leaders of British Jewry in the 20th century. July 17 marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. To mark this occasion, I had a conversation with Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, spiritual leader of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Rabbi Jacobs. My Teacher Podcast is available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Google and iHeart Radio.

 

Walking along “Jew Street” with the late Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf

19 Jun

 

Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, 1924-2008

The newest edition of the My Teacher Podcast is now online: “Walking along ‘Jew Street’ with the late Rabbi AJ Wolf.” In the podcast, I interview his son Jonathan Wolf who reminisces about the life and legacy of his father. Rabbi Wolf, of blessed memory, was a leading Reform rabbi, theologian and civil rights activist. He studied with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and mentored his young neighbor Barack Obama when he was venturing into politics. When Rabbi Wolf returned to Chicago in 1980 to begin his tenure as Rabbi of KAM Isaiah Israel, my mother Roberta was his secretary. As a youngster, I enjoyed talking baseball with him when I visited my mother at the office. His bar mitzvah gift to me was tickets to a Chicago White Sox game. In recent years, I have felt drawn to his wisdom and prophetic voice.  I hope you enjoy this special Father’s Day edition of the My Teacher Podcast.

Subscribe to the My Teacher Podcast

10 May

 

My Teacher Podcast pilot season drops on May 24.

I’m pleased to announce the launch of the My Teacher Podcast: A Celebration of the People Who Shape Our Lives.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “What we need more than anything else is not textbooks but textpeople. It is the personality of the teacher which is the text that the pupils read; the text that they will never forget.” The “My Teacher” Podcast is a quest for “textpeople.” The podcast will be a forum for leaders in different sectors to reflect on the teachers who shaped and influenced them—who, in the words of Fred Rogers, “loved them into being.” In a challenging time that requires leadership, who do leaders in our community turn to for inspiration and guidance? Tune in to the My Teacher Podcast to find out.

Download the trailer now and subscribe today. Pilot season drops on iTunes, Spotify and other distribution channels on May 24.

The phenomenon of praying online

14 Apr

With COVID-19, communal life has migrated online. This includes synagogue services. Recently, I started writing about my experiences virtual “shul-hopping” and attending online services with congregations across North America. Here are my articles published so far in The Times of Israel:

 

A Shul Online Service Critic Is Born

The Blessing of Zoom: Dukhening in an Online Service

Three short essays by Matt Eisenfeld, z”l, come to light

3 Feb

Matt Eisenfeld studying in yeshiva, 1993-94.

Matt Eisenfeld’s 3 papers, First Year Rabbinical Seminar, Rabbi Joseph Brodie 1994-5

This post is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Eisenfeld, z”l, whose 49th birthday would have been on February 5, and Sara Duker, z”l.

My teacher Rabbi Joe Brodie called me out of the blue last month. The now retired Vice-President for Student Affairs at the Jewish Theological Seminary noted that he was going through old papers and came across three short essays written by Matt Eisenfeld, z”l, 25 years ago in the academic year of 1994-95.

Rabbi Brodie was Matt’s teacher that year in the JTS Rabbinical School First Year Professional Seminar. Students are encouraged in seminar to reflect upon their personal theology and visions for the rabbinate. Each year has a particular curriculum and the instructors guide students to articulate responses to issues in contemporary Jewish life as expressions of their developing philosophical thinking, pastoral skills and communal leadership.

Rabbi Brodie was aware that I collected many writings of Matt and his girlfriend Sara Duker, z”l, after their murder on the Jerusalem #18 bus on February 25, 1996.  I initially assembled the writings in a memorial album that was displayed in the Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker Beit Midrash. On the occasion of their 20th yahrzeit in 2016, I was blessed, with the help and support of the Eisenfeld and Duker families, to be able to publish the contents of the memorial album as the book Love Finer Than Wine: The Writings of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker. Now, thanks to Rabbi Brodie, some additional material has been recovered, and I’m pleased to be able to share it more widely.

In Love Finer Than Wine, several essays written by Matt in the early 1990s reflect a certain spiritual struggle and turmoil as he sought to find his home in the Jewish world. He was shaped in significant ways by all three major streams of American Judaism, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. A true pluralist, he found good in all of them, while at the same time he critiqued them all as well.

In the academic year of 1993-94, Matt and I both spent the year studying in Israel at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat, an Orthodox institution led by charismatic Rabbis Shlomo Riskin and Chaim Brovender. Other JTS students over the years had studied at Hamivtar as a means of deepening exposure to classical rabbinic texts prior to continuing studies at JTS. Nevertheless, there was often subtle, occasionally overt, pressure from the rabbis and students in the yeshiva community to obtain Orthodox smihah (ordination), rather than Conservative. Matt and I each struggled and questioned our future plans. We ultimately resisted the appeals of the yeshiva community and entered JTS Rabbinical School as we each planned in Fall, 1994. Nevertheless, Matt still had questions as he entered JTS, and he did not rule out transferring to an Orthodox institution.

As I note in the introduction to Love Finer Than Wine, I believe that during our second year of Rabbinical School in Jerusalem, 1995-96, Matt made peace with Conservative Judaism and would have returned to JTS in New York the following fall. By the time of their death, Matt and Sara had a very strong loving relationship that likely would have resulted in marriage. Sara was a Torah scholar in her own right even as she pursued a career in environmental science.  She was active in the Jewish community and was passionate about active and equal participation of women in Jewish public ritual and leadership. Based on the state of their relationship and the trajectory of their shared spiritual journey in 1996, it is unlikely that Matt would have transferred to an Orthodox institution the following year.

Back in 1994-95, Matt’s spiritual search was more in flux. In the first of the three essays found by Rabbi Brodie, dated 1/31/95, Matt reacts to an essay by Rabbi Daniel Gordis, “Positive-Historical Judaism Exhausted: Reflections On a Movement’s Future, published in Conservative Judaism, Fall 1994.

In the second essay in this group (undated), Matt wrestles with the issue of egalitarianism in the Conservative Movement. Even though by this point women’s ordination at JTS was already a reality for a decade, there was still a degree of unsettled agitation in the Conservative Movement. While the majority of Conservative congregations counted women in a minyan, there were still many congregations in the early 1990s , particularly in Metro-New York and Eastern Canada, that did not. Even JTS continued to maintain a traditionalist daily minyan in which men and women sat separately and only men led services and counted in the minyan. Matt, as he expresses here, does not reject the theory of egalitarian ritual practice, but questions the Conservative Movement as a whole in its commitment to halakhah (Jewish law) and whether recent changes in the Movement at that time had adequately adhered to halakhah.

The third essay (also undated) is Matt’s response to a hypothetical situation proposed by Rabbi Brodie in which the president of a Conservative congregation resigns his position and membership in response to the rabbi of the congregation not officiating at a bat mitzvah because the student, whose mother is not Jewish, never underwent a formal conversion to Judaism and is therefore not Jewish herself according to halakhah. Rabbi Brodie asked his students to react to the psycho-spiritual dynamics of this situation. Here, we have Matt’s response from 25 years ago.

May the memory of Matt and Sara be for a blessing.

Matt Eisenfeld’s 3 papers, First Year Rabbinical Seminar, Rabbi Joseph Brodie 1994-5