Panorama Jazz Band – Adon Olam Marching In

Panorama Jazz Band leads a spirited Adon Olam to the tune of “When the saints go marching in” to close maariv at CCAR Convention 2011 in New Orleans, LA.

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Shacharit Visual T’filah clip

P’tach Libi

Rabbis Larry Englander, Katie Bauman, and Noam Katz lead a beautiful and moving service for their colleagues in New Orleans, LA. This clip from the full service features Ptach Libi with music by Rabbi Noam Katz.

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Top 9 New Orleans CCAR Convention Experiences

Not in order of importance…

1. Six separate planned experiences of meeting with and conversing 1-to-1 (or in small groups) over important topics: visioning for the reform movement, creating new path for youth engagement, rabbis as techies, interfaith study of difficult texts with non-Jewish clergy, exploring real community and sharing what we would change about our URJ/CCAR/HUC.

2. I met, spoke with and learned from more colleagues than at any previous convention: younger colleagues (esp about deepening tech in the congregation), veteran colleagues (esp about how to keep it fresh as I begin my second 18 years), Twitter buddies (with whom I have tweeted for a year but never met), others (best practices and reaching out to interfaith couples and families).

3. Jazz. So many varieties, so many settings. I found myself, a serious person often, just sitting and smiling. National Parks Sevice has NO Jazz Park with excellent ranger led/sung presentations about development of jazz. Snug Harbor offered intimate wonderful show, as did Preservation Hall. Maison Bourbon and others kept me toe tapping, late nite staying out, and amazed at rich jazz traditions.

4. The level of tech in the convention was impressive. Light years over last year. Bravo to CCAR technology production manager Dan Medwin and the whole CCAR staff for this leap. Showed some best practices in praxis. Plus the tweeting of the sessions allowed me to virtually attend those I could not physically get to. And catch the coolness (an usefulness) of the CCAR NOLA app!

5.  Rabbis Michael White, Laura Novak Winer, Eric Yoffie and NFTY advisor Kiki Kamenetz inspired me – really moved me – to rethink youth engagement holistically. Can’t wait to talk to youth advisor, rabbinic intern/educator an lay leaders about the inspiration.

6. I felt reached out to, heard, befriended. Of course, being older and more secure may have spurred me to be more open.

7. Continued to revel, by comparison, about my Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA), a healthy, musical, non-dysfunctional, forward thinking, tech-enlightened, partner-filled community, led by talented, non-egocentric leaders. I am so blessed to be part of them.

9. Great music at convention: Jewish jazz/klezmer, Shades (interracial chorale), others. Showed how the arts can bring Jewish experience to new heights.

10. Worship that inspired me, allowing me moments of transcendence and immanence, to converse with the Source of All.

11. A program committee which wove Torah learning, community engagement, and practical rabbinics with small group interactions, fabulous speakers (Beinart and Hirsch, Block), music and few talking heads. I tip my kippah to you.

Bravo also to the whole CCAR staff for listening, supporting, and challenging us all.

More to write and process and think about and meditate upon and ask more about… But that’s for later.

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Thoughts I Had as I was Watching From Afar

As the conference nears its end, I thought I would share a few thoughts as one who has followed from afar…

  1. No matter how socially connected we make our conferences, it is nothing like being there! (Coffee and beignets do not travel over the internet.)
  2. I am so grateful to those who shared #CCAR11 with those of us following on twitter.
  3. The past few days reaffirmed why I follow many of my colleagues, @imabima, @jazzrabbi, @lizwood1982,@rebmark, @moosh2, @rabbikip, @michellepearlma, @frumesarah, @ravheidi and so many others too numerous to mention.  Our community of colleagues is a source of smiles, support, ideas and inspiration.  You made having to miss the last few days a little less frustrating.
  4. I need a new phone with a bigger screen! (Eyes are getting older!).
  5. When Steve Fox gave a shout out to engaging our younger colleagues in CCAR leadership, I took great joy in the cheers that rose among so many of my friends and reminded myself that youth is a mindset as much as a number. (It helped. :) )
  6. So many great addresses.  I hope they are posted on the CCAR website soon so they can be shared by all our colleagues.
  7. Lynne Landsberg and David Saperstien never fail to inspire! It seems like they were two of many who did so this year.
  8. I had to smile at the confluence of forces that put the CCAR in New Orleans simultaneous with the RA in Las Vegas. (No Comment :) )  I had fun following both.
  9. I took great pride in the fact that tweets from the CCAR were so focused on engaging our people in Judaism, especially those of the next generation. (RA tweets seemed a little more inward focused this year).
  10. As socially connected as #CCAR11 has been, the RA had us beat in one area:  Their keynotes and roundtables were streamed over the internet and available on Ustream.  As another colleague recently noted, “The borders have disappeared in the 21st century Digital Age and…we must continue to adapt and make our vision and approach fresh.” Streaming, Live Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, etc. will only connect us more as a conference and not less.  And should you be worried that this will encourage anyone to stay home and “watch from afar”… (and so this doesn’t look like another top ten list.)
  11. No matter how socially connected we make our conferences, it is nothing like being there! (Coffee and beignets do not travel over the internet and neither does the joy of spending time with friends actually, rather than virtually.)

See you in Boston! (@rabbilevy)

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Technology and Halakha

When I was asked to blog the convention, I found it really, really funny. Frankly, I still do. Sure, I Facebook, I blog, but those just feel like digital versions of what I do already. The blog is a bulletin article–a more interactive one to be sure, but similar in nature. Facebook is a 24/7 Oneg conversation: “Rabbi, there’s this article I saw…” “did you know so-and-so is in the hospital?” “Did you hear this joke?”

So the Freehof Institute seminar on Halacha and the Internet was of great interest to me, especially because of the eagerness on the part of rabbis and our congregants to use technology and the questions they raise. Does someone watching a live-stream service count in the minyan? And is it ethical or appropriate to even have a live-streamed service? How does our connectivity effect or ability to observe Shabbat or make sacred time for ourselves? Does that technology enhance or detract from the Shabbat experience.

Sadly, I was only able to hear the first two papers, but they raised great questions and important nuances. For the live-streaming of services, for example, there are compelling reasons to broadcast the worship of a congregation, not the least of which is bikkur cholim: a homebound congregant, the ill grandmother of a bar mitzvah who can’t travel. And, there is precedent in the tradition for the online viewer to be considered yotzei through their participation (though they wouldn’t count as a 10th member of the minyan). However, what questions does it raise about copyright permission with regards to the liturgies and music being used? What about the permission of the worshippers (or lack thereof) to be photographed? And how does the presence of the camera change the service? Does tech support impugn the ability to lead a meaningful service for the congregation? And what happens if the service ends up on YouTube, especially if there’s something on the video embarrassing to one of the participants? All of these questions need to be tackled before just jumping at the chance to broadcast to the world.

The second part of the seminar–on connectivity and Shabbat–requires an equally nuanced view. Does technology add oneg and kedusha? For some, perhaps: the use of Skype to talk to grandma, or the ability for a worshiper to share his inspired feelings from a service on Facebook (at NFTY convention this year the participants were encouraged to tweet services, for example). But what if it’s the inability to put down Angry Birds at the cost of time spent with family. And of course, what about us, for whom Shabbat is already a ‘busman’s holiday’: does our need (real or imagined) to be on and available all the time make technology and even greater temptation to work when we should be enjoying some much-needed menucha?

As the presenters left the questions unanswered so shall I, but it’s worth asking the questions as we move toward ‘teching’ up our Jewish experiences more and more.



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Unquantifiable Value

In Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award-winning musical, Rent, the song “Seasons of Love” asks what parameters ought to be used to measure the life of a person. And in the end, according to the song, one’s life can best be measured by the relationships shared with people.

How, then, does one measure the value of the time spent at a convention? Is it the textual nuances gleaned from learning with scholars? Or davening alongside fellow worshippers who are serious about prayer? Is it how many classmates one sees in the hallways? Or is it the applicable lessons offered by the various session fascilatators?

Or maybe it is a solitary encounter that touches you in a deep, soulful way. A face-to-face experience with another who has walked a similar path.

Yesterday, a colleague sat down at my table. I don’t know her well, though she is someone I have come to admire and respect the past few years. Knowing that I am facing a significant transition in the next few months, she sought me out. And spent the next twenty minutes with me. Not merely listening, but really hearing the bittersweetness intertwined with my words. Selflessly offering her wise counsel and a supportive shoulder.

I expect support from my friends and classmates. But this kind of mentchlicheit is truly a gift from the Kodesh Baruch Hu. This colleague showed me a unexpected kindness that has touched my soul. Like most precious gifts, its value cannot be quantified.

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Jewki Leaks: Top 10 CCAR Convention Fundraising Ideas that Surely will be Suppressed

1. Have conference in city that serves mainly treif food so that no one eats. With extra money and no where to spend it, rabbis will donate more to CCAR Annual Campaign.

2. Use small group discussions in more conventions sessions/plenaries, thus saving money on speakers budgets.

3. [self censored]

4. Auction off the control of the thermostat. How much would you pay to be able to have sole control on determining when to make the room warmer or cooler?

5. Extend convention privileges (though require full payment of tuition) to rabbis who received their ordination over the Internet.

6. Sell CCAR tshirts and sweatshirts. Make sure the designs don’t suck.

7.  During the convention service – our CCAR “high holy day” convention service – pause after president’s sermon for a holy day appeal. We could raise 1000’s of dollars in tzedakah that way. (Note to program committee: make sure convention service doesn’t suck, just saying). (Ed. Note: services in this and past years definitely did NOT suck.)

8. Hire photographers to case out high treif restaurants and, after 10pm, on Bourbon Street. Print picture at One Hour Photoshop. Offer colleagues appearing in pictures the opportunity to keep pictures private in exchange for a significant, tax-deductible donation to the CCAR.

9.  Just saying, next time we hold a convention in New Orleans (or Las Vegas or Atlantic City of old), schedule an MMC dinner opposite the WRN. Think of the entertainment possibilities!  For added income, try a variation on idea #8. (MMC = Men’s Minority Caucus).

10.  Keep planning conventions with the same high level of involvement, musicality, collegiality, intellectual engagement, practical rabbinic innovation, accessibility, technologicality – and the CCAR will assuredly continue to rise up in our collective esteem… thus influencing people to  donate more to CCAR, or put CCAR in their wills, or refer people with means to the CCAR for naming opportunities on our convention programs or conference projects. (Note to Program Committee: there’s a big compliment in there for you somewhere.)

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Sacred Table Toast


Please join us to celebrate the publication and the authors of

The Sacred Table

8:15pm tonight (Tue) in the Grand Ballroom C

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Teen Engagement

I attended the session last night on Teen Engagement, and after processing it with some friends, and a helpful member of that Engagement team, it became clear that at it’s core, this is really about one very simple idea.

Effective teen engagement has to begin not with some smart, well intentioned people sitting in a room, talking about what we can do to get the teens involved. It has to begin with a series of conversations with those teens (and with other stakeholders) in which we ask, “What matters most to you? What most engages you?”

If there’s an innovation here, it’s in the depth of the questioning and, more importantly, of the listening. We all know we’re supposed to start “where they are.” But, finding out where they are takes more than a single, good parlor meeting. It takes a long series of meetings, and some really careful, deliberate listening.

It might  not sound/be that radical, but I think that’s probably irrelevant. If it’s effective, and if we’re not already doing in, then it’s important that we change. Yasher Koach to Jonah Pesner and his team (whose names, with apology, I forget. This was after my class dinner, and it’s safe to say that I wasn’t exactly alert and focussed!) on starting this meta-conversation (about how to have the real conversations), and on the more important conversations with those teens.

By the way – anyone from that team reading this, and want to chime in on whether I got the gist?

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