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The Quiet Themes Come to Life

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We’ve just finished the High Holidays. For many of us, this was a time to reflect once again upon the themes of remembrance, renewal and the awesome transcendence of the universe. It was also the time when we encountered, once again, the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, along with the greatest hits, once again, of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy.

That’s a great deal of “again.” Jewish observance is robustly and relentlessly cyclical. The holidays and the Torah portions come round every year at their appointed times. For those of us who live with and think with these holidays and texts, their cyclical rhythm can be a life-giving blessing.

By noticing how the holiday liturgies, customs, and textual refrains “land” for us each year, we see where and who we are now. Our reactions to the holiday refrains serve as trusted signs, and we use these signs to measure where and who we are now, in relation to where and who we were a year ago. The holiday and Torah cycles keep key ideas, texts and experiences on our life radars. Our ritual and reading cycles make sure that none of these refrains stay dormant for too long. I might go for months without contemplating the awesome transcendence of creation but once Rosh Hashanah comes around, I am sure to return to it.

Other foundational Jewish ideas are not so lucky. Without fixed dates on the calendar or fixed columns in the scroll, these ideas remain quiet, as if waiting for us to actively decide to raise them up and engage. This year at RRC, we are revisiting themes that have since the beginning been at the core of Reconstructionist “Torah.” The first is peoplehood. This April, RRC will sponsor a Shabbaton and Conference called Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood. We’re preparing the event with three partners: the Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood, in Evanston, Illinois; Temple University’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History; and McGill University’s Department of Jewish Studies. These gatherings will explore what the idea of peoplehood has meant in the past and what its 21st century function might be. We have lined up a seriously reflective group of thinkers and practitioners, all of them uniquely situated to address ideas around peoplehood, and we look forward to learning with and from them. Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood will be open to the public. [Ed.: This event has passed.]

The second all-too-quiet theme is community. Community has always been a watchword of Reconstructionism and Reconstructionist Judaism, and perhaps, one of our signature features. Still, it has been a long time since we have raised up the idea of community as an object of reflection and communal conversation within RRC. I am eager to explore what our ideas, expectations and hopes for community are now. I am also excited to learn from our students what new forms of community have arisen in their lives, and to think with them about how rabbis can build, sustain and serve vibrant and nourishing 21st century Jewish communities, whatever form they may take.

May 5776 be a year of health, joy, learning and growth for us all.

Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Bible, RRC

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