Parashat B'ha'alotkha Torah Reading: Numbers 8:1-12:16
On the very same week that the Torah reading talks of the role of the 70 elders of Israel as a team of people sharing in the leadership of the Israelites, seven times seventy Conservative and Masorti rabbis from the United States, Israel, Latin America and Europe gathered for our annual Rabbinical Assembly Convention.
We shared an intense five days together during which we mourned our colleagues who passed away during the past year and welcomed our newly ordained colleagues . . . some of whom have held the title for a week!
At our annual Women's Lunch, over one hundred female colleagues learned that we now number about 275 throughout the Rabbinical Assembly, serving in every region all over the world. We stood in turn as our year of ordination was called out in a roll call and shared our professional and personal news. It was a heady and awe-filled experienced, especially for those of us who were part of the struggle to establish the ordination of women in our movement in the United States, Israel and Latin America.
We studied and celebrated together as the American Conservative Movement's new Machzor Lev Hadash was revealed and dedicated. "Lev Hadash" means "A New Heart" and this Machzor has the power to implant a very new heart into our Days of Awe: it is uplifting, sensitive, accessible, wise and visually beautiful. We were told that the RA had planned a first run of 30,000 copies, but that so many congregations had ordered copies at the pre-publication deadline that they had to up the run to 130,000 . . . which sold out immediately. The second printing is in progress.
There were three programs dedicated to three extraordinary people . . . two of whom are close personal friends of mine:
On Monday evening, Rabbi Julie Schoenfeld was installed as the Rabbinical Assembly's Executive Vice-President. Rabbi Schoenfeld will serve as the public voice of the Rabbinical Assembly, as the Rabbi of all of the RA's rabbis (over 2,000 of us!), as a spiritual and political leader of our movement. She is the first woman to hold this position in the 110 years of the Rabbinical Assembly's existence.
On Wednesday evening, I sat in the JTS auditorium as my dearest friend, Rabbi Gilah Dror of Hampton, Virginia was installed as President of the International Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Dror is a quietly courageous, spiritual leader who has broken glass ceilings for women in the rabbinate time and time again over the twenty years of her rabbinate. Rabbi Dror brings intelligence and insight into the dialogue between the Jews of the United States and the Jews of the State of Israel . . . having served congregations in both countries . . . . As is the case with Rabbi Schoenfeld, Rabbi Dror is the first woman to hold the position of RA President. So you can see, this convention was quite a celebration for RA women . . . and men!
On the same evening as Rabbi Dror's installation, my teacher, my rabbi, my friend, Rabbi Neil Gillman, was honored by the RA and The Jewish Theological Seminary on the eve of his retirement as, I believe, our movement's most beloved and inspiring teachers. Generations of rabbis shaped by Rabbi Gillman's intellect and soul gathered to pay tribute to him. It is almost impossible to imagine JTS without him.
And those are just the highlights of my week in New York!
One of the most significant enterprises during convention week is the examination and passage of Rabbinical Assembly resolutions. These are documents of principle and purpose discussed and voted upon by colleagues and disseminated throughout our Movement. I will bring with me a number of our newly-passed RA resolutions for us to examine and discuss together over Shabbat morning kiddush tomorrow morning and in the coming weeks. I hope you will come be part of these engaging and significant conversations.
Parashat Bamidbar Torah Reading: Numbers 1:1-4:20
This past Tuesday, I participated in the second annual conference of the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition: Fighting Poverty with Faith. The Coalition made a commitment two years ago to cut poverty in Rhode Island by 50% in 10 years . . . as the conference opened, Maxine Richman, Co-Chair of the Coalition representing the Jewish Federation's Community Relation's Council, challenged us with the 8 years remaining to achieve our goal.
This is some of the reality facing innumerable Rhode-Islanders today:
In 2008, over 118,000 Rhode Islanders (12% of the population) lived below the federal poverty level ($17,346 for a family of three, $21,834 for a family of four).
According to the Rhode Island Standards of Need developed by the Poverty Institute, it costs $20,280 for a single adult to meet basic needs.
In 2008, almost 35,000 children (15.5% of Rhode Island's children) lived below the federal poverty level.
The maximum monthly benefit under RI Works is $554 for a family of three. The monthly benefit has not increased in 20 years.
Between 2006 and 2008, more than one in ten Rhode Island households were food insecure. Food insecurity is defined as not always having access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
In March 2010, the unemployment rate in Rhode Island was 12.6%, up from 6.6% in March 2008 and 4.9% in March 2007.
Friends, our neighborhood Edgewood Food Closet, as well as the Jewish Senior Agency's Kosher Food Closet, provide sustenance to hundreds of our State's food insecure families. I know we are constantly reminding you to bring donations of non-perishable foods to the collection center in our Torat Yisrael lobby. Please don't let repetition dull your sensitivity to the call. Please fill our bins to overflowing with canned fish and vegetables, meats, soups, cooking oil and nutritious breakfast cereals.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.