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AARON STARR

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Interviewee: AARON STARR

Interviewer: Lawrence Boocker
Interview Date: January 11, 2019
Location: Southfield, MI
Interview No.: 01.11.19-AS (audio digital file)
(Approximate total length 43 minutes)
Transcription: Yousaidit (DS), Fiverr

Themes: Jewish Identity, Doctrine, Observance, Upbringing

Summary: Rabbi Aaaron Starr describe his natural choice of becoming a rabbi. Growing up, he and his family had participated in the founding and organization of the reform/renewal Shir Tikvah synagogue. With his father, he frequently set up the synagogue for services and Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg, the congregation’s rabbi became an important mentor. Starr expounds on the many aspects of being a pulpit rabbi and his moving from a Reform rabbi to a Conservative rabbi, and he and his wife, Rebecca, increasing respect and love off Jewish ritual.

Example of proper citation/ attribution:

Boocker, L. (Interviewer) & Starr, A. (Interviewee). (2019) Aaron Starrr: Jewish Journeys [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from Jewish Journeys Oral History Collection of Congregation Shir Tikvah: https://shirtikvah.org/cstoralhistoryarchive

                                                            INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

 [Beginning of Recorded Material]

00:00:00

Interviewer:              The interviewer is Larry Boocker; the interviewee is Rabbi Aaron Starr. Today is January 11th, 2019; we're at Rabbi Starr's office at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan. And I've explained the purpose of the project, what we're doing. Do I have your permission to continue with the interview?

Interviewee:                         Yes.

Interviewer:              So, I want to start by asking when the idea occurred to you that you might want to be a rabbi?

Interviewee:                         The earliest time I remember thinking about it is at my bar mitzvah when Rabbi Arne leaned over to me and mentioned to me that I should consider becoming a rabbi. At that time, I mostly dismissed it, though I appreciated the sentiment, but I think I dismissed the idea. Because at the time, I wanted to become a lawyer, and my plan was to graduate from the University of Michigan, go to law school and then get a seat on the Supreme Court. Pretty much 1, 2, 3 just like that.

When I got into high school and grew up a little bit, learned a little bit I realized that you couldn't just go directly from law school to the Supreme Court, it doesn't quite work like that. So I began thinking about what are other ways that I can impact the world. And when I was in high school, I was very involved with Nifty and with the youth group, and I got to continue getting to know Rabbi Arne even better, and he really became a role model of mine.

And in youth group I was very involved with putting together services, and planning events and organizing the community, and this was primarily through Shir Tikvah at first, TATY, the Detroit area temple youth, and then into misty and nifty Michigan the regional wide youth group for the reform movement, and I just loved every aspect of it. And I remember my mom saying that the best kind of job is to get paid to do something you love. And since I like putting together services, and I figured all rabbis do really is put together services, then I could become a rabbi.

So I think that's when I really first started getting serious about it. When I went to Michigan, I was still back and forth between law school and rabbinical school. I majored in political science at Michigan, but all my extracurricular, all my volunteer work, all of my even paid part-time work at the time was all in the Jewish community.

So really over the first couple years at Michigan and really my junior and senior year, I became a fait accompli that I was headed destined for rabbinical school. So by the time I finished Michigan, I had also picked up a major in Hebrew and Jewish cultural studies and went right away into the seminary.

 

Interviewer:              So you feel you kind of just got swept along by a tide, rather than sitting down one day and weighing the pros and cons?

 

Interviewee:                         Yes, there was no sitting down one day and weighing the pros and cons; it was just who I was. And everyone said oh you're going to make such a good rabbi, and it just was a very natural flow. And it's been great; I feel very blessed.

Anyway, people ask about my history; I say I'm the grandchild of Luboviters on one side and Holocaust survivors on the other. My parents helped to found Shir Tikva, and I was leading services on the bimah before rabbi Arnie was, and it's just been a very natural path.

 

Interviewer:              Were there things that you thought about being a rabbi in your development stage, and now you have the reality of being a rabbi of other things that are vastly different than what you expected it to be?

 

Interviewee:                         I don't know that anyone can really be fully trained to be a full-time pulpit rabbi; there are lots of different kinds of rabbinic careers. You can train someone in Jewish law, you can train someone in Jewish texts, but   being a rabbi is something entirely different. One of the things I love about my profession is that every day and every part of the day is very different.

So I can go from a hospital visit to a funeral to a baby-naming to a brit to preparing for a Bar Mitzvah. I have the opportunity to comment on the social phenomenon of the day, politics, Israel, and I have a pulpit from which to share my insights, and I'm also one of the leaders of a multi-million dollar company.

00:05:10

That's been a whole other part of my Rabbinate that I've just been really learning about recently, and it's fascinating and interesting and wonderful. And most of all, I get to share in people's lives, and I think that at this stage of my Rabbinate is my most favorite part. I just really get to be a part of people's journeys.

 

Interviewer:              Are you referring to your opportunities to do personal counseling or life events, officiating at various life events?

 

Interviewee:                         Yes, all of the above. So I get to be with people during their happiest of times and during their saddest of times. I get to have Shabbos dinner with them and kibbutz at Shabbat lunch.

I get to get together and just talk about the world and talk about where people are as they're considering marriage, as they become married. As they're considering children, as they've had kids and all the way up through the various stages of adult development.

 

Interviewer:              There must be unpleasant parts of the job seeing marriages fall apart, or visiting seriously ill people. Do things like that bother you?

 

Interviewee:                         They make me sad. At the same time, our rabbis teach that God loves a broken heart because that's when people give God an opportunity to come in. And so, of course, I'd never like to see people sad or angry or hurting, but it also becomes an opportunity for spiritual growth, for personal growth, and that's what sharing the journey of life with somebody is.

So yes, they're definitely sad parts, and I probably see a lot more sad in this world than some other people see, but I also get to see a lot more happy, and joy than other people see as well. It's an emotional position.

00:06:57

Interviewer:              So I'm going to ask you because your path as a rabbi has been different than most, maybe even unique. You were ordained as a rabbi in the reform movement, and you are now a conservative rabbi, and you transitioned. Can you explain what motivated you to do that?

Interviewee:                         Jewish tradition has always been very important to me. Like I said, my grandparents on one side were religious; the other side were Holocaust survivors. My parents always had a strong sense of tradition in the house. I grew up going to services every Friday night with my dad, and we didn't just go to services we helped set up the sanctuary, we helped get everything ready, it was what we did and who we were.

So my life was built around the Jewish year and the Jewish calendar, I didn't miss religious school. I wasn't the kid who had soccer practice, and so I missed religious school or did this and did that and missed religious school, it was important to my family, and I knew it. I remember from the earliest of ages my grandfather of blessed memory asking me how cheder  was.

You know it wasn't just how was Sunday school, it was how was chader and I knew it was important to him. So that idea of tradition has always been important to me, I remember even when I was planning services as a reformed Jewish teenager, repeating the mantra if it isn’t broke why fix it. I didn't believe in changing services every single week; I liked the idea of tradition. When I was finishing up at Michigan, I met my wife Rebecca, and she grew up on a sheep farm in the Upper Peninsula, but her identity was strongly as a conservative Jew.

She was a Camp Ramah product; the synagogue she grew up at was conservative. And I remember when I first met her and began telling her about my path, and talking about the reform Rabbinate, she thought Reform and Rabbi were a contradiction in terms, she just couldn't understand.

And so especially as I began rabbinical school, she would in a good way but challenge me and say you're going to be a rabbi, but you don't wear a kippah. You're going to be a rabbi, but you don't keep kosher. And it really started me on a path of learning that I don't think I was necessarily on before. And I started asking those questions, well, why don't I worry kippah, why don't I keep kosher.

 

Interviewer:              Was there ever a moment with either before or while you were in the rabbinic school, where you thought am I going to the right school here?

00:10:00

Interviewee:                         Yes, frequently, I think I asked myself that frequently. In the first year of HUC of my seminaries in Jerusalem, at least my year, but I think many times reform rabbis, even reform rabbis frum out when they're in their year in Israel. It's easy, it's part of the milieu, and it was great, and I learned a lot, and I grew. And so I regularly ask myself those questions.

When we came back stateside and moved to Cincinnati to complete my rabbinical school training the next four years after Jerusalem, Rebecca was a director of education at a conservative synagogue in Cincinnati. So our community became a conservative community. And so long story short or maybe it's too late now by at this point, but by the end of rabbinical school, I did my HUC rabbinical school thesis on conservative Jewish law. So I was already, I would say on the path.

Now fast forward a few years 2007, Rebecca's mom had a stroke, and then a couple of months later, she passed away. And then as soon as we were out of shloshim for her mom, at one month after Rebecca's mom, Carol of blessed memory died, our first child was born. And it was such an aha awakening moment for us. Rebecca's parents were the people who, they weren't thrilled with their life as social workers in Detroit.

So they got jobs in the Upper Peninsula, moved up north, bought a sheep farm and always said if it didn't work we'll change, if we don't like it we'll change. And it was follow your heart and experiment, and try new things. And so within a year of Rebecca's mom passing, and our first child being born, I had left the reform movement. I left Shir Tikvah, I'd become shomer Shabbos and became a conservative rabbi, and it's been the right path for us.

 

Interviewer:              So you were working as a reform rabbi, and in fact, you were the director of education in a reform congregation. And so you were teaching reform students about living lives as reform Jews, but internally you're feeling more conservative.

Did you feel a conflict both as director of education, where you're teaching things that you don't believe in, and also you were partly a pulpit rabbi that has to teach adult congregation, and you're teaching them things that maybe you don't believe in. Or you're teaching them things that you believe in, and feeling a lot of resistance because that's not who they are?

 

Interviewee:                         So, I served four years as director of lifelong learning at Shir Tikvah, from when I graduated rabbinical school in 2004 until June of 2008. And I remember when I was ordained, I was really looking for a more ritually observant synagogue.

And the Shir Tikvah position came open and having grown up there, I knew it, and it was a place in a lot of ways founded by people who grew up Orthodox or conservative. So it always had a more ritual vent to it than other reformed temples did.

 

Interviewer:              At the time, Shir Tikvah used a lot more Hebrew in their service than other reform congregations.

 

Interviewee:                         Correct. And I remember when I was ordained, and then considering where to go, and I asked rabbi Arne. I said I'd like to wear a big tallit as opposed to a small tallit, is that okay with you? He said no problem. I said I don't plan on doing intermarriages; is that a problem? He said no problem. And I said this is the place for me; it'll allow me to experiment and grow.

Rabbi Arne is one of the finest rabbis that I know, and to be able to come back and be mentored by him was a gift to me and a blessing in my life. And Shir Tikvah is an amazing congregation, unlike any other in the world. It was a beautiful place; it was a wonderful place to be, especially coming right out of rabbinical school. I learned a lot; I hope I taught a lot. And there were a lot of people used to joke when they wanted the traditional answer; they would come to me.

Or if they wanted something that was real text-based, they would come to me, that's just who I was and where I was at. As I continued to grow and find ritual more and more valuable in my life, and wanted to live it and then especially when our first child was born, and we wanted to raise him in a culture that reflected our priorities and our values.

It just more and more seemed disingenuous for me to be in a Reform synagogue. I wasn't there; I didn't want the Reform synagogue to change to be something it didn't want to be, so it meant in a lot of ways that I had to leave.

00:15:05

I remember doing a panel discussion Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. And at the end of the panel discussion, someone came up to me and said, boy, for a Reform Rabbi, you sound a lot like a conservative Jew. And there was another point to it, I had started learning with rabbi [Inaudible 00:15:22.14] as partners in Torah, and he and I would get together every week for study.

And at some point, he said to me, Aaron, you taught us good game about the importance of Jewish ritual, the beauty of Jewish ritual. The importance of Shabbos, the beauty of Shabbos, put up or shut up, and I took it to heart.

And ultimately, Rebecca and I made a personal decision that also had professional consequences, that we wanted to raise our children in a more traditional environment, Jewishly traditional environment. Where I could be Shomer Shabbat and Schumer Kashrut, and we could send our kids to day school, and I could come minyan, and all of those pieces were in place already.

 

Interviewer: Do you feel that there were barriers, that there were things holding you back? I mean, it sounds like a dramatic change. And specifically, were you concerned that the people at Shir Tikvah would take this as a rejection of them and their beliefs?

 

Interviewee:                         The reaction I received from Shir Tikvah was amazing; in my head, I think I created to be a dramatic change. Most of the people who wished me well at Shir Tikvah said we saw this coming years ago, and it was just a matter of time before it happened.

So I think the people at Shir Tikvah who were spiritually wise, and certainly at the time were more mature than I, they had gotten to know me and saw the path that I was on, and sense that this transition was coming.

 

Interviewer:              Well, Shir Tikvah is a Reform congregation; as you said, that has many people who grew up conservative and Orthodox and non-Jewish, and almost everybody there has been through a transition, so that concept wouldn't be foreign to them. But it's always easier to welcome people in than to say goodbye to people going out.

 

Interviewee:                         What's amazing about Shir Tikvah is I wasn't just the rabbi working for them; I was also a child of the congregation. And I think when I worked there and even now today, ten years after I've left again, Shir Tikvah has always been so kind and loving toward me as someone who grew up at Shir Tikvah. I am a child of Shir Tikvah; I am a student of rabbi Arnie's, I think I was 11 years old when he came to Shir Tikvah. I think we were 7 when we joined Shir Tikvah, which at the time was the Troy Jewish congregation.

And I've always found it to be this tremendously kind, loving, embracing congregation. That even if they didn't agree or understand fully the path that I was on and that someone was on, they were cheerleaders for you, and they wanted you to be happy and to find a home.

 

Interviewer:              So how did you go about doing this?

 

Interviewee:                         So, at the time, it was a major professional transition. I was friends with the rabbis at Shaarey Zedek professionally in the community. And when the director of education position at Shaarey Zedek came open, and again I was serving as director of lifelong learning at Shir Tikvah. So when the director of education position at Shaarey Zedek became open, I spoke to them and said, would you be willing to entertain the idea.

And we had a really good conversation, and ultimately they were excited about the opportunity for me personally to come over and run their youth and family programs. But also they liked the idea of someone with rabbinic training doing that. It was made very clear to me at the time that I was coming over as director of Education, and not as a pulpit rabbi. Though I was given some pulpit opportunities as kind of the third rabbi at the time, and it was great, and I learned a lot.

In order to become part of the rabbinical assembly, which is the conservative movement’s umbrella organization for rabbis. In order to make that leap from being a reformed rabbi to a conservative rabbi, before even applying I had to serve two years in a conservative role, or be part of a conservative community for at least two years. So I served at Shaarey Zedek as director of education and youth, and got my two years in.

00:20:20­

 And at that point then I had to get something like six letters of recommendation, I had to write ten essays, go through a whole interview process in order to become a conservative rabbi. Within that time, one of the rabbis who's at   Shaarey Zedek left for another synagogue, and so I was accepted to the rabbinical assembly.

Meaning I became officially a member of the conservative movement, and a position opened up for me to grow. I still maintained my director of education and youth title at Shaarey Zedek, but I also added pulpit responsibilities to my portfolio.

 

Interviewer:              Was this process of becoming a conservative rabbi, having already been trained as a reform rabbi. Was this an in-place process, or did they have to make something up just for you?

Interviewee:                         This happens with some frequency. When I was in Cincinnati for my seminary training, all of the rabbi's serving at the conservative congregations were reform trained rabbis, which was very interesting. So it happens with some frequency. So there was already a system in place, there was a committee in place to approve it. So it was just me entering the system. I said in a lot of ways though it felt like a second circumcision, and I had to jump through a lot of hoops to become officially recognized as a conservative rabbi.

The RA rabbinical assembly affirmed my Semicha (ordination), they never questioned my Semicha being a graduate of HUC; they never questioned my rabbinic ordination. But they wanted to be sure that I could prove that I was going to represent them as a conservative rabbi. But they wanted to be sure that I could prove that I was going to represent them as a conservative rabbi, that I was going to lead a conservative lifestyle.

So that's why I needed the letters of recommendation, that's why I needed to answer the essays and go through the interview process. I needed to demonstrate to them that Halakha, the Jewish law was important to me, was sacred to me. But that I was also mindful of what it meant to interpret Halakha as a conservative rabbi.

 

Interviewer:              So it wasn't a matter of so much of additional training, as it is demonstrating that you already had the, well the knowledge was part of it, but more importantly the commitment to it?

 

Interviewee:                         That's exactly right. It wasn't a matter of additional training, just affirming to them that I think exactly as you had. That I had the knowledge, and even more so, I was passionate about making that life choice.

 

Interviewer:              So while we're on the subject of the conservative movement, some people have the impression that it's a Jewish movement that has problems, that's in crisis, that it's declining compared to other denominations. In your view, you find it personally satisfying. But what do you think it brings to the Jewish world and to the world in general that the other movements do not?

 

Interviewee:                         If we're not in crisis, then we're stagnant. So I don't find it to be such a negative challenge that we're in crisis, I think there is a blessing in crisis. And I think it's more a matter of birth pains that will result in wonderful things, rather than any sort of negative tone of dying or something like that.

 

Interviewer:              Do you have high hopes for the future of the conservative?

 

Interviewee:                         I'm betting my life and my career on it, yes, I do have high hopes. I think especially as people continue to assimilate, I think in a lot of ways, and the demographics are playing this out in some level. The reform movement is experiencing a real spike in membership and population that will decline in the next generation. The conservative movement, most likely nationally, will be smaller but will be strong.

The conservative movement continues to produce the majority of leaders of the organized Jewish community. The conservative movement continues to produce people who are really committed to the Jewish people. And I think Jewish practice is going to increase; I think the more cell phones and computers penetrate our lives. There's no separation between my children's lives and their technology; it is one in the same.

00:25:03       And I think especially for this coming generation, more and more they're seeing the beauty of taking let's say 24 hours to shut off the technology, to disconnect and they're appreciating that and seeing the beauty of it, as Jews we call it Shabbat. And I think I'm doubling down on the beauty of Shabbat because I think more and more people are realizing the importance of disconnecting, and of reconnecting to community and to faith and the spirituality and the religious practice.

So I actually see those of us who are committed to an idea of Shabbos being strengthened by that. I think as the world continues down its path of chaos, people find comfort and religion. They find comfort and community, and I know the conservative movement offers that, certainly, we have Shaarey Zedek offer that.

And I think it's a beautiful way of life. And for me, at the end of the day why I chose to become a conservative rabbi; it's a beautiful way to live; it's a meaningful path of life. It's what I wanted for my wife and me, and it's what I wanted for my kids, and that's why we ultimately made the choice.

 

Interviewer:              The conservative movement has been prominent in North America, but not so much in the rest of the world, particularly not in Israel. Do you see conservative movement growing in Israel? There's a lot of resistance, of course, from the entrenched Orthodox powers, but what do you see is the future outside of North America?

 

Interviewee:                         Yes. Separate from state issues, which is a different beast in Israel, with regard to Orthodox control of the rabbinate. I think that most Israelis are conservative Jews. They just don't know it. They say roughly 20% of the country is Orthodox, 80 percent is secular, but they're not secular as we would understand secular in America. There's still a sense of observing Shabbat; there's still a commitment to Kashrut. Even if it's a matter of national identity, a matter of culture, and people hood.

There is still that connection to some of these central mitzvot and that frankly at the end of the day is capital C conservative. So I think if the Israelis can really see the beauty that is non-Orthodox Jewish practice, and especially in Israel, they call them Masorti movement, but Conservative Judaism. I think if we can figure out a way to explain and teach what is Masorti Judaism that it has the potential to grow.

 

Interviewer:              Okay. I want to ask you, Shir Tikvah was a very beautiful congregation, it was a singing congregation. And you were a musical rabbi when you were there, and I think it was important to you I understand that you've continued with musical training even after leaving, it's important for you to be a musical rabbi.

The [Inaudible 00:28:13.27] does not allow for musical instruments at services. First of all do you agree with the Halakha? How important is music to Jewish observance? How important is it to your identity as a rabbi?

 

Interviewee:                         I think music is central to Jewish life; there's no question in my mind. As my chazan likes to remind me, no one walks out of the service humming the rabbi's sermon. There's still a lot of impact for the rabbi's sermon, but his point is valid. Jewish music is what conveys the messages of our heart and soul when we can't articulate it necessarily with words.

I think there's a powerful place for Jewish music in our lives. When I came over to Shaarey Zedek 10 years ago, they had just approved the use of piano on Shabbat mornings. And they had already been using full instrumentation on Friday nights. Some guitar, and drums, and keyboard, and piano. So already by the time I came to Shaarey Zedek, a lot of those permissions had already been put in place, and I've just continued those permissions. So once a month, the first Friday night of every month, we have TGIS thank God it's Shabbat.

A musical Friday night experience, similar to Shir Tikvah's music Shabbat. And it's instrumentation. I play guitar, so there are three guitars, there are drums, there's keyboard, there's an accordion, and it's joyful, and it's beautiful. On Shabbat mornings here at Shaarey Zedek now when there's a Bar or Bat mitzvah, we have a piano. The occasional Saturday night, during services, we'll have a guitar, and we almost always finish services Saturday night Havdalah on the guitar.

00:30:00

So it is part of what we do here, instrumentation is part of what we do at Shaarey Zedek. But it's always important to me that the words of our mouths are louder and stronger than the instruments we play. So as long as the instrument is a vehicle to a prayer, then I find it acceptable. When the instruments and the song becomes more important than prayer, that's when I find it problematic.

 

Interviewer:              Okay. But there's so much to do; I mean, especially when you're involved in all aspects of the congregation. But there are also more Jewish texts than even a rabbi can study in a lifetime, to carve out time to work on your music when you could be doing these other things. Do people ever question the use of your time?

 

Interviewee:                         So I actually don't spend so much time with musical training. I'll tell you once a month we have a rehearsal for our TGIS for an hour that I participate in, as a matter of preparing for services. I play my guitar a lot, but primarily it's for preschool children. Every Friday morning, I do Shabbat for the Early Childhood Center, the ECC at Hillel day school.

Every Monday morning, I do Havdalah for those kids; every Sunday morning, we do Havdalah for our religious school and then once a month TGIS services. So the guitar is a major part of who I am as a rabbi because I think it evokes a lot of joy in Judaism. I don't do so much time training for guitar; it's been a long time since I have, in fact.

 

Interviewer:              I understand, though, that you did spend time working on your voice, though.

 

Interviewee:                         When I was at Shir Tikvah, I did a year or two years of voice lessons and found that this is just not my calling. God has blessed me in a lot of ways, but singing in key is not one of them. It's certainly improved with the voice lessons.

 

Interviewer:              What made you want to do this? Rabbi's aren't certainly hired based on their singing voices.

 

Interviewee:                         Thank God. Singing is an important part of being Jewish, and I like to sing, I really like to sing. And just again Rabbi Arnie being one of my mentors, the man can move people with his music. Just like very few other people I've ever seen in my life, his ability to move people, to touch their souls, not just their minds, Rabbi Arnie can touch souls. He does it through his music, and even more so, he does it through his ability to listen and really hear what the soul is saying and not just the words are saying.

So I think I was really inspired by his mentorship, and I don't use my vocal ability thank God so much a Shaarey Zedek, even our TGIF services the microphone on the guitar works. I don't always have the microphone for the voice on, at least while I'm singing. We happen to be blessed here at Shaarey Zedek with one of the most amazing chazenim in the world.

I mean chazen David Probus is second to none around the world. So that helps a lot, he can do a lot of things that no one then expects me to do. But I see rabbis who can sing, and I think it adds an important element to the rabbinate.

 

Interviewer:              I want to go back to a couple of things that you said earlier. One was talking about technology, but the other was the original motivation of wanting to change the world. And I see that you put a lot of your material out on the internet, on YouTube, sermons and teachings and things like that.

First off, why did want to do that? And looking at your job as a rabbi, how much of it is this congregation and this community, and how much of it is about trying to change the world?

 

Interviewee:                         I don't know that there's a separation between trying to elevate the lives of this community and trying to improve the world. I think those are our part and parcel. Shaarey Zedek has always been and continues to be a leader, not just among the Jewish people in Metro Detroit, but among the national community as well. Shaarey Zedek has always found a lot of pride in its rabbis speaking out on issues of the day, especially with regard to Israel.

And really using the Shaarey Zedek pulpit to move people to strengthen Judaism and to strengthen the Jewish people. So that's always been a central part of what it means to be at Shaarey Zedek, what it means to be a Shaarey Zedek rabbi. Technology has improved our ability to get out to a large number of people. So yes, through Facebook, through times of Israel blog, through YouTube, I'm out there.

00:35:17

 

 

Interviewer:              Do you get sometimes push back from people who disagree with what you're putting out?

 

Interviewee:                         For sure, there's no question. But that's part of how we dialogue in America in the 21st century; it's through social media and through these different technological platforms. There are a lot of people early on who worried when we first started putting sermons out over YouTube, even our music out over YouTube and Facebook, that people were going to stop coming to services. And if you can get it in the comfort of your home, why would you come to services.

What we found in the last several years of us doing it is, the increased exposure has actually led to an increase in numbers on Friday night and Saturday morning. Our membership has risen, people are coming to shul more. It's one thing to hear it in the comfort of your home, it's another thing to be present, and part of the conversation live as it's happening.

So thank God a lot of people are moved by the message and want to be part of that experience. And so well yes, there's always pushback, by and large, I receive a lot of praise for the commentary that I offer, and what hopefully I'm trying to do to bring peace to the world.

 

Interviewer:              Another thing that I wanted to ask you about is, I see that you and Rebecca are teaching a class together through the Federation, A Loving Marriage in Judaism, of course. And it seems like teaching a class you're going to be talking about your own marriage, your own family life but that must happen in general.

How comfortable are you opening up about your own family life to congregants, to students, to people who come to you for counseling? Do you feel that it's part of your job as a rabbi to be a role model for family life?

Interviewee:                         Yes, I think you named it. I try in every aspect of what I do to be a role mode, an example to my community and to our people.

It doesn't mean I'm perfect, I'm far from perfect but perhaps through sharing my struggles and sharing my acquired wisdom, maybe I can help somebody else. Maybe I can give to them some of the joy that I've discovered, and that I've been blessed with.

 

Interviewer:              Do you ever feel uncomfortable with questions that people ask if they ask you personal questions about your own life?

 

Interviewee:                         I once received great advice that whenever someone asks you a question, you always answer the question you wish they had asked you.

 

Interviewer:              Okay.

 

Interviewee:                         So answer the question you wish that they had asked. So if I don't feel comfortable answering a question, I won't answer it. But by and large, my life is a pretty open book, and I'm happy to share it with others. God blessed me with Rebecca; there's no question in my life that she is an angel, a gift from God, and I'm blessed every day by being her husband.

So the wisdom that she has taught me, the joy that we've discovered, the wisdom that we've acquired if I can share it and help someone else's life and all the better. And at the end of the day, my role as rabbi is not just to teach the text but to live the text. And if I can help somebody else live the text, and then I've taken one step toward accomplishing my goal as a rabbi.

 

Interviewer:              It sounds like you primarily see your job as Rabbi; I mean, you do all sorts of things. Officiating at lifecycle events, and all of that, but you began as an educator. Do you see that as the core of being a rabbi?

 

Interviewee:                         I see it as the core of who I am. I think there are lots of different ways to be a rabbi, but the core of who I am is acquiring knowledge of Jewish history and Jewish sacred text. And taking the lessons of the text and history and applying it to our lives in the 21st century.

I gave a sermon several years ago on the High Holidays, where I said that I think the meaning of life is three things. Its gratitude, obligation, and joy, and I think Judaism and all the pieces that make up Judaism, give us an amazing path toward gratitude, obligation, and joy. So my quest, my role, my job is to help give people the tools to lead Jewish lives of gratitude, obligation, and joy.

00:40:12

Interviewer:              What if one of your children would someday say I'm not comfortable where I am, I'm going to be Chasidic, I want to be reform I want to be renewal something else. So you've been on a journey yourself if they wanted their own journey that was then different than the path you set them on. What would be your response?

 

Interviewee:                         I know very few people who are on the exact path that their parents set them on. So I think if I expected them to travel on the exact same path that I'm on, or that I have set them on, then I'm probably setting myself up for failure. I expect them to be on a journey; I expect them to try and explore and experiment and think. If they chose a path other than Judaism, I would be very sad and disappointed and probably angry.

If they chose a different expression of Judaism, probably if it had less observance, I would be sad but not angry or disappointed. If they chose a path that offers them more observance, and if it gave them meaning, I'd be thrilled, I'll be delighted, I'd be overjoyed. Because I think Jewish ritual brings a lot of meaning into life and can give somebody a real deep sense of meaning and purpose. I want my kids to be happy; I want them to be Jewish.

I want them to feel an obligation to serve God and to make this world a better place. And I hope that they're Shabbat observant. I hope that they keep kosher. I hope that they marry someone Jewish. I hope that they choose a Jewish life. I always say, what is Conservative Judaism at the end of the day?

It's I'm okay you're okay today, what's one step tomorrow that you can take in your Jewish journey. What's one step, one ritual, one Mitzvah that you can add to your life in the next week, in the next month, in the next year that will make your life more meaningful and that will make your life holier.

 

Interviewer:              Okay. Could you answer that question for yourself; is there areas of Jewish life where you still want to develop?

 

Interviewee:                         For sure. I am always looking to increase the amount of study that I have in my life; I'm honored I've just been chosen to be part of the Shalom Hartman rabbinic Leadership Institute. So every July for the next three years, I'm going to be in Israel, and a week every January for the next three years, I'm going to be in Israel learning.

Part of that every other Wednesday, I think, is a significant herutna study. And so really looking to add a lot of learning to my life, and what I want from it is to grow. I don't know where I'm going to grow; I don't know where it's going to take me. But I'm excited about the path that I'll be on, and I'm open to the change that it will bring to my life.

 

Interviewer:              Okay. I want to thank you, Rabbi; it's been an interesting discussion.

 

Interviewee:                         Thank you very much. Thank you for the opportunity.

 

00:43:38  

[End of Recorded Material]

 

 

 

 

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Tue, January 21 2020 24 Tevet 5780