Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Friday, September 24, 2010

Independent Minyan vs. Future of Judaism

Over the last several years I've noticed a new trend cropping up throughout the various cities I've lived in - Independent Minyanim. A minyan in traditional Judaism is a quorum of 10 men needed to recite certain Jewish prayers. In more progressive Judaism, 10 men and/or women can be counted to fulfill this obligation.

Independent Minyanim are sort of like an alternative to belonging to a synagogue, temple, or affiliated congregation. While each one looks different and serves different segments of the Jewish population (for various reasons) each one has something in common - by their very definition they are apart from congregational life. Some minyanim meet daily, weekly, monthly, or only a few times a year. Some are organized, participatory, and even have consistent locations for meeting. Others are come-and-go as you please. There may be meals/food associated with these meetings, or these minyanim might even plan and schedule other group outings or events that have nothing to do with prayer.

In my opinion, independent minyanim seem sort of like an offshoot of the chavurah movement that came about during the last half of the 20th sentury where groups within synagogue life were forming smaller groups for various activities - even prayer.

My concern is what impact these independent minyanim are going to have on the future of Judaism in America. As a rabbi, I'm in a tricky situation. Most of my rabbinical school friends and even colleagues often prefer going to or facilitating these minyanim. They claim that no congregation gives them the spiritual sustenance that they need, and so they seek out alternative groups. But, isn't it our job to be creating these kinds of experiences within the congregations that we work in? Others, like laypeople that I know of, don't want to belong to a congregation (cost, not important to belong, don't see value, etc) but still want to be Jewish and pray - and they like the ease of these minyanim.

Tonight I have some friends who are hosting an independent minyan in Queens. I'd like to go check it out - for curiousity's sake. But, I have to work tonight. Tonight we're having our Tot Shabbat, our L'dor V'dor dinner, and a Family service. It's my job, as the rabbi in our congregation, to work with kids at every age to engage, participate and experience the joy of Shabbat. And, to me, that's a huge part of the future of Judaism, as well.

But, as the congregational world grows smaller and smaller and minyanim take more ground, I sense a real shift that's going to change the face of Jewish America and our organizational structure. So I ask you, is this trend going to be healthy for the future of Judaism? Do we embrace it and learn from it, or do reject it and try to refocus our aims and structure within the synagogue? You tell me....

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rabbi Wood....You ROCK!!!

Today was the first day of Sunday School at The Reform Temple of Forest Hills (where I work)! It seems like EVERYONE else is starting today too. And it's a tough time of year. We've just celebrated Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah II, Shabbat Shuvah, and now we have Sunday School. Five days in a row!!! The way the holidays fell this year, it's possible that you've been at synagogue every single day this week since Wednesday evening!!!! And it can get a little exhausting, even for us professionals.

But, there is nothing like the start of a new Sunday School year. The kids have such great energy, the synagogue is buzzing with life, there is laughter and music in the air - it's just so uplifting. And after a long week, it really is refreshing and revitalizing. I saw parents tentatively drop their kids off at the classrooms. I saw kids walk into their classrooms even more tentatively. And at the end of the day I saw them embrace as they reunited, recounting what had been learned that day. I saw kids walking out with art projects in their hands and smiles on their faces. It was beautiful.

As I was walking out of the building, I stopped to chat with our amazing group of teens who were done for the day (working as aides in the classrooms) and chit-chatted with them for a few moments. Then one of them exclaimed, "Rabbi Wood - you rock! I love you"

I was a little taken aback. But then, I was happy she said this - not for myself, but for her. How wonderful, to have Jewish role models that you can look up to, talk to, and even feel comfortable enough to say things like that to, after having only known a short period of time. How great to have a rabbi that you feel you can talk to after a long day, and who can be there for you in a way that is different from your parents or friends. I hope I can always provide a sense of Jewish positivity in these kids (and all kids) lives for years to come. I care less about the fact that I "rock" and more about the fact that she wanted to express her love and gratitude to me for my role in her life.
It was a really special day. And it gave yet another undeniable reason why I feel so honored to be doing the work that I do, day in and day out, for the Jewish people.

Great start to 5771. How's your year going so far???

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hope for the future

This is the first 9/11 since 2001 that I have spent in New York. The feelings and the somber nature of this day are so palpable here. Here in New York, everyone knows someone who was affected, or who saw the buildings go down, or who saw the smoke from the devastation for weeks afterward. Everyone has a story of that day, and that story is as fresh in their minds as though it were yesterday.

The senior rabbi I work with, in Queens, was one of the many chaplains that worked tirelessly for months with victims of the attacks - families, witnesses, rescue workers, etc. who were in need of emotional and spiritual support. To hear him talk about these events and the way in which it affected their lives is so difficult - but so important to hear. New Yorkers were shaken in a way that they had never been affected before - and it changed their lives, and ours, forever.

I think that history will categorize this time in our nation's history as being "post 9/11" when America feels a perceived (or real) sense of insecurity in a way that hadn't been felt for decades before. I think our nation is scared and doesn't always know whom to blame - the economy is down, morale is down, security is threatened and our fear is up. I think this was true in 2001 and, sadly, I think it is still somewhat true now.

But I am hopeful. I am hopeful that rather than continue to war with our neighbors, we will try to drop our "arms" and open our arms to embrace them. I'm hoping that we can continue to promote peace and understanding and harmony in our lives (check out the cool stuff Jazzrabbi is doing in Indiana). I'm hopeful that we will remember the past with reverence and tears, and look to the future with optimism and hope and laughter. Yes, living in New York in 2010 and experiencing 9/11 for the first time here - I am sad when I think of the past. But I am hopeful for the future.