Governor Patrick of MA, Other Important Leaders

Address the 500-Plus Rabbis

Sessions Filled to Capacity

Spirit of Collegiality Pervades the Gathering




March 21, 2012 (New York, NY) – A stellar array of speakers, teachers and important leaders were part of the roster at the 123rd Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) at the Boston Sheraton. There, over 500 Reform rabbis – constituting the spiritual leadership of over 1.5 million North American Jews and several hundred thousand more around the world – have gathered together since Sunday to learn, to share with each other and to celebrate the well-deserved achievements of the Reform rabbinate.


Whether at the assembly-wide sessions featuring Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow or master teachers and religious leaders Dr. Arthur Green and Rabbi Harold Kushner; at the well-attended prayer services; at any of the dozens of learning and professional development sessions; or at the convention-wide lectures, the men and women of the Reform rabbinate infused the gathering with their energy and enthusiasm.


“This convention reflects, with great accuracy, the current state of the rabbis of Reform Judaism,” stated Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive of the CCAR. “Our colleagues are inspired and innovative. They are here to learn with and from one another and with the best teachers anywhere; to be challenged, to be taken outside of their comfort zone and find new ways forward. Ours is a fresh, wholly inclusive approach to Judaism. At this important moment in Jewish history, we are here to celebrate but also to prepare for the numerous challenges of our profession in the early 21st century.”


Observing the interactions of his colleagues, CCAR-elected President Rabbi Jonathan A. Stein, Senior Rabbi at Shaaray Tefila in Manhattan, noted the “authentic and joyous” quality of the gathering. “The rabbis of the CCAR are the architects of a great epoch in American Jewish life.  They are bold and unafraid. You cannot fake the energy that is present at the convention.”


It was also impossible to miss the synergy that resulted from a well-crafted program of speakers and presenters whose messages resonate with the values held by Reform rabbis. The Monday afternoon address by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick offered affirmation of the core values of the movement.


“I wanted to come by and thank you for…affirming the fundamental decency and dignity of every living soul,” he said. Speaking about the value of community, Governor Patrick hearkened to his own childhood in the rough South Side of Chicago. “Lots of things were broken – schools, playgrounds, family…but every child was under the jurisdiction of every adult. They didn’t know how to spell or pronounce Tikkun Olam, but they lived it,” he said, creating a bridge with his audience, demonstrating the commonality of values across race, economic and religious lines.


Dr. Arthur Green, rector of Hebrew College, prolific author and master teacher, had the rabbis rapt with attention as he utilized Judaism’s narrative tradition as a portal into theological engagement. “What is a unique window into Judaism that you can offer a seeker?” he memorably asked the audience.   Dr. Green further inspired the rabbis by stating that the numerical value of the word Torah in Hebrew is 611 – the current number of women ordained within the Reform movement. This auspicious teaching amplified Monday morning’s celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the ordination of the world’s first female rabbi, Sally Priesand. “It was wonderful to hear kol ishah in our service just a few moments ago!” proclaimed Rabbi Stein as he took the podium to deliver his address that morning after Rabbi Fox’s blessings to Rabbi Priesand and her female colleagues.


The convention was thoughtfully planned, with an emphasis on the role of the Reform rabbi as leader. Tuesday’s midday session by Harvard Law School dean and professor Martha Minow, entitled Herding Cats and Other Leadership Challenges”, featured both frontal teaching as well as a question-and-answer format that allowed the rabbis to engage with their speaker. Rabbi Fox led an innovative Open Space workshop on “Leading Into the Future: Transforming Threats to the Integrity of Your Rabbinate into Kvod HaRav.” Seated at round tables, groups of rabbis engaged in interactive dialogue that laid a foundation for this afternoon’s assembly-wide engagement session entitled, “Journey Towards Our Future.”


In his address at the start of Convention, Rabbi Stein characterized the CCAR’s last few years as “filled with accomplishment, growth and originality,” declaring that the Conference is now led by the finest Rabbinic staff assembled by a Jewish organization. But he also spoke of the CCAR’s close monitoring of events in Israel, including the  “firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel’s sovereign territory…the recent actions of the new Egyptian Parliament and its attempts to distance itself from Israel” …[and] the increasingly worrisome attacks on the rights of women in Israel.” Regarding Iran’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons Rabbi Stein said, “We are concerned about this issue both as Americans and as Jews and we support the economic sanctions effort to prevent this horrifying possibility from becoming a reality. We pledge to stand by Israel at her every hour of need no matter what she decides to do concerning the very real threat coming from Iran.”


At coffee breaks and receptions, groups of rabbis clustered in collegial groups, sharing personal reactions on the sessions and catching up on each other’s lives. Selections from the forthcoming CCAR machzor, or High Holiday prayerbook, were unveiled for discussion and study. The passion and kavannah present at the prayer services offers a barometer of the spiritual power of the Reform leadership…and movement at large. Music also pervaded the 123rd CCAR Convention, forming bookends on each filled-to-the-brim day, from schacharit to maariv services and at several points in between.


With the CCAR, “there is a commitment to exploring all aspects of Jewish tradition, history and observance,” notes Rabbi Fox.  The impassioned engagement on such far-ranging issues as revisiting the messages of the Zionist thinkers, the responsibility of the Jewish community to children with special needs, the lessons of Hasidic practice, and examining the power of mikveh in contemporary Reform life reveals a movement that is both rooted and yet committed to transcending denominational boundaries.


The strong showing of female rabbis at convention, the striking intergenerational

composition of the group and, most touchingly, the familial connections that were present at this CCAR Convention are significant. On Monday morning, an impromptu photo op was created of the numerous father-daughter, father-son and sibling rabbinical groups within the CCAR.  This photo also included a most unique pairing -- mother and son rabbis.


Finally, a most tangible indication of the health of the CCAR is the phenomenal success of the CCAR Press and the brisk sales of the bold and brand-new Haggadah, Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family written by Alan S. Yoffie, with artwork by renowned artist Mark Podwal. CCAR Press, which produces stellar publications that relate to Jewish practice, as well as the Reform Jewish Quarterly: The CCAR Journal, and a wide-range of electronic resources including e-books, apps, and Visual T’filah, also recently published a groundbreaking book on mindful food consumption, The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic, edited by Rabbi Mary Zamore and a finalist for the 2011 National Jewish Book Award.


After Governor Deval Patrick spoke, Rabbi Fox presented him with a copy of The Sacred Table, a gesture that aptly reflected the ability of the Reform rabbinate to reach out to, and engage with the world at large.


The Convention schedule is available online at