A word from Rabbi Kravitz regarding his recent installation as President of the Rabbinical Assembly:
Dear Adath Jeshurun Congregation:
Thank you for all of the kind notes and acknowledgements I have received from so many members of our community. Sorry that the livestream from the LA synagogue was problematic, making it very challenging to those who tuned in.
The in- person event was lovely. Attached are my remarks, which include my sincere appreciation for the support of our congregation. I look forward to being able to share with you the experiences I will have in my new volunteer role in the coming two years. Thank you for your support and engagement that gives our congregation a well deserved positive reputation in our global Movement.
Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Max Newman Family Chair in Rabbinics
Installation RA President Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Los Angeles, CA
March 29, 2022
Thank you Jacob. I am grateful to be installed together with Jay, Gesa, Aaron, and Annie and an outstanding group of volunteer leaders who will serve as our RA Executive Council. How special it is to be honoring Stewart Vogel and Debra Newman Kamin as we conclude our Annual Campaign and appreciate Phil Scheim who chaired it so ably. We wish Phil and Stewart refuah shelamah. It is especially moving for me to be installed in Los Angeles, where I began my rabbinic education at what was then the University of Judaism. Rabbi Dorff, words do not capture what it means to Stewart and to me that you could be here this evening. You, and the faculty you assembled at the UJ, set us on this path. You must be wondering, what has the world come to that Harold Kravitz and Stewart Vogel are serving as Presidents of the Rabbinical Assembly. I think the same thing.
Phil, Stewart, Debra- there is so much we have had the privilege of doing together to get us to this point. Thank you to Bill Gershon and Phil who supported Debra and me as we co-chaired strategic planning. Deep thanks to Sheryl Katzman who became our partner in 2017 in co-chairing its implementation. We are now blessed to have Sheryl serving so effectively with Jacob Blumenthal and Ashira Konigsberg, along with our entire superb staff team, as we move into our future as an organization. I invite the staff to stand up if you are in the room, or online. Thank you Ilana Garber who started as a member of the planning implementation team and now serves on the staff.
Before I say more about that, I want to take this opportunity to thank my shul, the Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnesota, where I have served as a rabbi for 35 years, the only place I have worked since my ordination by JTS. The support of our staff team, soon to be led by my rabbinic colleague Aaron Weininger, has made it possible for me to dedicate time and attention to the RA as well as Hazzan Joanna Dulkin to serve as Executive Vice-President of the Cantors Assembly. We are fortunate to serve an outstanding synagogue whose volunteer leaders are generous in recognizing that we have responsibilities beyond our institution and appreciate how our staff thereby grow as leaders to bless our congregation.
Of course, the most important person in this room supporting my professional and volunteer work is my cherished life partner, Cindy Reich. Cindy, your wisdom has long benefited the Jewish educators with whom you have worked nationally, but our Adath Jeshurun, MAZON, and the RA have also been enormous beneficiaries of your wise guidance to me at every turn. Thank you, Cindy, for your love and support that makes this possible and for always encouraging me to be my best self. Shout outs: To my sister Cynthia, also a Rabbi Kravitz, who I can call at any time to talk about nothing. To our kids, Elana, Talia, Gabe and Yael, who like every child of clergy have put up with having to share their parents with the community, and yet have always displayed grace and a sense of humor about it.
Sorry if this is starting to feel like the Academy Awards, but after all we are in LA the week of the Oscars. Before the music starts playing and I get escorted off, there are some observations I want to make about the work that lies ahead for our Rabbinical Assembly and for our Conservative/Masorti Movement.
In December, Jacob, Ashira and Sheryl invited me to New York to speak in person about my agenda as President for the next two years. I welcomed that opportunity, but responded that the priorities we needed to talk about were ours and not just mine. Our goals and priorities for the coming years are built on the hard work we have done with the wise counsel of Liz Solms and Marie McCormick and the staff of Insyte partners, as they guided us in listening and learning as widely as possible, for which we are profoundly grateful. It has been extraordinary to see the way our staff, our volunteers and so many of our members have come to embrace those strategic goals.
When we started working on that plan in 2015, we knew that there was much troubling our Conservative/Masorti Movement. But we also recognized that if we were ever to be able to take on those greater challenges, we first had to work on ourselves as an organization. Though that work is not done, and tomorrow we will launch the next iteration of strategic planning chaired by Aaron Brusso and Lori Koffman, I believe the RA has reached a point where we are poised to address the broader challenges of our Conservative/ Masorti Movement and I am optimistic about what we can achieve together.
Engaging Jacob as our Chief Executive was an important step in advancing our vision. Jacob builds on the outstanding efforts of distinguished RA professional leaders who came before him including Wolfe Kelman z’l, Joel Meyers and Julie Schoenfeld, may they be well, all of whom were important teachers to me along the way. It was quite unexpected, after we completed that very successful hire that USCJ President Ned Gladstein, whose presence we welcome here this evening, would propose the idea of sharing Jacob as CEO of our two organizations. I confess that my gut reaction was to think – “I don’ wanna share him!” Ok, I got over it and we saw both boards display true courage in taking that bold step. Thankfully that occurred before the pandemic and it surely contributed to our responding so effectively to this plague whose impact we will long be facing.
That step of aligning, not merging, but aligning our two organizations has had other benefits I could not have imagined. Leaders of our RA and of our USCJ now meet monthly in a Joint Steering Committee with a growing respect, appreciation and trust for each other that at one time would have been unimaginable between our organizations. As Stewart said, the purpose of those monthly meetings is always focused on an essential question, “What can we achieve together, for the benefit of our Movement and the Jewish people, that we could not achieve on our own?”
I am convinced that very good things will continue to come from this alignment of our organizations. I now look forward to seeing what could be accomplished if the 23 independent organizations of our Movement would work in greater alignment to advance our distinct approach to Judaism. This can only happen when our primary focus is not on how we each protect our positions, or our particular institutional interests, and focus instead on how we can advance our fundamental missions and our unique Torah.
Even within the RA we experience these challenges of diverse interests and views of what is undoubtedly the broadest tent of any rabbinic organization, both religiously and politically. At our best we, as an RA, can model what it means to be in caring relationships with each other, even when we fundamentally disagree. I see that as our sweet spot and the world is in desperate need of those who embrace that central space and serve as models of its enduring value.
While in rabbinical school, I had the privilege of taking a class with the RA’s long-time professional leader Rabbi Wolfe Kelman z’l, as he was nearing the end of his career. I recall him telling us that with every controversial issue our Movement ever faced, people predicted that this or that would destroy the Movement! He clearly took pride in the fact that we were still at it. I believe that we can honestly face our most challenging issues. If handled thoughtfully and with care this will invigorate us, not destroy us.
As I have been preparing for my new role, I have been reaching out to as many people as possible to listen to them and will do my best to continue that practice. Permit me to share one such conversation I had with Stephen Arnoff of the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem. I raised with him examples of challenging issues I believe we need to be able to talk about as an RA and as a global Movement, such as our approach to intermarriage, and perhaps even more challenging, how we relate to Israel and to Zionism. I described them as our third rail issues, sources of significant conflict. Stephen responded to me wisely saying, “But Harold, the third rail is where the energy comes from. A third rail can electrocute, or it can electrify. It is in tapping into the third rail that we can find the energy to move forward.” I so appreciated his observation and I am committed to having us discuss what we perceive as our third rail issues in ways that are respectful of each other, with the hope we will do so from a place of curiosity, humility and kindness.
Our parasha this week is Tazria, a rabbi’s nightmare to speak about, as it recalls matters of purity and impurity and the diagnoses of the skin disease tza’ra’at. This group knows well that our sages turn this challenging section into a powerful discourse on the corrosive effects of La’shon Hara, the misuse of words. As we learn from our teacher Avtalion in Pirkei Avot 1:11-
“Sages be careful with your words חֲכָמִים הִזָּהֲרוּ בְדִבְרֵיכֶם”
We, who are so adept at the use of words, are well served by being always mindful of the power of words to harm and the power of words to heal. It seems to me that there are times we are our own worst enemy, when we employ too harsh judgment and nasty critique of each other. Our rabbis understood the power of our words to create realities and so they cautioned us, “be careful with your words הִזָּהֲרוּ בְדִבְרֵיכֶם.” While being honest about our need for hard conversations, I ask that we use our talent with words for hakarat hatov to recognize the good of each other and of our Movement in Judaism, to champion our strengths and not disparage each other. Let us start with curiosity, empathy and humility, discerning our way forward with kindness.
The strength of Conservative/Masorti Judaism has always been our emphasis on the importance of community and the centrality of Jewish peoplehood. That means making a commitment to each other that our relationships, and the many values we share in common, are more important to us than our differences. I look forward to the conversations that lie ahead, whether it is about how we structure ourselves for the future, about the differences that exist between us, or about our views of essential issues that may vary based on how, where and when we have experienced the world. I look forward to these important discussions and hope that they can be conducted with humility and with kindness and with a commitment to our shared values as a Conservative/Masorti community.
I deeply believe that we are well poised as a Rabbinical Assembly to go forward in serving our members, our global Movement, our Jewish people and our world. Thank you for the trust you place in our volunteer and professional leaders to be good partners in that work. Let us truly be strong and find strength from each other. Hazak, Hazak v'Nitchazek. Amen.
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