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Rabbi's Week In Review - 10/31/2022

10/31/2022 03:12:12 PM


I attended a retreat for my rabbinic fellowship, the Clergy Leadership Incubator, at the Brandeis-Bardin retreat center in Simi Valley, California, last week. Having been the recipient of an onslaught of information, as well as a highly emotional experience, I have much to unpack from my four days there.

One piece that stands out came from one of the presenters, Rabbi Sharon Brous, of Ikar. Ikar is a cutting-edge synagogue in L.A., and Rabbi Brous is considered one of the leading rabbinic voices in the country. My colleagues and I who attended the retreat are all interested in how to create a different, more engaged Jewish communal experience, particularly at a time when the number of Jews actively affiliating with synagogues is dwindling. More to the point, there seems to be a disconnect between what many of us see as our most deeply held Jewish values and the institutions that are ostensibly obligated to carry those values.

Rabbi Brous talked about her own background of being on the outside, on the periphery, of Judaism growing up. She did not engage in Jewish experience until later in life, rather than from early childhood. She mentioned her time living in New York, attending numerous synagogues yet not finding a shul that spoke to her. It is this experience that proved to be a catalyst for the very different and highly engaged synagogue that she, along with a committed group of lay leaders, created in L.A. The result: Ikar, a synagogue that speaks to Jewish values of justice, of a deepening sense of spirituality — a place of celebrating Judaism with joy, and a place where questioning, challenging and deep inquiry are welcomed.

Ironically, I connected strongly with the idea of being on the periphery. I say ironically because I grew up embedded in Jewish experiences: years of Hebrew-school education, youth group, Jewish summer camp, and a high school trip to Israel. Many of the friends I had in my Jewish childhood I still hold as friends today.

At the same time, I don’t feel like I fully belong; I look at Judaism through a different lens.  Without trying to figure out why that is the case, I will say I think it is an advantage to look at our Jewish path from the outside. We need to be able to not be so embedded in our own experience that we cannot see how others may look at our Jewish community. It is in that regard that the recently released demographic study of our Kansas City Jewish community indicates that we are not a welcoming community.

For us at Congregation Kol Ami, I see us as healthily an outsider Jewish community. (In the world of adaptive leadership, this is referred to as getting on the balcony.) We work toward being a welcoming place, particularly for those who have not been made to feel welcome elsewhere. I think we are uniquely positioned within the Kansas City Jewish community to be that welcoming, nonjudgmental space. We can be seen as the place for so many on a Jewish journey who are presently unaffiliated and unconnected.

I think it is my challenge, and our challenge going forward, to do more, to double down on who we are becoming. Attracting more of those who are presently without a Jewish home will create new energy for all of our work. Moreover, we fulfill one of our great mitzvot — our commandment to love the stranger in our midst.

We have already gained so much by welcoming the outsider into our inner circle. May we work together to be the shining example, the lead voice, in Kansas City’s synagogue community in creating a welcoming environment for all who seek to be on a Jewish journey.

Sun, November 27 2022 3 Kislev 5783