#9 Movements & Moments (Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., & Rabbi Klein)

Rabbi Klein talks with his mentor and colleague, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, about the history of Jewish resiliency. As President of Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Rabbi Waxman offers us an insider’s perspective as to how movement institutions respond to major moments in American life, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the turmoil of the 2020 presidential election. Please subscribe and share this episode with a friend. Comments and questions can be directed to tmoss@templeisrael.com. Talk with us!
An edited excerpt from this week’s Temple Talks follows below.

Rabbi Klein
Sometimes when people think about ma’asim, the behaving part of Judaism, we think about lighting 4-inch tall white Shabbat candles on a Friday evening. And sometimes we think about getting out there and saying black lives matter. So maybe you could talk a bit more about Jewish behaving, and the resilience work you’ve been doing.

Rabbi Waxman
At the end of the day, it’s not about thoughts and prayers. It has to be about action. Judaism is, at heart, an activist religion. Separate from professions of faith and identity, it’s about what we do and how we bring it to life. And that’s the case in exclusively Jewish spaces and at all times. I am a Jew in the streets, even as I’m also an American in the streets. 

Rabbi Klein
That’s beautiful. And not just beautiful, but really important. It’s something that we need to seize onto. I think I’ve shared with you that when I learned about the possibility of serving as the director of lifelong learning at Temple Israel here in Minneapolis, I was excited to be a part of this 140-year-old congregation, connected to the Reform movement, perhaps the movement that I’d had the least exposure to in my professional life. I was inspired by Temple’s past, but also a vision of the future by Rabbi Zimmerman to keep open the possibility that movement identifications might not remain such a defining factor Jewishly. When I looked at our strategic plan, I saw how belonging, behaving, and believing were prominent, which seemed so familiar from my Reconstructionist training as well. 

Rabbi Waxman
Movements are a tool. They’re useful as far as they’re useful. And if they’re limited or limiting, we should set them aside, or work to overcome any limitation. We have an orientation in the Reconstructionist movement towards collaboration and partnership. And I see that reflected and mirrored back to me from all the other movements as well. 

What’s powerful at this moment in time about movements? There’s a shared language; there’s a shared approach and ideology. We can make a significant political statement, which is highly cooperative but still turned around within about 14 hours. We’re able to enact all of our principles and be swift, expedient, and effective. There’s an existing network of like-minded people who are pulling towards the same ends. That can be powerfully impactful.

We’ve seen that very much during the pandemic. There are things that Reconstructionist synagogues need and they can learn from each other, or they can turn towards the central organization and get it. And, I’m talking at all times with the leaders of the Reform movement and the Conservative movement, and folks who are not in movements, about ways we can collaborate and do things better. So it’s a “yes and” approach.

There are positive benefits about denominations, certainly in the rabbinical training that you and I received, where there’s something very intentional and very concentrated about training leaders from a particular ideological perspective. For me, even though I grew up in the Conservative movement, RRC was the correct place for me, and I think it would be for me today too. I also see the value of movements at our camp which is a 24/7 experience of trying to put out what this is.

But in other places, such as on a college campus, a more expansive and adaptive approach might be more suited. Certainly, when I’m in a hospital, I’m going to tailor my approach as much as possible to the person who has need of me as a chaplain, rather than argue for Reconstructionist ideology. And that kind of pragmatism is how I approach pretty much any problem. 

I absolutely don’t think that the time for movements is over.  What we’ve been able to do in the pandemic only strengthened us. And I also think there are so many opportunities for collaboration, partnership, and jointly imagining what comes next.  The denominational affiliation need not be exclusive nor limiting.

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