You Shall Pursue

November 12, 2013

Rabbis, no Borders

This past weekend I was at a Rabbis Without Borders retreat. This organization is designed to bring rabbinical students from many different denominations together to discuss the issues currently facing the American rabbinate, and to brainstorm creative solutions, with people that we would not ordinarily have a chance to work with. My cohort included everyone from the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism to Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a left-wing Modern Orthodox yeshiva in New York. The work was tremendously hard, but also tremendously exciting and freeing.

I came into the conversation feeling a bit defensive, because of my patrilineal status. I was worried that I was going to have to spend the weekend defending myself and my decision to not do mikveh. But. I was so very pleasantly surprised. My cohort went beyond tolerating me in their midst. They welcomed me. They empathized with me. And they saw me as a future colleague and ally towards building a vibrant Jewish community.

The Jewish community of the future needs many voices. And certainly I am not going to agree with all of those voices. Most of those voices will spend lots of time disagreeing with each other. But underneath each of those official positions there are individual human beings with a variety of experiences, and potentially an openness to seeing beyond official positions to the essential humanity of every person. The ability to see down to the humanity of many different types of people is a talent that goes beyond denominational lines. And this weekend, I was in a room full of people who possess that gift and are willing to use it in service of their rabbinate. Knowing that I will have allies outside of my denomination is a really powerful gift.

I think that is really the power of a program like Rabbis Without Borders; it forces the participants to see each other not as “Orthodox” or “Reform” or “Reconstructionist,” but rather as whole people who are really committed to serving the Jewish community. And while we were having the conversation within the context of revitalizing Jewish communal life and empowering our communities to control their own destiny, the program went so far beyond that frame. I have always been interested and invested in building relationships, ownership, and leadership in my future communities. But being able to strategize with people whose communities will need radically different things in the future was, and is, tremendously powerful.

More than anything else, I know that I am not doing this work of building the Jewish community alone. My partners, my allies, radiate out from my movement and throughout the community. There are now eighteen other future colleagues, from all over the Jewish world, that I can rely on in building the sort of Jewish future that I want to see. There is room for all of us, and all of our visions. And I am that much more excited about the future of Judaism because of it.

November 10, 2013

Why I am Still a Patrilineal Jew

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 1:26 pm

So I have been doing some reading in the past few days. I read these few articles, and I feel the need to speak.

I have been asked hundreds of times by dozens of people why I haven’t done mikveh yet. In fact, my parents asked me last night why I haven’t done it, and if I am afraid that my current halakhic status is going to hurt my career. And there are many reasons why, as of right now (although that could change) that I won’t do mikveh. Not least is a case of intractable stubbornness. But for me, the most important thing is my fellow Jews. I want to serve people who are like me. And I think the best way to do that is as a Jew with a questionable status.

I talk about my status a lot in my rabbinate. And some of that means talking about the times that I have been excluded or shut out. I try to explain to my students and other Jews that I serve what it means practically to walk through life as a patrilineal Jew. I agree with the authors of the above articles that it is very important for patrilineal Jews to understand what different movements have to say about their status, and what that will mean for them as they navigate the Jewish landscape. Because everyone has the right to a fully informed decision

But I also tell them about the sense of solidarity and pride I feel with the Jewish people, and how wonderful it has been learning more about my faith, and how my (Presbyterian) grandparents and my non-Jewish mother have been such an important part of that journey. About how my life has been indelibly shaped by both halves of my family. And about how they should feel nothing but pride in coming from their origins. There is nothing shameful or less than about who they are because of where they come from. That the path is hard, and that there are many ways of walking it (including Beit Din!) but that they should make that choice out of the courage of their convictions, and not because of outside pressure.

The Jewish community is in a period of rapid change, and change is scary. And I am not sure what we will look like in twenty years. But I do know that there will be more and more Jews from interfaith families, many more patrilineal Jews, serving as rabbis, and synagogue presidents, and Jewish educators. I am doing my utmost to approach the future with a sense of possibility, firm in my convictions. And if that means that I ruffle some feathers, I am at peace with that, because I am advocating for my vision of a Jewish future. And that Jewish future has a place at the table for me, and for others like me.

November 5, 2013

You Guys! I Did a Wedding You Guys!

A few weeks ago, I had the delight and privilege of performing my first wedding. Yay weddings! My dear friends H and K, who I have known for quite some time, called me last December with the announcement that they were engaged to be married and the request for me to do the wedding. It was a no brainer! I love these kids and was so amazingly blessed to help them level up to this new phase in their relationship.

The couple is both Conservative leaning and fiercely feminist, so it was important for them to have an egalitarian wedding that was founded in Jewish Law. As such, we worked together to create a ceremony based on the Brit Ahuvim, or Lovers’ Covenant, laid out in Rachel Adler’s book Engendering Judaism (learn more here!). The idea of this ceremony is to move the foundation of the wedding from traditional Jewish purchase law (how the traditional wedding works) to a wedding based on contract law. In other words, my friends bound themselves in a partnership to create a new life and family together. We spent nearly a year working out all of the details, and in the end it came off with lots of spirit, participation of family and friends, and love.

Doing weddings for friends is lovely, and stressful, and really exciting! From the beginning, I knew exactly what I wanted to say about both of my friends, and about their relationship. I was able to work in references to their favorite nerdy things  (in a moment of beautiful serendipity, I added a reference to xckd to my opening remarks, which perfectly matched the groom and groomsmen’s ties). I was able to craft something that felt like my two wonderful friends, and also like me, and it was a beautiful fit for all of us. Of course, with friends there is the added pressure to make sure that everything is good, because otherwise you have to see them socially, and well.

This weekend really reminded me of what a privilege it is to train for this line of work. I have the opportunity to be with people in their most emotional moments, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, and I get to shepherd them through that. And that is a true blessing.

And now, a picture of me looking all rabbinic and such:

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