I have worked with many Jews-by-Choice during my career in the rabbinate, far too many to actually be able to casually come up with a number. Most of my rabbinical work involves rites, rituals and teaching that I’ve done many times before. Conversion is no exception. But while I occasionally will reflect on the challenge of “staying fresh” for bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings and funerals, I never find myself challenged in that way when it comes to someone who is adopting Judaism by choice.
Like many others, I’m sure, I awoke Sunday morning to the terrible news of the death of Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein and his wife Deborah, z”l, in a tragic house fire in Scarsdale. I am horrified by the random and senseless nature of their death, and the loss that it represents for the congregants of his synagogue and for the Jewish community.
But in addition to the communal tragedy, I am deeply saddened by the loss of a man whom I met long ago under very unusual circumstances, and whom I was proud to call a friend and a colleague.
With Pesach in our communal rear view mirror, there is precious little room for us to kick back and relax. Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Memorial Day- is already upon us, and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel is to be celebrated next week. It is an incredibly dense stretch of the Jewish calendar, taking us on an emotional roller coaster ride from the high of Passover redemption to the low of the Shoah, and back again to the exhilaration of the miracle of Israel’s birth.
Though so many people go away for Pesach these days, we congregational rabbis tend to stay at home, for the most obvious reason. Leaving for a holiday is not really in the job description of a pulpit rabbi, unless you have lots of clergy on staff to cover you. So, with more that a little wistfulness, my wife and I watched a few weeks ago as many of our friends left for here and there- little cleaning, no shopping!!!- and we went about welcoming our children home and hosting both seders, as we have for many years, each for somewhere near twenty-five people.
As I write this blog, President Bush is making his way to Jerusalem (where I am), to participate in Israeli President Shimon Peres’ “Conference on Tomorrow.” The conference itself is quite amazing. Just this afternoon, Tony Blair chaired a session on visions of the future with Mikhail Gorbachev and some nineteen other heads of state in attendance (all in celebration of Israel’s 60th!). It was heady stuff! And tomorrow, out of the blue of the western sky (let’s see who gets that reference!), comes our own President to join the festivities.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.
I’ve spent the past three days wondering what would happen if I could have put (the late) John Lennon and Israeli President Shimon Peres in the same room. Like the recurring leitmotif in so many Hassidic folktales, I think it’s possible that the messiah would have come. Two dreamers, trying to leapfrog over the messiness of this world to see what might lie beyond…
Now that the love-fest is over and President Bush has “left the building,” so to speak, Israelis are left to ponder life after him. The conference on tomorrow organized by Shimon Peres afforded the Israeli government the chance to say thank you to the man who has been, in his gut, arguably the most sympathetically inclined towards Israel’s precarious security position of any American president in recent memory.
As I write, my married son and his wife are in Israel for the year, my older daughter is living in Manhattan, my younger daughter is in Poland with her senior class and about to depart for Israel for a year, and one son remains at home.
The recent federal raid at the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in Postville, Iowa, and the accompanying allegations brought against the Rubashkin family and brand, represent a particularly sorry and damaging episode in the cause of religious Judaism in this country.