Reconstructionist Judaism, October 2016
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In this Issue:
Mourning Orlando in Atlanta - A Reconstructionist Rabbi Helps Organize a Powerful Multifaith Response to Tragedy
By Rabbi Maurice Harris, RRC ‘03, Associate Director of Affiliate Support at RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

On Sunday morning, June 12, when Rabbi Joshua Lesser, RRC ‘99, heard the news about the massacre of 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, he knew he had to act. Rabbi Lesser, who has served Atlanta’s Congregation Bet Haverim for 17 years, entered into a flurry of phone calls and hasty meetings with local LGBT and human rights leaders and supportive clergy in the Atlanta area.
Within hours, the outline of a community-wide memorial took shape. Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights offered a venue for a vigil that was quickly set for Tuesday, June 14—just two days after the attack. The task force asked Rabbi Lesser to organize faith communities and their role in the vigil, which is always a crucial part of public events in Georgia. He had just 48 hours to plan a safe and accessible program that would allow a diverse collection of affected communities to experience grief and solidarity together.
There were multiple communities in shock and grief, and many sensitivities in play. The LGBT community needed to grieve and draw strength in a frightening time. The Latino community needed to be central to the event (Pulse was having its “Latin Night” at the time of the attack). The Muslim community also needed to be included with sensitivity (given the attacker’s religious background and concerns about Islamophobic backlash). On top of that, Rabbi Lesser had to factor in the large numbers of people in the LGBT community who carry a deep wariness of religious leaders, even in an era of progressive change in many religious communities.
This is where Rabbi Lesser says his training at RRC and elements of Values Based Decision Making helped him identify and weigh the values at stake in the situation. Over the years, he made a considerable effort to build strong relationships with other faith community leaders, including some outside the progressive end of the religious spectrum. Carefully considering all the different stakeholders and what their needs might be, he focused his appeal to these leaders on the importance of the ongoing work needed to build a healthy community.
Thanks to many people, the vigil succeeded in expressing the values and ideals that its organizers intended. Speakers gave talks alternating in English and Spanish with ASL interpretation. The dais was shared by groups as diverse as the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, the Anti-Defamation League, several Christian denominations, and even the chorus of Congregation Bet Haverim.
Rabbi Malka Packer, RRC ‘14, who directs InterfaithFamily/Atlanta, attended the vigil and described the event as profoundly moving and uniting. Rabbi Packer, who identifies as a queer rabbi, subsequently wrote a guest column about the impacts of Orlando on her and her partner in the Atlanta Jewish Times.
One of the moments Rabbi Lesser found the most inspiring took place after the remarks of Amina Abdul Jalil, representing the Atlanta chapter of Muslims for Progressive Values. Jalil told the crowd, “I am Muslim. I am black. I am queer. And I do not apologize for any of that…I heard about the shooting and I instantly thought, ‘They’re going to blame it on a Muslim.’ And then I heard the shooter was Muslim… And then I heard that he was in and out of the queer community himself, and I could not help but wonder: What could have helped this? What could have prevented this?” After concluding her speech, she was embraced by a local imam from a more traditional Islamic community. There were many similarly powerful moments of shared humanity at the vigil, which was widely covered by local media
.NEW: Introducing the Reconstructionist Learning Networks

Do you have questions on aspects of Jewish life and would like to connect with other Reconstructionists with those same questions?
You may have heard already, but we’re excited to announce that we’re launching a new program from Jewish Reconstructionist Communities called the Reconstructionist Learning Networks. Under the direction of Assistant Vice President of Innovation and Impact Cyd Weissman, Reconstructionist Learning Networks connect you with people across geography and perspectives seeking to wrestle with questions and shape answers about Jewish life that you can’t find on Google.
Facilitated by experts including Jewish Reconstructionist Communities staff and Reconstructionist Rabbinical College faculty, each network will have six to 12 participants who will learn among colleagues, explore case studies, text studies, resource materials, and discuss real-life challenges and solutions.
Some of those questions include:
How can Jewish bedtime rituals help children feel loved and secure?
How can we effectively work for justice, while maintaining our energy and keeping our members involved?
What does it mean to plan a Reconstructionist program for your teenage peers?
Can you hear me now? How can our community’s brand stand out in a busy world?
Which model of Jewish education is right for us?
How are executive directors responding to new challenges?
There are more questions to be answered, and we’re aiming to have a network for everyone. But, if you don’t see something that speaks to you, please tell us what you are looking for. We’ll be adding three more Learning Networks this year based on feedback we hear from you.
Click here to view the whole catalogue.
What you will need in order to participate:
You’ll need access to a computer, a web camera and an Internet connection. The video-networking platform we use fosters connections by making it easy for participants to see and hear one another.
How to sign up
You can register online at
If you have any questions, please contact Rory Schonning at or 215.576.0800, ext. 131. 
.Upcoming Networks

Networks meet three to six times a year online for about an hour each session. At least six people are required for each network. Networks are capped at 12 participants unless otherwise specified, and a waitlist will be created if a network reaches capacity.
You can register online at
If you have any questions, please contact Rory Schonning at or 215.576.0800, ext. 131.
11/1/16 How do we bridge the gap between shul and home?
11/9/16 How can we effectively work for justice, while maintaining our energy and keeping our members involved?
11/10/16  or  11/17/16 How can we make Jewish stories come to life?
11/21/16 What does rabbinic leadership look like in a Jewish Community Center (JCC)?
11/22/16 Can you hear me now? How can our community’s brand stand out in a busy world?
11/22/16 Which model of Jewish education is right for us?

12/1/16 Where is our Shabbat when we work on Shabbat?
12/6/16 Can you hear me now? How can our community’s brand stand out in a busy world?
12/8/16 Where is our Shabbat when we work on Shabbat?
12/13/16 How do we bridge the gap between shul and home?
12/14/16 How can we effectively work for justice, while maintaining our energy and keeping our members involved?
12/14/16 How do we create new rituals for changing times?
12/15/16 Where is our Shabbat when we work on Shabbat?
12/20/16 Can you hear me now? How can our community’s brand stand out in a busy world?
12/20/16 Which model of Jewish education is right for us?
Register Now For The First Reconstructionist Birthright Trip!

We’re thrilled to announce that we are planning the first-ever Reconstructionist Birthright Israel trip (planned dates: December 18-29, 2016) for young adults age 21-26. Participants will hike, learn, sing and connect with the land, people, history and culture. There are only 40 spots available, and they will fill fast! Go to to register now, and be sure to share this exciting opportunity with members of your community!
We’re Bringing A Camp To The West Coast

Lights, camera, action… we’re thrilled to announce that Camp JRF will open a new film and arts-based specialty camp in southern California. This is thanks to a $1.4 million award to be distributed over four years by the Foundation for Jewish Camp as part of its Specialty Camps Incubator.
The Jim Josephs Foundation and the Avi Chai Foundation provide support for the Specialty Camps Incubator.
The new camp – geared for third to 10th graders – is slated to open in 2018, with the goal of providing high-level arts programming within the Jewish, values-based, welcoming environment that is epitomized by Camp JRF.  We don’t have a location picked out yet, but we know it will be within a two hour drive of Los Angeles. We look forward to sharing details as the camp takes shape.
“Camp JRF began as a dream just over 15 years ago,” said Rabbi Isaac Saposnik, RRC ’08, executive director of Camp JRF. “With this new camp, we’re excited to build upon that dream as we create powerful and transformative Jewish experiences for more and more kids and families.”
“Camp JRF is the beating heart of the Reconstructionist movement.  It is one of our crown jewels,” said Rabbi Deborah Waxman, RRC ’99, Ph.D., president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/ Jewish Reconstructionist Communities.  “It is impossible to feel anything other than optimistic about the future of Judaism in general and the future of Reconstructionist Judaism in particular when you visit Camp JRF.  We could not be more thrilled by or more grateful for the challenge of expanding it to the West Coast.”
For more information, you can email us at
You can also check out these articles about the new camp from the Jewish Exponent, eJewish Philanthropy and Jewish Telegraphic Agency!
Remembering Rabbi Regina Jonas, z”l

Regina Jonas, z”l, was the first woman known to have been ordained as a rabbi, in Berlin in 1935. In addition to her important historical role as the first female rabbi, Rabbi Jonas lived a remarkable, though tragically short, life, serving as a chaplain, teacher, and preacher in the Berlin Jewish community until she was deported to Terezin, and continuing to serve as a rabbi to her fellow prisoners there until her murder in Auschwitz in 1944. The story of how and why her story was lost, and how it has come to be rediscovered, is equally fascinating and important.

Join Jewish communities around the country in learning from this significant Jewish leader and honoring her legacy on or around her yahrzeit, which is commemorated on Parashat Bereishit (which falls this year on October 29th).
To support you in teaching and learning about Rabbi Jonas, the Jewish Women’s Archive has created ready-to-use program materials. These show and facilitate discussion of JWA’s award-winning short film “In the Footsteps of Regina Jonas,” which traces the moving journey of a group of pioneering American rabbis (including Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, RRC '74, the first woman to graduate from RRC) and scholars to Europe to learn about Rabbi Jonas and to honor her memory 70 years after her death. They also include a framing activity focusing on the importance of role models, an extension activity which connects Regina Jonas’ story to the stories of contemporary women rabbis, suggestions for connecting Rabbi Jonas’ story to the Torah and Holiday cycle, and a memorial ritual in her honor. All of these resources are designed to be flexible and modular, so that you can easily build the program that is best for your community.
Check out the full resources, and let us know if you plan to do a Regina Jonas program in your community! If you have any questions or would like any support with the use of the resources, please contact JWA’s Rabbinic Intern Sarah Mulhern at
.Reconstructionist Ritualwell
.Women's Torah Reading Song for Simchat Torah
The Reconstructionist movement has always valued the role of women as equal members and leaders in the Jewish community.
We have finished the end of book of Deuteronomy and started the book Genesis this week, but we should still take a moment to celebrate of women’s participation in Torah study with a song written for a women's Torah reading on Simchat Torah by Metro Detroit Women’s Simchat Torah Project.
For more resources, rituals and prayers for the upcoming Jewish and secular holidays, visit, Reconstructionist Judaism’s home for experimental ritual.
.Coming Up

Reconstructionist Birthright Israel
Planned dates, December 18-29, 2016
Camp JRF, Jewish Reconstructionist Communities and Reconstructionist Rabbinical College are teaming up with Israel Experts to lead a uniquely Reconstructionist Israel trip for young adults ages 21 to 26. Our participants will see the major sites and also visit the more out-of-the-way places to learn about Israeli culture. Whether they’ve visited before or this is the first time, we know it’ll be an incredible experience!  Registration is now open!

Click here for more information or email us at
.Reconstructionists in the News
Reflecting on the consequences of the 1924 adoption of the Johnson-Reed Act, RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities President Rabbi Deborah Waxman, RRC ‘99, Ph.D., writes in the Huffington Post about the potential implications of immigration reforms proposed by Donald Trump in the upcoming election.

Yasher Koach to Ritualwell, which has been selected as a semi-finalist for the inaugural Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom! You can check out Ritualwell’s profile as well as the profiles of many other inspiring and groundbreaking Jewish organizations.

The Zohar is one of the most influential and impenetrable works of Jewish mysticism in the entire Jewish canon. Featured in both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Jewish Exponent, RRC professor and trained Orthodox rabbi, Joel Hecker, has played a key role in a landmark scholarly effort to produce an authoritative English translation.

Just a few generations ago, there was no question about whether a family would join a synagogue. Today, Jews are not as inclined to join a Jewish community. In an article by the Canadian Jewish News, Lila Sarick asks young rabbis, including Rabbi Miriam Margles, RRC ‘08, about the challenges and opportunities facing new rabbis.

After joining Oberlin College as the Jewish Campus Life Affiliate, Rabbi Megan Doherty, RRC ‘07, talks about her path to the rabbinate, her experiences in Israel, and her goals for creating a welcoming Jewish environment on campus.

While many in the Jewish community discuss the implications of intermarriage, Rabbi Boris Dolin, RRC ‘11, talks about the deep conversations and policy considerations taking place at Congregation Dorshei Emet.

On PBS’s program Religion & Ethics News Weekly, Rabbi Shira Stutman, RRC ‘07, talks about the meaning of the Amidah prayer.
.Inspiration and Connection

November is almost here! For rituals, prayers, poems and blogs about upcoming Election Day and Thanksgiving, browse, Reconstructionism’s home for experimental ritual. Find out what’s new on by signing up for the monthly newsletter.

Death, dying and mourning are topics that stir up pain and anxiety. But RRC student Ariana Katz wants us to stop ignoring the elephant in the room and discuss death and mourning openly. After winning a $20,000 Maxi-Grant from RRC’s Auerbach Grant Program, Katz is taking to the internet airways and has launched her first podcast called Kaddish: A Podcast on Death and Mourning. You can also follow this project on Facebook and Twitter.

You can study Torah wherever you are!
If you’re ready to wrestle with the weekly Torah parshah, visit Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue’s Rabbi Judith HaLevy’s YouTube channel, Challenging Torah.
You can also catch RRC student Sandra Lawson’s Torah Lesson on Snapchat (sandrajlawson) or on YouTube.

Join members of other Reconstructionist congregations online on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for wisdom, news and special announcements. 

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The Jewish Reconstructionist Communities in association with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) provides services for more than 100 congregations and havurot where members help create the Judaism they want to live. RRC is a progressive rabbinical school­­ where people of all backgrounds engage intensively with Jewish texts, thought and practice. As a combined organization, RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities make up a unique kind of entity in the contemporary Jewish landscape.
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