Having to Share My Rebbe

When Rabbi Danny Nevins, my friend, colleague, and personal rabbi, told me a couple months ago that he was being considered for the position of Dean of the Rabbinical School of the Conservative Movement’s central academic institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary, I was immediately torn.

On the one hand, I knew how many people at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan (including my parents) would be devastated to lose their beloved rabbi. On the other hand, I knew how many Jewish people around the world would benefit greatly from having their own rabbis influenced by Danny’s insight, warmth, sincerety, and brilliance.

Rabbi Danny Nevins became the rabbi of my shul just as I was heading off to college, but I quickly found in him everything I was looking for in a personal spiritual advisor — a rebbe. He comforted me when my grandfather passed away. He’s written numerous letters of recommendation on my behalf. He officiated at my wedding and the naming celebrations for two of my children. For the past thirteen years, as I decided to become a rabbi, studied in rabbinical school, and took my own congregation, Rabbi Nevins has been my closest advisor. He’s a rabbi’s rabbi and always seems to just “get it.” He is an academic and a spiritual guide. He is progressive and yet always guarding the Tradition.

It is bittersweet to know that I will now have to share his wise counsel with hundreds of other rabbis — both future and present leaders of the Jewish community. But for the sake of Judaism and the future strength of the Conservative Movement, this is a wonderful choice. Together with Chancellor Arnie Eisen, Dean Danny Nevins will help bring the Conservative Movement to its true potential.

Mazel Tov to Rabbi Nevins… chazak v’amatz!

The Detroit Free Press article is here.

Here is the press release from JTS:

The Jewish Theological Seminary announced today that Rabbi Daniel Nevins has been named the next Dean of The Rabbinical School. The Jewish Theological Seminary is the academic and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism worldwide.

Rabbi Nevins, who will assume his post on July 1, 2007, succeeds Rabbi William Lebeau, who joined JTS as Vice Chancellor for Rabbinic Development in 1988. Since then, he has served twice as Dean of The Rabbinical School, from 1993-1999, and most recently from June 2004 until the present.

Rabbi Nevins is currently the Senior Rabbi of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan, where he previously served as Assistant Rabbi. A 1994 graduate of The Rabbinical School, he received an MA in Hebrew Letters from JTS in 1991 and a BA, magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 1989, from where he also received an MA in history. A native of New Jersey, Rabbi Nevins studied at Yeshivat HaMivtar in Jerusalem, and was the recipient of the prestigious Wexner Foundation Graduate Fellowship.

“I am delighted to announce the appointment of Rabbi Daniel Nevins as the next Dean of The Rabbinical School,” said Arnold M. Eisen, Chancellor-elect of JTS. “Rabbi Nevins brings to his new tasks the wealth of experience, wisdom and compassion gained during his thirteen years as a congregational rabbi in a thriving community. He also impressed the Search Committee and me with his energy, his ideas, and his passionate commitment to Torah, the Jewish people, and Conservative Judaism. Danny’s deep appreciation for our movement’s standards, its principles, and its pluralistic nature will serve us well at this time of challenge and transition for the movement. His years of work on the Rabbinical Assembly Law Committee are a testament to his vision, his leadership, and his scholarship. I am excited at the prospect of working with Rabbi Nevins as I assume the leadership of JTS, certain that he will meet our challenges with confidence and seize hold with both hands of the many opportunities before us.”

“I am honored and excited by the opportunity to serve as Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School,” stated Rabbi Nevins. “For the past thirteen years I have had an extraordinary experience as Rabbi of Adat Shalom Synagogue. I have experimented in the ultimate laboratory of Jewish life, learning what works through the prism of countless pastoral, intellectual, and spiritual interactions with my congregation. I will miss my community, but I will take what I have learned from them to benefit the next generation of rabbis. As Dean of The Rabbinical School, I look forward to working with an extraordinary team of faculty, students, and administrators to create a sacred place of Torah study and observance.”

Rabbi Nevins serves on the Rabbinical Assembly’s International Executive Council and is a member of the RA’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) His halakhic writings include several responsa approved by the CJLS as well as co-authorship of “Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah,” a responsum arguing for the normalization of the status of gay and lesbian Jews that was approved by the CJLS last month. His many general Jewish essays include, among others, “A Place Among the Mourners of Zion,” an exploration of the history and meaning of a familiar expression of comfort, published in Conservative Judaism (Summer 2006), and “Gadol Kvod HaBriot: Placing Human Dignity in the Center of Conservative Judaism,” which appeared in Judaism (Summer 2005), a quarterly journal published by the American Jewish Congress.

Rabbi Nevins is past President of the Michigan region of the Rabbinical Assembly and serves on the Board of the Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit. Deeply committed to interfaith and interreligious work, he is past President of the Farmington Area Interfaith Association and the ecumenical Michigan Board of Rabbis, and a member of the Board of the Detroit chapter of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. In May 2005, Rabbi Nevins led a group of Protestant and Catholic leaders on a unique trip that included Pope Benedict XVI’s first public audience, Yom Hasho’ah (Holocaust Memorial Day) at Titus’s Arch in Rome, and a week in Israel visiting Jewish and Christian holy places.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Quoted in the NY Times

There is an odd sense of excitement at having been misquoted in the NY Times for the first time! Here’s the article:

Trying to Keep Divinity …

By MAREK FUCHS

Depending on the day at her Methodist seminary, Jennifer Wilsford wants to be either a parish minister or a professor. Her seminary, for its part, has tweaked its curriculum, brings in speakers and tries to hold her hand through the logistics of ordination — all designed to nudge Ms. Wilsford and other seminarians toward the pulpit.

Jason Miller entered the rabbinic seminary with the notion that he wanted to graduate to a pulpit job, but leading a congregation out of school was daunting. He said that to help him prepare for the calling — and not be tempted to leave it before he graduated — he became “the guinea pig” in a new program, attending classes in one state, living and working as an assistant rabbi in another and serving as the primary rabbi in a third.

[…] As a board member for the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and traveling to smaller Jewish communities around the world, Ned Gladstein saw the result of the waning popularity of pulpit work — smaller or emerging congregations can be left struggling for rabbis.

Mr. Gladstein, president of Sunrise ShopRite Inc., which runs grocery stores, donated the money to establish a scholarship for an internship program structured to guide a seminarian through the process of learning how to serve a synagogue. This is done by serving in two simultaneously. While going to school, the student serves as the assistant rabbi at a large established synagogue and lives in that community; using what he learns there as a knowledge base and the head rabbi as a mentor, he travels for holidays and regular Shabbats to a synagogue that is smaller and newer.

Rabbi Miller did not go into the rabbinate immediately after completing the program at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He took a position at Hillel at the University of Michigan instead. (The program has since been changed to give incentive to the graduate to take a post with a smaller synagogue.)

But now he is a rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in Columbus, Ohio, and Rabbi Miller said that his experience was a lasting influence on his eventual arrival at the pulpit. It taught him, he said, to try his varied activities “in baby steps, I know I can’t do everything at once” in a way that a less-rounded program might not have.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Another Kosher Subway Restaurant

Kosher-SubwayMy wife and I ate at the Kosher Subway restaurant located at the Cleveland Ohio JCC a few months ago when we were in town for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and Cleveland Cavaliers/Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game. In addition to getting the chance to see our friend Rabbi Steve Weiss of B’nai Jeshurun, we really enjoyed being able to order a meatball and [parve] “cheese” sub and a sub loaded with delicious deli meats.

I thought it was much better than the Subway experience I remember from Jerusalem in 1996 when there was still a Subway restaurant on Jaffa Street downtown.

Kosher-SubwayWell, it looks like a new Subway restaurant is set to open this April in Los Angeles.

Hopefully there will be more Kosher Subway restaurants opening soon in Jewish communities like Chicago, Atlanta or Detroit.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Lipstadt: Carter has a "Jewish Problem"

From the Washington Post

Jimmy Carter’s Jewish Problem
By Deborah Lipstadt

It is hard to criticize an icon. Jimmy Carter’s humanitarian work has saved countless lives. Yet his life has also been shaped by the Bible, where the Hebrew prophets taught us to speak truth to power. So I write.

Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” while exceptionally sensitive to Palestinian suffering, ignores a legacy of mistreatment, expulsion and murder committed against Jews. It trivializes the murder of Israelis. Now, facing a storm of criticism, he has relied on anti-Semitic stereotypes in defense.

One cannot ignore the Holocaust’s impact on Jewish identity and the history of the Middle East conflict. When an Ahmadinejad or Hamas threatens to destroy Israel, Jews have historical precedent to believe them. Jimmy Carter either does not understand this or considers it irrelevant.

His book, which dwells on the Palestinian refugee experience, makes two fleeting references to the Holocaust. The book contains a detailed chronology of major developments necessary for the reader to understand the current situation in the Middle East. Remarkably, there is nothing listed between 1939 and 1947. Nitpickers might say that the Holocaust did not happen in the region. However, this event sealed in the minds of almost all the world’s people then the need for the Jewish people to have a Jewish state in their ancestral homeland. Carter never discusses the Jewish refugees who were prevented from entering Palestine before and after the war. One of Israel’s first acts upon declaring statehood was to send ships to take those people “home.”

A guiding principle of Israel is that never again will persecuted Jews be left with no place to go. Israel’s ideal of Jewish refuge is enshrined in laws that grant immediate citizenship to any Jew who requests it. A Jew, for purposes of this law, is anyone who, had that person lived in Nazi Germany, would have been stripped of citizenship by the Nuremberg Laws.

Compare Carter’s approach with that of Rashid Khalidi, head of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute and a professor of Arab studies there. His recent book “The Iron Cage” contains more than a dozen references to the seminal place the Holocaust and anti-Semitism hold in the Israeli worldview. This from a Palestinian who does not cast himself as an evenhanded negotiator.

In contrast, by almost ignoring the Holocaust, Carter gives inadvertent comfort to those who deny its importance or even its historical reality, in part because it helps them deny Israel’s right to exist. This from the president who signed the legislation creating the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Carter’s minimization of the Holocaust is compounded by his recent behavior. On MSNBC in December, he described conditions for Palestinians as “one of the worst examples of human rights deprivation” in the world. When the interviewer asked “Worse than Rwanda?” Carter said that he did not want to discuss the “ancient history” of Rwanda.

To give Carter the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that he meant an ongoing crisis. Is the Palestinians’ situation equivalent to Darfur, which our own government has branded genocide?

Carter has repeatedly fallen back — possibly unconsciously — on traditional anti-Semitic canards. In the Los Angeles Times last month, he declared it”politically suicide” for a politician to advocate a “balanced position” on the crisis. On Al-Jazeera TV, he dismissed the critique of his book by declaring that “most of the condemnations of my book came from Jewish-American organizations.” Jeffrey Goldberg, who lambasted the book in The Post last month, writes for the New Yorker. Ethan Bronner, who in the New York Times called the book “a distortion,” is the Times’ deputy foreign editor. Slate’s Michael Kinsley declared it “moronic.” Dennis Ross, who was chief negotiator on the conflict in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, described the book as a rewriting and misrepresentation of history. Alan Dershowitz teaches at Harvard and Ken Stein at Emory. Both have criticized the book. Because of the book’s inaccuracies and imbalance and Carter’s subsequent behavior, 14 members of the Carter Center’s Board of Councilors have resigned — many in anguish because they so respect Carter’s other work. All are Jews. Does that invalidate their criticism — and mine — or render us representatives of Jewish organizations?

On CNN, Carter bemoaned the “tremendous intimidation in our country that has silenced” the media. Carter has appeared on C-SPAN, “Larry King Live” and “Meet the Press,” among many shows. When a caller to C-SPAN accused Carter of anti-Semitism, the host cut him off. Who’s being silenced?

Perhaps unused to being criticized, Carter reflexively fell back on this kind of innuendo about Jewish control of the media and government. Even if unconscious, such stereotyping from a man of his stature is noteworthy. When David Duke spouts it, I yawn. When Jimmy Carter does, I shudder.

Others can enumerate the many factual errors in this book. A man who has done much good and who wants to bring peace has not only failed to move the process forward but has given refuge to scoundrels.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Mass resignation from Carter Center (JTA)

From JTA.org

Fourteen Jewish members of the Carter Center in Atlanta resigned to protest the former president’s book blaming Israel for the failure of Middle East peace efforts.

In a letter to Carter obtained by JTA, the group wrote Thursday that he had abandoned his role as peace broker in favor of malicious partisan advocacy, portraying the conflict as a “purely one-sided affair” which Israel bears full responsibility for resolving.

“This is not the Carter Center or the Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support,” the letter said.

“Therefore it is with sadness and regret that we hereby tender our resignation from the Board of Councilors of the Carter Center effective immediately.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jimmy Carter’s Maps Questioned by Dennis Ross

Jimmy-Carter-Israel-MapIn a NY Times article, former Ambassador Dennis Ross raises some serious criticism of Jimmy Carter’s use of maps in his new book “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.” Of course, Ross is not the first to criticize Carter for the way he uses the maps (or where he got them) to make his argument. Prof. Alan Dershowitz (see his article in the Boston Globe) has offered to debate Carter about his arguments in the book, but Carter has refused the challenge.

Here is the Ross op-ed from the New York Times:

Don’t Play with Maps
By Dennis Ross

I became embroiled in a controversy with former President Jimmy Carter over the use of two maps in his recent book, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.” While some criticized what appeared to be the misappropriation of maps I had commissioned for my book, “The Missing Peace,” my concern was always different.

I was concerned less with where the maps had originally come from — Mr. Carter has said that he used an atlas that was published after my book appeared — and more with how they were labeled. To my mind, Mr. Carter’s presentation badly misrepresents the Middle East proposals advanced by President Bill Clinton in 2000, and in so doing undermines, in a small but important way, efforts to bring peace to the region.

In his book, Mr. Carter juxtaposes two maps labeled the “Palestinian Interpretation of Clinton’s Proposal 2000” and “Israeli Interpretation of Clinton’s Proposal 2000.”

The problem is that the “Palestinian interpretation” is actually taken from an Israeli map presented during the Camp David summit meeting in July 2000, while the “Israeli interpretation” is an approximation of what President Clinton subsequently proposed in December of that year. Without knowing this, the reader is left to conclude that the Clinton proposals must have been so ambiguous and unfair that Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was justified in rejecting them. But that is simply untrue. [more]

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Man of 100 Voices

In Rabbinical School, I remember learning that in order to deliver good sermons a rabbi has to find his/her voice. Well, here’s a video of a man (Jared Gordon) who has found 100 other voices (and can do them in only 4 minutes). I’ve always been a fan of celebrity impressions and this guy is hillarious.

Like Saturday Night Live’s “Lazy Sunday” (Chronicles of Narnia Rap) viral video, there are a lot of challengers (see “Lazy Shabbos”) on YouTube, but I think Jared Gordon does the best impressions.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Arnie Eisen’s Listening Tour Makes News

I was surprised to see one article in the Wall Street Journal incorporate three organizations I’ve been involved with: The Jewish Theological Seminary, Hillel, and the STAR Foundation’s Synaplex.

This is a great article about how Jewish organizations are finally going out and learning what the people want. If I wrote this article (and I’m not sure why I didn’t), I would have included the same institutions that this author does. I commend Prof. Arnie Eisen, the new chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary for following through on what he promised (in meetings I had with him in both Detroit and Columbus) by conducting a listening tour throughout the Conservative movement to determine what matters most to Conservative Jews. I’m glad to see his devotion to the cause is getting this type of exposure.

I was also happy to see Rabbi Hayim Herring interviewed for this article. Rabbi Herring is the executive director of the STAR Foundation, which runs two programs that I am very much involved with — Synaplex and PEER. Like the author of this article recognizes in her subtitle, “consultant speak” has definitely found its way into organized religion (or at least Judaism).

Reviving Judaism
BY NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY
WALL STREET JOURNAL

A few weeks ago, Hillary Clinton got started on a new “listening tour.” Her first one, during the 2000 Senate campaign, was aimed at soliciting the ideas of New York voters on what legislative issues were important to them. This one is aimed at hearing the thoughts of Democratic strategists on the subject of her presidential run. But the idea behind the tours remained the same: Find out what the people want–and, if possible, give it to them.Arnie-Eisen
In politics, such an approach has an irrefutable democratic logic. But is it well suited to religion? Arnold Eisen, the chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary, has spent the past few months on a “listening tour” of his own, holding town-hall meetings around the country to figure out how to reinvigorate Conservative Judaism. Mr. Eisen is looking to find out what Jews want–and, if possible, give it to them.

Trying to make Judaism more popular is not a new idea. Jewish leaders have worried for decades that high rates of intermarriage and assimilation are causing the Jewish population to diminish dramatically. And they are right. Between 1990 and 2000, the American Jewish population declined to 5.2 million from 5.5 million. With Jewish women getting married later in life and having fewer children, this trend is likely only to accelerate.

But the most recent response to this crisis has been less than inspiring. The Jewish Week recently published “17 Seriously Cool Ideas to Remake New York’s Jewish Community.” These included creating a Jewish culinary institute, building a kibbutz in the Big Apple, providing high-quality Jewish toddler care, hosting a hipper Israeli Independence Day parade, and baking better kosher pizza.

Perhaps these ideas were meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek, but other ideas are not–and probably should be. Take a new project called Synaplex. Sponsored by the Star Foundation, Synaplex is, according to its Web site, “designed to provide people with new reasons to make the synagogue the place to be on Shabbat.” About 125 synagogues are already “enabling people to celebrate Shabbat the way they want to.”

What does that mean? Instead of attending a traditional service, Rabbi Hayim Herring, Star’s executive director, tells me, some people would do “Medi-Torah” or “Torah and Yoga.” Others might attend a lecture or go to a musical service followed by a “latte cart.” And still others might prefer to attend a Friday night wine-and-cheese reception. [Continue Reading]

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rest in Peace Mayor Teddy (1911-2007)

I’ve met a few big city mayors in my life (Detroit’s Dennis Archer, Ed Koch of NYC, and Michael Coleman of Columbus), but no one will ever surpass Jerusalem’s Mayor Teddy Kollek, may his memory be for a blessing) in popularity, sincerity, or menschlichkeit.

In July 1996, I was walking in front of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel with my dad and his friend Lazer Dorfman. Lazer pointed to the short, old man standing in front of a car with the car alarm blaring and said, “That’s Teddy Kollek, the old mayor of Jerusalem.” We went up to say hi and he shook our hands explaining that his driver was inside and he accidentally set off the car alarm. I took the keys and quickly turned off the alarm. Mayor Teddy was very thankful for our help and we talked until hisdriver returned.

Whenever I tell this story to a native Israeli, their face lights up and they tell their own story of what a nice guy and great mayor Teddy Kollek was. He will sorely be missed.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller