Monday, September 25, 2006
Shanah Tovah! Happy New Year!
My new year began with services just outside Angels Camp, CA, a beautiful little town in the foothills of the Sierras. The Motherlode Jewish Community invited me to lead their Rosh HaShanah services. We davened, we ate, we studied, and we had a good time getting to know one another. I wish them (and you, dear reader) a sweet New Year.
I also had the pleasure this week of attending a meeting of the Jewish Welcome Network at the East Bay Federation offices. JWN is a group of Outreach professionals who meet from time to time in the Bay Area. It was good to reconnect with old friends there, and to hear about their successes and challenges. I am delighted to become a member of the JWN.
I have been thinking a lot lately about Outreach, specifically about Rabbi Alexander Schindler z"l [may his memory be for a blessing]. Rabbi Schindler was the president of the Union for Reform Judaism (then called the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) when he challenged the Union to be more welcoming of converts to Judaism and to interfaith couples. I only had the pleasure of meeting him once, in a very brief exchange in a hotel elevator during the UAHC Biennial in Orlando, FL. My temple president had pointed him out to me earlier, explaining who he was. When I realized I was riding an elevator with Rabbi Schindler the next day, I gathered up my courage and stammered out, "Rabbi Schindler, you don't know me, but I am deep in your debt. I became a Jew only a few years ago, and I'm told that I owe the welcome to you." He looked at me with eyes like bottomless pools, smiled gently, and put his hand on my head. The elevator dinged, the door opened, and he walked out. I rode up to my floor in a daze.
I can't tell you exactly what took place in that exchange. I felt transformed by the experience, charged to do something, I didn't know what. I had no idea that in two weeks, I would receive a call from the UAHC, offering me the opportunity to come in and interview for a position as Regional Outreach Director for the Central Pacific office. I had even less of a notion that after six months in that job, I would be filled with a desire to study to become a rabbi.
Rabbi Schindler died only a few months later, and we are much the poorer for the loss of his vision and guidance. I am just so grateful that I was privileged to meet him, that once.