This past week I joined 400 Reform Rabbis for a conference in San Diego. This was the first in-person conference of the CCAR in three years since the pandemic began. The theme was “Re-Forming” community life in a period of re-turn and re-opening. A highlight for me was spending quality time with the Rabbi of the largest synagogue in San Diego, Rabbi Jason Nevarez, who sends his love to the Mishpucha, the family of Temple Shaaray Tefila. I asked him “What do you love most about your new congregation?” He smiled and said, “Board meetings start at 5pm and end at 6:30pm.”
I attended a meaningful session with Rabbi Sally Priesand, who became the first woman rabbi fifty years ago. This month we celebrated 100 years since the first Bat Mitzvah, the first time in the history of the Jewish people, a young woman was permitted to read from the Torah scroll in public! We focused on the achievements of women in Jewish leadership and how American Reform Judaism has improved the place of women in the Jewish life, when compared to the past 2,000 years.
I also spent time with my friend Rabbi Gilad Kariv who is the first Reform Rabbi to serve in the Keneset, Israel’s Parliament. Gilad started a weekly egalitarian minyan that meets in the Keneset building. This enables Secular and Orthodox Jews the chance to learn about egalitarian Reform Judaism in which women and men are treated equally and can pray together.
As you might expect at a conference of Reform Rabbis, amidst all the sessions of learning and spirituality, we made time for Tikkun Olam. With a group of 30 Rabbis we visited a migrant center operated by the local Jewish community. The center’s location is kept secret because of past attacks by white supremacists. Over 64,000 people have been aided by this migrant center. Most of the migrants come from Central America. I was surprised to learn, in the past month over 1,000 Russians have crossed the border from Mexico and passed through this migrant center.
Together with the migrants we made about 500 sandwiches. The idea was to create partnership. Not we do it for them, or they do it for us, but we do it together. While we were making sandwiches, I struck up a conversation with one of the migrants – in Russian! She told me her story. She was a Mom in her 40’s with her three teen age children on-the-run. Because of the war, they fled from St. Petersburg and flew to Tajikistan. Why Tajikistan? Because Russian planes are not allowed to land in Europe. From Tajikistan they flew to Turkey, From Turkey to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Mexico. From Mexico they arrived in San Diego to seek asylum and a new life. (I did not ask why they left. Perhaps her husband is one of the 15,000 Russians who has been arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against the war.)
With all the problems we know our country has, it is still the place on earth that most people dream about as a haven of freedom. America continues to be a beacon of hope for humanity. Jewish Torah values such as “Welcoming the stranger,” and “Love your neighbor” are part of what we as a Jewish community contribute to America. As one Rabbi put it, “Under the statue of liberty there is no small print.” Our county is founded on e pluribus unum, with liberty and justice for all.
May we not take for granted the blessings we have, and may we fulfill the mitzvah of sharing with others.
Rabbi David Wilfond