|Rabbis work together for the greater good of the Jewish community|
|Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor|
|Wednesday, July 11 2012 14:15|
Like many Jewish communities, Kansas City has a board of rabbis, known here as the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City. The unusual thing about what the rabbis call the RA here is that every rabbi from every congregation — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — is a member.
“We all think it is unique,” said Rabbi Mark Levin, who has been a rabbi in Kansas City since 1976. He has served as the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Torah since its inception in 1988. He added that Chabad chooses not to participate in the RA, noting that the Lubavitch organization also doesn’t use the word congregation in its description.
Rabbi Levin said the RA hasn’t always been such a cohesive group.
“When I came here in the ‘70s, this was not the case. We have worked hard to make sure that there is an ecumenical understanding and a spirit of cooperation among the different movements and we are a community that can work together,” Rabbi Levin said.
It’s not that rabbis in other communities don’t work together. Rabbi Daniel Rockoff of Congregation BIAV said he has Orthodox colleagues who serve on their respective rabbinical boards.
“Nonetheless, it is apparent that this is a particular value of our Jewish community, to work collaboratively on all levels between synagogues, organizations and rabbis. When I interviewed at BIAV, it was made clear from the leadership that it was expected of their rabbi to serve on the Rabbinical Association. I see this as an opportunity to both serve as the Orthodox voice within the larger community and also work closely with my colleagues on issues of joint interest and concern,” Rabbi Rockoff said.
The RA’s president, Rabbi H. Scott White of Congregation Ohev Sholom, is proud that the local rabbis actually like each other.
“Our meetings have no shortage of good humor and fellowship. We’ve even been known to socialize with each other — across denominations — in leisure time, if you can believe that,” Rabbi White said.
As Rabbi Rockoff explained, at its core the RA is a forum for rabbis from the entire community to meet and discuss issues of common interest and concern.
“In addition, the RA seeks to proactively address certain needs within the Jewish community. In recent years, the RA has taken a more active role in creating educational programming,” he said.
According to Rabbi White, the legacy of cooperation among the rabbis began in the late ’70s. That’s when Kansas City became one of a handful of communities to establish a joint beit din for conversion, comprising rabbis from all three major movements.
“We also work with the Jewish Community Relations Bureau|American Jewish Committee to monitor and protect Jewish community interests, such as the growing activity of Hebrew Christians within our Jewish community. Other examples of our myriad of regular business activities include primary supervision of the Jewish Community Chaplaincy and rabbinic liaison by RA members with various local Jewish organizations,” Rabbi White explained.
Throughout the year the RA sponsors an assortment of programs. The programming cycle begins in late summer with the annual education program called Day of Discovery (Aug. 26 at the Jewish Community Campus). A citywide Selichot observance is next (Sept. 8 at Beth Torah), usually followed by community programming for Passover and Shavuot.
The rabbis point to the fact that most of these programs would never get off the ground without the dedicated, professional and tireless efforts of Annette Fish, the RA’s administrator/program director.
“Annette truly breathes life into the organization and brings order and follow-through to the various programs and initiative. Any success of the RA can be attributed in large measure to Annette’s efforts,” Rabbi Rockoff said.
Rabbi Levin believes one of the most important things that has come from this collaboration among the rabbis is the communitywide conversion course, known as the Judaism for Conversion Candidates class presented by the RA. It’s a course where students learn the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist perspectives.
“People can get a full range of religious experiences through a communal course. I think that’s an important innovation. It wasn’t always that way in this community. Every synagogue had its own conversion course,” Rabbi Levin said.
“The accommodation that we have made is that each rabbi officiates at the actual conversion individually according to his or her own standards, but we educate communally,” he continued.
“Creating a venue for rabbis to meet will always be a priority but that is only one goal. If the RA is to be a dynamic and relevant entity within the community, it must continue to look at new and creative ways to fill a niche that only it can,” Rabbi Rockoff said.
Rabbi White said there are three challenges facing the RA and they are all the same: money, money and money.
“We remain most grateful to the funders without whose support we couldn’t exist, to wit, the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Heritage Foundation and the Jewish Community Foundation. Private individuals have stepped forward as well to fund individual programs, for whom we are most grateful. But the truth is that, like many organizations, our financial situation is often quite precarious,” the RA president said.
Rabbi Rockoff agreed.
“What worked before may not be working anymore, or perhaps needs to be modified. As the RA tweaks its goals, new funding sources will have to become available to support those new initiatives,” Rabbi Rockoff said.
Rabbi White noted that funding worries extend much further than simply RA programs and activities.
“Members of our association, to a person, stay abreast of demographic and religious trends among American Jews. Prominent among those trends is an ongoing decline in synagogue affiliation. Many of us see that as writing on the wall for virtually all American Jewish communities of any size. We believe collaboration now will make consolidating congregational resources — historically an anathema in many communities — more do-able, as it becomes necessary later,” Rabbi White said.
The decline in affiliation rates is an issue that greatly concerns Rabbi Levin. He said he’s often hearing people say, “It’s not worth it to me” when it comes to the fees associated with congregation membership. He worries people no longer want to “step up to the plate” so that we can have a community that knows how to observe Judaism.
“I think the greatest challenge is for people to assume their responsibility as a member of the community,” he said.
“We are at a point now where people need to say ‘I want and am willing to participate in an active Jewish community,’ ” he said. “I think that confronts the Rabbinical Association as leaders of congregations who have to find a way to bring this case before people so that they see what’s happening.”
Personally, Rabbi Levin really wants to be a part of a full-service Jewish community.
“I was once offered a job at a nice congregation in a smaller city. I didn’t want to go because there was no Orthodox community there ... I want to have a full-range Jewish community for myself and my family — an active Orthodox congregation, kashrut, a mikvah, a religious perspective that comes from the Orthodox perspective and not simply Conservative or Reform …
“I think the Kansas City Jewish community needs to confront if having a full-range Jewish community is going to continue to be the case,” Rabbi Levin continued. “Not that Orthodox is in danger here, it’s not. But whether we’re going to continue to have all the full range of services that we’ve offered, I think people are going to have to decide whether they are going to actively be involved in that.”
|Last Updated on Thursday, July 12 2012 11:28|