Central Conference of American Rabbis Holds Historic Convention in Cincinnati and Memorable Study Sessions at HUC-JIR's Cincinnati Campus

Thursday, May 1, 2008

American Jewish Archives Honors 36 Years of Women in the Rabbinate with Establishment of "Documenting the History of Women in the Rabbinate" Archival Collection 

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) held their 119th annual convention in Cincinnati, Ohio from March 30 to April 2, 2008. Over 500 rabbis attended and represented the largest CCAR convention turnout since 1989. The catalyst for such a large response was the CCAR-HUC-JIR Cincinnati Campus day, sponsored by the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati. The convention was co-chaired by Dr. Gary P. Zola, C '82, Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, and Rabbi Peter Berg, N '98. 

Rabbi Micah Greenstein, C '91, Senior Rabbi at Temple Israel in Memphis, said, "Isaac Mayer Wise would have been ecstatic at the mere sight of 500 Reform rabbis filling the HUC-JIR's Cincinnati campus. Indeed, on April 1, 2008, the CCAR, the oldest and largest rabbinical body in America, was meeting on the campus of the oldest, largest, and first permanent modern rabbinical seminary in America. And only in Cincinnati could it have been possible to feel the grandeur, majesty, scholarship, and history of Reform Judaism across three centuries." 

Rabbis had the opportunity to honor the legacy of those that came before them in the by touring the historic Cincinnati Walnut Hills Cemetery. Kaddish d'rabbananwas recited at the gravesides of such notable Reform Jewish historic figures as Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, Rabbi Max Lilienthal, Israel Bettan, Jacob Rader Marcus, and Julia Ettlinger. This moving visit illustrated the significance of this Cincinnati site, which memorializes these leaders. 

Of significant interest to returning alumni and visitors on campus, was the newly renovated Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, completed in June 2005, and the current $11.5 million renovation of the Klau Library due to be completed by Summer 2009. 

Learning on the HUC-JIR Cincinnati campus included sessions spotlighting HUC-JIR Cincinnati faculty on subjects ranging from the Jewish response to slavery, stereotypes of Reform Judaism, medical ethics, the Haggadah, and moral values in the Bible. Some highlights included:

  • Professor David Aaron taught a provocative class on the relevance of our Hebrew Scriptures to today's Reform Movement. Using history of interpretation philosophers such as Richard Rorty and Umberto Eco, Professor Aaron's class was, in the eyes of one participant, "one of the most thought provoking lectures he's heard in years. David Aaron is one of HUC-JIR's most groundbreaking and cutting-edge scholars,"
  • Rabbi Gary Zola, Rabbi Lance Sussman and Prof. Paul Finkelman taught A House Divided Against Itself: Another Look at the Jewish Response to Slavery and used the distance learning technology of the electronic classroom at the American Jewish Archives to illustrate new ways of integrating technology into our studies.
  • Professor Richard Sarason's class on The CCAR Liturgies from 1892 to 2007 and examined the texts and trajectories of CCAR liturgies from the very first Union Prayer Book draft published in 1892 up to our current Mishkan T'filah.
  • A panel discussion on Medical Frontiers and the Halakhah was moderated by Rabbi Walter Jacob, Chair of the CCAR Responsa Committee.
  • Professor Susan Einbinder discussed What's New in the Middle Ages, and explored new thinking about Jewish life and literature in the Middle Ages and its implications for larger questions of Jewish self-definition and identity.
  • Professor Michael Meyer taught a riveting class on Cracking a Stereotype: Exploring the Complexities of Classical Reform Judaism.
  • Rabbi Sam Joseph discussed the notion of Appreciative Inquiry: A Synagogue Approach.
  • Professor Michael Cook taught Passion Traditions before the Gospels.
  • Professors Nili Fox and Jason Kalman explored The Bible, Archeology and the Contemporary Rabbinate.

Classes were so well attended that in most cases there was standing room only. 

"Many colleagues indicated to me how important it was for them to be back at the College-Institute in Cincinnati and, specifically, to be back in the classroom in an intensive learning environment, and how much they missed this. People loved the day at HUC-JIR and the serious learning it afforded," Professor Sarason said. 

To mark the anniversary of 36 years of women in the rabbinate, Rabbi Sally Priesand, HUC-JIR '72, and Rabbi Sandy Sasso, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College '74, along with Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Jewish Theological Seminary '85, announced that they would be donating their historical papers and documents to the American Jewish Archives to inaugurate a new project: Documenting the History of Women in the Rabbinate. These three women were the first women to be ordained at each seminary. The announcements were presented over a lunch hosted by the HUC-JIR Rabbinic Alumni Association, which also included the traditional class roll call. 

"I think that this was one of the best and most historic conventions we have ever had. For me, coming back to Cincinnati is always very special and brings on a flood of memories. I feel extremely honored that the conference wanted to mark the 36th anniversary of the ordination of women. I know that when we mark this occasion we are marking an important milestone in the history of our Movement and we are really thanking all of the women who have become rabbis, and the enormous contributions they have made to the vitality of the Jewish people," said Rabbi Priesand. 

Rabbi David Ellenson paid special tribute to faculty emeriti Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, Chancellor Emeritus; Dr. Isaac Jerushalmi, Professor Lowell McCoy, Dr. Herbert Paper, Dr. Ellis Rivkin, Dr. Ezra Spicehandler, Dr. Matitiahu Tsevat, Dr. Ben Zion Wacholder, and Composer Bonia Shor. 

Immediately following the luncheon, an historic all-Conference photo was taken which included all alumni in attendance. 

The afternoon was completed with the session "Intersections and Boundaries between Reform and Conservative Judaism" led by HUC-JIR President, Rabbi David Ellenson, and Rabbi Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The panel was moderated by Rabbi Peter Knobel, President of the CCAR and Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Emet in Evanston, IL. The talk explored the boundaries between the Reform and Conservative Movements and the place of each Movement within the context of non-Orthodox Judaism, as many scholars speak of this era as a time of post-denominationalism. 

"We were delighted to welcome so many HUC-JIR alumni back 'home' to Cincinnati. I cannot even begin to count the number of letters and emails I've received from colleagues who attended the CCAR convention, all of whom expressed deepest thanks to our faculty for the wonderful day of study. The day at HUC confirmed that our Cincinnati campus is a place where learning and teaching - and students and teachers - are held in highest esteem," said Rabbi Ken Ehrlich, Dean of HUC-JIR/Cincinnati.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu