The following originally appeared in the Long Island Jewish World (Vol. 44, #26).
By Karl Grossman
“Reimagining Judaism for the 2lst Century” will be the title of the program to feature the president and faculty scholars from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion to be held Saturday, Aug. 1, at Temple Adas Israel, Long Island’s oldest synagogue.
HUC-JIR, founded in 1875, is the academic, spiritual and professional leadership development center for Reform Judaism.
Rabbi Dan Geffen of Temple Adas Israel, ordained at HUC-JIR — also where his wife, temple educator LuAnne, received a graduate degree in Jewish education — says he is “excited” about the program and is urging people to attend.
Rabbi Aaron Panken, HUC-JIR president, said in “reimagining” Judaism there are “many interesting issues to think about” that will be covered at the event.
The program will start with Rabbi Andrea Weiss, professor of Bible at HUC-JIR, conducting a Bible Study class at 9 a.m. There will be Shabbat services beginning at 10 a.m. with Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller, professor of Cantorial Arts at HUC-JIR and Cantor Richard Cohn, the director of its Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. Starting at noon, there will be a panel discussion moderated by Rabbi Geffen and including Rabbi Panken, Cantor Schiller and Dr. Alyssa Gray, Emily S. and Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman chair in Rabbinics at HUC-JIR.
Panken said there will be a special focus on “what the college is and what we are doing” in reimagining Judaism.
In an interview, he said among the issues which will be considered is “the way millennials think about Judaism and community” and “how do we make religion attractive” to these younger people “who think about religion and community” in different ways than prior generations.
There will be discussion of the “relationship between Israel and North American Jews,” he said. “I can’t think of a time when the prime minister of Israel and the president of the United States have appeared farther apart.” There will be talk about how Israel can “maintain a strong relationship with the Diaspora” and “building opportunities for the relationship to grow” along with the “crucial role” Israel plays in the lives of Jews everywhere.
There will be discussion on using technology “in building community.” He noted a rabbi ordained in recent years at HUC-JIR who now specializes in educational theory and has developed a computer game based on the teachings of Maimonides and another HUC-JIR graduate using “electronic means” to “reinterpret the idea of mikvah.”
Some synagogues are now, he noted, hiring rabbis to work “on-line.”
The matter of “how do we think about intermarriage and outreach” will be explored.
And so will how to best provide for the thousands of young people who are “returnees” from the Birthright program in Israel.
There will be discussion on “how we create rabbis who do things differently, who understand both the challenges and opportunities of a new kind of Judaism, who think in new ways,” said Panken.
And considered, too, “social justice — which takes in the values that Judaism has always stood for.”
Temple Adas Israel is located at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Elizabeth Street in Sag Harbor. More information about the program can be found online at TempleAdasIsrael.org. The program is free and open to all.
Rabbi Geffen said: “It is always a pleasure to welcome a great scholar, rabbi or cantor to our temple to share Shabbat with our community, but to be able to have not just one, but five, of the most brilliant and engaging scholars, rabbis and cantors in the world today, is truly a privilege. I think I can speak for the entire Temple Adas Israel community when I say I cannot wait for August 1st. Without a doubt, it will be a Shabbat to remember!”
Karl Grossman serves as Professor of Journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and host of the nationallyaired television program Enviro Close-Up.