First tastes of Reconstructionism

I met with Rabbi K. last week. She put me at ease almost immediately, listening to how I arrived at her door and outlining what her requirements would be. She even attempted on-the-spot answers to some of my more difficult questions about Reconstructionist theology, which I appreciated because they weren’t easy ones. Her husband converted, so I know she would be inclusive and doesn’t think of us as different from born Jews. As a person, she reminds me a lot of Rabbi S., my original sponsor.

Most appealing to me was her recognition of my years and years of study. She won’t make me take another Intro to Judaism course, even though I’ve only taken them in college and with the other two movements. The process with her would consist of meetings, one-on-one discussions, and her encouraging my congregational involvement and Hebrew studying. She’d want me to live a full year of the holiday cycle, but the ease with which she spoke this made it sound like the most laid back experience possible.

I also really liked that she acknowledged different people demand different offerings from their Jewish communities. The criteria range from community to movement affiliation to rabbi to geography. That she recognizes that was encouraging.

I went to services that week to experience that community, to see if it’s who I want guiding me to Jewish life. I felt like they pulled people off the streets from Telegraph Avenue, the dress was so casual and so relaxed. I can’t tell whether it troubled me because it’s so unusual, or because I have a serious problem with it in a house of worship. I felt too conventional in the circle.

I did love the services though. They’re uplifting without appearing to be a mega-church dog and pony show. She has a really nice voice, and keeps a good rhythm so that people can actually experience the service instead of rushing through it.

While I love some of the Conservative melodies (Yedid Nefesh!), I also remembered how much I had missed some of the Reform versions, which are apparently shared with Reconstructionism. Aleynu is one of my favorite prayers though, and they didn’t say it. I know Reconstructionists reject the Chosen status, but there are plenty of ways to modify the problematic line without throwing the whole thing away.

During oneg, I started speaking with a woman who turned out to be a rabbi as well, from the same cohort as the pulpit rabbi. She moved to SF to serve as a chaplain at a local hospital. After we talked for a while, a man joined us. He was shul shopping, and he asked me what my experience was. I explained why I was shopping and a brief overview of my experience to date. We started talking about the movements’ affiliation, and why Reconstructionism appealed to me as a bit more open minded than Conservatives on a few topics like the cult of personality surrounding Israel. The chaplain rabbi immediately responded with saying that she doesn’t believe Jews should publicly criticize Israel. It was so awkward I had to “clarify” my position to “appease” her. She clearly did not like what I had to say. I expected more from a liberal rabbi that spoke so highly of the rabbi who told me in her office not days before that she didn’t expect me to love the country.

I love the rabbi (9.5/10). I like the services okay enough as long as they don’t leave out Aleynu every week (8/10). I’m not so sure the community is for me, however (4/10).

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One thought on “First tastes of Reconstructionism

  1. It IS always a bit awkward to bring up Israel around rabbis. Enough so that I’ve quickly learned to avoid it. I’ve learned through talking with rabbis and those who have spent time among many different sort of congregational rabbis that, yes, I will almost definitely disagree with most rabbis beliefs about Israel.

    But more importantly, even if a rabbi IS personally critical of Israel and will say as much in private, it’s oftentimes vital to their job security to be visibly quick to shoot down such criticism. If even just one congregant thinks they are weak on their defense of Israel, it just takes one phone call to the Board of Directors to start discussions to remove them. And that’s a headache most {even the most progressive rabbis) …would like to avoid.

    There are brave exceptions, of course. Rabbi Brent Rosen of Shalom Rav [ http://rabbibrant.com/ ] and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb [ http://olyblog.net/rabbi-lynns-presentation ] being two noble and notable examples.

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