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A Message from Rabbinic Director Ken Kanter

Exposed roots of a large tree

By Rabbi Ken Kanter

In the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, there is a statement "Ein Chadash tachat ha shamesh" - there is nothing new under the sun! For many of you reading this now, you will disagree with that aphorism! Clearly with a new decade, a new name, a new brand and logo, a new design, new staff and leadership, even a newly crafted vision, there is a great deal that is new! Thankfully what always remains is our commitment to the values of Reform Judaism from its earliest beginnings to the rich future ahead of us. Ten years ago, Rabbi Howard Berman had the vision to create the Society for Classical Reform Judaism, dedicated to encouraging the values of Classical Reform Judaism's prophetic voice, inspiring music and liturgy, and rich history. All those values remain as we move in a vital new direction for our second decade!

Rabbi Ken Kanter

It has become clear that for much of our Reform Jewish community, the term "Classical" Reform Judaism is less evocative or meaningful than for our founders a decade ago. Yet the concerns of the early Reformers are our concerns today - social justice, concern for community, open gates of welcome, inclusiveness for diverse beliefs and personal traditions. All of these are core beliefs, the roots of Reform Judaism, hence our new name. Roots are the essence, the foundation, the source of strength for a tree, as well as an organization. As our new tag line says, we are inspired by Reform Judaism's past, embracing of its present, and hoping to help shape its future. These are all possible with you!

Over more than twenty-five years, I have served three Reform congregations as their rabbi and most recently, for fifteen years, I have had the privilege of training future rabbis as a faculty member and associate dean at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. All these years were undergirded by the lessons I learned in my own synagogues, the music that inspired me and the commitment to community modeled by my rabbis. Regardless of where I lived, my rabbis all lived the values of the founders of Reform Judaism; the Union Prayer Book's rich and inspiring liturgy, the great choral music, the commitment to interfaith and social justice teachings. In short, most of my rabbinate appears to be preparation for what I am doing now, working with all of you who are devoted to these core, root values of Reform Judaism.

I have been proud to mentor for students the beautiful English language prayers found in our Prayer Books; the magnificent heritage of nineteenth and twentieth century music to be added to the more informal music known by rabbinical students and used by many congregations around our Reform world, the customs of my Reform upbringing. Who knew my love of these composers, writers, liturgists and traditions would serve me so well!

Where did our new logo come from? We began with the stained-glass window, the symbol of the SCRJ, only this time, a contemporary stained glass of a multi-colored tree, the Etz Chayim or Tree of Life. The bright colors represent the diverse community of Reform. The all seasons-tree, firmly rooted in the beliefs and practices of our rich heritage, nurturing the future through our efforts.

Like the new tree, we see a new Reform; with the multi-colored diversity of belief and practice, gender and definition, both members and unaffiliated. We recognize the need for resources for all these groups, in language that feeds everyone's spiritual needs, with accessibility and welcome for all, with flexibility to create resources to fit the specific concerns of interfaith, young and seniors, big cities and small communities, all welcoming these groups to our Reform community.

In the past decade, we have worked hand-in-hand with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the three great institutions of our Reform movement, and we will continue and deepen those profoundly meaningful and vital relationships!

Roots of Reform Judaism truly is, as was the SCRJ, an organization of welcome for all. Looking to our future, creating new materials and resources, facing exciting challenges and hurdles, bringing the new and unaffiliated into our Reform family, treasuring our history while together we enrich the future, these are our goals and together you and we can reach them!

This article first appeared in the High Holy Day 2019 edition of the Reform Advocate, view the archives »


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