Fast forward to this year, the 18th year in my rabbinate; only now do I fully understand what it means to make systemic, organizational change. After spending 17 wonderful years working in a variety of synagogue settings from Washington DC to Long Island, I realized that my rabbinic journey was about to take a sharp turn. I understood (with the help of a great coach, teachers, colleagues, friends and family) that I was being called to serve the changing Jewish landscape in new and different ways.
- My focus on building meaningful and deep relationships began long before I read Ron Wolfson’s Relational Judaism; it was the focus of my rabbinic thesis at HUC-JIR in 1997-98, and has been a major part of my rabbinic work.
- I have always aimed to create community, wherever I was, by bringing people into the sacred spaces and moments in time.
- I learned from my rabbi, Mark S. Shapiro, that transparency as a rabbi can be a gift, and so I have strived to lead a life, as a rabbi, a wife, a mother, a leader and a friend, that is open and real. I am far from perfect, but I believe I can help others to learn from my life’s lessons, just as I have learned from those who came before me.
At the very same time, as the Jewish community is changing before our very eyes, I have begun to recognize other invaluable lessons in order to best serve the Jewish people and to remain true to myself in the upcoming years.
- I am learning to stop saying “no” as the de-facto response, and rather I am listening, to every story, request and desire of each person with whom I come in contact.
- I am realizing that the synagogue cannot be the only place where Jews gather. Actually, we much reach out to Jews beyond the walls of the synagogue, if we want to connect with the vast majority of the Jewish community.
- I am a teacher at my heart and soul, and I am beginning to realize that I must always be teaching, and figuring out how to make Jewish learning fun, engaging and appealing to the masses.
And so, instead of moving my family to a new community somewhere in the United States, I chose to remain on Long Island, where we, as a family and a community, are creating a place for Jews of all backgrounds and interest levels to embrace Judaism. The “what” is no different: our Jewish history, values and Torah are the same. It is the “how” that has changed. On July 1, in partnership with colleagues, neighbors, friends, students and volunteer partners, we launched Makom NY: A New Kind of Jewish Community. The original intention was to start slow and small, but unforeseen circumstances forced us to move forward quickly, and so we have.
A few brief lessons from the first six months of Makom NY:
- There are many Jews who are seeking Jewish community, though they may want it to look and feel different from what they experienced in their youth.
- Jewish learning can be fun. The children in our Moadon, our Learner’s Lounge, cannot wait to participate in our program, and are learning Judaism with depth while feeling great about the experience.
- Many Jews do care about the level of Jewish education, the thoughtfulness of the worship experience and the real and ongoing relationships.
I cannot predict where I will be one year from now, let alone in a decade, but I know I will be trying to make a difference for the Jewish community in future generations. I have become a ‘disrupter’ in the Jewish community, and I’m ok with that. I have come to understand that we need to ‘disrupt’ in order to make significant and positive change within our evolving Jewish community. I have never been one to do what was easy, or typical. I certainly pray that soon, people will realize that our Jewish community is big enough, strong enough and smart enough to allow new intentional Jewish communities to exist, for at the end of the day, we are all supposed to care about the strength of the Jewish community at large.
When I received my ordination almost 18 years ago, I was deemed a rabbi authorized to perform rabbinic functions in the name of God and Israel. I now understand that this ordination is far greater than any one place or community, but is meant to serve the Jewish community as a whole.
I must take a moment, as I bid farewell to 2015 and hello to 2016, to say thank you to those who were willing to stand by my side, to support me in the most difficult moments, and those who have remained my friends, colleagues and community. As we all know, it is during the difficult moments of life that we learn who is a true friend, and for those true friends, I am most grateful.
May 2016 be a year filled with intentional community, new relationships, deep learning, and may it be one surrounded with true friends, family, strangers and seekers.
Happy and Healthy 2016,
Rabbi Deborah K. Bravo
For more information about Makom NY, please go to our website, like us on Facebook or email me.