Tuesday, June 12, 2012

RCA Election update #1: The Issues

My campaign for Midwest Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America is going well.  Thank you for all of your calls, comments, and 'likes' of support.

In my campaigning I have heard from a number of RCA members.  People want to know where I stand on the issues.

The big issue that people are asking about is whether or not the RCA should accept graduates from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah as members.

Some background:
Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) is an "Open Orthodox" Yeshiva in New York started in 1999 by Rabbi Avi Weiss.  YCT is primarily focused on producing graduates who will assume roles of leadership in the Jewish world, and those who graduated over the last decade are currently serving as pulpit Rabbis, day school teachers, and college campus rabbis across North America. 
Ostensibly, the yeshiva and its students represent what some consider the extreme left wing of Orthodox Judaism, while others think that YCT has crossed certain lines that would remove it from the camp of Orthodoxy.

The point of contention is whether or not the RCA, an organization for Orthodox Rabbis, should accept YCT graduates as members.  The status quo is that they are not accepted.

My relationship with YCT goes back to when I was in college at Yeshiva University.  I was a student activist and was a follower and admirer of Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder of YCT.  I attended and recruited students for protests and rallies lead by Rabbi Weiss and I worked for him as a youth director on a high school outreach program he started called JET - Jewish Encounters for Teens (I even met my first fiance at a JET shabbaton!)

When I made my decision to go to Rabbinical school, Rabbi Weiss called me and asked me to come down to check out YCT and consider studying there rather than Yeshiva University. 
I would have been the third class at YCT.  I took Rabbi Weiss up on his offer.  I spent a morning at YCT and learned with the students.  In the end, for a number of reasons which I will elaborate on in a future post, I decided that Yeshiva University was the right place for me.  But I was and remained flattered that I got "the call" from Rabbi Weiss, someone who I respect and admire so much.

That was the first time I got "the call" from Rabbi Weiss. 

The second time was a few years ago.  Rabbi Weiss is the Rabbi of a major synagogue in New York city with hundreds of member families.  Many consider it one of the most vibrant and active Synagogues in the country - Orthodox or otherwise.  Because his full time activism, Yeshiva, speaking engagements, and other activities make him a frequent traveler, his synagogue employs an assistant Rabbi who, for all intent and purposes, serves the congregation as a head Rabbi.
The job was held by a good friend of mine for a number of years and he was moving on to run his own shul in a different city.  That is the second time I got "the call" from Rabbi Weiss.
Rabbi Weiss called me up in Omaha and asked me if I would be interested in applying for the job as his assistant Rabbi. 

Obviously I turned him down without much hesitation as I love Beth Israel and my Omaha Jewish community (#wesias).  But I was once again incredibly flattered that Rabbi Weiss would consider me. I had just gotten divorced and for him to take a chance on a single guy - a guy who was not one of his YCT graduates! - was a much needed boost of confidence that came at one of the hardest times in my life. 
(In the end the job went to my cousin ((married my cousin)) who is a YCT graduate and is much more suited for the job than I am.)

I bring this up only to demonstrate that there is good reason that some RCA members would think that I stand with those who feel that the RCA should extend membership to YCT.

On the other hand, I was tapped to run on the opposition slate by people who have clearly demonstrated that they are diametrically opposed to accepting YCT.  So there is certainly reason to believe that I share their views. 

In a future post I hope to weigh in with my own personal views, but for now I want to be absolutely clear that my candidacy for Midwest VP of the RCA has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ISSUE OF YCT!!! 

I want to be Midwest VP because I want to serve the Rabbis in the Midwest and across the country.  That is my issue.  The discussion of YCT is an important one.  There are two very compelling sides and both need to be heard.  I hope that we can come to a conclusion soon and put the issue behind us.  But either way, I want to help Rabbis.  I believe that I can help more Rabbis from a position of leadership in the RCA and that is why I am running. 

Incidentally, regardless of whether or not YCT is accepted into the RCA I would obviously still personally reach out to a YCT graduate who I thought was in need.  (Although, I must say, the RCA has what to learn from the way that Rabbi Weiss and his network supports their Rabbis.  A subject for a future post.)  I would reach out to any Rabbi in need regardless of views - regardless of denomination!
I can disagree with a Rabbi on every issue across the board, but in the end of the day, we are both Rabbis.  Rabbis are generally well meaning people who go into a very hard profession because they love Jews and want to serve Jews.  I love Jews so therefore I love Rabbis. 

If you are an RCA member, I want your vote for Midwest VP.  Elect me and I will work my hardest to redefine what a regional VP is supposed to be. If a year from now you are not happy, by all means vote me out.  But if at the end of a two year term you like what I have done, then elect the next guy who promises the same, or better yet, run for office yourself.  That is what the RCA needs.


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