RRA Convetion 2006

I just returned from the Embassy Suites Hotel in Deerfield Beach, Florida, a resort which recently was overrun by ninety-seven sandal wearing reconstructionist rabbis. It was the annual convention of the rabbinic body I am a member of – the RRA - Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association- and I had the honor of co-chairing the show with Rabbi Vivie Mayer, a colleague from Connecticut.

The highlight of the conference for me was watching the 87 year old Rabbi Jack Cohen (pictured here- thanks to Rabbi Shai Gluskin, from whom I stole this photo) who for over twenty years served as the rabbi of Hebrew University in Jerusalem (and is a founder of the reconstrucionist based congregation M’vakshe Derech in the Holy City) dance with his wife to the turntablist infused sounds of the Latin Jazz/funk band the Spam All-Stars. Two civilization were brought together to form what Rabbi Joshua Lesser termed a 'religious groovement.'


Working Films

Tommorow I'll be speaking to documentary film makers at a forum with Robert West, the executive director of Working Films - a documentary film collective that works on issues of social activism.


The Theological Seminary of the Jews

I spoke to the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary this morning - an informal event entitled 'community time' in the Beit Midrash. I joined my colleague Katharine Henderson in a presentaiton on inter-religious work. It was great to meet Rabbi Eddie Feld - whose work I have long admired, as well as Rabbi Shapiro - a student of the Lubliner who is the resident Beit Midrash guide. He is in his eighties, at least, and speaks with a thick European accent - at the end of the session he shook my hand and said "The Jewish people do not talk religion from the 'kup' ! We do not do theology! In Hebrew, 'Rosh' means heart - not head - What do I know of God? Can I think the way that my cat thinks? That is what a Jew knows of God!"


Klez Dispeners

New Jersey's finest Klezmer outfit, The Klez Dispeners , rocked our purim bash last night at the String of Pearls. They had everyone, especially the kinder, up on their feet, dancing like extras in Fiddler.



My piece on Pharmacogenics is up on THE NEXT BIG THINK site this week! (thanks Andy)

I imagine that very few people outside of the medical research community have heard the word pharmacogenomics — and I would have been one of those people if it hadn’t been for a man with a gnome-like beard named Bob Pollack. Pollack, a research biologist at Columbia University, recently taught a course titled “Evolution, DNA, and the Soul” at Auburn Theological Seminary — an attempt on the seminary’s part to train clergy and seminary students to respond to the intelligent design creationists with the language of reality-based science. “Every health insurance company CEO in America would love to get a DNA sample from you. Why?” asked Pollack, a liberal Orthodox Jew. “Because now that we have mapped the human genome, we can also get a fairly accurate picture of your longevity from DNA. You probably don’t want to know this information. But they do! And I fear what would happen if they do — especially what would happen to poor people and minorities, if this ever came to pass.” Pollack’s concerns about the possible abuses of DNA gathering are serious. But that does not stop him from championing DNA research. “At the same time,” Pollack continues, “it is true that genetic information unlocks new possibilities for treatment. The more we know of someone’s genetic history, the more we can tailor treatment for someone with cancer, AIDS, and a host of other diseases.” And this is where the lure of pharmacogenomics lies. Take a quick look at www.DNAprint.com — there you can purchase a simple test in which you send in a cotton swab of tissue from inside your cheek and for $219 find out what percentage European or Asian or Native American you are. On the same site, you can read about tests for ovarian cancer and heart disease. Chief executive officers of pharmaceutical companies might not want to see developments in pharmacogenomics in the short term. Their livelihood depends on many people taking their medications and treatments. DNA information will tell people that specific drugs will probably not work on them, and profits for drug companies will decline. But in the long term, those of us fortunate enough to have health coverage will probably all be flocking for DNA-based tests that tell us much more personal information about our fragility and mortality than we want to know and also point us to specific drugs tailored to our code. So why is this the Next Big Thing for Jews in New Jersey? I’ll posit three reasons. Click for more...

An Adar Video Treat

Thanks to the blog "Life-of-Rubin" I came aross this brilliant little film - A perfect treat for the month of Adar.

More than baked goods from Waldensians!

The Role of Religious Minorities in Pluralistic Societies:
A Conference Celebrating the Centennial of the American Waldensian Society
23-26 March 2006 -- Rutgers Presbyterian Church236 West 73rd Street, New York, NY 10023
Three days of presentations, workshops and events led by religious scholars and church leaders on the gifts and challenges of religious pluralism in Western societies.The Conference will offer Waldensian perspectives from Latin America and Europe alongside North American voices and experiences. The purpose of such juxtaposition is to foster reciprocal learning on the role of religious minorities in promoting dialogue and practices of justice in increasingly diverse and rapidly-changing social settings.Presentations will include speakers from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Italy. Speakers from the United States will include:

Rabbi Daniel Brenner (Auburn Theological Seminary, NYC)
Rev. Dr. John Buchanan (Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago)
Dr. Euan Cameron (Union Theological Seminary)
Rev. Dr. Harvey Cox (Harvard University)
Dr. Heidi Hadsell (Hartford Theological Seminary)
Dr. Azza Karam (the United Nation's Regional Bureau for Arab States)
Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lewis (Middle Collegiate Church, NYC)
Rev. John Vaughn (The 21st Century Foundation)


A Poem for Purim

Lynching Haman

Strange fruit
spoon dolloped
into the floury center
of this soon to be folded over cookie.

Your ears,
We rip from the side of your head and chew,
Tyson-Holyfield ritually re-ineacted.

There are songs about the hat
you once purchased from Shushan’s finest haberdashery
If it didn’t have three corners, would you have, indeed, chosen more of a beret?

We erase your name from our files.
We shout it down.
We write it in chalk on the bottom of our Florsheim’s and we stomp.
It is great fun.

your limp body on a rope
let us rejoice!
light and happiness!

We should have warned you that in our literature all evil-plans backfire.
But then again, you should have known that every Jew fights an internal civil war.
When vengeance wins, we celebrate with either cookies or donuts.


Shinto Priests


Next Friday morning, the State Department is sending over thirty Shinto priests from Japan. Few of them speak English - so I think I'll do a few chassidic stories for them and teach a niggun. I'll bring my digital recorder. Wish me luck. More later.