February 10, 2023

It is a blessing to be able to return to the office this week rested, refreshed, and excited for the months ahead. I am truly grateful to the congregation and the board for allowing me to have this sacred time to study and to be with my family. I also want to thank our entire staff team and volunteers for covering Shabbat services and doing so much while I was away. As I return to the office, I am struck by the images of the horrible earthquake that devastated Turkey and Syria earlier this week. As the death toll and number of wounded continues to rise, we keep the victims and the rescue workers in our thoughts and our prayers.

As for me, this month away was a blessing. I spent my time reading and studying. I participated in a number of Continuing Rabbinic Education Webinars put together by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, including courses on the Book of Proverbs, Youth Mental Health, and a 2-day webinar called “Israel: Looking Back, Looking Forward.” The looking back piece was a reflection on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war, while in looking forward we discussed the challenges posed by the current formulation of the Israeli government which will impact many of the core values reform Jews have held for more than a century. These challenges will impact reform conversions, egalitarian Jewish life in Israel, the role of the Judiciary, and more. We are planning a session in the coming weeks to update the congregation on all of things Israel related and more.

In March, I will further engage in the area of Youth Mental Health as I spend time earning a certificate in Youth Mental Health as part of a 2-day training. With so many stressors facing our young people today, it is important that I spend this time learning how to respond to the needs of our youth with support from professionals who do this day in and day out. Morissa has already done a similar training and it is a powerful statement that both of us will have this important expertise.

Additionally, I spent time studying the Book of Proverbs which is not a book we often study and has no regular place in our liturgical cycle. However, the wisdom gleaned from this sacred text can be applied to our everyday lives. Some say that it even speaks to those who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” It has lessons of ethics, parenting, values, justice, and more. I will be using this text to create an adult learning series in the next program year and a parenting series beginning this fall. Among the many books I read was Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s On Repentance and Repair. It is a deep dive into the concepts of Teshuvah from an entire societal perspective. I look forward to a summer reading discussion on this book. Details to come this spring.

During my time away, I had the opportunity to engage in some teaching around the community as well. I taught 6th grade students at Kilbourne Middle School as part of their Introduction to Judaism unit, which is a core part of the religion studies unit in 6th grade social studies. I also met with students at Worthington Kilbourne HS over two days, engaging in the foundations of antisemitism and how they can combat it in the world today. This was part of a course called Studies of American Political Radicalism and is a course that has been taught in Worthington for many years. Lastly, our member Chari Fogel and I had the chance to present about the Holocaust and Antisemitism as part of Olentangy Schools Olentangy One seminar which is a day devoted to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Chari shared the story of her great uncle, Sam Soldinger’s Holocaust survival story as a worker in Oskar Schindler’s factory and I added some components about antisemitism in America today.

Of course, I spent time with family doing school pick-ups, cooking dinner, playing games, and cheering the girls on as they played field hockey. Thank you again for this meaningful time each year. It is truly enriching and fulfilling.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Rick Kellner