Apr 29, 2009

Yom Ha’atzma’ut 5769: “Sing from the Heart!”

Yom Ha'atzma'ut 5769: "Sing from the Heart!"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

I just wish I were there.

Coming to shul and seeing the Israeli flag in our window is a reminder that the experience of Judaism in even the strongest of Diaspora Jewish communities is just that – dispersed.

That Yom Ha'atzma'ut, the anniversary of Israel's founding, comes one day after Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day, is both perfect and traumatic. From memory and loss to release, from mourning to joy, in sudden transition. Visioning the hint of a beautiful future on the heels of commemorating the heroic struggles of a trying past and present.  From surviving to dreaming.

We in the Jewish Diaspora must work to be attuned to the sacrifices of over 23,000 Israeli men and women who have died protecting our home. Only if we struggle to connect to the sirens' calls throughout Israel to stop, to be silent, do we remember that we are one people, one family. But in Israel that is obvious. The busiest streets, the highways, the email labs – everyone stops and stands in honor of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice protecting our Jewish homeland. In the Diaspora, what do we hear? How do we connect when our hearts are in the East and our bodies are at the ends of the West?

And in the midst of an unending news-cycle, in which Israel only appears amidst struggle, it is increasingly hard for a Diaspora Jew to experience the joy of Israel. We gather for communal celebrations, but the environment must be constructed. And protected. There is Jewish power and Jewish legitimacy in the Diaspora, but it is simply not the same as living and breathing the pervasive Jewish air of Israel. The reassurance of spoken Hebrew, of cab drivers who say "Shabbat Shalom", of an Israeli military that struggles to maintain "Tohar Neshek / Purity of Arms" in even the darkest struggle, the public Israeli folk-dancing in Safra Square until 3am – can that be experienced anywhere outside of Israel?

There is work for Israel to do, to be sure. But Israel is not a "them" to the Jewish Diaspora's "us." There is work we all must do, and on this occasion of Israel's birth, the least we can do is dance and sing. With every generation, direct memories of Israel's birth are one more step removed. But music and joy, when they penetrate a person's soul, can bridge that gap. So sing for the peace of Jerusalem! Sing. Music makes distance irrelevant, even but for a moment.

May we not miss the opportunity – today! – to reconnect to Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, through song.

May Israel and her neighbors be blessed with the Peace every people deserve.

May the Jewish Diaspora reaffirm its heart, Israel.


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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RHR-NA's "Planting Justice" Video In Honor of Yom H'Atzmaut

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
View RHR-NA's Planting Justice Video in Honor of
Yom H'Atzmaut
Chag Sameach/Happy Holiday!
In honor of Yom H'Atzmaut/Israel Independence Day, we invite you to view our recently produced video, Planting Justice, at our website.  The video shows part of RHR-NA's November, 2008 human rights solidarity trip to Israel and the West Bank, and trip participants talk about why it was important to "see for themselves" the human rights situation there.  The video could be used for educational programs in your community.  We are in the process of producing copies of the video and hope to create an educational resource.   You can view the video online and /or pre-order a DVD copy for $18 by emailing office@rhr-na.org

Below we have copied a Yom Ha'Atzmaut greeting from Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel.  RHR continues to work toward a vision of Israel as articulated in Israel's Declaration of Independence, a state "based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the Prophets of Israel."

In these difficult economic times, our colleagues in Israel need your support.  Please consider making a gift to RHR in honor of Yom H'Atzmaut.  If you make a gift of $36 or more, we will send you a complimentary copy of Planting Justice.

Also on our website are Yom H'Atzmaut materials you can download and use for your community celebration or for your own study.  Masekhet H'Atzmaut:  A Talmudic-style Commentary on Israel's Declaration of Independence was created by RHR.  Each unit includes primary sources, commentary and questions for study.

May we do all we can to protect the human  rights of Israelis and Palestinians and to bring the time when all who share the Holy Land enjoy security and peace,

Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbis for Human Rights-North America

                                                                                                                                                   Rabbi Ascherman's Greeting
Last Friday night in synagogue we were asked to bless the State of Israel on the occasion of Independence Day.  Still echoing in my ears was the last telephone call I received before Shabbat.  Fawzi Hussein from Ein Abus reported to me that settlers from Yizhar had descended to the village of Urif and were shooting people.  (The version of the settlers is somewhat different.)

I had stood with Fawzi just the day before, along with an Israeli TV crew working on a report about how the security forces have not answered the requests for protection from many farmers even as the plowing season is ending.  Fawzi said, as he has in some of his most difficult moments such as when he discovered in 2002 that 250 of his olive trees had been cut down, "Jews don't act this way.  I worked for 26 years in Tel Aviv and I know Jews."

My prayer and blessing on the eve of Independence Day, as we are about to pass another budget causing great harm to the weakest and poorest Israelis, as we don't want to know what really happened in Gaza, as only international pressure is preventing terrible things from happening in East Jerusalem, as security forces are retreating from their commitments to farmers, and as we send away Sudanese refugees who arrive at our borders:  May we succeed in seeing ourselves shoresh nishmateinu (our soul root) as one Palestinian man, of all people, is able to see us - and may we reconnect.
Chag Atzmaut Sameach,

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
P.O. Box 1539
West Tisbury, Massachusetts 02575

Apr 27, 2009

MSNBC: "Survey: Americans switch faiths often"

MSN Tracking Image

Survey: Americans switch faiths often
'Religion a la carte' is pervasive, sociology professor says
The Associated Press (updated 3:06 p.m. PT, Mon., April 27, 2009)

DENVER - The United States is a nation of religious drifters, with about half of adults switching faith affiliation at least once during their lives, according to a new survey.

The reasons behind the swap depend greatly on whether one grows up kneeling at Roman Catholic Mass, praying in a Protestant pew or occupied with nonreligious pursuits, according to a report issued Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

While Catholics are more likely to leave the church because they stopped believing its teachings, many Protestants are driven to trade one Protestant denomination or affiliation for another because of changed life circumstances, the survey found.

The ranks of those unaffiliated with any religion, meanwhile, are growing not so much because of a lack of religious belief but because of disenchantment with religious leaders and institutions.

The report estimates that between 47 percent and 59 percent of U.S. adults have changed affiliation at least once. Most described just gradually drifting away from their childhood faith.

"This shows a sort of religion a la carte and how pervasive it is," said D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion. "In some ways, it's an indictment of organized Christianity. It suggests there's a big open door for newcomers, but a wide back door where people are leaving."

The report, "Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.," sought to answer questions about widespread religion-changing identified in a 2007 Pew survey of 35,000 Americans.

The new report, based on re-interviews with more than 2,800 people from the original survey, focuses on religious populations that showed a lot of movement: ex-Catholics, ex-Protestants, Protestants who have swapped denominational families within Protestantism and people raised unaffiliated who now belong to a faith.

The 2007 survey estimated that 44 percent of U.S. adults had left their childhood religious affiliation.

But the re-interviews found the extent of religion-swapping is likely much greater. The new survey revealed that one in six Americans who belong to their childhood faith are "reverts" — people who left the faith, only to return later.

Roughly two-thirds of those raised Catholic or Protestant who now claim no religious affiliation say they have changed faiths at least twice. Thirty-two percent of unaffiliated ex-Protestants said they've changed three times or more.

Age is another factor
Age is another factor. Most people who left their childhood faith did so before turning 24, and a majority joined their current religion before 36.

"If people want to see a truly free market at work, they really should look at the U.S. religious marketplace," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Sixteen percent of U.S. adults identified as unaffiliated in the 2007 survey; 7 percent of Americans described being raised unaffiliated, suggesting that many Americans end up leaving their religion for none.

About half of those who have become unaffiliated cited a belief that religious people are hypocritical, judgmental or insincere. Large numbers said they think religious organizations focus too much on rules, or that religious leaders are too focused on money and power.

'Dissatisfied customers'
John Green, a University of Akron political scientist and a senior fellow with the Pew Forum, classified most unaffiliated as "dissatisfied consumers." Only 4 percent identify as atheist or agnostic, and one-third say they just haven't found the right religion.

"A lot of the unaffiliated seem to be OK with religion in the abstract," Green said. "It's just the religion they were involved in bothered them or they disagreed with it."

The unaffiliated category is not just a destination. It's also a departure point: a slight majority of those raised unaffiliated eventually join a faith tradition.

Those who do cite several reasons: attraction of religious services and worship (74 percent), feeling unfulfilled spiritually (51 percent) or feeling called by God (55 percent).

The survey found that Catholicism has suffered the greatest net loss in all the religion switching. Nearly six in 10 former Catholics who are now unaffiliated say they left Catholicism due to dissatisfaction with Catholic teachings on abortion and homosexuality. About half cited concerns about Catholic teachings on birth control and roughly four in ten named unhappiness with Catholicism's treatment of women.

Staying in the fold
Converts to evangelicalism were more likely to cite their belief that Catholicism didn't take the Bible literally enough, while mainline Protestants focused more on the treatment of women.

Fewer than three in 10 former Catholics cited the clergy sexual abuse scandal as a factor — a finding that Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl cited as an example of the faith's resilience.

"Catholics can separate the sins and human failings of individuals from the substance of the faith," Wuerl said in a statement.

Wuerl noted a finding that getting teenagers to weekly Mass greatly improves their chances of staying in the fold; the same holds true for Protestant teens attending services.

The survey found that 15 percent of Americans were raised as Protestants but now belong to a different Protestant tradition than their upbringing. Nearly four in 10 cited a move to a new community, while one-third said they married someone from a different background.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30438969/

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

From Alban: "Bridging the Gap Between Knowing and Doing"


Bridging the Gap between Knowing and Doing

by Larry  Peers

When congregations, with all good intentions, make plans for change but don't seem to get anywhere, they may be experiencing the very common phenomenon that some have called the "knowing and doing gap." You know what you need to do, but can't seem to do it. The situation is not hopeless, however. There are approaches that we, as leaders, can take to get beyond this tendency.

First, change that endures mines the best of what has been in the past, responds thoughtfully to the challenges of the present, and discerns wisely and prayerfully a future among possible scenarios. If we attempt to solve present problems myopically—that is, without this broader perspective of the interrelationship between the congregation's past, present, and future—we may be cutting ourselves off from the congregation's enduring strengths. If we focus only on solving present problems, we may not ask ourselves what is possible. Instead, we need to be able to evoke the possibilities within the congregation that are inherently self-motivating. The following practices, drawn from an "appreciative inquiry" approach to leading, may help.

Encourage Discovery

First, ask members to reflect upon and talk about the times when the congregation was at its best—at engaging members in the life and work of the congregation, at making a difference in the surrounding community or in the spiritual lives of its members, or whatever else your particular focus may be. For example, you might ask: When have you felt most engaged in the life and the work of this congregation? What did we as a congregation do to help bring that about?

From these lived examples you will be able to discover some common themes. You can then ask the congregation to consider the root causes of these common best experiences. What qualities and practices helped to bring these experiences about?

Imagine Possibilities

Next, focus on the question: What would be possible for us as a congregation if we did more of what we know actually works—if we did more of what we do when we are at our best? A distinction is important here: rather than envisioning possibilities out of a mythical "clear blue sky," we are imagining these possibilities from what we have already actually experienced, and we are considering what would occur if the congregation intentionally did more of what it knows it can do to bring about these best experiences among its members.

Design Futures

Once you have clarified some future possibilities that are built upon your understanding—grounded in actual experience—of the best of what can be, focus your efforts on asking: What shifts in our perspective and ways of being can help bring this about? What behaviors and actions would we see more of? What changes in our approaches would we need to take to support what is possible for us as a congregation?

It is at this stage that you would proactively anticipate obstacles to your congregation's future directions and plan for what you will need to do differently in order to overcome these obstacles.

Ensure Delivery

Once a possibility has been clarified, it's important to identify the specific, feasible steps needed to make it a reality, along with a time line for accomplishing them. At this stage it often helps to extend the discussion beyond the usual committee working on the project. Innovation often comes from inviting fresh eyes and voices into the process.

Ongoing Destiny

In their book, The Knowing-Doing Gap, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton identify some of the tendencies that often lead to this gap, including:

  • Because we've talked about it we feel we've done it.
  • Because we have made a plan we feel that is equivalent to doing the plan.
  • We fear moving forward because of the unknown.
  • We have set ourselves up for too much change too soon. 1


To address these stumbling blocks, I have found it helpful for a congregation to develop a prototype of some new practices they will try over a period of three to nine months, with the explicit purpose of learning through doing. As a leader, you would need to intentionally build into this process opportunities for reflecting on the results of your new actions as a congregation, for harvesting your learning, and for making course corrections from what you have learned.

In the Protestant tradition there is the understanding that the church is always reforming. As leaders, we have the opportunity to guide that reformation in our local congregations, for the sake of our congregations and the church as a whole.

1. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, The Knowing and Doing Gap (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000)


Adapted from "Ask Alban" in Congregations Spring 2009 (vol. 35,
no. 2)

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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Apr 26, 2009

excerpt from Chapter 10 of "Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry"

The following is an excerpt from Chapter X of Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry
by Mr. Scott A. Shay and published by Devora Publishing (December 1, 2006)

(Numbers in brackets refer to my footnotes ["fn"] at the bottom of the entry.)

The Causes for the Conservative Movement's Decline

Conservative Jews feel that the Movement's lack of effective leadership and institutional failings have caused the Movement's decline. As Professor Susan Hodge writes, "It is a half joking, half bitter catchword among some of us that the Conservative Movement has contempt for Conservative Jews. The Movement also has self-perpetuating bureaucracies that are out of touch with us and don't respect or even welcome us, the ordinary Jews living our lives." Dr. Jacob Ukeles, a consultant to The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism[1], wrote after his involvement in a three-year effort to design a strategic plan to reorganize The United Synagogue's twenty-two separate departments and fifteen regional offices that progress has been "glacially slow." As of 2006, five years have passed since The United Synagogue[1] first identified the need for institutional reform, yet little has changed. The Conservative Movement bureaucracy makes the U.S. Department of Agriculture[2] appear positively dynamic. To put it bluntly, the leadership of Conservative Judaism is floundering in a bureaucratic quagmire.

The Conservative Movement's recent failure to address the decline of Conservative Jewish education in a constructive way underscores the laity's criticism of the Movement's leadership. Because of a lack of vision and a spirit of frustration, some Conservative leaders have begun to gratuitously criticize the Movement's flagship day schools, the Solomon Schechter[3] system. While correctly bemoaning the Conservative Movement's failure to devote anywhere near adequate attention or resources to congregational schools, some have gone a step further by calling for an end to the "overemphasis on day schools." Others have claimed it was a "massive failure to put the emphasis we do on day schools" and that "the damage done has been horrendous." Rather than simultaneously accentuate the positive aspects of day schools and advocate additional focus on congregational schools, Conservative leaders are pitting one form of education against another needlessly. Tragically, this unnecessary fighting has contributed to the stagnation of Solomon Schechter Day School[3] enrollment and has led many of the Movement's best and brightest leaders to focus solely on non-denominational community day schools. Moreover, none of this bickering has led the Conservative Movement to devote additional resources to Hebrew schools; rather, all recent additional resource allocations to Conservative Hebrew schools have come primarily from community organizations such as the UJA-Federation of New York[4] and groups of national unaffiliated philanthropists. The Reform Movement has contributed most of the new methods for teaching and organizing Hebrew schools. For many Conservative Jews, the fight over Jewish education is only the most recent example of the Movement's lack of leadership.

There are also, to be fair, external reasons for the accelerating decline of the Conservative Movement. A fundamental reason for the Conservative Movement's success from 1945 until the 1970s was that the Movement corresponded to American society's general desire for "moderation" and "homogenization" and occurred at a time when Americans generally, and Jews specifically, moved to the suburbs. As Marshal Sklare argues, in his book Jews on the Suburban Frontier, the combination of these two phenomena created the perfect environment for Conservative Judaism to flourish. Sklare claims that the Conservative Movement was in a way tailor made for the "Lakeville" or suburban Jew. The 82% of Lakeville Jews who were born Orthodox but wished to flee Orthodoxy were looking for a synagogue environment that was comfortable and not so concerned with theology. These Jews were naturally drawn to Conservative synagogues, because they had a lot of Hebrew in the service, including all the traditional parts of the service (such as Musaf), and a Jewishly observant and devout rabbi. Conservatism's primary virtue was that it did not fall under either "extreme" of Reform or Orthodox. In recent decades, however, American society has become more comfortable with diverse and more narrowly focused groups. Few people still feel the need to moderate their views to become more comfortable with diverse and more narrowly focused groups. Few people still feel the need to moderate their views to become part of a larger group, and emerging adults no longer need a "compromise synagogue" between their practices and the practices of their parents. Instead, young Conservative Jews today want a Judaism that focuses on their own spiritual needs. The result of this social shift has been the steady decline of Conservative Judaism over the past two decades.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the Conservative Movement leadership has deliberately ignored the societal changes around them. The Conservative Movement leadership can be compared to the character "Hem" in the widely read parable of "Who Moved My Cheese[5]." In this story two "little people," Hem and Haw, discover that after many years of finding and enjoying cheese from one spot in a large maze, one day the cheese is suddenly no longer there. In fact, the cheese had been slowly diminishing over time; Hem and Haw had simply not noticed. But although Haw leaves his old spot – albeit with much tribulation and some self-doubt – and ultimately succeeds in finding a new spot with more cheese than ever, Hem refuses to leave. Instead, Hem nurtures his confusion and resentment about the possible reasons why there is no more cheese but takes no action. He just keeps blaming others for the movement of the cheese, and yet is still somehow comforted by being able to go to the same place where there used to be cheese even though it no longer offers any food. Although the parable holds out some hope, Hem presumably starves to death. Conservative Jews in the pews and working pulpit rabbis have been witnessing the slow decline in the Conservative Movement's leadership for years and are understandably central organs. Others have just voted with their feet.

Additional Controversies that threaten the Conservative Movement

The Conservative Movement is currently grappling with two issues that threaten its ability to remain unified. These issues are the ban[6] on gays and lesbians entering rabbinical school and the coexistence of egalitarian and non-egalitarian congregations within the Conservative Movement.

Currently, the Conservative Movement is polarized between those who do and do not support the coexistence of egalitarian and non-egalitarian synagogues. In approximately 90% of North American Conservative synagogues, men and women participate equally in all aspects of prayers and Torah reading. These synagogues refer to themselves as egalitarian. In the other 10%, women's participation is limited to some degree by traditional halachic constraints that relate to women leading services, being counted in the minyan and participating in the Torah service. Men and women sit together in all Conservative congregations. At the December 2005 biennial conference of the Conservative Movement, Rabbi Menachem Creditor[7] was both enthusiastically supported and bitterly resented for a speech that urged the Movement to expel non-egalitarian Conservative synagogues from the Movement. On the one hand, Creditor's supporters feel that it is impossible to coexist with non-egalitarian synagogues as a matter of principle; on the other hand, Creditor's critics, especially Canadian Conservative rabbis, who are the spiritual leaders of most of the non-egalitarian congregations, found it hard to comprehend that the Movement leaders were threatening their congregations with expulsion when they had been part of the Conservative Movement for decades and were practicing what was the normative Conservative Judaism of just a few decades ago. This particular rift not only involves a dividing line within American Conservative Jewry, but also highlights the split of American non-Orthodox Jewry from its international brethren on key issues. For example, Canadian Reform Jews have not recognized the American Reform position on patrilineal descent. Furthermore, Canadian Reform Jews have not been successful in getting the CCAR[8] to reexamine the issue. In the Conservative case, some American Conservatives are lobbying to expel the Canadians if they do not comply with the American view.

The second major issue threatening to split the Conservative Movement is the question of gay and lesbian rabbis. Although it seems clear that a decisive majority of both Conservative laity and rabbis endorse the acceptance of openly gay and lesbian individuals to Conservative rabbinical and cantorial schools as well as collegial assemblies, a change of policy in favor of gays and lesbians nonetheless faces very tough hurdles from a purely halachic perspective. And, while some Conservatives believe that halacha should simply be set aside on moral grounds, others who deeply believe in Conservative halacha contend that there are grounds for a revision of halacha known as a takana, and that this course of action must be pursued before any official pronouncement can be made. In the meantime, the current policy is that gays and lesbians are not admitted to Conservative rabbinical school[9]; however, if a Conservative rabbi post-ordination "comes out," he/she may continue to be a member of the Rabbinical Assembly[10] and a practicing rabbi. Although the status quo has functioned in practice, the issue nevertheless threatens to split the current Conservative configuration, because advocates of both approaches to gay and lesbian clergy feel passionately that they will not be able to stay within the Movement if the decision goes against their view.

The narrowing of vision of the Conservative Movement has resulted in other departures from the Movement. Many of the offshoots of Conservatism were once some of the most exciting groups within the Movement. Groups such as the Union for Traditional Judaism[11], the Havurah[12] devotees, and the Reconstructionists are offshoots of Conservative Judaism, and new or revitalized synagogues are led by ordained Conservative rabbis who have either left the Movement of rounded new institutions pointedly unaffiliated with the Conservative Movement. Neither B'nai Jeshurun ("BJ[13]") or Kehillat Hadar[14], both of New York, Shaar Hashamayim[15] of Montreal nor Ikar[16] of Los Angeles, could find a place within the Conservative Movement for their vibrant and rapidly growing congregations. These new offshoots are a boon to American Jewry, but a loss to Conservative Judaism.

Jewish Commitment among Conservative Jews

With all of the controversy and confusion about what it means to be a Conservative Jew, only half of Jews who call themselves Conservative actually belong to a Conservative Synagogue (or any synagogue for that matter). It is, however, critical to note that although the number of Conservative Jews who do affiliate with a synagogue[] continues to decline, their Jewish commitment is highly and arguably rising, if measured by their commitment to Jewish practices. The intermarriage rate among "synagogue" Conservative Jews was 17% from 1980 to 1990, and only 12% a decade later. This rate is far below the overall American Jewish average of 46% for 1991-2001. Thus, though the number of Conservative Jews is declining, their commitment to Judaism is increasing. The fundamental question for Conservative Jews should be: how can more Jews find Conservative Judaism meaningful? In my view, the Conservative Movement should review how the Reform and Orthodox Movements responded to existential challenges with radical solutions that enabled them to rebuild their bases.

Reform and Orthodox Responses to Existential Threats

Over the past century both Reform and Orthodox Jewry have responded to existential threats, resulting either from a decline in leadership or unresolved controversies, by allowing their constituents a margin of freedom. As a result, neither Orthodox nor Reform Jewry today is uniform; rather, both encompass a broad spectrum of practices within boundaries defined by the center. This response was revitalized both groups enormously.

Reform was able to avert demographic collapse by abandoning a fixed theology. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Reform Movement's membership dwindled to fewer than 10% of American Jewry. (Reform's crisis then was worse than today's Conservative crisis.) In response to this drastic decline, the Reform Movement jettisoned its highly ideological and partisan Pittsburgh Platform of 1887 and replaced it with a framework for Reform Judaism instead of a fixed theology. This approach permitted Jews with very different theological stances to coexist within the Reform Movement and even the same synagogues. Moreover, during this period, Reform laity gathered the courage to completely change the way the Movement's institutions were led. The laity called on leaders to honor different positions within Reform Judaism rather than making religious decisions binding on all Reform Jews. Thus, at the December 2005 Union of American Hebrew (Reform) Congregations[17] convention, the prayer services ranged from yoga-oriented silent prayer groups to a minyan that closely resembled a left-wing Conservative service. By abandoning a fixed theology, Reform has re-made itself into a vibrant, dynamic, and wide open movement that would be unrecognizable to a Reform Jew of the 1920s.

Orthodoxy's incredible and unexpected revival in the past several decades has taken place for two principal reasons: first, its willingness to include more diversity under the umbrella of orthodoxy and second, a wider focus on day schools. Although some outside observers perceive Orthodox Jewry as monolithic, it is actually diverse and growing in its diversity. In addition to the four variations of the fervently Orthodox […], there are at least three other groups: Centrist Orthodox, Modern Orthodox and a nascent "Egalitarian-light" Orthodox. Each of these groups feels that their members are "commanded" by halacha and a passion for lifelong Jewish learning. At the same time, these groups also exhibit significant variations at the level of basic practice and regarding certain ideological foundations. For example, the Chasidic concept of "the Rebbe" differs greatly from the concept of "Rabbi" or "Rav" in other streams of Orthodoxy. A chasid is essentially born following a certain rebbe because a Chasidic devotee follows the rebbe of his clan. In all other streams, an adult individual presumes the right to select a rabbi whose approach to Judaism is consistent with his personal beliefs. These groups also vary considerably in the role of women within the synagogue service and within the community.

Orthodoxy today incorporates different roles for women. In all streams to the left of the Chareidim, women's roles in formal prayer services and in learning have grown significantly. Women on the left wing of Orthodoxy have also been pushing for rabbis to revive formerly minority opinions that would enable Orthodox women to participate in the Torah service portion of prayers. Thirty years ago Orthodox women formed the first "women's davening groups." In these groups, women prayed separately from men and conducted the entire service, including the Torah portion, themselves. Some halachic adjustments were made to the standard service, but some Orthodox women felt spiritually invigorated by having "a service of their own." Recently, a few left-wing Orthodox minyanim have adopted the hybrid regular service/women's davening group for Shabbat morning first introduced by Congregation Yedidyah[18] of Jerusalem. In this service, men and women pray shacharit (the morning prayer) separated by a mechitsa and led by a male cantor. Men and women then go to separate rooms for the Torah service, both sexes come together again for mussaf. In the last few years, the search for halachic innovations to permit more women's participation has lead to the Shira Chadasha[19]/Darchei Noam[20] style service wherein women actually lead prayers for some portion of the services (at the same time as men present on the other side of the mechitsa) such as Kabbalat Shabbat and Pesukei DeZimra. Women there also participate fully in the Torah service, with the men present on the other side of the mechitsa. Women's learning has grown tremendously in all streams of Orthodoxy. In many streams, a year of post-high school Jewish learning for women has become as de rigueur as for men. Though a Chareidi man would find it anathema to pray at a Shira Chadasha[19] style minyan, and a woman used to Yedidyah[18] might be unwilling to attend a Chareidi service because she would find it unfulfilling, both of these Jews would consider themselves Orthodox and commanded by halacha. This lack of uniformity is played out in other areas, from dress to educational methods: there is no one Orthodox rabbinical organization that can claim to speak for all Orthodox rabbis. There are several meaningful Orthodox rabbinical associations, in contrast to the Conservative and Reform Movements, which each have only one.

This lack of uniformity has allowed the Orthodox to broadly delineate and differentiate what might at first glance seem like a small range of the Jewish denominational spectrum. All streams of Orthodoxy have embraced day schools […]. But more importantly, the intense drive for Jewishly educating children energized all parts of the movement. With this, Orthodoxy became by far the fastest growing movement in America over the last twenty years.

The Conservative Movement has the potential to undergo a similar radical transformation, if its members are willing to fundamentally reconceptualize their understanding of what it means to be a Conservative Jew and install an entirely new leadership. This transformation will make Conservatism the first post-denominational movement. While this may sound like a contradiction, upon closer examination it is not. Post-denominationalism is not the same as non-denominationalism. Non-denominational Jews are those who do not belong to any movement because they are simply less attached to Judaism. They may be Jews married to non-Jews, children of intermarried Jews or simply disaffected from Judaism. Most non-denominational Jews are on the exit lane from American Jewry. By contrast, post-denominational Jews may be highly interested in being Jewish but feel disaffected from the Movements as they are currently configured. Many of these Jews are lapsed Conservative Jews who have not found a new denominational home in which they are comfortable. Also, unlike non-denominational Jews, post-denominational Jews have core Jewish peoplehood values such as culture, an interest in Israel, a wish to perpetuate the Jewish people and a desire to educate their children Jewishly. At the same time, post-denominational Jews have a wide variety of narrow approaches to the religious part of being Jewish. The "Conservadox" have a somewhat expansive view of traditional halacha, but consider halacha binding. Other post-denominational Jews approach God through more purely spiritual practices. As important as Judaism is to them, these Jews do not view the strict observance of traditional halacha as a way to help them find meaning in their lives.

Reinventing Conservative Judaism

Because there is no way that the Conservative Movement can encompass the entire spectrum of post-denominational mini-Movements in a theologically consistent manner, it should stop trying to bind all of its members to one theology. Instead, it should create boundaries that leave room for a wide range of practices. Recent Conservative leadership feels encroached on by members on the left and the right only because it wants to resolve the differences between them by drawing a straight party line somewhere down the middle. The narrowness of the middle, however is only the result of the Conservative leadership's own lack of imagination. As the case of vast variations within the Orthodox and Reform Movements demonstrates, the middle can also be wide. Consider the following analogy from the physical world. The length of any coastline such as the Costa del Sol, or the Cliffs of Cornwall, will vary considerably depending on how it is measured. If a surveyor measures the coastline by advancing 1000 yards per measurement, he would get a much different measurement than if he advanced up the coastline 10 yards at a time. In the latter case, more nooks and crannies would each become meaningful parts of the measurement, which would be substantially larger. The measure of the coastline would be larger still if the surveyor advanced one yard a time. For American Jews there are many meaningful crevices and nooks that are defined away by the leadership of the Conservative Movement when they try to measure their boundary as one straight line from top to bottom. Instead, the beauty of a theological landscape only becomes clear when each sub-peninsula (i.e. mini-Movement) on the coast displays its own texture and magnificence. When the Conservative Movement decides not to resolve major theological questions such as the gay/lesbian issue, the key women's participation issues, the binding nature of halacha and Schechter Day School[3] versus Hebrew school controversy, the middle will become very large indeed.

In lieu of a uniform theology, the Conservative Movement must declare several boundary principles which are in the reach of practicing and non-practicing Conservative Jews as well as post-denominational Jews. I will propose a list of these principles, but such a list is obviously up to a new Conservative leadership to devise.

1. Observance of Shabbat, Jewish Holidays and kashrut in some form;
2. Weekly synagogue attendance;
3. Commitment to making Torah learning a life long endeavor;
4. Commitment to a serious Torah education for children, meaning day school or effective Hebrew school in conjunction with youth groups, camping and Israel programs;
5. Tzedakah, ethical behavior and social action;
6. Commitment to Israel;
7. Traditional determination of Jewish peoplehood (i.e., matrilineal descent or conversion).

This is not a large list and it is not particularly ideological. One can believe or not believe in halacha and embrace each principle; however, all new Conservative Jews should be able to recognize and appreciate the commonality of those who abide by these seven principles. Within the framework of these seven principles, there is a lot of room for variation. Some mini-Movements within the new Conservative umbrella will deem other additional principles to be binding. It may be that some Conservative Jews will not feel comfortable davening in another Conservative synagogue linked with a different mini-Movement; this should not be viewed as an obstacle, as it happens all the time among the Orthodox. Likewise, some Reform Jews don't understand yoga minyanim while others do not like mostly Hebrew services. Perhaps different mini-Movements will want to establish their own rabbinical seminaries. That too is okay. The more seminaries there are, the more avenues to approaching Jewish learning there will be. Some mini-Movements will feel comfortable with openly gay and lesbian rabbis and some will not. Some on both sides can feel loyal to the common principles of the halacha. We can also hope the rancor over the binding nature of halacha, which is now largely theoretical, will quiet down as Conservative Jews press towards a common practice of the common denominators of Judaism.

The conservative Movement can flourish by creating a high-quality common infrastructure for a highly engaged community of Jews who have different beliefs yet also respect each other. The Conservative Movement must make its Hebrew schools engaging and effective […]. Conservative synagogues must also create a seamless integration of youth groups, summer camps and Israel programs for its youth. Everyone can agree on the imperative of these steps. The Law Committee of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly[10], which presently issues opinions that are either ignored by the laity or which divide the Movement, should be abolished. In its place, a Fences Committee should be established to define the boundaries of the Conservative Movement. Each mini-Movement would establish its own Law or Practice Committee. These smaller Law Committees would be more responsive to their mini-Movements, which will hopefully lead their constituent members to actually take their rulings seriously.

The Conservative Movement should shift its focus away from theology toward creating comfortable places for Jews to express their Judaism. The overall Fences Committee should not be empowered to opine on the rightness or wrongness of the mini-Movement's legal rulings; rather, it should only determine if a constituent mini-Movement has violated one of the fundamental principles or add a principle if there is a broad and deep consensus within the overall Movement to do so. Constituted as such, the new Conservative Movement will no longer have the urge to expel groups that do not express majority opinions, as long as they express authentically Jewish ideas and abide by the seven principles. By shifting away from ideology, theology and theoretical debate, Conservative Judaism will create comfortable places for Jews to express their Judaism. In short, all the streams of the new Conservatism can commonly support these comfortable places.

Some Conservative synagogues may offer multiple comfortable places which each have their own approach. A few avant-garde Conservative synagogues such as Ansche Chesed[21] of New York already offer several different minyanim on Shabbat morning and thus already function like a microcosm of what could be the new Conservatism. If different groups can and do happily coexist in the same physical space by focusing on being a community bound by practice as opposed to the purity of ideology, imagine how well they could live together within the same Movement. And, since the focus of the seven principles is to create a realistic common denominator, Conservative Jews who do not and would not want to keep all aspects of halacha can still find their place within the Movement. The goal of these principles is to eliminate the "contempt" that Jews in the pew currently feel from the elite intelligentsia of the Conservative Movement. A focus on practice would also end the present and embarrassingly ineffective push for "compliance," and replace it with a push for cooperation, education and growth from wherever a Conservative Jew stands. Conservatism must change its attitude from shunning Jews to inviting them into the Movement.

In April 2006, the Conservative Movement took a step towards renewal by appointing a non-rabbinic chancellor to JTS who had no previous official tie to the Conservative Movement. Professor Arnold Eisen[22], previously of Stanford University[23], will assume his new post on July 1, 2007. This appointment carries much promise and some risk. Professor Eisen[22] is an outstanding scholar and passionate and engaging speaker who will bring a new spark to the Movement. However, since Professor Eisen's appointment, the Law Committee is still moving forward on a global decision on the issue of openly gay clergy, thus demonstrating the Movement is continuing to make divisive decisions without first clarifying the core principles of Conservative Judaism. There is a great risk that leaders in the Conservative Movement might be tempted to think that they have made their bold move by appointing a non-rabbi as chancellor of JTS, and thus shy away from re-imagining the Movement, be it by synagogue members, the intermediate organization, or the rabbis. Any change in the Movement must embrace all disaffected segments of the Movement through an open architecture that is as expansive as possible.

On December 6, 2006, the Law Committee of the Conservative Movement once again created theological confusion for Conservative Jews. After lengthy deliberation, it approved three contradictory halachic (Jewish legal) opinions that both forbade and approved homosexual behavior. As a result of the decision, four members of the committee immediately resigned. These opinions have also laid an unclear road map for the ordination and acceptance of gay and lesbian clergy and may lead to a fatal schism for the Conservative Movement. This most recent failed attempt at creating a unified halachic framework for the movement demonstrates once again that the movement would be better off adopting boundary principles rather than trying to adopt unified theological or legal rulings on controversial issues. The Conservative Movement has just spent too much time trying to square circles. It is time to try something else.

Ideally, a new post-denominational Conservatism will link all of its tributary streams into one diverse Movement that links all Jews through "time and space. This new form of Conservatism will nurture Jews spiritually through practices that create powerful emotional sources and bolster, as Freud terms it, the "shared Jewish psychic structure" that supports a strong Jewish identity. If that can be accomplished, Conservative Jews can focus on theology later. The new leadership of the revitalized Conservative Movement can demonstrate that there is not just one meaningful and acceptable ideological stance between Reform and Orthodoxy, but an abundance of comfortable places along the spectrum. The new Conservatism would not be an ideology in the sky but an achievable set of practices that will dramatically strengthen American Jewry and challenge Orthodoxy and Reform to continue to grow.

* * *

The Conservative Movement is currently locked in a self-defeating cycle of self-criticism and introspection, which is focused on reconciling irreconcilable theological positions. The Conservative tailspin is further compounded by organizational and management failures. These developments have alienated rank and file members. American Jewry needs the Conservative Movement to reinvent itself as a broad-spectrum association based on practice, not theology. The new Conservatism can be a comfortable home to a host of mini-Movements, each offering a more personal meaning to its members. The focus of the broad new Conservative Movement should be on increasing Jewish practice and involvement in a way that will challenge its members to reach achievable goals. Through these efforts, Conservative Jews will pioneer and illuminate the vastness of the terrain between Reform and Orthodoxy[24].

I have arranged the following footnotes: links with relevant information or brief clarifications of specific ideas Mr. Scott A. Shay writes about in the above excerpt.

fn1. USCJ

fn2. USCJ

fn3. SSDA

fn4. http://www.ujafedny.org/site/c.ggLUI0OzGpF/b.1409301/k.BCC8/Home.htm

fn5. Likely a reference to Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life

fn6. This piece was published before America's JTS and the American Jewish University had announced their accepting of qualified homosexuals to their rabbinical and cantorial schools. Yet, the "ban" does still apply at the Conservative rabbinical schools in Argentina and Israel (as well as the rabbinical schools in Hungary and UTJ's ITJ with historical Conservative Jewish connections.)

fn7. http://www.menachemcreditor.org

fn8. http://www.ccarnet.org/

fn9. This is still true for the Conservative Rabbinical schools outside of the United States[6].

fn10. http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org

fn11. http://www.utj.org

fn12. http://www.havurah.org

fn13. http://www.bj.org

fn14. http://www.kehilathadar.org

fn15. I believe that this is in fact a reference to Shaar Hashomayim

fn16. http://www.ikar-la.org

fn17. Now the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)

fn18. http://yedidya.org.il

fn19. http://www.geocities.com/shira_hadasha/ or http://www.shirahd.org.il

fn20. I believe that this is in fact a reference to Manhattan's Darkhei Noam

fn21. http://www.anschechesed.org

fn22. http://www.jtsa.edu/chancellor/writings/index.shtml

fn23. http://www.stanford.edu

Apr 23, 2009

From Alban: "The Art of Governance"


The Art of Governance

by Dan Hotchkiss

Religion transforms people; no one touches holy ground and stays the same. Religious leaders stir the pot by pointing to the contrast between life as it is and life as it should be, and urging us to close the gap. Religious insights provide the handhold that people need to criticize injustice, rise above self-interest, and take risks to achieve healing in a wounded world. Religion at its best is no friend to the status quo.

Organization, on the other hand, conserves. Institutions capture, schematize, and codify persistent patterns of activity. A well-ordered congregation lays down schedules, puts policies on paper, places people in positions, and generally brings order out of chaos. Organizations can be flexible, creative, and iconoclastic, but only by resisting some of their most basic instincts.

No wonder "organized religion" is so difficult! Congregations create sanctuaries where people can nurture and inspire each other—with results no one can predict. The stability of a religious institution is a necessary precondition to the instability religious transformation brings. The need to balance both sides of this paradox—the transforming power of religion and the stabilizing power of organization—makes leading congregations a unique challenge.

A special risk for leaders is that a congregation can succeed so well at organizing that it loses track of its religious mission. Congregational life becomes so tightly ordered that it squeezes out all inspiration. The challenge of organized religion is to find ways to encourage people to encounter God in potentially soul-shaking ways while also helping them to channel spiritual energy in paths that will be healthy for them, the congregation, and the world beyond. Religious leaders who write bylaws would be well advised to do so, as theologian Karl Barth admonished preachers, with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, holding realism and idealism in a salutary tension.

In facing this challenge, many clergy and lay leaders have expressed the wish for a clear, up-to-date model of what they should be doing. What clarity they do have generally is patched together from denominational guides, experience in various civic and work settings, and reference books like Robert's Rules of Order. All of these have value; none quite fills the bill. Congregations are different from other kinds of organizations; and the world is different from what it was in 1876, when General Roberts wrote, and from the years after World War II, when much of the received denominational wisdom about congregations seems to have been set in lead type. Here are some things that seem clear to me as I attempt to meet this need:

There is no one right way to organize a congregation. I do not believe that an original, correct model of leadership can be found in history or Scriptures. History, as I read it, shows that people of faith have chosen a wide range of organizational forms to meet the challenges of their particular times. At any one time, different congregations organize differently because of their different values and the different roles they play in the wider community. 

Religious institutions have often borrowed organizational forms from the society around them: the early Christian churches took on some of the forms of Hellenistic mystery cults, the medieval popes behaved like kings, and the New England Puritans cloned the structure of an English town. Congregations have looked like extended families, noble fiefdoms, parties of reform, cells of resistance, and leagues of mutual protection. Christians often give lip service to the "apostolic church," but few have seriously followed its example of communal property or cheerful martyrdom. Likewise, though Jews love to sing the song "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof, you could look hard at a Russian shtetl and find little that resembles a Reform temple on Long Island.

I cite this varied history not to be cynical but to free our thinking from a narrow sense of binding precedent. An awareness of the wide range of forms that congregations of the past borrowed from the world around them frees us to draw wisdom from our own environment. For better or for worse, the main organizational model for contemporary congregations is the corporation, and specifically the nonprofit corporation, which emerged in the late nineteenth century as the all-purpose rubric for benevolent work. For congregations, the nonprofit garb fits pretty well, though not perfectly. What works for other charities may not be so effective or appropriate for congregations. On the other hand, our culture's vast experience with corporate governance offers us much wisdom to draw on. Our challenge is to draw on corporate experience selectively, with a critical awareness of what makes congregations different.

Some mistakes have been made often enough that it is only fair to warn against them. At the very least, some choices have foreseeable consequences. For example, if a board tries to manage day-to-day operations through a network of committees, it will inevitably spend a great deal of its time on operational decision making. This outcome follows simply from the fact that if there is no other place for a buck to stop, it will stop at the board table. Many a board resolves to stop "micromanaging," but until it is willing to delegate real management authority to someone else, the board remains the default chief operating officer.

We can know good governance when we see it. For all the variety of workable ways to organize a congregation, certain patterns consistently appear when governance goes well. My own list of criteria for measuring the effectiveness of governance in congregations includes the following signs of health:

  • A unified structure for making governance decisions. The governing board represents the membership by articulating mission and vision, evaluating programs, and ensuring responsible stewardship of resources. Boards go under various names, including vestry, session, council, trustees, and directors (here I simply call them boards). Boards are usually accountable to the congregation, and sometimes also to a regional or national authority as well. Most well-run congregations have a single board with primary responsibility for governance, with clearly defined relationships with other boards, committees, staff, the congregation, and denominational bodies.


  • A unified structure for making operational decisions. Program leaders (paid and unpaid) work harmoniously to create effective programs with the support of a structure that delegates authority and requires accountability. Anyone who works successfully in a congregation soon learns that multiple accountabilities are unavoidable. Every staff position has a natural constituency whose wishes sometimes conflict with the expectations of the staff leader or the board. Effective congregational systems do not eliminate those tensions but give clear guidance about how to manage them. Full-time senior staff members are expected to manage the politics of their positions, while part-time and lower-level staff members have supervisors to do that for them. Above all, delegation and accountability are matched. When a program's goals are set, responsibility is assigned to its leader, and sufficient power is delegated so that it will be fair to hold the leader accountable for the fulfillment of the stated goals.


  • A creative, open atmosphere for ministry. Members take advantage of many opportunities to share their talents and interests in an atmosphere of trust and creativity in which structure, goals, and purposes are clear. One of the most helpful findings from research on corporate effectiveness is that the command-and-control approach works for only a narrow range of tasks. Even the military, which highly values obedience, has learned that delegating as many decisions as possible to lower-level people, while giving clear guidance, reduces errors and improves adaptability to changing circumstances. Likewise, no congregation can succeed by relying on its board or staff to come up with all of the ideas. In the most effective congregations, programs and ministries "bubble up" continually from outside the formal leadership.


No list will capture every variation, but where these three criteria are met, I have learned to expect high morale among lay and professional leaders and enthusiastic ownership among the members of the congregation.

Leaders of communities of faith are never simply managers of institutions, nor do they have the luxury of being purely spiritual leaders. Congregations are vessels of religious growth and transformation—but to be vessels, they need firmness and stability. A congregation easily becomes an end in its own mind—recruiting people to an empty discipleship of committee service, finance, and building maintenance. Institutional maintenance is a necessary, but ultimately secondary, function of a congregation. If souls are not transformed and the world is not healed, the congregation fails no matter what the treasurer reports. Paul of Tarsus put his finger on this tension when he said, "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. 3:6 KJV).

That is why governance in congregations is not a science but an art. Leaders must continually balance the conserving function of an institution with the expectation of disruptive, change-inducing creativity that comes when individuals peek past the temple veil and catch fresh visions of the Holy.


Adapted from Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership by Dan Hotchkiss

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Alban Weekly <weekly@alban.org>
Date: Sun, Apr 19, 2009 at 10:15 PM
Subject: Alban Weekly - 04/20/09 The Art of Governance
To: rabbicreditor@gmail.com

 Issue: 247 April 20, 2009 
by Dan Hotchkiss
Religion transforms people; no one touches holy ground and stays the same. Religious leaders stir the pot by pointing to the contrast between life as it is and life as it should be, and urging us to close the gap. Religious insights provide the handhold that people need to criticize injustice, rise above self-interest, and take risks to achieve healing in a wounded world. Religion at its best is no friend to the status quo.
Organization, on the other hand, conserves. Institutions capture, schematize, and codify persistent patterns of activity. A well-ordered congregation lays down schedules, puts policies on paper, places people in positions, and generally brings order out of chaos. Organizations can be flexible, creative, and iconoclastic, but only by resisting some of their most basic instincts.
No wonder "organized religion" is so difficult! Congregations create sanctuaries where people can nurture and inspire each other-with results no one can predict. The stability of a religious institution is a necessary precondition to the instability religious transformation brings. The need to balance both sides of this paradox-the transforming power of religion and the stabilizing power of organization-makes leading congregations a unique challenge.

Continue Reading "The Art of Governance"
NEW BOOK!Hotchkiss
In Governance and Ministry, Alban Institute senior consultant Dan Hotchkiss offers congregational leaders a roadmap and tools for changing the way boards and clergy work together to lead congregations. Hotchkiss demonstrates that the right governance model is the one that best enables a congregation to fulfill its mission--to achieve both the outward results and the inward quality of life to which it is called.
Resources on governance for the nonprofit sector have burgeoned over the past decade, and this book translates some of what is most helpful from that world for clergy and lay leaders. It also recognizes that in some ways congregations are unique and need governance structures and processes different from those that work in other organizations. Leaders must continually balance the conserving function of an institution with the expectation of disruptive, change-inducing creativity that comes when individuals peek past the temple veil and catch fresh visions of the Holy.

"If our faith is held as a "treasure in earthen vessels" then it matters deeply how we use those vessels called congregations.  Board, staff, and members need to fulfill their critical roles and align appropriately for mission.  Dan Hotchkiss helps.  He provides a rich mix of ideas, language, models, and steps to help congregations use leadership well.  And Dan writes like he talks--engagingly, with wisdom, and skirted with humor."
  --Gil Rendle, Senior Consultant, The Texas Methodist Foundation Institute for
     Clergy and Congregational Excellence
skjegstad seminar
As part of her highly successful series for Alban, which has included "Winning Grants to Strengthen Your Ministry" and "Writing a Winning Grant Proposal: Step by Step," Joy Skjegstad provides practical advice on where to look for funding and how to research funding sources that you have identified as possibilities.
April 30, 2009 at 1 PM Eastern
by Charles M. Olsen
by Dan Hotchkiss

by Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont
Richard Bass, Editor

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