Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

Training Rabbis

by Mordechai Liebling

I have been involved in political activism for over forty years; thirty years ago I made the decision to become a rabbi in order to become a more effective social change agent. It was the right decision for me. The title provides good access; the training provides good grounding for political activism based in an ancient tradition committed to justice and spiritual awareness. I have come to believe that progress in bringing about social justice is inextricably linked with spiritual nurturance and working to restore a sustainable ecology.

We are in a historical moment of civilizational transformation, referred to by David Korten, Joanna Macy, and others as the "Great Turning." As Macy wrote, "Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning." All of us need to be involved in shaping the new era. Many scholars see the Bible reflecting the change from a pastoral society to an agricultural one. Judaism and, later, Christianity were created in that epochal change. Liberal Judaism was created in the transformation of the industrial revolution. The current information/digital revolution occurring at the same time as our ecological crisis is still in its early stages, but will take far less time, probably a matter of only decades. We don't know yet the economic and political forms that it will result in; every day we are realizing more deeply that the United States is incapable of solving the current level of environmental, economic and spiritual crisis with its current forms.

Neither do we know what forms -- either institutional or theological -- religion will take in this time of transformation. Clergy need to be developed to be shapers of the new forms. Rabbis, as at least the nominal leaders of Judaism, and hopefully among the leaders of the Jewish people, need to be trained to be effective leaders in a time of great flux. Given this, I decided to create a new program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College on Social Justice Organizing to help in the formation of rabbis.

As part of my program at the rabbinical college I focus on leadership training. My work is based on the personal transformation model developed by Robert Gass and used by Rockwood Leadership, as well as by the Selah Leadership program of Jewish Funds for Justice. Each person as a leader needs to uncover her or his purpose, lead from there and uncover the ways that we undermine ourselves -- including the fears associated with internalized Jewish oppression. I have also been trained by Joanna Macy in the "Work That Reconnects" -- the work of deep ecology to strengthen our connection to all of Creation, and as my program at the college develops I intend to include that as well. Our new leaders need to be grounded in their relationship to the River of Being.

My experience has shown me that the skills and practices of community organizing are essential to the development of the power that is needed to shape change. We will teach foundational organizing skills, including what have been called the "soft arts of organizing" -- listening, compassion, ritual action, and relationship building. Building strong, caring, empowered communities is necessary to successfully shape a progressive future.

We all need to be training leaders in the work of bringing about a socially just, environmentally sustainable, and spiritually fulfilling world.

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling is the director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the former executive vice-president of Jewish Funds for Justice.

Source Citation: Liebling, Mordechai. 2011. Training Rabbis. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.


tags: Judaism  
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