Conservative Judaism and the Public Square

A speech delivered at the Rabbinical Assembly Convention--February 12, 2008

We stand this week in a section of the Torah which one might reasonably read as pointing entirely inward: exactly the opposite direction from the one I’ve been asked to discuss today. The Israelites’ public square, or rectangle, was located at the very center of their camp, indeed constituted its sacred center. The Tabernacle directed Israelite gaze away from the world outside, and the Torah’s account of its construction leads us, as we read it centuries later, to follow suit. Parashat T'rumah begins the narrative of how the the Israelites learn to construct, gather, and worship in their sacred center—the ordered space in the wilderness that will serve as both the focal point of their community and the site of intimate relation with their creator and redeemer. The emphasis on what is inside rather than without seems pronounced in these portions of the Torah, and not only because all the order is within, while round about there is only wilderness. The sheer detail of the narrative adds to that direction of our attention. We learn what size planks of what species of wood will undergird coverings of which fabrics, skins, and colors. Next Shabbat we will read in T'tsavveh, in detail no less loving and absorbing, about the vestments that will clothe the priests from head to toe, and the jewels that will adorn them, as they perform the sacrifices and ablutions that God will soon command. Ancient Israelites in their wilderness encampment received purpose and direction from this sacred center, as well as the awesome blessing of having God dwell "in them” and "among them.” We who read the story many generations later seek the same gifts and often find them in our synagogues, and in reading portions of the Torah like this one. We, too, for good cause, have a strong tendency as Jews to focus inward.

For some reason I have never been able to be satisfied with that focus or to read the Torah—including these portions of Torah—as demanding it. In preparation for this talk, I’ve been reflecting on what might have led me—and, I’m sure, many of you—to a different reading, one that treasures contact with God and greatly values life inside the sacred spaces of Jewish community but believes we are meant as individuals and as a community to go forth from these centers to take action in the world. It was certainly not personal character or temperament that led me in this direction. I am not a political type, have never canvassed votes or stood on the picket lines, have always preferred the classroom and the campus to the streets. But the experience of growing up in the ’60s intruded on that enclosed approach to life and to Torah, as did the influence of Heschel, who during those years took such dramatic action in the name of God and Torah. There was, too, the impact of the Biblical prophets who so shaped his life, and left their mark on me week by week as I read or chanted the haftarah. Buber and many other commentators, ancient and modern, likewise convinced me that the fasts that God had chosen had less to do with what I did not eat on Yom Kippur than with helping to feed the truly hungry. The world has been too much with all of us over the past few decades, on TV and in our consciousness. Jewish baby boomers like me share the biographical coincidence of living just after the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel; many of us also absorbed Zionist lessons about the dangers of passivity and the need to get one’s hands dirty to do good, all the more so because we lived in America, where Jewish influence and responsibility are without precedent and Jewish social activism has been a source of special pride. I feel that same pride now at the Hekhsher Tzedek project. I assume your personal reflections on this matter would take a similar course.

For whatever reason, then, I came to see the detail lavished on the construction and functioning of the mishkan’s sacred center as means rather than end. Ritual, then as now, serves as a way of schooling us in disciplined ethical action. The instructions for building the mishkan’s sacred spaces have to be complex and detailed—not only for reasons familiar to architects and priests but because the text and ritual must be adequate to the complexity and detail inherent in the manifold tasks of imposing God’s order on the world. The point of looking up from this center, we might say, is to look outward every bit as much as to look inward. The object of avodah in the sense of ritual service is avodah in the sense of hard labor in and on the world, a major part of how the Torah understands the service of God. Then as now, ritual is essential to the building and maintenance of community, and community is a precious good. But now, as ever before, the community of Israel exists to serve ends other than its own survival, and we Jews survive in part because we serve those larger ends.

This matter is far from p'shita, I believe, far from straightforward or obvious, and certainly never simple in execution, though I am convinced that my reading of Torah is in fact p'shat. It is not p'shita because the tension between inward and outward, particular and universal, love of God and love of neighbor, is built into the covenant undertaken at Sinai. God cannot be a means to other ends. Yet God’s care for creation must be our care. This seems a Jewish fundamental. And if God does not dwell in that mishkan—thank goodness the Torah does not say “ve-shakhanti bo”—could not say that—but rather ve-shakhanti be-tokham,” “in and among us,” presumably we do not leave God behind when we leave the synagogue but rather take God with us—follow God—as we venture into the public square.

So the tension between inward and outward focus—be-shivtekha be-veite’kha uve-lecktekha ba-derekh—cannot but remain with us today, as we try to hold fast to the covenant. Jews will always differ on how to strike the proper balance, just as we will disagree on how to read these and all other chapters of Torah. This is, to my mind, part of the privilege and frustration of the way Torah is written—and so must be taught and lived.

That is why I would like to spend the next few moments pointing out several of the signposts along my preferred way of reading Torah, the better to reflect upon the two related senses of "Conservative Judaism and the public square” that I’ve been asked to help us all think about today: our role as Conservative Jews in effecting change in the world via social and political action, and how we can better get word out to the public square about who we Conservative Jews are and what we stand for. That is a big agenda for one talk. I’ll try to be brief. Both endeavors, now as ever, stem from our eternal center, Torah. So I will dwell there for the next few moments, with your permission, and specifically in Shemot.

Why the episode of Moses smiting the Egyptian near the start of the Exodus narrative? Perhaps to have us identify with him in this as in all that follows. To have us reflect on the necessity and cost of political action, that is, on the uses of power; to implicate us, as we cheer Moses on or feel misgivings at his resort to violence; and so to endow us—mere readers of a story, we might have thought—with responsibility for what follows from our reading.

Why the well-known and enigmatic statement by God at the start of Va’era that when God "appeared” to the ancestors, some aspect of God—articulated in God’s personal four-letter name—was not “made known” to them and will be revealed only now, to Moses? I follow commentators ancient and modern in interpreting the words to mean that until this point in the history of Israel, the world could not have known from experience that God is yod-heh-vav-heh: present with us as a people, fulfilling promises made long ago, concerned with and involved in human history and the world. All this to make Israel know, via Torah, that we must be no less involved and concerned.

One might read Bo and Beshallah, of course, as enjoining passivity in the face of God’s awesome power. I rather take "ma titzak eilai—daber el b’nei Yisra’el ve-yisa’u” as a call to action that is paradigmatic of all the instruction that follows. Fire and cloud lead us—but not always clearly. Torah sets forth law—but it requires supplement and explanation in order to be applied. Paths through the wilderness exist only to the degree that human beings mark them and walk them.

I don’t know about you, but I treasure the fact—decisive for Judaism and Jewish history ever after—that two covenants are made at Sinai, and made simultaneously, not just one. We are bound to one another, we children of Israel, at the very same moment as we are bound to God. Each covenant depends upon the other. The fact that we are a people means we come to Sinai bearing a collective story that we are meant to carry on by telling and living it. Convert to this tradition and you too become a "child of Abraham and Sarah,” heir to the narrative and its responsibilities. You might have thought as a convert "to Judaism” that you were joining a faith, but you quickly find that by dint of Sinai’s dual covenant you have joined a people as well. Question God, doubt God, wrestle with God, succumb to uncertainty, see faith lapse or disintegrate, and you are still part of the people whose members will be there to comfort you in your doubt or disaffection with the knowing words, "Join the club.” The club of doubters and protesters, of which you are already a member, the people who, as the old joke goes, can argue for hours over whether God exists but will pause the argument when it is time to daven Minhah. We’re not here just to believe. To be a Jew is to be a lifelong member of this community, to tell its story and to take part in its work in the world, God’s work in the world.

I follow the rabbis, and Heschel, in insisting that God made the covenant with us because God apparently requires human partners—not just for our obedience but for our agency, our wisdom and experience, our ability to translate eternal directives into specific actions required here and now. All the earth is God’s, we are reminded as we stand at the foot of Sinai, meaning that the arena of our action as mamlekht kohanim and goy kadosh must extend far beyond the borders of priesthood or people.

There is a lovely midrash in Tanhuma that explains that Israel is commanded to light the light, "lo bishvil she-ani tzarikh orah, ela bishvil le-ha'ir l'kha”—“not because I need light but in order to give you light.” And perhaps you might think that God needs light? Or that the light is meant only for Israel? R Abbin said "she-yehe ha-or yotzei mi-beit ha-mikdash u-me'ir le-olam:”

you find that whoever desires to make windows for himself makes them wider on the   inside and narrower on the outside. Why? So they will attract the light. But the windows of the Temple were wider on the outside and narrower on the inside. Why? So that the light would go forth from the Temple and light the world.

Today, too, we have something to say to the world. Then as now, we must say it. We have to be in the public square to do so. The question, then—and it is awesomely serious—is not whether we are meant to act in the world but how—what we shall do to further God’s pursuit of justice—and how we shall prioritize among the many goods that need pursuing in the public square as well as between public and private—between study and social action, prayer and gemilut hasadim, care for the Jewish people and care for all the world. There is never enough time, always too few resources.

Consider the first question for a moment. How are we to know what action to take in response to the Torah’s demand? Prophecy is a scary business. In our day, too, men and women urge murder and much else in God’s name. We dare not follow them. The rabbis thankfully declared two thousand years ago that the age of prophecy had passed. It is up to us to interpret and apply the divine commands revealed in Scripture as best we can, using all the faculties at our command—reason and experience first of all. "We pay no heed to any heavenly voices.” What voices then shall we heed? How shall we know what to do? Where shall we find the wisdom to do it well?  Heschel put the problem this way: "Infinite responsibility without infinite wisdom and infinite power is our ultimate embarrassment.” Heschel also demonstrated that problem poignantly by opposing the war in Vietnam, in the strongest possible terms, and in the name of God, without hesitation or apparent doubt, while some of his very closest friends, Jews no less learned or devout, supported it. Some of us hang back from such action in part because we do have doubt about the rightness of our cause, and certainly are not sure about which cause takes precedence, or how to balance inward and outward, family and community, community and world. Fixed obligations have the advantage of their fixedness. The precious sense of rightness they afford is enticing. But it does not seem enough.

I am not here today to lay out the principles that I, according to my reading of Torah, think should guide Jewish action in the public square, though I believe our tradition provides some principles with ample clarity. The Torah, expounded by the prophets and the rabbis, does not, in my view, detail the specific governmental policy needed to eradicate poverty, but it does make clear that extreme poverty is intolerable. Period. It does not explain exactly how to stop murder, let alone genocide, but it leaves no doubt that they must be stopped. I think, from the stories of Melkhitzedek and Hagar through Jethro, as well as from the rabbinic insistence that the world outside Judaism includes many children of Noah who deserve our respect, that it is quite clear that our tradition requires dialogue with Christians and Muslims. It is a mitzvah to take Judaism into the public square in order to pursue dialogue with Christians and Muslims. We at JTS are doing precisely that. This is a facet of Jewish work in the public square that seems pressing to me today.

Most urgently of all, perhaps—a relevance felt more forcefully now than it was only a few short years ago—the Torah, from its very first chapters to the last, makes human creatures responsible for stewarding the Earth. It has long been noted that the verbs used in connection with the building of the sanctuary in Parashat Terumah echo those used in describing the creation of heaven and earth in Bereishit. The microcosm is patterned after the macrocosm. But who would have known until recently that the entire planet could be threatened, and that our mitzvot are needed to preserve it? We who build and gather in the microcosms have it in us to destroy the macrocosm or to save it. I too am a latecomer to this realization. To one degree or another I suppose we all are.

But I suffer from no need to be first in recognizing obligation, and do not fear loss of authenticity in making a Jewish cause, grounded in some of the very first words in the Torah, of what progressive forces in our society have recognized as an imperative. In his book Seek My Face, Speak My Name, Arthur Green wrote powerfully fifteen years ago that

A . . . mitzvah area that proceeds directly from this religion of Creation is that of acting with concern for the healthy survival of Creation itself . . .

Telling the tale of Creation is itself a statement of love of the natural world. It needs to be accompanied by actions that bear witness to that love—without these it is false testimony . . .

Here, too, the details are hard to specify, and each person and community has to find ways to fulfill these commandments.

I repeat: the specifics of social policy are usually not there in our ancient texts. We must take responsibility for this as for every other interpretation of Torah. But the fact of covenant is not in doubt—and responsibility under the covenant is to me beyond question. That responsibility has increased in our lifetime because of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel and Jewish resources, influence, and even power in the Diaspora, especially here in North America. I will not speak at length about Israel this morning, because I discussed its blessings and obligations last night. Suffice it to say that anything you or I say or do in the public square will be matched in impact, or overshadowed, by what happens in Israel or is done by Israel. Jews now have unprecedented responsibility for a whole society, an economy, an army, and a population of nearly two million non-Jews inside the Green Line, and share in responsibility for the Palestinians outside it. We are Jews, the State is in a real sense ours, our responsibility toward it is beyond measure. Israel's existence offers us palpable gifts, elicits some of our finest efforts and imaginings, teaches us incalculable words of Torah, and makes possible great deeds of justice and compassion in the world. I think it would be a terrible waste not to involve ourselves in its life far more than we have done thus far.

The same would be true were we to stand aloof from key issues of the day closer to this home. Young people, knowing this, and feeling at home in their country, expect to see Judaism matter here and in the rest of the world. They are dismayed when they do not. Not-so-young people like me feel the same way, even if adult responsibilities tend for a number of years of the life-cycle to direct our personal action more than ever inward rather than outward. Even so, we need to know that Torah matters to those who are poor and suffer injustice. How else retain faithful connection to its norms of righteousness and compassion, and keep faith in and with a God who is just and compassionate?

That was the great relief and reassurance conveyed to me, and I am sure not only to me, by the photograph of Heschel marching beside King. No greater Jewish learning than his, no greater Jewish piety, and there he was taking action and taking risks on behalf of justice. Many of us might not be here today as Jewish leaders, as active Jews, had he not been there in Selma and made sure we knew he was there. Mitzvah goreret mitzvah. That is another reason for action in the public square. “Yes we can,” and must, is for Jews not a new slogan but an old and precious imperative.

You have noticed, perhaps, that I have not yet used the words Conservative Judaism except in telling you the subject of this speech, “Conservative Judaism and the Public Square.” The omission is no accident. I think that for the most part our task as leaders of Conservative Judaism is not to teach about Conservative Judaism but to teach Judaism, to teach Torah, to live Torah, at home and on the way, in the best, the fullest, most authentic way that we know, and to do so as fully engaged participants in this society and culture, amid these conditions that demand our response, right here, right now. That to me is Conservative Judaism. It is the set of paths that constitute the best way we know of teaching and living Torah.

I believe, in all humility—and with real respect for Jews who think differently, as well as for all other “children of Noah”—that this is what God requires of me. Conservative Judaism, as you have heard me say more than once, is not just some middle ground between Reform and Orthodoxy, though I claim that center proudly. We are not a vague compromise reached with the need to live in the “real world,” as opposed to a “Torah-true” cleaving to God—such that if we were really pious “like our ancestors” we would be Orthodox. Nor is it the case that if we were more attuned to the society and culture around us, or more honest about ourselves, we would be Reform. No. I urge us all not to employ such formulations or to succumb to such rhetoric.

We are, at our best, Jews who believe that Torah wants us to follow its teachings, and so to serve God, with all our heart and soul, our mind and might, which means with all the emotional, cognitive, and cultural equipment provided by the best of our societies and cultures, along with that provided by Judaism. This modern world of ours has supplied us not only with material gifts of body such as birth control and indoor plumbing, longer life expectancy and renewed Jewish sovereignty, but with gifts of spirit such as Shakespeare and Beethoven, Cezanne and Einstein, Heschel, Kaplan, and Soloveitchik, Enlightenment and democracy . . . and longer life expectancy and renewed Jewish sovereignty.

Let’s not be apologetic about who we are. Let’s rather say, with the gift of pluralism announced by the rabbis two millennia ago and developed by modern Jews such as Mendelssohn and Heschel, Kallen and Walzer—let us say that with all due respect for other statements of Torah, we believe that Conservative Judaism has got the matter of covenant right. Of course we do not always live up fully to the norms that are demanded of us. Who does? But this set of paths is what Torah demands of us: namely to take its teachings and try with their help to fashion communities of justice and compassion, and work to infuse these same divine attributes throughout the world.

One cannot move effectively into the public square unless one’s own house is in something resembling order. We Conservative Jews need to achieve community and not just preach it, or our preaching is in vain. If our synagogues are not places of real intimacy where people know and care about one another, if we do not celebrate and grieve together, worship and study together—really together, not just inhabiting the same space at the same time—then I doubt we will be able to work together to make communities of justice and compassion in the world or to attract young people to these causes.

To a large degree, it is rabbis who have the opportunity, and so the responsibility, to make shuls into real communities. That is what spiritual and intellectual leadership are for. Partners are required, as always. Congregants, particularly boards of directors, must be behind this effort. Resistance is to be expected. But authority carries responsibility. Rabbis are expected by the congregants to voice norms and to model obedience to them. I know that rabbis can lead and accomplish the transformations required because wherever I travel around the country I see evidence of rabbis doing exactly this and see proof of the work they have done. There are failures, of course. There is a great deal of mediocrity. Responsibility for it is widely shared. But there is also success. Any rabbi who doubts the possibility of making a difference to the life of a congregation has only to shadow me for a few weeks and listen to the tales congregants tell me, unbidden, about their rabbis, and witness with me their affection for these rabbis. I expect you do not often hear these tales yourselves, and certainly may not always feel the affection, especially at contract-renewal time. But it is there. And the interviews that Steve Cohen and I collected in The Jew Within point overwhelmingly to the ability of rabbis to make a difference for the better in the lives of individuals and congregations alike.

My hope is that whatever our theological doubts or beliefs about God’s activity in the world, we Conservative Jews will know that God dwells in us and among us because our tabernacles are places where we work together and study together, worship and eat together, as communities. This is one aim of the Mitzvah Initiative that I announced last year and that is now well into its pilot phase in seven congregations around the United States: honest conversation among Conservative Jews, guided with curricula developed for this purpose at JTS, about what commands them, obligates them, engages them, elicits their responsibility and their love. All this followed by encounters with a wide range of private-sphere and public square mitzvot, as well as with the numerous sources for mitzvah to which we are the heirs. I hope the result will be individual and collective resolve to reach higher where mitzvah is concerned, to do more. Even before that, I am confident that the Jews who take part in this initiative will recognize in their very disagreements with one another that they are sitting at the right table, partaking in the right conversation conducted in the right terms, thereby strengthening our communities and Conservative Judaism as a whole. We will soon be adding staff at JTS to work in partnership with the various arms of the movement so that together we can make this project available to many more synagogues, as well as other Conservative Jewish groups, in the course of the coming year.

I just don’t see any fully authentic Jewish living without communally binding norms of observance and behavior—mitzvah and halakhah, we call them—and so I cannot imagine Conservative Judaism without these. Nor do I imagine any Judaism without communal debates over what these norms are, what they signify, and why we should act upon them—Aggadah, we call these—and so cannot imagine any Conservative Judaism without that either. Our problem as a Movement is not that we have disagreement and debate but that we have not clarified why we must have this debate, given the nature of Torah—and have not demonstrated that far more unites us than divides us. One cannot deny the problem. If all that Jews know about is disagreement over musical instruments on the Sabbath, equal roles for women on the bimah, or commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples, then they may lack the patience to ask why these divisions occur in Conservative Judaism and may lack the patience to enter into the learning that occasions them.

I have no quick fix to offer on this score. Conservative Judaism has major problems in getting its message to the public square because it takes some knowledge about Judaism and its history to appreciate what we are doing, and the level of Jewish knowledge out there, as well as inside our shuls and schools, is woefully low. But I am certain that we do get a hearing for learning if we offer experiences of beauty and meaning whenever people walk through the door to join us in our synagogues and schools, our youth groups and camps, our study groups and social-action efforts. They are looking for quality rather than ideology when they do so. Above all they are choosing community. If our synagogues are warm and caring communities, and if they are not self-sufficient sanctuaries unto themselves but bases of operations for work in the world, many will come back again and again—not everyone, but enough to allay fears of decline or marginality.

Some of this is easy to achieve. The markers are simple. Is every newcomer and regular greeted in your congregation? Are they invited home to meals? Does someone call to find out who they are, and what their needs are, beyond potential names on a membership list? Are meals prepared for their families during hospital stays? Are large shuls divided into havurot that study and celebrate together? Is there more than one experience of worship and study available on Shabbat? Is all the action and effort of the synagogue concentrated on Shabbat, and on services, or is your beit tefillah just as much a beit Knesset and beit midrash? We get the contemporary Conservative synagogue wrong if we make the synagogue service into the be-all and end-all of Conservative existence, or the only measure of success. Do your members meet on other days and in other locations like their homes? Have you personally met with them, say, at Starbucks? At a food pantry? At a rally for Israel? Why not? A similar set of questions can be posed to educators about their schools.

The balance between public square and private sphere is harder to strike. Different institutions will locate it differently. Some individuals and age groups will turn more inward than outward or vice versa. The important thing is what we offer as a whole and are seen to offer. If one can’t find spirituality inside the sanctuary, it is failing. Period. But if one is not led by the sanctuary, from the sanctuary, into social-justice work in the public square, the failing is no less acute. Some individuals will of course prefer one activity over the other, one set of mitzvot over the other. We can’t do everything and be everywhere. That is why we have communities, why the covenant is twofold.

A word, before closing, about the institutional shape of Conservative Judaism in the public square. If we already possessed a religious-action center as visible and as effective as the one headed by Rabbi David Saperstein for the Reform movement, I would be urging that we put more energy into that center. But, characteristically, we Conservative Jews possess many social and political efforts by various arms of the Movement rather than one. That mode of organization and disorganization is a subject for another day. I hope we will not keep postponing it. We really do suffer, all of us, from the lack of unified or even coordinated action. Disunity is a luxury that we can no longer afford.

Where Conservative social and political action, our subject, is concerned, the point is not to create one center but to highlight, coordinate, and focus the considerable amount that our national organizations and our local institutions are already doing, and to do more together, visibly, because mitzvah goreret mitzvah; one learns piety by observing it, and all of us, but especially young and searching Jews, need to see these efforts and join them so that they will feel comfortable about joining Conservative Judaism. Indeed, they will be excited to join us.

I recommend that every Conservative congregation and group choose and be known for a very small number of such efforts—at least one in the private sphere and at least one in the public square, and that we try as a Movement, in all our various arms, to do the same. These efforts must be visible. They must matter. They must flow directly from core teachings of our tradition, as seen through the particular lens of Conservative Judaism. And they must have some effect, even if they meet with less than success. I am immensely grateful to AJWS and to Ruth Messinger in particular for working day and night to combat genocide in Darfur and to alleviate the suffering that has resulted there, even if the genocide continues despite our efforts and the suffering seems only to grow. Global warming should in my view engage similar Jewish efforts, with greater success, I hope. And one major and highly visible piece of what we do must concern Israel. The Masorti Movement is a natural vehicle that we neglect at our peril for the transformation of the Israeli public square into a state that to an ever greater degree practices, in its complex social and economic systems, the justice and compassion that have been our credo since Sinai. I have a great sense of urgency about this.

We all have particular passages of Torah that grab us and will not let us go. I have been haunted for thirty years now by a passage in Baba Batra 10a that will not let me alone. It describes the debate between the Roman general about to execute Rabbi Akiba for teaching Torah and the rabbi who, about to be executed, tries to teach the Roman and us one last piece of Torah before he dies.

"If God loves the poor so much, why doesn’t He take care of them?” asks Turnus Rufus. A very good question, you will admit. "So that,” answers Akiba, "by taking care of them we may be saved from Gehinom.” A very bad answer, on the face of it. The poor should starve so that we can earn eternal reward by taking care of them? Akiba and the Roman then exchange parables and proof texts of great complexity. The general insists that if we are slaves—or poor—God must want us to be so, with the clear implication that if the Roman is executing Akiba, God must want that too. The rabbi counters that we are God’s children, even if we are suffering poverty or persecution in a world ruled by God, and so we are not to accept suffering as God’s will, much less to inflict it, but quite the opposite. God wants Akiba to teach Torah. If we were to decide that the poor are meant to be poor and so leave them to starve, and conclude as well that might is right, we really have the definition of hell on earth—from which Torah is meant to save us. The final proof text cited by Akiba comes from the chapter of Isaiah read on Yom Kippur: "Is it [God’s will] not to deal your bread to the hungry and bring the poor that are cast out into your house?” Akiba adds, "When must we do this? Now!”

The warming of the planet will not wait long for us, the victims of genocide cannot wait, the needs of Israel and our need for closer relation to Israel will not wait, and neither, I fear, can we long ignore those disaffected from Judaism and Conservative Judaism in particular. Our Movement has great resources and so great responsibilities. We have many wonderful institutions, hundreds and thousands of fine and dedicated professionals, and many, many thousands of learned and committed laypeople. The greatest of those resources are the men and women, lay and professional, who compose the Movement and who lead it. Rabbis are crucial and irreplaceable to these efforts. We need you to energize and inspire, to teach and to model. If we build real communities and fill them with live teaching of Torah; if we speak our distinctive word as Conservative Jews in this conversation begun at Sinai loud and clear; if we take these communities and this Torah and move them boldly and authentically, creatively and faithfully, into the public square, as our covenant with God and one another demands, I am confident that we will be privileged to feel the presence of God in our sanctuaries and in us—and that we have nothing whatever to fear regarding the future of Conservative Judaism in the years and decades ahead.