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Shalom to the Desert

The Reform Rabbis Conference ended for another year today. I am always sad to say shalom to the desert. It is so beautiful here nestled among the mountains. This year’s conference didn’t disappoint. Perhaps the highlight of this year’s conference were the discussions led by our keynote speaker Mark Pelavin. Mark is the #2 at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. As Associate Director Mark is an expert on the intersection of religious issues, Jewish values and American law and the political process. He helps to shape our Reform movement’s work on Capitol Hill and train a new generation of young people in religious advocacy! The Religious Action Center takes our Jewish Reform values and helps our entire movement put them into practice. Mark is a master of this.

His talk on the attack of the idea of the separation of Church and State in our country was for me by far the most profound. Pelavin articulated that the right-ward tilt of the Federal bench both at the Supreme Court level and the appellate level is a frightening thing. Did you realize that even new Supreme Court Justice Judge Sotomeyer was confirmed without exploring her ideas about this topic? Mark pointed this out to us. He reviewed several cases about religious symbolism on federal lands and reviewed particularly Judge Antonin Scalia’s comments that a cross is not a particular religious symbol! The audacity of Scalia. The Cross is the particular symbol of Christianity and isn’t something that is generic. But this is the kind of legal commentary and attitude that is increasingly found in the federal courts. And this is frightening to me.

I am glad there are experts like Mark Pelavin who help us monitor such outrageous episodes in our legal system. But it takes more than just the Religious Action Center. It takes all of us to learn to be advocates and to keep our system from deteriorating.  Pelavin urged the rabbis not to sit idly by and absent themselves and their communities from the political process but do everything we can to protect our religious liberty and the separation of church and state.   This doesn’t mean sitting on the sidelines. Instead it does mean engaging.  That is why we should train ourselves and our young people in this kind of values based advocacy.  So that our values are represented as well.

The separation of church and state has allowed Judaism, a minority religion, to thrive and to be protected. 
We owe it to the American experiment to ensure that this remains and we owe it to ourselves to keep our own traditions alive!  

I learned a lot in the desert this year. Thanks Mark. Thank you RAC. Shalom to the desert for another year.