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A Mass Shooting and Wildfires Changed My Rabbinate. Here's How I'm Moving Forward

A Mass Shooting and Wildfires Changed My Rabbinate. Here's How I'm Moving Forward

Rabbi Paul Kipnes speaks at the Rabbinic Moral Leadership Gathering

Rabbi Paul Kipnes wrote this reflection after attending the inaugural Rabbinic Moral Leadership Gathering. This post originally appeared on paulkipnes.com

These two months have been hellacious as Congregation Or Ami faced a nearby mass shooting and an even closer raging fire - all within a 24 hour period.  

The mass shooting at Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks, CA, not 12 miles away, shook us up. One member, the son of a rabbinic colleague, fled the shooting, and though he is blessedly alive, too many of his friends are not, and too many more are traumatized still.

Even before we could really begin to process this shooting, the Woolsey and Hall fires swooped in, burning through our neighborhoods, forcing the evacuation of almost 80% of the congregation, and causing us to leave our sanctuary home. For a while there we were sure that the temple was lost. It survived, enduring smoke damage, and we are back. Still, so many are suffering.

Once we found some breathing space, I stood with Rabbi Julia Weisz, my rabbinic partner and often my teacher in matters like this. Reflecting on these events, I realized three things: 

  1. I am done. I can no longer endure these shootings (in bars or schools or the inner city or churches or...) and I will no longer remain quiet about  these climate change-fueled fires (and flooding and hurricanes and...);
  2. To stop these from happening, my rabbinate had to evolve. I had to change;
  3. To gain the skills I needed, I had to fly to Chicago to attend the Religious Action Center’s Rabbinic Moral Leadership Gathering.

I had to get back to the organizing that I had been learning at the feet of our teachers - Rabbi Stefanie Kolin and Lee Winkleman (our former and current RAC-CA organizers), and then-interns, now Rabbis Dusty Klass and Lori Levine. I had to recommit to the lessons learned with successive L’Taken delegations about how to be an effective advocate. I had to continue learning at the feet of Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the Religious Action Center’s Director, a particularly inspiring motivational multifaith mover and shaker.

There, in Chicago, I realized - or remembered - that the path forward starts with what was modeled at that gathering: 

Serious Torah study, such that the text’s call shakes me from my place of comfort;
Celebration of our recent successes in organizing for justice, locally and nationally;
Partnering with allies on a particular issue, even if we do not see eye to eye on another issue;
Lifting up the lessons of the past and the challenges of the day, so we are wide-eyed about what is ahead;
Visioning a better future as we imagine what could be, should be;
Strategizing the steps to get from here to there; and
Returning home, to rinse and repeat.

So I am going home with moral clarity for these turbulent times. I am feeling refreshed spiritually, reinvigorated strategically, renewed in my commitment, and prepared to help bend that arc a little more toward justice.

I have no doubt that the journey ahead will be difficult. But the passion and perspective I picked up will push us - my rabbinic partner and I - through my diminishing patience for the status quo to produce what I perceive will become new organizing opportunities.

Thank you, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Thank you, Righteous Persons Foundation.
Thank you, colleagues and allies, who dreamed this up and delivered.

The sun is rising and view from up here looks beautiful. Let's get down to work.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. He serves as rabbinic dean at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, and as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights). He also co-edited a national CCAR Journal issue on New Visions for Jewish Community. Under his leadership, Congregation Or Ami has won national awards for social justice programming, for innovative worship programming, for outreach to interfaith families, and for engaging family education, and for best overall use of technology in a synagogue. Or Ami also wins the hearts of its families for its Henaynu caring community, which reaches out during times of need. He serves on the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education clinical faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His writings can be viewed on his blog, Or Am I? He tweets @RabbiKip.



Rabbi Paul Kipnes