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Rabbi Aron Reports on Her Mini-Sabbatical

Biblical law required the ancient Israelite farmer to take a sabbatical year every seven years to allow the fields to lie fallow and be renewed. It was a reminder that “the earth is the Eternal’s,” that the farmer was not the owner of the land but merely its guardian.

I have been fortunate to have been able to take four, two-month sabbaticals during my years at Congregation Shir Hadash. This past February I spent the second month of my 2015 sabbatical in Washington D.C.

Our congregation is a member of P.A.C.T., People Acting in Community Together, which is part of the PICO network. My intent for the sabbatical was to help plan and then attend a conference for rabbis and other PICO leadership on Anti-Semitism and Racism. PICO was founded in 1972 by a Jesuit priest and for over 40 years was an exclusively Christian organization.

Becoming truly interfaith has had its challenges and one of the issues to be dealt with at the conference was the integration of non-Christian religious groups into this network. There have also been some anti-Semitic incidents in left-leaning organizations.  While not representative of the progressive movement as a whole, these incidents are still a source of great concern. Our intent was to explore with non-Jews what anti-Semitism is and what it means to Jews. We also planned to work with Jews to help them understand the impact of racism to those for whom it is part of their daily lives. Unfortunately, at the last minute the conference was postponed until April. 

There were still lots of wonderful opportunities in Washington. I attended an academic conference on “The Jewess in Art and Literature” at Georgetown University and participated in The Alliance of Virtue for the Common Good, a gathering of Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious leaders. This was fascinating both in hearing from progressive Muslims like Sheikh Bin Bayyah and Zaytuna College President Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, brilliant intellects, but also because the Christian participants were primarily Evangelical.  Being given the opportunity to speak directly with these pastors about their interfaith work was a rare and valuable experience.

I visited all three Reform congregations in DC, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Temple Micah and Congregation Sinai; spent one Shabbat morning at a Sephardic Synagogue and a second one at an Orthodox egalitarian minyan. Prior to the Parkland Florida High School shooting, I heard Senator Christopher Murphy speak on gun-violence prevention, with some optimism about how the NRA had not been able to move its agenda forward in the present Congress.  I joined with a local Orthodox rabbi and members of his congregation who were protesting the deportation of African refugees from Israel to Rwanda, and caught contemporary Jewish author Dara Horn speaking at a local bookstore.  Finally, I was able to spend some time at our movement’s Religious Action Center working on sanctuary issues before joining our 11th and 12th graders at the L’taken seminar run by the R.A.C.

Without the time pressures of my everyday responsibilities, I enjoyed time with family, reading novels, and even watched some television. The Biblical sabbatical provided for renewal of the land and the reconnection of the individual with core Jewish values. As February 27 rolled around and my sabbatical month came to an end, I felt I had that same opportunity.

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