Local rabbis say amen to choice of Tidewater Together Scholar-in-Residence 2nd Annual Tidewater Together

Thursday–Sunday, March 26–29, 2015

When Rabbi Sharon Brous arrives in Virginia Beach on March 26 to begin a four day weekend as the 2nd Annual Tidewater Together Scholarin- Residence, she’ll meet a community that’s curious to find out: how does someone earn the title of America’s most influential rabbi (Newsweek/The Daily Beast, 2013), and what was it like to be the rabbi asked to bless the President and Vice President at the 2013 Inaugural National Prayer Service?

Two local Rabbis would vie to be at the front of the line to answer those questions, and more, in an effort to let community members know they shouldn’t miss any of the six conversations Brous will be leading while she’s here.

Rabbi Michael Panitz of Temple Israel in Norfolk, and Rabbi Marc Kraus of Virginia Beach’s Temple Emanuel both know Brous well. They speak highly of the work she’s doing at IKAR, the spiritual Jewish community she founded in Los Angeles, and about what a generally good person she is.

Rabbi Panitz first met Brous in the 1990s, when his daughter Emily was attending Camp Ramah, a Jewish and Hebrew summer camp. Brous was Emily’s special needs counselor.

“She was wonderful to Emily, and we are just so delighted to see how this brilliant, young, promising rabbinical student has turned into one of the leading rabbis of her generation,” says Panitz. “It’s a cliché, but, sometimes you know certain people are destined to do great things—Rabbi Brous is one of those people.”

His connection with Brous has grown over the years as Panitz’ son Morris (Ben), is a student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in California, and attends IKAR.

“I believe that we can look forward to a series of presentations from Rabbi Brous that will expand our existing paradigms of Jewish communal life and spirituality,” says Panitz. “What that means is we are sometimes trapped by a rhetoric that made a lot of sense for a previous generation, but works less well for the challenges of the 21st century.

“I think we’re going to hear from Rabbi Brous teachings that are uniquely directed for the Jews of today and tomorrow.”

Rabbi Kraus’ experience with Brous and IKAR doesn’t date as far back as Panitz’, but he can share his own experiences with learning from her—IKAR was his spiritual community of choice while studying to become a rabbi in California. Some of the exciting new elements introduced into Temple Emanuel’s services take inspiration from IKAR traditions.

“Besides the fact that most members—75 percent— were previously unengaged Jews, they do two things really well,” says Kraus. “They have vibrant, spiritual—almost intoxicating—worship, and they involve all members in social action that actually makes significant and meaningful changes in the world, both locally and globally. Their ethos of the community is the people, and what the people do, and not the building, which is such a change from what our rabbis have been doing, and which isn’t working.”

In Kraus’ experience, everyone who hears Brous speak will come away with something that resonates in them— and will be inspired to change themselves and the greater community, for the better.

“I think she will probably broaden people’s spiritual horizons. By which I mean we’ll think about what Jewish spirituality may look like in a way that we hadn’t before… and I think it will help all of us think about what we want a Jewish future to look like.

“We’re incredibly fortunate that we’re part of a community that feels the need to look ahead, and we are beyond lucky to have Rabbi Brous’ vision to help guide us in that direction.”

Panitz and Kraus are members of the Tidewater Jewish Leadership Council, a group of synagogue rabbis and presidents who meet four times a year with representatives of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. They discuss ways they can help one another and work together.

It is through this collaboration, and the generosity of the Milton “Mickey” Kramer Scholar-in-Residence Fund, that Rabbi Brous will be in Tidewater for the four days of intensive learning.

“Our Tidewater community sometimes overachieves— we manage to accomplish what you expect of a larger community, and Tidewater Together is an example of it,” says Panitz.

“I know that Rabbi Brous was unsure whether to come to Norfolk—she has many, many invitations from across the country and we’re not the largest community she could be impacting—but, based on his experience here last year, Rabbi Artson said to her, ‘No. You dare not miss the chance to encounter this community. They are truly special.’

“I’ll be attending as many of the discussions as possible.”

Tidewater Together conversations are free and open to the community. There is a $10 fee for the community Shabbat dinner before the general discussion on Friday night. To RSVP, and for a complete list of this year’s unique topics, times, hosts and locations, visit www.TidewaterTogether.org, call 757-965-6136, or email apomerantz@ujft.org. Look for the Jewish News interview with Rabbi Sharon Brous in the March 23 edition.

by Laine Mednick Rutherford