It takes a confident rabbi to make promises to a community he’s never met before. But Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, who will be the visiting scholar- in-residence March 20-23 for Tidewater Together: Exploring our Jewish Future, has made a handful of promises he’s certain will be fulfilled as he leads six diverse discussions over the course of four days.
“Here’s what I promise,” says Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and vice-president of American Jewish University in Los Angeles.
“Each of the talks will be entertaining. Each of them will be illuminating. I promise that I say things that other rabbis don’t say in public—I am often unscripted—and that I will never lie to you.
“I will talk about important, significant things in ways that often people don’t get to hear in public, and all of the talks are stand-alone,” says Artson. “But all of them together feed in and out of this sense of an expansive identity that’s not insular. We’ll be using and mustering Jewish resources to be a better human being and to live a better life.”
Among his chosen topics, Artson will discuss Preparing Today for the Judaism of Tomorrow: Dreaming and Working Together (Sat., 9:30 am, Beth El), Why be Jewish, What’s in it for Me (Fri., 7:30 pm, Ohef Sholom), and the Thursday night kickoff conversation, How I Ordained the First African Rabbi of Uganda, Presided Over the Installation, and then Sailed Up the Nile River to Learn Life’s Lessons (6:30 pm, Sandler Family Campus).“I think people have to speak from their passion, because if the speaker gets bored, then for sure the listeners will be bored,” Artson says. “So you have to speak about what moves you. I am a person with a lot of interests, and want to share pieces …of those interests which I think are helpful to the community.”
Artson says that his Thursday night theme is a case in point. As he discusses the experiences he shared in East Africa with a Ugandan Rabbi, 300 converts, and his 15-year-old daughter, the important lesson of Jewish identity will be explored. So too, will be this eye-opening, entertaining story about a very different Jewish community in which he discovered both differences and surprising similarities.
Artson calls himself the “Dorothy” of rabbis, referring to the main character in the classic Wizard of Oz story. He believes that his job is to tell people, in a nonpreachy way, that the next time they need to look for wisdom they don’t necessarily have to travel as far as Uganda for it. It’s in their community, in their local shuls, and on their local shelves, and it’s in their Jewish hearts, already.
Bringing Artson to the area to lead the weekend of inspiration through community collaboration seemed like a natural fit for Tidewater Together’s presenters: the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, the Synagogue-Federation Partnership of the Tidewater Jewish Community, and the Milton “Mickey” Kramer Scholar-in- Residence Fund.
“We wanted to make sure that the person we chose to help the community explore our Jewish future was someone who was relatable, someone who was a great speaker and educator, and someone who could make every Jew in Tidewater feel comfortable and welcome at all six of the events,” says Alex Pomerantz, UJFT development associate and leader of a multi-member committee that reflected the area’s population of diverse Jewish practices, affiliations and residences.
“Brad is all of that and more—his reputation is outstanding, he’s universally praised as a speaker, and everyone here who has heard him raves about him,” Pomerantz says. “We are very fortunate to have him come and help us talk about both interesting and challenging issues, and to have him here for such an extended period of time.”
Artson is looking forward to the visit, and to helping bring Jews and community members of many affiliations–or no affiliations–together to create dialogue, to find commonalities, and to be mutually supportive.
“There will be something for everyone and everyone is welcome,” Artson says. “I’m really a come-as-you-are rabbi, so everyone will get something out of it… these talks are for anyone who has a pulse and a heart.”
No prior knowledge is needed, and Artson says he translates Hebrew words that he may interlace in the discussions.
If community members would like to do some preparatory exploration, Artson suggests picking up a copy of his latest book, God of Becoming and Relationship: The Dynamic Nature of Process Theology. Read the last two chapters, he says. One is a summary of Judaism from his perspective, and the second is a letter he wrote to his autistic son. An abundance of additional information about and by Artson, including many free downloads, can be found on his website: www.bradartson.com.
Tidewater Together is designed to benefit the community and inspire discussion about its Jewish future, with all of its members invited to attend regardless of age, gender, class or degree of religious observance.
Admission to all discussions is free; there is a charge for the Shabbat dinner prior to Friday night’s Service and discussion. To see the full schedule of events, Rabbi Artson’s diverse topics, hosts of each discussion, and to RSVP, visit www.TidewaterTogether.org, call 757-961-6136, or email email@example.com.
by Laine Mednick Rutherford