I'm on my way today to Colorado. I've been going there at this time of year since I started the ALEPH rabbinic program, which is when I became a student member of OHALAH (the association of Jewish Renewal clergy) and began attending the OHALAH conference and the Shabbaton which precedes it. (The ALEPH ordination programs hold our smicha ceremony on the Sunday afternoon in between that Shabbat retreat and the conference proper.)
Usually I head out in time for Shabbat, or in time for the ordination. This year I'm going a few days earlier than in years past, because now I serve on the board of directors of ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and the ALEPH board meets in person before the OHALAH conference every year. We meet via teleconferencing every month, but I was only able to be tele-present for our summer retreat in Oregon, so I'm looking especially forward to being part of this board gathering in person.
I'm especially excited about davening with everyone (we'll begin our board meeting days with shacharit, morning services, co-led by different board members each day) -- meeting our new Executive Director Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin in person for the first time -- conversations about the Deep Ecumenism programming we'll be sharing over the course of 2015 -- and to the rejuvenation of my Jewishness which always happens after sustained time with my Jewish Renewal hevre.
Of course, this will be our first winter gathering without Reb Zalman z"l. Many of us came together in August for the Remembering Reb Zalman Shabbaton and memorial, but I know that it will still be strange to be there without him. Like a giant family reunion without our beloved grandparent. Even though he had been stepping back in recent years, he's the one who brought us all together in the first place. I'm not yet used to the reality that he's no longer here, that his legacy rests in our hands.
I dreamed a few nights ago that I was at a summer camp, and it was Friday night, and I went to the theater and found that there was davenen there. I slid into the back row because I was running a bit late, and saw that Reb Zalman z"l was sitting in the row in front of me, merrily singing along. I knew, in the dream, that he was sitting in the back (instead of in his customary front-row seat) because he didn't have the energy to be his usual front-row presence, but he was happy to be with us.
Wishful thinking? Sure, maybe. But to me it felt like a clear sign that his presence will be with us when we gather this week for Shabbat and for the smicha ritual on Sunday. From the back row, as it were, because he's left the role of the rebbe's chair behind -- but I think we'll feel his loving presence with us as we sing and celebrate, and especially as ordain the next links in the chain of our lineage which connects us back with him and with generations of sages and teachers in our tradition.
To all who are joining me in Colorado today, or Friday, or Sunday -- I wish you smooth travels and a gentle landing!
Image: license plate which reads "Sh'viti," a reference to a line from psalms ("I have placed God before me always") -- photograph taken at last year's OHALAH conference.