God in Our Profound Moments

by Rabbi Bill Kuhn

All too often, we Reform Jews have a difficult time discussing God. Sophisticated, cosmopolitan Jews of the 21st Century cannot relate easily to the ancient biblical understanding of the God concept. Adding to the confusion is the fact that there are many ways to understand God in Judaism. In fact, there is no single, unified Jewish theology, or philosophy of God. As a result, most of us are seekers, and some of us become convinced that there is no God. Most Reform Jews experienced a poor religious education as youth, which sadly ended at the age of 13 for all too many. It is no wonder that we have difficulty understanding or even talking about God. Fortunately, our congregation is making a real effort at improving Jewish religious education, through our creative Mercaz Limud religious school for grades pre-K through 12, as well as our extensive Adult Education Congregation of Learners program, which offers a wide variety of courses designed to help all our congregants engage in Jewish studies.

This summer we are stepping up our efforts to allow our members to think seriously about the meaning of the Jewish concept of God. The ten Friday night Shabbat services (from July 1 through September 2, at 6:00 p.m. in the Chapel) will give us the unique opportunity to explore and discuss Jewish theology from many different personal perspectives.

When Rabbi Larry Hoffman (Professor of Jewish Liturgy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion) visited Rodeph Shalom in March, he told us a story of when he was teaching some Catholic divinity students as a visiting professor at Notre Dame University. He asked the Catholic students to tell him about a personal experience with God in their lives. Each student in the class responded without hesitation. When Rabbi Hoffman returned to the New York campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he posed the same question to a class of rabbinical students. Not one student responded. Then Hoffman changed the question to “Tell the class about a profound moment in your life.” Every rabbinical student answered without hesitation. What does this prove? Do we Reform Jews feel uncomfortable talking about God? Are we too sophisticated to share our feelings about God? Why can we respond much more easily and personally when the question is changed to “Tell us about a profound moment in your life?” Is it possible that the experience of a profound moment is really the experience of the presence of God?

This is the subject of our discussions this summer at our Friday evening services. We have invited ten members of our congregation to share a profound moment in their lives. One of our rabbis will frame this discussion within the context of a leading Jewish philosopher/theologian, as we will explore the meaning of profound moments or God in our lives. I hope you will join us this summer for Friday evening services, as we engage in the sacred privilege of learning from each other as a Congregation of Learners and a Congregation of Relationships.