Diamond returns to Thousand Oaks Synagogue
Thousand Oaks, California – June 1, 2018 – After a three-year absence, Rabbi Diamond returns to lead Temple Adat Elohim (TAE), the largest Reform Jewish congregation in the Conejo Valley.
With a wealth of experience as both a rabbi and a teacher, Rabbi Diamond possesses a contagious passion for inspiring each congregant’s connection with the Jewish community. Rabbi Diamond will continue to strengthen TAE’s rich traditions and dynamic programs, particularly its outstanding reputation in youth education and adult life-long learning, as well as its strong commitment to social action initiatives.
“We are thrilled to have Rabbi Diamond and his wife, Sandy, back to TAE and we welcome them with open arms,” said temple president Sandy Greenstein. “He is well known here for his warmth, humor, and inspiring sermons that interpret the Torah through a contemporary lens. Rabbi Diamond made a tremendous impact on our community when he was here before, creating novel programs that encouraged members of all ages to form tighter connections to Adat Elohim, and inspiring greater participation in social action including the homeless shelter that we host weekly during the winter months.”
“We are honored to return to Temple Adat Elohim, this time for the long term,” said Rabbi Diamond. “It is my mission to create circles of community that are the setting for exploring our sense of responsibility to each other and the world. It is through caring connections around shared interests that we gain insight into God and feel called upon to repair our fractured world.”
Rabbi Diamond joins TAE from Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah, New Jersey, where he served as interim rabbi for the last two years. Rabbi Diamond was ordained at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. In 2016, he was awarded a doctor of divinity honoris causa from Hebrew Union College. He has a psychology degree from California State University in Fullerton.
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Dear Members of TAE,
We are about to welcome Rabbi Barry Diamond as our settled rabbi as of July 1st and want to begin the process of creating or re-establishing our relationships with Rabbi Diamond. While many of us have had opportunities to get to know Rabbi Diamond over his previous two years serving as our interim rabbi, he has requested to meet congregants and ECC families in a small, intimate setting so that he can get to know us, connect again, and hear our expectations for TAE and our clergy.
We are looking for congregants and ECC families that would be willing to host the Rabbi for either a lunch date, (for maybe no more than 8 people) on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon or a gathering for dinner or dessert (for maybe no more than 12 people), on a Tuesday or Thursday evening. We are envisioning that these gatherings can be anything from a light lunch, “nosh,” dessert, or a full sit-down dinner -your choice. If finances are prohibiting you from participating, please feel free to reach out to Sandy Greenstein @ 818-648-3247 or myself @ 805-796-6308.
We will be starting with dates in July and August for the summer and if the need arises to add more days we can see about extending the dates.
If you, your havurah, or anyone you may know, would like to host the Rabbi, please contact Doreen at firstname.lastname@example.org to secure a date. Your date will be selected based on availability.
If you would like to join a gathering that is already arranged, please go to https://adatelohim.shulcloud.com/form/meetingrabbidiamondsignup to find available locations, dates, and times of gatherings you can join.
These will be the first of many formal and informal opportunities to get to know Rabbi Diamond and for him to get to know us.
This summer the members of Temple Adat Elohim are sharing their #TAEpride with each other and with friends and family via social media.
Here are just a few of the reasons why our congregants told us they are proud to be a part of this vibrant synagogue.
Temple member Marcia Stefanon Benjamin is proud of Cantor David, who is in her words “the heart and soul of Temple Adat Elohim.”
The ECC is proud of summer campers showing TAE pride!
Cantor David is proud of teen “warriors” learning self-defense techniques with krav maga expert Jason Flame as they prepare to go to college.
Temple member and religious school teacher Gigi Dictor is proud and grateful for the friends she’s made over the years at TAE.
We are proud to share havdallah with the large group of congregants who will be visiting Israel together in 2019.
We are proud that so many of our members are involved in helping to make our community and world a better place through social action. Here a group “prays with its feet” at a Thousand Oaks rally to end family separation at the U.S. border.
On June 30, Temple Adat Elohim and Ascension Lutheran Church were honored with the Flame of Hope Award, given by Unity of the Oaks, for their work earlier in 2018 to bring the “This is Hunger” exhibit to the Conejo Valley.
“This Is Hunger” was a high-impact, experiential installation on wheels sponsored by Mazon, a Jewish nonprofit group trying to end hunger among all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. The exhibit stopped in the Conejo Valley in February as part of a nationwide tour to more than 40 cities to educate visitors about the stark reality of hunger in America. More than 42 million Americans do not have enough nutritious food to eat, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
About 500 people in the Conejo Valley toured the exhibit while it was here, including religious school students from Temple Adat Elohim. After viewing the exhibit, the Conejo Valley Interfaith Association established a Hunger Task Force that is looking at ways to eliminate hunger in our area.
Pictured from left to right are Scott and Kaylee Searway who accepted the award for Ascension Lutheran Church, and Marcia and Harold Gordon, co-chairs of the Social Action Committee at Temple Adat Elohim, who accepted the award on behalf of TAE.
I had an extraordinary experience yesterday. For the first time, I taught the Women’s Torah Study that meets Thursday mornings. I know many working women are not able to attend at that time, but for any woman who is available, it is an engaging and intelligent group who will leave you thinking. But this group of women did more than educate and inspire me; they emboldened me to explore one of the most important and consequential topics of our time.
Before we get there, let me take you back to the section of the Torah that prompted our discussion. This week we have a double Torah portion from the Book of Numbers: Matot and Masei. These portions take place during the forty years our ancestors wandered in the Sinai Desert, before they entered the Land of Israel. Moses has gathered the heads of each of the twelve tribes, and he is teaching them God’s new instructions for the community. He says, “If a householder makes a vow to God, obliging himself to do something, he had better fulfill his pledge.” A vow is simply a promise made in God’s name. We make vows all the time in the United States: “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” If you break a vow or an oath to God, it is serious, today as back then.
But here is where the text becomes both deeply problematic and also surprising. We know that biblical society was a strict and severe patriarchy. I think, I hope, that we are all happy to leave the worst elements of patriarchy behind. We’ll talk about that more in a moment. So, we know that if a man or boy makes a vow or oath to God, the oath remains in force. He has to fulfill it, and there is no one who can release him from that vow or oath. Here, then, is the troubling part. If a woman makes an oath, the “man” of the house can annul that oath. A woman might say, “I make an oath to God that I will dedicate part of my income to the Temple.” Her father or the husband can hear that and say, “No way! Your words don’t count.”
When we studied this together, I was deeply moved by the stories of the women in the group who shared their experiences of having their words not count, of being ignored or not believed. One facet of the #MeToo movement is this sense that a woman’s word is neither believed nor valued. Like the man of the house in our Torah portion who dismisses his daughter’s or wife’s vow, there are so many women who spoke up about being disparaged or mistreated or worse, their words dismissed. With a modicum of empathy on the part of men, we should be able to imagine the diminishment and disparagement that women felt and continue to feel when their words are simply rejected or minimized. It’s a pain that has built up over years and decades, centuries and millennia.
It’s important that we recognize the limitations of our ancestors’ perspective. They lived in a very different time and place. But it’s also important to delve just a little deeper into their words, to see if there are any lessons that we should learn from their practices. Because, in this patriarchal biblical society, the husband’s ability to disregard his wife’s or daughter’s vow is actually fairly limited. It’s true and troublesome that the husband can dismiss his daughter’s and especially his wife’s oath; however, according to the text, he can only dismiss it on the day he hears about it. If a woman in his home vows to give up Starbucks for a year, and the husband hears about it on the thirtieth day, he can say, “You are no longer bound by that vow.” That doesn’t mean she has to begin drinking Starbucks again, only that she no longer has the obligation to give up drinking Starbucks. But if he hears about it on the thirtieth day, he has to say something that day, or the woman’s words stand. Even during this most patriarchal of times, there were significant limitations placed on the man’s ability to dismiss a woman’s words. I don’t want to idealize this time or to suggest in any way that we should go back there. We shouldn’t gloss over the many salient examples where women were in a horribly inferior position, but neither should we ignore this important principle: whoever is in power must have limitations placed on them, even in patriarchies.
In the Women’s Torah Study, we talked about this idea of anyone in power needing limits placed on them because we are in the midst of a colossal and welcome shift in power. It has been needed forever, but it has been coming on for over a hundred years—at least since the suffragette movement. While before, men had almost all of the power, the balance is shifting, slowly and awkwardly. Before our very eyes, the rules of society are being rewritten and our understanding of what is acceptable are being replaced. This is a good thing because, as the women in the Torah study group impressed upon me, the discomforts, indignities, and real damages, both physical and psychological, are real and should not be ignored.
But transitions are difficult, even positive ones. As a congregation, we know it; and as a society we feel it. In many ways, our society is like the children of Israel wandering in the desert. We didn’t like being in Egypt, but at least we knew the rules. Now we are traveling through the Sinai desert, and the old rules are being shed like a shawl on a hot day. Some men and, I suppose, a few women are saying, “We liked the old rules.” Many more men and women are saying, “We know the old rules were wrong, but we don’t know what the new rules should be.” In the Sinai desert, God simply gave us a new set of rules. However, as a society, we have to make those rules up together as we go. Let’s be honest, this is hard. How many of us held one set of beliefs years ago only to be uncomfortable or embarrassed by those beliefs today? I would bet that in quiet personal reflection, we could all identify examples of those beliefs within ourselves.
So how do we move forward? How do we traverse this desert when the old rules seem inadequate and the new rules have yet to be written? Is it, for instance, okay for a boss to proposition a subordinate? I think we can all agree that is wrong? Can either one express interest in dating one another? That still seems like a problem. What about an adult teacher and an adult student? That still seems dicey. What about coworkers? Can they have a relationship? Can they express interest in each other?
Thankfully, we are moving beyond some of the horrible social norms that were, at the very least, tolerated, but as we move through our Sinai desert, I think that there are three brief lessons that we might learn.
The first lesson is about listening and owning. It is almost certain that we know people who have acted badly in the past. We may be embarrassed at our own past actions, perhaps only recently realizing the hurt we may have caused. Healing comes first by listening to the pain of those around us who have been hurt by our words and actions. Rather than defending our past behavior, it is better to simply acknowledge the pain we may have caused. In other words, own the action. It is a sacred act for us to listen to someone’s pain and then express honest remorse for how we may have contributed to it. For any women or men who have been hurt in the past, I want you to know that I can only imagine the pain you have experienced, and if you want to tell your story to someone, I am ready to hear it.
After you have told your story and feel truly heard, I think it is important to recognize the difficulty of making these large societal changes. We, and by that, I mean both men and women, will make mistakes. We will fall into old patterns or we will cross a boundary that may still be in the process of being worked out. Gone are the days when you are expected to remain silent. Your words and feelings are important. As those words come out, I hope they can be clothed in the kindness and compassion that was too often denied to you. Being kind is not an obligation limited to women; we should not ask anyone to fit into a traditional gender stereotype. My hope is that men and women will show kindness to other human beings who are trying honestly to figure out these new social rules, even if these people inevitably misstep.
The last insight is one that I am most interested in discussing with you in the months and years to come. We learned from our Torah portion that even in patriarchal societies, fathers and husbands had power over their daughters and wives, but even these men had limits placed upon them. As power shifts more evenly among men and women alike, I wonder how that new power will be wielded and checked. Some actions that men have done are so egregious that they deserve to be condemned and even prosecuted, and those men who are guilty should live with the just consequences for their actions. But how do we distinguish among those egregious acts and unrepentant people, and people who made mistakes in the past and who are working to own up to them and change their behavior, and, finally, those people who are trying their best to navigate this difficult and changing social landscape and occasionally messing up. I want to know if you think we should treat these groups differently. And if so, how do we set limits on those who which to condemn and expel everyone who breaks any boundary?
Last week, I said that I want a community of honesty and kindness where we can honor one another as we create a better society. That is what I hope we are beginning tonight with this first conversation. I want to admit to you that talking about this makes me nervous because the possibility of causing pain and being misunderstood is so great. But I believe the promise of TAE is that we can be kind and honest where hearts are open and people are heard. Compassionate conversation is our very best tool to ennoble ourselves and heal our society. This too is an act of tikkun olam. I hope you will join me in repairing our world.