2012-13 Rabbinical Intern
Congregation Mishkan Ha’am
Note: Basior has continued on at Mishkan Ha'am, currently serving as rabbi/education director.
It’s November and the air is brisk, to put it kindly, late on a Thursday afternoon in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. David Basior, a third-year student, cautions that it’s the first time he’s scheduled an adult-education session on a weeknight. It could be that few people show up. He’s got plenty to do in the meantime, however, supervising three religious-school teachers and helping them gather what they need to teach their kids, who range from kindergarten to pre–bnai mitzvah. Once the classes start, he can polish his material for the mini-assembly he’ll do at 5:45, and maybe even get a moment to think about the Shabbat services he’ll be leading over the weekend at Reconstructionist congregation Mishkan Ha’am.
But when 7:30 rolls around, eight people have gathered to talk about definitions of God. And by 7:45 there are two more. Basior has laid out quotes from the Torah, from the Talmud, from Maimonides (aka, the Rambam), from kabbalah and, of course, from Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan. And the participants dive right in. They note that in Exodus 34:6-7 we see a God with human characteristics, including flaws; he angers and then pulls back. They split into pairs, each to plumb one quote. The soundscape in the room grows thick. As Basior circulates, faces light up even more. The 30-second analyses that the pairs share are impressive. Peter Heiman and his study partner, reading Kaplan, come away with a “Marxism” (as in Marx Brothers) on God’s inexplicable nature: “What would be the point of believing in a God I could completely understand?”
The last internship Basior did was more strategic; his job was to help develop a Reconstructionist presence on various college campuses. He interacted with students in person at Brandeis University, over four weekends during the year.
So he experienced a significant transition into this congregation-based internship. “In the past I didn’t let myself consider a move to this side of the rabbinate,” Basior says. “I have seen congregational work puff up people’s egos and was worried about that happening to me.” Having been the straight white guy in many queer-led political organizing efforts, he’d learned the importance of cultivating humility, he comments. But when his co-facilitator in an Encounter seminar in Israel asked him not to hold back, he wondered, “What if being my grandest self could be inspiring, not stifling, for others?” He says that at Mishkan Ha’am, where the people he leads are smart and outspoken, “the work gives me a great chance to try that.”