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18 Lessons from 18 Years as a Rabbi

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As I celebrate my 18th year since I was ordained Rabbi, I take stock of lessons learned along the way:

  1. Jewish spirituality without social justice can become narcissism.
  2. Social justice without Jewish spirituality might feel good but might not compel future activism.
  3. The role of the rabbi is to passionately comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.   
  4. The role of the rabbi is to quietly point in a direction and then get out of the way. 
  5. A healthy, organic Jewish community is not afraid to experiment.
  6. A healthy, organic Jewish community is not afraid of failure, because failure is inevitable when experimenting and innovating.
  7. People who really feel warmly welcomed when they walk through the doors of the synagogue will be more likely to come back to celebrate and learn.
  8. People who answer the telephones are more important than the person standing up on the bimah; a community feels warm and welcoming when the receptionist and bookkeeper exude that warmth.
  9. Dysfunction comes easily; warm, respectful partnerships between clergy and lay leaders require patience, vulnerability, and openness. 
  10. Judaism has many things to say about every thing; no issue it was or is too controversial, personal, or political to escape the moral lens of Torah and Jewish tradition.
  11. How a rabbi teaches is as important as what a rabbi teaches. Difficult lessons and controversial teachings are more easily heard when alternative perspectives are respected. 
  12. God exists. God loves. God cares.
  13. The lights can be on, but if we close our eyes, we think it is dark. 
  14. Jewish music has the power to touch hearts and souls more deeply than any sermon.
  15. Torah teachings and Jewish music, when combined artfully, have the potential to transform lives and touch eternity.
  16. Fear not social media or technology; like the printing press, telephone, and two stone tablets from the mountaintop, they are merely tools for spreading Torah teachings. 
  17. Israel is at once ancient and modern, historic and mythic, spiritual and bricks-and-mortar. Walking its streets and alleys transforms the soul.
  18. A community that takes care of its rabbi and his family ensures that the rabbi has deep sources of strength and love to care for the community.

3 comments

  1. the dude says:

    number 6 is great, but not very easy. how do you create an atmosphere where experimentation and failure are nurtured, encouraged and rewarded?

    congrats on 18 years paul!

  2. Thanks Aryeh.

    The Dude (whomever you are), you are correcct that creating an atmosphere where experimentation and failure are nurtured can be difficult. It requires long term teaching and educating staff and lay leaders to think out of the box, to try. It requires a communal effort (again agreed upon) not to punish or lash out when things "don't work".

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