I have just returned from a month-long Sabbatical. I spent time in Israel with a congregational adult trip and the balance at home in Calabasas, CA. Highlights included Onion Soup and tei eem nana (tea with mint) with Michelle at a Jerusalem restaurant, the study of Mekhilta de Rabi Ishmael (5th-8th century Midrash) with my friend Rabbi Ron Stern under the guidance of Dr. Aryeh Cohen of the American Jewish University, and weekly Hebrew tutoring sessions with a private teacher. What did I gain from the experience? Some initial thoughts.
1. Disengaging: My sabbatical began when I disengaged. Technologically. I revised my cell phone message to say something like, “I’m on Sabbatical. For Or Ami business, please call the synagogue. Family and friends, please leave a message here.” Two minutes into my sabbatical, I also removed my Temple email from my Outlook, disengaged the same from my blackberry, and turned off my pager. Someone once said, “I think, therefore I am.” I say, “I disengage electronically, therefore I am not.”
2. Email #1. If no one emails me, do I truly exist? I went from receiving over 150 emails a day to less than a half dozen. Exclude the daily four from my wife (“did you hear that…” or items for the “honey-do” list) and you have one disengaged rabbi. Who am I if I am not my email? That, according to my wife, was the central question for my Sabbatical.
3. Email #2. At Or Ami, we say, people matter. Email, however, is more insistent. Email says, “Read me. Consider me. Respond to me. Now!” It knows no boundaries of time (the Blackberry places YOUR immediate needs in the holster at MY hip) nor space (no matter where I am, there you and your email are). If people truly matter, does that necessitate an immediate reply to each person’s email? Surely we can care about people without becoming enslaved to the constant pull of the constant contact?
4. Simple Pleasures #1: Sitting with a Book. I read a thick spy novel in just two days. I read from morning until night, doing little else of value. I read at night in bed. I read when I awoke. I read while making dinner. I read between meals. I read while the kids watched games on tv. There was nothing of value in the book I read, except for the thrill of reading the thriller. For a man who ruminates about significant issues in life, there is something simplistically pleasing as just sitting and spacing out with a book.
5. Sabbatical Struggles: What happens when you take the rabbi out of the rabbi? When you take the doing out of the doer? Can we be happy just “being”? I confess that the last weeks of the Sabbatical were filled with struggle, trying to find joy in just being. Driving carpool and schlepping kids was wonderful, but still it was not sufficient to keep my mind going and my heart content. I love my kids and enjoy the opportunity, but it is not sufficient. Walking with my wife was divine, but watching the world go on around me, left me, at times, feeling left behind. Hmmm… Should I have volunteered somewhere? Should I have scheduled more studying or doing?
6. Carpool Conundrum: What does one do with the extra time while sitting in carpool? Before I was on sabbatical, I would sit in my car, making Henaynu (caring community) calls, speaking with potential congregants, even counseling people in need. Being disengaged removes the need to “make good use of time” because I have fewer people (read: no one) who I need to call. Plus my friends are working and I often made phone calls to my family in the early morning after morning drop off. While sitting in the carpool line can be a pain, it can also provide plenty of extra time. So how did I spend my precious moments while waiting in line? I am not sure I ACCOMPLISHED anything in that time. Perhaps that in itself is the point: sometimes “just being” can be a gift unto itself.