So much work to be done, classes to prepare for, articles to write, administration to supervise, and yet I am going away for four days to the national convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Why?
Innovation Requires Retreat Time for Reflection
To serve as rabbi of an innovative, engaging 21st century religious institution like Congregation Or Ami requires I constant effort to remain ahead of the curve (or as we say now, “ahead of the shift”). Rabbis do this at national gatherings of rabbis, where – egos left at the door – we can explore best practices, engage in critical and self-critical thinking, and become current in the literature and scholarship of Judaism and contemporary religious thought.
Torah Speaks in Many Evocative Voices
We explore how Torah and Jewish texts speak to the most significant issues of our day. We reconsider how to engage marginal subgroups including people recovering from addictions and divorcing couples, from newer generations of young people to the aging Jewish population, and from other American religious groups to other denominations of Jews.
Attending a Circle of Practice for technologically proficient rabbis led me year ago to introduce into our congregation the use of Facebook, Twitter, Visual T’filah, and even High Holy Day mid-service texting. A CCAR conference workshop a few years back began the shift in my thinking that, when combined with Rabbi Julia Weisz’s ideas and the Union for Reform Judaism’s vision, led to a top-to-bottom revamping of our youth engagement program. Another convention session pushed me down the path toward complete integration and inclusivicity for people with special needs.
Becoming a Better Rabbi
I have learned how to be a better administrator, a more caring pastoral rabbi, and a better husband and parent (many discussions on balancing work and family). I rediscovered my social justice commitment at one convention and my dedication to pro-Israel organizing at another. Practical rabbinical sessions have addressed staff supervision, program financing, leadership partnerships and fundraising in a difficult economy.
Chevruta: Other Rabbis as Sounding Boards
Then there is the chevruta (collegiality/friendship). One study places clergy as the profession with the fourth highest rate of burnout, high levels of depression and stress, and prevalent bouts with anxiety and weight issues. Being with other colleagues, people who understand the unique challenges of this calling, creates a safe, sacred space for self-reflection, in a place where mentor and veteran rabbis are easily accessible for discussion and guidance.
Stepping away from the daily processes of the synagogue for these four days is challenging, but with the help of our Cantor Doug Cotler and an Or Ami leadership committed to ensuring the clergy remains fresh and rejuvenated, I know that this time spent away will recharge my batteries and reinvigorate my rabbinic presence.
Todah Meirosh (thank you ahead of time)
So I say Thank You to Or Ami’s temple board and our staff, for allowing, even insisting, that their rabbis attend these rejuvenating conventions. Each time I have returned to the congregation with ideas to deepen and transform our community.
I wonder what I will bring back after this convention?!?