Dear B’nai Sholom Member,
On May 21, 1981, I was ordained at Temple Emanu-El in New York City. It is time for us to reflect upon this last year, and for me, the last 40 years.
The number 40 is significant in our tradition. Its connotative meaning is “many.” It rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Moses was atop Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah for 40 days. The Children of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years. The number means “many,” and were we living in ancient times we wouldn’t say, “I have a thousand things to do today,” we’d say, “I have 40 things to do today.”
Every transition is a leaving and an arrival. The transition may be a realization – leaving a new idea behind and taking on a new belief, it may be the status of a relationship – from leading the life of a single person to being married, it may actually be leaving one place to move to another. I am happy that a newly ordained Rabbi will be assuming the role of spiritual leader for the congregation. This is an important transition in the life of the congregation.
As I take my leave, I ponder how many transitions I have made in my career, especially during these last years as an Interim Rabbi. I have led nine congregations in 11 years. And before becoming an “intentional” interim rabbi, as we are called, I was a Temple Educator, a professor, a college scholar-in-residence, a supervisor/curriculum writer in a Reform day school, and a pulpit Rabbi. I suppose you could say my M.O. has been change and transition.
So as an expert, a long standing expert, 40 years an expert – I have a few observations and bits of advice to offer…
First, everyone says they look forward to change…, until it happens. Then everyone longs for the past, or at least their favorite parts of the past. When change happens, the homeostasis of the political and cultural arena is thrown out of kilter. Roles may be lost or not appreciated and songs at a Friday night service may go unsung. As some express excitement about the future, others silently long for what is missing or fear what is about to happen.
The best piece of advice I offer is to ask what went through your mind before going on a blind date. What questions were you going to ask the person sitting across the table and what would you like to have been asked in return so that your date could really get to know you? How were you to make the best impression while gently revealing your flaws and foibles? How would you withhold judgment and be accepting in order to allow the future to unfold easily?
Forty years serving the Jewish people has taught me a lot. We complained about the manna in the desert and we still have an inclination to complain about what we are being served. We were a stiff-necked people in ancient days and we are still opinionated beyond anything approaching reasonable. We have tried to live by our highest ideals but we ourselves too often fall short.
So as I take my leave and Rabbi Weisbrot arrives, remember this: Never complain about the “new Rabbi.” Don’t be stubborn if the Rabbi offers a new idea or a new ritual by saying, “We’ve always done it this way” or “We’ve never done it that way.” And finally, live up to the best vision of your best selves.
If you keep these recommendations in mind, you’ll do just fine.
P.S. I’m saving my impressions of this past year for the annual meeting on June 10 and my expressions of appreciation for our good-bye get-together on June 13. My last day on the job is June 15. Know that I’m going to miss everyone very much when I leave.