I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately, as you might imagine. In one of my first classes in rabbinic school, our teacher asked us to name all the roles that a rabbi fulfills. The list filled a large board: teacher, shliach tzibor (service leader), preacher, chaplain, friend, spiritual guide or director, judge, arbiter of community standards, celebrator, lifecycle officiant, prophet, priest, student, afflicter of the comfortable/comforter of the afflicted, confessor, listener… Since I’ve been at North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation, in addition to several of these descriptors, I’ve also polished candlesticks, moved chairs, cooked, taken flack, slipped chocolate to bnai mitzvah students (when they asked a good question), officiated at three weddings, a memorial service and a shiva minyan for congregants and many more weddings and lifecycles for Jews coming to Tahoe, and have gathered with interfaith clergy to strengthen the community.
I’ve taught a small and committed cadre of folks. Some of my favorite discussions have taken place at Tea and Torah, where we have disputed ancient and current texts together and marveled at how we can look at the same words over thousands of years and make them relevant to today.
The Bnai Mitzvah students have kept me on my toes, challenging questions and trying to find for themselves the relevance of the teachings. They have stayed open to the possibilities of learning from our tradition and from each other, and even from me.
The Mindsight discussion group has allowed its participants to look at how neuroscience and its understanding of the ways our brains work is only now catching up to millennia of Jewish practice.
I’ve written: eblast messages, Shofar articles, weekly drashot (teachings), High Holy Day sermons. If you read them and they move you to think or feel or change, I’d be grateful for the feedback.
I’ve been blessed to have shared profound discussions with people about their life situations, and I have listened to people try to figure out what to make of their connection with “being Jewish” to their real lives. To them, I dedicated my Kol Nidre sermon (The Queen’s Orchestra): how do we hear the music? What might our practice be? I’ve also been blessed to share lots of laughter. I’ve been available, in our time, in person, but most people seem to prefer to communicate by email and even text, and some phone contact. I might almost say, “It’s a new world, Goldie, a new world.”
I’ve led services almost every Friday night, along with a few Saturday mornings. We’ve been at the beach, atop Northstar, at a table, in a circle, a horseshoe and shapes too hard to describe. We exceed the Reform Movement average of 17 people per 100 families on average, with some weeks without a minyan and some weeks far exceeding it. Sometimes our discussions are exciting, raising a politely diverse range of views. I’ve come to love reading or telling stories during our family shabbats, so much so I do it other weeks as well, if one catches my imagination. The Friday after Rosh Hashanah and the special music shabbats show how wonderful services can be when we integrate wonderful music into our prayer experience. Even though the liturgy is generally pretty similar, the service experience can feel different each week, depending on who is there, how many are there, and the mood we are in.
High Holy Days have been an evolving process. Hazzan Jonathan Rosenthal, besides having that beautiful, rich voice, is a mensch of a human being, and a pleasure to share the bima with. Hopefully, he will continue to trek up here for years to come. As the Central Conference of American Rabbis proceeds with its machzor, High Holy Day prayer book, I hope NTHC finds a way to purchase them when they are finally published.
I have been deeply moved by the realization that people have expectations for rabbis that are so integral to their own experiences as children. An easy example: one of my worst memories when my father died when I was 12 was of my temple not acknowledging my father’s death (across the country) by talking to, let alone embracing my family, who were campers and active congregants. So when NTHC members’ loved ones die, it is important to me to NOT be like my rabbi. And at the same time, my experience has been that congregants don’t feel the need for their rabbi when deaths occur in their family. The same thing is true for illness.
There is much more a rabbi can do in a community, should the community want it. I pray that the strategic planning process the temple is undertaking bears fruit in terms of what you actually want.
I count my blessings that I have been your rabbi.