18 Years in the Rabbinate – 18 Lessons Learned

I love being a rabbi. I cannot imagine doing or being anything else. I am proud of my work for the past 18 years. I am also proud that my 18th year in the rabbinate marks a significant change, as I transitioned from working in established synagogues to becoming the founder and spiritual leader of Makom NY: a new model for Jewish community on Long Island.

My reflections on 18 years, with my new perspective:

1. Relationships truly matter. Knowing people’s names, knowing who they are, learning their stories, listening to their pains and celebrating their accomplishments.

2. People are not looking for ‘something for nothing’. People are willing to pay for that which they feel has value.

3. Pluralism is no longer a dirty word. There are many paths to explore and embrace. We need no longer be defined in such a narrow way.

4. Quality does make a difference. People truly do seek deep learning, impactful worship and worthy leaders.

5. We need to stop saying ‘no’. My ordination degree instructs me to be a ‘teacher among the Jewish community’. It is time to do just that.

6. Find others who support your vision. As a ‘Rabbis Without Borders’ fellow, I have found wisdom and support from colleagues with similar visions. Just as I was beginning to feel alone in my rabbinate, I was invited to join RWB, and this community has been invaluable.

7. We have a lot to learn from Chabad. Period.

8. What I do off the bimah is as important as what I do on it. The one-on-one conversations, intimate dinners and small group learnings connect me to my community.

9. The High Holy days are no longer the main focus. Jews truly seek Jewish community 365 days of the year.

10. The sermon is no longer the center of a worship experience. Worship is much bigger than just the sermon, and the sermon is no longer the only way for rabbis to share our ‘voice’.

11. Own your own path. For many years, my positions in various synagogues defined my rabbinate. This year, I have taken hold of my rabbinate. I now shape my rabbinate instead of allowing my rabbinate to shape me.

12. Know who you are, and who you are not. I know I cannot be all things to all people, and I therefore seek partners who allow me to be my best me.

13. Being a ‘disruptor’ is not a bad thing. In the change world, being a disruptor is okay; actually, it is the only way to move forward.

14. Being misunderstood is painful. As the leader of a new model for Jewish community, my efforts are often misunderstood. While I devote some time to explanation, I have not allowed the ignorance of others to lead me astray.

15. Learning to look beyond the anger. If I can understand one’s anger, then I can learn to move beyond it.

16. Walls hold you up, but they also separate you. Walls are often what keep people out, instead of what bring people in. A community without walls is naturally inviting, open and welcoming.

17. When a window closes, a door opens. We simply need to be open to the new and potential possibilities.

18. We need to respect ourselves enough to live life to the fullest. Do what makes you happy. My decision to leave the typical congregational world in order to create a new model for Jewish community has been financially challenging, and yet I am healthier and happier than I have been in a long time. I hope others are empowered to do what brings them gratification, happiness and completeness.


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