High Holidays spirituality Working with the Elderly

Rosh Hashanah is Almost Here: Year in Review

It’s been an interesting year. It’s been a year with a lot of changes and with more to come.

Highlights of the changes a year has wrought:

  • 2015-09-09-selfieI’m now working as rabbi at a Jewish nursing home and assisted living facility. After years of working mainly as a freelance rabbi (with occasional forays into congregational work, academia, etc.), working within a single organization has a lot to recommend it. I’m enjoying creating longer-term relationships in my rabbinate. It is meaningful work that I find fulfilling.
  • Eva and I are in the process of adopting a child. After years of not being ready/not being sure we’d ever want or be ready to raise a child, we’ve taken the plunge and are now in the process of waiting. Which means that day to day life goes on pretty much as normal, with this great big possibility of monumental life change possible at any point from pretty much instantly to more than a year from now.

This leaves me in a somewhat odd frame of mind. For many years now (like five), there haven’t been a huge number of changes from one Rosh Hashanah to the next. It’s nice to have some really big changes (dare I say, even progress). At the same time, I’m very aware of the ways in which I’m still in a waiting position to see what comes next.

Each year is different. Each year brings newness. At the same time, the year is a cycle, ever repeating.

Working with the elderly, it becomes obvious the ways in which each life is unique. People make different choices, and even more, get dealt different cards in the game of life (yes, I know that one isn’t dealt cards in the board game). And, at the same point, certain themes come up over and over again, regardless of the experiences of a life.

Each year is also unique, but the more some things change, the more obvious it becomes that in some ways things remain the same. The details of the challenges change, but sometimes, it feels like the new challenges aren’t as new as I might like.

As we come to the new year–5776–I wonder what the next year will bring. I hope it brings a child to Eva and myself. I hope for continued satisfaction with work. I hope for a year of blessing and tranquility (okay, I recognize the contradiction between hoping for a baby and hoping for tranquility).

May the new year be a good year for all of us.

General Rabbinic spirituality WorkPlace Spirituality

Transitions Suck

Transitions suck, which is why I am writing a blog post at 6:20 AM on a morning when my alarm is set for 8 AM. After about 2 hours of not sleeping, I decided to get up. I don’t know that I can blame my sleepnessness entirely on my upcoming transition out of Temple Beth Sholom, but I might give it a shot.

Over the next three to four weeks I will cease to be the rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom. I have been with the congregation for a year as interim rabbi, fulfilled my function, and will be moving back to full time at CubeSpace. I face this transition with extremely mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’ll be glad to leading a somewhat less chaotic existence, no longer splitting my time between Portland and Salem, between CubeSpce and the rabbinate. On the other hand, I’m very much going to miss working with the congregation.

I believe in better living through chemistry, and think that antidepressants are a good thing to help one through transitions. The ability to make change with the somewhat stabilizing influence of an antidepressant is one of the minor miracles of modern society. Nonetheless, change causes stress, sleepless nights and ideally provides an opportunity for reflection.

I look back over the last year, and am  struck by how far I’ve come as a rabbi. When I started in Salem, I was scared that I wouldn’t be a “good” rabbi. I’d never really done the congregational rabbinate, outside of a student pulpit, and wasn’t sure how I’d do, or whether I could really do the job. At the end of the year, I recognize that I’ve done a good job, and am delighted the congregation seems to agree with me. I’ve made a difference in people’s lives, and in their relationship to Judaism and spirituality. I’ve prepared the congregation well for my successor, creating a situation wherein he has a better chance of sucess.By pretty much any measure I might use, I feel like I’ve succeeded as a rabbi this year.

That being said, it doesn’t necessarily make transitioning out easier. In some ways, it makes the change harder. It is difficult to move away from doing something you are good at, and enjoy, even the change means you’ll have more time for something else you are good at and enjoy. It is difficult to leave the people I’ve grown close to over the last year, but part of my job as an interim rabbi is to get out of the way now that my time is done, and let my successor have a clean slate to work with, without me hanging around.

And so, today, I had down to Salem, recognizing that there are only 3 more Thursday when I will make this weekly pilgramage which has been so much a part of my life over the last year. And I’ll begin to try to clean up/out my office.

Edit: I finished writing this, and then went and read some of the blogs I read, and was reminded that as transitions go, mine isn’t so bad. I’ve been following the blog of a woman  who recently lost her husband, and has been blogging about it extensively. I’ve found her courage breathtaking, her suffering heartbreaking. The account begins here.