Anyone who has seen the movie “Jaws” will surely remember the opening scene. A woman swims peacefully in the ocean and all appears to be well, until we hear that pulsating, foreboding music. You can’t see the shark yet, but you know it’s out there, and before too long, it will make its appearance…
It will be my privilege, on this coming Saturday night, to formally install my son, Hillel, as the rabbi of the Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation in Florida. Technically, he’s been serving in that capacity since August 2011, but scheduling difficulties (i.e., getting the parents and other assorted family members in the right place at the right time) have delayed the formal ceremony until now.
To be effective in the pulpit rabbinate requires that one possess (or develop) an eclectic and demanding set of skills. You have to be knowledgeable in Torah, a master of synagogue skills, a good teacher, a good speaker, a good counselor, and of course it doesn’t hurt to be young and charismatic…
After months of anticipation laden with some odd admixture of dread, pride, satisfaction, and a few other random emotions, our nest officially empties this Saturday night. Our third child, a junior at Barnard who has already lived at school for almost three years, leaves for a semester abroad in Copenhagen- much farther away than Morningside Heights. With our youngest in Israel for the year, our oldest in Florida, and our older daughter in Japan, we are left without children to pack up and send away.
For a variety of reasons. the pulpit rabbinate is a high-stress job.
First of all, and most obvious, I would think, you have to deal with more illness, cosmic unfairness, death and dying than almost anyone else except physicians. Being on call 24/7, and having to be strong and composed for others who are suffering and/or grieving exacts a tremendous toll in both the short and long run. Taking care of one’s own inner life as a rabbi is an under-appreciated challenge. The accumulated grief wears you down.
There is probably no more cliché way to open a speech or article about Israel than to say something like “These past few weeks and months have been difficult ones for Israel.” It’s cliché because one would be hard-pressed to think of a time when that was not true. Rarely are we afforded a time to focus on the glories of Israel, which are many, and not the problems that seem to plague it from all angles and directions.
Because my wife works in an academic setting, the end of December is usually a good time for us to get away for a week or so. Synagogue activity tends to slow down then as well because so many people are away. It is, as I like to call it, a great opportunity to “air out.”
I love Chanukah. I love the fact that it gives us a reason to celebrate when the days are dark and (relatively) cold, and to light a light against the darkness. Last but most certainly not least, Chanukah also reminds us of the power of faith in God, and in the rightness of our cause, to carry us to victory in times of trouble, even against insurmountable odds.
This year, however, as we celebrate the ancient victory of the Maccabees, I am deeply concerned.
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for this paper about Pilgrims and Native Americans. It spoke of how the legacy of the Thanksgiving story often falls prey to deconstructionists, who value historical truth over cultural myth at all cost. Rather than have children- and, for that matter, adults- celebrate a cherished American belief in a common appreciation of blessings, they would argue that historical reality in all of its messiness- or at least, the probability of its being reality- must trump exercises in feel-good nostalgia rooted in legend.