Lost in the Pews: An Ode to the Non-Pulpit Rabbi

Sep 9, 2013 by

Three years ago, I left my congregation to join the URJ.  I proudly professed to my spouse that I did not believe I would miss much, and certainly not the stress of the holidays.  I would rather spend them as a Jew, as a wife, as a mother.

I lied.  As Walnut Creek temperatures neared scorching and the moon began to wax toward crescent and newness, as Facebook posts decried the arduous task of crafting sermons in time for Rosh Hashanah, I slowly became aware of sadness trellising up my psyche.

At first I thought I felt left out.  So, I offered up my editing services to friends preparing their sermons.  How fun it was connecting with old classmates and colleagues across the country!  But, the sadness kept growing.

Perhaps, I missed being part of the amazing Sinai team (Oakland, CA).  So I wrote to each of my former clergy partners, remising about the thrill of standing in the Paramount Theatre’s green room, laughing to the point of tears as we celebrated the joy in each other’s lives and supported the pain.  We all connected over this, but, the sadness kept growing.

Could I miss the adulation I received when a sermon stood out?  I would miss the praise, but not enough to justify the strength of the sadness.

So why was I sad?  Finally, one Shabbat morning a couple of weeks before the holidays, I realized what or who I missed.  I missed God.  Or more specifically, I missed God’s awareness of me.  I subconsciously believed that because I was working toward a uniquely divine purpose, because I was striving to inspire God’s people toward spiritual height, because I was sacrificing my family and my own holiday experience, God had a particular awareness of and gratitude toward me.  And even more surprising; I was afraid.  I was afraid God would not find me that year.  I would be lost as a Jew in the Pew, not where God knew to look for me.

Consciously, I knew how silly this was.  But, subconsciously, I approached the High Holiday’s with a different type of nora from the awe and fear I had felt since I began working the High Holidays at age 18.  And it was with this feeling of trepidation I found a seat in the pews of a synagogue which never knew me in the role of rabbi, and prepared to seek holiness at a service over which I had no control.

I want to write about my lightning bolt moment when I discovered a new soulfulness and connection with God.  This did not happen.  But the next day as we sat with friends and community by our local reservoir laughing and playing, watching our children giggle ruthlessly, talking about the depth and meaning of what our lives could be… I felt the rise of a new joy, a new connection to the divine energy of Yamim Noraim, a new importance to God for just simply and only being me.

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This feeling and relationship has evolved over the last 3 years.  I do still miss the connection I felt to the rest of you, and especially my immediate team, as we prepared to create a sacred experience together.  But, I don’t miss God.  God knows where I am. Right where I belong.

 

Rabbi Andrea Berlin is Director Congregational Networks – West District with the Union for Reform Judaism and is the co-director of NCRCR.

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