Much more than a decade ago, our colleague Rabbi Bob Loewy spoke to SWARR (Southwest Association of Reform Rabbis) members from the pulpit of Congregation House of Israel in Hot Sprints Arkansas, where we were gathered for a Kallah. Bob was the President of SWARR at the time, and he described that position as the greatest honor of his career to date.
Truth be told, the SWARR presidency is determined by seniority, i.e., the President is the most senior member of SWARR who has been active in the region and not yet served as president. Therefore, Bob wasn’t chosen as SWARR president as an honor, per se, nor was I several years later. So why did Bob describe that position as כבוד (honor)?
Bob has served in this region throughout his career. I have, too, except for one year. I resonated strongly to Bob’s discussion of the importance of SWARR to his rabbinate.
SWARR is a far-flung region. We gather annually, not monthly. Our Kallot feature significant study and important communication from the CCAR.
More importantly, SWARR is an important place for sharing, in a way that our fabulous but very large CCAR conventions cannot be.
I write from SWARR, in Memphis this week.
This morning, over breakfast, a colleague and his spouse talked with me about their journey from the traumatic end of a congregational tenure to healing, now in their fifth year in a new position. Their message was important for me to hear, at an earlier stage in my own similar journey.
The conversation then grew to include others at the table. We contemplated a panel discussion of rabbis and rabbinic families who have lived through professional trauma. We reflected on past SWARR conversations that have been particularly moving. We met in Oklahoma City shortly after the bombing of the Murrah Building, and we heard from David Packman about rabbinic leadership in a community crisis. On the same panel, Ken Roseman, whose wife had died after a long struggle with cancer, talked about living through that tragedy in his family, congregation, and community. We shared a similarly meaningful moment when we met after Katrina, hearing from our New Orleans colleagues, an encounter so moving that it was repeated at a CCAR Convention. A couple years ago, we heard from a panel of Rabbis Emeritus about the joys and challenges they face in the pews of congregations led by their successors.
Each year, we lovingly remember recently departed colleagues who served in our region. Often, few in the room knew the colleagues described, long since retired. The personal אזכרות, each delivered by a rabbi who enjoyed a personal relationship with the departed, deepen our bonds across the generations. Along those same lines, I am acutely aware that, at 50, I am no longer a young rabbi. My encounters with new colleagues at SWARR, engaging in intentional conversation over dinner or in the hospitality room, have deepened my rabbinate meaningfully each year.
I am grateful for my SWARR חברותה (chevruta), and pray that all CCAR colleagues enjoy a similar opportunity.
Rabbi Barry Block is the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, AR.