I’m just back from the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention, a gathering of 600 Reform Rabbis from all over the United States, Canada, Israel, Europe, South America and elsewhere. Four fabulous days of inspiring worship, thought-provoking speakers, pastoral skill-building sessions, and insightful study of our Jewish texts.
I return home with Evernote (books) filled with ideas and insights for the many roles I live as an American Reform Jewish congregational rabbi. In fact, each day was so packed with large plenary gatherings and small group meetings that my mind was working in overdrive from 7:00 am through 11:00 pm.
One of the most poignant events occurred at a location twenty-minutes away from the Convention Hotel. That night, eleven people gathered at a local restaurant in a private room for dinner.
The dinner took place during intentionally set time for “dinner with friends and colleagues.” Along with other sessions and the plenaries, this dinner allowed us to address one of the most significant reasons we rabbis need to attend rabbinic conventions: to find solace and strength in the company of colleagues.
Over dinner, we laughed, joked, kvetched, kvelled, commiserated and counseled each other. We reflected upon the distinctive role and responsibility of being a rabbi in our contemporary Jewish community.
As we played musical chairs – switching places between courses – we shared triumphs and tribulations. This one sought advice on how to deal with a particularly thorny pastoral problem, while that one teased out new approaches for a difficult issue of organizational governance. These two compared notes on the challenges of youth engagement as those two shared strategies for keeping our own young ones from becoming too encumbered by the challenges of living in the Jewish public eye. These four discussed new ways to think about the congregational rabbinate, while those four debated the perspective on Israel in Avi Shavit’s book, My Promised Land. From the personal to the professional, the macro to the micro, we wove memories of our past through the realities of the present and into the hopes for the future.
I left dinner sated: full of delicious food, helpful advice, meaningful insights and a clear sense that the shared challenges we face are surmountable because we have others to guide and support us.
Why do rabbis need rabbinic conventions?
While being a rabbi is an especially rewarding profession, it can be challenging, exhausting and emotionally depleting. Only in gatherings of rabbinic colleagues can we let our metaphoric hair down – of course, I have none left because I shaved my hair to raise money and awareness to fight pediatric cancer (but that’s another blogpost). In this safe space among people who know and understand can we find sessions and support to rejuvenate ourselves and lift each other up spiritually.
So four days away is both a short time and a lifetime, because in those brief moments away from the 24/7 responsibilities of leading a sacred community of our holy people we regain perspective and gain new perspectives to dive back in and lead and partner anew.
So to my dinner companions – my friends – I say thank you for rejuvenating me.
To our CCAR leadership and the Convention Program Committee, I say Todah Rabbah (thank you so much) for creating moments to find new meaning.
And to my synagogue – Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) – I offer my profound appreciation for making it possible to leave and come back. I and we will benefit greatly from this experience.
Rabbi Paul J. Kipnes is the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. This post was originally published on his blog, Or Am I?