I collect rabbis.
As a young boy, it seemed to me, being a rabbi was a profound and precious use of a Jewish soul. To inspire Torah into hearts and into the world, oh my! So, at the age of 18, when I asked my own rabbi about going into the rabbinate, I was crushed.
My rabbi told me that I was already behind in Torah studies. That it would take me twice as long as the other students to catch up. Even then, my Hebrew was so bad that I wouldn’t begin seminary with my peers. If I made it – if I made it, he said – I’d always be a rabbi, that the entire Jewish world would constantly judge my actions, that the entire Jewish world would be represented me always. He asked if I had the strength to do that.
What I heard, as an insecure and uncertain teen, was this: “We don’t want you. There’s no place for you in Rabbi-World.”
He was a brilliant Torah teacher. I still reread his books. I remember sermons he gave decades ago. I remember the joy of our Friday morning Talmud class. He gave me my first glimpse of the depth and beauty of diving into Torah. Since then, I’ve considered the rabbinate several times. Even at 60, there’s still a wound in my heart with the words: “Not a rabbi.”
So, I collect rabbis. What does that mean? That I still allow my heart to be open and vulnerable to rabbis. That if you touch my heart, you’ll always be my rabbi. The balm on the wound is to collect the vibrant golden hearts of Torah teachers, tikun olam leaders, healers, blessings in the flesh. The balm is to add a bit of your heart to mine.
You were at my wife’s deathbed and comforted my children at her shiva. You taught me Torah. We stood together at the Kotel defending women’s prayer rights. You taught me how to say the Shema with my entire being. You’ve encouraged my writing, challenged it to get better. You’ve brought me to your synagogues to teach. We made music together. You call yourselves Rabbi, Rav, Rabba, chaplain, educator, pastoral care counselor, editor, coach, friend.
Here I am, early on Monday morning at the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention. Some of my rabbis are here, some didn’t make it. Most are Reform. Some Conservative, Orthodox, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Havurah, Haredi, defiant of labels. Some are AIPAC and some are JStreet. Some are men, women, trans, gay, lesbian. Writers. Teachers. Scholars. Activists.
Last night here at CCAR17, I was blessed to hear many kind things about my writing and my new book, ‘This Grateful Heart.’ I confess: part of me – the ‘not a rabbi’ part – doesn’t know what to do with these words, so I put them into the box of inspirational fuel for my work as a liturgist.
I’m still collecting rabbis, so this is the place for me to be.
It appears that some rabbis are also collecting liturgists. This Grateful (sentimental) Heart is touched.
Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher. He has written more than 600 pieces of new liturgy, offering a fresh new Jewish voice, challenging the boundaries between poetry, meditation, personal growth, and prayer. His writing was transformed by multiple tragedies, marked in 2009 by the sudden death of his wife from catastrophic brain injury. Solovy’s teaching spans from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem to Limmud, UK, and synagogues throughout the U.S. The Jerusalem Post called his writing “soulful, meticulously crafted.” Huffington Post Religion said “…the prayers reflect age-old yearnings in modern-day situations.” Solovy is a three-time winner of the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. He made aliyah to Israel in 2012, where he hikes, writes, teaches, and learns. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, from CCAR Press.