A day that begins at a historic synagogue and concludes with lemon ricotta pancakes is an excellent one, if you ask me. In between these marvelous experiences came wonderful conversations with colleagues – on topics ranging from the CCAR Journal to rabbinic self-care to the Code of Ethics to the Shulchan Aruch to the malleability of halacha – and enriching learning sessions and a moving plenary honoring Steve Fox; but I’d really like to focus on the synagogue, and the pancakes.
One of the reasons I became a rabbi is my love of prayer. But since ordination, I have a hard time with communal prayer. Although I find great meaning and even inspiration praying with my congregation, I also feel on display, watched, and judged – and not (just) by the Holy One. Well-intentioned remarks like, “You have such a beautiful voice,” “Your hair looks so pretty pulled back,” and “I love seeing you pray – you seem so into it,” make me feel self-conscious, and unable to throw myself into worship as wholeheartedly as I once could.
But it’s different at CCAR – and not only because of the majesty of Plum Street Temple, where I was ordained almost 21 years ago, or the incredible talents of our shlichei tzibor. It’s different because I’m among colleagues, friends, rabbis who get it. I can sing “Ma Tovu” as passionately as I’d like (with apologies to those sitting nearby, as my voice is not actually all that beautiful), remain standing during the Amidah as long as I want, get teary-eyed during the Mi Sheberach, bounce along to “Lo Yisa Goy” as the Torah is taken from the Ark – and no one comments. No one notices. No one is evaluating me – not my stance in prayer, not my engagement with the liturgy, not even my hair (which was not pulled back but still looked quite pretty, in my opinion). It’s just me, and God, and hundreds of colleagues, friends, rabbis who get it. And it’s amazing.
And about those pancakes. I don’t love pancakes as much as I love prayer, but it’s embarrassingly close. And while I do have close friends in my hometown with whom I can eat pancakes, I’m also wary of being watched and evaluated when I’m at a restaurant with new acquaintances. People comment on what I order, how much I eat or don’t eat, ask me why I avoid or indulge in specific dishes – and while I know I shouldn’t care, of course I do. And while I know logically that people’s opinions about my eating habits have exactly no correlation to my ability to serve as their rabbi, I still don’t order pancakes with people unless I know them really, really well.
But it’s different at CCAR. I went out to a meal with some new acquaintances – and I wanted lemon ricotta pancakes, so I ordered them. I didn’t worry about what my fellow diners might think, or if they would look askance at my meal, or if they would check out my figure and decide silently if I should be eating pancakes or not. Instead I enjoyed swapping stories from our Years-in-Israel, playing Jewish Geography, and seeing photos of some truly fabulous hand-sewn Purim costumes. It was just me, and pancakes, and a tableful of colleagues, friends, rabbis who get it. And it was amazing.
Of course the CCAR Convention is for rabbis – but in a way, it’s a break from being a rabbi. And that break makes me a better rabbi – more focused, more honest, more joyful, more dedicated, more in touch with my learning and my prayer and my self-care and my calling and my God.
I am really grateful for this day. I am really grateful for Convention. I am really grateful for CCAR.
Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman is the editor-in-chief of the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly.