Rabbi Hara Person, Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, shares her gratitude for the unending work of CCAR members, and shares her hope that they find joys both big and small as the new year 5784 begins.
To the Reform rabbis of the CCAR,
These High Holy Days are full of joy, reflection, and gratitude. The ability to be reflective, to write ourselves anew, is an incredible gift that we get to re-experience every year at this time.
The Psalms exhort us to “worship God in gladness, come into God’s presence with shouts of joy” (Psalms 100:2). As part of my personal High Holy Day prep, I’ve been reflecting on the idea of joy, which, though so profoundly central to our personal and professional lives, can be a challenge. Perhaps it’s because of the stress of the world that bears down on us; perhaps it’s because of all the many things wrong in the world and in our lives. Perhaps it’s because it can be so hard to live up to the best versions of ourselves to which we aspire. Perhaps it’s because our internal monologues tell us we’re not good enough, or deserving enough.
Additionally—and on so many levels—these are difficult times we are living in. As rabbis, we take so much upon ourselves. Because we take seriously the mandate to help heal the world, and there is so much healing to be done, it can feel overwhelming. Joy can often feel out of reach, even unattainable. There are so many reasons to struggle with experiencing joy.
Yet with all the uncertainty around us, I see what you are doing. In all the ways that you are serving the Jewish people, in congregations and communities around the world, in the military, in hospitals and healthcare settings, in schools and at camp, on college campuses and in all kinds of mission-driven organizations, in the early days of your rabbinic career and in retirement, I know that you are giving all you’ve got to bring inspiration, hope, and healing.
I am so grateful to you all. And dare I say that seeing all that you do as a rabbinate brings me more than a small amount of joy, and hope.
I recently came across a piece in the Washington Post by Richard Sima about something he calls “joy-snacking.” He writes, “By mindfully tuning into the pleasant, nice and sometimes routine experiences of every day, we can transform an otherwise mundane moment into something more meaningful and even joyful.” Apparently, there are scholars who study joy—who knew? One of their findings is that when people experience the small joys of everyday living, they find greater meaning in life, feel more connected, have a sense of purpose, and are more likely to flourish.
So, as we enter this new year with our hearts open and our souls determined to chart a positive and purposeful path in 5784, I invite you to consider this concept of “joy-snacking.” We each have the agency and indeed the responsibility for the care and feeding of our own souls, not only the souls of those we serve. Finding the small quotidian joys in the course of our daily lives is part of that process. Even as we focus on the heavy lifting that we each individually have to do as our part of helping to repair this very damaged world, this divided society in which we live, our beloved Israel in such pain, and in some cases the very communities in which we serve, we also have to push ourselves to find those moments of joy that uplift us, give us meaning, and help us keep going so that we have the energy and motivation for the hard work that lies ahead.
And there is much hard work ahead. As rabbis we are called to heal, to speak out loudly and courageously against injustice, to give voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless. We’re asked to do so much, and we ask a lot of ourselves. That work can’t be done without properly nourishing our own souls. Finding those glimmers of gladness and joy is also part of our mandate as rabbis, for it not only helps ground us and gives us purpose, but it also helps us connect to the Divine and reminds us of why we do this work.
The poet Rahel points us to finding those tiny joys, which add blessings to our days.
In this new year, may you find the tiny joys—and maybe some big joys, too. May all of those joys bring meaning and help you focus on what matters. May you find blessings and purpose in all that you do. May you have the strength to be a voice for justice, and may you continue to be a blessing and an inspiration.
Wishing you and yours health, happiness, and hope in 5784.