High Holy Days News

What We Can Learn about Placement from Yom Kippur

As my service as the CCAR Placement Director is winding down and my sojourn in New York is coming to a close, I find myself reflecting on my myriad learnings of this six-year calling. At this season especially I cannot help but connect some placement lessons to the High Holidays and to the viddui’im of Yom Kippur.  We all have taught the steps in the process of teshuvah gemurah: 1) acknowledging wrongdoing; 2) feeling genuine remorse; 3) promising not to repeat the behavior and 4) when confronted with similar circumstances, actually not repeating the behavior. This simple four-step process is precisely what is necessary for a rabbi in rabbinic placement.

The first step for a rabbi in placement is to take an honest and sober assessment of oneself. What are my gifts? What are my challenges? In what situations have I succeeded and in what situations have I fallen short? This degree of chesbon hanefesh in our rabbinic life is perhaps the most difficult: holding the mirror up to ourselves and examining our rabbinates in excruciating detail.

Once we have identified our strengths and challenges, we need to come to terms with them. How has each strength and each challenge benefitted me? Hurt me? Enabled me to craft the rabbinate that I currently have or prevented me from realizing the rabbinate I wish to have? Are these strengths and challenges features of my personality, which is resistant to change, or are these skills, which I can learn and unlearn?

Third, if we really want to avoid repeating behavior that has impeded our growth as rabbis, where can we turn? How can we remedy self-sabotaging behavior or how can we build upon proven successes in our work? There are many avenues today to help fortify our commitment to self-improvement. We could go into therapy, we could engage a rabbinic coach, we could attend CCAR webinars and in-person seminars, we could seek out advanced classes at local colleges and universities. The opportunities to enhance our rabbinates are numerous, but first we must identify our needs and resolve to wrestle with them.

Finally, we know that our teshuvah, our process of self-improvement, is complete when we find ourselves in a situation that would have formerly tripped us up but that now we can negotiate smoothly. Our efforts at introspection and learning have made us better rabbis more content in our own rabbinates. Arriving at an honest appraisal of our rabbinates and the impact our rabbinates have on our communities and their participants is the firmest basis for entering placement.

Recently a synagogue president who sat on a search committee said to me, “The candidates who did best in our search were the ones who were most self-aware.” These aseret yemei teshuvah, done right, can bring deep self-awareness which is an essential step in advancing our rabbinates. I wish you all easy fasts and a Yom Kippur full of insight, discernment, and growth.

Rabbi Alan Henkin serves the Central Conference of American Rabbis as Director of Rabbinic Placement. 

General CCAR News Rabbis Reform Judaism

Rabbis in the Military

Front row, l to r: Heather Borshof, Emily Rosenzweig, Sarah Schechter, Phillip Schechter Second row, l to r: David Frommer, Larry Freedman, Harold Robinson, Frank Waldorf (missing: Bonnie Koppell and Karen Berger)
Front row, l to r: Heather Borshof, Emily Rosenzweig, Sarah Schechter, Phillip Schechter
Second row, l to r: David Frommer, Larry Freedman, Harold Robinson, Frank Waldorf
(missing: Bonnie Koppell and Karen Berger)

10,000 Jews are in the uniform of the United States Armed Forces, and CCAR rabbis are among those who serve their spiritual and emotional needs. Those CCAR military chaplains and the other Jewish chaplains of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Veterans Administration gathered last week at the Commodore Levy Center of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Brought together by the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, about forty rabbis, cantors and lay leaders met for training, learning, praying and chevruta.  CCAR member and retired Rear Admiral, Rabbi Harold Robinson, directs the Jewish Chaplains Council and led the retreat. I was pleased to represent the CCAR officially and to sit with our colleagues for two days. We heard from the chief chaplains of the Navy, Army and Air Force, who spoke about the reductions in the Armed Forces and in the chaplaincy. Despite this, they said, there is still a huge need for Jewish chaplains. They also said that Jewish chaplains, unlike many other chaplains, genuinely understand the interreligious nature of chaplaincy work. Also in attendance was Major Reuben Livingstone, the only Jewish chaplain in the British Forces.  At the end of the retreat we were joined by the Chaplains Council Plenum, the advisory body for the JWB, at which our colleagues Rabbis Phil Schechter and Frank Waldorf were present. I was struck by several things: by the extraordinary devotion of the Reform Movement’s chaplains to the servicemen and women whom they care for; by the youthfulness of our Reform chaplains; and by the far greater number of women over men in the Reform chaplaincy. For over 150 years Jewish chaplains have provided spiritual and emotional support for our men and women in the military. Every member of the CCAR should take great pride in the ways that our colleagues carry on this tradition of caring, leadership and sacrifice. May God bless all the deeds of their hands.