I have frequently been telling others that now that I am a rabbi, my dreams have become a reality. Yet, I’m not quite sure how real this reality feels. There are days in which I still feel like the student Rabbi who visits his pulpit for the weekend, or the rabbinic intern who has a myriad of responsibilities that exposes him to all aspects of congregational life. I sometimes have to be reminded that when someone refers to someone as “rabbi,” they very well could be talking about me. Even with the numerous signs in my synagogue that addresses me as “Rabbi P.J. Schwartz,” I still think I am in the dream and this is not my reality.
During my second unit of CPE, we spoke a lot about the power of a title such as rabbi. I always asked, “Where does P.J. fit in all of this?” I have learned that being a rabbi and being P.J. are not separate things, but two aspects of who I am that are inextricably linked together. In some sense, my name has become my title, and my title as become my name. Believe it or not, I know which rabbi my administrative assistant is referring to when she speaks about my Senior or I. “P.J.” and “Rabbi” have become interchangeable terms and I’m getting used to the idea that maybe I am no longer visiting my student pulpit or no longer an intern.
Transitions are difficult, and I can’t deny the fact that transitioning from student to working professional or in my case rabbinical student to Rabbi has been overwhelming and exciting, scary and thrilling, and nerve-wracking and affirming. As my eyes begin to open, the dream begins to fade, and the reality sinks in, I am constantly reminded of the fact that we are in the month of Elul. We are supposed to reflect upon our transitions, our growth, and our lesser strengths. We are supposed to think about what it means to have a support team, reexamining how we manage our time, and explore what we can do to renew ourselves for the year to come. I’ve always looked at my Judaism as a road map for how I should live. In this case, my Judaism is guiding me, one day at time, as I fully integrate myself into this new role. My excitement only grows as we head to the kickoff events of the year and I start to meet more congregants. Soon enough, the hallways will be filled with kids from the Early Childhood Center and Religious School, my days will be filled with planning meetings, programs, and kids hopefully will be calling me Rabbi P.J.! (which, of course, is my solution to the name and title dilemma).
May my reflections inspire you to reflect in this month of Elul, and may the year to come be as sweet as you want it to be, inspirational as you need it to be, and awe-filled as it can be.
Rabbi PJ Schwartz is Assistant Rabbi at Temple Israel, in Westport, CT.