In January 2022, Temple Or Hadash in Northern Colorado was led in worship and study by second-year rabbinical student Hannah Bloomberg. Before beginning the lesson, she planned to teach on Sunday morning, Hannah opened up the virtual class by asking if anyone wanted to talk about the hostage situation that had just occurred in Colleyville, Texas. The discussion lasted for twenty minutes, and she handled it with a maturity that belied her youth and status as a second-year student.
I retired in 2017 and within a year accepted a position as a monthly rabbi at Temple Or Hadash. I was really excited to learn that I would be sharing the pulpit with a student rabbi. I travel to Fort Collins and lead services and adult education once a month, and the student does the same two weeks later. In my tenure, I have worked with three different student rabbis, and I am constantly amazed and gratified at their responses to the many events that have happened in the country and the world during their tenure. When I think back to my student-rabbi experience, especially serving my monthly pulpits, it was a totally different experience. The academic workload at HUC-JIR was so demanding that when I returned to Cincinnati after my monthly visit, I did not give the congregation much thought. The world was calm, the congregation stable, and I was never called between visits to deal with emergencies. My pulpit was a one-weekend-a-month experience, and except for the preparation for my monthly visit, I concentrated on my academic work.
The students I have worked with over the past several years have dealt with the shootings at Pittsburgh, Poway, and a kosher supermarket. They have also dealt with the King Soopers Supermarket shooting in Boulder, and the recent devastating wildfires in our area, where over 1,000 homes burned. Finally, all three of them have—and are continuing to deal with—the fallout from the pandemic. Or Hadash decided to have Zoom-only services in March of 2020, and we have not had in-person services since then. Two of the students have never met the congregants in person, yet all three of them offered words of support and made themselves available to the congregation.
When most of us decided to become rabbis, we did so out of a desire to serve the Jewish people, to teach, and be there for the people in times of sorrow and joy. We did not expect to become security experts, or COVID police, or to master the technology to lead services on Zoom, or to comfort mourners at a Zoom shivah service. It has not been easy for us, and we are experienced rabbis. Our students are expected to fill all these roles sometimes even before they have taken professional development classes. They are in school, and along with increased pulpit demands, they are also adjusting to pivoting from online to in-person classes and sometimes back again. Their resilience and flexibility have been a source of inspiration for me. I wonder often how I would have fared under similar circumstances.
I believe that in many ways, this trial by fire will only help them become better rabbis. For me, working with these three students had been a pleasure. I have learned so much from them and look forward to seeing where their rabbinic journey leads them.
Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith was ordained in 2007 and served Temple Emanu-el in Dothan, AL until her retirement in 2017. She failed Retirement 101 and now serves part-time at Temple Or Hadash in Fort Collins, CO, and works with Adventure Rabbi in Boulder, CO.