As rabbis, most of us are able to have a meaningful celebration when we retire, but many of our congregants don’t always have that opportunity. Recognizing that need, I created a ceremony that rabbis can share with members of their community to turn the milestone of their retirement into a sacred Jewish moment. This ritual can be performed with the retiree’s family and friends, whether on Zoom or, when safe and appropriate, in person in a synagogue setting.
Needed: challah, wine, and a candle.
Retiree: This is truly a sacred moment in my life. I have spent my life making a living and now have reached this moment of retirement, the beginning of a new adventure. As we do in all sacred moments, we say together the words of the Shehecheyanu (Hebrew and English).
I can only imagine how excited and overwhelmed with joy my parents (names) (“of blessed memory” or “who are with us this day”) were when I came into this world. (If retiree has children, include: “For I remember how excited (spouse’s name) and I were when we had (names of children).”
My childhood years were filled with joy and happiness. I remember (name some remembrances). There was also sorrow and sadness (name some remembrances). But I made it through those years and was better for it.
And the Lord spoke to Abraham and Sara saying: “Lech l’cha, go forth to a land that I will show you—and be a blessing.”
I did go forth to make my way in life to a world in which I could be a blessing to (name spouse, partners, friends, and/or colleagues).
Indeed, God’s promise of being a blessing was fulfilled! I feel I touched the lives of so many by completing my life’s task up until this moment. Also, I changed the world a little by my involvement in (name volunteer organizations, donations, causes involved with).
Now, once again, I hear God’s command to go forth to a new phase of my life. Just as Abraham and Sara, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, Joshua, and all my ancestors, some who crossed raging seas, did not know their destination when they began, my destiny is a mystery as well. I know not what I will encounter on my way to my personal promised land, but I know I will discover new and interesting aspects about myself and the world.
I know that in this new adventure I will continue to be a blessing to my loved ones when I (name retirement plans).
It has been said that one becomes old when one stops dreaming. So, like Joseph before me, I still dream. I dream of (name aspirations for retirement).
I am grateful that God has blessed me and kept me alive for so many years to reach this new stage of life. I thank God and pray: “May my life continue to be a blessing.”
Family and friends respond: You have been a blessing to us. You have loved us, mentored us, and provided for us. We thank you for your gifts of mind and body. (Each individual can share personal words of thanks.)
As the people Israel are commanded to be an or l’goyim, a light unto the nations, I light this candle as a symbol that I too may continue to be a light unto my family and community: a light of justice and morality, a light of strength and guidance, a light of leadership and continuing to be a role model. (Light candle)
As I begin this new adventure I say the words of a traveler’s prayer:
May it be Your will, Adonai, our God and the God of our Mothers and Fathers, that You lead me toward the peace I seek. Guide my footsteps in the choices I make, and help me and my family reach our desired destination of a life filled with meaning, gladness, and shalom. May You protect us from the hand of every foe and scheme that would lead us astray from our dreams of a peaceful and meaningful world. May You send blessing in the work of my hands and mind, and grant me grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all with whom I will come in contact during this next period of my life. May You hear the sound of my humble requests as I begin my new adventure. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who hears the voices of humans in prayer. Amen.
All of you have shared with me my accomplishments and achievements, and you have heard my dreams for this encore chapter of my life, now share with me the bounties of life by which I have been blessed.
Share wine and challah with everyone. Recite blessings in Hebrew and English.
Optional concluding songs and reading:
- Debbie Friedman: “T’filat Haderech,” “L’chi Lach,” “Kaddish D’Rabbanan,” “The Journey Song”
- Dan Nichols: “Beyond”
- Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller: “Blessing,” “Everyone Has a Name,” “Lamdeini,” “May You Live to See Your World Fulfilled”
- Craig Taubman: “Journey”
- Steve Schiller: “Livracha”
- Peter Yarrow: “Sweet Survivor”
- Cantor Jeff Klepper/ Rabbi Daniel Freelander: “Ushmor”
- Noah Budin: “Wisdom of the Heart”
- Sheryl Braunstein: “Y’varech’cha”
- Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar, “To the Uplifting God, Help Me,” from Amen (CCAR Press, 2020, p. 79)
Rabbi Daniel A. Roberts is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanu El in Cleveland. He is the co-author, with Dr. Michael Friedman, of Clergy Retirement: Every Ending a New Beginning for Clergy, Their Family, and the Congregation. He invites readers to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more ideas on how to implement this ritual in a congregational setting.
 Suggested by Rabbi Billy Dreskin and Cantor Ellen Dreskin