Last week I returned to New York to attend a conference for the first time since commencing my pulpit in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had lived in New York for the better part of seven years, mostly while in Rabbinical School. During that time, not only did I make close friends but I became a part of several “families” (or communities). I cannot speak for all rabbis, but in my experience it has proven to be very difficult to uproot my life from these communities. Regardless of why a rabbi leaves a particular community; whether for a better opportunity, the incompatibility with a synagogue, or simply because it was time it is never easy to say goodbye to people who have become extended family.
In 2011 I began working in a new pulpit in Westchester NY. My first Shabbat I walked to synagogue and was full of emotion. Not so much about the journey I was about to begin but rather reminiscing about the community that I had left behind in Amsterdam NY. My experience in Amsterdam was nothing short of amazing and I am gratefully indebted to that community for preparing me for my career. I remember their faces when I informed them I was leaving and it haunted me for a while. I taught these families, I sat at the bedside with their sick, and I got to know their visiting extended relatives. I was entrenched in their lives and cared deeply for their well-being. My wife and I, while we knew it was the right move for my career to move on, truly left a piece of our heart in Amsterdam NY and long for those simple yet intense Shabbatot.
While in New York I stopped by the pulpit I had just left to say hello to the Cantor, Executive Director, staff, and a few congregants I had become very close with. In a book that one of my mentors asked me to read entitled Generation to Generation Edwin Friedman writes, “But it is the way fusion and separation affect relationships. For clergy who are truly interested in their faith community, and whose commitment goes beyond gathering disciples, taking advantage of the separation from our disciples to achieve what we could not achieve while still their leaders are in everyone’s best interest.” Divorcing oneself from said community is extremely difficult. But it is important not only so the congregation can move on, but because reminiscing and lingering can become emotionally dangerous for the clergy. During this visit I understood why. Sitting with my colleagues, exchanging stories and ideas, it was as if nothing had changed. Seeing these families, that took me and my wife in as almost family, got me chocked up.
Finally, I visited two of my Rabbinical School friends with whom I was close with during our years together at the Seminary. Both are doing such great work in their respective jobs. Both are helping to grow and engage communities. And while we learned, traveled, and celebrated together for years, we are now off in different corners of the country and those moments to interact in person will be few and far between. Deep down inside I am so happy for their success and have a burning desire to witness it.
So I returned home to St. Paul MN with a lot to think about and longing for the Seminary life that impassioned my spirit. Then waiting for me at the airport was my current synagogue’s Director of Informal Education, and those wonderful memories went back to being memories and the present became home. My new family at this synagogue, which has so much to give, allows me to realize how lucky I am to be a rabbi with different families across the country. And while I cannot see all of these families as often as I would like, I am happy to be in such good hands for now. It can be difficult and heart aching to leave family behind, but it’s a blessing to meet, love, and care for so many people. Watching a synagogue family grow, experience, and learn is a blessing one that I now get to share with my St. Paul family. Together we will conquer great things and hopefully make each other better. Each rabbi is lucky to have a community that becomes an extended family; it is one of the great advantages of being in the rabbinate.