The Jewish Theological Seminary used to conduct a program called Seminary Shabbat. In short, JTS provided a modest stipend to a student while a synagogue flew that student to their community for a Shabbat. I did several of these and my responsibilities ranged from delivering sermons, leading services, and teaching lunch-and-learns. For students, there were many advantages to this program. Students got to practice skills in front of different sized communities, see different synagogues around the country, and meet their soon-to-be colleagues.
I participated in as many Seminary Shabbatot as possible. And while I was excited to practice delivering sermons and teaching in front of large crowds, I was most interested in learning from the rabbis in their respective pulpits. These Shabbatot allowed me to meet some very interesting people and some great rabbis. I learned quickly to watch how various rabbis in different positions phrase their words, deal with congregants, and speak to their congregation.
Along the way I met Rabbi Jonathan Berkun, the rabbi at Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Aventura, Florida. Our paths actually crossed while I was staying with my parents in Miami and his synagogue is the closest Conservative synagogue in walking distance. Rabbi Berkun is an impressive pulpit rabbi. He has inspired his congregation, created an extremely welcoming environment, and is a great speaker. While in Miami we attend services at ATJC because of him and his charisma. I have learned just by watching Rabbi Berkun and have gained a colleague in a different part of the country.
Rabbis can learn a lot just by watching other rabbis and I think it is something the Rabbinic/Jewish world should consider doing more often. Congregations should adopt a program similar to Seminary Shabbat, for rabbis throughout the country to swap congregations for a Shabbat and receive a different rabbi for Shabbat in return. Synagogues will receive the perk of hearing different rabbinic voices from the bimah. Also, synagogues would get some fresh ideas brought back to their community. The rabbi will get a weekend away to rejuvenate and learn. If the host rabbi is in town, the rabbis will get the companionship of each other and pick up new perspectives by witnessing a different synagogue’s way of life.
Last year, I spent a Shabbat in a colleague’s synagogue and experienced his synagogue’s intricacies and customs. Seeing a classmate excel and being able to teach his community was very fulfilling. Sitting in the back as a congregant, I felt proud of my synagogue and was able to once again have a different perspective during services. Sometimes rabbis are blinded, in both positive and negative ways, to the constant routine of the bimah. Witnessing other communities and rabbis would allow for more growth in our rabbis and their communities. I look forward to seeing Rabbi Berkun in action this Shabbat, and hopefully, I will pick up some new ideas and innovations to bring back to my own congregation.