Right around this time last year began the craziest month of my life. The Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative Movement’s international body of rabbis) began interview week at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Interview week consisted of soon-to-be graduates of both the JTS Rabbinical School and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies sitting down for hour or half hour interviews with synagogues and schools who have decided to hire a ripe rabbi. Monday-Thursday was filled with interviews to see which institution you liked and, maybe more importantly, which saw you as their future rabbi. I found this week to be extremely inspiring, a true culmination of all the years and work I had put into developing my rabbinic path. In fact, the entire month was a whirlwind of emotions. Some congregations call you back, some do not. Some places you thought were a perfect match, felt it was not the right fit. Every rabbi’s (or soon-to-be rabbi’s) experience is very different. But I truly felt it was a holy process, one that teaches (if one cares to listen) a great deal about oneself, one’s future, and the growing everyone undoubtedly needed to do.
This week kicks off the interview season (at least for Conservative rabbis). To the best of my knowledge, twenty-five synagogues and schools will be attending interview week and over 200 interviews are scheduled. The next month will fly by for these students. I figured since I am one year removed from this process and have begun life in the rabbinate I would offer up some advice to graduating rabbinical students and the journey they are about to embark on.
1) Find a Coffee House – I think it’s important to get some “me” time during this week. Find a place to escape, review your notes, and drink a hot beverage. This will also come in handy when you begin the rabbinate as Starbucks has literally become my second office (Yes, I am a Gold Member).
2) Interviewer as a Microcosm – Each synagogue sends specific congregants to organize the interviews and you will become close with them throughout the process. This relationship is unique and special and will continue once you land a job. I advise getting to know these people well and if you are lucky like I am they will become some of your closest friends at the synagogue.
3) The 90% Rule – I truly believe this process is holy and people, while maybe they do not see it at first, end up where they are supposed to (call me a believer). 10% of people will fall through the cracks. If you are in that 10%, take a day off to relax and regroup. Then get back on the horse. Often some of the best jobs and institutions do not match either and jobs will open up.
4) Consult Wisely – This process will be draining regardless if you get seven call backs or zero. It is important to have a rabbi who you can talk to. If you have a spouse or significant other, it’s crucial that they are a part of the process so that you are not alone and they are informed.
5) Be Authentic – Before and during the whole process it is important to represent yourself accurately. If you do not blog, do not wake up one day and start a blog. If you are passionate about a project let people know. Ultimately, day one of the job they expect you to be the rabbi they hired. It is a lot easier if you intend to be that person.
6) The Perfect Synagogue – I am not sure the perfect synagogue exists. My advice is to look for a place that gives you the opportunities you want and at the same time allows you to continue learning. Some of that learning will be on the job, but a rabbi should never just settle (at least not right away).
7) Do Your Homework – Study the synagogues; their programs, history, and current demographics. They will be studying you and you should do the same.
8) Location, Location, Location – Location is super important to many people (myself included). But I believe the less you limit your search, the more you will realize what you are looking for. Most rabbis move at least one more time, so understand that your decision is not permanent unless you and the synagogue want it to be.
9) Quality Over Quantity – I was not a big believer in applying for every job. If you could NEVER see yourself at an institution then do not interview there. Also, it will be hard to be excited and properly prepared for 20 institutional interviews. Pick the ones you can actually imagine yourself serving. This is not to say cut 20 of 25, but be wise in your choosing and know yourself well.
10) God’s Work – Throughout the tough breaks and the joyful smiles, remember that this whole process is so you will be able to lead the Jewish people. When you think about that, the rest is gravy.
B’Hatzlacha (best of luck) to the soon-to-be rabbis. May this week/month be inspiring and holy.
Rabbi Jeremy Fine - @RabbiJeremyFine