I know that a few times I have mentioned that currently the synagogue that I am a member of is on the hunt for a new Rabbi. As I understand it, the reasons behind our old rabbi leaving is mostly political and financial. It is unfortunate that no matter what your religion may be, there is always some kind of political undercurrents that affect the day-to-day activities of the congregation or community. So, that is how we find ourselves in the middle of a search for a new rabbi and a period of what will amount to almost six months without a rabbi at all.
Thankfully, there are plenty of people, like myself, who are volunteering to help the synagogue continue to maintain the same ritual feeling during this rabbinic drought. We have people who help lead services, read Torah, and all that kind of stuff. It is actually rather enjoyable, I personally like the lay-led feeling, which I think is something that I have expressed before. Religion is all about community, and while i do think that there is an importance to having a trained spiritual leader, the fact that any Jew who is over the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah is eligible to officiate at services (by Jewish Law).
This morning we had one of our Shir Hadash services, which has always been a lay-led service. Today was also a volunteer recognition day and we had a candidate for rabbi who was visiting. It was almost a trifecta of events. As usual, we had not to many people there at the beginning of the service, but I kicked everything off on a good start, I think. Rabbi Goldstein, the visiting rabbi, seemed to really enjoy my leading of the first part of the service, he said it really put him in a great frame of mind to lead the next section. Pretty cool.
I kind of book-ended the service in that I did the opening and the closing sections. For the second time now people have come up to me after services saying things like “why do we need to hire a new rabbi when we have you?” I haven’t really come up with a good response to that other than just thanking them for the complements. Today we even had people asking why every service can’t be like the Shir Hadash service.
My personal feeling when getting up to lead a service is that it should be engaging and accessible and people (the congregation) should want to be there. There are definitely days when I have got up to lead and it has felt like a performance, like I was there singing and reading and everyone else was along for the ride. Today, on the other hand, I really felt like everyone was on the same page and energy of the service was really amazing. I felt like people found a way to be active and participatory and I really wish I could nail down what worked.
People told me that they love the energy and excitement (I am not sure if that is the right word) that I bring when I lead. I certainly try to bring that all the time. I try to use melodies that people know and can sing along with. I don’t really like it when services turn into a concert. We are all there to pray as a community, not to listen to the rabbi, cantor, or leader pray. Everyone has to put something in to get something back.
The thing that really struck me today was all the people who I have now heard with sentiments like the one above: “why do we need to hire a new rabbi when we have you?” While I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in my Jewish studies, it was never the focus of any of my studies thus far in life. I have learned a great deal from going to Hebrew School (kinda like Sunday school for most Christian religions) through high school, and from attending a Jewish summer camp, but that education barely scratches the surface of what there is to learn. I am not a fluent Hebrew speaker, I can read the language but I don’t know every word on every page. I also have no formal training as a religious leader. I don’t think that I am really qualified to dispense faith-based advice.
I enjoy learning and studying my religion. I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to Jewish books. After all, one of the most important ideas in Judaism, and in most religions, is to continue to study the teachings and texts of the religion. While I am sure that I could probably find my way through studies on my own, I often seek the advice or knowledge of my religious leaders. The most fun there is when you ask a question that they don’t have an answer to and then you can go study it together!
I just find it interesting that people in our congregation would consider, even for only a moment in praise, that I would make a good addition to the pulpit here. I am happy to help out, happy to volunteer. I would be happy to do so on a regular basis, but I think that we would quickly find that something was missing if we didn’t have an ordained rabbi. On that note, I was very impressed with Rabbi Goldstein, he seemed to have very god ideas on how to really embrace the values of Judaism and put them to work making a stronger, more active community. He seemed like the kind of person who could bring to the table a lot of the same ideas and talents that I do AND also bring the role of spiritual leader. Now, he is only the second candidate that I have met, but I am still very impressed.
Where will the whole adventure take us? I am not really sure. I don’t really know if there are many other religions out there who ever really lean on the congregants to lead services and such. I would hope there are as I think that it gives a great sense of community. What do you feel is important in religious/spiritual leaders.