26 July 2009

The Complex Journey of Serving

That was a restful month (spent in Jerusalem, where I will be until August 5th.)

The time away has been good. Restorative. And I appreciate that.

I've added a new practice to my Jewish spiritual life--minchah and maariv prayer on a daily basis, which at first was challenging to find the time for but now I find myself running to it, the language serving as a brief meditative interlude in my day. An escape from myself and a humbling offering of my being to life beyond myself. It's good.

I struggle with that, to tell you the truth, because there is, especially in a city of such fervent spiritual aspirations, the quality of "escape" to one's practice, the quality of "transcendence" which is both the goal and the abyss--the place one may strive to arrive at while not wholly losing oneself. Not that I'm worried about that. My evil inclination is strong enough to keep myself on the spot and anyway, only the worst angels would invite me in to their own fortress of among the ephemerally divine.

In my younger days, I withheld my practice because I didn't want to be like "those" who did it--there was real terror in my experience of strong practice. I was talking to an orthodox friend about this and he shared with me a story of his own--that when he was a young man he was once in a Talmud class with an important scholar and was making cracks about the text when the teacher said to him, "You make your jokes to cover up how much you love to do this." And I knew exactly what he meant. And when I heard that story this summer, that's when I decided to simply let go and be myself--a terrifying and liberating act.

I don't know a lot of Reform rabbis who pray three times a day, much less Reform communities that offer a minyan three times daily (or even once a day). So there is the communal loneliness of taking this on alongside a deepening and decidedly less lonely relationship with God. Ironic. But to tell you the truth, I more and more see myself not as a "Reform" rabbi but as a rabbi who works in a Reform synagogue, who is guided by liberal theological values, who has his practice (a work in progress, as it should be, right? "Reform is a verb," they used to say, afterall) while teaching others in his community at the varieties of levels and expressions of Jewish life as people choose. The titles don't really matter. The integrity of the process does. To quote a favorite passage from a rabbinic commentary about Abraham sacrificing Isaac: "It's not where you're going, it's how you get there."

So in my month off, in Jerusalem, a place where I feel so at home, I take upon myself new obligations while resting from the hard work of another year's professional obligations, preparing for, yet again, the complex journey of serving, with love and devotion, my community.

I have a lot of thoughts to share from the past month. Observations about life here in Israel (Obama, the ultra-orthodox, the Iranians, the health care debate from a distance) thoughts about denominations in general, the importance of pluralism in building Jewish life today, the Hebrew language, and the ways in which Jewish citizenship here in Israel is defined in a completely different way from Jewish citizenship in America, and what that means for us as a community.

So reader: I'm back from summer vacation. Looking forward to talking and learning with you again.


M. said...

"I more and more see myself not as a 'Reform' rabbi but as a rabbi who works in a Reform synagogue"


Amanda said...

Welcome back (or soon to be back).
As someone who struggles to find the time to say morning prayers, which I've come to enjoy doing, but have lately had more and more trouble fitting into my busy mornings, I am welcome any tricks you've discovered (especially when you are back in Brooklyn and caught up in to life's busy-ness) to fit it in. I know I can always get up earlier, but that doesn't necessarily work -- sometimes I need the extra 20 minutes of sleep. But I'm going to take advantage of the kids being away this month and make it a priority again.

One other thought to throw out there -- both Justin and I are very interested in learning hebrew (modern hebrew) -- any possibility of offering a course this year?

Andy Bachman said...

Hi Amanda
Yes, we are going to offer Hebrew again for sure. So keep your eyes peeled for it! As for the daily discipline of prayer, I can only offer that we all go through stages where it flows and where it doesn't. The key is to be as patient and consistent as one can be!