First, let me tell you about religious school. I teach the nine students in our Confirmation class, and they are just three weeks away from the end of their formal Jewish education. I feel like we have so much more to learn together than time will allow. Teaching a classroom full of 15-year-olds has its challenges, especially when the kids know that the class doesn't "count" in the same way that secular school classes matter to their GPA and eventual college applications. Today, though, the students were attentive and engaged. Our conversation about ethics seemed to make an impression on them, especially when we talked about cheating in school and how it relates to Jewish law and values. I thought I saw some eyes widen when I explained that the ethical choices in life only get harder after high school.
Next came the baby. I don't know anyone who doesn't love holding a baby and it is one of the nice perks of being a rabbi. This beautiful bundle was a little girl who was adopted by a young couple living temporarily in our community. We took her to the beach, immersed her in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and read the blessings that made her a member of the Jewish people. The fact that the waves were crashing all around us—the mom got swept off her feet at one point—only made the ritual more meaningful. We had to struggle a bit to get this little girl far enough off the shore into waters deep enough to cover her little body (very briefly). When we signed the conversion and naming certificate back on land, we knew that the transformation of her identity had been acquired only with real effort and determination.
The interfaith dialogue group I attended this afternoon has been meeting since last fall. We gather monthly at the local UU church to learn about each other's faith in a spirit of genuine interest and openness. Today's meeting was particularly interesting to me because, after months of shying away from areas of potential controversy, we really started to talk about an issue—it happen to be the role of women—that we view very differently in our different faiths. There seemed to be some sense of relief in the room that we were able to acknowledge our differences without undermining our ability to communicate constructively. That's progress.
My long rabbinic day ended back at the synagogue with a wedding. The couple was not local, but has a local family connection. After meeting with them over the phone for months to help them prepare for this big day, it was wonderful finally to see them standing right in front of me under the chuppah, pledging their affection, their support, and their lives to each other. Couples usually want their weddings to be distinctive—different, somehow, from every other wedding. However, I find that the things that make most weddings powerful experiences are the things that they all have in common. When two people stand side-by-side in front of the preacher and say with utter confidence and belief that they will love each other for the rest of their lives, well, that is a moment that sounds to me like it was invented at the dawn of creation and will last for all eternity.
What a day. After driving around town, from home to synagogue, to beach, to church, to synagogue and back home again, I'm pretty exhausted. The day included a number of costume changes—slacks and blazer to bathing suit, bathing suit back into slacks, and then to a suit and tie. It also included a lot of talking about a broad range of topics—ethics, mikveh, gender, identity, marriage, ritual and more. I'm just grateful that I could keep them all straight in my head.
Being a rabbi is not just about putting on a good show (but I don't underestimate the importance of that aspect). Much more, it is about making connections between human beings and helping them discover the hidden, secret meanings behind those connections. The thread that ran through this very busy day is the struggle to make sense of it all. I think about the Confirmation kids struggling with pressure from their peers and pressure from their parents and schools. I think about a young couple wanting to know their little girl will be part of the great chain of connection that binds the generations. I think about people from different backgrounds who want to find a balance point between celebrating their commonalities and acknowledging their differences. I think about a couple, entering together the great unknown of the rest of their lives together. It's all about connections.
It's been a good day.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Ten Thoughts About Being a Congregational Rabbi
Ten Observations on Starting at a New Congregation