The 10 Days of Awe, Yamim Noraim, usually provide some "rest" time or time to finish up my preparations for Yom Kippur. This year, the "outlook is unclear." Yes, my services are already finished - after months and months of creating, editing, re-editing, cutting and pasting, etc. of Powerpoint slides and music/video files. My sermon for Erev YK and story for YK day are complete. However, there is too much going on in the world to rest. Being a rabbi during a pandemic has given me great opportunities to grow as a rabbi. Not surprisingly, it has also provided me with many challenges to overcome.
Thankfully, I belong to the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The CCAR has provided me so many valuable lessons and resources. I have been able to turn to "older" or more experienced colleagues when I have felt overwhelmed. When I speak with God or when I pray, I always thank God for the many wonderful blessings in my life - even when it is hard to fathom these blessings. I work with a great team of lay leaders who provide me with great support in so many ways. I certainly would not be able to be the rabbi I am without them.
Do you know who never gets enough credit? The spouses/partners of rabbis (or any clergy for that matter). One of the first lessons I was taught when I entered seminary was the importance of finding a personal counselor - whether a social worker, psychiatrist or psychologist. With the sheer amount of "stuff" clergy have to process from congregants and others, we need a place to put our own "stuff." For many clergy (myself included), this burden often falls on the spouse or partner. Having a loving partner or spouse is so important. Even when they do not understand, it is vital to be able to lean on them for support. However, having a professional counselor is vital as well. There are things a clergy person cannot share with their spouse/partner. Being able to work through these things with a counselor is extremely helpful.
During our Kabbalat Shabbat/Erev Rosh Hashanah service last Friday, I was handed a note that had the following message written on it, "Ruth Bader Ginsburg died." It just so happened that our pre-recorded Choir version of Mi Shebeirach was being played. So, I had a few minutes to think about what I wanted to say...although I really do not remember what I said as the message was such a shock to my system. And, of course, this brings up another challenge of being a member of clergy - what do we do when we want to scream out, cry or just collapse from exhaustion, especially if we are right in the middle of leading a service or any number of important responsibilities we may have.
Let me digress for a moment - my Nana, my mother's mother, died on Friday, September 11. I was right in the middle of last minute preparations for my Kabbalat Shabbat service in memory/dedicated to that tragic day in American history. I really did not have a chance to really check in with myself about how I was feeling. As the days were flying by getting us ever closer to Rosh Hashanah, I found myself so focused on my rabbinic responsibilities.
A couple of nights after my Nana's death, Batya asked me how I was doing. I am certain she was trying to get me to open up about my Nana. My response was typical, "I have been so busy and I continue to be so busy, I haven't had the chance to mourn or think too much about it." This is a trap many, many clergy fall in. We may dedicate our lives to providing pastoral care to our congregants, friends, etc...but when it comes to our own emotions, we often do not take the time or give the proper energy to how we are doing...how we are mourning.
This is where the personal counselor comes in. That hour or so every 2 weeks is our opportunity to put everything else aside and truly focus on ourselves. This is really hard for me (and I would suggest for many Clergy). After all, I believe I was called to be a rabbi - so who am I to turn away or perhaps shirk these holy responsibilities.
I am a husband, father and rabbi - just trying to help to make the world a better place!