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When You’re a Jewish Leader, You’re Never Alone

When You’re a Jewish Leader, You’re Never Alone

Three peoples hands as they fist bump over a computer table workspace as if celebrating a work victory

I “got the call” to the rabbinate my junior year in college. After speaking to my parents, I went to talk to my Hillel rabbi. He asked me, “Rachel, do you really want to be a rabbi? Or do you just want to be a more observant Jew?”

I think about this question often: Do I really want to lead or just be more a part of the community?  Balancing being a wife/mother/daughter/sister/friend and my relationships, the demands of work from programming, worship, life cycle, writing, and administrative duties and trying to continue to learn and push and even sneak a workout in... it’s not easy. It may have been easier to take a 9-to-5 and then just show up to synagogue when it fit with my schedule.

And yet...

Judaism, to me, is a family and a responsibility. We are called as Jews to be a light unto the nations. Judaism is an evolving expression of our deepest held beliefs and a call to a better world. I love being part of a faith that believes we are never there, that the work is never done, that as long as we have breath within us our job is to do tikkun, to fix, to heal, to love. 

Being a Jewish leader is an honor and a responsibility. Our world is very broken and believing that we are God’s hands means we have a lot of work to do. That’s why I am so grateful that none of us ever have to feel that we are doing the work alone. We have an entire movement walking beside us.

Over the past two years, I have become supported and molded by the movement and the Religious Action Center. I became a Balfour Brickner Rabbinic Fellow and was trained by incredible mentors on topics such as how to bring new eyes to situations, how to put myself in the shoes of people I deeply disagree with, how to organize my congregants and how to create coalitions with other institutions.

While participating in this fellowship, my congregation became part of the Union for Reform Judaism's “Becoming a Community of Action” Community of Practice.  As part of this unique experimental community, we were trained in how to expand our social justice efforts to include action (hands-on experiences), awareness (educating our congregation on pressing issue including the Jewish connection), and advocacy. We were inspired by what other congregations were doing. We were pushed and inspired to go further and deeper in our social justice work. We also learned to celebrate how much we had achieved while still looking towards next steps. We learned we were not alone, as our hands were held as we met with senators and mayors here in Miami and in D.C. and lived out the prophetic call.

The Community of Practice has ended, as has the fellowship, but we continue to meet with our politicians, to delve into the pressing issues with amazing speakers and educators, and to use our hands to do God’s work.

My Hillel rabbi asked me if I really wanted to lead, or if I really just wanted to be a bigger part of the community. Leadership sounds lonely, but in our community, it never has to be.

Every day, I am grateful for my colleagues. Every day, I am grateful that I am living out my passions. Every day, I am grateful that I am able to make a difference.

And every day, I am grateful that I do this as part of a flourishing thriving Reform Jewish community.

Rabbi Rachel G. Greengrass was ordained in 2008 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s New York campus. She is a Rabbis Without Borders fellow, a Balfour-Brickner Fellow through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and has written numerous publications, including the chapter “The Planet in Peril” in Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Jewish Social Justice (edited by Rabbis Seth Limmer and Jonah Pesner). Rabbi Greengrass serves Temple Beth Am in Miami, FL.

Rabbi Rachel G. Greengrass
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