Not every day in the life of a rabbi is as busy as today was for me, but days like this one remind me why I love my job. The day included teaching in our congregation’s religious school, leading the conversion of a six-month-old baby, participating in an interfaith dialogue group, and officiating at a wedding.
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 contribute 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 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 (very briefly) cover her little body. Back on land, when we signed the conversion and naming certificate, we knew the transformation of her identity had been achieved 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 Unitarian Universalist church to learn about each other’s faiths 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 – the role of women – that we view in various ways in each of our different faiths. There seemed to be some sense of relief in the room that we could 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 (wedding canopy), 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 are the things they 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 exhausted. The day included a number of costume changes – slacks and blazer to bathing suit, bathing suit back into slacks, and then into to a suit and tie for the wedding. It also included a lot of talking about a broad range of topics – ethics, mikvah (ritual bath), 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 of my work. Much more, it is about making connections between human beings and helping them discover the hidden, secret meanings in those connections. The common thread that ran through this busy day is the struggle to make sense of it all.
I think about the Confirmation kids struggling with pressure from their peers, their parents, and their schools. I think about the young couple who wanted to ensure their little girl will be part of the great chain of connection that binds the generations, one to the next. I think about people from different backgrounds who want to find a balance between celebrating their commonalities and acknowledging their differences. I think about the wedding couple, entering the great unknown that they will shape into the rest of their lives together.
Indeed, it's all about connections and from that perspective, it was a good day.