Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You Never Really Leave

I knew when I began at the synagogue that I might not be there more than a year. I knew that I'd be there only twice a month, for a weekend. Little chance to really bond with the community. I'd preach. Meet with the kids. Teach a class. Read some Torah. How much could I connect, really?

It's surprising how much you take with you when you leave, and how much you leave behind. I met older people who are struggling with loss of independence and looming health crises. I met kids who were overflowing with energy and questions. I met people who became dear friends and who are now struggling with their own health issues. I met people on life journeys and was privileged to help them to their next milestone. I was their rabbi, and now that I'm no longer there, I'm still there.

I still worry about the people with health issues or loved ones with health issues. I still want to answer all those kids' questions. I still want to know what questions my adult learners have. I want to be able to recommend books.

The time has come to leave, and yet part of me is still there, and they will always be with me. It's the challenge of the rabbi - of any pastor, really. When you leave, you don't really leave, not if you've done it right.

I have a colleague who speaks of rabbis as symbolic exemplars. I'm not perfectly clear what that is, but I think it has something to do with our representing God in people's lives. If we are accessible, God is accessible. If we are available to bring comfort, it's God (or the Jewish community) that is bringing comfort. It's a lot of pressure, but I've seen people's faces change when I walk into a room. It's not ME, it's The Rabbi. And I know that if I don't extend myself to my community, they do will not believe that God cares about them. That may sound arrogant, but in truth it's a very humble statement. Because it's not about me, it's about making God's presence being felt in a community. And when you make yourself accessible to others, they leave parts of themselves with you, and you never leave.

I still think about people in my first congregation in eastern Connecticut. My dear little shul in New Jersey. Even the people in my one-year interims in Philadelphia and Memphis. They remain part of me, populate my interior landscape with their search, their triumphs, their celebrations and their losses. And far from feeling burdened by their presence, I feel privileged to have been part of their lives and to have had them part of mine.

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