My colleague at the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest (New Jersey) recently shared the following (old) joke:
A rabbi is walking down the street and passes a treif (non-kosher) restaurant. To his amazement, he sees a congregant from his synagogue sitting there and having a non-kosher lunch. He stands and waits for the man to come out.“Why are you eating here? Don’t you know this place is treif? I’ve been standing here watching you this whole time and you’re still eating?” The man smiles, and answers the rabbi. “Well, if you were standing here the whole time then I guess it was under rabbinic supervision.”
I am continuously reminded of the critical leadership roles our community rabbis play -- rabbis who represent our community at various national conferences…rabbis who offer their counsel on a wide-range of communal issues…rabbis who give of their time to reach out to various religious and ethnic groups throughout our community…rabbis who teach and help us grow spiritually…rabbis who are seemingly on call 24/7 (remember, Shabbat is not necessarily a time of rest for them)...And, in a remarkable way, always know what to say in times of joy and sadness. In reality, rabbis have so many roles and responsibilities that we often do not recognize their full service to our community and the demands placed upon them.
We have many congregational rabbis whose primary responsibility is to their synagogue and its membership. That has its own perks and challenges. Our community is also blessed with many rabbis who provide Jewish connections, chaplaincy and learning to the broader community. Together, these special individuals dedicate their lives to serving our community while embodying Jewish values.
This Shabbat, like the Congregation Neveh Shalom kehillah (community), I want to celebrate Rabbi Isaak’s 22 years of service and dedication to his congregation and our community. In fact, Rabbi Isaak at one point served on the Board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, among his many other communal leadership roles.
I will never forget that my first phone call after accepting the Federation position was from Rabbi Isaak. At my home in Philadelphia was a warm and welcoming voice mail from Rabbi Isaak. Our family was moving to Portland right before the High Holidays and Rabbi Isaak graciously offered the opportunity to join him at Congregation Neveh Shalom. My family attended services at the synagogue almost anonymously, and I recall as the Torah was being carried around the congregation I had the chance to personally introduce myself to Rabbi Isaak. He gave my family a very warm and friendly greeting.
Rabbi Isaak and I have shared several meetings since I arrived in Portland. To be honest, we have plenty that we agree about and some areas where we do not. He certainly has an historical perspective I do not have about the community. Yet, I applaud his passion and conviction on what he feels is just and right. I always know where he stands on issues, and at the same time, felt he was open to conversation. Moreover, he has always been an outspoken leader on issues of welcoming interfaith families and the LGBTQ community, among many others. Plus, I appreciate his weekly email to his congregants with his thoughts on current events and the weekly Torah portion.
Rabbi Isaak has a post on the Congregation Neveh Shalom website that includes, “Probably the greatest challenge in leading a large religious community such as ours is to determine how best to meet each congregant where s/he is. That means nurturing those with minimal Jewish background while simultaneously providing the proper religious atmosphere for those interested in serious learning and davening (and every stage of Jewish knowledge and observance in between). In addition it means providing as many opportunities as possible for people to get to meet and know one another, to feel connected to each other and to the synagogue as a whole. I am committed to both "outreach" and "inreach." This is exactly the Rabbi Isaak I have observed and know – moreover, he has met these challenges in the most heimisha of ways.
Yasher koach, Rabbi Isaak. May you, Carol, and your entire (growing) family go from strength to strength and enjoy your “retirement.”
Speaking of rabbis, I would like to welcome the 49 Chabad rabbis (18 rebitzens and their 68 children) from 18 states as diverse as Alaska, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Washington who are attending their regional conference in Portland. They will be here this weekend, which includes a special Kabbalat Shabbat at the MJCC open to everyone. I hope they all enjoy their stay in our community. B’ruchim Ha’Baim.
So, while we all enjoy a restful Shabbat, let’s be grateful to our community rabbis for their work and service to the Jewish people – which never ends. They are true partners in strengthening Jewish life for generations to come. Shabbat shalom.
Sadly, I have been following the news of the Amtrak train derailment from Tuesday night in Philadelphia. I just keep thinking -- it could have been anybody. I cannot tell you how many times I would take the train from Baltimore to New York or Philadelphia to New York for meetings, including late night trips. I am so heartbroken for the eight people who died in the crash, including two Jews – Justin Zemser, a Midshipman at the Naval Academy, and Rachel Jacobs, the CEO of an educational software startup. There are no easy answers. May all the victims’ memory be for a blessing.