Making a “Sabbatical” a Sabbatical

In so many ways, this Sabbatical has been like no other.  Some have called it a “quote unquote sabbatical;” and they’re not all wrong.  I did not plan to take this year as sabbatical.  Moreover, one would typically like to take time to prepare for thoughtful reflection and scholarship; I had no such preparation.

The most important work of this sabbatical has been to prepare myself for my next rabbinical challenge, first by clarifying who I want to be as a rabbi now that my tenure at Temple Beth-El is ending.  To that end, I worked with a new coach, Diana Ho, and I wrote no fewer than three different Personal Statements to accompany my resume submitted to searching congregations. These are also posted to this sabbatical blog, and they reflect introspection possible only during the break a Sabbatical affords.

In October, I traveled to two seminars for sabbatical enrichment.  The first was offered by the Alban Institute, a Protestant-based organization that is the gold standard in congregational consulting, and which enjoys significant ties with our Reform Movement. The seminar, “Governance and Ministry,” led by the author of a publication by the same title, helped me understand better how clergy and laity lead a healthy congregation together.

The second was CCAR training to become an interim rabbi.  No, I didn’t hope or expect to be an interim rabbi, with a lifestyle that doesn’t fit a young family.   Still, I knew interim rabbi training would focus on transition, and that whatever congregation I might be called to lead would by definition be in transition, as are my family and I.

At the same time, I have engaged in several “normal” Sabbatical activities, not at all timed to this transitional moment in my career.

1.  I authored an article, “Unplanned Fatherhood,” which has been accepted for publication by CCAR Press in “Sacred Encounters,” an anthology on liberal Jewish sex ethics.  This article required research in traditional sources, and it also draws on my pastoral experience helping boys and young men and their families who have called on me for support in facing a partner’s unplanned pregnancy and in parenting a child they didn’t expect.

2.  I wrote a shorter piece for the debate column that often appears on the last page of “Reform Judaism,” URJ’s quarterly magazine.  This one, about Physician Assisted Suicide, which I oppose, is planned for publication this summer.

3. I continue to be immersed in Mussar study and practice.  I am currently teaching a distance-learning program, Path of the Soul, for advanced participants.  Over the last several months, I have also chaired the volunteer team that put together The Mussar Institute’s Generosity Week, which took place in February.

Even as I plan to move on to Little Rock, I am grateful to Temple Beth-El’s leaders who, many years ago, partnered with me to include a Sabbatical in my rabbinical agreement with the congregation.

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