A Guest Post From Eva, about ME!!!

I wanted an outside view of the service on Friday night, and asked Eva to write a guest post about it. She, instead, focused on me. So, without further ado, here it is:

Normally I leave my thoughts in the comments section where they really belong, but this time I took advantage of David’s exhaustion to hijack his actual blog. The occasion is two-fold. The first is that David and I celebrated 10 years together. The second is that David just finished his first post-rabbinical school stint at a congregation. The combination has led me to reflect on the evolution of David into the person he is today.

I first met David in 1989 when he was a young, immature, and very argumentative freshman. We reconnected in 1998 when he had matured considerably (although he remains argumentative—which is alternatively both one of his strengths as well as a weakness). At that point in time he was heading off to rabbinical school and while I knew he had the intellectual chops to thrive, I did wonder a bit about how well he would connect with congregants.

At the end of David’s first year of rabbinical school I attended the school’s graduation ceremony and was incredibly impressed with the rabbis who were graduating. I assumed it was an exemplary class and left it at that. But I was wrong. Over the course of 5 graduations, I learned that rabbinical school was a transformational experience and that rabbinical school somehow turned people into rabbis.

By the time David reached his final year of rabbinical school, he too had gone through an impressive transformation. Part of it was through trial-by-fire with his student congregations, part of it was the self-reflection and personal development he gained through his education. By the time of his ordination, David was a rabbi for all intents and purposes. Well, except to himself.

When David graduated from rabbinical school, the congregational opportunities were pretty slim and we were really homesick for Portland. So we made the choice to return home with David picking up weddings, funerals and other life-cycle events as opportunities arose. David went through the identity crisis that every recent rabbinical graduate seems to go through, but he had the added challenge of being a freelance rabbi and therefore lacked the inherent validation that comes from being a congregation rabbi.

Fast forward 2 years. David was offered an opportunity to serve as interim rabbi for a congregation in Salem. He had already done some sub work for them previously and had liked them as a congregation, so he eagerly accepted the position. The position was fraught with challenges. David was facing a 55 mile commute to Salem (each way) 2-5 days a week, we had just started a business together and our schedules were now completely opposite each other.

Not too long after he started his new position, it became very clear that he had made the right decision. He would often come home and tell me about great conversations he had had or the progress of one of his students or even how a challenging meeting had reached a reasonable conclusion. When I made the (all too infrequent) trip to Salem with David, everyone was eager to tell me how much they loved having David as their rabbi and I enjoyed getting to respond that the feeling was mutual.

Unlike rabbinical school where I was able to attend David’s services regularly, I rarely made it to Salem because I was either completely exhausted and/or working. That made David’s farewell service all the more remarkable because this time I had missed the transformational process. What I saw on Friday night was that David had truly become a rabbi. At his ordination he had become a rabbi because the dean of the college said so. Over the past year David has become a rabbi because he can now recognize that is who he is. And there is a world of difference between the two.

I have watched David grow through three very challenging transitional periods in his life. He has used each one as an opportunity to grow and build on his strengths and try to address some of his weaknesses. You might say that given my love for David I am giving you a biased perspective.Given the tears on Friday night (both from David as well as many of his congregants), David’s transformational experience has been meaningful for everyone involved.

Sad Goodbyes: Leaving a Pulpit

Tonight is my “farewell service” with Temple Beth Sholom in Salem. I’ll be co-leading services with my successor and there is an Oneg Shabbat (dessert after the services) in my honor. I’ll be giving the sermon this evening, though it will be more a “thank you” than a sermon.

I’ve only been with the congregation for a year, but in that time I’ve come to feel so much a part of the community. I’ve been with community members in the hospital and at funerals. I’ve been with them at bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. I’ve counseled people looking for spiritual meaning, and people where the best I could do for them was tell them to go see a psychiatrist (and was later thanked for changing their lives). I’ve given sermons about Torah, and sermons about my life. I’ve become a part of the congregational community, and gained deep satisfaction from it.

I’ve also put 20,000 miles on the car, and I don’t know how much wear and tear on my body. I’ve been tired much of the year, trying to do two jobs at the same time. But being a pulpit rabbi this year has been a privelege and an opportunity for me to learn so much about myself.

Going into this year, I didn’t know whether I’d be a good congregational rabbi. Having done it, I know that I am good at it. I didn’t know if I’d like it: now I know that I do. It doesn’t mean I’ll be looking for another pulpit right away: that’s not the path of my life right now. But I do know that it’s an option I would look at seriously in the future.

It’s been a year, and it feels both longer and shorter. On the one hand, it feels like the year has flown by. On the other, it feels like I’ve been involved in the congregation forever, and it’s hard to remember a time before I was splitting my weeks between CubeSpace and Salem.

I leave the congregation knowing that I did the job I was hired to do, and that the congregation appreciates the job I did. I am very lucky to have had the chance to do work I am good at and enjoy. I am even more fortunate that those for whom I worked appreciated the work I did.

I will miss the congregation and I will miss the work. But it is time for me to move on, to give my successor room to work and make this his community. Yet I will visit, and this year will always be with me, having shaped who I am.

A Weekend Off and a Trip to the Yarn Store

I am enjoying two consecutive days off. It is the first time I’ve had too consecutive days off in longer than I can remember. It is the first weekend since June 7 – 8 when I haven’t had a bar/bat mitzvah or a wedding to perform. I actually went back to the beginning of May, and couldn’t find a weekend I’d had off. It turns out there is a reason I’m feeling a little run down.

I am, however, enjoying the time off. Yesterday, I took a gift certificate I was given for performing a bat mitzvah to a yarn store, and had a lovely time looking at yarns, fondling yarns, sniffing yarns, and planning.

I picked out a lovely purple laceweight merino (it varies between lavender and lilac) that I think I’ll be using for a tallit. Pictures will have to follow, though, because the cameras at CubeSpace and I am not–that whole weekend off thing. I also got one ball of a white laceweight wool which I’m thinking I might use to create stripes in the tallit. The next step is figuring out what kind of pattern to use for the tallit. I’m thinking something pretty lacy, but don’t yet have any concrete ideas.

I also bought my first Noro (Kureyon Sock Yarn). I’ve been admiring Noro yarn since I began visiting yarn shops some six years ago, but never had a good use in mind, or simply wasn’t willing to spend the money. But combine a gift card with a 20% off sale. . .and you’ve just got to try it. It has blues and purples, a little green and pink, and just the barest hint of orange. I’m really looking forward to knitting it and seeing how it turns out. Socks would be the obvious use for this, and I suspect that is where I’ll go, but it’s possible that something else will come up.

Finally, I bought a varigated skein of Alpaca Sox. I’ve worked with Alpaca Sox once before, as part of a shawl I made for Eva, and it is truly marvelous to work with. Soft and smooth, it justs runs through your fingers like water, but shows stitch definition really nicely. This will probably turn into socks, but it’s hard to tell beforehand.

All in all, I’ve got a good bit of knitting set up now. Small projects, large projects, all with lovely yarns and a high degree of excitement. First, however, I have to clear out some of my backlog of projects: a pair of broadstreet mittens (which because of their small size are great summer knitting), and maybe my pink/purple jacket. Also, there’s this baby blanket I want to knit for a friend who is about to pop. That should probably be something I start pretty much immediately.

In any case, lots of knitting available, which is nice. I spent about 3 hours yesterday watching the Red Sox being defeated by the Angels as I knit up a cuff on the first broadstreet mitten. What more could one ask of summer: baseball and knitting.

Not Knitting So Much

I haven’t been knitting as much recently as usual. I’m not sure what that’s abou, though I suspect the heat may contribute to it, at least a little. There’s something about hot weather that makes sitting with a heavy woolen piece of knitting on my lap seem unappealing. Also, when it’s hot, my hands get somewhat sweaty, and the yarn doesn’t flow through my fingers right.

Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is, I’m not knitting much, which is a bit of a problem, since knitting is one of the things I do to relax and gather my thoughts. Which means I probably need some lighter-weight projects that are better suited for summer.

A couple of projects I might cast on are:

  1. Broad street mittens. Some mittens I agreed to make someone, and just received the yarn for. I made a bunch of these last summer, and they are in fact great summer knitting because the yarn is fairly thin, and you never wind up with so much of an expanse of knitting that it winds up draped over your lap.
  2. A shawl. Haven’t figured out which shawl yet (though I am thinking of this one). But I did just finish a big shawl, and am unsure that I want to get involved in another one quite so quickly. Besides, even though it’s lace, it’s woolen lace, in a merino yarn, which may block out to be pretty lacy, but probably won’t be quite so light-weight while I’m knitting it.

So, for the moment, I remain like a donkey stuck between two piles of food, unsure of which way to go.

Transitions Suck

Transitions suck, which is why I am writing a blog post at 6:20 AM on a morning when my alarm is set for 8 AM. After about 2 hours of not sleeping, I decided to get up. I don’t know that I can blame my sleepnessness entirely on my upcoming transition out of Temple Beth Sholom, but I might give it a shot.

Over the next three to four weeks I will cease to be the rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom. I have been with the congregation for a year as interim rabbi, fulfilled my function, and will be moving back to full time at CubeSpace. I face this transition with extremely mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’ll be glad to leading a somewhat less chaotic existence, no longer splitting my time between Portland and Salem, between CubeSpce and the rabbinate. On the other hand, I’m very much going to miss working with the congregation.

I believe in better living through chemistry, and think that antidepressants are a good thing to help one through transitions. The ability to make change with the somewhat stabilizing influence of an antidepressant is one of the minor miracles of modern society. Nonetheless, change causes stress, sleepless nights and ideally provides an opportunity for reflection.

I look back over the last year, and am  struck by how far I’ve come as a rabbi. When I started in Salem, I was scared that I wouldn’t be a “good” rabbi. I’d never really done the congregational rabbinate, outside of a student pulpit, and wasn’t sure how I’d do, or whether I could really do the job. At the end of the year, I recognize that I’ve done a good job, and am delighted the congregation seems to agree with me. I’ve made a difference in people’s lives, and in their relationship to Judaism and spirituality. I’ve prepared the congregation well for my successor, creating a situation wherein he has a better chance of sucess.By pretty much any measure I might use, I feel like I’ve succeeded as a rabbi this year.

That being said, it doesn’t necessarily make transitioning out easier. In some ways, it makes the change harder. It is difficult to move away from doing something you are good at, and enjoy, even the change means you’ll have more time for something else you are good at and enjoy. It is difficult to leave the people I’ve grown close to over the last year, but part of my job as an interim rabbi is to get out of the way now that my time is done, and let my successor have a clean slate to work with, without me hanging around.

And so, today, I had down to Salem, recognizing that there are only 3 more Thursday when I will make this weekly pilgramage which has been so much a part of my life over the last year. And I’ll begin to try to clean up/out my office.

Edit: I finished writing this, and then went and read some of the blogs I read, and was reminded that as transitions go, mine isn’t so bad. I’ve been following the blog of a woman  who recently lost her husband, and has been blogging about it extensively. I’ve found her courage breathtaking, her suffering heartbreaking. The account begins here.

Developing New Skills

Last week, I finally began to learn something I’d been wanting to try for a while: spinning. I don’t mean a cardio workout, but rather, spinning yarn.

All of you fiber people probably know this next bit, for those not of Fibrish persuasian, allow me to explain a little. Spinning fleece into yarn (or more properly, rovings into yarn) can either be done on a spinning wheel or  a drop spindle. Through most of human history, the drop spindle has been the tool of choice, since it was basically the only tool. Recently (meaning the last few hundred years, maybe?) the spinning wheel was invented and is now the predominant image we have for transforming fiber to yarn. But many hand spinners continue to use drop spindles, because they are cheaper and more portable. So I am learning on a drop spindle, it being both cheaper and more portable.

Stacy taught me the rudiments: how to attatch the fiber to the spindle, how to spin it, how to draw the fiber. Once I’d created some “yarn” (and I use the term loosely), she taught me how to ply it, creating a yarn from single strands. And she kept telling me how well I was doing. Which was odd, because I felt like I was making a complete mess of the roving and the product of the spinning, which might, very generously, have been called yarn.

Unsurprisingly, spinning is difficult. It is a skill which is built, traditionally, through years of practice, each generation teaching the next. And I want to be able to do it, first time round, starting at age 37. And yet, I’m surprised it didn’t turn out well.

I know that what I need is more time, and practice (and Stacy did say the roving I was working with might have been a little tougher to work with than some). Just like knitting, when I first tried it, it felt very, very wrong (I still have a washcloth I made where I didn’t understand moving the yarn from back to front and vice versa when doing ribbing, and therefore yarned over every stitch….creating a very odd shape). And I know that if I keep at it, it will get better, and I probably will enjoy it, and learn to produce yarn that I love. Yet at the moment, I am discouraged.

I’m not giving up, but I’m not entirely sure I’m going to give up my knitting time this evening in order to spin, either.

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