When Circuitous Paths are the Right Ones

יַֽנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶדֶק

You guide me on circuitous paths…

I was at the top of my professional game in the fall of 2018: Serving as the Dean of Jewish Studies and on the Academic Leadership Team at The Weber School, beginning my second decade of teaching other people’s teenagers, engaging in meaningful advocacy work for social justice and fully expecting to continue living my values in this manner until I was ready to retire from the rabbinate.

I felt like I was on top of the world.

Of course, that’s when everything changed.

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December 2018: Sitting in companionable silence with a longtime friend and colleague in a church in Nogales, Mexico. We’re decompressing from the intense experience of serving lunch to migrants in the comedor and I am collecting my thoughts into what would later become the first of five blog posts about our immersion experience at the Kino Border Initiative. 

After nearly half an hour, he leaned over and whispered to me that his congregation was planning to hire a second rabbi. He wondered if I might be interested in applying for the position. 

Fast forward to June 2019: It’s a sunny afternoon and we’re walking through Toco Hills, discussing details of our working together at Congregation Bet Haverim (CBH), the only progressive congregation in this predominantly Orthodox neighborhood of Atlanta. 

August begins with a whirlwind of onboarding meetings, planning for High Holidays, and the launch of the Your Jewish Bridge project. As I settled into this new role, working with a dynamic team of professionals and highly engaged lay leaders, I found myself energized. I experienced what it meant for me to bring my full rabbinic self to a congregation, and fully expected to spend many more years serving in this capacity.

In March 2020, as you are undoubtedly aware, everything changed again.

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Looking back on those early weeks of quarantine, I’m astounded at how deftly we transitioned to an online existence. First, using a shared spreadsheet, we devised a plan to check in with and keep track of the well-being of every member of the community. Then we brought all of our spiritual resources—compassion, humility, kindness, patience—to Zoom, where we met for weekday minyanim, shabbat and holiday services, classes and conversations, B-mitzvahs and funerals, hospital and shiva visits. 

With few exceptions, it was late spring of 2021 before we were able to gather in person, outdoors and unmasked.

In August 2021, as my friend and colleague retired and assumed an emeritus role while another colleague stepped into the role of interim rabbi at CBH, I returned to The Weber School to serve as a scholar-in-residence. 

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What a gift to work with Señora Rocamora, Señora Shields and Señor Colombini, creating curricular units on Jewish culture and values for students in Spanish II and Spanish III. I was also given the opportunity to teach Tefillah and Comparative Prayer to a small group of honors students, and to team-teach with my colleague Rabbi Moshe Sokol in his interdisciplinary Jewish Symbolism course. 

While I loved being back in high school for these two years, I spent a good deal of time thinking about my time at CBH. During this period of discernment, it became clear that I wanted my next rabbinic role to be in a congregation. 

What I didn’t know was how to pursue this goal.  

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Man plans and God laughs, as the Yiddish saying goes. 

I didn’t plan for these detours in my rabbinate. 

Rereading the autobiographical essay I wrote when I applied to rabbinical school, I marvel at how certain I was that I would never serve in a pulpit. I couldn’t have anticipated the sipuk hanefesh, spiritual fulfillment, I would experience in my rabbinic role at CBH.

Now, as I approach the halfway point of my year as an interim rabbi—next week marks six months since I started at Temple Kol Emeth—I’m filled with gratitude to the leadership and members of TKE, who have entrusted me with their care during this year of transition as they search for their new rabbi. 

I continue my own job-search journey, keenly aware that my future path is still uncharted. I’m doing my best to embrace uncertainty with enthusiasm and grace. I’m feeling hopeful about the future.

And when my plans change, I’ll laugh, too.