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Career Story: Rabbi Of A Small Suburban Synagogue

Rabbi Of A Small Suburban Synagogue

Job Title: Rabbi (Clergy)

Type of Company: I work as the rabbi, spiritual leader and religious school principal for a small Jewish community in eastern Massachusetts.

Education: BA, Music Theory and Composition, St. Louis University •• Rabbinic Ordination, The Academy for Jewish Religion (Bronx, NY)

Previous Experience: I started as a secretary and then later office manager. My office manager position at the local phone company led to my work as a computer programmer supporting the sales department. I enjoyed teaching so I moved into computer systems training. I then worked for a small non-profit that wrote and distributed religious study materials for adults. I then moved to a start-up computer software company in the sales and marketing field, helping clients to customize our software to fit businesses better and training their management and staff. My personal interest in my religion paired with my business skills and interests and I made the decision to become a rabbi.

Job Tasks: Even though I am a rabbi for a Jewish congregation, my job is similar to that of Protestant minister. All of us are religious leaders serving congregations which are made up of volunteers with a connection to our community. Sometimes that connection is mainly religious and sometimes that connection is more social and sometimes that connection is more community service. Regardless of why people become a part of our congregations they look to their religious leader - rabbi, priest, minister - to guide the work of the congregation and to become acquainted with them and their family on a personal level.

My job has both a fixed and a flexible schedule. The fixed part of my schedule relates to congregational events - religious services, religious school, adult classes, small group meetings, committee meetings and board meetings. Outside of this schedule I commit to about 10 hours a week of "office hours" where people can count on finding me in the office.

I also visit the sick and elderly. I continue to study with mentors one-on-one. I design religious school curriculum. I proof the newsletter. I design flyers for events. I organize social events. I counsel individuals. I lead services. I teach Hebrew to adults, teens and children. I lead prayers. I sing. I write sermons. I research what other congregations do so I can make our congregation better. I am like an executive director of a non-profit, with additional spiritual responsibilities.

No two days are the same.

The remainder of my time is completely flexible.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is building a community. It's wonderful to be able to teach and to preach. Leading prayers often means singing, which I love to do. Working with people requires constant attention and assessment to make sure you understand what people want and need. You have to determine how to balance conflicting desires, hopes and dreams. There are times when it seems like it would be easier to deal with computers and not people. But these times are relatively few. AND, if you can't manage your time and the expectations of yourself and your congregation, you can work all the time, never taking a break, and you will burn out. Self-care is crucial in the clergy profession.

Job Tips: The best background for being a rabbi or any clergy person is to have multiple skillsets and interests, which is what you will encounter in your congregation. In a small congregation, the clergyman has to be able to do many things well. Skills in leadership and organization are crucial, as are skills in getting things done through other people. This is not a job for someone who likes to solo. Clergy are there to serve the people. Be sure to understand the basics of counseling and psychology and human development.

Additional Thoughts: I think it's a toss-up in terms of life experience whether being a clergyman is a good career for someone right out of college and seminary or whether it is more appropriate for someone with a modest to significant work experience. Both models seem to work. There are many excellent clergy who started young, and whose only profession has rabbinical. There are also an increasing number of second career clergymen - like me - who bring a wealth of life experience. Both are possible. If the job is a good fit, then age is less important.

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