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Career Story: Rabbi For A Small Congregation

Rabbi For A Small Congregation

Job Title: Rabbi

Type of Company: I am the rabbi for a synagogue of 330 households, serving the religious and communal needs of the local Jewish community.

Education: AB, Theater, Vassar College •• MA, Hebrew Letters, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (New York, NY) •• rabbinic ordination, HUC-JIR

Previous Experience: I worked as an assistant rabbi in a large congregation for six years. I have been serving as a solo rabbi for the past nineteen years.

Job Tasks: My work has much in common with that of other professional clergy. In a typical day I teach, provide pastoral counseling, make hospital visits and visits to shut-ins, work with lay leaders on programming for the congregation and field inquires about many aspects of Judaism. I spend time educating myself on a variety of issues and work with community groups on common causes.

Because I serve as a solo rabbi, with only one other professional staff person (an educator/program director), there are many activities I engage in on a daily basis: moving chairs, photocopying, generating correspondence. It's the nitty-gritty reality of serving a smaller congregation with limited financial resources.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is the variety of responsibilities and opportunities that come my way. No two days are exactly alike. I am also a musician/singer and I have the great good fortune to be able to lead worship with my guitar. That is one of my greatest joys in my work!

The worst part of my job is that, once I leave the synagogue, I cannot really leave my work behind. I have frequent evening commitments and often encounter people who want to speak to me about congregational matters when I am away from the synagogue.

Job Tips: It would be worth your while to find a way to "shadow" or intern with a clergy-person to see first hand what is involved in the work. You need not have expertise in religion; that is the function of any seminary you might attend to attain your professional clergy training. You certainly need to know yourself well and to determine if you are someone who genuinely enjoys getting intimately involved with people, both their joys and their sorrows.

Additional Thoughts: It has taken me a long time to grow comfortable with telling people that I don't know the answer to a question. But it has been an essential part of my learning curve. Members of the clergy are expected, by many, to have all the answers to the "big" questions. In my experience, people are quite comfortable learning that you have questions and even doubts about matters of faith because it often validates their own uncertainties.

I wish I realized more fully, when starting out as a rabbi, just how time-consuming the work can be. But I also could not have fully anticipated the gratification I've found from being invited into people's lives at the most intense moments.

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