So What’s The Whole Story? p.2

I did not plan it that way. I had hacked it reasonably well. I led a congregation for nearly 10 years. Though my congregation and I had growing pains together, we never had a huge fight. We created a few minor scuffles because an unwritten rule in the Jewish world says you’ve got to have them. When the dust settled, we both got over them quickly. I never got so frustrated or furious at my congregation that I got anywhere near quitting the whole rabbinical world. I never got fired. It just happened.

I write this confession for therapy, to vent whatever might still be cooking inside. And also to let my old friends know “whatever became of Blank?” But also I write it so others can learn from my own particular rabbinical experience.

My rabbinical career’s executive summary goes like this:

I grew up in an Orthodox synagogue but with a family celebration much closer to the middle of the American Jewish spectrum. We didn’t do Shabbat or 2 sets of dishes but we never had cheeseburgers at home either. I was a star pupil in an afternoon community Hebrew school. I “got into religion” academically in the 60’s at Kenyon. Studied Kierkegaard and Hebrew grammar. In the late 60’s I was among the first wave to take Judaic studies courses in secular American universities. I was a very good student at HUC-JIR; spent a year in Israel before it was required; was president of my ordination class.

As I look back at the HUC of the early 70’s, it was a terribly academic, rather unspiritual place. Your first week there you received the curriculum: a list of about 40 classes you were required to pass in order to be ordained. In classes we studied texts. We mastered them. But no one on the faculty ever had the ability and the inclination to cause me to look more deeply into myself, to show me how to feel a deep sense of God’s presence in my life, to talk openly about my spiritual experiences, to admit to a nonrational component in my life. “Chapel — we never called it “morning minyan” then — chapel was avoided like the plague by 90% of America’s future rabbis and their teachers. Small wonder; it was a rather uninspiring 20 minutes. Coffee and banter with fellow students in the “bumming room” was far more fun and touched the soul far more deeply.

The “bumming room” was the student lounge, so named because once upon a time it was a rather formal place where anything approaching “bumming” was strictly forbidden. By my day we bummed in it for hours.

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