Carlton Pearson, paradigm shifter
This week's portion: Song of the Sea

Taking the reins

This week I begin an exciting new phase of my rabbinic-student education: what I've been calling my "internship in practical rabbinics." My rabbi, Jeff Goldwasser, is -- as he writes in the synagogue newsletter -- going on sabbatical for two two-month periods this year, and the first one begins now. Several congregants are rising to the occasion, helping to field the many tasks that Jeff does in his role as congregational rabbi. I am honored, and humbled, that many of these tasks have been handed to me.

I will have four primary responsibilities while he's gone: leading services (largely Friday morning meditation services and Shabbat morning services; most of the Friday evenings will be led by other congregants) and reading Torah, teaching (the twelve students in our b'nai mitzvah prep program will be my responsibility), facilitating festival observance (the holidays of Tu BiShvat and Purim fall during the first half of the sabbatical, and we have big programs planned for each), and providing crisis care, pastoral counseling, and funeral coverage for the community. (That's why I chose to enroll in an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education this year; I wanted to have some crisis counseling experience before Jeff went away.)

I try not to let my expectations shape my reality, but I've thought a lot lately about what my February and March will be like. Mostly I expect to learn a lot. None of the tasks I've been given are new to me, but I've never had to do them in quite this way before. For instance, I know how to prep a Torah portion (learn the verses I'll be reading from the scroll, and assemble a handout for discussion), but in the past I've had the luxury of spending all week on each one I've been responsible for. I'll need to learn how to do it faster, because it won't be the only congregational task demanding my time. Maybe I'll learn how to better communicate my love of Judaism to the teens in our religious school (or at least how to be less intimidated by a room full of adolescents filled with afterschool energy). And I'll have to learn how to balance responsibilities while juggling more balls than I'm accustomed to.

That last skill may be the most important one. I'm still executive director of Inkberry, and I'm still a student (remember the Talmud tutorial I blogged about a few weeks ago? plus the CPE program at Albany Medical Center runs through May.) So this spring gives me a chance to try balancing my already-full life with the new responsibilities of filling in for Jeff. Every rabbi I've spoken to about this has observed that what I describe sounds pretty much like rabbinic life in general, so I guess this is a good chance to begin learning how to juggle, prioritize, and balance.

It's also a good chance to practice compassion for myself. No one expects me to be perfect at this (except maybe me); if I can let go of my perfectionism a little, this should be fun. The truth of the matter is, though I've only been in rabbinic school for five months, I've been preparing to do this work for a much longer time than that. When I led my first service at CBI -- amazingly enough, a scant two years ago; my first stint as shaliach tzibbur was the Shabbat of Tu BiShvat, 2004 -- Jeff advised me to make mistakes, to learn from them, and to have fun. That's still my mantra, and I think it will serve me well while he's away.

It may be that I'll have to cut down on my blog-reading (and blog-commenting) during Jeff's sabbatical. I'll miss the conversations, but hope you'll all forgive my relative lack of presence. Please keep me in your thoughts! This is going to be an adventure.

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