Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Advice to Rabbis 2 of 5

11. Be fire worthy. Chances are you’re going to be fired. You don’t have to do anything to get fired. All you have to do is grow old. At some point you will be too old to “relate to the kids,” or too old to bring in the younger families, or so old that your board of directors fears having to pay you as emeritus. So, sometime in your fifties, someone on your board is going to stab you in the back, and when that happens your friends will be outraged—outraged I say!—and powerless. Knowing it’s coming; be worthy of it: do something that is worth getting fired over. Tell your congregants the truth that religion is made up, that God doesn’t choose one people over another or dabble in real estate, that making a fetish out of the Holocaust and Zionism isn’t a substitute for living Jewishly, and that Judaism is dying because, when matzah comes to mitzvah, Jews just don’t care enough to keep Judaism alive. Just don’t say this until sometime in your fifties.

12. Israel is not a theme park. Most American Jews visit Israel the way other people visit Colonial Williamsburg: they want to see the past brought to life at a safe distance. Have a one–time tour rule: you will lead trips to Israel only for people who have not been before. After that, encourage aliyah.

13. Don’t send your congregants’ kids to Israel to make them Jewish. Send them to Chabad; it’s cheaper.

14. Your congregants aren’t Zionists. A Zionist is someone who lives in Zion without calling it Palestine. Even more, a Zionist is someone who is willing to die for Zion. Even more, a Zionist is someone who is willing to have her or his child die for Zion. If all your congregants do is visit Israel, plant a tree, sit through a subtitled Israeli film, write a check to Federation, or get all worked up when someone, even an Israeli, dares to question the policies of Israel, they are not Zionists; they are guilt–ridden American Jews.

15. Never settle for a ten–minute sermon. If your board tells you to keep your sermons to ten minutes, tell them you will consider that when they keep their board meetings to ten minutes. Learning takes time. If people don’t want to give you their time, they really don’t want you to give them anything at all.

16. Stand by your principles, not on them. When you stand by your principles you make judgments; when you stand on your principles you become judgmental. When you stand by your principles you allow others to stand by theirs. If you are asked to violate your principles, refuse. If you are asked to violate your principles continually, retire.

17. Get another job. You can be fired anytime for any reason, especially if that reason just wrote a huge check to the sanctuary renovation fund. Protect yourself: have a second career even while you are pursuing your rabbinic one. In this way when your synagogue job goes south, you can easily move north.

18. Don’t fear God. I’m not talking about the Guy who tells you to murder your son or commit ethnic cleansing—you should definitely fear Him; He’s insane. I’m talking about the
God you don’t believe in but pretend to believe in because your congregants who don’t believe in Him pretend to believe in Him and need you to pretend to believe in Him so that they can continue to pretend to believe in Him and not have to admit that they don’t. That Guy: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who we pretend is more believable when we add Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachael to His list of followers. A dead God is a dead God no matter how PC the eulogy. But, chances are you do believe in something; maybe even Something; maybe even Some One. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you do believe in, and invite others to do the same.

19. Let them eat cake, but only after feeding them something more substantive. If you haven’t tried to plant at least one potentially transformative seed of wisdom in at least one congregant during a religious service, you are wasting their time. And yours.

20. Torah! Torah! Torah! Your first obligation is to Torah. This is like the flight attendant telling you to first place the oxygen mask over your mouth and nose before placing one over your child’s mouth and nose. You can’t help anyone if you’re dead. Learning Torah is how rabbis stay alive. Make time to study every day. If the sign on your office door reads “Rabbi’s Study,” add one that says, “Rabbi’s studying.”

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