The week between Christmas and New Years reminds me a bit of the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Time removed from other time. Time of reflection. Time of taking stock. Today I am thinking about Rabbis. Growing up, I was in awe of Rabbis. They seemed larger than life. It would never have occurred to me to have a silly conversation with a Rabbi. It would not have occurred to me to talk about the Red Sox with a Rabbi. It certainly wouldn’t have occurred to me to go out to dinner with a Rabbi. Rabbis were separate. They stood tall, had large voices, wore robes and were a bit scary. Oh, and they were, of course all male and many bald. As a non-visual person, they all sort of looked alike.
Fast forward many years. The Rabbinic world has changed and my world has changed. As a professional working in the Jewish community there are Rabbis everywhere I look. To borrow an overused line – some of my best friends are Rabbis. A prerequisite of any early position I had in the community was that I learn to not be intimidated by Rabbis and that I be able to have honest and sometimes difficult conversations with them. Over the years I have done that. Although I have continued to have deep respect for them, I call them by their first names and treat them as equals. Sometimes I don’t even know that someone is a Rabbi.
Recently, my sense of awe in Rabbis has been rekindled. Like many, I have been touched deeply and profoundly by the illness and death of Superman Sam Sommer. Like many, I never met Sam and in physical life have barely crossed paths with his parents. (As an aside, although we generally refer to it as “in real life” I think we have all discovered a new reality and learned that real life can and does also happen via social media.)
I have been one of those from the sidelines with no words of my own. I have devoured the outpouring of words and love, been witness to tears, a lot of grimacing, and much head shaking. Individually, we all know that the world is not fair, but sometimes we are able to ignore that. Other times it hits us front and center. Collectively, this is one of those times. Those times can render us helpless and/or it can bring out the best in people. In this case, a generation of Rabbis has stepped up to the plate (yes, I now feel comfortable using baseball metaphors when I talk about Rabbis.) This generation is male and female. This generation wears jeans and tee shirts and listens to jazz, pop and rock music. Like past generations, this generation is committed to improving the world. To do so, this particular group of Rabbi’s has committed to shaving their heads to raise funds for and bring about awareness of Childhood Cancer. They are part of St. Baldricks 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave – although there are now many more than 36. No amount of money or awareness can help Sam but it can change the course of the lives of others. In the midst of much talk of the Pew Study and the future of Judaism, what is happening right here and now is so powerful. The Rabbis are taking their commitment to Judaism and are leading in a new direction. They are bonding together, teaching us as they go, and collectively impacting the world.
I am once again reminded of how I felt as a child . I am in awe of my Rabbinic friends and colleagues who are changing the world one hair at a time. And, I do find it mildly amusing that for a short time the balding Rabbi will once again reign. Fortunately, in 2014 the balding Rabbis will be both male and female. We’ve come a long way, but clearly there is much for each and every one of us to do to make the world a better place. A huge thank you to all (Rabbis and others) who are taking large and small steps to do just that and allowing so many to contribute along the way.