Ten Things I’ve Learned in My First Three Years as a Rabbi

Three years ago today, I was ordained as a rabbi.

Me standing with Rabbi Aaron Panken z"l, with his hands on my head, in the ark at Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati at the moment of ordination.
Was that really three years ago? (With Rabbi Aaron Panken z”l.)

Now, in just over a month, my first position as an ordained rabbi is coming to an end. In the next few weeks I will attempt to capture in words the depth of gratitude I feel for The Community Synagogue, whom I’ve been privileged to serve these recent years. But for now, I want to share some of the lessons I’m taking away from these initial years of my rabbinate, some of the things I would tell myself three years ago:

  1. Shabbat comes back again next week.
  2. When someone asks for something unusual, a good question to ponder before responding is: What would it take for me to get to “yes”? You may not actually say yes, but at least you will have clarified what is really at stake.
  3. Supportive partners, both professional and personal, are everything.
  4. Unetaneh Tokef takes on a new meaning when you look out on your congregation and know who has died (and often by what cause) in the past year. Also when there’s a global pandemic.
  5. Most people are willing to try something new most of the time, as long as they like the person extending the invitation.
  6. Always start with attentive listening.
  7. Someone is always being left out. Look out for them, in specific contexts and in general.
  8. When you move from Ohio to New York, you have to get used to interrupting people if you ever want to participate in a conversation.
  9. Working in a synagogue is a lot like working at camp: The work you do really matters, and it’s also wise not to take yourself too seriously.
  10. You never really know the impact you’re having on others. Sometimes they tell you. That’s really nice.
The HUC-JIR Cincinnati rabbinic class of 2017.

I also want to wish a big mazal tov to the rabbinic and cantorial classes of 2020. I hope you get to take your in-person group pictures sometime soon, and I wish you much joy and fulfillment in your new roles.

6 comments

  1. You HAVE made a difference during your time here and you are wise beyond your years. Your sermons have resonated with me, and Torah Study is full of surprises and interesting references. I am personally sad we are losing you, but so grateful to have had the time together. I wish you every happiness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Stefanie! This means a lot to me. I’ve so loved getting to learn together and sharing book recommendations these recent years.

      Like

  2. Dear Sam,

    You are a teacher of Torah wherever you are and whatever your title may be. I am excited for your colleagues an d students because I know you live the Torah that you espouse. You will leave “footprints” wherever you walk; that is the prize and the price for sharing your gifts of mind, heart and soul.

    בכבוד רב
    Jan

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a N.Y. Jew who is married to a Jew from the Midwest who has still never mastered the art of NY conversation no 8 is priceless. Good luck on your new adventure. You and Ari will be missed.

    Liked by 1 person

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