That is a phrase that warms a rabbi’s heart. When a congregant introduces you as ‘my rabbi,’ or speaks about you to someone else referring to you in the same way, it is a particular term of connection the mingles pride, gratitude, affinity, shared history, trust, and respect. You might say it is a big part of what, at the end of the day, we are truly hoping to find in our work. It means you’ve been there for the family, said something meaningful to the person, taught something that touched them, helped them feel connected to their Judaism, perhaps even their humanity. In the course of time, doing these things, connecting with people, you become ‘their rabbi.’
But as the old saying goes, there are times when even the rabbi needs a rabbi. So who is my rabbi? Over the years I can actually name quite a few. The rabbi from the congregation I grew up in, Elihu Schagrin, who took his time to teach me and my fellow teens each Monday night when I was in high school. And also, by the way, taught me my bar mitzvah material. Rabbi Elliot Dorff, from the American Jewish University, without whom I wouldn’t even be a rabbi. Rabbi Eliezer Diamond, who helped me discover a deep love of classic Jewish texts. The list could go on and on. These are the rabbis who helped to shape not only my Jewish self, but my entire self. These are ‘my rabbis.’
And this week I can add many more names to that list, too many to single out. I spent the week at RTI (the Rabbinic Training Institute, fondly nick-named ‘rabbi’s camp). It is an annual retreat for conservative rabbis from across the country where we study with fabulous teachers, pray together, schmooze, share experiences, and give one another hizuk – a sense of renewed strength and energy. Each year I emerge from the retreat with a deep sense of respect and admiration for the colleagues I spend the week with, the men and woman whose vocation and avocation I share. Some of the participants are nearing the ends of their careers. Some are freshly minted rabbis. Some are somewhere in between. But all of them are caring, lovers of the Jewish people and Judaism, thoughtful, wise, intelligent, fun loving, terrific people. I realized this year while spending time with my fellow ‘campers’ that I would be proud to call any one of them ‘my rabbi.’ We are truly blessed in the Conservative Movement to have people of such quality serving our congregations, our institutions, and the Jewish people.