Jewish communal professional

My co-worker was a rabbi

By tremendous coincidence, one of my co-workers at The Jewish Agency for Israel was a rabbi who served at one of my hometown (East Brunswick, NJ) synagogues for six years. He is approximately my age.

I mention this because it goes back to my once-dream of becoming a rabbi, which died when I chose to remain in Israel, rather than move back to the USA to pursue the rabbinate.

Due to the sheer number of rabbis in Israel, it is nearly impossible for the vast majority of religious leaders to sustain themselves here as Jewish professionals… Those who move here before retirement knowingly give up their rabbinic careers and seek other prospects.

-Me, ‘I wanted to be a rabbi’, Sept. ’20

So, I’m hardly surprised by my co-worker’s life story – he made a deliberate choice: Life in Israel over Life as a Rabbi. The part about him having worked as a rabbi in my hometown only highlights this point for me, as I am very familiar with that particular synagogue ~ I know that he gave up a great career in a relatively affluent community.

Career as a Jewish communal professional

Ever since I was a college student, I have been passionate about my Jewish identity, being involved in Jewish community, and being of service to the Jewish people. This is what initially drove me to consider becoming a rabbi upon graduating from university.

That’s also why moving to Israel threw me into such a personal crisis: I no longer saw a clear path forward for myself as a Jewish community professional, which is what I had given up my entire life in the USA to pursue at the age of thirty.

Many Jewish professionals who knowingly give up their communal careers to build Jewish lives in Israel go on to find living here to be existentially fulfilling; I think my co-worker, the former rabbi, is one such individual.

This is something that I have struggled with. On the one hand, I love living in Israel. I love having kosher food readily available for me at every supermarket. I love watching my daughter growing up as a Jew in a Jewish country, receiving a substantive Jewish education at her public school. I love having the Jewish holidays off from work. I love hearing Hebrew spoken on the street.

On the other hand, merely living somewhere is a passive choice. Even after I’d given up on becoming a rabbi, I continued yearning for a career of Jewish communal service. It’s no coincidence that the two organizations I worked for prior to The Jewish Agency are both headed by rabbis (one a Reform rabbi, the other an Orthodox rabbi).

For this reason, I consider myself incredibly lucky to be working at a major Jewish communal organization. As painful as it was for me (and I still feel pained even today), I gave up on my dreams in order to move to Israel, and I never thought I’d be lucky enough to serve the Jewish people in any professional capacity.

I learned to repress this desire – to push it deep down into myself – to the point that I was beyond ready to accept being rejected for my new job as par for the course. And, even after being accepted for this position, it took me weeks to internalize and appreciate that I was, indeed, working for a major, global Jewish communal organization.

Relief is described as easing one’s pain; but I’m finding it physically painful.

46 thoughts on “Jewish communal professional”

  1. Thank you for sharing your personal story David! Your life is fascinating. Pain is part of the process but I’m sure you’ll find the answers. You are a beautiful and incredible human being. โค

    1. it’s related to a synagogue rabbi’s potential salary. serving an affluent community means that a rabbi is probably doing pretty well for him/herself.

      1. Yes thatโ€™s my point. Why should a Rabbi only be measured by wealth? It spells out acquisitive power and nothing about faith humility, empathy and such like.

          1. That is really awful. It splits the rabbinate between them and us. Itโ€™s not universally accessible and therefore, it cannot be truly representative.

  2. Soul searching is good, David and painful questions need to be answered. They are painful for a reason.

    In my life experience, it’s when I ask questions, am I able to think out of the box. Some answers are difficult to implement but majority of them just zap you with their simplicity. It’s like how come I never noticed it?

    Whatever you do David, I always wish you happiness.

  3. David I could relate to the pain. I have a spinal stenosis that is irritating and at times I’m in agony. To relieve the pain I am place on a rack and stretched. It is an extremely uncomfortable procedure and the pain is relieved but there is an excruciating moment when the tension of the rack is released – pure agony followed by bliss. You are being released from the rack – anticipate the ecstasy!

  4. There are many ways to serve, but Iโ€™m glad you found the way you desired, and that it feels the way you thought it would. (K)

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