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.