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. I can relate to that, as our adopted son did get a Sโ€™micha, but gave it up in favor of Mental Health Counseling. I think it was a right decision, as Rabbis are a dime a dozen, while he is now working on his Doctorate, and Jewish community as a whole needs good therapists. In your case David, you are serving the Jewish community in a very important capacity.

    1. It feels kinda harsh to say that rabbis are a dime a dozen…

      But I’m really glad your son found his path, Dolly. Did your son ever work as a rabbi in any capacity?

  2. I resonated so with your experience. Years ago I was one of 12 Ministers in Training in my church. They chose us and I was thrilled. After extensive, lengthy training, I was NOT chosen. It was devastating. I did, eventually become ordained elsewhere but my church will not recognize my ordination. This is my 20th year as a Minister and I have never looked back.

  3. I appreciate and empathize your dilema and growing pains David.
    Iโ€™m sure this would never measure up in any shape or form, I must say, You are a Rabbi of such in many ways to so many as you have embodied the culture, the truths, and grapple with the questions when something doesnโ€™t feel congruent for you. And what a role you have created where you indeed are working for a major, global Jewish communal organization and making a huge difference and contribution. ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

  4. Finding the right fit can definately cause growing pains. Metamorphosis is growing into what you were meant to be. I am happy for you.

  5. David, I never wanted to be a rabbi, but when I was very young, I thought of becoming a missionary doctor! โค
    Somehow, things seem to always work out for the best! Take care. โค

  6. I enjoyed reading this reflection. At one point, I considered a career as a rabbi, cantor (ruled out due to insufficient talent) or Jewish chaplain. I now know I am much happier having not pursued those professions and instead serving the congregation on more of a volunteer basis. (I was a paid leyner for a hot minute but that doesnโ€™t really count). There are a variety of ways to serve the Jewish community/people and itโ€™s important to find the right fit

  7. very relatable here โ€“ both in terms of your factual writing David and in terms of going through a change of identity, including the gaps, the not-knowing, the insecurity.

  8. Simply heart-warming and fascinating, to read these intimate feelings of your vocation, calling and professional life. Also the decisions you made. I canโ€™t even imagine your relief but I can relate to that physical pain of finally doing something that your heart always desired, serving, but in another form.
    I think at some point you even wrote a love story which spoke about life at the synagogue. I could be wrong.
    Just absolutely amazing to read how your bread which you cast upon the water never returned to you empty.
    Also captivating how the prayers in our hearts ring into eternity
    But here you found fulfilment. Wonderful.

  9. Loved your tale. Choices can be irrevocable and we can always wonder how a different choice might have worked out.

  10. I didnโ€™t know that about Israel. It makes sense though. And what a great thing to not be in the minority, having to sit through all the Easter bunny and Christmas stuff!

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