When You’re a Jewish Leader You’re Never Alone

December 15, 2017Rabbi Rachel G. Greengrass

I “got the call” to the rabbinate my junior year in college. After speaking to my parents, I went to talk to my Hillel rabbi. He asked me, “Rachel, do you really want to be a rabbi? Or do you just want to be a more observant Jew?”

I think about this question often – do I really want to lead or just be more a part of the community?  Balancing being a wife/mother/daughter/sister/friend and my relationships, the demands of work from programming, worship, life cycle, writing, and administrative duties and trying to continue to learn and push and even sneak a workout in . . . it’s not easy. It may have been easier to take a 9-5 and then just show up to synagogue when it fit with my schedule.

And yet . . .

Judaism to me is a family and a responsibility. We are called as Jews to be a light unto the nations. Judaism is an evolving expression of our deepest held beliefs and a call to a better world. I love being part of a faith that believes we are never there, that the work is never done, that as long as we have breath within us our job is to do tikkun, to fix, to heal, to love. 

Being a Jewish leader is an honor and a responsibility. Our world is very broken and believing that we are God’s hands means we have a lot of work to do. That’s why I am so grateful that none of us ever have to feel that we are doing the work alone. We have an entire movement walking beside us.

Over the past two years, I have become supported and molded by the movement and the Religious Action Center. I became a Balfour/Brickner Fellow and was trained by incredible mentors on topics such as how to bring new eyes to situations, how to put myself in the shoes of people I deeply disagree with, how to organize my congregants and how to create coalitions with other institutions.

While participating in this fellowship, my congregation became part of the URJ’s “Becoming a Community of Action” Community of Practice.  As part of this unique experimental community we were trained in how to expand our social justice efforts to include action (hands-on experiences), awareness (educating our congregation on pressing issue including the Jewish connection), and advocacy. We were inspired by what other congregations were doing. We were pushed and inspired to go further and deeper in our social justice work. We also learned to celebrate how much we had achieved while still looking towards next steps. We learned we were not alone as our hands were held as we met with senators and mayors here in Miami and in DC and lived out the prophetic call.

The Community of Practice has ended, as has the fellowship, but we continue to meet with our politicians, to delve into the pressing issues with amazing speakers and educators, and to use our hands to do God’s work.

My Hillel rabbi asked me if I really wanted to lead, or if I really just wanted to be a bigger part of the community. Leadership sounds lonely, but in our movement it never has to be. Every day I am grateful for my colleagues. Every day I am grateful that I am living out my passions. Every day I am grateful that I am able to make a difference. And every day, I am grateful that I do this as part of a flourishing thriving URJ community.

Rabbi Rachel Greengrass serves as a spiritual leader, teacher, thinker and doer at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest Florida. Rabbi Greengrass is a RWB Fellow, a member of Rabbis organizing Rabbis, serves on the Rabbinic Association of Greater Miami and is on the CCAR resolutions committee.