Calling and Commitment to the Jewish People
Being a rabbi, working in a Jewish day school and serving the Jewish people with deep and abiding dedication can definitely be seen as a calling. Eighteen years ago, I made a list of the things I wanted to do with my life. That list included things like pursue wisdom, serve others and be a pastoral presence. When I took a step back and reflected on this list, I was, at different levels, simultaneously shocked and unsurprised when the items on that list pointed me in the direction of becoming a rabbi. That mixture of amazement and familiarity continues to be a helpful way of describing the feeling of being “called.” To be called is to be both challenged and affirmed in one’s sense of self and one’s choice of vocation.
Over the years, I have experienced the feeling of being called in different ways and in different settings. For example, there are aspects of my job that come naturally and there are aspects that don’t. Organizing and leading our annual eighth grade Israel trip comes naturally. So too does leading and coordinating our tefillah program. On the other hand, learning how to be an excellent supervisor to our Hebrew and Jewish studies faculty took some serious work and development. I feel a sense of calling when I intuitively know what to do or how to be in a given situation. But I also feel a sense of calling when I have to engage in difficult growth and learning in order to honor my commitments.
Leaders feel a sense of calling when they find themselves in the right place at the right time or when they know that they have helped create experiences or opportunities that enrich lives. When professional and personal lives merge, when life is experienced in an integrated way, and when our authentic selves are what is needed in any given moment, calling is a kind of homecoming. I feel this kind of integration between personal and professional in a variety of different times and settings. Teaching mindfulness and meditation to fifth graders, dancing during the Mi Kamokha prayer at our weekly Kabbalat Shabbat, writing original Jewish melodies, or documenting how our school lives our core values on the Davis Academy Menschlichkeit Blog that I keep are a few such examples. At these and other times, I feel a sense of calling.
Whether we attribute a kind of spiritual dimension to our life path by relating to it as a calling or not, we all need to refresh and renew our core commitments. This refreshing and renewing is different for each of us. When I think about ways that I have kept myself engaged and able to answer the call with the fullness of my being, a few things come to mind. Professional development and learning more generally are essential. Pursuing an EdD and now immersing in mindfulness training are two ways that I’ve kept my sense of calling vibrant, both because of the learning itself and the people I’ve met. Also, finding an outlet for one’s talents, hobbies and passions is vitally important. Lastly, cultivating and sustaining a reflective practice is essential. I have done this by blogging, which allows me to both document and make meaning out of the many experiences I’ve had. All of these strategies are mutually reinforcing and help us stay connected to the feeling of being called.
There’s no doubt that my own studies and life experience have instilled in me an abiding love, respect and appreciation for the Jewish people writ large. I feel genuine admiration for the generations that have come before us, as well as genuine care and concern for the present and future well-being of the Jewish people. At the same time, my primary responsibility is for the people that I am called upon to serve. For the most part, those people are all around me every day. They are the children and adults that make up The Davis Academy. Because what happens to one of us in some way affects us all, I see a direct correlation between serving my community and serving the Jewish people more broadly, and by extension all people. “Commitment” is an idea. I think the idea of “commitment” is best demonstrated through service.
For better or worse, we live in an era of Judaisms rather than Judaism. Lately it feels like the common ground that unites the many faces of the Jewish people is decreasing. I think that our Jewish day schools play a vital role in helping hold that common ground as well as building a cohesive and connected Jewish people for future generations.
The question of whether or not a person feels a sense of “calling” is comprised of a series of other questions. Questions like, Why do we do what we do? What do our actions say about our commitments? and What do we hope to achieve with our precious and limited time on earth? To the extent that our professional life is a response to these questions, then it is clear that our service to the Jewish community writ large, and the Jewish day school community in particular, may rightly be considered a calling.