To Rabbi Pamela Gottfried of Atlanta, Rebecca Sirbu’s job is “like herding cats. She’s a rabbi’s rabbi.” Sirbu has a pastoral presence, Gottfried said, something that can be improved or worked on, but that cannot be learned. “Either you have it or you don’t – and she does.”
“Many prominent pulpit rabbis are extroverted, kind of out there,” she said. “They’re used to being in front. They’re leaders. Rebecca is not that kind of leader. She has a firm but quiet leadership. She creates a personal relationship with every rabbi in Rabbis Without Borders, and she also has the organizational skills to run a program for 40 or 50 of us at a time.
“And she does it all with a calm, smooth, gentle grace. She’s unflappable. She makes it possible for rabbis to learn and grow.
“There are different kinds of rabbinates – the prophet, the teacher, the pastor. She’s the pastor, behind the scenes, nurturing, supportive.”
Sirbu also is a matchmaker, with an uncanny knack for putting rabbis together with opportunities. Her Rolodex is huge and her network extensive, Gottfried said.
Gottfried, who is a Conservative rabbi and spent many years teaching in the Solomon Schechter high school in Westchester, tried a pulpit and realized herself ill-suited for it. She published a book, “Found in Translation,” and is writing a second one. She still is finding her path. Sirbu helps. “Rebecca is so gifted, and she takes time to get what each one of us is doing,” she said. “I do an art midrash, and she got me to do it at a retreat. That’s how she does things - she steps back. She would rather highlight someone else, and put them in the spotlight.
“That’s her mission. She sets up the program so that other people will shine.”