If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t have been in this line of work for the last 25 years. I care about teaching a Torah that is alive, relevant, and instructive; about creating moments of meaningful connection for people with their Jewish identities; about our shared past and our shared future; about empowering people to use Judaism as a perspective by which they can view, understand, and influence the world around them.
I care about raising people up in their moments of joy. I care about being present to those who are brought low by life’s circumstances.
I care about challenging people’s assumptions and about shaking people from their complacency; about exposing biases and calling out intellectual laziness. I care about their ability to communicate what they believe and why.
I care about an organization — its financial health, its administration, and its operations. I care about the people who staff and volunteer their time to make it successful. I care about its reputation and its ability to welcome and meet diverse personalities, needs, and challenges. I care about its mission and goals, and about the processes and procedures it follows to achieve them. I care about policies and consistency, and about the flexibility to allow for exceptions and individual needs.
I care about a building, its sanctuary and its learning spaces, its social spaces, its sound systems, WiFi, heat and air conditioning. I care about its security.
Living on the synagogue grounds for the past 25 years, I’ve been able to look out my bedroom window every morning and every night to see the parking lot and who is in it, the synagogue front door, and my office window. When someone has left a light on in the building, I know it.
And I can’t imagine living my rabbinate any other way.
Of course, I also care about my family. And I care about myself and my ability to keep doing what I love. And I am so grateful that my synagogue community cares about its clergy as well.
As an adjunct faculty member at the Jewish Theological Seminary teaching the senior class of the rabbinical school for the past 15 years, I advise the future rabbis and cantors who want to work in pulpits that while a synagogue may commit itself initially to a clergyperson for a two- or three-year term, the clergyperson will do best to approach the commitment to the community as a lifelong commitment from the outset. Once that commitment is recognized and appreciated, the congregation will want to honor, nurture, and reward it.
I believe that if clergy care, congregations care.
In the world of academia, the sabbatical is a time for a scholar to pursue intellectual and personal growth. In the world of clergy, the sabbatical is an opportunity to regenerate. Just as God rested (or refrained) from the work of creating (shavat) and recharged (vayinafash), a clergyperson’s sabbatical ideally is spent re-energizing for the future. Just as the Shabbat allows us to cease from doing and provides the time just to be, in order to renew our creative energy for the week ahead, the sabbatical offers clergy the opportunity to process what has been and reimagine what can be. If a community cares about its long term well-being, it will care for the long term well-being of its clergy as well.
I am grateful for the gift of a three-month sabbatical every four years, and for the community’s care and commitment that this opportunity reflects.
My absence doesn’t reflect in any way a lack of care. If anything, it should tell you that I’m already preparing for the next chapter with you, excited to greet the next set of opportunities and challenges —refreshed and renewed.
Rabbi Craig Scheff of the Orangetown Jewish Center grew up in Rockland County. After practicing law in Boston for three years, he returned to New York to study for the rabbinate at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He has been at the OJC in Orangeburg since 1995. Rabbi Scheff has worked in various positions at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack for two decades and is an adjunct lecturer in professional skills at JTS.