God called me to be me: a rabbi

This article is a little different from the usual. There is no explicit moral at the end. I hope that this article – a theological coming out – inspires you nonetheless.

23 years ago, I was in my first year of rabbinical school. Like most of the wanna-be rabbis, I was there in Jerusalem, 23 years old. My future colleagues talked about their “calling” to this vocation. I joked that as I didn’t have call waiting, perhaps I hadn’t heard the calling that led me there.

Jokes, of course, have deeper meanings. I didn’t quite know that at the time.

Also unwittingly, thinking nothing of it at the time, I paired with Dave Burstein, another first-year student in the program. Where I had found my tribe at Magic Camp, Dave had found his at Outward Bound. Neither of us attended Jewish summer camps and neither of us exactly fit in. We signed-up to lead services at the college together – a school requirement. And, that Sabbath morning, we guided our peers with reflections and readings from the book “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” At one point, in lieu of a traditional translation of the Hebrew prayer of freedom, Mi Chamocha, we substituted Richard Bach’s words: You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.

We were teased by colleagues and lambasted by teachers: “That is a Christian book,” “The service lacked gravitas,” “Keep the sensibilities of your congregants in mind when you lead; do not impose something new,” and “Fly, Rabbi Seagull, fly!” For the myriad of offenses we seemingly committed, we were and felt humiliated.

Dave and I drifted from each other.

When it came time to sign-up to lead services the next semester, we each paired with more traditional classmates and led more conventional services.

I have no memories about those.

Looking back, I wish I had listened in my heart and heard God’s delight at the service that we ran. I know now, with certainly, that God has called me. God has called me to this job – to be a modern-day rabbi. To be me – unabashedly smart and honest, both wise and kind, simultaneously creative and funny, and, most importantly, loving.

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