Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Rapid-Fire Existential Roller Coaster

Tuesday May 29, 2013

Rapid-Fire Existential Roller Coaster

I can barely remember how the morning started. I’m taking out my calendar to see what I had scheduled. Yes. Now I remember. My weekly study session with Rav Shemtov. I got to talk to his son about the challenges of Rabbinic life and services. Insightful.

Then I visited the local Jewish old age home for their event featuring the Kabbalist Rabbi Pinto. I was given an in-depth tour of the facility. Impressive, professional, well-run, nice-looking facility. However, we were running on Uruguay time and I had another meeting I needed to catch so I left before Rabbi Pinto spoke. Got to see and meet a lot of people, so was worthwhile event for me. I was also introduced to an ironic twist of the old age home’s kitchen, which buys kosher meat, chicken and all other kosher ingredients, but cannot afford the certification costs that would insure that the operation is fully kosher. Another item for my to-do list: Get the home fully certified – perhaps they can get into catering as well? They have a big professional kitchen…

Next: meeting with the cemetery committee. All is not simple. The burial needs of the community are growing and the cemetery needs to expand as well. And the ever-present question hanging over every Jewish community event, decision, policy, expenditure, and yes, burial: “Who is a Jew?” (no, I won’t be answering it in this post – but I am giving the entire subject considerable thought and coming up with new realizations…)

Next: discussion with Executive Director about the High Holidays. Whoah! This one is a doozy. How do you deal with decades of “tradition” that is leading to dwindling numbers? These are the only services that a significant number of Jews come to the entire year. For the older generation, they seem to like it just so. They want the same place, the same cantor, the same seats, the same guys sitting next to them – any change is close to sacrilegious. On the other hand, the younger generation has mostly stopped coming and those that come do so grudgingly out of respect for their seniors. Tough question, no easily solutions.

Next: Family from abroad with grandparents in Montevideo wish to celebrate their son’s Bar-Mitzvah in Montevideo. No problem. But wait, the grandmother, a serious woman of academic pedigree, has an ulterior motive for the meeting. She wishes for me to give a lecture on Talmud and Law at the country’s law school in October. I check my calendar and I’m free. Sure! No problem!

Next: Disturbing employment problems between employer and ex-employee that I’ve been asked to mediate and which is heating up to dangerous levels. Having been on the receiving end of unscrupulous employers I sympathize strongly with the employee. Having been an employer myself, I can understand the disappointment, point-of-view and actions of the employer. I spend two hours trying to get my head around the case. I call a local lawyer to get his perspective and advice on next steps. I need a night to sleep on it before coming to any conclusions or actions – but the parties are continuing their actions and I hope delay won’t prove problematic…

In the background of my day, are all the arrangements of moving, not only my family, but really our lives, our identities and our existence to a different continent. Tickets, lifts, apartment here, apartment there, cars, insurance, phones, accounts, furniture, possessions and probably a number of other things I’ve forgotten. So, if at times I seem distracted to anyone in Montevideo, or if I’m overly obsessed at certain moments with checking messages on my phone, this is probably a reason.

Next: I completely forgot that I was personally invited by the local Keren Hayesod to a gala evening welcoming and celebrating with Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who had been held hostage by Palestinians for five years and was released in a deal with repercussions that have not played themselves out fully yet. Luckily someone in the synagogue reminded me of the event. Just as luckily, I’m always wearing my suit and tie, so there was no need to “change”. The theatre was full. The speeches and performances were reflective of the weight of the event. However, one could not help but feel pity for Gilad. A young man who may have previously led an ordinary life in Israel, and who I expect is still suffering from his years of capture is being exhibited as a symbol of the particular agenda the speaker or organization is espousing. I heard multiple themes tonight. I am happy and celebrate, as does most of the Jewish world, that Gilad is free and safe. I don’t want to even get into the debate as to the price that was paid. However, I do wonder as to the reasons that certain Jewish organizations have latched onto him as a symbol. In any case, I was happy to see him in person, to see first-hand the man who was on my prayer list together with other Israeli captives (curious how different captives have received different attention from different groups over the years…), free, walking about in jeans, keds and an untucked dress shirt, very much an Israeli. It was refreshing to hear Hebrew with an Israeli accent. We should celebrate his freedom, but there is still a price and still many questions.

Next: I get back to my apartment and get the details that someone that I’ve become close to in a short amount of time is in intensive care. I will try to visit the hospital tomorrow, pray, and give whatever support the presence of a Rabbi and a friend may give family members.

2 thoughts on “Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Rapid-Fire Existential Roller Coaster

  1. Fascinating…in such a short time you have grappled with so much! Very brain-sharpening I am sure and a great odyssey at the very least…

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