One year and six months. That’s how long I’ve had to say goodbye. One year and six months. But instead of saying goodbye, I’ve fooled myself into thinking this day would never come. And yet here it is.
Tonight, I will stand with the rest of my community as the Rabbi that founded our shul leads his final Shabbat service as our “official” Rabbi. After 36 years. He will, for the last time, share the bimah with his daughter (also a Rabbi) whom I said goodbye to last year and they will both lead us in prayer, she with music sung from her soul and he with words spoken from his heart.
I wasn’t one of the founding members of the shul and I didn’t help get things off the ground but I feel connected to the Rabbi as though I had. Perhaps it’s difficult to understand unless one has taken the journey of conversion him/herself and although my perspective of Rabbi E is somewhat different, it is seared into my heart and my soul and will remain with me forever.
You see, Rabbi E is my Rabbi. He taught me the academics of Judaism. He allowed me to ask questions, make comments, and be enthused about things that I found fascinating. As I sat in the Social Hall of another shul, Rabbi E stood in front of a room full of students (undoubtedly for at least the 100th time) and showed me that it was okay to be excited about learning and when I needed a new Rabbi to sponsor me through the conversion process, Rabbi E agreed to the task.
Rabbi E is my Rabbi because after inviting me to his shul for the first time, he sought me out after services and made sure I was introduced to the individual in charge of those going through the conversion process. He periodically came by during the oneg and asked how I was doing and as I was leaving, he went to his study (leaving his community for a short time) to retrieve his date book, solidifying for me that this leader of the Jewish community actually wanted to sponsor me – I mean, he really did!
Rabbi E is my Rabbi because during the time he and I studied together, he taught me that the Jewish Sages used their intellect to become closer to God and I could use mine in the same way. He allowed me to share my thoughts about God, not just my feelings about God. He learned about my family, my soon-to-be former faith, and my non-Jewish spouse and he listened when I told him why I wanted to become a Jew.
Rabbi E is my Rabbi because he stood next to me on the bimah one brisk evening in April and he officially welcomed me into the People of Israel. He took the Torah from the Ark and placed it in my arms, chanting with me as I sang the Shema for the first time as a Jew.
So although it may sound selfish, Rabbi E is my Rabbi because I could not have become a Jew without him. The journey toward conversion is both a shared experience and a personal experience and it is a journey that must be taken with a Rabbi that one trusts completely. I can’t imagine having traveled that journey with anyone other than Rabbi E.
One year and six months ago I learned my Rabbi was retiring and tonight I will face that reality. One year and six months is a long time to say goodbye, but nowhere near long enough.