Of all the decisions I have had to make as the rabbi of this congregation, few have been more difficult than the matter of scheduling my sabbatical. One of the provisions of my most recent contract was a six-month paid leave for renewal, refreshment and learning. I was asked to wait until the building project was completed before taking this time away. Obviously, we have long since reached that point.
Though I could view the sabbatical as a six-month vacation, it seems to me that slothfulness during that period would be squandering the opportunity. I did not want to schedule the time until I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do. All sorts of ideas were the subject of long discussion with my family and my colleagues. Many of them including formal study and writing projects may indeed be a part of my sabbatical.
However, you all know of my great interest in bringing the values of our tradition into the public policy forum. It has long been a frustration of mine that the wisdom of our sages, especially as they are interpreted by the Conservative Movement, has been underrepresented in public debate. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, headed by Rabbi David Saperstein, is the lone voice of Judaism from a religious perspective which has a formal and full time pulpit in North America. The RAC does a magnificent job; Rabbi Saperstein is a mentor of mine in this area. But it is simply not enough. I have proposed to the Rabbinical Assembly that I spend my sabbatical opening just such an office for our movement here in Washington. The Rabbinical Assembly is already on record endorsing such an office; they are discussing timing, funding and structure (and whether they want me as temporary staff member). Should those arrangements not come through, I have other opportunities in the field awaiting me.
During my sabbatical I will not be performing my duties as rabbi of Agudas Achim at all. The congregation has sufficient notice to arrange for substitute rabbinical services; neither Rabbi Klirs nor Chazzan Tasat will be expected to do my job. Though my family and I will remain in our house during most of the time, I will be completely unavailable as rabbi, including as officiant at expected or unexpected life cycle events. I respectfully ask you to respect my time away and not ask me to make exceptions. Depending on the response of the Rabbinical Assembly, my sabbatical will begin either mid-December of 1998 or early February of 1999 and continue for six months, through either mid-June or early August of 1999. I expect to know for certain no earlier than this time next year.
I will return to my duties with enthusiasm at the conclusion of my sabbatical. I have chosen the pulpit as my career and I foresee no change in that path. I look forward to an opportunity to deepen my understanding of one aspect of my interests as a rabbi and to bring home the fruits of my learning. Thanks to the congregation for recognizing the importance of this time away for me, and for accommodating it after almost twelve years of our partnership.