It has been four years since I last had a sabbatical, and that means I will once again disappear down a rabbi hole for three consecutive months beginning mid-May. Following the recommendations of the Alban Institute, a terrific organization that studies the life of religious congregations, I schedule this time every four years rather than a longer period every seven or eight.
There are always two questions for me when I am about to begin a sabbatical. The first is, "What will you do when you are gone?" At the beginning of the time, we have graduations and returns from abroad and a couple of testimonials in our family. At the end, we'll be sending our kids off to the next stages in their lives. In between, I have a lot of books to read, a little weight to lose, some baseball games to attend, two books to finalize (I hope) and a commissioned article on Jewish response to September 11 to write.
Of course, what I won't do is attend to the duties of rabbi of the congregation. That includes weddings, funerals (God forbid), b'nai mitzvah and the like. I will not be teaching classes, giving divrei torah or attending meetings. When I attend services, it will be as a Jew in the pew. As before, I ask you to respect this necessary time off by not making requests for me to return to duty on your behalf. In order to do well for three years and nine months at a time, I need three months to do none of it at all. If you ask me, I will firmly and politely decline.
And that, of course, brings us to the second question: "What will we do when you are gone?" As in the past, you will discover again that Agudas Achim is your synagogue and that most of what I do you can do as well. The rest of our wonderful staff will be present to meet your needs (including, if all goes well, a cantorial intern) and colleagues of mine will fill in for those rare circumstances that a rabbi is absolutely necessary.
For more than twenty years our congregation has been on a trajectory of excellence and innovation. I am not falsely modest about my role in securing that reputation, but I discovered a long time ago that I am surrounded by people who make it easy. We have never had better professional leadership than we have now, and our lay leadership continues to build on the extraordinary accomplishments of the past. So I hope you enjoy my sabbatical as much as I will. We'll all be ready to take the next step together in mid-August.