Starting in mid-May, I will embark on a three-month sabbatical. It probably seems to some of you like I just finished a sabbatical, but the last time I took this time off was four years ago. This interruption of my responsibilities has allowed me to maintain my energy and has kept the creative juices flowing during the subsequent three years and nine months.
During my absence, you will be in the entirely capable hands of Hazzan Dienstfrey for pastoral and ritual matters. In addition, rabbinic colleagues of mine will be on call. The congregation has become expert in meeting the needs of the congregation during these times that I am not on duty.
As always, folks want to know what I will be doing during these months. I have a stack of books to read. I have a few family events to attend. I expect to be doing research into Judaism and leadership. Ann and I will do some traveling, and with some good luck, I will spend siguificant time on my bicycle. Of course, I will not be fulfilling rabbinic duties - counseling, life cycle events, visits, etc. Please respect my absence by not asking me to make an exception.
The whole notion of a sabbatical is very Jewish. Of course, its origin is in the weekly Shabbat that is our first (and perhaps greatest) contribution to society. Later in the Torah is the institution of a seventh-year respite for the land from cultivation and a seventh-year remission of debts. By the time of the Talmud, retreats from the workaday life to time spent in spiritual and intellectual pursuits were well-known.
The Alban Institute, which studies churches and clergy in the United States, has examined sabbatical time thoroughly. It is their suggestion that the pattern we have adopted at Agudas Achim - three months off every four years - seems to be the healthiest for the congregations and their leaders. The continuing level of stress to which clergy are subject needs a release valve, and this timing seems about right. Alban also notes that replenishing the capacity of the clergy member makes for a more productive relationship between the leader and the congregation.
l am very fortunate that our congregation recognized the importance of these sabbaticals and has made them possible. I encourage you to find a way to emulate this "time Out" for yourself - if not in length, at least in kind. Stepping away completely from your job for a period of time will indeed benefit you and make you better at what you do and help you clarify again why you do it!