What Being Rabbi Emerita Means to Me by Rabbi Judy Schindler

The hardest decision of my life was leaving the role of Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth El.  With intense soul searching and with some tears, I made the decision that after eighteen years at Temple Beth El and after thirteen years as Senior Rabbi, I was ready for a new professional chapter.  I wanted to focus my work on my areas of greatest passion: writing, teaching, and social justice.

When I met with Jack Levinson, our Temple President to tell him of my decision, I added, “I would love to become Rabbi Emerita.”

Jack asked, “What does that mean to you?”

And I replied, “I always want to be connected to Temple Beth El.”

All of you at Temple Beth El have been the largest part of my everyday life for eighteen years and I cannot imagine a world without you.

To me, being Rabbi Emerita means that when Rabbi Knight needs support and he calls upon me to teach or preach or offer programmatic or pastoral support, I will not be an outsider coming in.

To me, being Rabbi Emerita means that as I write and travel to offer lectures and workshops, your name is tied with mine.  I am not just an Associate Professor of Queens University of Charlotte or Director of the Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice, I am Rabbi Emerita of Temple Beth El.  It is a title I will proudly share.

To me, being Rabbi Emerita means that I will no longer be responsible for leading Temple Beth El. I pass that baton to Rabbi Knight to create the vision for our future and work to improve the larger and smaller issues that our congregation faces.

To me, being Rabbi Emerita means that I am no longer a community spokesperson for Beth El, that role and responsibility moves to Rabbi Knight.

To me, being Rabbi Emerita means that I am one of your rabbis. My office will no longer be at Beth El but when you see me in the pews or in Starbucks or on the campus of Queens, I still care deeply about your lives and your successes and your struggles.

Being Rabbi Emerita means that I still care deeply about Temple Beth El’s successes and struggles but am not charged with orchestrating the solutions.

Being Rabbi Emerita means that I will be here to support you in a different way – not as Senior Rabbi but as simply a Rabbi, your Rabbi Emerita – a title I have dreamt of one day having for a decade and feel beyond honored to receive.

I gave 18 months’ notice because I knew I could not leave until everything was in place. You now have an exceptional Senior Rabbi and a most dynamic Assistant Rabbi to add to our tremendously talented professional and clergy team.

I gave 18 months’ notice and now the final weeks are upon me. This is my last column as Senior Rabbi. I mistakenly thought the last of everything would feel great, but it is bitter sweet.  I will miss the staff. I will miss professional team. I will miss being a part of everything that happens at Temple Beth El. I will miss teaching SPICE and Hebrew High and meeting with B’nei Mitzvah students and the holy moments that happen in hospital rooms. I will miss too many things to list in an article limited to 500 words (which I have already exceeded).  Most of all, I will miss all of you.

As Rabbi Emerita, I will moving from the bima to the pews but I will still be here and am counting on you to be here, too.