Sabbaticals Are an Enriching Experience for Rabbis and Congregations Alike
When Rabbi Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am, Los Angeles, left his synagogue last July to begin his 6-month sabbatical in Oxford, England, he had three main focuses—the head, the heart and the hands. His objective was to study Hasidic teachings, specifically Hasidic mysticism and Hasidic masters in the 18th and 19th century (head), develop a practice of meditation and mindfulness from the Buddhist and yogi approach (heart) and learn how to play the guitar so he could accompany the music that was played at the synagogue (hands).
Rabbi Kligfeld was able to accomplish what he set out to along his journey, but also found great mentors, a thriving Jewish culture thousands of miles away from his kehilla (Jewish community) and ultimately, peace. “I love my work and am blessed by it, but my sabbatical was a great chance for me to pull back on some of the intensity and stress a bit,” Rabbi Kligfeld says. “I try to be original when it comes to my sermons, but the well can run dry, so this sabbatical gave me a new frame I can draw inspiration from.”
The sabbatical also gave Rabbi Kligfeld a chance to share what he learned with the congregation upon his return. “I’ve begun to offer classes and meditation opportunities directly related to what I learned during my sabbatical,” Rabbi Kligfeld says. “In less direct ways, the way I approach my sermon writing and teaching, as well as my sense of inner calm and peace in stressful situations, has been impacted by my meditation and yoga practice. I feel that I’ve been able to draw from my experiences every day.”
Typically, rabbis have the opportunity to take a sabbatical after 10 years. Rabbi Kligfeld’s sabbatical was worked into his last contract on the condition that he would return if his sabbatical landed on the High Holidays, which it did on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The Flip Side
We also spoke with three synagogue presidents who recently had a rabbi go on sabbatical. We wanted to hear their thoughts on how they prepared, who they decided to fill in temporarily and the possible challenges that can arise.
Susan Hetsroni, Temple Beth Shalom (Los Angeles, CA)
What was the biggest takeaway you had from Rabbi Kligfeld’s sabbatical?
“What I learned was that planning ahead of time and having the rabbi identify specifically all the hats he wears are so important. The congregation needs to be prepared and find out as soon as possible who will step up to do each task while he’s gone. We also had to reach out to the B’nai Mitzvah and those having weddings so they knew ahead of time that the rabbi would be on sabbatical—we made sure to treat them with extra care.”
Rabbi on Sabbatical: Rabbi Scott Meltzer (6 months, broken down into 2 months each year)
How did the congregation strategize when it came to deciding who would temporarily fill in for Rabbi Meltzer?
“We ultimately decided to ask the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies if is there was a rabbinic student who would like to do a summer internship. We interviewed and chose Sidney Adler, who had just completed her third year at the time. Rabbi Meltzer mentored her before he left and then she really threw herself in. She basically ran Shabbat services and did teachings. It was really fun to see her energy and enthusiasm and she really enjoyed it. We decided that since she was so valuable, we would set up a paid internship every year with the Ziegler School, where a student would spend two weekends a month with us from September to June.”
Rabbi on Sabbatical: Rabbi Eli Spitz (9.5 months)
What was the biggest challenge for the synagogue during Rabbi Spitz’s sabbatical?
“For any synagogue, it can be a time-consuming process. About nine months to a year before he left, we put together a committee and outlined everything that he did. We also put together a complete spreadsheet that took a few meetings to get done. We ended up deciding to contract with three different rabbis to do Saturday services and some programs. One was here for 14 weeks, one came for 6 weeks and the other, who focused on the B’nai Mitzvahs we had for the year, was here for 9 weeks. “