Year one: Starting to Walk in a Rabbi’s Shoes
As a 48-year–old, first-year student at RRC with many years of professional work behind me, I feel more at home as a rabbinical intern in the field than as a rabbinical student in the classroom. Why would that be? Prior to arriving here, I was a social worker at a hospice and a Jewish Family Service agency primarily serving elders, their families and caregivers. Now, every Wednesday and Friday, I take off my student kippah and put on my hospice chaplain kippah. The experience of walking into a hospice in-patient unit, hospital or nursing home to meet with patients and their loved ones fits like a comfortable old pair of shoes. Walking into the classroom, the shoes are still so new that they need breaking in.
When I was a hospice social worker in North Carolina, just before coming to RRC, I would get so excited when I was assigned to a Jewish patient. In an area with a small Jewish community, this rarely happened. There were so many times I was tempted to serve in a spiritual role. I wanted so much to provide comfort through Jewish tradition, prayer or ritual, but as a social worker that was beyond the scope of my position. Of course there were gray areas, but primarily I was there to provide emotional support, counseling and resources in a secular and clinical manner.
This year I am serving as a rabbinical intern in two hospital settings, through Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia and the Carpenter Internship in Hospice Chaplaincy. When I enter the room of a patient or begin to meet with a family member, the “light switch” of my social work mind automatically turns on. Yet I have to remind myself: I am not a social worker, I am a chaplain. Though I’m only in my first year of rabbinical school, I am “a rabbi” to the people I serve. Of course I don’t officially have the title and it will be a few years before I do.
So the name “rabbi” may not yet fit like my comfy old shoes. Yet my Jewish neshamah (soul) and the role of serving the Jewish community are shoes I have been walking in for quite some time. They fit and lead me on well-worn paths. When I trust in that, I can remember—at least in my intern role—that I am “the rabbi,” bringing comfort to patients and their loved ones at these very fragile and seminal moments in life.
What a great beginning to my journey toward the rabbinate at RRC!