Monday, November 21, 2016

Learning to Be a Rabbi in the Pews

This past Shabbat was relaxing, spiritual and reflective for me. I wasn't "working" as a rabbi, so I had the chance to sit with my family in the congregation as I do on many Shabbat mornings. My oldest son and I arrived early to shul (the synagogue) because he wanted to get there in time for Shacharit (the early morning prayers) as he will be leading that part of the Shabbat services at his upcoming bar mitzvah. Rather than worry about the spiritual satisfaction of anyone else in the congregation (a common occupational hazard for rabbis), I was able to focus on my own spiritual needs.

As a rabbi who is not a full-time congregational rabbi, I have the luxury of being able to enjoy Shabbat services with my family on many occasions throughout the year at the same congregation in which I attended preschool, became bar mitzvah and celebrated my wedding. I lead services as a Visiting Rabbi in a congregation just enough times throughout the year for me to enjoy the experience without the tzuris (loosely translated from the Yiddish as "headaches") that usually come
with a full-time pulpit rabbi position.

When I was in rabbinical school at The Jewish Theological Seminary I was fully committed to spend my professional career as a congregational rabbi. However, I wouldn't trade my current lifestyle for anything because I'm afforded the opportunity to serve as a rabbi and still have many weekends to myself and to my family to truly appreciate Shabbat.

Rabbi Herman Savitz
Rabbi Herman Savitz


I can point to many rabbis before, during and after my time in rabbinical school who served as positive role models for me to learn what it means to serve a congregation as a rabbi. There was one rabbi in particular who taught me both how to be a rabbi-congregant and why that position is such a blessing. In 2001 my wife and I moved to Caldwell, New Jersey where I served a rabbinic internship during rabbinical school. It was at Congregation Agudath Israel that we met Renee and Rabbi Herman Savitz. I immediately liked them both. Renee is a warm, caring and talented artist who made beautiful tallitot (prayer shawls) and Torah covers. Herm was a dedicated hospital chaplain at a prominent psychiatric hospital, the Veterans Administration Hospital a couple other hospitals. He was a big teddy bear who was very knowledgeable and enjoyed to kibbitz.

Rabbi Savitz went to shul when he wanted to and when he did attend, he often arrived late. I always enjoyed sitting with him and schmoozing during the service. He maintained a very nice and respectful friendship with the rabbi of the congregation. When he was called upon to help out in the synagogue, he graciously did. He was treated as a fellow congregant, but always with the respect that he deserved as a rabbi. I know that several people in the synagogue treated him as a friend and fellow congregant, but when the time came and they needed a trusted counselor, they went to Rabbi Savitz in his rabbinic capacity.

While I served that internship to learn from the rabbi of the congregation, I learned a great deal from Rabbi Savitz as well. I often look back on my time in Caldwell, New Jersey and reflect on what Rabbi Savitz taught me about being a rabbi who's also a congregant in a synagogue. It can sometimes be a challenging role, but he did it with class. I hope to emulate his menschlichkeit.

Rabbi Herman Savitz, z"l, died last Thursday and was buried yesterday. To his entire family I offer my deepest condolences. Hamakom yinachem etchem. May the memory of Rabbi Herman Savitz endure for blessings.

1 comment:

Richard Stareshefsky said...

Rabbi Savitz was indeed a mentor of mine. I was his Hebrew School Principal, and I served as his kids' teacher and Assistant Principal at the Hebrew Academy of Morris County. Please lrt me have his Rebbetzin's email address, so I can send her my condolences. I currently reside in Netanya, Israel. Richard Stareshefsky (AKA Star)