Indeed, the sabbatical (including the part in the spring) was all I had hoped for. It was a great gift from the congregation to both recognize the regular commitment of time on my part to Temple Israel and the value for me, my family and the congregation, for me to have a chance to recharge the batteries. This summer, I got to do many things that I have not had the chance to do in a long time – or ever!
In the early part of the summer, I got to volunteer, as I always do, at the URJ Kutz Camp. This summer however, I was able to be there for nearly the entire session of camp – something I haven’t done since I was a student, nearly 20 years ago. My service to camp, as the faculty dean, has never felt more helpful to camp and, at the same time, it has never felt more fulfilling to me. The weeks there were not just about the teaching and programming for which I was responsible. It allowed me to make more and deeper relationships with campers and staff alike. Likewise, it was so wonderful to have those weeks with colleagues from around the world. I got to learn and be inspired by their work in their communities and be moved by the kinds of collaborations that occur when excellent rabbis, cantors and educators come together in a camp environment. On the one hand, I was there to volunteer, but on the other, I gained so much from being there for such a long stint. It will be hard to be back there only for one week next year!
For the remaining six weeks of the summer, I had the gift of spending nearly all day, every day, with both of my daughters, something that hasn’t happened – ever! Some of you may be wondering if I’m being truthful, but I promise I am! I love being a rabbi and serving the Jewish community, but that comes with a trade-off of having an atypical schedule. I serve the community most nights and weekends. The six weeks with my daughters was an opportunity to just be a dad without running out to meetings at odd hours, or being the one dad on the soccer field in a suit and tie! Before leaving for Israel, we used that time to take day trips all over the New York area. We went to the Statue of Liberty (where I hadn’t been since 5th grade), national parks, museums, a Broadway show, lunches and walks and so much more. At night, we got to have dinner as a family and on weekends we spent time with family and friends. Being a one man daddy day camp was tiring, but I cherished it!
And then we went to Israel for a month, where our daily journeys to and fro in that country were amazing as well. Israel may be a small country, but even we, who have been to Israel countless times, still find new places and sites to visit as well as our favorite haunts that we never miss. We went to Israel’s biggest yogurt and pudding factory (Israelis eat an average of 2 per capita, per day, so this is a place of national importance!), lots of beaches, an escape room (you try doing that in a non-native language!), we made art with our family’s favorite Israeli artist in her private studio, we went to a stalactite cave, explored the treasures of Jerusalem, I got to run with my daughter in 95 degree weather (even less fun than it sounds), ate donuts at our favorite Arab bakery in the heart of Old Jaffa and so much more. Limor and I even got away for a vacation on our own to celebrate our 20 years together.
So yes, I got to do everything I wanted to do on my sabbatical. The great take-away, however, wasn’t grand, but it was profound. The little things do matter. Having the time to do important and meaningful things, not in the minutes or days one finds in between the other things, but doing them solely for the enjoyment of them, was amazing. It has given me insight, at this time of year, on how I’d like to prioritize my time – doing more things, more often, that I love, with those I love. I can’t wait another seven years to make the space for such important things. With the New Year just begun, I hope I live up to it! I hope this year is, for you too, a year of doing things you love and being with those you love, more than ever. Make the time, it’s worth it!
Rabbi Scott Weiner