I became a rabbi because I loved the Jewish people, because I wanted to study and teach Torah, and because I wanted to lead by knitting those two desires together.
All sorts of challenges and problems plague the Jewish people. Some people think universalism negates peoplehood. Others reject the claims of faith. Many people confuse ignorance with philosophical choice. Jewish diversity compromises unity. Yet in many ways the rabbi still stands as the preeminent role if not necessarily a role model in Jewish life today.
My life reflects the strength of Judaism. Its constancy—spaces like synagogues and schools—and its vitality, its openness to the energies we bring to learning its history and texts and ideas, and the energies we bring to creating its future.
People still reach out to the rabbi because life forces us all to confront questions of faith, sometimes in quiet moments, sometimes in times of crisis. People want to know what they don’t know. People want to live in communities in which they rejoice and mourn together. Rabbis stand at the center of our intellectual pursuit of Torah, our quest for spiritual depth, and our commitment to values and actions that transform us and the world God created for us.
Many people lament their lives; they doubt that they touch many souls. Rabbis live with this blessing and burden: every day they may touch someone’s soul, and may help connect that soul to God. That holy work epitomizes what it means to be a rabbi, and I know that more and more with each passing day.
It was a wonderful revelation to be introduced to and to learn with a rabbi who turned my image of what a rabbi is and could be on its head. Rather than being a dour and intimidating man (what I had always thought rabbis to be), David was someone who could wax eloquent about the Talmud, to be sure, but also about sports, Shakespeare, and a wide range of other topics. Nina Mogilnik, former congregant
People seek inclusion and autonomy: they want to be loved and respected. A rabbi needs to build trust and to take people seriously enough to push them to seek growth through encountering distinctive Jewish values and behaviors. A congregant in my synagogue lost her father. Prior to her winter trip to Florida she asked me if she should make it her business to find a synagogue down there so that she could recite Kaddish (the mourner’s prayer) for her father. I remembered the words of my uncle, who when approached by people with a question would ask them “Do you want advice or validation?” I sensed that she wanted a particular sort of advice: a kind of countervalidation that she should push herself to say kaddish. She just needed a bit of a nudge from me. She stills reminds me of that when I see her, almost twenty years later. And out of our bond emerged a woman who became a Jewish artistic curator.