Monday, May 22, 2006

I'm tired to the bone, and too wound up to sleep.

Today (well, yesterday) was my last day as the spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chaim in Merced, CA. We had Family Education -- something that scared me silly when I first started, and became my favorite part of each weekend there. Parents and their (mostly small) children gathered at one home, and we learned about a holiday or concept, talked, shmoozed, hung out, had fun, and made something to take home. It scared me, initially, because my experience with teaching had been in traditional age-segregated classrooms, and I wasn't sure what to do with an age range of 6 weeks to 12 years and their parents. As with many things, it was less complicated than I tried to make it: mostly it was a time for Jews to be Jews. The children became buddies and the parents enjoyed each others' company. In a place where each child is likely to be the only Jew in his/her class, that kind of community and identity forming time is priceless.

The weekend began in Oakland, on Thursday, with two conversions, gentlemen who had been studying with me for two of the last three years. We went to the same mikveh [ritual bath] that my rabbi had taken me to for my conversion; it was a powerful experience for me to bring my own students there. The rabbis who served on the beit din [rabbinical court] are both friends and mentors to me, and on a purely private level, it was a sweet morning for me, as well as a beautiful day for our new Jews and the community.

Friday evening we had services, as always, in the music room of the Methodist Church. I was late, the only time I've run late, because I had had dinner with a family in Gustine, CA, and the drive to Merced from there took twice as long as it should. Every decrepit farm truck for miles around assembled to putt-putt their way east on Hwy 132. I finally gave up and enjoyed the scenery, after trying to use my cell phone and discovering that T-Mobile hasn't covered that bit of nowhere just yet. The slough brimmed with runoff from the Sierras, and all the scrub was bushy and bright green. Vineyards were luxurious with new growth. It was a great, frustrating ride.

The service itself was a nice one, a simple one as usual. Our two new members did hakafah [processed the Torah around for kissing and admiration] and the aliyah [Torah blessings] and after I finished reading, one was our hagbiach [lifter of the Torah] and the other our golel [roller and dresser of the Torah.] I did that on the spur of the moment, talking them through it, but I think it may become a regular part of the process for me, teaching the new Jew how to properly do Torah honors. They did wonderfully.

The weekend went that way: we followed the usual routine, with the addition of a party on Saturday night, and I had my first taste of how it is to say goodbye to a congregation I have served. At Family Education, this morning, we talked about Havdalah [the ritual that marks the end of Shabbat and the beginning of the new week] and talked about beginnings and endings. Then we did a special Havdalah, to mark the end of the "old rabbi" (eeeek, that was me) and the "new rabbi" (another student, who will arrive in the fall.)

Then I drove north and west, up towards Oakland, my fourth year at HUC finished at last. I am grateful for all I have learned, and for the people who honored me by inviting me into their lives. But I am really, really going to miss the children.

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