The pivotal event of my childhood was the death of my father when I was eleven.  Before that, my Jewish community was an important part of my family’s life.  After his loss, Temple Israel and subsequent Jewish communities remained central to my life, indeed central to making me the rabbi I am today.  All of the blessings in my life have come from being part of Jewish community.

I understand on a deep level that synagogue community is not a frill, not an “extra” in life, but a lifeline and a beacon for Jews throughout their lives, especially at their most joyful and most painful moments.  

I strive to create pastoral relationships that are caring and open-hearted. I meet pain and suffering, physical and emotional, with warmth, compassion, listening and understanding.  After twelve years as a working rabbi in a variety of synagogue settings, I understand the complexities of the rabbinate, synagogues and life. With seasoning comes emotional maturity, the ability to lead without creating anxiety, to solve problems without being problematic, to manage without being heavy-handed.

Congregational participation is a challenge in our time—making us no different than other religious organizations similarly affected by the trend of people remaining “unchurched.”  We are obligated to reach those for whom synagogue life does matter, those existing and future congregants that value family, community, and having a meaningful relationship with a rabbi who is caring and engaged.  

Multiple pathways, formal and informal, make synagogues valuable to congregants.  Whether at Temple for worship or adult education, or just dropping off children, hallway conversations, or stopping in, each is an opportunity to make myself “intentionally accessible.”  A small sign on my study’s doorknob reads “Please bother the rabbi.”  I work for the congregation:  if a congregant reaches out to me, I respond, and quickly.  As an extrovert who greets people warmly I (hopefully) reinforce why belonging matters.  

The rabbi-ing part is just as important.  Worship must be meaningful and discernible especially for the majority of Jews not fully fluent (or even comfortable) in Hebrew.  Our movement’s siddurim are exceptional resources for exposing congregants to a spectrum of human emotions about God, life, and even for those who struggle with believing in God.  Plumbing Mishkan’s richness, complemented by music and short divrei Torah, create experiences that meet worshippers wherever they are in their spiritual journeys.

 “You don’t have to be a learned Jew, you have to be a learning Jew” invites learners of any age to make acquiring Jewish knowledge a regular part of Jewish life.  Jewish learning is as important as any Jewish experience and must being integrated into people’s busy lives. Two things remain steady in my teaching:  inviting all questions and never embarrassing learners in their exploration. For children, pre-K through Confirmation and beyond, education creates Jewish foundations.  Teaching and shaping young minds creates Jewish literacy and a passion for all that is Jewish.  

No doubt we live in a time when many prefer empirical evidence over engaging in life’s mysteries or are lost on their portable internet enabled device (both a blessing and a curse).  

Mystery is invited when people are encouraged to be comfortable in speculation of that not easily experienced or proven: the expanses of the universe, the number of species in the sea, the functioning of the human body without conscious thought our “lifeforce.”   

Judaism offers the opportunity to engage in and be given comfort in contemplating mystery, to be present in the intimate moments of pastoral connection, to create meaning through worship, and through going through the highs and lows of life’s journey together.  

Synagogues partnering with a seasoned rabbi create an opportunity to strengthen today for the future.  May your community continue to prosper as it journeys toward its next rabbi.  


© 2017- 2019

Rabbi David Novak