Friday, September 18, 2009

Leaving Galus -- from Pa. to NYC and back (at the world's B-day)

my four years of hospital chaplaincy and chaplaincy education in a
hospital in Reading, PA, I've often had reason to reflect on the
meaning of exile, and what the possibility for return -- maybe even
teshuvah -- might be. And, in the last two weeks of adding
the pursuit of a doctorate (in Education and Jewish Studies) at NYU to my very busy schedule (now
including a monster weekly commute), I've started to feel something
exciting coming together -- a kind of leaving of exile, galut or galus -- that
involves not forgetting the long exile, but actually embracing and holding onto what has been
meaningful about it so I can use it for my own people and their quest.

Moshe -- who the Christians call Moses and
the Muslims Musa -- has often come to mind amid this. He went into an exile from
his homeland in Egypt -- into a time in the wilderness before he returned to
Egypt to redeem his people out of slavery. But Moshe did not return
empty-handed. He encountered not only God there, but also his non-Israelite father-in-law
Yitro, or Jethro, who would give him much wisdom to bring back to his people about how to live in community, about how to carry out the task of leadership.

It is my dream to also bring back wisdom to my people from my long time in galut. My exile has been in the world of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), a means developed by Christians, mostly mainline Protestants originally, to educate their clergy about ministering to their sick and suffering in the very setting -- the hospital -- where this work is centered. CPE's wisdom -- its Torah -- has to do with understanding how it is that people can be formed into effective caregivers and spiritual leaders. Our tradition of rabbinic and Jewish leadership education has been doing this for millennia. But we're not systematic about how we do it. We have so much to learn from others. And I feel myself now well on the road to that task of learning and teaching. In my seminars at NYU, it's so great to feel like I have returned to the conversation again -- the conversation about how it is we will preserve the Jewish people so that it will thrive, and about how education -- as it has always been for us people who love our books so much -- can, and must, stand at the center of that. It's an exciting place to be.

Tonight begins the time of the year when we blow the shofar, when we celebrate the New Year and the birthday of the world. It is a time of beginnings (even as we contemplate the possibility of our ending), of fresh fruits and new things.

I am so grateful the Blessed Holy One for bringing me to this place!

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