What Does A Rabbi ‘Do’ on Sabbatical?
REFLECTIONS FROM JERUSALEM

By Rabbi Paul Kerbel
SPECIAL FOR THE AJT

One of the most frequently asked questions asked of me is: “What exactly does a rabbi do on sabbatical?” It is a good question. Because my sabbatical is of a relatively short nature (two months) and the time of year (late in the semester),I was not able to enroll in any formal course of study. I was able to quickly establish a schedule that includes attending classes on prayer, midrash and Bible, lectures on Menachem Begin by Rabbi Danny Gordis, The Peace Process by Jim Lederman and lecture on Torah and Peace and Torah and State on Shavuot afternoon at The Hartman Institute.

I have spent a day wearing my ‘volunteer hat’ as a long-time member of the Israel Outcomes Committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta visiting our partnership community of Yokneam, Israel to visit some of our two dozen projects in that region and travelled to The Golan Heights to be briefed by The Eagle Battalion on Combat Intelligence on the Syrian border. I have met with the Director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, consulted with them on a new Masorti kehillah (community) in Yokneam, spent time with colleagues at the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism to offer help in strengthening USY’s amazing gap year program Nativ and our movements expanding Conservative Yeshiva and winter break programs for college students.

On the agenda are meetings with leading Israeli commentators and writers Danny Gordis, Gil Troy, and Yossi Klein Halevi and Jerusalem Post Diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon, briefings on The Ukraine and the relief and rescue of Jews around the world by The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) celebrating its 100th birthday helping Jews around the world and in Israel, and a meeting at The Jewish Agency on new initiatives around the Jewish world.

Most importantly, my sabbatical allows me to linger longer – in the Mahane Yehudah market, on Jaffa Road and Ben Yehudah street -wherever I am and watch, listen and observe. My usual 10 -14 day trips require me to rush to accomplish my goals. This time, I stop and read every historical marker, wander into the stores and artist galleries on the out-of-the way alleys and inner courts that I don’t usually have the time to visit.

The sounds and sights of Israel are beautiful. The word ‘shema’ does not just mean ‘listen.’

It means: to discern and to understand, to absorb and to incorporate. My sabbatical is about having the opportunity to get to know Israel better by taking the time to truly listen and absorb the beauty of this very special place given to us by God.  In the end, I think I will return to Atlanta a better Jew and, a better rabbi.