Adventure Rabbi
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Monday, December 29, 2008

My salary was published in a prestigious magazine, read by approximately 184,000 people

My salary was published, without my permission, in a prestigious magazine, read by approximately 184,000 people. The magazine printed two hundred salaries, gleaned from public records, with the expressed purpose of enabling readers to decide how their own salaries measure up.

I know they say even bad press is good press, but did they really have to go and tell everyone that I make less money than a paramedic or a tow truck operator? Jewish law teaches that we are prohibited from publicly embarrassing anyone. I guess the magazine editors didn’t get the memo.

Most of the time I have reconciled myself to the fact that I don’t earn as much as my peers and rabbinic colleagues. I’ve chosen style over money. I care deeply about my innovative work and because I created the Adventure Rabbi program, I get to set my own agenda and schedule. To me, that is worth making less money that I could in a traditional congregation directed by a conventional board.

Admittedly, at times I do resent my small salary and feel taken advantage of by people who think religion should be free and don’t want to pay for my time. But, that is my own internal struggle. It’s another thing entirely to have my salary aired for the public to judge.

Let’s face it; success in our culture is determined not only by how many digits we earn, but by how our salaries compare to other’s income. According to a Harvard study reported in the New York Times, given a choice, many of us would opt for an annual salary of $50,000 when others are making $25,000 rather than earn $100,000 a year when others are making $200,000. (Sonja Lyubomirsky, "Why We’re Still Happy," New York Times December 27, 2008, p. A19.) The actual income is less important than our comparative ranking.

The fact that the article gave my incorrect salary did nothing to dissipate my feelings of financial failure. Because the truth is that even my actual compensation package pales in comparison to that of a newly ordained rabbi, ten years my junior.

Why do I care? The truth is that the side of me who chooses lifestyle over money, still has not convinced the competitive high school side of me that the big house and the big investment portfolio and the big salary are not important.

I am trying to live according to my values. You would think that would be easy since they are mine, but sometimes it is a struggle.

My continuing effort is to align myself with what is truly important to me. It remains true that I would rather have an extra hour to walk in the woods or to play with my daughters, than to pursue a higher wage. I would rather have time to work on my new book, go skiing on a powder day, and still make dinner for my family almost every night of the week, than work more hours to earn more money. This is the choice I have made for myself.

Still, it is reassuring to know that if I decide my choice no longer works for my family or me, that at least according to this magazine’s report of what I earn, I could become a parking meter collector or public school teacher and get quite the raise.

- Boulder, Colorado, Dec 29, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chanukah Teaching - Dec 2008

A week ago Saturday, leading services on skis at Copper and it was very, very cold. As our group gathered, several people asked me, "How long does the service need to be? "Can you make it quick Jamie?"

We moved quickly from Barchu, to Shema to the Amidah, (leaving out several major prayers like Veahavtah and Michamocha to name a few.) I overheard someone whisper, "Wow, she really is the express rabbi!"

I gave my teaching and then someone asked, "Jamie what is between us and the chocolate?" (I always give our chocolate at end of a service.) I said, "How about the Kaddish?" and skipped Aleinu.

And so that is how I earned my newest nickname, "The Express Rabbi." I also learned, which I did not know, that when my husband Jeff explains the philosophy of the Adventure Rabbi program he says, "We do Jewish stuff outdoors, quickly."

I started thinking about the Shabbat morning service and how long in tends to be, compared to our 9 minute cold day version. When I do an indoor service, the service might be as long as an hour and a half. Other rabbis tend more toward two and half and even a four hour service is not uncommon for Shabbat morning.

It was not always like this. Over the centuries, as more liturgy was composed, the service grew and grew. Aleinu for example, was composed during Talmudic times for the Rosh Hashanah service and only later was it included in the daily service. Adon Olam, composed in the 11th century, also hailed from the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.

If you have ever felt like a service goes on and on and on, then you had good company with the early Reformers. In the 1800s, the creators of Reform Judaism became the first the first Jews ever to shorten the service instead of lengthening it. Out went he repletion of the Amidah, out went the repetitions of the Hatzi Kaddish, that page markers of sorts, which demarcate each section from the next.

Many of us find that this experience of "less" enhances our prayer experience, rather than takes away from it. As an extreme, I'll offer our Yom Kippur retreat where we might recite no more than four or five prayers. However each prayer gets the full focus of our attention. For example, before we chanted Kol Nidre, we thought about it, talked about it and journaled about it. We each came to grips with what it meant to us personally and for our group collectively. By the time we said the words, they were fully of meaning for us.

Sometimes less is truly an opportunity to hone our attention and increase our focus.

Our current economy is forcing many of us to reacquaint ourselves wit the concept of less. Can we use this financial hardship as a spiritual opportunity?

There is a teaching in Chanukah that I think can help us realign our thoughts toward the power of less.

We all know the tradition that each night of Chanukah we add one candle to the menorah. But did you know this was not always so? In the first century there were two great rabbis, each with his own academy, who debated how Judaism should be practiced, including how we should light the menorah. The Talmud offers both opinions, citing that they each have merit for different times.

Rabbi Hillel taught that each night we should add one candle, symbolizing the number of nights that the mitzvah of Chanukah has been completed

Rabbi Shammai, (50 BCE–30 CE), took the opposite stance, beginning with all the candles and taking one away each night. He taught that we should look ahead to how many night are left. Each night we take away one candle, so that by the end of the holiday we have only once candle (plus the shames.)

It occurred to me, that Shammai's teaching might have a modern application. We are accustomed to using Hillel's method, adding one candle a night, and associated the increases light with a corresponding increase in awesomeness. Adding candles encourages us to focus on more to come.

But what if instead we took away a candle each night and tried to teach ourselves to focus on the beauty that becomes apparent when there is less? Eight candles, then seven, then six, and so on until we are looking at one candle, plus the shames, shining ever so bright? Less candles, but also less distraction.

This may prove to be the spiritual challenge of this season. Can we find the beauty, the awe, the spiritual uplift of less instead of more? I believe we can.