November 21, 2018

Three Rabbis to Pursue Diverse Sabbaticals

Three of Orange County’s senior rabbis have decided to take a sabbatical. While the three have decided on their own to take a respite from the 24/7 demands of being a rabbi, their congregations are taking a different approach to temporarily replacing an absent spiritual leader.

The most unique arrangement is that at Fountain Valley’s Congregation B’nai Tzedek. Taking the pulpit in the place of Rabbi Stephen J. Einstein beginning Oct. 15 will be his daughter, Rabbi Rebecca Yael Schorr, who grew up in the congregation founded for her father in 1976.

Nepotism wasn’t a factor, they say. Schorr, along with other more seasoned candidates, submitted to interviews by a search committee, which made its recommendation to the congregation’s full board. Einstein and Cantor Linda Ecker, who knew the candidate as a teen, excused themselves from the final selection process in April.

In truth, Einstein thinks Schorr did have an edge over the other candidates. She, like her father, possesses a compelling personal trait, which congregants of B’nai Tzedek have come to expect of clergy.

“She is different from me,” said Einstein, 58. “The part that’s the same is being fully present in the moment. Every week people come up to me and say, ‘You really mean it, don’t you?’ It makes me sense that’s not what takes place elsewhere.”

“My dad’s gift is he connects with people,” said Schorr, 33, who served as an assistant rabbi at Long Beach’s Temple Israel for six years, which included an internship. She was ordained in 1999.

“I’m flattered to fill in for one of the great rabbis of his generation,” she said.

Schorr will get a trial run conducting four Shabbat services this summer, a time when her father enjoys sampling the sermons of colleagues.

Like the biblical instruction to leave fields fallow in the seventh year, clergy and academics are among a few professions that routinely grant long-term paid absences after seven years of service.

“It’s for the same reason as in the Bible — to give a rest,” said Einstein, who has a lifetime contract from the Reform congregation, now at 425 families. “We can have a day off, but if there’s a crisis, that’s the end of that.”

Einstein and his wife, Robin, plan to divide their time between the East Coast and Spain. He doesn’t have a specific goal to accomplish during his third sabbatical, other than a possible congregational tour of Israel around Purim.

“Each time when I came back, I was raring to go,” said Einstein, who is also a chaplain for the police department, involved with an interfaith council and teaches three on-going adult education courses and one semester a year at Cal State Fullerton.

Einstein recalled that a rabbinical career appealed to him, because he naively believed rabbis spent their time studying and reading. He knows better now.

“A sabbatical allows me to get back to that idealism,” he said.

In January, Allen Krause, rabbi of Temple Beth El for 20 years, will also begin his third sabbatical. He received a fellowship from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies, which chooses a single recipient annually.

Although the fellow is only required to study, Krause, 64, proposed reworking his master’s thesis into book form. His topic was Southern rabbis who participated in the U.S. civil rights movement. Revisiting their stories will return Krause to an epiphany that powerfully influenced his own career.

Through his research, Krause came to realize that congregational respect for clergy gives rabbis the buoyancy to support unpopular positions and not suffer career harm. One of his subjects, Rabbi Charles Mantindand of Temple B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg, Miss., was a vocal advocate of integration, a position much of his congregation opposed.

“He’s the one I’m most in awe of,” said Krause, who has openly criticized actions by Israel’s government, despite his congregation’s generally pro-Israel views. “I strongly believe a rabbi has to take moral stands.”

Krause’s research, ground-breaking in its time, underpins publications by several other authors who gained access to his initial 400-page work through Cincinnati’s Jewish American Archives.

“This is truly my own contribution,” said Krause, who intends to update his research. His wife, Sherrie, will accompany him.

“If it weren’t for sabbaticals, I’d never get anything done,” said Krause.

Beth El will hire a temporary pulpit replacement, who will work alongside Johanna Hershenson, returning as the congregation’s assistant rabbi beginning July 1 (see story below).

Elie Spitz, in his 17th year as rabbi of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel will depart after Yom Kippur for the remainder of the academic year.

One option he is considering is traveling the globe with his wife, Linda, and home-schooling their three children. Another is trading housing for teaching in a foreign locale. Returning to Israel is a third option.

“Rabbinic families have a great deal of stress,” said Spitz, describing a high burnout rate among clergy, who often end up working seven days without days off. “The job is to be a teacher and a visionary. To do both, you need a break to engage in intense study to provide a hiatus for perspective.”

Six years ago, Spitz took his family on sabbatical in Israel, where he was able to write a book about reincarnation.

“The first sabbatical was a magical year,” he said. “There is no substitute for a block of uninterrupted time.”

As a substitute for Spitz, the Conservative congregation of 495 families will count on willing lay volunteers, who will help fulfill ritual functions, along with Cantor Marcia Tilchin, hired subsequent to Spitz’s earlier sabbatical break.