by President Lynn Urbach
Gardeners and farmers know that giving land a year off is of great benefit to the soil. Letting the land rest allows it to replenish itself; it reduces pests; and it improves water retention, thereby improving future growth. This method of renewal has been practiced since ancient times. In the Torah, Leviticus 25:2-4, God tells Moses, “When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the Eternal. Six years you may sow your field… But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the Eternal: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.”
The idea of a sabbatical year for clergy and professors is based upon these lines of Torah. It is common practice for synagogues to grant sabbatical time to rabbis, giving them time to replenish themselves. It allows them to study, grow, and take much-needed time for themselves and their families.
Didn’t Rabbi Saks just take a sabbatical?
Rabbi Saks’s contract guarantees him one six-month sabbatical every seven years. To make it easier for our congregation, he elected to take his sabbatical in two three-month chunks of time, separated by a couple of years. The first half, taken in winter 2017/18, was scheduled during a time of few Jewish holidays and no B’nai Mitzvah. He has prepared us for this upcoming sabbatical by not scheduling any B’nai Mitzvah while he will be away and by departing after Shavuot and Confirmation and returning in time to prepare for the High Holy Days.
What about our congregation’s needs?
Before he left for his last sabbatical, Rabbi Saks taught a class for volunteers to become sh’lichei tzibur, leaders of public worship. A committee will work with our staff to make sure all of our needs—worship, pastoral care, funerals and shivas, education—are addressed. More details will follow in spring.
What’s in it for us?
It has been a very challenging, very stressful, seven months for all of us, but particularly for congregational rabbis nationwide (actually, worldwide) who not only have the same stressors we all carry, but are tasked with helping the rest of us deal with our emotional and spiritual needs. It will be wonderful for Bet Ha’am when Rabbi Saks returns from his sabbatical revitalized, bringing new ideas and fresh energy to our congregation.
As was done during his previous time away, the worship, pastoral, and educational needs of our congregation will be attended to. In early spring 2021, Rabbi Saks will provide details as to his plans, and we will let you know how we have prepared to continue our mission during that time.
Please reach out to me at president @ bethaam.org with any questions or concerns you may have.