Rabbi Neil Sandler's Weekly Column


Susan and I spent a delightful day in Minneapolis last week.  "Delightful"  is not a word I would use to describe most of my visits. They are often "good" but not usually "delightful."  This visit was "delightful" – the weather was great, we took my father to an afternoon Minnesota Twins baseball game, and then took about a half hour walk around Lake Harriet, perhaps half a mile away from my childhood home.  Mom, of blessed memory, and Dad used to walk around Lake Harriet every day, weather -permitting, for many years.  Dad hasn't been at Lake Harriet for a long, long time, but he seemed to come alive in a special way as we walked with him in his wheel chair.  He remembered this and he remembered that (including a tree he saw sitting over the water…just as he had remembered it from years ago).  He smiled and he spoke in complete sentences unlike his usual speech patterns now.  It really was, as I said, a "delightful" day!  But the experience was augmented in a totally unexpected way the next morning as Susan and I sat at the airport for our flight home.

Instead of a 91 year old man, this scene involved a young girl, probably three years old, and her mother.  They were ready for their trip, and the little girl was obviously excited.  She held her mother's hand and skipped and danced along the way to whatever gate they were going to.  Then I heard the mother say something utterly precious.  She looked at her excited, skipping daughter and said, "You should always dance wherever you go!"

"You should always dance wherever you go!"  Isn't that great advice?!  So much of what we do each day is routine, and we approach it as if we are on "automatic pilot."  We are unmindful, sometimes go through the motions and, in general, have very little appreciation for whatever we are doing in the moment.  That's not meant to be a criticism.  I am no more mindful of such things than you.  But the combination of what I experienced last Thursday afternoon and Friday morning caught my otherwise unmindful attention.

I paid attention to the blessings that are mine, including my elderly father.

Last week, Dad "danced" to the baseball game.  Then he happily "danced" to a familiar lake he hadn't seen in years.

What a great "dance!"

Can you "dance" each day?

I'll be taking a break from writing this column during the month of September.  Instead I will, with much gratitude, hand its space over to four very thoughtful congregants who accepted my invitation to write a column, each of which will help us to prepare for the upcoming High Holidays.  I'll share more about what they have written when I introduce the first column next week.

Rabbi Neil Sandler's Weekly Column


I have been eating a lot with rabbis lately…

Some of those meals have been part of meetings like the Atlanta Rabbinical Association meeting last week.  But now I eat more frequently with colleagues or share a cup of coffee with them than I do at other times of the year.  Why now?  Because at this time of year, as summer is drawing to a close, rabbis, some newly – ordained or new to their positions, are arriving in Atlanta.  I make a point, as best I can, to take each one of them out and get to know them.

Exciting, daunting and, sometimes, even a little overwhelming.  That is how I recall the transition times in my rabbinate.  There were personal issues to contend with – getting settled, getting our children comfortable in their new settings and just plain getting to know my way around our new community. There was a whole host of professional issues to deal with – getting to know the culture of the congregation and how to get things done, meeting people and trying, as best as I could, to learn their names and just plain acclimating to the professional demands.  Years ago, when I was struggling in my position in a congregation, my senior colleague said to me, "Neil, in the first year, we just expect you to learn where the door to the Men's Room is located." Well, with all due respect to Rabbi Bernard Lipnick, now of blessed memory, I have always found the expectations of me, even in my first year in a new congregation, to be greater.

And so do, I am certain, my new rabbinic colleagues in Atlanta.  God – willing, each of them and their families will be just fine.  May each of our community's new rabbis find well – being here and serve in his/her setting with professional acumen and personal warmth.

Many of us and/or loved ones are going through significant transitions at this time of year.  Children and grandchildren have begun new grades in school or may be attending a new school.  Last year's high school seniors are now freshmen on campus and are gaining their first, extended period of time on their own with all that total independence implies.  Some of us may have moved over the summer and are working on becoming comfortable in our new home and neighborhood.  Some of us may have just made a professional transition or are getting ready to do so.

The other day I saw a cousin who lives out of town and said, "You can't be far from retirement.  Have you retired already?  If not, what are you thinking about?"  The response was brief, "Two weeks from now."  I think my cousin is still working on the meaning of that transition and on what he will do in retirement.

Finally, summer can be a time of loss and transition in equal measure with the other seasons of the year.  For some among us the upcoming High Holidays will be the first without the presence of a treasured loved one.  You rightly anticipate that this time will be difficult.   We can only pray that loved ones and friends will help to lessen your burden.

Our Rabbis (of the Talmud) were first and foremost keen observers of the human condition.  They knew that transitions carried with them both tremendous possibilities and the potential for significant difficulty.  They framed the latter sentiment in a succinct expression – "Kol hatchalot kashot" – "All beginnings are difficult."

Are all beginnings difficult?  Probably not.  But many, probably most, are difficult.

So to my new colleagues and to all of you who may now be going through a time of transition – May you be blessed with abundant patience and the transforming power of perspective to help you transcend the difficult moments you will likely face.  Good luck to you, and may you succeed magnificently!