The first thing I learned about Rabbi Shohama as a pulpit rabbi, I learned on the internet. In 2009, just after we first met, the synagogue website said this about Shohama – and it still does. Here’s what it says:
“When asked for a quote, Rabbi Shohama replied: ‘At the end of the day, the question is whether I made people feel valued and nurtured, and whether I helped them manifest love, joy and goodness – God’s greatest qualities.'”
Yes, Shohama, you did. Look around at all of this love, joy and goodness. That is the answer to your question. They are your answer.
I decided in 2009 that this rabbi is the one whom I wanted to watch tie her shoes. Who knew that I’d still be here 10 years later? I am a rabbi because of you. I’m a pulpit rabbi because of you. This community exists because of you. Your many students of spirit who became clergy, spiritual directors, teachers and colleagues, they all carry – we all carry – part of you with us. Where we go, you come also. Whether they know it or not, the people we serve get a bit of you, too.
When I asked Shohama recently about this, and especially how this congregation is such a beautiful tribute to her way of being in the world, of course Shohama didn’t miss a beat before re-directing:
“It’s a tribute to God,” she said, “– and a tribute to them,” this community. “What a blessing to be given such a term of service, such an opportunity to serve.”
Yes. And, the blessing is ours. The blessing is mine. Learning with you and serving with you are among the great blessings of my life.
Some years ago, I attended a conference with students and clergy from the major Jewish seminaries of North America. Each in our own way, we were all trying to figure out spiritually how to tie our shoes, and we let our hair down around each other. When we got real together, many lamented the quality of leadership in Jewish life. They lamented that genuine leadership rarely is shared and rarely flows freely or wisely.
They turned to me, a junior rabbi ordained for maybe a month, and said, “David, you have a senior rabbi, right? You get it, right?” And with all the empathy for them I could muster, the only honest answer I could muster was, “Not in my synagogue.”
What Shohama modeled for me, for all of us, even for seminaries, is the most rare and valuable kind of leadership in a fractured world that needs now Shohama’s kind of leadership. The leadership Shohama modeled is a real leadership that helps make real leaders, and then, with gentle grace, makes space for us and charges us to pass it forward so that we feel called to do the same. It is by that merit that all of us are here today.
You are what your own teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi of blessed memory, must have hoped for in teaching that the most genuine spiritual leadership is not a fixed title but a temporary role that, by its own inner nature, must flow without clutching.
With all my heart, I believe that Zalman and your teachers, rebbes, angels and guides must delight in you – maybe even as much as we do.