In reflecting on this summer, I came upon Sanhedrin 5a, where the rabbis question the authority of a person’s judgment. The gemara mentions a situation where Mar Zutra made a bad verdict on a case where he might not have had proper authority. His poor judgment could have resulted in one party being unjustly damaged. He appears before Rabbi Joseph, who claims that if both parties accepted you as a judge, there is no need to make restitutions for the damaged party and the judgment is valid.
When I first took the position of Education Director at Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI), I saw it as practice for my rabbinate. By the end of camp, I realized that it was not practice. It was real. Although I am not yet a rabbi, a lot of my job focused on things that I would be doing as a rabbi: lesson planning, teaching, services, etc. This clicked for me when Rabbi Brett Krichiver from Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation referred to me as Rabbi Joseph in front of one of the units during a lesson wrap-up. This was the first time that a clergy member has referred to me as a rabbi. I approached him after the lesson and wanted to clarify why he had chosen to refer to me by that title. He told me that because this was a part of my rabbinic training, he wanted me to be at the same level as the faculty while teaching at camp. It felt weird for me to hear this answer, as I felt uncomfortable being called rabbi as a student working with ordained rabbis.
Rabbi Krichiver’s answer helped me to realize that every interaction at camp is a part of my rabbinic training. Being a rabbi means not only imparting Jewish knowledge but also interacting with others. Rabbi Krichiver’s action in calling me a rabbi was a valid act, when I look at it in the context of Sanhedrin 5a. Although I have not received smicha from HUC, he treated me as a colleague in the field and supported my authority to run the education programming.
From that point on, I practiced reflecting personally on every interaction with staff regarding the educational programming at GUCI. I went out of my way to be supportive of and present for staff when planning their programs. Especially during the second session, I improved my scheduling with groups so that I could meet with them multiple times before their lesson date in order to see their progress and guide them toward better outcomes. The result of being more diligent in these interactions was what I see as an increase in the quality of the lesson plans produced. It was not just my guidance and edits that made them better. I believe that the source of this increase in quality of the programs I was overseeing was the fact that the staff saw my interest in helping them and began to enjoy the planning process more. I found lots of opportunities to bond with staff through these meetings, and I believe that these bonds of friendship I created made it easier to guide and manage these programs.