On my journey to becoming a Reform rabbi, my most sacred opportunities are those where I get the chance to interface with congregants and share learning opportunities in meaningful ways. Over the summer, I had the gift of serving as a rabbinic intern at Temple Sholom, where I explored ways to use technology and innovation to engage the community in uncharted ways.
On my very first day at Temple Sholom, I was in the conference room outlining my action plan for my time there. I overheard a conversation in the lobby and, upon investigation, discovered a group of three congregants gathered at a table to knit and kibitz together.
I introduced myself and told them of my new role at the temple. They each greeted me warmly and invited me to sit with them for a few minutes. I politely declined, as I was heading back to work to complete my first task. Only a few minutes later, I realized exactly what I was doing there at the congregation. I made my way to the fridge and got four pieces of cake left over from the oneg Shabbat over the weekend. I brought an offering of food, as is required when Jews gather together, and sat with the members of the community, chatting about everything from Israel to prayer, local restaurants to television shows.
In that moment with those congregants, it occurred to me that I was here in this community to learn how best to engage and make meaningful connections with the people who create the space. It would have been so easy for me to get caught up with the paperwork and the minutiae required of me, and those things are an important part of a rabbi’s work. But, in truth, the opportunity to create a space of welcoming — in this case, me welcoming them to their home and them welcoming me to my new experience — is at the core of what it means to be a Jewish professional. For all of the work we do, it is imperative that we not forget that the people who come together in our spaces are what make communities like ours so special, so meaningful, and so rich with love of Judaism.
For the remainder of my internship at Temple Sholom, those three congregants were actively involved in many of the programs and activities I helped create. At every step along the way, they were warm, welcoming, and encouraging of my creativity and attempts at making something new and meaningful within the community. They also helped me stay tied to the purpose of my work. They reminded me constantly that a slice of cake and casual conversation have the power to create meaningful connection between individuals. They taught me the importance of welcoming and kindness as I continue on my journey studying the multitude of ways that we go about creating spaces for our communities to thrive. They reminded me why I so love what I do and allowed me to cherish my opportunity to do it.
Austin Zoot is a third-year rabbinical student and was the summer 2017 rabbinic intern at Temple Sholom in Cincinnati.