Over the past 35 years, I have observed a pattern where things tend to unravel in congregations during the High Holy Days. Its as if things people have suppressed all year come to a head.
One year, a guy in my congregation with a serious moral issue came to me the day before Rosh Hashanna and presented me with his situation. He refused to make it right and we had to disfellowship him because he refused to fix it. It wasn’t a punishment for his wrongdoing, but his unwillingness to stop. Two years later, he came back and ended the situation.
Another year, a guy felt all the problems he saw were my fault, and he left to start another congregation. Two years later, he met with me and apologized and admitted he was wrong.
Several years later, other people had a blow up about other issues. I could go on and on. Honestly, I dont have the temperment to deal with these blow ups. I am a peaceful person and I like to teach and care for people, but I could get ulcers from all the unrest. Thats why I am so happy with my current position as Rabbi Emeritus.
I used to think it was me, and that I was doing a bad job, but as I compared notes with other leaders, most of them had major issues coming to the surface around this time of year. Even the local Chabad is having problems.
As I reflect on this, it makes me wonder why this happens. I believe at this time of year, God reshuffles the deck. People in positions of leadership may need to move on. Some in a congregation need to go somewhere else. Sometimes there are issues that really do need fixing, and the unrest can lead to needed change.
In the past, it has caused me to review the issues brought up and it has led to us making necessary changes. Sometimes it has led to us renewing and reaffirming our vision for the congregation. It causes us to examine ourselves. In that sense, these are good things. The problem I have is not the changes, but that it takes emotional blow ups to make it happen.
Why can’t we find positive ways to make the changes that are needed without the drama and emotion? When people leave a congregation, they often leave in a huff, criticizing the worship service, or the leader, or that its not Jewish enough or too Jewish. They do damage to themselves and to the congregation, not to mention the hurt that is caused. All this is very painful to a caring leader.
People can leave well, or leave badly. When people move to a different geographical area, no one takes it personally, and they are always welcome back. People don’t need to move to have a positive departure. A good way would be for people to come to their leader and just say they feel they need to move on. It is perfectly legitimate to say that you have different needs and want to find a place that meets those needs. They can go with their leader’s blessing, and the blessing of the congregation. They can come back if they want without a sense of awkwardness. Its a peaceful departure. Everyone wins.
As I mentioned earlier, the trauma can have a positive side effect; necessary change. I believe turning things into a positive is to not be critical, and to move forward, blessing those who have been part of our lives, and being open to what God may be doing. The words of scripture hold true, “As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”