One of the Torah’s many amazing innovations for optimizing life on earth includes the idea of a sabbatical year: a full year of rest for the land and the people who farm it, giving the land a breather, and reminding us humans that we are not what we produce – that we are more than our jobs. Many universities took up sabbatical practice as a way of giving scholars space to grow their areas of interest beyond their PhD, helping them stay fresh and curious. The corporate and non-profit sectors have begun to follow suit, recognizing that giving long-serving employees paid sabbatical time results in happier, more satisfied people who most often return with a renewed sense of purpose, energy and balance in their lives.
Mishkan Chicago was my first baby, and the idea of stepping away for a sabbatical felt impossibly daunting. Let’s be honest: even on my vacations I’m checking my Mishkan email. I can’t help mysef — I care so much! So it has been a long-held goal to take a sabbatical, to settle into a rhythm of not participating in the day-to-day workplace and take time for rest, renewal and reflection.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to take 3 months starting this Fall, from November 2023 through February 2024. I won’t check Mishkan email or Slack, lead services, or attend to the day-to-day of my Mishkan role. I will do my absolute best to discover who I am if I’m not Mishkan’s rabbi for a few months. I mean, I’ll still be me, which means I’ll be reading books that feed my Jewish spirit and soul… but not because I’m giving a sermon about it. I look forward to experiencing how it feels to explore again, lishma, for its own sake. If you have recommendations for books or films, I’d love to hear from you (while I’m still checking my Mishkan email)!
Unlike the early years of starting this spiritual community, where if I took a vacation Mishkan just ceased functioning, Mishkan now has the infrastructure to keep plugging right along with me gone. We have a full-time staff of 17, including 2 other rabbis, all of whom are here to support and take care of you. I’ve been working with our amazing team to prepare for this, and I know that you are in great hands. It’s a privilege that has been 12 years in the making, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity to step away and return as your rejuvenated, more inspired, down-to-earth Rabbi.
Who will help me if I need clergy support?
Our staff is here for you. You can always reach out to Rabbi Steven Philp with lifecycle, pastoral or other rabbinic needs, or Rabbi Ari Moffic if you’re in need of support for things that have to do with your teens. Our family Educator Rachel Mylan is also available to talk about your younger kids or if you’re struggling with things having to do with pregnancy or babies. A good start is to email our Rabbinic Assistant Seth Torres [email protected] and he’ll send you in the right direction.
What will Shabbat be like?
Shabbat will be like Mishkan — full of joy, music, great people and deep learning. We have wonderful other service leaders and sermon givers in Rabbi Steven, members of the Davening Team and the community, and this is a great opportunity for them to spread their wings.
Will you be working at all? Will I see you?
Hopefully not! I am really going to make an effort to step back from Mishkan-related engagements, including lifecycle events, service-leading, teaching, speaking, making public statements and sitting on panels, email correspondence, etc. I hope that you know my heart is with you even if you don’t see me at shiva minyanim or s’machot (community joyful moments) for the duration of my time away. That said, Mishkan is my family’s Jewish home in Chicago. If you see us at services, you don’t need to pretend we’re invisible, but please help me experience what it’s like to be a civilian. If there are not enough siddurim or we run out of oatmilk at the coffee bar, someone from our wonderful staff who is not me would love to hear about it.
What will you do during this time?
Read! Ice-skate (I plan to finally land my Lutz and master my Camel spin)! Pick my kids up from school! Keep my phone off as much as possible! Learn how to use the Vitamix I got as a wedding present 7 years ago and make smoothies in unspeakable combinations! Probably do some traveling and visiting far-flung friends. Playing Brandi Carlile music at open mic nights! Maybe psychedelics in a state where it’s legal. Going to a conference or two that I wouldn’t have attended otherwise. Skiing! Writing! Meditating! Lying in the grass and staring at clouds!
We finally have a staff and clergy team who can sustain our organization with or without any one person – including me! Our organization is led by our amazing full-time staff of 17 and Board of Directors, who can continue to serve our community in my absence.
Will you be checking email?
Nope! You’ll get an away message that will heap blessings upon you and send you to one of the other staff or clergy mentioned here. I will not be back-checking email from the three months I was away upon my return.
Sabbatical sounds amazing! Who else at Mishkan will get one?
We are proud to offer a sabbatical leave program to current full-time employees who have worked a cumulative seven years at Mishkan. The purpose of the sabbatical program is to offer employees an opportunity for rest and discernment. It’s one of the many ways we’re trying to be a best-in-class workplace.