The summer before entering sixth grade, I joined a youth choir. On the first day, we received a folder filled with the music that we would be singing. I looked it over and immediately spotted a possible problem. That night at dinner, I raised it with my parents. I explained, “There’s a lot of Jesus in the music.” I didn’t how they would respond. My father is a rabbi, and I grew up in a committed Jewish home. Christian liturgical music was not entirely foreign to me, as my dad often did pulpit exchanges with other clergy in town. Still, I didn’t exactly know what to make of singing it myself.
My parents asked me how I felt about it, and I wasn’t sure. After much deliberation, my father finally said, “Some of the most important and beautiful music was written for Christian worship. Try it! You will learn something new, you will learn more about yourself, and you will be part of creating something beautiful.”
I was reminded of this conversation during my time at the annual conference of The Young Clergy Women Project in Boston this July. When I registered, I was simultaneously welcomed and forewarned. I was told that I should certainly feel comfortable joining the conference, and that this conference is Christian in orientation. I had a moment of hesitation, wondering what it would feel like to be the only rabbi in a predominantly Christian space. I decided to attend. I was initially attracted by the concept of “Leading with Presence” and was eager to learn with Susan Beaumont. While the learning was excellent, I was most deeply moved by being part of the community.
In my own context, I find familiar faces everywhere I go. The Jewish world is small, and when I am at a conference, a synagogue, or a Jewish summer camp, it takes about five minutes for me to stumble upon someone I know. In contrast, when I walked into the first session of this conference, I did not know anyone at all. I was immediately welcomed, not as an oddity who had to be carefully included in conversation, but as a full participant. I was awed by how much we have in common: how we share the struggles of navigating congregational life, balancing life and work, and managing the emotional turmoil that accompanies walking with people who are in the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow. I was struck by how much of Susan Beaumont’s teaching spoke to the realities of serving as faith leaders in a time of transition and uncertainty. While I was taken aback when she announced that we would likely spend the entirety of our careers in an era of religious liminality, I was heartened to learn that I am not in it alone. Smart, thoughtful, and creative young women are working to chart a path forward into the unknown.
I also loved the worship. It is liberating to be a tourist in worship. While the texts and the liturgy were unfamiliar, I loved to see how young female colleagues led: where they stood, what they wore, how they spoke. I was moved by the creativity and the flexibility of the worship that I experienced. There is a great deal of fixed liturgy in Judaism. Since the conference, I have found myself adding and inventing within the services that I have led, trying to bring some of the freshness that I experienced during the conference into worship at my congregation.
After breaking bread (and burgers, and Thai food) with new friends, sharing triumphs and struggles, and feeling genuinely welcomed into TYCWP’s community, my father’s words about my youth choir continue to ring true. During our time in Boston, I learned about other faiths and traditions, stretching to apply my new knowledge to my own context. I certainly learned more about myself, reflecting on what it means to me to be a young, female member of the clergy. And, as I look back on the conference, I feel fortunate that I was able to be part of creating something so holy and beautiful.