The word “rabbi” is actually made up of two Hebrew words—“master” and “my”—so when you call someone “rabbi” you are literally referring to that person as “my master.” Before you get turned off and think this has something to do with slavery, master, in this sense, was the ancient term for “teacher.” Some private schools still use the title, “Head Master” when referring to the principal—the leader of all the teachers. Rebbe is the Yiddish for rabbi; it means exactly the same thing. When I was a young boy, they called me “little rebbe” because I loved going to shul and learning, especially the stories my rabbi would tell. I only learned when I announced my intention to study for the rabbinate many years later, that back then, this young rabbi met with my parents to urge them to send me to a boarding school yeshivah; that I would be a rabbi someday. Was it my destiny after all? If so, the path I took was really convoluted.
People ask me all the time, so how did you decide to become a rabbi? I usually start out by describing the burning bush that spoke to me in the dessert. LOL. Actually, I am not sure if I ever really decided; rather, it was a combination of many factors that gradually shaped my worldview and led me, in the beginning, to simply wanting to learn more. I won’t bore you with all the details, but if you really want to know, you can buy me a cup of coffee or a beer and I will gladly share the whole story. However, I was always spiritually curious. I loved and was close to my maternal grandparents—Max and Esther—who lived a kind and gracious yet simple orthodoxy. And the human potential movement, as well as the fellow seekers and guides (both Jewish and of other faith commitments) I met along the way, nudged me in a direction that ultimately brought me to personal wholeness. My calling, if you will. A six month sabbatical to Israel, my first of dozens of visits to the Land of my ancestors, sealed the deal. I was on a path that I just knew I needed to follow.
Fast forward forty years. After a public career that brought me too many blessings to count, but a lifestyle that was difficult for my naturally scholarly and introverted persona, I have discovered that what I loved most about being a rabbi was the opportunity to share in the sacred and holy moments of our lives. There are many, both big and small. Some come once in a lifetime; others occur every day. But all are significant.
Now, I look forward to the next forty, with curiosity and wonder, and would consider it a privilege and an honor to share in your journey as well.
You can contact me through my website terrybookman.com