In The Face Of Crisis

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  by R. Daniel Ehrenewald

My role as a community leader requires resilience even under routine circumstances. It demands patience, inclusiveness of various opinions and feelings within the community, and the ability to withstand pressures.
During times of crisis, whether within the community or as part of the general public, it is certainly very important for communal leaders—the board, the gabba’im, and of course the rabbi—to display fortitude.

The rabbi in particular fulfills important functions in times of duress and crisis, God forbid. We will attempt to address some of them.

Of course, the rabbi is the first address for halakhic guidance on this issue. Whether one has halakhic questions about a specific case, such as a sick person on Shabbat, or there are national crises that require responses—What does one do when a siren sounds during prayer? May one carry a weapon on Shabbat?—there are numerous practical questions that arise at such moments.

Beyond that, it is important for the rabbi to be there so that he can… be there. Presumably, at some point someone will require the rabbi’s concrete assistance, and the rabbi will certainly provide that, but his simple presence at that time and place is important in and of itself. In my youth, our community’s rabbi, who I hold in very high regard, left his home while sitting shiva for his father in order to help and support a family whose mother died under tragic circumstances. His presence and availability at that difficult time gave strength to that family in that hour, beyond whatever help he provided in arranging the funeral.

In times of national distress, such as during war or a wave of terror, the rabbi’s role becomes more integral. He must be attentive to all of the mixed and conflicting emotions coursing through his community. He must understand the desire to keep to routine as well as the distress under which the public finds itself. He must offer an alternative to the oft-excessive preoccupation with news updates, spin, and prognostication. He must seek to address the situation with faith—not necessarily with immediate answers to questions and challenges, but by being there, listening, and remaining silence in the face of terrible events.

It is important to remember that the rabbi himself must find a way to reinforce his own strength and resilience, by connecting with other community leaders, communicating with his rabbinic mentors and colleagues, and, of course, being receptive to reinforcement offered by the community itself. Together, as a community, as a family, in which leaders and the community strengthen and are in turn strengthened by one another, we can stand courageously, faithfully, and strongly against any difficulty placed in our path. Together we can turn these painful times into pangs of new birth.

Originally published by the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics, in both Hebrew and English translation. Reprinted here with permission.

About Daniel Ehrenewald

Rabbi Daniel Ehrenewald is the rabbi of Kehillat Shalom in Tel Aviv

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