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What this Rabbi Learned from Not being Re-hired

It's a familiar story, and I have been through it before, and so have you. In January the Synagogue Personnel Committee told me that they were recommending that the synagogue not renew my contract. I had been here six years, and now they said it was time to go. I could have contested their decision by going public to the entire congregation, but I decided that if my leadership didn't want me anymore to be their Rabbi, that I was leaving. And then came the grief...

Why didn't they want me anymore? What had I done, or not done, that displeased them? How had I failed them? Did this mean that I was a "bad" Rabbi? A "bad" person? And even worse, did they finally "find me out" as the imposter I sometimes think I am? It's called "The Imposter Syndrome," feeling that sometimes I have no idea what it is that I am supposed to be doing in my job, but if I could just "pretend" hard enough to be doing the right thing, I could pass for a "good" Rabbi. I had little idea how I had failed them, and myself, but I felt that a little piece of me had died. Here I was, 57 years old, once again looking for a job. Who needed it? Next would come interviews with more congregations, asking me the inevitable--Rabbi how did you screw up? Well, not in so many words, but that's really what they wanted to know. Next would come phone interviews and personal fly-up-there-for-the-day interviews, and maybe even weekend interviews. Again??? Maybe the rabbinate wasn't for me anymore, maybe I should look in other directions...

So, I had lost something, a piece of myself, my dignity, my honor, my feeling of job satisfaction. How would I mourn, would I be angry and not talk to people I had known for six years? Would I trash my congregation's leadership and hope that they would be cursed by getting a rabbi who was incompetent and ineffectual? Would I begin to gossip and tell nasty stories about those who fired me? Well that's how I felt, and it was perfectly normal for me to feel that way. I was hurt, I was in pain, and I was looking for a focus to my anger. But I also knew that if I left angry, I would then not be completing my relationships with my members and friends, and that I would continue to carry those feelings of anger with me as I began a new rabbinic position. They would remain with me for as long as it took to conclude them. The problem would be, even as I began the new job, I would not be totally cleansed of the old one.

So I had to consciously set out to leave in a good way, and I did. What was the secret of my good leaving? I spoke about it in public, continually, right up until the day I left. You see, I had to help my friends and members say goodbye to me too, and so talking about leaving allowed both them and me to carry out what needed to be done. At first it was incredibly difficult for me to do this, but it did get easier as the year went on. Not everything went smoothly, however, especially when I was turned down by congregations in favor of younger and more handsome candidates--they thought I was too old to be a good rabbi, can you imagine that??--but by the end, all went well.

And so, the end of the story is that my new congregation, which you can see at the bottom of the page, is today e-mailing me a contract. When Ellen and I went there two weeks ago, they fell in love with us and we with them. I truly believe that it is a match meant to be; my gifts fit their needs, and vice versa. And, I have concluded my relationship with my former congregation and am now emotionally ready to begin again. Had I not left appropriately, I would be paralyzed in the future. Because I left appropriately, I am raring to go!

Dr. Mel Glazer is a Grief Therapist, Rabbi, Author and Speaker. His website is http://www.yourgriefmatters.com

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