A Thank You Message from Rabbi Darby 

March 2023

Dear Hevre (friends),

I am writing, somewhat belatedly, to thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to take the first half of my sabbatical from this past November through February. While I will continue to share my recent experiences over the coming months, I want to let you all know a little bit about what I did during my time away from Kerem Shalom.

Early in my sabbatical, I had the opportunity to participate in a retreat for Rabbis and Cantors who had spent some time as interns at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) in NYC with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who is my mentor, colleague, and friend. CBST, for those who may not know, is the world’s largest synagogue for those who are LGBTQ+, their families, and friends. My internship at CBST was an invaluable part of my rabbinic education and journey, and I am always grateful for the opportunity to engage in study, learning, prayer, and conversation with those with whom I share this experience.

My main personal sabbatical project was writing a chapter about working with deaf students that will be part of an upcoming book on working with diverse students as they prepare for their b’nai mitzvah. This was a deeply meaningful project not only because of the chapter’s topic and my personal connection to it, but also because I co-wrote the chapter with my sister. We were in almost daily contact for about eight weeks. I hope the chapter will add something useful and meaningful to the literature of b’nai mitzvah experiences, education, and support; I know the experience of writing it with my sister will have a beautiful, life-long impact on our relationship.

Finally, I also began participating in the Clergy Leadership Program, an immersive,18-month program for 40 people offered by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. There was a rigorous application and selection process and so I am especially grateful for—and honored by—this opportunity. In late January, I attended the first (of four) retreats that are a key part of the program. There we began to explore a wide array of Jewish spiritual practices, grounded in mindfulness and conducted in the context of a loving and supportive community. The program, which draws on the Torah of Hasidic and neo-Hasidic texts and teachings, will help me and the other participants cultivate, re-invigorate, and refocus on our inner lives.

While it’s too early to say exactly how the program (and my other sabbatical activities) will affect my work at Kerem Shalom, I can say that it has already informed my thinking about Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), which was beginning just I was returning to Kerem Shalom. In particular, I found myself thinking that by encouraging us to truly focus on the experiences of other human beings with whom we share this precious planet, JDAIM gives us the opportunity to deepen (and then act from) our inner wells of compassion, empathy, and love—not only for others but for ourselves as well.

Over the coming months, I may have more to say about my learnings and insights from the Clergy Leadership Program. I also truly appreciate that the third of the four CLP retreats will take place during the second part of my sabbatical, which I’ll be taking at approximately the same time next fall/winter. For now, however, I mostly wanted to thank all of you, the Kerem Shalom community, leadership, and professional staff for giving me this precious opportunity to step back, reflect, study, and think about how we move forward as a sacred community.

With tremendous gratitude,
Kindness & Shalom,

Rabbi Darby J. Leigh