Calling it a Career

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

Ecclesiastes, (chapter 2) reminds us there is a time for every purpose under heaven. When I turned 77  a few weeks ago, it dawned on me with stark clarity that it was time to ring down the curtain on my  tenure as Spiritual Leader of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.

It has been my great privilege the past six years to serve this remarkable congregation. I will always, of course, be a rabbi, and I will await in wonder to see  what new plans the Eternal One has in store for me.

When I retired the first time in 2012 from my position as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut, people asked what are your plans?  I honestly answered, “read more, write more and beyond that, we’ll see.”

I could never have imagined the blessings the “we’ll see” had in store for me these past 11 Years: Serving as President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, a role in which I visited more than 65 communities on five continents teaching about and advocating for progressive Jewish values, serving as guest Rabbi in Milan and Florence, Italy, spending significant parts of five years teaching and preaching in Germany, and then serving for six years at Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.

Our tradition teaches (although most scholars doubt this is historically true) that King Solomon wrote three biblical books: Song of Songs, a book of love poetry when he was a young man, Proverbs a book of wisdom in middle age, and Ecclesiastes, with its sober look at life as an older man.

Although I hardly approach Solomon’s wisdom, I have been blessed to find true love as a young man, and the loving marriage I  have shared with Vickie for nearly 49 years has sustained me through the many joys and the few disappointments of my career.

I have tried my best to share what wisdom I have gained in my sermons and lectures over the years and in the seven books I have written. Now that I am older, I look back on my 50-year rabbinical career and reach  the important conclusion Ecclesiastes teaches (chapter 1):

 “Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity.” 

How true I find those words today.

What is truly important is not recognition or material rewards. I do not deny that I have striven for and enjoyed a measure of those things, but the joy does not last that long and looking back, they matter very little. 

What I shall always cherish and what will always matter are the times when something I did or said made a real difference in someone’s life. It was in those moments or when someone reminded me of them, that I truly felt God’s pleasure.

As they did back in 2012, people are starting to ask me, “What will you do now?”

The truth is I have not given it much thought yet.  For the time being I am proud to become Bat Yam’s Rabbi Emeritus.

In addition, I will add, “I’ll read more, write more, and beyond that, we’ll see.”