How do you talk to a rabbi?

And what do you talk to a rabbi about?

Goldmarche at Silverstein Hillel image
The author (third from left) and her Base colleagues from around the country at the annual Base Hillel summit last summer. Photo credit: Robert Kusel.

Since starting as the rabbi of Silverstein Base Hillel, I have tried to teach young Jews how to have a relationship with a rabbi. Most of the people I work with have never been to a rabbi's house before, nor have they had a one-on-one meeting with a rabbi, at least not since their b'nai mitzvah.  

By welcoming them into our homes, sharing our lives with them, modeling how we celebrate holidays, and, of course, teaching them Torah, Rav Ezra Balser, the Rabbi of Silverstein Base Hillel in the Loop, and I, and our wives, expose students and young adults to the home life of a rabbinic family. Through those experiences, they develop unique connections to us-and our relationships grow organically.  

But, until this spring, I had never directly taught anyone how to "use" a rabbi. I figured that by modeling openness, asking deep questions, and actively seeking moments to connect that they would learn experientially-and many have. But sometimes young Jews ask me, "What should I talk to you or other rabbis about?"  

So, amidst the world turning upside down, I decided "If not now, when?!" and ran a Zoom session called "What Do I Talk to a Rabbi About?" As part of the session, a few members of the community shared their experiences connecting with rabbis. Their responses served as a reminder of why I found this calling.  

They shared that rabbis, of course, are teachers of Jewish texts and practice. But, they also shared how rabbis served as trusted non-relative adults for guidance in life, how we truly see them and make them feel valued; how we simultaneously push and comfort them; how we provide a sense of home; and how we may not have all the answers, but we are available to wrestle with the questions. 

So, what does this mean for you? In this time of uncertainty and isolation, I think we all could use a rabbi-and a good therapist! Someone who can enter the dark places with us, someone who can sit with us in the uncertainty of the moment. Someone who is ready for those big spiritual questions, but also able to talk through everyday challenges.   

Base Hillel has made Chicago a city where any young Jew, regardless of affiliation, can reach out to a rabbi and know someone will be there to listen. Rav Ezra and I are here for this purpose. If you don't currently have someone you call "your rabbi," it's not too late! If you aren't in our age demographic (18-35ish), the Chicago Jewish community is filled with incredible rabbis who would be honored to be contacted. 

There's a text from the Talmud (Sotah 14a) that explores the commandment that we must "walk in God's ways" (Deuteronomy 13:5). The rabbis questioned how is it possible to follow the divine presence; they explain that to "walk in God's ways" means we should seek to follow the attributes of God. For instance, by clothing the naked, visiting the sick, consoling the mourner, and burying the dead. To emulate God is to take care of people when they are most in need, most vulnerable-a state many of us have found ourselves and our loved ones in these past few months.  

People often say they want their rabbis to be more learned and more religious than them (observant in terms of kashrut or Shabbat etc.). And yes, rabbis should model these commitments for their communities. But, in my mind, what we should be best at is walking in God's ways as described in the Talmud.  

We all must do our part to care for people in their moments of need, but as rabbis we must be extra machmir (stringent) about this practice. And if you know your rabbis are diligent about caring for people, then I hope you will feel you can bring all of the deepest things in your heart to a rabbi: joys and struggles, mundane and existential quandaries, and everything in between. 

Silverstein Base Hillel is made possible through generous support from the Silverstein Family and the Crown Family Philanthropy. 

Rabbi Megan GoldMarche is the Rabbi of Silverstein Base Hillel in Lincoln Park and Director of Strategic Development at Metro Chicago Hillel.  




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