So What Do Rabbis Do All Summer Long?

Shul's out for summer!

Well, not quite: For the most part, services at area synagogues continue through July and August uninterrupted; and unlike teachers, rabbis generally don't have their summers off.

But that doesn't mean that the warm-weather months don't offer religious leaders a bit of downtime. After all, this is the season when many synagogue activities come to a grinding halt: things like Hebrew school, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, adult-education classes, weeknight programs, and Sisterhood and Men's Club meetings.

Typically, this is when rabbis have the opportunity and the time to, well, do any number of things: travel to Israel, work on a project that they'd put off, engage in study of Jewish texts or just take a break from the hectic demands of the rabbinate.

"From September to June, we work very hard. It's important during the summer to rejuvenate. It's an important time for rabbis, and I think a lot of congregations understand that," said Rabbi Saul Grife of Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jeshurun, a Conservative synagogue in Erdenheim.

Incidentally, he was reached at his mother's home in Florida.

In fact, a number of area religious leaders were either away or hard to reach, and this represents only a smattering of how a few rabbis from different streams put such time to use.

Grife, for one, likes to use his summers to work with teenagers, who, he said, represent the future of the Jewish people.

As such, he spent a week at Camp Perlman in Starlight, Pa., up in the Poconos, teaching teens at BBYO's summer leadership program.

The rabbi taught a few sessions on Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, as well as a class comparing the teachings of Judaism with the lyrics of the Grateful Dead. Come to think of it, "Eyes of the World" — for years a signature song at Dead concerts — has a kind of Kabbalistic ring to it.

He's participated in the BBYO program for many years and he usually leads a Birthright Israel group on a 10-day tour, though it looks as if family obligations will keep him from getting to the Jewish state this time.

The warmer months also afford him more opportunities to go to Phillies home games. But while Grife's a hard-core fan, he's not so optimistic that this is going to be their year.

Rabbi Jim Egolf of Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne has had more of an indoor kind of summer. That's because several months ago, he purchased a book called Podcasting for Dummies, and has logged many hours recording sermons in his office and uploading the material onto Podcasting sites.

While Podcasting gets its name from Apple's iPod MP3 player, it essentially means recording any kind of audio programming and distributing it via the Internet.

Egolf figured that, since he spends so much time preparing his sermons every week and his congregants can't always make it to synagogue to hear them, why not find a way to get them to his congregants, and allow them to listen wherever and whenever they please?

A number of his sermons, on subjects ranging from the discovery of King Herod's tomb to the shootings at Virginia Tech, are now available free of charge on Web sites such as podbean. com and through Apple's own iTunes software. But more than just congregants have tuned in; Egolf said that he's had listeners from Kansas and Florida as well.

"It's still very quiet. As of yesterday, something like 25 people had listened to it," said Egolf, who added that, as he gets more adept, he may add music and sound effects to his Web broadcasts, which run from between five to 18 minutes. "I don't want to make them too long. I've haven't really seen a Podcast that's longer than 30 minutes or so."

Rabbi Sigal Dagan Brier, religious leader of Tzedek v'Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Newtown, has been doing some recording of her own. Brier — whose integrative teaching style combines Torah study with yoga and body movement — recently completed her third music CD, the first since the birth of her 4-year-old son.

Called "Mystic Rhythms of Kabbalah," the self-produced album, which is being distributed through her personal Web site, features Hebrew and English chants. Brier penned the lyrics, supplied the vocals and hired a full band to supply the music. The album was recorded at a New Jersey studio over June and July.

"Usually, I go to Israel in the summer," said Brier, who was born in Jewish state. "This year, I finally had the time to do this."

Now, though, she said her attention is going to turn to preparations for the High Holidays.

Not every rabbi, however, finds the summer relaxing.

"I'm working twice as hard as I do in the winter," exclaimed Rabbi Dov A. Brisman, religious leader of Young Israel of Elkins Park, an Orthodox shul.

That's because many of his congregants seem to have more time during July and August, and choose to seek counseling or schedule appointments. He's also busy with his involvement with the Beit Din, or religious court of Philadelphia, which arbitrates matters of divorce for Orthodox Jews. And he supervises several eruvs in the area.

Brisman admitted that many of his colleagues have said that he should take it easier, and give himself a chance to recharge his spiritual batteries.

"I haven't taken a vacation since I began the rabbinate," Brisman said dryly. "That was almost 24 years ago." 



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