Tools for Elul: Rabbi Burt Schuman

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During my 16-year rabbinic career, there were times when I forgot my mission to serve the congregation and the community and made those situations about me. In two situations, my snarky, supercilious side alienated people once at a presentation at Penn State Altoona and again at a Presbyterian church in Altoona. Instead of speaking thoughtfully and respectfully, I humiliated my interlocutors and closed minds rather than opening. The subject was Leviticus 18:22 and I could not resist the temptation to charge at my audience like a bull.

The second occurred during my tenure at Temple Beth Israel, when I was so focused on High Holy Day preparations that I failed to respond to a congregant who burst into my study in a state of grief and anguish over the sudden death of a close friend who I had met twice before and was close to her family. My gross insensitivity and self-involvement prevented me from responding in a caring and empathetic way (including a badly needed hug.) As a result, a relationship was torn asunder forever.

I have worked hard, and increasingly successfully, to listen to people and talk with them, rather than at them. I avoid sarcasm and inflammatory language. Perhaps because I am in my eighth decade, there is enhanced sense that the phrase "If not now when?" really means, "now or never."

Whether in my immediate friendship circle and with my fellow members of the Residents Council at Schenley Gardens, their voices need to be heard without interruption. At Rodef Shalom, I will come to the defense of those to whom I did not properly respond when they were attacked because of their views. People in the congregation I used to mentally dismiss as nudniks, I am actually enjoying and find endearing. With regard to the friendship I ripped asunder, I am trying to trace him to make amends and seek forgiveness. Perhaps I could become the founding member of Snarks Anonymous.

-Rabbi Burt Schuman, Congregant

Rodef Shalom