I always wanted to be a lawyer. As a project in elementary school, we were asked to determine what classes in high school and college we would need to take to prepare us for our chosen professions. I interviewed one lawyer, sent letters to a few law schools and made an agreement with my best friend in seventh grade that we would be law partners. Then my life got in the way. In high school we all had to take a vocational aptitude test. I answered every question with my “lawyer” hat on. The results came back — clergy. Argh!
Off to Georgetown Business School I went. I thought this might be a practical application to work in the business field as a lawyer. I joined the judo club and quickly rose to the rank of brown belt (don’t sneak up on me!). For some reason my hall mates and classmates began consulting me for advice. I volunteered at the campus crisis hotline in the evenings. And because Georgetown was a Jesuit school and required two semesters in religious studies, I became interested in that subject. I ended up taking classes on Christian history and Judaism and an extra class on “The Problem of Evil.”
Instead of heading to Florida for spring breaks I volunteered with Campus Ministries during a few of our breaks, working in the ghetto in D.C. and in the mining town of Northfork, W. Va. During my senior year, an old family friend, Rabbi Matt Simon (some of you may know his daughter, Betsy Cowan, who worked at the Tucson Jewish Community Center), called me for lunch. He asked me what I was planning on doing after college. Business and becoming a lawyer held very little interest for me now. I had an interest in learning about the Jewish past and the values found there to make me a better person. I told him I was interested in a double master’s degree in communal service and religion. That way, I could connect to my faith and help others. He quickly responded, “Become a rabbi. You can do both!” My direction for the rest of my life was now defined for me after I got over the shock of even considering this.
A number of years back, I was at a regional rabbinic convention. I visited Jewish singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman at her mom’s home in California. She asked how the convention was going. I told her frankly that quite a few of my colleagues were expressing feelings of futility and frustration and were concerned about being ineffectual. That evening she came to our convention and embraced all of us with an emotional and healing Mi Shebeirach.
I find myself rarely frustrated as a rabbi. I find great tranquility and peace when I learn more about the power of Judaism and take what I have learned to positively impact my world. For my entire life, even before I became a rabbi, I have been a seeker of values. I understood that good decisions are made if they arise from wise values. I have found these in Judaism and have dedicated my rabbinate to sharing these treasures with my community. These values help me and others find meaning in†our lives and to successfully overcome the turbulent times in which we live.
I think I would have loved to be a lawyer; but I do not regret for one minute my becoming a rabbi in Tucson.
Rabbi Thomas Louchheim is the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Chadash.