April 2012 - Paul Saal

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I don't have a Facebook page!  I may well be the last holdout in North America, but I am so uncomfortable diluting the concept of friendship.  Yeshua Rabenu referred to his talmidim as friends - and so if our Great Rabbi could eat, pray, laugh and mourn with those who called him rabbi, I want to take up the challenge to do likewise.  As a rabbi of a small congregation I perform many functions. I am a teacher, an officiant, a counselor, an administrator, and a spiritual director; mostly though I like to think of myself as a community builder.

I have lived with my family in West Hartford since August of 1994. We moved here to "plant" a Messianic Jewish havurah that soon became Congregation Shuvah Yisrael in March of 1996. The journey first began though, three years prior in 1991 when I came to West Hartford for the first time.  When I turned onto Park Street from the I84 exit, I was looking straight on at a large stone sign that said "Welcome to West Hartford." It is hard to explain the feeling that I experienced at precisely that moment.  My call to the messianic rabbinate had been slow and progressive following a lifetime of preparation; my call to Central Connecticut was instantaneous and demonstrative. I knew at that moment this was the place where my family and I were to put down roots and begin to build with likeminded people.

My wife Robbie and I have been here for seventeen years now. My three adult daughters Jaclyn, Stephanie and Danielle grew up at congregation Shuvah Yisrael and my youngest daughter Rachel was born into it, and G-d willing will be bat mitzvah here next year.  Not only are many of their fondest memories of growing up as "Shuvah Girls" but they all still are actively involved at the congregation! My only granddaughter Gabrielle attends every week as well and at three years of age knows all of the prayers.  In many ways my role as a father and my role as a rabbi are indivisible.

Over the years a synagogue goes through many vicissitudes, and so do the families that constitute it.  I get to share in many of those changes and lifecycle events.  I have officiated at the B'nai Mitzvah services of young people I have known from birth and married young adults that I have seen come of age.  I am blessed to be able to share in the joy of expanding families, and though it can be heartbreaking, to help contemporaries deal with the painful reality of their parents becoming in many ways their children.  Sometimes together we have to deal with the bittersweet moments when children grow up and move away, but I have had a few opportunities to welcome them back with their own insipient families.

Being the rabbi at Congregation Shuvah Yisrael has been much more than a vocation for me, it is in many ways like being part of an extended family.

 

Read more about Rabbi Saal on his profile page.