Rabbi Jonathan Singer shows a Torah to some of his younger congregants at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco in 2017. (Photo/file)
Rabbi Jonathan Singer shows a Torah to some of his younger congregants at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco in 2017. (Photo/file)

Support your local rabbis. They need it now more than ever.

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

I imagine Noah, traumatized and lonely, sitting in the ark with the waters raging around his family. His ark, which churns in the deluge, has an opening in the roof for daylight, tzohar. I picture Noah looking up to that light, seeking solace, and with hopeful prayers.

Our Jewish community is similarly flooded with anxiety and concern about the massacres in Israel, the war, and antisemitism here at home.

As rabbis, we are honored to live our sacred calling to comfort people and help them look for the light, even while we ourselves may be fearful, angry or speechless. It is the nature of our service to the Jewish people, and it is an enormous privilege.

Still, when a tragedy strikes all of us at the same time, rabbis are called upon to rise above the tumult while dealing with our own understandable anxiety.

Since the massacres in Israel on Oct. 7, the rabbinic community in Northern California has stepped up to lead in the most remarkable ways. While awash in our own suffering, rabbis are finding the strength to help hold our bereft communities together.

As the executive director of the Northern California Board of Rabbis, I reached out to fellow rabbis of all denominations who serve in myriad ways and asked, how are you? What is your life like right now?

I want to share some of their responses to give a sense of the uniqueness of our responsibilities right now.

As the news trickled in on that Simchat Torah Shabbat, at a time when we were exhausted from the marathon of the High Holidays and Sukkot, we found ourselves, like most Jews, checking in on relatives and contacts in Israel — some of whom had been killed or captured or were called up for military service. Concurrently, we began comforting our grief-stricken communities here at home.

At the same time that rabbis were sending frantic messages to Israeli colleagues and friends, they were fielding urgent calls from congregants. Rabbis immediately organized impromptu gatherings for prayer, listening and comfort.

Many rabbinic colleagues spoke about dealing with wave after wave of gruesome stories that triggered their own intergenerational trauma, while at the same time needing to counsel others similarly affected by the unfolding news.

While awash in our own suffering, rabbis are finding the strength to help hold our bereft communities together.

Rabbis are being asked to do more than teach. Some in our communities want rabbis to organize rallies, make statements to city councils, or lead sessions on the complicated history of the conflict. There have been requests to put together a fundraiser or a healing session, or talk to a secular school board because Jewish school children feel unsafe. This is all in addition to regular services, sermons, teaching and officiating at lifecycles.

Other rabbis are navigating diverse factions in their congregations, each one expecting allegiance to their point of view on what Israel or the United States should or shouldn’t do. The community often demands a moral voice from their rabbis, even though community members often disagree about what that stance should be.

Rabbis are making constant course corrections and giving their communities communal space to process and hear each other’s pain. At the same time, many are not taking a day off to be with their own families, or to be present with themselves in order to stay spiritually grounded.

The amount of misinformation on the airwaves and social media is head-spinning. Rabbis are called upon to fact-check and respond. Some of us serve in settings with many non-Jews and feel a great responsibility to educate, even though we are neither military experts nor historians.

Northern California rabbis have been a source of many interfaith and Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, past and present. In the current situation, some rabbis have found interfaith partners who are supportive of Israel, while others are experiencing a painful silence among interfaith colleagues. Rabbis have expressed a deep sense of loneliness and abandonment by allies, and it is hurtful.

Our rabbis are brave and open-hearted individuals who have chosen their profession out of deep love for the Jewish people. Their deepest desire is to share the wisdom of our tradition as a source of meaning and sustenance.

The burden is great right now. What might you do to “help the helpers”?

Send a thank you note to your rabbi. Even a few sentences of gratitude will be appreciated.

Offer to make a meal, babysit or take your rabbi’s dog for a walk.

Make sure your rabbi takes their day off, and perhaps lighten their load by eliminating expectations to attend nighttime meetings.

Volunteer to take some tasks on at your synagogue: chant Torah, greet or teach. Ask, how can I help our community?

Be patient and gentle.

My hope is that we collectively recognize how important it is to support our rabbis as they support us.

May the opening for daylight in the ark continue to inspire us all as we hope for dry land and peace.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of J.

Rabbi Jill Zimmerman
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman

Rabbi Jill Zimmerman is the executive director of the Northern California Board of Rabbis and the founding rabbi of both Path with Heart and the Hineni spiritual community. The opinions expressed are the author’s own and not necessarily those of her employer.