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Back to Work: Step-by-Step, Inch-by-Inch

It has been a long time coming. On Wednesday, October 28, 2020, I was scheduled for a regular doctor’s appointment including my annual fall flu shot. Little did I know that my whole life was going to change and that after a single “listen” on the stethoscope, I would be on my way to Abington Hospital in an ambulance for open-heart surgery followed by a long period of convalescence and cardio rehab. In fact, I was really lucky. My primary physician was “on the ball” and the staff at the hospital were uniformly excellent as were the people in the home nurse program and now “in house” therapeutic treatment. I did not see it coming. I was not being treated for anything in this direction. As they say, this was the “hand of cards I was dealt” and lucky for me the deck was in decent order and I am now slowly returning to my old life. Of course, not everything is going to be the same. The pizza, subs and other weapons of (body) mass destruction are now gone as are the 20 hour days and the 8 day weeks. More common sense, better allocation of time, fewer projects and healthier eating is what is on my plate. I did not come through this storm just to land on a helicopter pad. My goal is a long runway with smooth flying and gentle landings.

But enough of the metaphors. As I pick up the pieces, I am starting to restore parts of my old routine: a weekly meeting with my assistant, Sarah Morrison, weekly senior staff meetings, Shabbat and holiday services, B’nai Mitzvah lessons and Confirmation. As best as possible, I am making daily pastoral phone calls and participating in Zoom life cycle events. However, until a sufficient number of COVID vaccines have been administered most of my work will remain virtual. I hope that sometime later this year (I do not know which month) “in person” Judaism will resume at KI, probably beginning with our Preschool. I look forward to all of it.

Now, my down time was not a complete loss. With the help of my daughter, Chana, I was able to assemble a collection of my recent poems and put them together in book form, both online and print. “The Kindness Response” (by me, Rabbi Lance J. Sussman) is now available at Barnes and Noble and online at Amazon. With the help, again from Chana, as well as my long-term volunteer assistant, I have also made good progress on a book of my sermons and essays reflecting my 20 years of work at KI. The book will be called, “A Portrait of an American Rabbi,” and will include nearly 100 of my articles and reflections. The book will be organized chronologically and will also be available in “e” and print editions. I am not exactly sure of the release date yet but I am hoping this volume, my second book of sermons, will be available by the High Holy Days 2021. I also have several articles forthcoming this spring, one on the Haftarot and the other an essay on our Landau windows in a special art book to be published by the Penn State University Press.
OK, so you are probably saying, I really did not take much of a break, but I actually limited my editing time and relied heavily on my helpers.

I truly look forward to getting back to work. One, I love my work. Becoming and being a rabbi is/was a calling for me. Second, when news spread of my medical emergency I received hundreds of get-well cards (Hallmark must have done well) from you, the congregation. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, concern and love from so many of you. There is an old joke about how the President of a shul once visited a rabbi in the hospital and reported that she had good news. “The Board voted 5 to 4,” the President reported, “that you should get better.” Looks like my vote was better than that and now I feel I must get back to the work of being your rabbinic partner in Jewish and everyday life just as I have been for the last 20 years.

So, step by step, inch by inch, I am coming back to my rabbinic vocation and hopefully, as the rate of vaccination intensifies it will be in person and not just online. Again and always, thank you for your support during this crazy time in my life. Meanwhile, a happy and healthy Passover to you and your families. May we all be delivered from the plague we are still enduring.

Shabbat Shalom and Todah! Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.