1. Genuinely love your congregation with all of your heart and soul, like a father loves his children. Don’t stand aloof at the sidelines and don’t be afraid to experience or show raw emotion. Celebrate with your congregants in times of joy, stay up all night worrying about them when they are in crisis, make your presence felt in their lives when they are sick, down in the dumps, or lonely, and cry for them at their funerals. If you don’t love every member of your community, including your critics, then you’re in the wrong business. Get out of it as soon as possible.
2. Not all of your congregants will love you back. This is a reality that you must accept or you will be forever frustrated and demoralized by your inability to win them over.
3. Never dismiss, belittle or ignore a congregant’s concern or fail to respond to a congregant’s question, need, phone call or email. This will be perceived as the ultimate disrespect and will come back to haunt you in the future.
4. Don’t give up on any congregant for any reason. You’re their rabbi and their last hope and it is your job to find a path to reach them. If their rabbi doesn’t believe in them, nobody will.
5. You will form close relationships with certain members of your congregation who will one day distance themselves from you for reasons you don’t or can’t understand. This is extraordinarily painful, but fear of this should not prevent you from building these intimate personal connections in the first place. And make sure to be patient and cautiously optimistic and to leave the door open. Eventually some of these individuals will reenter your life as suddenly and mysteriously as they once disappeared from it.
6. Be yourself and be real. If you like hip hop, opera, Karaoke, or Steven Seagal movies, there is no shame in that and no good reason to hide it. These qualities and quirks are part of what make you an approachable, normal human being and revealing them will endear you to the majority of your congregants.
7. Never use email as a medium to communicate about contentious issues or to settle arguments or disputes. No matter how well-reasoned, logical and persuasive your email is, and no matter how smart, witty or skilled a writer you think you are, it is guaranteed to backfire and you will lose EVERY SINGLE TIME. I speak from experience.
8. If you absolutely cannot resist the temptation to use email to communicate your thoughts and feelings, then by all means, compose the most non-confrontational, intelligent, conciliatory and convincing message possible. Don’t send it right away; instead, save it as a draft overnight. The next morning, open the draft and reread it. Then delete it forever. Or file it in a folder entitled “Stupid Mistakes I Almost Made.”
9. Listen to the advice of those wiser and more experienced than yourself and consider it carefully. In the end, you must always act in a way that you think is best for you and your congregation. But looking back I have learned that the counsel of veteran rabbis was almost always what I would have thought was best had I been able to see the situation as clearly as they were able to see it.
10. In those tense moments when you find yourself in conflict with members of your congregation, keep in mind that you are still their spiritual leader and you have a sacred obligation to teach them by example and to sanctify God's name. Avoid succumbing to the temptations of pettiness, gossip, vindictiveness, anger and sarcasm. Speak kindly and constructively, carry yourself with humility and grace, and behave in a manner that you know will ultimately make you and your community proud. Then, even if you are defeated, you will have won in all the ways that really count.