Unity in Community. The Spiritual Side of Public Service, with Neil Katz

In what role can peacemaker, trendsetter, community servant, religious thought leader, scholar, musician, and elected official all combine? Why, rabbi, of course! (I bet you didn’t see that one coming!)

Rabbi Neil Katz (shown with his beloved wife, Jen) may be breaking some stereotypes lately about public service, but he claims a rabbi in public office is a natural progression of expressing servanthood in community leadership.

Public Service as an Unexpectedly Spiritual Expression of Faith

“I’m a little contrarian to people who tell me it can’t be done; (that attitude) energizes me to try,” laughs Rabbi Neil about his tendency to stick up for the underdog or do the unexpected. “More to the point, I’m actually led by how great this community is and how great it can be.”

Neil serves as rabbi at Congregation Bethel in Tyler, Texas. He came on Fireside Talk Radio recently to answer my questions about the history of separation of church and state. So, what about the modern doctrine of separation of church and state? With his unique perspective and humor, he offered insight about stewardship, public service, and what it means to be an elder.

United by the Challenge of Practical Solutions

“No one knows what their expiration date is,” he chuckles, “with the limited time we have on earth, let’s make it the most peaceful and beautiful place it can be.” Interestingly, he shared a story about serving on a nonprofit board with both far-right Republicans and far-left Democrats. Political differences vanished in the face of meeting challenges together for the betterment of our community.

“At the end of the day, no one cared,” he says because unity is nurtured around finding practical solutions.

Opening Conversations About God with Compassion

He also gave me a quick lesson on Predicate Theology, which involves moving God from the subject of the sentence to the predicate. (You know how I love grammar!) For instance, we try to describe God, saying God is righteous. Instead, he suggests saying that righteousness is godly, in order to open up engaging conversations with anyone. This allows us to talk freely about being in community with each other and with God.

Spiritual thinking captivated his imagination from the time he was a young man. He met his wife Jen when they were still in high school.

The Rockin’ Rabbi and His High School Sweetheart

“Jenny has always been the smarter of the two of us. She’s been a phenomenal mom,” he says, his voice turning tender, “We’ve always been partners. It’s been wonderful.”

He loves serving with her by his side. Even as a youth, he served, bringing his unique blend of spiritual scholarship and down-to-earth practicality to everything. 

“When you get to move outside your congregation, you get to see different styles of leadership,” he laughs, “You go to camp and see a rabbi in shorts playing music.” As the self-proclaimed “rockin’ rabbi,” his songwriting highlights his love of traditional Jewish music.

Generosity and Listening

When it comes to uniting our community around serving others, Neil has plenty to say.  “We’re actually more generous than we give ourselves credit for.” If you’ve ever wondered what it means when a community unites to listen to each other, you may want to check out the rest of Neil’s ideas. Or, you can click here to hear the full podcasts and all that Neil shared.

Will you join me in praying for our leaders?

Dear Father in heaven, You are ruler of all. You are compassionate and full of mercy, yet just. This truth is beyond our comprehension, but we can say with joy that compassion, mercy, and justice are godly traits! We honor You now, recognizing Your unique nature and wisdom. Have mercy on us, O Lord, and allow our leaders to be wise as You are wise. Give them wisdom, Your wisdom. For our children’s sake, preserve our democratic nation to Your glory. Thank You for the peace we enjoy. Teach us to be wise stewards of all Your blessings, O Lord. We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.

On a personal note

Rabbi Neil was so kind to instruct me on public prayer when I called him on a Friday afternoon about a year ago. I had to pray in a public setting and needed advice. And yep, I forgot the Sabbath starts on Friday at sunset! Yet, this kind gentleman took time to talk in depth with me about prayer. My questions revolved around how to create a public prayer that respected divergent views, yet honored the One whom I trust for my salvation.

The above prayer is formatted in my usual way for a blog that is a personal expression of my faith. No disrespect is intended. I know Rabbi Neil makes a point of honoring other perspectives and will not take offense. In fact, he has promised to come back to Fireside Talk Radio to talk about prayer together. So, stay tuned for more conversational adventures right here coming soon!

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Cathy Krafve, Texas Columnist, Speaker, Radio Host, and “almost” Author focusing on fellowship in Marriage, Family, and Community, invites your stories, ideas, and questions at CathyKrafve.com. Truth with a Texas Twang.

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