One of the big advantages of Life Outside the Rabbinate is the shul-hopping experience.
To be sure, we have a main shul, where we pay dues and do the things that members do. Nonetheless, we're taking advantage of the chance to minyan-hop within that shul, and beyond.
When I was a shul rabbi, people would describe their experiences elsewhere around town and beyond, but I couldn’t really relate: I had no experience davening in any other congregation. This was certainly true regarding Shabbos davening; we spent one Shabbos per annum in my Rebbetzin’s home community and one in my own, and that was it.
Now, in Toronto, we are the proverbial starveling at the buffet, and we’ve taken advantage of it. We’ve davened at pretty much every minyan that has a women’s section in our main shul, and we’ve also gone to almost every other shul within 30-minutes’ walk for a Shabbos morning, and we’ve also had shabbatons in other Toronto neigborhoods. Those neighborhood shuls we have not yet attended are on the list for a visit soon, since the weather is warming up; this shabbos we’re trying another one for the first time, actually.
This is an interesting experience, all that I had hoped it would be. More than just pursuing variety, we're learning; we’re seeing the way others do things, observing their methods and adding them to our own.
There is, of course, a down side to this impermanence (like sitting in someone else's seat every week and watching the people around you as they try to figure out how to say something rude in a polite way...), but for now the trade-off is worthwhile. We’re seeing yeshivish davening, chassidish davening, youth-oriented davening (our main Shabbos morning experience), choral davening, speed davening, early-morning davening, outreachy davening, and, of course, experienced-davener-rushing-to-kiddush davening.
Our adventure this past Shabbos was a perfect example of the benefits of shul-hopping: We spent Shabbos at Adas Israel in Hamilton, Ontario, where we had two particularly positive davening experiences. Kabbalat Shabbat was an outstandingly spiritid sort-of-Carlebach experience, led by a chazan with true koach (energy) and joined by a minyan to match. At the other end of Shabbos we had an absolutely beautiful Havdalah, energetic and musical and inspiring. The whole Shabbos was great, but those two parts were, for me, the definite highlight, and they added to my own inventory of ideas and experiences.
If I do return to the rabbinate one day, it will be with the richness of this experience very much in my mind. For now, I’ll take advantage of the chance to build the wealth.