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Asking the Clergy: How do you spend your summer as a faith leader?

From left, Cantor Judith Berkson of Plainview Jewish

From left, Cantor Judith Berkson of Plainview Jewish Center, the Very Rev. Michael T. Sniffen of Cathedral of the Incarnation, and Mahmood Kauser of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Credit: Evy Rothman; Yvonne Albinowski; Mahmood Kauser

As the high summer season begins, many Long Islanders will escape to the shore, a resort or to the pages of a good read. This week’s clergy discuss how they use their own summer downtime.

Judith Berkson

Cantor, Plainview Jewish Center.

I like to spend the summer months recharging my creative energy. It is from this energy that I can give of myself to all of the families and members of the synagogue. I like to take time to compose music both in the Jewish tradition and outside of it, across a variety of genres. Each style informs the other and makes me feel connected to many traditions and practices.

The summer months provide space and relaxing head space that is necessary to enter a creative place, especially around the month of Elul, the month before the High Holidays that typically corresponds with August. One hears the shofar daily and prepares for the new year. I tend to write new melodies for the synagogue that I then introduce into the High Holiday services.

The Very Rev. Michael T. Sniffen

Dean, Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City

Many clergy are bad at taking time off, myself included! Church doesn’t end with the school year, and the needs of people in the community do not take a summer vacation. However, as Maya Angelou said, “Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

It can be hard to step away from meaningful work, but it is essential to take time for spiritual and physical refreshment. This year, I will spend a few weeks on the North Shore of Long Island, sailing, fishing, reading, running and walking my dogs on the beach. This time helps me to be fully present as a priest and pastor throughout the year.

It is important for clergy to set an example that we are all human beings, not human doings. There are times during the year when I am likely to burn the candle at both ends. Perhaps that is true for you, too. We can’t do that for long without burning out. Hard work must be balanced with rest. We are all made in God’s image, and on the seventh day, God rested. Summer is a great opportunity to reflect the image of God by resting ourselves.

Mahmood Kauser

Imam, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community with Mosques in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Amityville

The main purpose of a sincere cleric is to help connect people with God, and this is a year-round task, especially with Islam’s prayers, fasting and holy celebrations.

Clergy must continually remind people to be grateful, to be kind, caring, loving, compassionate, forgiving and all of the other qualities that help us align ourselves with the true image of God. And this is not a weekend objective or simply for the summer, but a lifelong struggle to reach God.

Because children are off during the summer months, we are able to set up more programs that engage our membership to help foster and blossom these attributes of God. During July Fourth celebrations, our imams invite others to visit our mosques and join in the festivities. On Sept. 11 of every year, our imams along with countless volunteers help to organize blood drives to honor the victims of 9/11 under the Muslims for Life campaign. We also help to organize one of the largest annual Muslim gatherings in the nation in which imams and other scholars highlight ways to achieve peace.

And we continue our Coffee, Cake and True Islam events across the nation on a weekly basis in over 40 mosques. In this way, we try to amplify our peaceful voice of Islam by true and meaningful actions, especially throughout the summer.

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