I highly recommend including in your service for your departing rabbi, a blessing by the entire congregation for the rabbi--a physical one where everyone gets involved. After all, it is usually the other way around for rabbis. Rabbi David Wolfman [the Union?s Northeast Council regional director] orchestrated this for our departing rabbi last spring during a Shabbat Service. It was very moving. The congregants encircled the rabbi to invoke a blessing on him.
Also, I would suggest getting as many of your youth involved as possible in the service; people and segments of the congregation that really were a part of the rabbinate of the person.
I would suggest inviting in a special guest to help make the experience really stand out, in addition to involving the congregation. Our congregation recently had Steve Dropkin, a Jewish composer and musician as a guest at a Friday night service. He accompanied himself on a guitar and the music was sublime. You might ask him to participate in the service; I know he leads all kinds of services--perhaps he might help you design one. He is wonderful--travels everywhere; our congregation responded wonderfully to him and I know other congregations have had him for special events. He was part of the 9-11 service for the Jewish community in Birmingham, Alabama. Sherry
Our longtime rabbi will be retiring. For one of her last Erev Shabbat services, we are planning some farewell elements. That is, we're not looking to put on a special farewell service, but rather include some farewell prayers, blessings, readings, special readers, etc., as part of a more "normal" Friday night service...(This service is in addition to other farewell activities and tributes we have planned.)
David 440 member units
There is a beautiful farewell prayer in the Babylonian Talmud, recited when students/disciples take leave of their teacher/rabbi. [Below] is a periphrastic version (by Larry Kushner, I believe) that we often use at HUC-JIR Ordination in Cincinnati:
Rick Sarason Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought HUC-JIR, Cincinnati
May you live to see the world fulfilled May your destiny be for worlds to come May your trust in generations past and yet to be.
May your eyes shine with the light of holy words And your face reflect the brightness of the heavens May your lips ever speak wisdom Your fulfillment be in justice Even as you ever yearn to listen to the words of the Holy Ancient One of old.
May your heart be filled with intuition And your words be filled with insight May songs of praise be on your tongue Your vision straight before you Even as you ever yearn to listen to the words of the Holy Ancient One of old.
The original (from Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakhot, folio 17a) reads as follows:
May you see your world fulfilled in your lifetime And may your end be the life of the world to come And may your hope be for all generations.
May your heart meditate with understanding And your mouth speak wisdom And your tongue be moved to song.
May your eyelids look straight before you And your eyes shine with the radiance of Torah And your face be radiant as the brightness of the heavens.
May your lips utter knowledge And your whole self rejoice in righteousness And your steps hurry to hear the words of the Ancient of Days.
A few suggestions:
We have services here in the Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living files we can send. They'll have some special prayers in them.
Think about letting your rabbi be a worshiper and have others lead the service. Maybe give her an honor during services.
I've had the tradition of blessing those who leave by placing them in the center of the sanctuary and inviting the congregation to gather around and touch the one who's leaving (a gentle hand on the arm or back or head) or touch someone who's touching the person who is leaving--meaning we're all physically surrounding and connecting to the person being blessed. This allows everyone to be part of the blessing. One person (another clergy member or president or other designated person) gives a brief blessing in English, then the priestly benediction (sung or said), and closes with something brief the whole congregation can sing. It can be a very powerful shared moment.
Gifts are always nice.
Having the kids she's worked with participate is always meaningful--inviting all the kids she's gone through b'nei mitzvah and/or confirmation with to do something during services.
If you haven't already done this--inviting congregants to send in a picture of themselves with your rabbi for a photo album is wonderful.
I would encourage you to write a responsive reading for the congregation, president, and the leaving rabbi to read.
Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM: Serving Reform Congregations in North America