Standing firm in the sand

Post by Melissa

As a Jewish communal professional, my shul is no longer a safe space from the daily grind of work.  I get asked questions about events, people feel they can vent to me about what is going on, and worst of all – I hear the criticisms which I can do nothing about.

As a religious Jew, I need Shabbat to feel like Shabbat. So does my husband.  We wrestle with how to stand up to these people that I will not have these conversations on Shabbat/Chag, without offending them or reflecting poorly upon my agency.  I was told when I took the position that this would occur, I just doubted how fast and furious it would happen. I was definitely not prepared for it to come a mere 6 weeks into the position and on a topic which I didn’t have the authority to discuss in the way these congregants and community members.

While I watched my friends on staff at Hillel and those who are Rabbis face the question of how to make a holiday a sacred space amidst the nature of working in the community – nothing could prepare me for living it myself.  I also know that as a Rebbetzin this will only amplify and that is honestly frightening to me.

As this is still new to me, I ask you dear reader – do you have any insights? What are your tried and true methods for separating the mundane from the holy where there is a line in the community’s sand?   How do you stand firm in the sand, while the tide flows around you?


9 thoughts on “Standing firm in the sand

  1. JewishGal may ultimately be right. In the meantime, you can politely say ” I can’t discuss my agency’s work here on Shabbat. Can you call the office Monday?”

    Your friends will get it; you will learn to avoid the people who don’t.

  2. Barry Wendell has a great suggestion there.

    I feel some of what you write about, being so new to the community support system of my own shul. And also being ever more experienced in how things are done. Shabbat is starting to feel less and less like it, as the opportunity to just ‘be’ becomes slimmer and slimmer. All part of being part of (ooh, bad grammar!) a small-ish community – or should that be an average size community (for England) with a limited number of people who can ‘do’….

    I think sometimes you just have to be firm, albeit polite. And people will learn that ‘no, not today’ really means that. But as you seem to be like many of us, wanting to help wherever you can, it is hard to say that ‘N’ word. But say it you must, for your own sanity, spiritual nourishment and to continue to be able to separate the holy from the mundane.

    Right – just off to try to take some of my own advice…!

  3. This is something that we fiercely assert at shul as we found that members of our staff disliked coming to shul on Shabbat because they didn’t get a break.

    There are some folks who don’t get it, don’t want to get it, or don’t care. It is our role, as educators, to teach and model Shabbat. Insisting on sacred space with a firm, but gentle statement is an important value.

  4. FrummeSarah and Barry Wendell are right. Also, I suggest you and your husband sit down and bluntly discuss ‘what do we need?’ In our house that led to Shabbatot and Yamim Tovim when we (sometimes) don’t have guests. On those days, no matter what went on at davening, we have some of Shabbat for ourselves. The role of ‘community person’ can be tough. The halacha even allows for discussing tzarkei tzibbur – the community’s needs – on Shabbat or Yom Tov. We try to avoid it, but sometimes cannot do so. But at least we have the ability to later retreat to our safe place, physically and metaphysically. I do think most people will get it as you politely insist on talking business on Shabbat.

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