Finishing Four Years

4 yearsAs Melissa mentioned, she and I were at an event where we got to talk to several rebbetzins in the field. As we sat around the table, I realized, possibly for the first time, that our time as students is ending. Real life is just around the corner.

The rebbetzins spoke about their journeys – the first congregations, where they met their husbands. Most knew already that their husbands were rabbis – unlike us, who came to it already in the relationship. But R graduates in a few short weeks, and we already know where we’ll be next year (more on that to come, I promise), and so my perspective has shifted. The questions about work-life balance aren’t theoretical, but will rapidly become practical.

It made me realize, also, how much time has passed since we started this journey to the rabbinate, and how different (or not) it looked from what I expected. From my computer in Chicago, I had no idea what to expect. I still don’t yet know the day-to-day realities of “rebbetzining” in a congregation. But I know a lot more than I knew then.

In the past four years:

  • I’ve started and finished a graduate school program in Non-Profit Management and Jewish Studies (thanks NYU!)
  • I’ve held several internships and job
  • R started rabbinical school, set to graduate in June
  • R started a master’s in Modern Jewish History at YU, set to graduate in two weeks
  • We haven’t moved anywhere, although the bookcases in the apartment are multiplying (they’ve doubled in the time we’ve been here!)
  • We’ve met amazing, wonderful, intelligent people that we’re honored to call colleagues and friends
  • Almost five months ago, after two years of struggling with infertility, I gave birth to our beautiful daughter. I’ll write more about that journey soon.

So much has happened, and yet, so much will happen in the next few months. R and I both feel like this is the year we become adults – parents and a new career direction. Life changes like this make me introspective, so I have sense that there will be more posts like this. I also have a whole set of posts languishing in drafts. Watch this space.

Its my birthday and I’ll blog if I want to

Post by Melissa

Post by Melissa

I’ve started to write a few blogs recently, but feel like its weird to just dive back in after my hiatus without saying hello and giving some closure. So, I figured what better day than my 32nd birthday to do just that!

I had a very difficult pregnancy, then a very intense labor and delivery, and then got to snuggle an adorable baby boy at the end of February. He is quite possibly the cutest giant tiny human on earth (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). At this point, I am planning on not posting his photo or many stories about him on the blog, though I do occasionally post it in semi-public places online, the blog is more public than I’m willing to make his life right now.

In June we left Israel as planned, just days before the kidnapping and the subsequent turmoil and war. It broke my heart to be in CA and not in Israel, but alas – it was what it was.

We mostly spent our summer in CA with my dad, learning Gemara, visiting people and places in San Diego, and getting ourselves reacclimated to life in America. After two years in Israel, it definitely took time to get used to customer service, not bagging our own groceries, and having to check for food being kosher.

Also this summer we had the unveiling of my mom’s tombstone and the whole family was together for that, which is always nice – though I hate it has to be for such sad reasons. We tried to balance the sadness of that by the joy of spending the time with the youngest member of the family and remembering the cycle of life.

We did take some time to sign our lease in NY and then visit our friends and family in Denver, reconnecting with a place that meant so much to us for so long. And we took some amazing family photos and new headshots (as seen above) with our beloved wedding photographer/friend.

Our first Shabbat in our new community was my mom’s first Yarthzeit and yesterday was my first real Yizkor, so I’m now in a new phase post-aveilut. I’m trying to embrace all the things which reminded me of her and were too hard to deal with last year as ways of honoring her memory in the coming years. (This includes recognizing and celebrating birthdays, hence my acknowledging that in this post.)

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What now, you ask?

Well, we are finally living the dream.

D (who is now going by his Hebrew name, so shall hence forth be N as in Nachum) is now a first year student at Yeshivat Chovevi Torah (YCT).

I am also a first year student – at Yeshivat Mahara’t! (Surprise! Only not, right?)

When Jessica and I started this blog, N going to rabbinical school was the goal but it seemed far off, and then as life happened it kept getting pushed back – so its crazy to think that its finally happening. And that I’m doing it too.

Not surprisingly, having a high-needs baby and being in my first year at Yeshivat Mahara’t already keep my plate quite full. Yet, I find writing cathartic and good for processing my thoughts – so I’m hoping to post semi-frequently both here and on the JOFA blog, “The Torch,” but I make no promises on frequency or remembering to cross post the ones from JOFA.

I hope you all had a wonderful year, and a rejuvenating Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur. 🙂

A Rebbetzin is not a Rabbi

I have been involved in a few conversations lately about a topic that really agitates me, so when I saw the premise used to prove the exact opposite, I simply couldn’t not say my piece publicly any longer.

A Rebbetzin is not a female Rabbi. Sorry Orthodox Jewry, but its just not reality.

While many Rebbetzins or Rabbanits  (not getting into the semantics on this one now, been there done that) do serve as leaders in their communities, many do not. While some have a high level of education, some do not. And on the flip side, while some women who want to be leaders in the community marry Rabbis, others do not. The premise is that all women who want to lead have to marry Rabbis, and that all Rabbis have to marry women who want to be leaders. This is not realistic and it is not fair.

In this recent opinion piece by Rabbi Dan Friedman posted on The Jewish Week, the author uses this assumption to reach a conclusion I agree with, I just wish I could agree with his process more. The fact of the matter is that there are indeed women serving in great leadership roles in the Orthodox world, there are women who are certified by programs in Israel and America to be religious/halachic leaders and there are those who have stepped up without a formal program backing them. That is a great thing to recognize and to share widely. The problem begins when we believe that reassigning a title or suggesting that one method should be good enough for everyone will be the solution. Its not.

For some women, that is the level of religious and communal leadership that works for them. However, that it is good for a portion of the population doesn’t inherently mean that it is good for everyone. We have to allow women to find ways to lead that are personally meaningful – be it a a Rebbetzin, Jewish educator, communal worker, yoetzet halacha, or full fledged member of the clergy*.

We no longer tell girls who dream of working in the medical profession than being a nurse is “close enough” to being a doctor, so why should those who dream of working in the religious world settle for “close enough”? If women are able to learn at the level of men, why limit their professional advancement to who they marry?

*I said clergy so as to leave the semantics question out of it. I don’t think what the title is matters as much as giving women formal training to serve in these functions.

What Rabbis Do?

I tend to not be a big fan of memes as they are often overblown, however the latest one with a series of photos about what various people think of different professions has been interesting. I’ve learned lots of fun things about my friends and what they are really up to these days, as well as how they really see themselves based on which ones they are posting.  (Every so often the social worker in me comes out!)

Tonight, two versions of this meme for rabbis crossed my Facebook newsfeed, and I just had to throw them out to the blog and see what people thought of them, though I am going to hold my own reflections for the moment.

 

 

I’m still waiting for a general Jewish Communal Professionals one. Anyone seen one?

Any of our rebbetzin readers want to share what they’d put on one?

Wives Club

post by Jessica

About a week ago, we had the first meeting of the wives club for the rabbinical school. Clearly the experience of my fellow wives is something that I’m interested in, but I wasn’t sure exactly what the meeting would be. It was a small group, mostly because there are only about 15 wives total, so miss just a few of them and it’s a small group. Still, it was nice to talk about the issues of the day, and especially to talk to the wife of one of the students who is farther along at the yeshiva, and get her perspective on marriage and family while in yeshiva.

It’s part support group and part discussion group, so there were actually a few questions passed around for discussion. They were really interesting, a sort of check-in with where we are and I thought I’d share some of them and my answers now that I’ve had a little while to think about them. The subject was religious differences, which is something that R and I have been navigating since we started dating.

1. Do you anticipate conflict between your own religious beliefs and practices and the expectations of that others (including your spouse) have of you?

Lately, there hasn’t been too much conflict between the two of us about religious practice/belief. Most of the conflict is me being conflicted about my own level of observance. However, my conflict is largely stemming from what I anticipate will be the expectations of me when we are in a community and he is the rabbi and separating that from what I feel committed to. I anticipate that conflict, and I’m not sure how it will play out.

2. Are R & I on the same page religiously? How are we the same/different?

We are probably more similar now than we have been in a while, but there are definitely areas of difference. We consciously strive to make sure that it’s not in areas of communal need (i.e. not interfering with one another’s practice), and in general it’s that I’m more liberal than he is. I do think that we’ve both been consciously getting back into some traditions that we got out of while we were being crazy with Hillel.

3. Are you comfortable having differences in belief and practices?

When our relationship was founded, we knew there were differences, and likely always would be. We’ve gotten closer and farther and closer again over the years, but it’s always been something to be talked about and understood together. I do know that when we have kids it’ll be something that we’ll have to be even more clear about – never mind figuring out what we want to teach them and how.

4. Do you think rabbinical school has had/will have an effect on any of the things mentioned?

I’m not sure yet, clearly. I sort of imagine we might end up incorporating things that he learns in school into our daily practice, or that as he learns things we may have more information to make different decisions in our lives. The thing I do know is that we spend a lot of time talking about both rabbinical school and NYU, trying to share as much as we can. We have really different experiences on a day to day basis, and I think it’s been important to really actively keep those lines of communication open. Hopefully those will help us if any of these issues come up.

On another note, it was really great to meet a few wives and get to talk about these things for a few hours. I’m looking forward to doing it again soon, and I’m grateful that the school supports these kinds of things for us!

The (Evil) Rotem Bill

Ok, so I am sure that some of you are surprised at the lack of commentary on this blog about The “Rotem Bill” which has been all over the Jewish news lately.  For those of you who live under a rock (ok, maybe that was too harsh) and haven’t heard about it,  in short the bill began as a way to ease the conversion process and questions, especially in regards to the relatively recent immigration of Jews from the Former Soviet Union.  However, over time the bill evolved to the point in which it grants all authority over conversion to the Charedi Chief Rabbinate, including retroactively saying conversions are not Kosher.

The reason I have neglected to say anything on it is not because it has not been on my mind, but the exact opposite.  It has been such a heated part of my life, I could not think of how to express myself in words suitable for public consumption.  In fact I still cannot, however I also cannot go another day without mentioning it.  So instead, I will share links to many other prominent organizations and leaders who have written and spoken about the topic. This is by no means a complete list – merely a list of what I have seen and found interesting so please feel free to share more.*

Organizational Statements:

Masorti.org (link)

USCJ.org (link)

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) (link)

Professional Statements:

Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO and Executive Vice President of USCJ (link)

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President, Rabbinical Assembly (link)

Rabbi Marc Angel, Founder/Director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel (link)

Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) (link)

Opinions:

“Are you Jewish Enough?” – Jewish Journal – 07.13 (link)

“The Diaspora Need Not Apply” – New York Times – 07.15 (link)

“Rotem’s Bill Promises but Doesn’t Deliver” – The Jewish Week – 07.20 (link)

“Editors Notes: Unconverted” – JPost  – 07.23 (link)

*As much as I am open to different viewpoints, sometimes I have to hold my ground and this is one of those times.  If you do not agree that this is bad for world Jewry, kindly keep your opinions to yourself or share them on your own blog.  This is something neither Jessica nor I are distant from and we ask you to respect that.

Men plan, God laughs.

post by Jessica

Today, R & I had lunch with our friend E downtown.

This may not seem that dramatic, but if you had a copy of our summer plans as of three weeks ago, this news would have struck you by surprise.

Why? Today, Monday, July 26, was originally moving day, the beginning of our personal Great Schlep to New York City and the beginning of my husband’s and my journey to becoming the Rabbi and Rebbetzin.

Of course, any plan can be modified by a few days one way or the other. The truth is, we had something dramatic happen about three weeks ago. On July 7, we received an exploratory phone call asking if we might be interested in two positions that had opened up at the largest Hillel in the state (also happens to be our Alma Mater), both at an executive level. So, as of our HR training this morning, R is officially the Interim Executive Director and I am the Program Director of a Hillel!

Had the call come even 15 hours later, we probably would have already found an apartment in New York City, and all bets would have been off. We were, in fact, in New York to look for places when we got the call. Given that these positions, which fit so well into our career plans (seriously, we both get experience in areas we want, we feel strongly about Hillel as an organization, and the financial benefit is nothing to sneeze at), fell into our laps at precisely the right moment (or, at least, the last possible moment), we have both had a feeling of the bashert, meant-to-be, about this. We are beyond excited and beyond nervous for this opportunity.

Of course, it has had its share of challenges. We’ve had the basic outline for our plan to move to New York for just about six months, and changing those so quickly has been a challenge. We did finally rent an apartment though – it’s just a little farther west of New York than expected! Since we’ve already been working for a week (despite when our HR training was), it’s been a challenge to try to get our apartment ready here and work as well. Still, we’ve been managing.

We didn’t make the decision lightly, either. R had to request (and did receive) a deferment from the Rabbinical School, which required explaining himself to a lot of people. I have to officially withdraw from NYU (that still has to be accomplished) and reapply in the fall, although I am told my chances are good, but I’m not guaranteed my spot. That’s been the toughest part of this whole thing!

So, our journey for the next year is going to be dramatically different. As we slowly ease our way through the transition, I’m going to work my absolute best to keep our readers up-to-date on what’s going on. As my absence for the last little while has indicated, that can be a huge struggle, but I’ll try not to keep you hanging as long next time! My deepest thanks to Mel, who has kept our little project going while I’ve been so busy!