What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is written by Rabbi Laura Baum and Rabbi Carrie Vogel.
One day last year, I was in one of our 4th grade classrooms, filling in for a teacher who had called in sick. I thought it would be a good opportunity to have one of our “Ask the Rabbi” conversations – periodic opportunities for the students to ask whatever questions they might have to one of the rabbis at our synagogue. I gave them a few minutes to write down their questions on index cards and then settled in to answer some questions about Jewish rituals, liturgy and philosophy.
What I got, was this…
“What is your favorite food?
“What do you like to do in your free time?”
“What is your favorite Hebrew letter?”
“Which Harry Potter book do you like the most?”
“Are you married?”
Later that night, I was telling my friend and colleague, Laura, about the conversation, when I realized they were really asking, “Are you a regular person?”
(By the way, pizza, be outside, how can I choose just one!, Goblet of Fire and yes.)
So, what I most want you to know about being a rabbi is…yes, we are just regular people.
I love grocery shopping, exercise walks, reading, baking, singing along to show tunes in my car and watching Parenthood, The Daily Show, So You Think You Can Dance and the X-Men movies.
I do not love putting away laundry, traffic, being late or spicy foods. I enjoy doing crafts, but I am not very good at them.
I love that I get to help children explore their values, understand how several thousand years of Jewish history can be meaningful to their lives and teach them how to read our liturgy in Hebrew. I love that each day brings opportunities to support our families when they need it most, and that includes times of true celebration and struggle, and also the daily bumps that we all face.
I love that every day is different. One day I might lead a funeral for the nursery school’s deceased frog (you try giving a eulogy for a frog named Paul McCartney without laughing) and the next I am teaching a group of seventh graders what our tradition says about providing food for those who are hungry. I love that I can have thoughtful, critical, impassioned discussions with students about the stories in our Torah and also, whether “paper” really should beat “rock” in “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”
I want you to know that being a rabbi requires a willingness to shoulder a great amount of responsibility. That, like every job, there are moments when it is exhausting and frustrating. That the blurred boundaries which come with being a “public” figure can be difficult to navigate (Read how I publicly responded to the “When are you going to have a baby?” question, here.). That being a female rabbi adds yet another layer to an already complex experience (both for us and for some of our congregants). But that despite all of these things, I can’t imagine anything else that I would rather wake up each morning and do. For me, being a rabbi is the best mix of all of the things I value personally and I feel lucky to be able to do those things professionally, each day.
I want you to know that I do not feel called by God to do this work. Instead, I feel called by the community of people whom I have the privilege of serving.
I want you to know that I do not believe the bible is a book of facts. Instead, I believe in science and evolution and also the power and importance of tradition and ritual.
I want you to know that I do not think clergy have special access to God or our faith. Instead, I know that all people are equally able to access whatever moves them spiritually.
I want you to know that I do not support fundamentalist groups which are exclusive. Instead, I support communities which open their arms to all people, of all backgrounds, at all times in their lives.
I want you to know that while I may not “look like a rabbi,” I am one. And I am also, just a regular person.
I want you to know that I think there are many definitions of being religious. For me, it’s not necessarily about belief in God or a supernatural being who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and willing to intervene on my behalf. More central to my religious life are embracing personal responsibility, learning, being in community, and having a commitment to social action and social justice.
I want you to know that I am not interested in converting you, making you more religious, or convincing you that religion is necessary in your life. I value that we are each on our own spiritual journeys (or not) and I respect wherever you are on yours.
I want you to know that there are times when I prefer to question answers rather than answer questions. I think it’s vital to challenge assumptions and boldly think in new ways.
I do not believe that religion should be frozen in time or celebrated only as a museum piece. It’s ours to play with – to struggle with – to reinvent. Just as our ancestors were able to create experiences that were meaningful for them, so too should we enjoy that same freedom.
I want you to know that I value science and reason. When religion and science conflict, I believe religion needs to change. I want you to know that critical thinking and intellectual honesty are core to my Judaism. I want you to know that scholarship has taught me that the Bible has multiple human authors and editors who compiled a brilliantly creative text. I read it as a snapshot into the past – not as a guide for how to live my life today.
I want you to know that I say what I mean and mean what I say. I believe strongly that words have power – and so I use them with an awareness of that. What I say from the pulpit is consistent with what I say in the classroom and in the foyer and in my home. I am irked when clergy speak out of two sides of their mouth.
I want you to know that I do not think of myself as a woman rabbi. I am a rabbi, who happens to be a woman. I don’t think of my doctor as a woman doctor or my accountant as a woman accountant, so I hope others won’t think of me as a woman rabbi either.
I am a rabbi for many reasons, but largely because of my commitment to the Jewish people. I value Jewish community and have the privilege of being a rabbi of both a bricks-and-mortar and online synagogue. So, yes, I want you to know that community most certainly can be found online – and that religion’s ability to evolve with the times will be key to its success.
I want you to know that I can date whomever I choose, drink whatever I like, and swear like a truck driver (if I want to). These are not the first things that come to mind when you ask me what I want you to know – but I know at least some of you want to know them, since I get asked a version of these questions at least weekly. As Carrie said, we are just people.