If you would glance at my bio photograph, you would see a young, dynamic rabbi (that would be me) holding a baby (our second child).
If you would look at the date on the scanned picture, you would see that it was June 14, 2001 – two days after that baby was born, and eight days after we moved to our new home, Allentown, Pennsylvania.
But what you would likely not realize - unless you were ridiculously expert in the history of the Allentown Jewish Community - is that June 12, 2001, the evening that baby was born, was also the evening of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley’s gala closing meeting/party of 2001, and that as my wife was in labor, my cell phone (as well as our home phone) was ringing with calls asking why I wasn’t at that meeting.
There were several reasons why people wanted to make sure I knew about the Federation's meeting, and would attend:
1) A Federation’s closing meeting is its chance to honor people who have worked hard for the community all year, and so many of the community’s hard workers attend. Big chance to meet the people with whom I would be working.
2) My predecessor did a great job of integrating our shul and the Orthodox community into the Federation community, and everyone would be looking to see whether I would continue that effort.
3) The Federation folks had been told that I had just moved in, and expected to be able to publicly welcome me at the program. It would not do for me to pull a Joe the Plumber and miss my shout-out.
Rabbis are, of course, permitted to miss community events for the sake of family; most people understand that some things (even things less serious than the birth of a child) must come first. Many people even specifically encourage it, saying, “Rabbi, you also need to look after yourself.”
But missing those events, even justifiably, generally comes with a price - especially if they are social events - because:
(1) It’s good to be able to spend time with people outside of formal work time,
(2) The connecting you don’t do at the community event still must be done some other time, and
(3) Even most of the people who understand that you had to miss their event will still feel bad about it.
But, of course, I was busy that night, and so I missed the big closing meeting. It would not be the last time I would miss a community event for the sake of family, but it would definitely be among the most memorable.