Thursday, April 2, 2009

I got the Motts-ah… and some reinforcement

Yesterday I drove into Brooklyn to pick up our community’s Shatzer hand-shmurah matzah for Pesach, as I do each year. [Last year I blogged the annual trip here.]

The drive was relatively uneventful, thank Gd. The drivers were the usual, the double-parkers were the usual, and the rain did not begin until I was almost home.

New Jersey still makes me laugh, though.

Driving from Highway 78 to the Holland Tunnel, you take a short ride north up the eastern edge of New Jersey, so that New Jersey is on your left and New York City is on your right, and the difference between the two states is crystal-clear. On your left, marshy swamp and factories. On your right, tall, graceful skyscrapers, the NYC skyline, the Liberty Science Center, and the Statue of Liberty (which may belong to New Jersey in title, but is so New York in character).

New Jersey drivers are amusing, too. When New Jersey drivers try to drive tough, it’s like they’re trying on something that’s too big for them; they remind me of small boy wearing his father’s suit jacket.

While headed in, I caught a radio interview with an author (I never caught his name) discussing his new book. Apparently, much of the book is about his relationship, or lack thereof, with his father. His father was a successful businessman who spent all of his time on work and none of his time on his son.

The son became a high school football star – and the father never came to see him play. Once, the father came to the State Championship game, stood there talking to two other men in suits for a few minutes, then left.

It’s a familiar story, even a tired one in the sense that there isn’t anything to add; we’ve all heard it and seen it in one form or another, and we know it’s awful, even abusive. Parents shape their children’s lives with the love they show and the love they withhold.

But it reinforced me in my decision to step away from the pulpit.

Although every rational congregant wants the rabbi to spend time with his family, the rabbi forever deals with tension between wanting to save the world and wanting to be with his wife and children. The fact that the latter often involves fun and relaxation makes it seem more about personal enjoyment, something optional – as opposed to sitting at a hospital bed, counseling someone in need, teaching a shiur or attending a community program.

I think I have done a decent job of balancing the two sides, the community’s needs and my family’s needs, but in the end one side must always pay for the other. Perhaps parents of young children simply shouldn’t be pulpit rabbis; I don’t know. But listening to that wounded author speak, I knew once again that this move is the right thing.

…which is a good thing, because housing in Toronto is double, literally, what it costs in Allentown…


  1. What's the deal with New Jersey's jug handles. Just trying to make a regular left turn there can be an adventure in stupidity.

  2. You've often reflected on this tension, and i'm glad you've made a choice you feel good about.

    It's important also, to show our children that family time is one of your core values. They'll remember that, as grownups, when making their own choices.

  3. Jack-
    Not to mention the signage. A million signs saying "Turnpike 20 miles... 10 miles... 5 miles... 3 miles" but the turn-off itself won't have a Turnpike sign.


  4. You're going to have to get used to the metric system, eh?

    (PS my word verification is roaddamm

  5. liberty science center is in NJ even though its on the right side

    regarding the tensions between a pulpit rabbi and his children, there is a relevant story that a conservative rebbetzin once told me . . . but alas i can't remember it now

  6. Shorty-
    That and funny money.

    Really? No wonder it was down for construction for so long! But it does look cool from the outside...

  7. so...this means its not just about the high school neccesities of our children. these are important things to know as i begin faking my way through the rabbinate.have a great shabbas and chag kasher v'sameach.Brad

  8. Brad-
    Faking? Bad idea in the rabbinate...