Sunday, August 23, 2009

My First Shabbos Off, and a note on the famous fishbowl

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here!]

Sorry I’ve been neglecting this blog, but my schedule has gone completely upside-down, particularly regarding computer access.

As a shul rabbi I was on-call all the time, and the position certainly required all of my time and then some, but after several years I knew the rhythm well enough to be able to pull aside time for various pursuits. Here, my schedule is entirely off-kilter. More, I had a fixed office with a computer and an internet connection. Here, in this initial stage of moving in, and with our beis medrash space under renovation, everything has been fluid. I suspect this state will continue for some time.

In any case: This was my first Shabbos as a non-rabbi – a civilian! – in over a dozen years.

It was a very odd feeling, preparing for Shabbos without having all of the rabbinic layers on my mind - thinking about who would be around, who would not be around, the kiddush and the eruv (with a tornado here on Thursday!) and the classes and the derashah and the leining and the hospitalizations, etc. I actually found a solid hour before Shabbos to work on unpacking boxes!

I davened with my kids Shabbos morning, and was able to devote more attention to them. I missed leining, but the baal keriah was all right. And my own shemoneh esreih was not interrupted by thoughts of who was/wasn’t there, who I would need to buttonhole at kiddush, what I would need to remember for after shabbos, etc.

Yes, a guy could really get used to this.

In truth, I wasn’t entirely off-duty. I was asked to give a shiur on Shabbos afternoon, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity; without it, I would not have known what to do with myself.

The shiur itself ended up being a lot of fun; I had one idea, I prepared it and made up source sheets (Mitzvas hamelech, mishpetei meluchah and Elul), and then I woke up Shabbos morning with an entirely different idea (eglah arufah and individual responsibility for others' bad decisions) and went with that. I haven’t done that with a shiur more than a handful of times, if ever; I usually like to stick with my notes and source sheets. But this proved to be a very interesting idea, and I’m glad I improvised.

One last item of note: The famous Fishbowl.

Someone commented to me during shabbos about the fishbowl of working for the Jewish community, the way many people will analyze your words, your clothing, your manner, and find fault in whatever they don’t like and discuss it with their hundred closest friends.

I am glad to say that I really haven’t been bothered by this over the years. Part of that is because Rhode Island and Allentown were more merciful than other communities, but in large part it’s just that I don’t resent the pains I need to take for the sake of community. If I need to watch my words, or calculate carefully before wearing something or going somewhere, that’s part of the price of success.

Further, the fishbowl of the communal professional is not that different from the fishbowl of other jobs; only the scope is different:
If you want to teach schoolchildren, you need to be very careful about how you express yourself in the classroom and with parents.
If you want to deal with business clients, you need to be very careful about how you express yourself in meetings and communications.
And if you want to work for a community you need to be very careful about how you express yourself within that community, whether “on-duty” or “off-duty.”

Is it fair? I don’t know, but why does that matter?


  1. Sounds like a good start to a new adventure.

  2. Hatzlochah Raboh. A friend who was in the rabbinate for many years and then wasn't said that he came to understand the idea of the "Empty Nest Syndrome" when he no longer had a congregation to worry about. All new changes, even good ones, take some time to get used to.

  3. Fair or's life, and I'm relieved that at least someone thinks like that...

    But my gut says you'll miss your community and move back...

  4. Jack - Thanks!

    ProfK - Definitely.

    Chanie - I've thought about it many times, but that wouldn't be fair to my successor. Not to mention, I'd need a job!

  5. Now, this is true....but then again, I didn't think of that...Oh, well. Guess you're stuck in smoggy Toronto. :)