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The Rebbetzin’s Juggling Act

on Friday, January 11 2013. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Guest post by Rebbetzin Yocheved Goldberg

What is a Rebbetzin?

It struck me recently that aside from “First Lady,” I cannot think of any other title or appellation that is based solely on one’s spouse’s job.  A woman is called a Rebbetzin not for anything she does, but rather because her husband happens to be a Rabbi.  A Rebbetzin does not graduate with a degree in Rebbetzining.  Her sole effort to earn her title is to marry a Rabbi.   “Rebbetzin” is the only position where you have a title, there are expectations and work demanded of you, and yet, you have no contract, you’re not compensated and you never even formally agreed to the job.

This past week, Arielle Moskowitz and I had an amazing opportunity to attend Yeshiva University’s annual Rebbetzin’s Yarchei Kallah.  It is a two day conference that brings together women from all over the world to learn about, explore, and be inspired by their unique roles as community Rebbetzins. There were women ranging in ages with varying years of experience, and coming from different size Shuls. There were assistant Rebbetzins, college campus Rebbetzins, outreach Rebbetzins and more.  The days were packed with sessions that dealt with the multi-faceted life of a couple in the Rabbinate and the roles a Rebbetzin plays in enriching her community.  The conference also served another purpose – to facilitate a bond and camaraderie among the Rebbetzins so that they would be able to turn to each other in the future for support and guidance.

What’s nice about this conference is how the topics addressed throughout the two days relate to a very broad range of aspects of Rabbinic life and diverse issues that come up in the community.  There is a great balance of classes that pertain to the personal, family life of the Rabbinic couple and the professional, public life they share with their community.  This year some of the topics that were addressed were practical advice for teaching Kallah classes, how we can help cancer survivors and couples suffering with infertility, a class on headcovering and tips for doing outreach.  We learned about the obstacles to shalom bayis (harmony in the home) and how to balance all of the roles that we play in our everyday lives.

Over the two days, I met a diverse array of women who amazed me.  Some were doctors while others were lawyers.  There were fitness instructors, schoolteachers, psychologists, and therapists.  Some were stay at home moms and many have large families.  I looked around and asked myself, why are we all here?  We’re all busy and are juggling such crazy schedules.  It wasn’t easy to leave our husbands, who already have tremendous responsibilities, in charge of our households and children.  Why would we want to spend time learning about a role that we only inherited through marriage?

The truth is, however, that while we all have busy lives, our role as Rebbetzins is special and sacred and we love it.  We do not see it as a burden or another added pressure to our lives.  On the contrary, we embrace it and realize that it enhances our lives and the lives of our family.  To be involved in chesed on a constant basis, to teach Hilchos Niddah to women and Bat Mitzvah classes to young girls, to be there for people during their most difficult times and their most joyous occasions, is something that we treasure and are so grateful for.  Our role as a Rebbetzin is one that can be used to foster close relationships with people we may never have met if we were not in this position.  It gives us the opportunity to host a vast range of interesting and special people at our Shabbos table and as a result, teach our children the Mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim.   We can be fully engaged in your Simchas and we can understand your pain during your most difficult of times because we share a closeness with you that is unique.

Therefore, taking the time to attend a conference of this nature is an opportunity we grab and truthfully, look forward to all year.  It gives us the ability to learn new counseling techniques and teaching skills and how to deal with issues that come up.

But most importantly, it reminds us how much we are capable of doing.  Each year I feel more empowered to be an active “Rebbetzin” and not just the passive “wife of the Rabbi.”  I cherish my role and I realize how much I can do for the community.  Spending two days hearing stories from Rebbetzins of other communities makes me incredibly appreciative for the extraordinary community we are privileged to be part of and the special relationships we share with each of you.

One of the most important things I was reminded of at this year’s conference is that while as Rebbetzins we have multiple roles and responsibilities, there will inevitably be conflicts in life and we can’t always “do it all.”  I want to take this opportunity to apologize to you if I have missed an important occasion in your life or did not show up at your simcha, shiva, or event.  Part of this balancing act is going to include making tough decisions and prioritizing.  Thank God I have a large family and a little baby (boy, in case you haven’t heard) at home and they always have, and always will, come first.   If that means that there will be times that I am in a rush and don’t engage in conversation with you at the supermarket or I’m busy running around shul gathering up my children and don’t acknowledge you at the Kiddush, it’s not because I don’t care about you.  I’m just “juggling” and trying to do the best I can.

Even though there is no official job that we sign up for and we don’t have a contract or a salary, there is a very significant role we can play and that could enhance the lives of the community members, and of the Rebbetzin and her family.  I certainly feel that way and I look forward to many more years, with God’s help, of being there with you during your important occasions, hosting you in our home, and fostering close relationships with you.  Thank you for making my “job” so easy, and enriching, and for providing my family’s life with fulfillment, purpose, meaning and love.

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