Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

The View from the Fishbowl

Gila Arnold

Think of the qualities associated with public service for the community. What adjectives come to mind? Selfless, perhaps. Idealistic. Giving. Devoted and focused on the big picture are also apt descriptions of public service. The blurring of boundaries between work and home is something every working person juggles. But those boundaries become even blurrier when you have a highly prominent position in your community. How do you face your neighbor at the grocery store when you're advising her dying mother?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

There is no question that starring front and center in the community are the shul rav and rebbetzin. Every aspect of their behavior, and their children's behavior, is subject to public scrutiny. As Rabbi Emanuel Feldman puts it in his book, Tales Out of Shul (ArtScroll), “Rabbis try to create observant Jews among their flock, not realizing that the flock is already quite observant.” (He humorously describes being approached on a given Shabbos in shul by two members, one who is concerned that the rabbi has lost weight, another commenting that he has gained.)

“The rabbi's family is supposed to be perfect,” says Shira Romm, whose husband, Rabbi Zvi Romm, is the rav of the historic Bialystoker shul on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “People look at us as the model of the happy Jewish home. The rebbetzin is seen as this tzadeikes who never yells at her children, whose children always behave.” However, she adds, having been the rav and rebbetzin of the shul for eight years already, “my community has learned that this is not true!”

She describes what it feels like to be such a prominent member of the community. “For better or for worse, every time you walk outside, people notice. If you go to the pizza store or the hairdresser -- you just have to come to terms with the fact that you're one of those people that others will notice, and keep that in mind. Hopefully, as a Jew and a bas Yisrael you feel that anyway, but yes, this takes it to a different level.”

The loneliness inherent in the role of rabbi and rebbetzin is a real issue. “Although we are friendly with the people in our shul, I don't think it's an equal friendship, because as the rav and rebbetzin there are things that you just can't share with a shul member, even though they will share those same things with you. The average woman can ask her next-door neighbor for help or advice if she's going through a tough time, but I can't always do that.”

As a result, a very important part of her social life is networking with other shul rebbetzins.

“Yeshiva University has an annual conference for rebbetzins that they've been running for six years now. I've gone ever since they started, and always come back feeling freed up from whatever situation I was dealing with at the time.”

But, most important of all, the rabbi and rebbetzin have each other. “A positive outgrowth of the limited social aspect in the community is that the rav and rebbetzin have to become each other's best friends. Because we have no one else to talk to about a lot of issues, we tend to turn to each other more.”


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"