RBS — my hubby and incumbent rabbi at Nairobi Synagogue — studied at YCT Rabbinical School in New York City — oh so many light-years away from East Africa — where open-minded, open-orthodox males study to become even more open-minded, open-orthodox rabbis. We do like them open.
Many of the students are already married and most, if not all, of their wives are highly educated professionals. So there was always going to be some degree of irony to the fact that YCT offers students’ spouses their very own ‘wives’ club’.
The idea is that being wife of a trainee rabbi, and even more so, of a real practising rabbi, has its own particular status and challenges, and there was stuff that we wives would have in common and wish to discuss and delve into.
It was always entertaining to attend these wives’ meetings. Without exception, every get-together involved at least one of the highly educated women present protesting about the existential fact that this very meeting existed; we were highly educated women and what on earth were we doing being in a ‘wives’ club’. A couple of my peers seemed particularly outraged — not sure why they kept coming to the meetings, bit of an attraction-repulsion thing going on? — and would always go off on an irate rant on this theme.
I personally didn’t always see the point of the meetings — and certainly did enjoy joining in at times with the aforementioned feminist outrage. On the other hand, being a newcomer to the States, I found it a great opportunity to meet other like-minded women.
One thing I did take away with me from those encounters were words which now resonate strongly with me, as I’m living the life of a rabbi’s wife out in a far-flung community. Women already out in the field would guest-star at these meetings and one thing they all described was a particular kind of loneliness they felt in their role as rabbi’s wife.
We are caught in a kind of Catch-22 position. Are congregants able to see us as a real friend or someone to be friendly-with-but-keep-their-distance-from because we are the rabbi’s wife? Conversely, do we, as the rabbi’s wife, have to maintain a distance of our own, not join in with the gossip (ha ha), never complain? This is probably one reason, among many, why I have such an aversion to the title ‘rebbetzin’. Having a title necessarily creates distance, and I’m still just Rebecca. I’m the same person, so please approach without trepidation.
I discovered I was feeling this very loneliness when I looked at my mobile phone the other day and realised that it had not rung for something like 48 hours. I suddenly had a visceral craving for a massive gossip session with my good old mates from London (where I grew up). The irony, of course, is that RBS, the Eeyore to my Tigger, now has to spend far more time on the phone than I do, speaking to congregants, dealing with community affairs and generally doing the sociable thing that rabbis have to do.
But it’s not all doom and gloom — some, if not many, congregants have quite effortlessly broken through that psychological barrier and are quite comfortable treating me as Rebecca, calling RBS by his first name and generally relating towards us as real friends. Also, being parents of a very cute child is definitely helping us win friends and admirers.
Now, if someone could just pick up the phone and give me a call.