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The Rabbi’s Right Hand

C. B. Lieber

Shul rebbetzins give of their time, their energy, their family life — and yet, they say, they wouldn’t have it any other way

Monday, September 18, 2017

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Rebbetzin Deena Davidovich: “It’s important to be relatable, that’s what people appreciate. When I go through something difficult, I think, I know I’m going to be able to use this to help other people. You don’t have to be perfect — whip up amazing Shabbosos, be the ideal mother. I’m not a perfect mother. Do I always have the perfect answer and the perfect reaction? Probably not. But that’s okay”

"If you feel people are in a better place — both emotionally and spiritually — because of you, that’s an enormous privilege and a fantastic feeling,” says Rebbetzin Via Kimche of Ner Yisrael in London, who’s been a shul rebbetzin for 33 years. Yet, she notes, being a rebbetzin is also a huge responsibility. “My husband and I talk almost every night about shul business. We try our best, but it’s almost mission impossible to take adequate care of around 1,000 souls — to be like a father and mother to them — both in terms of pastoral care and spiritual leadership. The most important element is true love, respect, and empathy for your congregants. I daven for them, especially on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

The job of a shul rav is fairly well-defined — he gives shiurim, offers guidance, paskens halachah, attends life-cycle events, and is there whenever his congregants need him. But what about a shul rebbetzin? Her role is far more fluid, depending on her individual personality, her shul’s expectations, and her family and other responsibilities. Yet she, too, can make a difference in many people’s lives. Several shul rebbetzins share the ways in which life in the public arena can be challenging — and fulfilling.

Role Model and Friend

No matter what role a rebbetzin wants to play in her community, her primary role is to serve as a support for her husband, says Rebbetzin Michal Cohen of Congregation Adas Yeshurun in Chicago. “Being a rabbi is definitely the hardest job in the world. It’s 24/7. It’s very easy for a rav to get lost in the needs of his kehillah. Having a supportive wife who enables him to do what he does, understands how much he has on his head, and helps give him perspective is very important.”

“The demands of the rabbanus can be overwhelming,” agrees Rebbetzin Esther Reisman of the Agudath Israel of Madison, in Brooklyn. “A rebbetzin has to create a kind of oasis. Despite the fact that a rabbinic home becomes something of a reshus harabim, it must also serve as an oasis for the rav and a respite from the pressure.”

 

Although a rebbetzin’s main responsibility is to her husband and family, Rebbetzin Reisman adds, there’s also an achrayus to her kehillah, to care about them and try to be there for them. “She should see what people in the kehillah need, try to create connections for people who feel disenfranchised for whatever reason. 
Be available if people want guidance or to unburden themselves or to vent. A rebbetzin should try, to the best of her ability, to be attuned to the members of her kehillah and sensitive to their needs — whether it’s a warm greeting, an invitation, or networking for a job or a shidduch.”

In addition to what she does for the community, a rebbetzin is often viewed as a role model, notes Rebbetzin Cohen. “We need to be transparent. People want to grow, to see how someone else does it. It’s a very multifaceted position, something you can do so much with.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 560)

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