The Truth About Being the Rabbi's Wife – Kveller
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jewish identity

The Truth About Being the Rabbi’s Wife

When we came to California, I was the new, young rabbi’s really young wife. I had a master’s degree in drama therapy, a BFA in drama, and was set to get my acting career going in Los Angeles. I always made sure to have a second set of “temple-ready clothes” in my car at all times, as this was the time period where most auditions I went on required short skirts and low cut tops.

So I could chant a mean Torah portion and then show up for a casting call for a porn star. I never hid my profession from our congregants. I showed up where I was invited, participated where I could be of use, and got my acting career going in theater and on TV.

I felt accepted and loved, and I genuinely loved back. The Jewish world had always nourished me, and this leadership role in such a vibrant temple only excited me to learn and do more than ever. My new role in the community felt only complementary to my pursuits as an actress and creative individual. I rarely felt they clashed.

Very early on, other clergy people’s wives gave me advice. They followed this sort of theme: Thou shalt not get involved, thou shalt not volunteer, and thou shalt not attend services regularly. They told me that it would not be good for me to make myself relied upon. I was horrified. This was not my idea of marriage, let alone community. I come from a Labor Zionist background and am used to jumping in to help. Not to mention, it seemed I would never even see my husband if I heeded those warnings!

For the first time ever though, these days, I understand. I am no longer the new, young wife of the new young rabbi. In fact, now we have been in our community the longest–my perky Sunday mornings as the Israeli dance teacher have come and gone, and though I still love chanting Torah, I just can’t do it as often. I lead yoga and meditation, but now that our kids are older, I barely volunteer for much else.

Though I may be “doing” less work within my temple community, I actually feel the restrains of my role in a new way. In my early days, I might have heard a couple of comments through the clergy grapevine that a skirt was too short, or that I shouldn’t chew gum at the temple: both of which I took to heart, smiled, and made the appropriate adjustments.

However, either due to the advance of social media, or the advance of my career as an actress, I have felt more of a divide between my roles as clergy wife and actress. I recently completed a new web-series, with another clergy wife, her writing partner, and my sister-in-law, also an involved congregant. This endeavor was a true labor of love, as most good things are. With the participation of family, friends, and actually many in our congregation, we raised funds, and got it made.

But then something happened: I did a cute photo shoot sitting on a toilet without showing anything revealing to promote my fun TV creation all about moms, competition, and the messiness that goes on in real life. Yup, I did that.

In the promotion phase, which has mostly been done through the monster that is social media, I have been met with concerns. “Is this appropriate?” people want to know. This confuses me, and maybe even saddens me, if I am being truly honest.

It has gotten me thinking.  Have I always been looked at “only” as the dutiful wife in a pretty dress next to the tall guy in the white robe? When my other life became more visible, was it suddenly distasteful?

I hope that especially now, in this day and age and with the rigidity we are seeing politically, we can continue to enlarge our vision of one another.

I consider myself deeply Jewish, after all— spiritual and emotionally connected, both as an individual and as one committed to a constant renewal of the rituals and practices brought us by our ancestors. I honor and show my leadership as a Jewish woman and wife as I sub for the cantor, or when I chant Torah, or when I sing in prayer with my husband. But I also have another side: fun, irreverent, creative.

Does this make me less Jewish, less spiritual? I am searching for a way to integrate my Jewish practices with all my life practices, the practice of motherhood, of yoga teacher, and yes, of being a performer. Sometimes my performances will be in the Jewish realm, like my solo show, and sometimes, they will  depict me as a crying mess. I always know who I am though. My husband and my daughters know too.

And I like that I am often known by a given show’s cast to be the girl that will bring her home-baked challah to a set or orchestrate quick candle lighting before curtain to start Shabbat. I know as someone who puts herself out there, I will always encounter both positive and negative perceptions of me.

Of course, synagogue life breeds that as well, as we all feel entitled to speak our minds when we choose to live in community. I will continually ask the questions that can lead me toward deepening my connection to Judaism—I will embrace this dual as the wife of a Jewish leader, and as a woman with creative expression and pursuits of her own.

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