Going Back to Work

The essence of going back to work as a congregational rabbi is this: picking up the threads of the stories of dozens of lives.

On Monday night I wrote:

Tomorrow I’m going back to work. I’ve had a gift of weeks off this summer, and I’ve spent it with my family getting used to the farm and the farm work; usually I go to camp for 2 weeks (as faculty), but this summer I knew there would be too much to do around the farm. Which is exactly how it turned out: We got a lot done, and played together as a family too. But there are plenty of big projects still to squeeze in on days off during the late summer and early fall.

Tomorrow I go back to rabbi work; I’m technically 7/8 time, but that means that I get extra weeks off, not work less when I’m working. So off I go to work full-time.

So once again, I have to figure out which clothes to wear. I know that this is particularly an issue for female rabbis; but I’m not particularly fashion-conscious and never have been, so at first I have to think pretty hard to put together something that’s comfortable and looks appropriate. And I do a lot of different things, so it’s not like I can figure out one “look” and use it all the time. (Nor would I want to. Part of what I love about my job is the variety.) It’s been shorts and T-shirts this summer, like most folks in the Northern Hemisphere who aren’t working, and the big difference has been between barn clothes (smell like goats) and regular summer clothes (don’t smell like goats). Now it’s going to be barn clothes in the morning — I’ll do the morning milking — and then *poof!* change into a rabbi. Or at least into rabbi clothing.

It’s been a good summer. We’ve hatched 15 chicks, at least some of which are hens, and they’re running around growing pretty fast in their little hawk-proof (we hope!) enclosure. Our third goat, Nessie Bell, gave birth this past weekend, and we were in the barn watching because it happened at milking time! That was a Shehecheyanu moment. One sturdy buckling, growing well. Would have been nice to have a doeling, but this was Nessie’s first, and it’s healthy and so is she, so that’s fine. Now we’ll be milking 3 goats, and most of the milk is ours, so we’ll be making yogurt and cheese and kefir.

We sold two goats and they moved away this weekend — Scamper and Desi. They’re going to a good home to be pets, and since we weren’t going to breed either of them, they were extras in our herd. Letting them go was sad, especially because Desi was the prettiest goat, but it was sensible. And the baby was born the night before they left. Youngest Son put his finger right on it when I asked him yesterday if he wanted to say good-bye to the goats: “They’re going to live somewhere else?” “Yes.” “That’s sad. But we have a new baby goat.”

I hope I’ll still be able to get up and do early morning walks with the dogs, and have time to check out the beehives (they’re still making honey for themselves for over the winter, haven’t started on the box that will be ours), and sit watching the chicks and kids. (Goat kind, I mean.) The plan is for me to do the morning milking, but if it means that I don’t see my other kind of kids — the boy kind — then we’ll have to re-think this.

Becuase one irony of being a rabbi is that in a religious culture (Judaism) that values family and children, where the rabbi is supposed to be an exemplar of our religious values, a rabbi’s schedule makes it very hard for the rabbi to be home with her or his family on any regular basis.

I know colleagues who work morning and evening and take the afternoon off, so that they can be there when their kids get home from school and participate in after-school activities. I like that idea, but I think those rabbis aren’t personally tutoring b’nei mitzvah kids; after school is prime time for those appointments. I know one rabbi whose spouse used to bring picnics when the kids were little, and they’d eat supper together on the floor of the rabbi’s office when the rabbi didn’t have time to go home for dinner.

For me, Sunday afternoon after 3pm is sacrosanct; that’s family time, and not much interferes with my being home then. And before we were milking goats, I usually got the boys up and ready for school, sometimes driving Eldest Son too. Now it’s a little more complicated, what with goats and chickens and boys and dogs all needing morning attention, not to mention having to *poof!* into a rabbi afterwards. Fortunately, most of the people who need to see me don’t want to come in the early morning, so that helps to balance out many nights with meetings when I’m not home for dinner or even after.

I love my job. But I love being an Eema (Mom) too. And I love being outdoors, and sitting and watching the animals. And it’s a relief to live just my life and my family’s life for a while. Now it’s time to dive back in to the lives of the members of my congregation, and the people I meet who tell me their stories.

After two days back, I can tell you: it’s needing to save half an hour to figure out what to wear, instead of pulling the next t-shirt out of the drawer, and it’s my head getting crowded with the stories of my congregants’ lives.

Two people’s parents died over the summer. One person is about to become a Jew and another one wants to. An elder has been in and out of the hospital and someone else is there now. I don’t even know how the cancer treatments of two or three people are going, though I’ll catch up soon. Then there’s the other stuff: The Labor-Religion coalition is having a breakfast. Someone is interested in a pulpit exchange. Someone else wants me to teach. Who is going to teach our 11 b’nei mitzvah students this year, besides me? Holidays are coming and that requires planning in addition to sermon-writing. Would I be on a panel, or on another panel? Should our congregation have a policy for convicted sex offenders who want to become members? Would we like this or that group make a presentation?

And that’s just from yesterday.