The strange thing about being a Jew is that you can be an agnostic or even an atheist and still call yourself a Jew. I’m not sure this holds true for Catholics or Protestants or Mormons or Muslims. I’m going to guess there are not a lot of folks wandering around calling themselves both Catholic AND atheist in the same breath. They might say they are lapsed Catholics or were raised in the Catholic church and left. But it doesn’t feel like there are a lot of Catholic atheists hanging on to the “Catholic” part.
I was not raised in a religious household. We celebrated Hanukah as a consolation prize to being screwed out of Christmas and periodically I would go to my grandparents’ house for Passover. I liked the food. I knew my father hated religion and my mother opposed it as a polarizing force but was somewhat less reactionary in general.
So how did I, a lapsed atheist, sometime agnostic but always Jew, end up with a rabbi? How did I find myself, at the age of 43, a person with a rabbi I call my own? It began with Sig Other, of course. Sig Other desired an experience of Jewish life, for himself and the children, authentic enough to exercise both the intellectual and the traditional. For me, the bonus was a rabbi who is young, who was not raised religiously but came to her Judaism later in life, and for whom an absolute belief in God is less important a requirement for her congregants than the desire to learn about, be aware of and engage in the world around us. Her brand of Judaism hovers somewhere over the chasm between conservative and way-out, hippie-dippy, drumbeating, left-wing progression. Hers is a community dedicated to social justice and diversity.
The weirdness of saying a sentence that includes the phrase “my rabbi” is not lost on me. I’m not a person with a rabbi. I’m not a person who had even met any rabbis for the first three decades of my life. But then I met Rabbi Mark who is B’s rabbi. He and I would have coffee every now and then and he gave the eulogy at my great aunt’s funeral. And through Sig Other, I met Mendel, the Hassid who won’t shake my hand but is warm and friendly nonetheless. And then charming Rabbi Seidler-Feller who came to the door in a white kittle and wrapped me in a huge hug the first time we met. And then, finally, I met Rabbi Sharon Brous. And because of her, I can say sentences that include the phrase, “my rabbi.”
My rabbi is young. And my rabbi is a woman. The latter thrills me. The former periodically makes me uncomfortable. I have a distinct awareness of the fact that I have a decade of life experience greater than that of my rabbi. But so too am I aware that my rabbi has wisdom of text and of history that I could never approach. My rabbi, in spite of (or maybe because of) her age, has a depth of empathy I will never access. This is the rabbi who calls to check on the health of the children, the rabbi who called when Sig Other’s father died and two months later when my stepfather passed. This is the rabbi who married us. This is the rabbi who will preside over the bar mitzvah of Child Two.
My rabbi doesn’t make it easy. Her brand of Judaism comes in a shiny wrapper promising joyous music and an open community. And all of promise is fulfilled. But underneath the pretty paper, just past the joyous melodies, you’ll find a firebrand of a leader – a rabbi who cautions us against complacency and urges us all to look around at the world as it is and make it our responsibility to help it become the world as it should be. And this is also the rabbi whose husband asks for the recipe to the fig and feta salad and who asks if she’s wearing the right outfit on various occasions. She is friend, scholar, advisor, leader and little girl all at the same time. This is the modern rabbi. And I am thrilled to be able to call her, my own.