The Rebbetz-man or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kichel
When my wife became a rabbi, she had to master important skills like comforting mourners and keeping the attention of restless Hebrew school students. As the rabbi’s husband, I had to master but one skill: answering the question, “What should I call you?”
Because I don’t wear blouses and long skirts, rebbetzin — the traditional name for a rabbi’s wife — is out. Rebbetzer sounds like a German industrial techno band, and rebbetz-man is cute but too gimmicky. So, normally I tell people to just call me “Dan,” which is boring but accurate.
Several times I’ve run into congregants who have (accidentally?) introduced me to their friends as “the rabbi’s wife.” Previously, I defused that potentially awkward situation by responding with, “Because I’m still preop, just call me the rabbi’s husband until everything’s, you know, official.”
This seemed to just make things more awkward. Now I just smile and nod; a good skill to have when you’re married to a rabbi — or to anyone, for that matter.
What to be “called,” as the rabbi’s husband, is a small matter compared to actually “being” the rabbi’s husband. To be clear, the people at my wife’s synagogue have been nothing but wonderful to my family and me. But there still are unique pressures that come with being a rabbi’s spouse.
Think about it. When you marry a dentist, his clients don’t start calling you “dentistress” and expect you to invite them to your home for noodle kugel on Shabbat — which is exactly my point. I don’t know how to make noodle kugel, although I’m pretty sure it involves noodles.
I do, in fact, know how to make cholent (Shabbat stew), so that’s a start. What about all the things that a “real” rebbetzin is supposed to do?
A real rebbetzin remembers every congregant’s name and has an encyclopedic knowledge of each illness, pending surgery and upcoming wedding in said congregant’s family. I have a hard time remembering the names of my three boys.
Also, in an effort to be nice, I once wished a hearty “Mazel tov!” to a woman I thought was the mother of that day’s bar mitzvah boy. It turns out she was in synagogue to say Kaddish for her recently deceased father.
A real rebbetzin dresses smartly to all synagogue events and has immaculate manners. I own a total of one suit that no longer fits because I bought it optimistically after losing 35 pounds — half of which I immediately regained.
Also, I’ve been told that I occasionally chew with my mouth open, although only when I’m eating.
A real rebbetzin makes sure that her children are always well dressed and well mannered in synagogue. I once brought my son to synagogue in a shirt that my wife later informed me was a pajama top. (Apparently, the picture of Bob the Builder on the front was the tip-off ).
At Kiddush, when they’re not scarfing down obscene amounts of seven layer cake, my kids can usually be found tugging on my wife’s sleeve and whining at top volume while she tries to counsel a tearyeyed congregant. Meanwhile, I can be found at the other end of the social hall, drinking schnapps and stuffing my face with kichel (cookies).
My situation as the rabbi’s husband may be unusual, but it’s hardly unique. Today, women are doctors, lawyers — yes, even rabbis — and we, the hubbies of such high-powered ladies, are struggling with the balancing act that has become modern marriage.
Our generation was raised to believe we could have it all: two fulfilling careers, well-adjusted children and healthy marriages. We all strive for a balance that makes everyone happy, or at least settle for one that leaves everyone equally unhappy. And even when it works, the balancing act can still be exhausting.
I try to be the best screenwriter, father and husband I can be — and, with the few brain cells I have left, I try to be a supportive rebbetz-man. Though I give it my all, I’m sure there are times when my wife wishes I would do more.
But there are also moments when I see my wife bringing comfort to those who are dying, strength to marriages that are failing and wisdom to those who are seeking it; and, in those moments, I know what you should call me — proud.