Double Booked: A Rabbi’s Balancing Act
By Rabbi Larry Sernovitz
“Daddy. You don’t have to go back to the synagogue.”
I can’t possibly count how many times I have heard this from my five year old son Sammy. He loves the synagogue. He was born into a synagogue family. At his Bar Mitzvah, many people will be able to say they attended his bris, which was also at the synagogue and was open to all members. He went to preschool in the synagogue and now he attends religious school. But, when Sammy looks at me and pleads with me not to go back, it always has the same effect on me. Am I being a neglectful father? Will he grow up one day and say that I was never there for him when he was young? And now, my 22 month old daughter has learned the language from my son, albeit in different words. She says to my wife, “Daddy home?”
At Temple Emanuel, I am appreciative to work in an environment that understands the importance of family time and that encourages me to be home for dinner, to spend the time I need with my family. But, at the same time, being a congregational rabbi is demanding and there are many nights my wife calls me at the synagogue to sing the Shema with my son as he is going to bed. These are the moments I crave to be there with him, holding him tight and kissing him goodnight. But, the reality is that there are many times this is simply not possible. I hope in my heart of hearts that Sammy, along with my daughter Daniella, understand.
My wife works for a major global consulting firm and has the luxury from working at home. Over the years, she has transitioned to a position where there is less travelling but the job is still demanding. However, her company allows her to work from home, which gives her the flexibility to attend to the needs of our kids when there is a snow day or when one of them, or both of them, is sick. But, the job still needs to be done and she feels the stress of making sure it does. There are many nights, and weekends, when she is working late after the kids are in bed because she, in many respects, operates as many one-parent homes do when I am at the synagogue. Weekends are not normal by any stretch of the imagination. And, on top of all this, my son has Familial Dysautonomia, one of the 19 Jewish Genetic Diseases. There is much to do on a regular basis to keep him healthy and Becky takes the majority of the burden on her shoulders. Unfortunately, there are many days when he is not well and that just adds to all that needs to be done.
At the end of the day, family time is extremely precious and sacred as well. We believe that we do our best to make it work and we share many moments of pure joy. But, this is from our perspective. I can only hope that one day my kids will look back at us as parents and say that we did a good job balancing our personal and professional lives and that they appreciate the life we were able to create for them. Isn’t that what we all want? Only time will tell.
Rabbi Larry Sernovitz is a Rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinic Leadership Council of ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) and represents them as a member of the board of the American Zionist Movement.
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