Tag Archives: nairobi synagogue

Gulp – is being a rabbi’s wife not so bad after all?

11 May

Having been thrown into the thick of the most rabbi-wife-like activities – coordinating a communal Passover Seder – I realised that I was actually kind of, dare I say it, having fun.

Read more at my blog post on The Times of Israel:

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Gulp – is being a rabbi’s wife not so bad after all?

Times of Israel,  April 12, 2014

Somehow, somewhere along the line, I’ve got roped into doing more and more full-on ‘rebbetzin-esque’ duties at Nairobi Synagogue, where my hubbie is rabbi. My guerilla anti-rebbetzin campaign, it seems, is all for nought.

It started a month or two back. Margarita, a good friend in the community (yes, somehow, I seem to be finally gaining some friends along the way too), asked me casually if I’d join the Passover Seder planning committee. Imagining it would involve just a meeting or two to discuss just a matza ball or two, I said yes, of course, no problem.

Scroll forward to last week. Somehow, over 80 people have now reserved a spot at the Seder; somehow, the menu now involves a vast array of intricate dishes, most of which can only be prepared at the last minute; and to top it off, somehow, all the people on said committee seem to have left Nairobi temporarily and disappeared overseas.

Leaving just two of us ‘fryerim‘ (as the Israelis put it so eloquently), Margarita and me, to direct the multi-faceted operation and ensure that a three-course banquet, involving table hiring, flower arranging, seder plating, volunteer gathering, staff managing, market shopping and vegetable chopping will be prepared in time and the evening will go off swimmingly.

And the weird thing about it all – I’m enjoying every minute of it. Weeeird.

The whole process has been really entertaining – we’ve spent half the time giggling, and the other half haggling raucously at the fruit and veg Hawkers’ Market in central Nairobi with bemused market vendors, or cooking up a veritable storm in the synagogue kitchen, while debating vigourously over the sweetness levels of our haroset (me – too sweet – M – not sweet enough) or the garlic levels of our vegetarian main (me – too much garlic, M – not enough).

Man, I’ve even enjoyed making gargantuan vats of GEFILTE FISH. What is happening to me? (Although I did make sure it was Marg to get her dainty paws stuck into the gefilte mixture, meaning she would be the one to scare off her nearest and dearest that night with that overpowering heimishe whiff of chopped fish and not me).

In the meantime, the synagogue’s new back-up generator is experiencing birthing pains just as Kenya Power has decided to wreak particular havoc on the power supply to our part of town, people keep trying to book spots for the Seder at the last minute, and instead of going to bed so as to be wide awake for the last two daunting days of the cooking marathon ahead of us, I’m sitting here blogging.

Well, happy Passover to anyone out there, from here in the heart of East Africa.

It’s lonely being at the top

27 Apr

Belatedly catching up on my reblogging. Here is my post on the Times of Israel about feeling a bit friendless (but kind of enjoying it) being a rabbi’s wife:

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It’s lonely being at the top

Times of Israel, March 12, 2014

RBS — my hubby and incumbent rabbi at Nairobi Synagogue – studied at YCT Rabbinical School in New York City — oh so many light-years away from East Africa — where open-minded, open-orthodox males study to become even more open-minded, open-orthodox rabbis. We do like them open.

Many of the students are already married and most, if not all, of their wives are highly educated professionals. So there was always going to be some degree of irony to the fact that YCT offers students’ spouses their very own ‘wives’ club’.

The idea is that being wife of a trainee rabbi, and even more so, of a real practising rabbi, has its own particular status and challenges, and there was stuff that we wives would have in common and wish to discuss and delve into.

It was always entertaining to attend these wives’ meetings. Without exception, every get-together involved at least one of the highly educated women present protesting about the existential fact that this very meeting existed; we were highly educated women and what on earth were we doing being in a ‘wives’ club’. A couple of my peers seemed particularly outraged — not sure why they kept coming to the meetings, bit of an attraction-repulsion thing going on? — and would always go off on an irate rant on this theme.

I personally didn’t always see the point of the meetings — and certainly did enjoy joining in at times with the aforementioned feminist outrage. On the other hand, being a newcomer to the States, I found it a great opportunity to meet other like-minded women.

One thing I did take away with me from those encounters were words which now resonate strongly with me, as I’m living the life of a rabbi’s wife out in a far-flung community. Women already out in the field would guest-star at these meetings and one thing they all described was a particular kind of loneliness they felt in their role as rabbi’s wife.

We are caught in a kind of Catch-22 position. Are congregants able to see us as a real friend or someone to be friendly-with-but-keep-their-distance-from because we are the rabbi’s wife? Conversely, do we, as the rabbi’s wife, have to maintain a distance of our own, not join in with the gossip (ha ha), never complain? This is probably one reason, among many, why I have such an aversion to the title ‘rebbetzin’. Having a title necessarily creates distance, and I’m still just Rebecca. I’m the same person, so please approach without trepidation.

I discovered I was feeling this very loneliness when I looked at my mobile phone the other day and realised that it had not rung for something like 48 hours. I suddenly had a visceral craving for a massive gossip session with my good old mates from London (where I grew up). The irony, of course, is that RBS, the Eeyore to my Tigger, now has to spend far more time on the phone than I do, speaking to congregants, dealing with community affairs and generally doing the sociable thing that rabbis have to do.

But it’s not all doom and gloom — some, if not many, congregants have quite effortlessly broken through that psychological barrier and are quite comfortable treating me as Rebecca, calling RBS by his first name and generally relating towards us as real friends. Also, being parents of a very cute child is definitely helping us win friends and admirers.

Now, if someone could just pick up the phone and give me a call.

Quirky Jews and corrupt cops

13 Mar

Some musings in my blog on Times of Israel on how the unfamiliar becomes familiar – including bribing policemen – now that I’ve spent six+ months in Nairobi:

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Quirky Jews and corrupt cops

Times of Israel, February 26, 2014

Last night, RBS, my hubbie, and I were driving up Valley Road, a key thoroughfare in central Nairobi, and he did what seemed like a potentially dodgy turn. Before the words had even left my mouth for him to watch out as corrupt Kenyan cops are always on the prowl around those parts (this being the exact spot where I was hauled over on my very first day of driving on the crazy streets of Nairobi), guess what, a corrupt cop pulled us over.

 Without losing our cool, we entered into the now-sadly-familiar game of negotiation, flattery and sheer absurdity with Mr Corrupt Cop. We used all the tools in our haggling armoury – RBS was a ‘man of God’ (being a rabbi), he was not a regular ‘muzungu’ (Swahili for ‘white person’) who comes to Kenya to make money as he was here to minister to his flock, it was his birthday (it really was), and so on. We came away from the negotiation quite pleased with ourselves – this time, we were only down 1,000 shillings (around 10 US dollars) in bribery costs.And off we sailed to visit our friends as if nothing untoward had occurred.

It’s the same thing back at the vicarage. I’m slowly getting used to being wife of a rabbi with all that this entails. I certainly never could have imagined myself in such a role, but in spite of myself, my sociable ways are proving quite helpful in settling into this unfamiliar life. Nearly every Shabbat we end up with random and often fascinating guests who share with us their adventures and snapshots into the lives that they lead in all corners of the world.

And then there are the real characters who pass just briefly through the synagogue – and our lives – but who leave a lasting impression – like Mr Shofar So Great, who came into the synagogue one day and blew not just one, but TWO shofars simultaneously, harmonising one with the other, creating the most beautiful melodies you simply could never imagine a shofar could sound.

The Nairobi Jewish community is pretty quirky to begin with (guess that’s how such a quirky rabbi and spouse ended up here in the first place). It’s been around for over 100 years with some founding families (hailing from Europe) still here some four generations later. Now it’s a hodge-podge of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Orthodox, traditional, Conservative, Reform, old, young, English-speaking, Swahili-speaking, Hebrew-speaking characters, who all, in spite of themselves, continue to coexist in one unified community structure.

And here I am, in the midst of all this community life, somehow finding myself in a quasi-public position that I didn’t choose for myself. And in spite of it all, the unfamiliar is becoming familiar.

Whatever you do, don’t call me ‘Rebbetzin’

14 Feb

Time to update the blog – I’ve been busy blogging over at The Times of Israel and wanted to repost my latest offerings from there.

Here are the opening few paragraphs to my first Times of Israel post  – a plaintive cry entitled “Whatever you do, don’t call me ‘Rebbetzin‘” (click on link to see full article):

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Times of Israel, 22nd January 2014

It all started innocently enough. It was our first year of marriage, and we were living in London. My new husband (to be known as ‘RBS’, short for ‘Rabbi B S’) mentioned once or twice that he was interested in this Modern Orthodox rabbinical training programme in New York. I didn’t pay much attention at first.

 After all, as if I, the sophisticated European, was ever going to live among those Disney-worshipping, fast-food-scoffing folk on the other side of the Atlantic.

Even more so, as if I, the educated, feminist, feisty woman, was ever going to become the wife of a Rabbi, otherwise known as a *Rebbetzin* (shudder).

I had had more than enough run-ins with those ancient, holier-than-thou, eerily sweet rebbetzins who had haunted me during my years at my Orthodox Jewish girls’ high school in London. The idea of me becoming one of them myself was quite inconceivable.

So I put all mentions of this ‘YCT’ – Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School – down to delusional notions on the part of RBS and buried my head in the sand.

Until it reached crunch point – he really was interested in applying to the school and unless I had any legitimate objection to the whole rabbinical thing, he was going ahead.

Of course he was accepted, I stopped resisting, and off we went to New York. We spent the next four years comfortably ensconced in Riverdale, a leafy suburb in the north Bronx, surrounded by well-behaved, politically correct, highly-educated New Yorkers, none of whom, regretfully, fit into my superior European stereotypes.

Read more: Whatever you do, don’t call me ‘Rebbetzin’ | Rebecca Schischa | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/whatever-you-do-dont-call-me-rebbetzin/#ixzz2tHL83vxa
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