Be Yourself

tacky the penguinWhen the kids were younger, we used to read Tacky the Penguin. I can still recite pages from memory: “Tacky always sang songs like ‘How Many Toes Does a Fish Have?’ Tacky was an odd bird.” The message of the book is to be yourself, even if you’re different from everyone else in the crowd. Don’t give in to the pressure of conformity.

It was a good message for my kids, especially since they were all pretty self-aware and expressive about their varied tastes and passions. It was also a good message for me—a woman working in a male-dominated profession—but, somehow, amid all the working and parenting I lost track of my own needs. Occasionally I forgot who “myself” was. It isn’t easy to be yourself when you are always being called “rabbi” and “Ima.” A person could forget she has a name.

While my kids were entering their teen years, I worked from home and re-imagined my rabbinate. At first, I was worried I would lose my professional identity. I could not have predicted how fulfilling I’d find being home every day when my daughters got off the school bus. I discovered an important part of myself that had been underutilized. I got to be myself, as a parent of teenagers, in unexpected ways. I even learned to communicate by text message.

Now my kids are older—one is an emerging adult— and I’m ready to work with other people’s kids again. I’m prepared to lose my name to the title “rabbi” every morning with a new group of 9th grade students.

When I taught elementary and middle school, I remember reading Tacky the Penguin aloud to them. As I pack my bag for the first day of school, I ask my son to find our worn copy for my classroom bookcase. Even if I don’t read the book aloud, it will be a reminder to me to be myself: parent, rabbi, teacher.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” ~Oscar Wilde.


What Rabbis Do on Weekends

rwb_logo196I’m at the Rabbis Without Borders blog on this week, sharing the story of my weekend at the beach with two friends who are also RWB colleagues. If you enjoy reading the RWB blog, follow us on Twitter for updates: @rwbclal

Weekend at the Beach: My plan was to enjoy a Shabbat getaway and Sunday morning at the beach with Rabbi Rachael and her family. Having missed her daughter’s baby naming celebration, I was eager to visit before summer vacation surrendered to a new school year. When Rabbi Ruth, also free this weekend, offered to drive with me… Read more →


The Weber School

weber logoIn the spring of 2008, I announced to my students at The Weber School that I was taking a sabbatical to complete the manuscript of Found in Translation: Common Words of Uncommon Wisdom and to be more available to my family. I planned to spend a year replenishing my spirit and reorienting my rabbinate to focus on adult education and interfaith connections.

This seven-year sabbatical is now coming to an end. I’m thrilled to be returning to the classroom—the same classroom I used to share with Chaya Lieberman—to teach 9th grade. I’ve missed being in school, missed my students and my colleagues. Walking through the front door earlier this week, I felt like I was coming home.

There is much to tell—I’ll write more about my back-to-school experiences in the months ahead—and even more to do: decorating the classroom, coordinating the curriculum and assessments with Chaya, taking a photo for my new ID badge. These three weeks before students arrive are filled with tasks, and I’m breathless with anticipation.

Thanks to everyone for the congratulatory wishes, especially Aunt Cynthia, who encouraged me to get something new to wear on the first day of school. Mission accomplished.