Author’s Note: This is long, and sadly has no pictures, but stick with it. It’s a good one.
Because of my mom’s involvement at our synagogue when we were growing up, somehow our family always had a special relationship with the head Rabbi. The Rabbi was called by his first name in our house, but we still always respected his position – unless we were pulling some sort of prank on him.
The earliest prank I can remember is when my Dad took the rabbi out to a flight simulator place across from the airport and somehow tricked him (he could have been blindfolded – I can’t remember) into thinking that he and Dad were actually about to take off in a plane and go flying.
I’m pretty sure there was some praying going on in those moments.
Cut to 1986. My Confirmation year. My family and I are on the way to temple so that I can stand with the rest of my goofy sixteen year old peers and confirm our faiths and commitment to Judaism in front of G-d and the whole congregation.
So OF COURSE we needed to pull something off.
The drive to the temple is roughly 40 minutes. Along the way Dad and I brainstormed all sorts of things. It had to be something the whole class could participate it in. It had to be discreet. It had to be memorable.
It had to be Jacks and Balls.
We took a detour into the local drug store to buy up 5 sets of Jacks and Balls. Much to my Mother’s horror (although she was totally laughing on the inside), I took the jacks and divided them up – everyone got one jack. The last person would hold the bouncing ball.
At the appropriate point in the service when we were each called up individually to shake the Rabbi’s hand, he was handed a jack. At first he looked perplexed, and slyly placed the first jack on the podium. Then came another. And another. And another until there were close to 50 jacks piled up on the podium.
The audience was unaware of what was happening, but there was an AWFUL lot of giggling going on up on that pulpit. When the final classmate came up, there was a bouncy ball handed over. If we could have applauded, we would have.
We eventually delivered a glass jar to the Rabbi with our class year on it and to this day it remains in his office proudly displayed. No other class had done such a thing. Until three years later when it was my brother’s class’ turn.
Cut to 1997. Husband and I are getting married. I walk down the aisle to meet him at the bottom of the steps of the pulpit, my dad kisses me and hands me over to Husband to walk up the steps together and enter the chuppah under which the service will be conducted and we will become man and wife.
We walk up, smiling and giggling and stand in front of the Rabbi. In front of us, as is traditional, is a small table that holds a prayerbook and two cups of wine.
And two jacks.
Good one, Rabbi.
A few weeks ago, Leah and my mom were asked to be a part of the family-oriented Hanukah service. It would be Leah’s first time to read from the pulpit.
You can see where this is going, right?
It was her BIRTHRIGHT. This HAD to be done.
There was no time during the service where my mom and Leah would be near the Rabbi, though they were sitting on the same side of the pulpit. In lieu of any personal hand-off options, we took a jack and a bouncy ball and put them in a Ziploc bag and on the bag wrote, “Gotcha! Love, Pam and Husband, Leah and Benjamin, Mom and Dad.”
Oh, yeah. The whole family was in on this one.
I snuck up to the pulpit before services and laid the bag with the bright orange bouncy ball on his large pulpit seat arm rest. It was only a matter of time.
Unfortunately, due to a back issue, I had to leave before I could see Leah on the pulpit or Rabbi’s face. But this is how it was described to me…
The Rabbi actually sits next to another Associate Rabbi. She was seated at her place and happened to have seen the bag. I can only imagine what she was thinking, but she wisely left it for Rabbi to see. When the Rabbi was done with his part of the service and headed to his seat, he looked straight ahead and noticed the bright orange bouncy ball and started to grin.
I’m pretty sure he knew what was waiting for him.
There were some smiles and giggles and some knowing head nods shared on the pulpit when he stood next to Mom and Leah. Mission complete.
After services, Leah was invited back to the Rabbi’s office to see the original set of jacks and balls and place the two new pieces of his collection in there with our original ones. She couldn’t have been more excited.
And she’s already plotting what HER confirmation class is going to do.
Sadly, the Rabbi is retiring this year after decades of service to the congregation. Leah is understandably disappointed that she won’t get to do something grander for the Rabbi, but she was excited to be a part of the family history in this way.
What she doesn’t realize, but I do, is that she has connected to the synagogue and, to some extent, her faith. There’s nothing revolutionary here. She wasn’t “touched by G-d” and she didn’t have some sort of spiritual epiphany, but she had fun. She saw a personal side to going to temple – that the Rabbis, while wise and respected, have fun, too. That sometimes it’s more than learning Hebrew and sitting in services and hearing the story of [Insert Holiday Here] for the umpteenth time. Sometimes it’s finding people to laugh with and share a memory.
And laughter is a family tradition I’m happy to hand down.