An Incomplete Win

January 10, 2014


This isn’t the post I was prepared to write. And, oddly, that is both a good and a bad thing.

Leah’s bat mitzvah is at the end of March. During the service, for the first time in her life, she will read from the Torah – a very big deal that she prepares for MONTHS to do. Before and after you read from the Torah, there is a blessing you say. Every time.

One of the newer things offered at our synagogue is the ability to honor people with “aliyot” – or, essentially, when Leah comes up to read the Torah, the opportunity to have other, special people read the blessings before and after that part of the Torah. So, essentially, Leah would say the opening blessing, read a part of her Torah portion, say the closing blessing, and then special friends or family members would come to the pulpit, stand together, and read the opening blessing, stand with her as she reads the remainder of her portion, and then they would say the closing blessing.

It’s a big deal that this has been implemented and it is very, very meaningful to those that want to take advantage of that opportunity.

When we heard this was available for us to do, we knew exactly who we would honor – Leah’s grandparents. My folks, Husband’s mom and husband, and, because Husband’s dad passed away many years ago, we would ask his aunt and uncle, who we are very close with, to join us as well, not only to represent Husband’s father’s family, but also because of the wonderful people they are.

Except there was a problem. The aliyot had restrictions of only parents and grandparents for some reason.

I thought, “Surely there has to be some flexibility in these guidelines. I mean, not everyone’s family is ‘whole’ – I’m sure a nicely worded explanation to the Rituals and Music Committee will allow them to be reasonable. It’ll be fine.”

It was not fine. Not for many, many months.

It was, without a doubt, one of the most frustrating and hurtful processes I’d ever been a part of. In the middle of all of this, was a very contentious exit of Senior Rabbi, a synagogue split in philosophy, a complete lack of leadership in many ways, and a complete loss of reason. There was misinformation, a lack of communication and process, and, what Husband believes, an intent to not be flexible based on internal politics.

Some back story to put this in perspective: The synagogue is the one where I grew up. We have been members of another, congregation where Husband’s family is, for all the time we’ve been married. About five years ago, we were looking for something different, and, after many years of discussion (not kidding), decided to leave that other congregation and return to our current one.

Sitting in the middle of what came to be referred to as the ‘shit show’ honestly made me believe we had made a horrible mistake. This was not the congregation I grew up at any longer. This was not what I remembered, or believed. For all the turmoil the head rabbi’s exit caused, I knew the temple would eventually right the ship and get past it. But, when we were denied this one, reasonable request for no good reason over and over again, and I started really watching what was going on, I realized that thing were more broken than I could ever have imagined.

This was a field worth fighting and dying on for us. There was no way we were NOT going to have Husband’s family represented because his father was inconveniently dead. THIS was going to break our hearts – and I knew that, if this wasn’t resolved appropriately, I would resign from my synagogue. I would never have any faith or trust in the religious school leadership, or in the rabbinical leadership, if they allowed this ridiculousness to stand – and I told the Associate Rabbi that very thing in a very contentious discussion.

This rabbi, after clearing up some misinformation, and my apologizing for some things said because of that, asked me to have faith that she would champion my cause – and others in the same predicament / argument. I can say I agreed to let the process of a special meeting take its course, but I did not have faith that it would resolve the way I hoped for.

I doubted my congregation could do the right thing. And that is why, when this rabbi called me last night, immediately following the special meeting, I was shocked, truly, to hear not only had they approved my request, but that restrictions had been lifted in general for aliyot.

You know that fist pump Tiger Woods does when he sinks a putt? That was me LIKE A BOSS on the phone last night. It was a feeling of “winning” – like when you triumph over something, or beat a competitor in a deal. I was ELATED.

And almost instantly sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I am THRILLED this worked out and I am very thankful to the rabbi for the effort and energy put into this on our behalf. And I am thankful for the many people involved, and on the periphery, who listened and supported, and listened some more – many were Board members. But, I shouldn’t feel like I “beat” my congregation out of some asshattery. I shouldn’t have had to fight this hard (and I’ve only skimmed over the details, friends).

We are not resigning, but we were prepared to. I thought this post would be different. I really thought we’d be leaving. I thought Leah’s bat mitzvah weekend would be nothing more than bittersweet and that this post would be the explanation of all that would lead up to it.

I’m glad we’re not, though I wish I didn’t feel so bruised. I wish I still had as much faith in my synagogue as I once did, and I hope that changes with new, improved leadership.

Before any of this happened, months ago, I knew that when I stopped working I would start getting more involved as a volunteer at temple. In the middle of all of this, I even joked that was still the plan, I just didn’t know which temple. I still feel strongly about that decision – maybe even more so now.

Most of all, I’m just really, heart-wrenchingly glad that Leah will have some wonderful people up there with her as she reads Torah.

And I can’t wait to see it.

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6 Responses to “An Incomplete Win”

  1. sara speer selber Says:


    Many are frustrated by “Organized” religion and frankly Politics. What we all seem to be craving is leadership and kindness. I applaud your efforts on behalf of the many frustrated others that have had to deal with an inflexible “organized” congregation.


    • Pam Says:

      We do crave that. And reasonableness. I’d love for someone to work on the “how can we make participating here an easier, richer experience.” The first question everyone should ask before every decision is, “who does this serve? Are we doing it the best way?”

      That is my wish.

  2. Knighton Says:

    We have gone down the hard road with our former church. Things were said and done that could never be unsaid and undone. It’s hard when one realizes that the people expected to hold themselves to a higher standard, to be really trying hard for their own righteousness, just don’t. We humans are a messy bunch.

    I’m glad they came to the right resolution, and I’m thrilled that we get to join your family to celebrate. xo

  3. Lanny Sachnowitz Says:

    Beautifully written and I feel your pain and frustration. A very unfortunate series of events has scarred so many of us who grew up at EE. I am glad that things will work out for Leah and your family and I am even more glad that my family will get to share in your simcha with our own. On that pulpit. And I’m so excited I will get to see it, too!!

    • Pam Says:

      Lanny Sachnowitz you are making my mascara run and THAT IS NOT ALLOWED.

      I cannot tell you how great it is to be standing next to and with the Sachnowitz / Curl clan. It is special beyond compare.

      And I cannot believe it takes my kid’s / your niece’s B’nai mitzvah to get to hug you again. 😉