National Post Barbara Kay: Forty years with Rabbi Ron

National Post - Tuesday February 9th, 2016

THE GAZETTE/John Morstad

Our shul is looking for a new rabbi. After 40 years of robust, dedicated ministry, Rabbi Ron is retiring. We’re happy to see him planning new adventures in Jewish learning and spiritual growth. He has been a faithful servant of To-Whom-It-May-Concern, which is the jokey way we Reconstructionist Jews refer to the God in whom we don’t officially believe, but who called us to his service at Mount Sinai 3,000 years ago.

We’re lucky we got Rabbi Ron. He had a choice to make between us and some shul in Colorado. He chose us because “here they know what Dijon mustard is” and because it isn’t that far from his home in upstate New York. Yes, of course American. The pickings for homegrown rabbis are pretty slim in Canada.

Rabbi Ron was fresh out of rabbinical college when we hired him, all of 27, a knapsack on his back, and brimming with enthusiasm. I hosted a dinner for Ron at our home to mark the occasion. It was a jolly affair, but then, as everyone made to depart, Ron asked in some confusion, “So … am I hired?” We looked at each other in bewilderment. We had been so pleased about our decision, we had completely forgotten to inform him that he was officially ours.

Most rabbis come to shuls already married. Ron was a bachelor but eager to find his beshert

Ron and I had a good laugh about that for years. I was only a few years older than him, and we became fast friends. We first bonded over our mutual love for the offbeat late night comic TV soap opera, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, which starred Louise Lasser (Woody Allen’s first wife) as the eponymous neurotic, depressed housewife. It cracked us both up, and we’d lovingly retrace the best lines of the week at Kiddush after Shabbat services.

Most rabbis come to shuls already married. Ron was a bachelor but eager to find his beshert (soul mate). You have to be a special kind of woman to want to be a “rebbetzin” — the rabbi’s wife, so the choice is narrow. Rabbis officially work five days but are on call evenings and Sundays for events, weddings, funerals and shivas. They have very little of what you’d call a private life. As for rabbis’ spouses — well, even the most enlightened rabbi who wants his wife to realize her own ambitions can’t do his best in the community without her support at official functions or members’ simchas (and vice versa for women rabbis), which can swallow up 90 per cent of a couple’s available social life. And then there’s shul politics …

Eventually, though, Ron met his beshert, Carmela, a petite and adorable transplanted Israeli with warm dark eyes, a ready smile and captivatingly accented English, who taught Hebrew in the Jewish day school system. Ron was smitten, but worried that the cultural divide between them might be difficult to bridge. He was especially concerned about their different senses of humour and the fact that Carmela didn’t “get” Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. He realized it might seem like a small thing to most people, but he knew I’d understand. We hadn’t gotten to know Carmela socially yet, though, so I couldn’t advise him.

They came, they ate and Carmela conquered

All was resolved when a friend called me in a panic. Two couples had dropped out of a dinner party to which we were invited, and she was desperate for filler. My friends belonged to an Orthodox shul and kept strictly kosher, so I suggested she allow me to invite Ron and Carmela, neither of whom she’d ever met, but who I knew would appreciate her fabulous gourmet cooking. They came, they ate and Carmela conquered. It was true her sense of humour was different from Ron’s, but there was a lot of laughter around the table, and she fit right in.

The next morning Ron appeared on my doorstep. “What do you think?” he asked. “What do I think?” I responded. “I think that if you don’t ask that woman to marry you, you are out of your mind. You will never find such a jewel again in Montreal, or probably anywhere.” Not to appear immodest, but they were engaged a few days later. Her own woman, a star in her profession, Carmela is also indispensable to shul life. Mary Hartman is long gone, but Carmela is still the people’s choice.

Ron presided over our children’s bar and bat mitzvahs. He and Carmela attended both our children’s marriages (although, since they were inter-marriages, he had, sorrowfully, to recuse himself from any official function, which we understood and respected). And he presided over two of our granddaughters’ baby-naming ceremonies.

Yesterday I went with my daughter and 10-year old Montreal granddaughter to see Ron about a date and format for her bat mitzvah in 2018. Oy! Forty years? But it all seems like only yesterday. Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days …

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