There’s seriously nothing like a two-week stint in Israel, with an extended weekend layover in New York City, to throw one’s shlicha mission in mid-Maine into a serious sort of relief. At least, that’s how it was for R. and me, coming back to the small town in Maine where she basically serves as the town rabbi and I, well, I do many of the things a rabbi’s partner does in a small town, even though in the old days, the rabbi wasn’t a woman—nor was she partnered to one. We returned to what we jokingly, or not so jokingly, refer to as our role as the Lesbian Chabad of Mid-Maine.
We’re just back from a well-deserved vacation, in a place where even the vacation have a veneer of the hectic. (Plus, a rabbi on vacation in Israel can, at times, feel a bit like a busman’s holiday.) Having eaten schwarma, spoken Hebrew, argued in the shuk and visited a vast array of friends, teachers and family, we’re back in the Northeast, having lugged as much of the Middle East home in our backpacks as we could.
It was a fun experience, telling Israeli friends about what we’re doing up here. The Lesbian Chabad joke works both much better and far worse: some of our friends laugh harder than any American at the idea, while my extremely secular cousin worriedly asks if I have to pass out candles in the bus station on Friday afternoons.
And the fact of the matter is that it is hard—it might actually be impossible—for Israelis who haven’t spent time in America (outside, perhaps, of New York and LA) to imagine not only why on earth we’d want to spend our time doing what we do, but how such a thing could possibly be necessary.