I’d thought once that the issue of what to call myself as a grown-up would be settled once I discovered the word “Ms.”
Then I grew up, fell in love with a rabbi, and everything got complicated.
“That’s the price of equality,” my beloved often says, when our being two ladies in love doesn’t insulate us from the usual nonsense that plagues couples (see under: “When are you having babies? You should have them right now!”).
So that’s when I took on the dreaded “R” word. You know — the word that describes a rabbi’s partner. A rabbi’s female partner. Because, you know, once you know that someone’s a rabbi’s partner, what else do you really need to know?
That’s my real beef with “rebbitzen,” which I know many people have embraced and reclaimed. More power to them; I think it’s great, but my feminist sensibilities haven’t let me get that far yet. Maybe one day. Meanwhile, I cringe at a title that defines me by my partner’s calling. (There is no formal word for the wife of a doctor or lawyer or plumber, right?)
In the interim, I’ve been drawing great strength and no small amount of random smiling from a lesson bequeathed to me by the woman who is the partner of a previous rabbi for this same remote synagogue. The shul where my partner works is way up in the middle of the state of Maine, and Jews grow pretty hardy here, hardy enough to laugh at themselves and certainly hardy enough to remake terminology they don’t like. The previous partner-of-a-rabbi didn’t like the word “rebbitzen” either, so she fashioned an awesome, and I think feminist, repurposed version. She wasn’t the rebbitzen, she explained to people — she was the rebbitzOUT!
There are probably funnier words for the lesbian, feminist partners of rabbis out on the edges of American Jewry to use…but I haven’t found them yet. Rebbitzouts, rock on.