About rabbikrp

Just your average tri-state, sapphicly-oriented, newly-thirty, latte-loving, hybrid-driving rabbi. i love taking life by storm (in heels!). you can find me at my shul. or @rabbikrp

The “Other” Brother

I love the story of the two brothers. I love their thoughtfulness for each other, how their desire to provide for what they perceive the other lacks overshadows their own needs. I love that a location which now shoulders so much pain between genders, religions and ethnicities, was originally a place where the two brothers met one starry night, arms filled with wheat for the other, tears streaming down their faces.

I’ve always thought of myself as the “first” brother. The one with the family and the desire to help those around him, including his, as I always assumed, younger brother. As the oldest child in my family and for someone with a life plan that began as a teenager (seriously, I told my parents I would be a rabbi when I got off the plane after my NFTY in Israel summer), I’ve been told I’m serious, organized, driven, motivated and passionate almost to a fault. First-born, type-A, over-achiever? Check.

In October 2011, I stood under a simple chuppah on the beach in North Carolina as my younger brother and his bride exchanged vows and rings. God-willing, I will have the privilege of giving their daughter and my future-niece her Hebrew name this spring. For my dear brother, life has blessed him, granting him a beautiful, supportive and loving wife (and just for the record, he’s also funny, a fantastic musician, and the cutest math teacher you’ve ever met).

Life has blessed me too—with professional success, opportunities to grow and learn, and an ever-growing circle of friends—all while living in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Yet my life still resembles that of the “other brother,” the single sibling living without a partner and children. Lest you begin to feel sorry for me, I do want to have a family of my own and am working to make that a reality, while also enjoying the benefits of my current situation—physical space, social time, and financial freedom. 

Ten weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy ripped through my area, flooding the first floor of my apartment building and leaving me in the dark with no cell phone reception. When the water receded, I ventured out of my building through the mud to find a spot where I could get some reception. When I turned on the phone I found a half-dozen text and phone messages from my own brother. First, calm concern, then active worry. My sister-in-law also tried me, with no luck. Suddenly I became the other brother. Unlike years ago when I called to ensure that he was home safe, my not-so-little sibling was now the one checking up on me, making sure I was all right.

So too was my community thinking of me. As the only unmarried clergy person in my congregation, it wasn’t only my colleagues who wanted to know that I was out of harm’s way. Countless members of my community emailed and reached out to ensure that I was safe: two generous families let me stay with them, giving me hot meals, an outlet to charge my phone, and a place to lay my exhausted head.

You see I’m used to (and frankly quite good at) taking care of others. Turns out I’m not quite as good at letting others care for me. I wonder if the brothers in the story realized that they each gave the other a gift: the single sibling let his partnered brother think of, and take care of him and in return the other brother got to feel the warmth of communal and familial love.

As the other brother I can attest that sometimes it’s really magnificent to let yourself accept help, thought, and care from the people around you. For all of us type-A’s out there, believe me, it’s worth it.

And as the story of the two brothers ends:

Hinei matov u’ma nayim, shevet achim v’achiyot gam yachad.

How good and how very pleasant it is when brothers and sisters sit (and take care of) one another.

Karen R. Perolman is the Assistant Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. She is the lucky sister of an awesome brother.

Does It Really Matter?

Throughout the years I’ve thought about my Carmelians, the few hundred Carmel (8 year-old) campers, that I spent my summers with as a counselor, Assistant unit head and Unit Head at URJ Camp Harlam between 1999 and 2007. This year, I watched (thanks to the magic of facebook) as my first campers graduated from college. I kvelled as I heard of their achievements, both personal and professional. Some of my first campers are heading off to medical and veterinarian school, others are going into the working world or moving to pursue their passions. I am so so proud of them all.

And too, there are so many who I have lost touch with. Some who did not return after that first summer, or who left and only returned after I eventually ended my camp career. My last campers, who I had in 2006 and 2007, grew up in the years while I was at in rabbinical school. Once in a while I would hear of them from friends who became their counselors, but mostly they disappeared into the larger camp world.

Thinking about my campers reminds me of the famous story of Honi ha-Maagal, who wondered why one would plant a tree whose fruit he would not see come to bloom. Why invest in the planting of and tending to a tree, if we cannot be sure that it will be taken care of, that it will be watered, that it will live to thrive and bear fruit? Why plant if we have no guarantee?

This week I arrived in Israel to spend time with ten of my congregation’s teenagers who are spending their summer with NFTY in Israel. Five of them are traveling as part of the Camp Harlam group, which has given me the surprising and wonderful opportunity to see some of the fruits of trees I planted in the past. This year’s Israel group is full of my former Carmel campers, now all grown up. While I have forgotten some of their names, their faces are the same as they were at age nine. My nervous first-time campers have become confident and mature young men and women who have graduated through Harlam’s camper gates and are now embarking on the summer of their lives in their Spiritual homeland.

When I see them eating glidah (ice cream), giving each other piggy-back rides, and reminiscing about camp, I feel something indescribable, I feel like a parent, or a proud older sibling, or one who planted a seed, unsure if it would grow. My pride only increases when I hear of them wanting to return to Camp as CIT’s next year, so they can pass their love of camp onto a new generation. They will start to plant their own trees.

For all of us who dedicate ourselves to the development and strengthening of young  Jewish souls, for all of us who have asked ourselves the question: does it even matter? Does it matter if I play kickball with my bunk today? Does it matter if I engage that child sitting alone? Does it matter if I embrace that teachable moment? Does it matter if I tell that joke, or wear that silly costume, or tell that story? Does it really matter?

Yes. Yes. Yes. A million times yes.

Take it from me: the fruit is blooming all over the place.

Karen R. Perolman is an assistant Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. She is currently in Israel.

PROUD to be a Female Rabbi (Especially during June!)

I was driving to work this weekend when the skies opened, releasing 10 minutes of pouring, cats-and-dogs, hot summer rain. The reward for the monsoon-style weather was a gorgeous rainbow that stretched across the sky, bringing its palette of color to the otherwise monotonous black and grey highway. Look at that rainbow—It must be June!

This weekend began the month of June, which for cities around the world marks the celebration of Pride. Those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community and their allies have been celebrating Pride in the month of June since the Stonewall Riots in 1969 as a way to honor those in the LGBT community whose contributions and advocacy were essential in the progress of equality. President Bill Clinton initiated the first Pride month in 2000 and President Barack Obama has continued this tradition for each June he has served as President. But Pride celebrations, marches, rallies, picnics and other events serve another important purpose. In fact, Pride lets us do something we don’t usually do: feel publicly proud for something very personal.

Most days of the year, being gay, like being short or being a Rabbi isn’t something I give so much thought. They fall into a list of adjectives that can be used to describe me, puzzle pieces of my overall identity. Even though being a Rabbi was an intentional choice, and a major use of my time and resources over the past decade (hello student loans!), it’s not something I actively acknowledge day-to-day. In fact, I usually only remember my unusual career when someone else recognizes it—sometimes it’s the stranger I meet on the plane, or the friend of a friend at a coffee shop, or the woman cutting my hair—they are amazed that they are meeting a female Rabbi.

In these moments, I have the tendency to become shy. I can dismiss their excitement by giving them facts, “There are over 600 female Reform Rabbis,” or by minimizing my work, “it’s a cross between a social worker, teacher and cruise director,” or by simply nodding modestly. But the truth is, two years and one month after I was ordained as a Rabbi in Israel, I still want to shout from the rooftops:

I AM A RABBI! HOW COOL IS THAT? WHEEEEE!

 This feeling of exclamation, the heart-pounding excitement we all felt on Ordination day, this is why Pride matters. Pride parades and events give those in the LGBT community the opportunity to be outwardly proud. To wave flags, wear shirts, sing and chant and scream and cry and laugh, with others who feel the same way. Pride, like a good ritual, allows those who participate to pause, to name and to sanctify a moment in time.

I think we women rabbis could take a page from the Pride playbook—this profession has both its moments of wonder and its moments of challenge. I have felt so lucky to be supported by my fellow female clergy and have leaned upon them when I need a story, a pep talk or just some advice. We have all benefited from the guidance of our leadership and from the matriarchs of our movement upon whose paths we continue to forge today.

So where are the moments for Pride? Certainly, when we are gathered together in large numbers, it is easy to feel the swelling of emotion. One of my favorite memories from this past year’s CCAR Convention in Boston was the honoring of Rabbi Sally Priesand for her 40 years in the rabbinate during Monday morning t’filah. All of the women rabbis present stood as we heard the Torah chanted and I was amazed to look around and see so many of my female colleagues, many of us with tears in our eyes. In that moment I felt a pride for this calling and for the unique ways in which the rabbinate has been profoundly changed since 1972.

But Pride can also be celebrated on a smaller-scale. Outward Pride for our profession and community is one way we can sustain others and ourselves through the easy and challenging times. For me, this pride is felt each time I sit with one of my female colleagues over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine to listen, laugh and share. Pride for our profession and gender begins right where you are at this moment: reading this post. Let’s share our pride by sharing each other’s words on our own personal or synagogue blogs, on twitter and facebook and with members of our communities who would benefit from our words.

In a few weeks, I’ll be one of those flag-waving Pride goers. And though you won’t be able to see it, I’ll be waving another flag too—feeling all the Pride in the world as I continue to serve my People and God as a Rabbi.