Two and a half weeks ago I began my first job as a rabbi in the lovely state of Virginia. I assumed that my first week would consist primarily of figuring out which route got me to work on time, devising and then implementing the best organizational strategy for the books in my office and trying really hard not to introduce myself as Jillian. When my first Shabbat rolled around, I was feeling pretty good. I had, for the most part, accomplished all three goals and I was looking forward to this first prayer experience. What I didn’t realize was that my first Shabbat was really going to be all about pantyhose.
Pantyhose. Even the name makes me cringe. I usually try to stick to the less offensive, “tights” or “stockings” while others shorten the word to just “hose.” Either way, I tend to relegate pantyhose (shudder) to the colder months. However, during my first meeting about that week’s Shabbat, I was reminded that in this congregation, no one woman is allowed on the bimah without pantyhose. I was surprised by this hard and fast rule but I was determined to show a deep sense of respect for the minhag of my new community. So, that evening, I searched for the nearest mall on my GPS and found myself perusing the wide variety of pantyhose at Nordstrom’s. I purchased three pairs of nude pantyhose (double shudder) and went home, happy to be able to focus on my iyyunim rather than my outfit.
As many of you have also experienced, the weather has been unseasonably warm this summer, especially in Virginia. Almost every day, the temperature has topped off in the low 100s. And there I was, Friday morning, putting on pantyhose. I have never thanked God for air conditioning more.
I arrived at work feeling a bit nervous about my first Shabbat but also overwhelmingly excited to be living the dream. Mid-morning, I sipped a much needed ice coffee and in one swift and incredible twitch of my hand, I proceeded to drench myself, my lovely first Shabbat outfit and my newly purchased pantyhose in cold milky coffee. But here’s how much of a pantyhose novice I was, I didn’t bring any extra, just-in-case pair and my day was completely booked through the beginning of Shabbat services.
After cleaning myself up, best I could and chastising my twitchy hands for a few moments, I decided that I wasn’t going to let the hose bring me down. I yelp’ed the nearest store that sold them and took a quick break between meetings and bought 5 brand new pairs, four of which now reside in my office closet. Crisis averted. I would not be the first rabbi not allowed on the bimah for her first Shabbat service.
At first I was challenged by the idea of the pantyhose. They seemed antiquated, certainly not in line with my modern feminist-ish perspective, not to mention literally outside of my comfort zone in 100-degree humid weather. But then in my fear of not being able to fulfill the role of rabbi as prescribed by my congregation, pantyhose became the most necessary part of my Shabbat preparation. And throughout my first Shabbat service, I felt as if I had overcome a great hurdle, apropos of that week’s Torah portion, Balak, I had found words of blessing when faced with a bit of a curse.
Now, of course, after a second successful and meaningful Shabbat with my new community, I can laugh at the ridiculous Pantyhose Predicament of 2012 (after putting an extra pair in my car). I learned a little bit about problem solving, about my own sense of adaptability and how to distinguish between the real blessings and real curses.
But those pantyhose really gave me a “run” for my rabbinate.
Rabbi Jillian Cameron just began as the Assistant Rabbi and Educator at Temple B’nai Shalom in Fairfax Station, VA. She is enjoying all that NoVa has to offer and is fast becoming a hosiery connoisseur.
 Thanks to Rabbi Jen Gubitz aka the Gubitzer Rebbe for help with that last line.