Home » Musings » Why was I not more like Emma?

Why was I not more like Emma?

A few words about the intent of this blog.

I joked that “having a blog seems to be a rabbinic requirement these days,” and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel pressure to blog and have my voice heard and my presence felt in the Jewish social-media world. But it’s not a new pressure. Some of my friends and classmates have been blogging since the early days of rabbinical school. I’m rather a late-comer for a relatively tech-savvy member of my generation.

So why now?

Over the past 8 months I have been moved to tears, more than a few times, by the supportive embrace of my congregation as they affirm for me that the moments when they most appreciate me and what I have to say are the moments when I am sharing or being my truest self. Sharing my experiences of grief, stories about my family, my insecurities, my love of music and theatre, my (dare I say it.) “youthful” optimism, even my sense of fun – my congregation is not only interested in learning from “Rabbi Gottlieb”, they want to know and love “Emma” too. They have given me the validation and safe space to experiment with the question, “how can I bring more of “Emma” to “Rabbi Gottlieb”? How can I better integrate the rabbinic and non-rabbinic parts of my personality for the sake of my congregation, who deserve a rabbi who is open, truthful, authentic,and honest about the both the joys and challenges of life?

This blog’s title, and the poem with which I launched, are outgrowths of this experiment. I don’t want to be a rabbi who hides the fact that she has tattoos and a pitbull and that sometimes she makes mistakes and is still learning how to navigate this crazy world. I want to be a rabbi who says, “yes, I have a pitbull because I believe it’s a mitzvah to rescue dogs and to educate the world about people and animals that are stigmatized and misunderstood”; “yes, I have tattoos because I have studied and reinterpreted the idea of being created in God’s image, and I believe that tattoos which are appropriately chosen as a reflection of identity can be a powerful way to adorn the vessel that God gifted me – might even be an expression of chidur mitzvah (the embellishment or beautification of a mitzvah) rather than a violation of Jewish law”; “yes, life is hard and sometimes very unfair and as I struggle to make meaning of my experiences (Jewishly and otherwise) I become a better rabbi by sharing what I’ve learned, and by modeling how Judaism has framed my life’s experiences (both the negative and positive).”

Our Sages tell of Rav Zusya who, on his deathbed expressed this fear: “When I get to the gates of Heaven and they ask me why I was not more like Abraham or Moses, I will be able to say that I am not Abraham or Moses. But what will I tell them when they ask me, Why were you not more like Zusya?

I share Rab Zusyas fear. I know I can’t be a Moses or a Miriam, an Abraham or a Devorah, but I do need to figure out how to be a rabbi – a good rabbi – and still be true to “Emma”.

So that’s what this is all about. The pitbulls and the pearls. It might be a delicate balance but its an honest representation of my life’s journey and of one of the goals of my rabbinate. Surely there will be times when it would be easier to be more “Rabbi Gottlieb” and less “Emma”, but if I can’t recognize myself when I look in the mirror, what kind of rabbi will I ultimately be?


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