This started out as a comment to a post from my friend, Rabbi Amy Small, but as I was composing it, I realized that it’s context was better suited to its own post.
In my minds eye, the ability to laugh at oneself is a both an indication of how one enjoys life as well as a marker of one’s confidence in living. At a Purim play and carnival, Rabbi Amy Joy Small took on some rather unconventional roles that evidently caused some to pause. Why? Perhaps because she was acting outside of how a Rabbi is stereotypically perceived. To varying degrees, I think the title “Rabbi” generally evokes images of a more dour, serious and older male in most people. Further, I think synagogue evokes the image of a sacred, serious and somewhat solemn place controlled by a rigid hierarchy of wise and near perfect learned men.
With no disrespect intended, its all a bit like the Wizard of Oz as presented in the film; an awe inspiring individual whose perceived power lies in his mastery of arcane information. He resides in the most sacred section of the great Emerald City, protected by guards and limiting his contact with the citizenry who look to him for leadership and guidance. As such, his legend and mystique are based more upon managed perception then the actuality of deeds and character. It is only when this “wizard” is inadvertently unveiled by an animal, which is immune to the crafted personae, is revealed to be a mere man hiding behind a curtain, that the “wizard” acknowledges his humanity, faults and all. By understanding and accepting his own shortcomings rather than focusing on living up to the image he created, he is now free to see the strengths of others and he is able to open their eyes to these qualities.
In actuality a Rabbi puts on her pants one leg at a time (just like everyone else) and a synagogue is just a structure where the congregation (i.e. community) can gather together. What makes our congregation both distinct and appealing to many is that our shared humanity, quirks and strengths are honestly embraced and accepted. A culture of seeing everyone as a person who has value and must be respected is continually emphasized and fostered. And this does not just apply to congregants or even just Jews, but to all individuals. I saw this immediately when as a family we joined many years ago (it was at my wife’s behest as I had no desire to join anything). I have continually told my kids that our synagogue, our congregation is a place where you can see how regular people, including clergy, lay leadership and members all bring in divergent perspectives and idiosyncrasies but they are united by the goal of trying act unselfishly, responsibly and with true concern for others. And by others, I mean all others. That is the ultimate take away and that is why we belong here.