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Week In The Life: One Reform Rabbi

May 29, 2013
Rabbi Donald Kunstadt

Rabbi Donald Kunstadt

One of my great pleasures is teaching our young people. Just the other day one of our youth asked me, “What does a Rabbi do?” It got me thinking, that very few people have any idea what a Reform Rabbi really does and what I do in particular. People know well of course there are Sabbath services, and holiday services, and hopefully they at least see the Rabbi during the high holy days. And people know the Rabbi will be at a funeral, or a wedding. And board members and members of other committees and boards in our community would know that Rabbi Kunstadt will be there. Hebrew school students, bar mitzvah students, confirmation students, adult education and conversion students, they know that Rabbi Kunstadt will be at their appointment when they make it. Springhill college students know I’ll show up for each lecture. People who read the newspaper know there will be an article from me.

By the very nature of being a Rabbi there are many things I would never talk about and so people don’t know about them. Protecting all confidentiality however, names removed, let me just tell you about a week in my life.

So it’s Wednesday morning because actually my week begins with Wednesday morning. First thing I do is find out who is in the hospitals. Most of the time there are people in the hospitals. I drive out to Providence hospital to visit with one of our members who I’m hopeful will be on the road to recovery. Another family member is there. I haven’t seen them in some time, and it’s a time when a Rabbi uniquely enters into a very emotional relationship. They are fearful about the illness they’re facing. They’re not regular Temple goers. I am there for them, and I pray with them, and I hope with them for a full healing.

On the way over to Temple I stop at one other hospital – Springhill Memorial. When I go to the door of the hospital room it’s marked with special precautions. I have to put on a full disposable yellow gown, rubber gloves, and a face mask. I don’t know because of privacy regulations what’s the matter with the patient, only that these precautions are necessary. After visiting with the patient for some time, it comes out they have the MRSA, the antibiotic resistant staph infection, and they are hoping that the strongest intravenous antibiotics will finally cure the infection. We talk, and I pray with them and the visit is appreciated greatly. Finally I get into the Temple, it’s Wednesday morning and the day is really just beginning. No one has a clue where I’ve been.

I meet with our devoted Temple Secretary Susie, and I am given several messages that need to be returned one urgently, and now I open up the e-mail. You can imagine it is a long list these days. BTW you should know what a wonderful devoted staff we have with Susie Broos, Susan Herring, Mike Jefferson, and Susan Thomas. We could not run the Temple without such great people. And kudus to Small Small and Helen Small who run our RS and Hebrew Schools. Before I begin answering those emails, I sit down with Susie so we can plan the coming Temple bulletin. I tell her what we need to emphasize what important events are coming up and suggest proper placement for those things that are most important for our membership. The bulletin, the Chai notes, my blog – these are our most immediate publicity and they have to be carefully planned.

Just as I’m beginning to put thoughts on paper for a bulletin message and for a blog message I’m told someone is at the door waiting to see a Rabbi. It is someone passing through town who has a long story to tell. The end of the long story is they need financial aid – after some very quick counseling I give what assistance I feel is appropriate.

Now a call comes in from a member telling about another member who’s out in Providence hospital but we didn’t know about it because he didn’t list himself as Jewish, and we would never know they were there. They want to see a Rabbi – their Rabbi. I promise I’ll get out to visit hopefully that very same day after my Torah study class ends at seven p.m.

I have a lunch meeting with one of our members who has been meaning to get together with me. He has some personal issues he wants to discuss. It’s a nice lunch but certainly a working one to help him in his life with some important personal issues.

By the time I get back I just have enough time to prepare for my Torah study class later in the evening. From 4 to 515 I will be teaching Hebrew students. Right after that rehearsing with a bar mitzvah student. And now it’s time for Torah study. That ends a little after seven o’clock at night and since the custodian is long gone I need to lockup Temple before heading out to Providence Hospital one more time. I hate it when this happens – someone went out one of the back doors and did not close it fully so I cannot engage the alarm – it says rear back doors open. I’m always comfortable at the Temple but now it’s 720 dark, no one’s here I am walking through the building trying to figure out what door is wide open. Finally I get the alarm set. I can head out for one last visit. My loving wife Patti saved a delicious dinner for me.

You want to know what my Thursday is like? Rather similar, but with two exceptions. For twenty six years I have been a member of the Rotary Club of Mobile, representing the Temple as the Jewish spiritual leader. The major churches of Mobile all have their Ministers as members, and I am the Jewish representative. Most importantly on Thursday for half the year I teach at Spring Hill College evenings from 6 till 845 at night. I lecture for two hours and 45 min. and at the end of that time, sometimes my throat is quite raw. Part of being a Rabbi.

Friday the day begins very early with a special Rotary committee meeting breakfast and again continues with hospital calls. Equally important is we have shut-ins at nursing homes-members of our Temple. This Friday I know I can do it – I can make it to three different nursing homes before noon time. I can I do it. Lucky I have a Honda Fit. Finally Get into Temple, put in a call to our Cantor who will be coming in for Friday night services at Temple. I tell him about what’s planned for the service so he can pick just the right music. Need to plan out Sunday school and what I’ll be teaching for our young people in the assembly. After contact with our outstanding religious school director Sam Small I find that I’ll be teaching the young ones for a half-hour assembly this Sunday and work on developing an appropriate assembly for them – this week were studying the Holocaust it is a great challenge to develop this age appropriately for young people. The bulletin message finished yes and now time to make sure everything is where it needs to be for publicity. A call comes in just as I am trying to get my thoughts together for my Friday night. It is from the religion editor at the newspaper – they need a comment on an important political issue for tomorrow’s paper. Cantor arrives before services and we talk again briefly about the service. Service begins at six. Over at seven – enormous stickler for that – our services are over in one hour. Leave Temple by 7:45 after visiting with our members at Oneg.

The week continues with the Saturday Shabbat service and all the planning that entails. Arrive for Temple morning breakfast and get to catch up with some of our members on what’s happening in their lives. After the service is over more to be done and again no one knows what I’m doing. A wedding couple can only see me on Saturday afternoon- they work all through the week and much time is needed for their counseling session. I remain at Temple until they arrive. Saturday night most people are going out to movies socializing with their friends. A member has invited us to a party they very much want us to be at. It’s a party but people are asking me about a bar mitzvah date, and a forthcoming wedding. It is a typical Saturday night. Others have a break, but a rabbi never really does.

Our outstanding religious school fills the Sunday morning. For this I’m particularly proud. This is a Taste of Judaism Sunday. 35 students are eagerly waiting for me at 1230. I brought along a cheese sandwich to eat between Sunday school and taste of Judaism class. However someone pulled me aside after religious school and I never had chance to eat it. After Taste of Judaism class ends several students have great interest in the subject and keep me long after the class is over. It’s a gorgeous day I wish I could’ve gone to the beach, enjoy the time when my family but alas it’s too late and they went without me.

Monday it all begins again just like Wednesday. There is one difference in the evening there is a board meeting of a local community board that lasts late into the evening. It’s being held at the Temple and the custodian has his day off this day and so I have to wait till everyone’s gone to finally secure the Temple. It’s late, and it’s dark, and finally the Temple is secure and I’m off for home.

So it’s finally Tuesday. If you notice I began talking about a week with Wednesday. Why? Tuesday is supposed to be my day off. Trying to keep on top of things I dial into my e-mail from home – people have no idea I’m supposed to have a day off. Someone wrote the night before with some urgent issues and wants me to call first thing Tuesday morning. Of course I do, so much for Tuesday really being off. Though I do enjoy the rest of the day I understand there is never really a day off-because I am always on call. I get my haircut, my oil changed and get in a good workout. The week begins again.

So now you know a little about what I do. Many things I have never told anyone. Is it easy-not at all. Is it worthwhile, and ultimately tremendously meaningful-absolutely.

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One Comment
  1. Nancy Hill permalink

    Sounds like the life of a teacher as you are never finished! I, for one, appreciate the great rabbi and friend you are!

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