Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
Nobody prepares you for those odd, out-of-the-way problems life presents every once in a while. I grapple with one such issue rather often – something I never thought I’d have to deal with. But then I grew up, fell in love with a (female) rabbi, and everything got complicated.
That’s when I took on the dreaded “r” word. You know — the word that describes a rabbi’s partner. A rabbi’s female partner. Because, you know, once you know that someone’s a rabbi’s partner, what else do you really need to know? There are so many rights (and rites) denied to me as a lesbian, in the world in general as well as in Judaism. This one word, which frankly somewhat offends my feminist sensibilities with what I believe are the implications it carries about the appropriateness of defining a woman (or anyone) through her partner’s profession, has not been one of them. It’s a word my partner’s congregants sometimes use, though most of them aren’t familiar with the term. It’s something tossed out with a grin by Jewish professionals, as though it’s somehow extra-cute to call me a rebbetzin when the rabbi I’m partnered to is female.
Maybe one day this can be a term I embrace, but clearly, I’m definitely not there yet.
In the interim, I’ve been drawing great strength and no small amount of random smiling from a lesson bequeathed to me by the woman who is the partner of a previous rabbi for this same remote synagogue. The shul where my partner works is out on what my New York-bred mind calls “the frontier,” and Jews grow pretty hardy there, hardy enough to laugh at themselves and certainly hardy enough to remake terminology they don’t like. The previous partner-of-a-rabbi didn’t like the word “rebbetzin” either, but she fashioned an awesome, and I think feminist, repurposed version. She wasn’t the rebbetzin, she explained to people — she was the rebbetzOUT!
It doesn’t hurt that “rebbetzOUT” makes me feel like a gay rock star on top of the supportive partner of an amazing member of the clergy, or just a bit like the Peanuts’ Lucy, pointedly letting others know when the doctor was in… or not. Nobody prepares you for these odd, out-of-the-way problems life throws you every once in a while, but the solutions can be a whole lot of fun.
Pronounced: shool (oo as in cool), Origin: Yiddish, synagogue.