In just a few weeks we will read and celebrate together one of my most favorite stories in all of our tradition. As Jews we have so many stories, and as a Rabbi I certainly love many of them, but the story of Esther, is one of the few of which I never tire. Each time I read it, each time I study and learn about it with others, I kvell over the nuance and depth. Each time I explore this text I realize it is about something new. It is about being a minority culture, it is about power and authority, about gender politics, about authenticity and this year for me, it is particularly about balancing multiple identities.
As we read her story, we read about Esther’s struggle to balance her Jewish identity and her royal one, her duty to her people, her family and herself, with her duty to her husband, her role and her new position. Though few of us are debating whether or not to save ourselves or the Jewish people, I think we can all relate to trying to find a balance between multiple priorities, and duties and identities in our lives. We each struggle with moments when doing our best at work might mean making sacrifices as a parent, when family obligations cause us to sacrifice what we ourselves might need, when our role as friend or community member means sacrificing time that should be spent on other things.
This year, though I’m sad to sacrifice my own experience re-reading and celebrating with you on Purim, the story of the season reminds me how lucky I am to spend the holiday on family leave – focusing on only one important aspect of my life and identity at a time. As one of only 14% of all Americans with access to paid family leave time (according to the Pew Research Center), and a citizen in the only industrialized nation without standard paid leave policies for workers, I feel so blessed to have this opportunity. Even in many Jewish organizations, organizations that espouse Jewish family as an unparalleled value, even here in our own community the standard family leave offered those with new babies or ailing family members is often unfairly short or unpaid.
As a movement, we support legislation to pay workers for family leave and are working to create new standards for our own organizations and our country. We believe that workers deserve time they need to care for those around them without sacrificing their ability to pay their bills or keep their jobs. You can read more about the Reform Movement’s stance on the issue here, https://urj.org/what-we-believe/resolutions/resolution-support-paid-family-leave. For those looking to learn more about the Jewish response to family leave needs specifically in the Jewish community, I also recommend visiting the website of Advancing Women Professionals (AWP) and the Jewish Community, an organization pushing even further to not only say that we believe in fair standards, but to set standards of at least 12 weeks of paid leave for new mothers or those caring for aging relatives. AWP is calling attention not only to this issue, but the wage gap for Jewish women professionals and the glass ceiling for Jewish professional women as well. Their website http://advancingwomen.org/ not only has advocacy information but also information about the leave policies of many Jewish community organizations so that you as donors and users can advocate that they live up to our Jewish values.
If all goes well and as planned, my family and I will be back to celebrate and welcome the new baby to the congregation during a Shabbat Service after she is born, but aside from that I will be on leave from February 4 until May 6. I am thrilled to announce that Dr. Susan Bornstein-Forst will run our Religious School while I am away. A talented educator, administrator, and long time member of our community, we are so lucky that a light teaching load at Marian University this semester conveniently matches up with my leave, allowing her to help here at CEEBJ.
With great thanks to my colleagues stepping up to cover some of my other duties and a variety of lay leaders helping out in other areas, I again feel lucky to leave so much in such capable hands. If you aren’t sure who to talk to, you can always call Tiffani in the Lifelong Learning Office for help and information.
Chag Sameach in advance, have an extra hamantaschen for me, and I’ll see you in the Spring.
Rabbi Toba Schaller