I like overdoing things sometimes. I like cooking too much, I like drinking too much, I like working too much, and I like Suzie. So it stands to reason that I want to be a little ridiculous about my future rebbetzin role.
Drag queens are ridiculous. They put on the trappings of femininity, and while they do not feel themselves to be innately female, they enjoy playing female. In acting–and overacting–a version of femaleness, drag queens force us to question the very nature of femininity and gender.
Similarly, I do not feel myself to innately be a rebbetzin. Some people are born into rabbi families, where their parents and grandparents and great-great-great-grandparents were rabbis, so they know what to expect. The rest of us, on the other hand, just fell in love with people who turned out to be rabbis. For this section of rebbetzins, I would venture that many of us do not feel like rebbetzins on the inside, and putting on the rebbetzin act is a bit like drag performance.
I’m drawn to the performance oriented aspect of rebbetzins. I’m interested in the archaic yet still useful role that rebbetzins have within the Jewish world. I’m interested in the stereotypes–the rebbetzin as some mixture of comforting grandma and genius psychologist, with a bit of fashion police thrown in just for fun. She’s great at cooking, she gossips, she doesn’t gossip, she’s a stickler for the rules, she’s knowledgable about everything on the face of the earth, she’s great with children, she’s super busy, she always has time for people. Who is this superhero in our collective subconscious?
I’m interested in how the role actually functions these days. What is it like for all the people who have their own separate professional careers but who just happened to marry rabbis? How do people deal with the expectation to shmooze with congregants? How do people deal with the expectations that they will want to keep a kosher home and not work on shabbat? I imagine it’s a bit like Princeton educated Michelle Obama participating in the First Lady cookie bake off…
I want to learn how to be a rebbetzin, and then I want to go overboard. I want to bake fortune cookies with quotations from feminist theorists inside. I want to wear long skirts with fishnet stockings underneath. I want to learn both Hebrew and Arabic when Suzie and I go to Israel. I want to make people question what we expect from rabbis’ partners. I want to give people more than they expect. And then maybe I just want to wear feather boas and freak people out a little.
P.S. I’m really excited about the Clergy Spouses Conference coming up on November 11th!
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