Authors: Harry Kemelman
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #World Literature, #Jewish, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Crime Fiction
MONDAY THE RABBI TOOK OFF
From the sofa in the living room where she was immersed in the Sunday paper. Miriam heard the door between the breezeway and the kitchen open and close. She called out. “David?” and when her husband came into the room. “Mr. Raymond called just after you left. It sounded important.”
Rabbi David Small nodded, rubbing his hands from the cold. He crossed the room to stand in front of the radiator. “I saw him at the temple.”
“You didn’t wear your coat?” she said.
“I just had to walk from the car to the vestry door of the temple.”
“And you’ve been having colds all winter.”
“Just one cold ”
Although in good health. Rabbi Small was thin and pale and had a kind of nearsighted, scholarly stoop which made him seem older than his thirty-five years. His mother was always urging Miriam to coax him to eat.
“But it’s lasted all winter. Was it about the contract he wanted to see you?”
He shook his head. “No. it was to tell me that the board had voted not to hold the congregational Seder this coming Passover.”
She could see that he was disturbed. “But it’s not far four months yet.”
“Four and a half months,” he corrected her. “But there’s nothing like being beforehand. He told me so that as superintendent of the religious school I could inform the principal not to start coaching the children for their part in the service. That’s called going through channels, like when I was a chaplain in the Army, I had to tell Pastor Bellson anything I wanted rather than talk to the colonel directly.”
She could not fail to notice the bitterness in his tone. “Did he say why they decided not to hold it?”
“Not until I asked him. He said the last two years we lost money on the affair.”
She looked up at him. “Does it bother you?”
“It bothers me that I wasn’t invited to discuss it with the board. Ive got over being bothered about not sitting in on board meetings. Although after six years where each new board invited me to attend, the failure of this board to ask me is rather pointed. But this question of the Passover is so peculiarly within the area of the rabbi’s jurisdiction, you’d think they’d want to know my views. If I am not to pass on matters of this sort, then what is my function here? Am I just a functionary in charge of ceremonials? Do they think ”
“But are you sure it was intentional. David?” she asked anxiously. He was so irritable of late. She tried to mollify him. “They’re new at the game; maybe they just don’t realize ”
“New at the game! They’ve been in office for three months now. And if they are in doubt about what is proper, there are people they can ask. No. it’s their entire attitude. They’re in control, and I’m just an employee. Take the matter of my contract ”
“Did he mention it?” she asked quickly.
“He did not.”
“And you didn’t either?”
“I mentioned it when it was due to expire.” he said stiffly., “and that should be sufficient. Do you expect me to keep asking them? Am I supposed to wheedle it out of them?”
“But you’re working without a contract.”
“So they could fire you. They could give you a month’s notice telling you that your services were no longer required.”
“I suppose they could. And I could do the same to them. I could notify them that I was leaving.” He smiled impishly. “I’m rather tempted.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t.”
He left the radiator to pace the floor.
“Why not? It might be a good idea, now I think of it. What would I lose? The few months to the end of the year? If they haven’t given me a contract so far, it can only mean that they have no intention of reappointing me next year. Why else haven’t they talked to me about it? Why else haven’t they asked me to attend board meetings? And this today just telling me that they’re not going to hold the community Seder. Yes, I’m sure that’s what they have in mind. I am supposed to go through the motions for the rest of the year marrying people, making little speeches at Bar Mitzvahs, giving my sermons on Friday night services then they’ll notify me that for next year they are planning to make a change. Well, why not beat them to the punch?”
“Oh, they wouldn’t.” Miriam protested. “They couldn’t get away with it. Mr. Wasserman and all your friends would put up a fight ”
“Well, I’m not so sure that I want a fight. Why should I have to fight? How long before I am accepted? Ive been here six years now. I’m on my seventh year, and there’s been a crisis about my job almost every year. They’ve either tried to fire me or done something that left me no choice but to resign. I’m sick of it. It shouldn’t be a condition of a man’s employment that he should have to spend his time and energy just to keep his job. His energies should go into doing the work that the job involves.”
“Well.” Miriam pointed out, “the last board was planning to give you a life contract and a year’s sabbatical leave as well.”
“I heard rumors to that effect, and I suppose I would have accepted it if they had.” he said moodily. “And yet what good is a life contract? It binds me, but it doesn’t bind them. Any time they want to get rid of me, they have only to propose something outrageous that couldn’t live with, and I’d resign. Isn’t that what happened when I made a rabbinic decision on the matter of burying poor Isaac Hirsch, and Mort Schwarz, who was president at that time, overrode me and ordered the body exhumed? Well, if you remember, that was during the first year of my five-year contract. And I had no choice but to resign.”
“But they didn’t accept your resignation.” Miriam said.
“Oh, they would have all right if it hadn’t been for the Goralskys whom they were honeying up to. And only last year, didn’t Ben Gorfinkle actually tell me he was going to pay me off for the few remaining months of my contract and fire me right in the middle of the year?”
“Yes, but he and his friends on the board thought you were turning their kids against them. It was just a power play. I’m sure they wouldn’t have gone through with it. Your friends on the board. Wasserman and Becker and the others, would have stopped it.”
“But Wasserman and Becker didn’t stop it.” he said. “The best they could do was to offer me a job in another congregation they were thinking of starting up. Only when those same kids got involved in a murder case did it save my job. And that same Becker. I might add, was the man who led the opposition to me the very first year I was here and was all for dropping me when not only my job but my neck was at stake.”
“Oh, David.” Miriam reproved him, “that’s ancient history. Becker’s been as strong a backer for you as Wasserman ever since. You surely don’t hold his opposition the first year against him.”
“I don’t hold the opposition of any of them against them.” he said, “neither Becker nor Schwarz nor Gorfinkle. They were all doing what they thought was for the best. Maybe the only one I should resent is Jacob Wasserman.”
Miriam looked at him incredulously. “Wasserman! Why, he’s been your friend from the beginning. He’s the one who brought you here and kept you here against all opposition.”
The rabbi nodded.
“Well, that’s what I mean. He’s been too good to me. Maybe if that first year he had gone along with the majority opinion. I would have left here and got another job with another congregation. Maybe Ive had to fight for my job here because I don’t really belong. If after six years. I still have to fight for my job, maybe it’s the wrong job. Maybe another congregation ”
“But they’re all like this, David,” Miriam said, “all the suburban congregations.”
“Then maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m not flexible enough. Maybe I don’t belong in the rabbinate at all, at least running a congregation. Maybe I ought to be in teaching or research or organizational work.” He sat down on the sofa and faced her. “Do you remember last Passover. Miriam, when we were sure I was through here and we decided that instead of hunting around for another job right away5 we’d go to Israel instead?”
The hint of a smile crossed his face. “So why don’t we do it? If they can send me packing with a month’s notice, why can’t I leave with the same notice to them?”
“You mean resign your job?” She was visibly shocked at the idea.
“Oh, not necessarily resign. I could ask for a leave of absence.”
“And if they didn’t grant it?”
“I’d take it just the same. I’m tired and fed up and sick of this place. Do you realize that we’ve been here six years and I haven’t had a vacation in all that time. In the summer things slow down. The religious school is closed, and there are no holidays or Friday evening services, but there are weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, and people get sick and expect me to come to visit them, and people come to see me about things that are troubling them. But except for an occasional weekend, we haven’t been away at all. Ive got to get away where I can be with myself for a while.” He smiled. “And in Israel it would be warm.”
“I suppose we could take one of those three-week tours.” she said, considering. “We could see the sights and ”
“I don’t want to see the sights,” he retorted. “They’re either new buildings or the remains of old ones or holes in the ground. I want to live in Jerusalem for a while. We Jews have been yearning for Jerusalem for centuries. Every year at Passover and Yom Kippur we say. ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ Last Passover when we said it. we really meant it. We really thought we would go. At least I did. All right, now is our chance. I have no contract binding me.”
“But the board would regard it as the equivalent of resigning,” she said, “and to give up one’s job ”
“Well, suppose they do? We’re young yet and can afford to take chances.”
Miriam looked at him apprehensively. “But for how long?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said easily, “three, four months, longer maybe; long enough to feel we were living there, not just visiting.”
“But what would you do there?” she asked.
“What do other people do there?”
“Well, the people that live there, work. And tourists are kept busy just sightseeing ”
“Oh, if you’re worried about how I’d keep busy, I could finish my Ibn Ezra paper for the Quarterly. Ive done all the research; Ive got all my notes. What I need now is lots of uninterrupted time to write it.”
She looked at him, his face eager, so like little Jonathan pleading for some special privilege. More, she felt his desperate need. “This isn’t something youve just thought of. David. Youve been thinking about it for some time, haven’t you?”
“All my life.”
“No5 but I mean ”
He faced her directly. “Last year, when it looked as though I were through here, I thought we could go before I started looking for another job. When else would we get the chance? Then when it turned out that this job was going to continue. I suppose I should have been glad that I was going to continue to draw a salary. But I wasn’t. I’d had my heart set on going and now I can’t get it out of my mind.”
“But to give up a job ”
“I’ll be able to get another when we come back,” he said. “And the chances are I won’t have this one next year anyway.”
She smiled. “All right, David. I’ll write to my Aunt Gittel.”
Now it was his turn to look surprised. “What’s she got to do with it?”
Miriam put down the newspaper and folded it neatly beside her. “Ive followed you. David, in every important decision. When you turned down that job in Chicago that paid so much money because you didn’t like the kind of congregation it seemed to be. I agreed, although we were living on my salary as a typist and whatever you could pick up in the way of an occasional holiday job in some small town. And then there was the job in Louisiana that you didn’t want. And the job of assistant rabbi in Cleveland that paid more than most regular jobs for rabbis just graduating because you said you didn’t want to subordinate your thinking to another rabbi. And when you wanted to resign your jobs here during the Schwarz regime. I went along even though I was carrying Jonathan at the time and wasn’t too keen on having to move to another town and find a place to live with a new infant. And now you want to take a chance on losing this job so you can go and live in Jerusalem for a while. Again I’ll follow your lead. You’re in charge of grand strategy. But you’re not so good on tactics. If we’re going to live in Jerusalem for several months, we’ll have to have a place to stay. We can’t live in a hotel for all that time. We can’t afford it. Besides, in a hotel youre always a visitor rather than a resident. So I’ll write my Aunt Gittel. who’s been living in Israel since the days of the British occupation. I’ll tell her what we’re planning and see if she can find us an apartment to rent.”
“But she lives in Tel Aviv and I want to stay in Jerusalem.”
“You don’t know my Aunt Gittel.”
Bert Raymond rapped the meeting to order. “I think we can probably dispense with the reading of the minutes of the last meeting. We didn’t do much as I recall.”
Ben Gorfinkle raised his hand. “I’d like to hear the minutes. Mr. Chairman.” he said evenly.
“Oh, well sure. Ben. Will you read the minutes. Barry?”