JWR Schticks and groans


Jewish World Review Nov. 22, 2002 / 17 Kislev, 5763

Toward rabbinic survival


By Bob Alper

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | One of my all-time favorite cartoons, an old "Wizard of Id", depicts a minister on his pulpit, proclaiming in several frames, "Love thine enemy!" "Love one another!" "Love is the way!" And in the final illustration, as he greets people at the door, heís thinking: "This is the part I hate the most."

I actually enjoy receiving lines and the opportunity to converse one-one-one with faces in the pews. Like most clergy, I encountered some troublesome moments early in my career, but quickly developed the skills required to ensure a pleasurable experience. For the sake of my younger colleagues, I am happy to share some of these indispensable techniques.

  • "RABBI: DO YOU REMEMBER MY NAME?" A threatening, frequent challenge, the honest answer to which is "Not a chance," unless you happen to be Rabbi Dale Carnegie or Rabbi Kreskin. One colleague likes to smile and say, "No, I donít recall your name, but (heh, heh) your faith is familiar." Heís used that response in the many, many pulpits heís occupied. A more effective approach is to say, "Tell me what it is," and when they do, look amazed and exclaim, "Absolutely right!" The person will walk away impressed, elated and, mainly, confused.

  • UGLY INFANTS. Face it. Most newborns are pretty homely, with their squished red faces and matted hair. They quickly become adorable, but what can a rabbi say when the proud grandpop whips out seven Polaroids taken in the delivery room? I usually examine the photos closely, nod my head approvingly, and cheerfully intone, "Now, thatís a baby."

  • HUNGER PAINS. Itís axiomatic: The longer the receiving line, the less chance that thereíll be any food left when you finally get to the tables. Which is why one should make certain that the congregants file from left to right only. That way, you can shake peopleís right hands and, with your left, subtly but firmly grasp their elbows and push them speedily on their way. Try it. (If theyíre moving from right to left, forget the pastry.)

  • A FINAL HEALTH NOTE. Most germs, we have learned, are transmitted by skin to skin contact, especially through the shaking of hands. This is why itís a good idea to scope out the crowd during the service, and identify snifflers. When these people come through the line, even if they are total strangers, hug them. As soon as the last person has gone, wash your hands thoroughly. And keep a handkerchief ready in the event youíre confronted by people with a tendency to spray their words. You can receive a pretty good dousing, especially during the springtime holidays, while being wished a happy PU-rim or a Happy PAY-sach

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    JWR contributor Bob Alper, the world's only practicing clergyman doing stand-up comedy . . . intentionally, is the author of Life Doesn't Get Any Better Than This: The Holiness of Little Daily Dramas and A rabbi confesses. To go to his web site, click here. Comment by clicking here.

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    ©2002, Bob Alper