This is what I said to myself as I handed my finished exam to my Economics teacher Mr. Bang on Friday.
"Congratulations, Michael. Oh, and I have this form for you."
He handed me a form that said "Senior Check-Out" on it. I looked at Mr. Bang, a little dumbfounded.
"It's a Senior Check-Out form...you do know about Senior Check-Out, don't you?"
"When did they announce this?"
"Principal Roberts held an assembly about it last Wednesday."
Last week...oh yeah, I faked sick last Wednesday to hang out with Melinda. It was kinda like being sick, though. It's not like we got out of bed during the day.
"How does this work, Mr. Bang?"
"You come in on Monday morning, you turn in your textbooks, and then you get all your teachers to sign this form proving you passed."
"Oh...I have to come in on my first Monday of freedom?"
"I'm afraid so. Let me make it a little easier on you; I'll sign your form right now."
He signed my form and indicated that I passed.
I went back to my seat and looked at Ben.
"Can you believe this?"
I showed him my Senior Check-Out form.
"Yeah, Mr. Roberts had an assembly about it last Wednesday."
"Okay, well I was having sex last Wednesday, so I didn't know about this!"
"Well, aren't you just lucky? Brag to me and the whole world about your sex life!"
"That wasn't the point of the statement. The point is that I wasn't here and I had no idea that we had to come in on our first Monday of freedom."
"You could've done Early Check-Out. You have back-to-back A's, don't you?"
"Yeah...when did they talk about Early Check-Out?"
"Last Wednesday, during the assembly."
"When was the deadline to sign up?"
"Damnit! What else did I miss?"
"Darrius Welker went streaking on the football field."
"He wanted to do something crazy."
"Clearly. What was his punishment."
"I'm not sure...no one's seen him since."
Suddenly, the bell rang and our last day of high school was over.
I rushed out to the parking lot to greet my beautiful girlfriend and complain about my current predicament.
"Did you know that we have to come to school on Monday?"
"I don't. I did Early Check-Out."
"What? How did you find out about it?"
"They mentioned it on the morning announcements...don't you watch the morning announcements?"
"Does anyone watch the morning announcements?"
"Apparently I do."
"I don't wanna come back here on Monday, Melinda? I mean, to quote the title of the Act I Finale of Footloose, I'm free!"
"Obviously not yet. Have fun on Monday...are we going out this weekend?"
"I can't. On Friday night, the synagogue is honoring my father for his service. In my opinion, it's their way of rubbing the fact that he's out of a job in his face."
"What about Saturday night?"
"I'm babysitting the twins. Do you wanna come along?"
"Sure. That'll be fun."
"I love you."
"I love you too."
We kissed again, got in our respective cars, and drove off.
I got home to find my father on the computer, frantically trying to find a new job.
"Michael, have you ever heard of the Hospice of the Valley?"
"Yeah. It's where people go to die."
"Do you think they might need a rabbi to say prayers for their Jewish patients?"
"Would it help to say prayers for them? I mean, for all intenses and purposes, the people are already dead!"
He gave me a very unammused look.
"Have you looked at anything that isn't in the Rabbinical field? I mean, you weren't always a rabbi. You still have a pretty good reputation from being a healthcare consultant."
"There's nothing out there. I mean, I could potentially reopen my old business, but I can't handle
all that travelling."
"Well, do you have any other ideas?"
"Yes. The movie theatre."
"Well, we could see movies for free."
"This isn't funny, Michael. I may have to get a job at the movie theatre if nothing else opens up. I just can't believe what they're doing to me. I knew that Rabbi Moon was trouble the minute I first saw him. It's as if they were planning my downfall the whole time."
"This really blows."
"Your mother is out as we speak trying to get a job of her own."
"She's never worked a day in her life, Dad."
"She's interviewing at the movie theatre."
"Maybe I ought to get a job there. Then we'll just be one big movie theatre family."
"No, no, no. I will not have my son trying to contribute to the household. That's not your responsibility. Plus, you already have a job. As far as I can tell, Rabbi Moon didn't fire you."
"You think I'm gonna work for the man that put you out of work?"
"I appreciate the loyalty, but this economy sucks. You'd be wise to just keep working where you are."
"I suppose...it's not fair, is it?"
"Son, you'll soon learn that life isn't always fair. It's not usually fair. We've gotten a few really good breaks, but these things do happen. Your mother and I have a retirement fund that we may end up opening to try and stay afloat. It at least has enough to put you and Darrin through school."
"You'd use your entire savings to send Darrin and I to college?"
"If that's what it takes, Michael."
"Your mother and I will be fine. Something will come up. I promise."
He gave me a look of encouragement and I was reminded exactly why he was such a good rabbi. My father had the ability to lift people up so high that they have to look down to see heaven. Whether it was the whole congregation, or just one person, he had the true gift that every rabbi needed. That was the profession that he was meant to have, and I knew at that moment that he
needed to do whatever he needed to do to stay in that line of work.
After the Shabbat dinner that night at the synagogue, I decided to get on my computer to do some research of my own as to what was open in the world of Jewish Jobs in Arizona. I immediately found a link that caught my attention:
JOB POSITION AVAILABLE
ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY
DEPARTMENT OF JEWISH STUDIES
HILLEL RABBI/ETHICS PROFESSOR
PLEASE SEND ALL RESUMES TO DR. SHELDON GOLDSTEIN
I decided to take it upon myself to send my father's resume to Dr. Goldstein in hopes that it would do some good.
The next day, my father was scheduled to give his final sermon of his tenure at Temple Beth Zion. The congregation waited patiently for this moment. Not even my mother knew what would be said by the rabbi as he took the pulpit and began speaking.
"How does everyone feel about life right now?"
It was an interesting way to start a sermon. I couldn't tell if it was a rehtorical question or not.
"Don't be afraid to speak up. It's not a rhetorical question."
Well, now I could tell. The first to respond to the question was Mr. Arthur Horowitz, a rude and conceited old man.
"My life is crap right now, Rabbi!"
"Care to elaborate?"
"My kids won't speak to me because I spent their inheritance on a new motorhome for myself
and my 19 year old girlfriend. And then the girlfriend left me for some cowboy in Wyoming!"
It was obvious that my father didn't know how to answer the question, so he decided to turn Mr. Horowitz's selfish circumstances into humor.
"Well, Arthur, it sounds like you may need to talk to someone one-on-one."
There were a few chuckles from the congregation.
"Who else? How's everyone feeling about life?"
Mrs. Ruth Rosenthal raised her hand next.
"How are you feeling about life, Ruth?"
"Right now, everything is wonderful. My son and his wife just gave birth to thier third child. I'm going to be seeing them after shul today."
"Mazel Tov, Ruth. Okay, who else? Jerry, perhaps?"
This is where it got interesting. Jerry Sternberg was the one who fired my dad.
"I don't have too many complaints right now, Rabbi. My son Nate will be playing baseball this summer, and I'm gonna be coaching. So I'm very excited."
"Well, isn't it nice for your son to have such a dedicated father. I'm sure you're held in such high regard in your household, and why shouldn't you?"
I wondered if the rest of the congregation was able to pick up on the semi-sarcastic tone in my father's voice. I know I was, and I certainly know Jerry was.
"Does anyone care to know how I'm feeling about life right now?"
There were some nods from the crowd. However, this was obviously a rhetorical question.
"Life can be so very strange sometimes. One minute, everything seems to be going amazingly well. A man has success, a loving family, and plenty to celebrate. Then, when he least expects it, he feels the blade of a sword enter his back, stabbing him and leaving him helpless. The pain is as sharp as the sword itself, and all the man can think of is why this has happened to him. After all, he feels that he did nothing wrong. He betrayed no one, and yet he ended up being betrayed by someone who he wouldn't have ever expected. Possibly, someone who was somewhat an apprentice to him."
Rabbi Moon, the associate rabbi who helped put my father in his current position of unemployment, looked uncomfortable in his chair as he watched a true rabbi speaking the truth of a bad situation.
"The man proceeds to ask God why something like this would happen to such a loyal servant, for there was no reason to be wounded so suddenly and randomly. After lying on the ground, feeling the most excruciating pain he's ever felt before, the man suddenly has a revelation."
The congregation was listening intently, trying to figure out what my father was getting at.
"He realizes that there is always a reason for the things that happen. It's just not always clear. You see, the man, as most people do, thinks only of what he may have already done and not what he is meant to do later. Every man has his destiny, and some men know what this destiny is. However, they don't always get to choose how they get there. What the man in our story doesn't seem to realize at first is that he has a task that he must accomplish and that this stab to the back could very well be the first step into reaching his destiny."
He paused and took a drink of water.
"You may ask what it is that I'm talking about and who the man of the story is. Well, I'm going to answer it."
He took a deep breath, knowing that this next statement would cause a little bit of controversy within the shul.
"The man of the story is me, my friends. It is I who was recently stabbed in the back."
Suddenly, there was commotion all around. Only some people (particularly the syngagogue board) had known about the events that had recently surfaced.
"For those of you who don't know already, it is at this point that I announce that this will be my final Shabbat here at Temple Beth Zion. It was brought to my attention very recently that the termination of my contract would be in the best interest of the synagogue's future. I did my best to argue my case, but by the time I was told, the decision had already been made."
The commotion doubled. People were even booing. He raised his hand to get the congregation to settle.
"I tell you this, my friends, because ever since I began being mentored by Rabbi Barnes three and a half years ago, you have always come to me with the truth. It hasn't always been easy, but you were always honest with me. And now it is my turn to be honest with you. I must be honest and tell you that I feel so completely helpless. I feel as if I have been wronged by a certain someone who I once played golf with and drink beers with on a regular basis. I feel that I have been wronged by a man who I have been mentoring in recent months. This man is someone who I feel to be a poison to the community of Temple Beth Zion. A man who very obviously had a hidden agenda since the moment he was hired."
The congregation got riled up again, and continued to get more heated with every pause my father took.
"However, ladies and gentlemen--"
They were suddenly quiet.
"However, I feel that I cannot hold these two men responsible for what has recently happened to me. The truth of the matter is that if I was meant to continue to be your spiritual leader, then God would have made it so. I have no doubt in my mind that I am meant to be what I am, which is a rabbi. However, my time as your rabbi has very obviously come to an end. My hope is that my next opportunity will give me as much joy, if not more, than they joy you all have given me these past couple years. I thank God for every day that I spent in my office and every Shabbat that I spent standing at this pulpit. It was a wonderful time in my life, but now I know in my heart that it is time for me to move on. It is time for all of you to move on as well. I wish Rabbi Moon the very best of luck as he takes on the position of Senior Rabbi here at Temple Beth Zion. As he continues to learn the craft of the most wonderful line of work that there is, I sincerely hope you can all learn from him as well. I especially wish the best of luck to all of you as you continue to grow as people. We will now turn to the Musaf Service."
He stepped down from the Pulpit. As he turned his Siddur to the page of which the Musaf Service would begin, the sound of applause was heard by Mr. Horowitz of all people. This was followed by Mrs. Rosenthal. Mrs. Rosenthal also stood up as she began clapping, leading more people to follow suit. Within seconds, the entire congregation was standing and clapping, cheering for their favorite rabbi. My father held back tears as the applause continued to get louder and louder. It finally died down 10 minutes later. Moon and Sternberg were the only ones sitting, embarrassed and ashamed of themselves.
Immediately following the service, the two approached my father, walking him back into his office. My father sat down in his chair.
"Gentlemen, didn't you want something to eat? I understand that the Kiddish Luncheon is going to be very good today."
"What the hell was that, Al?"
"I'm confused as to what you're addressing, Jerry."
"Your sermon, asshole!"
"Why don't you explain, Rabbi?"
"The congregation deserved to know the truth of the situation."
"So you decided that the best way to do that would be to throw your colleague under a bus and change the entire world's view of him?"
My father stood up.
"I believe, Jerry, that the kettle is calling the pot black."
"Do you know how many members we're going to lose now, Al? Do you know what you have done to me?!?!"
"Joseph, Joseph, Joseph. I believe the real question is 'do you know what you have done to me'."
He began to walk out, with his head up high and his pride fully in tact.
"You'll never get away with this, Maccabbi!"
He looked back.
"It appears that I already have. The truth is out now. Have a great Shabbat."
He continued walking.
"Al Maccabbi, get your ass back in here!"
He didn't look back.
"You'll never have a job in this community again after your outburst! I swear on it!"
My father was finally out of earshot, sitting with us at the Kiddish Luncheon.
The rest of the weekend was relaxed for me. I had a great time babysitting my neice and
nephew with Melinda, and I spent the day on Sunday lounging around the house and watching basketball with my dad. I hadn't told him about the job opportunity that he may be hearing about.
It was on Monday, after I got home from Senior Check-Out, that I walked into my house to find my parents to be very happy, as if they were celebrating something.
"Michael, have you ever heard of a Sheldon Goldstein?"
"Is he an accountant?"
I decided to play dumb, but I knew exactly what was going on.
"He's the head of Jewish Studies at ASU. He called about my resume."
"I didn't know you sent your resume to him."
"Oh. Did you tell him that?"
"I didn't get a chance to."
There was a pause.
"The first thing he said to me was that he was offering me a job. He had seen my resume late Friday night and decided to go to shul and see me in person. He told me he had a lot of respect for my integrity and he felt that I would be a perfect candidate as an Ethics Professor."
"And a Hillel Rabbi!"
"Thank you, Shayna. Yes, I was also offered the job as Hillel Rabbi. So not only will I be teaching college students, I will be their spiritual leader. I will also get to work very closely with the students that run the Hillel, as I am now the sponsor of the organization."
It was then that my twin brother Darrin arrived at home, obviously returning home from Senior Check-Out himself.
"What did I miss?"
"Darrin, say hello to the new Hillel Rabbi at Arizona State University."
"I would, but I don't know who that is."
I knew that Darrin was just playing around. I could tell just by looking at the big smile on his face.
"This calls for a bottle of wine."
My mother poured each of us a glass of Manischewitz.
"Here's to a new opportunity."
"Here's to ASU."
"Here's to your integrity."
"Here's to you, Dad."
On that note, we drank and celebrated my father's new gig, an opportunity of a lifetime and one that I knew he would enjoy for a very long time.
As everyone celebrated of my father's future, I noticed that there was an envelope on the table addressed to me from United Synagogue Youth and Nativ. I knew that the answer to my future was sealed in that envelope. Without anyone noticing, I grabbed the envelope and opened it.