A Rabbi’s Apology


September 1, 2011

Dear Members of the Board of Directors:

It has come to my attention that I may have made a few small errors in judgment during this, my first year as your rabbi. I would like to acknowledge that if I could do certain things over again, I would have made slightly different choices so as to avoid the occasional “ruffled feather” that I only now realize my style may have engendered in certain instances.

To begin with, if I had it to do over again, I would not have thrown the cheesecake at Mrs. Blumenstein during the All-Night Shavuot Study Session last summer. I didn’t believe her horror was genuine at the moment she pleaded with me not to throw the cake, and I thought a little surprise slapstick humor would help break up the mental heavy lifting of the long hours of late night study. I realize now that I read the social cues incorrectly. I am sorry.

Additionally, if I could turn back the clock to six months ago, I would not have insisted that the synagogue host an open-mike limerick contest on St. Patrick’s Day in conjunction with the Irish tavern across the street from our shul, as a gesture of cross-cultural neighborliness. I did not foresee that the combination of too much beer and the foul possibilities of the limerick as a genre would result in what some older members of our congregation ended up describing in histrionic terms as a “desecration of our sanctuary.” I also did not realize that the delicious Irish deli tray our guests provided would include items whose kashrut status was questionable. I would like to point out, however, that our building manager ultimately acknowledged that I was right when I stated that the carpet on the bimah was stain-proofed and that everything, including the vomit, would come out with a little steam cleaning, which I paid for from my discretionary funds.

I regret that I thought Deliverance would be a good movie to show our Talmud Torah students in celebration of Passover.

I see now that my attempt at humor just before the Cantor chanted “ha-melech” last Rosh Hashanah, in which I tried to pun on the English slang notion of the Divine “throne” being like a toilet, was ill-timed.  Despite my intent, the joke failed to soften the somber atmosphere of the High Holy Days and draw us closer together through its informality.  I do dispute, however, Mr. Finkelstein’s angry letter to the Board in which he stated that many congregants reacted with shock when I made the joke.  I prefer to understand their reaction as one of awe, and after all Rosh Hashanah is part of the Days of Awe. Perhaps Mr. Finkelstein and I can meet each other halfway, and agree that the congregants who were offended reacted with shock and awe.  I would hasten to remind the Board that the theme of the High Holy Days is forgiveness.

I know one incident that has troubled the Board took place when I inadvertently and repeatedly addressed Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as “Bibi” during the question and answer period at the special appearance she made last November at the university.  I could not have foreseen that this verbal gaffe on my part would be captured on video and broadcast, ultimately, on the CBS Evening News, as well as on Israel’s version of “Funniest Home Videos.” I also feel that the press has been unfair in focusing so much attention on the novelty kippah I happened to be wearing at that event (the one imprinted with “I’m with stupid” and an arrow pointing to the person next to me). I hope that when the Board discusses this misstep on my part that I will at least be given credit for the free international publicity that the synagogue did gain as a result of the event.

I regret that I inadvertently emailed my Netflix recommendations to the entire congregational email list on six different occasions.

I feel badly that my cell phone rang during the Schottenstein – Mintzner wedding, the Gunther – Zelnick wedding, the Stannish – Michaelson wedding, and during the Petrofsky funeral.  Speaking of the Petrofsky funeral, I especially regret that I lost my temper at one of the mourners, Mrs. Rosen, and incorrectly accused her of being the one with the offending cell phone, only to discover that in fact the culprit was me.  I also agree that my subsequent apology note to Mrs. Rosen failed to achieve its intent when I tried to put the incident in perspective by writing that given the grand finality of death that the funeral represented, perhaps she should view the cell phone mishap as a minor matter.  Had I known that Mrs. Rosen, z’l, was herself in the final stages of a terminal illness, I would never have chosen those words of apology.

I see now that our Kindergarten teacher was in the right when she claimed that distributing fair-trade kazoos to the pre-schoolers during Yizkor last fall was ill conceived. I am sorry that I fired her and am hoping she will consider returning to teach, but she is at present obstinately refusing my calls.  

I now recognize that committing our 2nd grade Talmud Torah class to collectively care for a 14 year old Bernese Mountain Dog that I acquired at the Bowman Humane Society on behalf of the school was an error of impulsivity.  I had no idea that having the various families take turns caring for the dog as a class mitzvah project would invite so many complaints. I now realize that if I try to engage our students in the mitzvah of caring for animals again in the future, I need to send a note home beforehand informing the parents of what their obligations to the animal will be, rather than just assuming that they will agree to care for an animal spontaneously.

I see now that my Purim costume choice of a Speedo and goggles made some members of our community uncomfortable, as did my one-man Purim shpiel skit, “What Happens in Shushan Stays in Shushan.” I only chose this costume and skit because it was so hilarious when I first performed it for my frat brothers at Michigan State ten years ago.

I concede at this time that the automated, pre-recorded “Final Words of Comfort” message that I used in lieu of more time-consuming personal visits to congregants in hospice care was a failed experiment. I didn’t realize that hardly any of these older members would have their own i-Pod (doesn’t everyone have one?) and therefore wouldn’t be able to download my comforting message about death and the hereafter.  I still think the idea has merit as a concept, but the technical ignorance of our elders remains a barrier.

I do hope that as we go into the second year of my contract that we can put these little incidents behind us and wipe the slate completely clean, in the same way that our beloved pets forget that we ever existed once we die or give them to another family.  (Oh yes – I regret that I shared this truth to the children at our recent Tot Shabbat. I always thought children should be told the truth, but many of the parents were unreasonably upset with me.) 

Wishing you blessings in all your sacred endeavors,


Rabbi Sherman B. Lunderbuss

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