A conversation I had too often as a congregational rabbi:
- Mrs. Cohen: Rabbi, why didn’t you visit Abe Levi in the hospital?
- Me: What? Abe Levi was in the hospital?
- Mrs. Cohen: Yes, last month! He had a heart attack! EVERYONE knew. He and Helen say they are never going to forgive you and now they are looking for another synagogue. I don’t know what they teach you in rabbinical school these days!
Unfortunately, I am not making this up. Many people don’t realize that in the USA, hospitals and other medical institutions are prevented by law from informing clergy when congregants are admitted to the hospital. Also, clergy cannot read minds and hear surprisingly little from the “gossip mill” in the synagogue.
Alternatively, I’d find out that someone was in the hospital and “hadn’t wanted to bother” the rabbi. If my congregant was in the hospital, I wanted to be “bothered”! If you don’t want us to visit, you can say so, but let us know something’s going on.
Here, as a public service, I offer these rules for calling your rabbi:
- Synagogues have methods of getting messages to rabbis in time of emergency; there’s usually something about it in the voice mail message. An emergency is (1) someone has died or (2) someone is in the hospital in crisis. It is OK to call your synagogue’s “emergency number” in either of those circumstances, even if the hour is very late or early.
- Hospitals in the USA cannot notify your synagogue about congregants who are patients. If you want your rabbi to know about your health, you will have to call the synagogue and tell them.
- Your rabbi wants to know that you are going in for surgery, even if it is surgery you don’t want to think about. Give them a call ahead of time and let them know.
- Your rabbi doesn’t need to know medical details unless you want to tell them.
- For things that are not emergencies (even miracles, like new babies) call during office hours.
- Call your rabbi during office hours if:
- You would like a counseling session
- You are planning a lifecycle event (the earlier, the better: A year ahead is not premature!)
- You have happy news.
- You have sad news.
- You have gotten bad news.
- You’d like to be more active at temple, but don’t know what you want to do.
- You need somewhere confidential to talk something out.
7. If you need to leave a message for the rabbi, leave your phone number, spoken slowly and clearly. They may pick the message up at a time and place where they can’t look up your number.
Rabbis go into the rabbinate because we love Torah and we want to serve the Jewish People. Help your rabbi out by not requiring that they read your mind. Call the rabbi!