“The rabbi’s wife is the unofficial filling-in-the-blanks-of-whatever-is-needed.”
A wooden dining table that seats ten people or more welcomes guests as they enter the home of Nechama, or Chumi, as Rabbi Lerman’s wife is commonly known. Chumi’s four-month-old daughter Shoshana gurgles and fidgets on the couch nearby.
I begin the conversation by asking, “What are the traditional duties of the rabbi’s wife?” but quickly realize that my question may be premature (or even obsolete, considering the large table and newborn). Chumi became a “rebbetzin,” the official title, just last March, when her husband took on the available position at the Young Israel of Sunnyside Synagogue. The couple moved their three-year-old twins Chaim and Ahava and their six-year-old daughter Bracha from Jerusalem to Sunnyside just in time for Chumi to give birth to Shoshana. While having to settle and furnish their new house in Sunnyside Gardens, attend to a long chain of holiday and Torah celebrations, and find Jewish schools for the older children, Chumi made efforts to get to know the members of the orthodox community and familiarize herself with their needs. The couple is constantly broadening their email list and Chumi has joined the Yahoo Group SunnyMoms to find out more about how she can help the community grow.
“The rabbi’s wife is the unofficial fill-in-the-blanks-of-whatever-is-needed,” she says, giggling at her understatement. While each couple and community decides on the rebbitzin’s role and duties, she is traditionally expected to host guests for meals over Shabbat. At those meals, the small size of Sunnyside’s orthodox Jewish community allows Chumi to pay special attention to people they “want to connect to more.”
Chumi’s new role is familiar to her not only because giving and caring is one of the three pillars of Judaism. The daughter of a rabbi and an educator, Chumi earned her master’s degree in education from Long Island University before she moved to Israel 11 years ago. In Jerusalem she taught at a public school and acted as a “dorm-mother,” counseling American girls studying abroad.
Chumi’s commitment to service only continues to grow. She and her husband have planned a series of events for this and next week’s Chanukah celebrations, including an open event on Friday night with songs, “Inspirational Torah” and hot kugel at their house on 47th Street. On Sunday, the community plays “Jewpardy,” shows an animated Chanukah children’s video and serves potato latkes, doughnuts and a dairy buffet at the synagogue on 43rd Avenue.
In the podcast Chumi tells us about orthodox Jewish dating traditions and how she met her husband.