Someday the Rabbi Will Leave

BOOK: Someday the Rabbi Will Leave
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Someday the Rabbi Will Leave

Harry Kemelman

To the latest addition,

ANNE M. K. ROSSANT

Have a good life.

1

From where he sat in the living room, reading the afternoon paper, Rabbi David Small could hear his wife, Miriam, moving around in the kitchen. By the noise engendered—the rattle of pots and pans, and the banging of the oven door—he knew she was annoyed. And he knew why. She had been doing the monthly bills.

She came to the door of the living room. Her figure, he noted, was as slender and trim as a high-school girl's. Impatiently she brushed aside a wisp of blond hair that had fallen across her face.

“David, we need more money,” she announced.

“Yes dear,” he said meekly, automatically, from behind his paper.

“Maybe I'll look for a job.”

He put aside his paper. “As what?”

“As a typist, maybe. No. That would mean working in an office and not enough people would see me. I'll get a job as a checkout girl in a supermarket. Then people would notice and realize that they were underpaying their rabbi.”

The telephone rang and he reached for it. “Rabbi Small,” he said. Then, “Oh, how are you? … No, we've got nothing planned.… Sure.… Sure.… Around eight? … Okay, anytime.… Good-bye.” To Miriam he explained, “That was Sam Feinberg. He wanted to know if we were going to be in this evening. He'd like to come over.”

“Good. You can ask him for more money.”

“Just like that. And what does he do then? Reach into his pocket for his wallet, or perhaps ask me for a pen so that he can write out a check?”

“Oh, you know what I mean. I know the Finance Committee has to approve it, I suppose on the recommendation of the Ritual Committee, and then the whole board has to vote on it. But someone has to propose it, set the wheels in motion. Well, what's wrong with asking Mr. Feinberg? He likes you. You get along well together. In the couple of years he's been president, you've never had any trouble with him. At least, I don't remember your ever complaining about him.”

“We get along all right.”

“Then why not—”

“I can't ask him, Miriam.”

“But why not? This inflation has cut your salary—”

“I get a cost-of-living increment.”

“But it's never enough, and you don't get it until your next contract. If at least you didn't turn in your fees—”

“I agreed to when I first came here.”

“But we could use the money,” she wailed. “The Berenson wedding, you got two hundred dollars.”

He grinned. “I'm sure it wouldn't have been a quarter of that if they thought it was going into my pocket. They know I turn it over to the temple treasury, and they tend to give more because everybody finds out how much.”

“You could keep a record of all the money you turn over and ask them to increase your salary by that much at least. That would be only fair. Most rabbis keep their fees.”

He remained silent, indicating he did not care to continue the discussion. Although only forty, Rabbi Small sometimes seemed like an old man with his scholarly stoop and pale face peering out through thick-lensed glasses. And sometimes, as now, he seemed like a small, stubborn boy who has been naughty and refuses to say he's sorry.

She persisted. “Aren't you ever going to ask for a raise, David?”

He smiled and said gently, “Look, Miriam, for me to ask for a raise is—is demeaning.”

“But it's a business arrangement,” she said. “You have a contract.”

“Sure, so I'll go about it in a businesslike way. When the time comes.”

“And what do you call a businesslike way?”

“When I can say that I want more money or else I leave. Don't you see, if I ask for a raise when I'm obviously planning to continue is like—like begging. I'm appealing to their charity. And what if they don't grant it? Do I sulk? I can't do it. If I establish that kind of relationship with them, I'll lose all authority.”

“At the Rabbinical Conference down in Providence, Sarah Metzenbaum told me the way Jack works it when he wants something. He tips off his close friends on the board and they bring it up at the meeting.”

He reflected that among the more unfortunate aspects of rabbinical conferences was that while the rabbis were meeting and listening to papers, their wives also met and compared notes. “Jack Metzenbaum is a friendly, outgoing guy who makes friends easily, practically automatically. I'm not. You've got to work at it. It means socializing with them, dining with them—”

“So what's wrong with that?”

“How many of our board members have kosher homes where we could eat? And I don't play golf.”

“Chester Kaplan and his group all have kosher homes.”

“That's all I need, to show partiality to Chester Kaplan,” he scoffed. “As it is, most members of the board think I always side with the Orthodox group.”

“Then what's the answer? You won't ask for a raise, and you don't have anyone to ask for you. If they haven't thought of giving you one on their own up till now, they're not likely to in the future.”

He saw that she was worried and upset, and he thought it best to mollify her. “Oh, I'll work out something. Don't worry about it.”

But she was not to be put off. “Considering the ground rules you've laid down, I'd like to know how.” She was small, girlish, so that it was hard to believe that she was the mother of two teenage children. Her blue eyes, wide and normally gay, now focused sharply, even accusingly at him. Her chin was raised as if to give emphasis to her determination, and the mass of blond hair piled casually on the top of her head threatened to come down as she tilted her head back imperiously, a gesture which always put him on the defensive.

He temporized. “We-el, when my contract expires, I presume they'll send me another. And—and I just won't sign it. That's all. When they ask me why not, I'll tell them I can't continue on my present salary.”

“How much would you ask for?”

He was exasperated. “I don't know. It would depend—”

“We need at least a couple of thousand more.”

“So I'll ask for another two thousand.”

“Twenty-five hundred.”

“All right. Twenty-five hundred.”

“And if they don't grant it?”

“Then I won't sign the contract and I'll start looking around for another job. Satisfied?”

She nodded slowly. “All right, but when Feinberg comes over tonight, wouldn't it be a good idea to hint about what you're planning so he can alert the board to begin thinking about it?”

He shook his head. “Or it might start them looking around for a replacement.”

“Then you'd at least know where you stood, and you could start looking before your contract expires.”

“Look, Miriam,” he said patiently, “I don't know why he is coming over or what he wants to talk about—”

“But if the occasion arises—”

“All right. If he talks about a big surplus in the treasury that he wants my advice how to spend, I'll mention the board might consider raising my salary. Satisfied?”

The back door opened and then shut with a bang. From the kitchen came the strident voice of their daughter, Hepsibah, thirteen, rosy-cheeked, and blond but unfashionably short and stocky. “Jonathon is a pig,” she announced. “He got a lift from Al Steiner and instead of stopping, they drove right past me. Jonathon even waved. Hi, Dad. Hi, Mom. Is he upstairs?”

“He hasn't come home yet,” said Miriam. “You're late, and if you don't hurry, you'll be late for Hebrew school.”

“Can you ride me down, Dad?”

“The walk will do you good,” said her father.

“Your father is busy, Sibah. Now take a glass of milk. You've got plenty of time to get there if you don't dawdle.”

“Why do I have to go to that darn old Hebrew school, anyway?”

“Because it's Wednesday,” said her mother tartly, “and that's when your class meets.”

There followed the sounds of footsteps going up the stairs, of books being dropped, of footsteps clumping down the stairs, and then the banging of the back door. Miriam sighed.

There was quiet for about fifteen minutes, and then the back door banged open and shut.

“Jonathon?” Miriam called.

Their son, seventeen, tall and thin and ungainly, came into the living room. “Hi, Dad. Hi, Ma.”

“Why didn't you give your sister a ride home?” asked the rabbi.

“Because we weren't going home. We were going to Al Steiner's house. And she's a pest. Al Steiner just got a computer. I wanted to see it. Gee, it's neat. You can type your homework on it and make all kinds of corrections, and then you just press a button and it types out by itself with all the margins and everything. You can even press a button and it will correct all your mistakes in spelling.”

“You could have given her a lift up to Main Street,” Miriam pointed out.

“She would have tried to come along with us. You baking cookies?”

“There's some in the jar,” said Miriam. “You're babysitting tonight for the Colemans, aren't you?”

“Oh yeah. Could you drive me over there, Dad?”

“I'm afraid not. We're expecting company tonight. Take your bike.”

“I'm due there at seven, so I thought when you go to the
minyan
for the evening services—”

“In this weather, I walk, and I'm glad of the chance. Besides, how would you get home?”

Jonathon muttered something and mounted the stairs to his room. And once again, peace descended on the Small household.

2

Wearing a sport shirt, blue blazer, and gray slacks, Howard Magnuson came down to breakfast in the sunny dining room overlooking Barnard's Crossing Harbor. He bent over to give his wife, Sophia, a perfunctory kiss and then took his place across the table from her. Nodding his head toward the third place setting, he asked, “Laura?”

BOOK: Someday the Rabbi Will Leave
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