Ira’s Sense of Humor, Irony, and Perspective
In 1977, Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore hired me to serve as their educational consultant. It was a job I felt qualified for and was excited about. Rabbis Dennis and Sandy Sasso were leaving the congregation to head for their new congregation in Indianapolis but Ira Eisenstein would continue to serve as the senior Rabbi.
Well as the Yiddish saying has it mann tracht und Gott lacht, man plans and God laughs. Ira had a heart attack in the fall just before Rosh Hashanah, so I was asked to also serve as Rabbi, officiating at life-cycle events and selected holidays. This was not a role in which I felt so comfortable.
The year rolled on, and my wife and I had the great good fortune to make new friends, including the life-long friendship of Harriet and Sid Feiner and their families. About halfway through the year, Ira asked to meet with me in Philadelphia at the rabbinical college to discuss my work at RSNS.
Ira and I had a comfortable relationship and I was prepared to receive constructive criticism.
It turns out that I sometimes overplayed my education hand. While I prepared Jewish texts fairly well I didn’t study the Sunday New York Times sufficiently, a prerequisite for living in two civilizations. But most significantly I had listened too well to a congregant who had advised me that everything was informal at RSNS and to come to Friday night services dressed casually so I could reflect the milieu. Well not quite for everyone. Ira was to be the navi/prophet of a group of people who wished I wore a more formal tie and jacket to Friday night services, rather than slacks and a shirt.
Ira and I talked at great length. Near the end of the conversation, Ira got a glint in his eye, and a wry smile formed as he said:
You should remember this Jeffrey. These are great folks but ironically for a group that has formally eschewed the doctrine of Jewish chosenness they still have a way of thinking of themselves as am segulah/, God’s treasured inheritance.
Point taken. Perspective gained. I was glad to have been the beneficiary of Ira’s wisdom.