Bastard Stepdaughter of Zion

September 6, 2010

by Andie Nash

I was slogging through one of my many temp jobs when I applied for an Education Assistant position at a synagogue just a few miles from my apartment. The job sounded promising and seemed like a good fit for me; after all, I’d spent three years working as an Education Assistant at an art center in my hometown, and I loved it. The pay was meager, but the job was fun and I enjoyed interacting with the teachers and students. I had ample experience, I had glowing recommendations from my two bosses at the art center, and I was eager to ditch the tenuous world of temporary employment.

The interview was conducted by Elena,* the executive director of the synagogue. She was a personable fifty-ish redhead with an arty silk scarf knotted around her neck and a Zen garden on her desk. After the interview, Elena took me to meet Shoshanna, the head of the synagogue’s education department and my future boss. Shoshanna was a tall, attractive young woman with a somewhat chilly demeanor. Still, she greeted me politely and asked a few questions about my work experience, then wished me luck. I left the synagogue that day feeling I had aced the interview. Sure enough, a few days later Elena called me with a job offer. I breathed a sigh of relief and said yes.

I would soon regret that decision.

As an assistant, there are certain job duties you expect: handling correspondence, ordering supplies, making copies, entering data, and—in the education department—running errands for teachers, helping with classroom prep, updating attendance sheets and class schedules, and so on. I was fine with that. In fact, it wasn’t the education assistant job that sucked so badly. It was all the extra stuff that I was saddled with on top of it.

I soon found out that in addition to the education assistant position, I had two other full-time jobs. One was synagogue receptionist: I had to answer four constantly ringing phone lines and attend to the steady stream of congregants that flowed into the main office. The other job was graphic designer; I was to completely layout and edit the synagogue bulletin, a bloated sixteen-page monthly missive that was the rabbi’s pet project.

Compounding my frustration was a horror that I dubbed The Troika: a three-headed abomination comprised of the rabbi, his wife, and my boss Shoshanna. They made my life a living hell.

The Rabbi
There’s no way to put this delicately—the Rabbi looked like Prince. Yes, Prince. The Minneapolis musician who became an international sensation in the 1980’s. The star of Purple Rain. That Prince. I’m not exaggerating. The rabbi was about 5’3” and small-boned, with olive skin and thick black hair that resembled Prince’s pompadour circa Under the Cherry Moon. The rabbi also had an odd, prissy air about him that was even more reminiscent of Prince, the same artist who—as you may remember—was given to wearing purple high-heeled boots and ruffled shirts.

Thankfully, however, the rabbi never wore assless pants.

I unfortunately had to work very closely with Rabbi Prince on the synagogue bulletin, that hateful sixteen-page tree-destroying monstrosity that the rabbi obsessed over like it was the Torah itself. I have no idea why the bulletin was so important to him. After all, it’s not like any of the congregants actually read it. In fact, I had a strong feeling that the stupid thing went straight from the mailbox and into the recycling bin in most households, because 95% of the phone calls I received at the synagogue were questions about service times and other events that were carefully outlined in each edition. It seemed to me that that Rabbi Prince’s energy could be better spent on—I don’t know—more rabbinical pursuits. He didn’t seem to think so.

As the months progressed, he got worse. “I have a few things to add,” Rabbi Prince would say, striding over to my desk with a thick bundle of notes an hour before the bulletin was scheduled to go to print.

“We’re out of room,” I’d tell him firmly, each and every time. “I can’t squeeze anything else in here. We’d have to add more pages.”

“Fine, we’ll make it twenty pages this month,” he’d say, dumping the notes on my desk and sauntering back to his office while I went to go bang my head against the wall of the copy room, steeling myself for another twelve-hour workday.

Tamar
Tamar was Rabbi Prince’s wife. She also worked at the synagogue as a cantor. Tamar hated me on sight, and her hatred was palpable; the kind you could feel at 1,000 paces. It was a creepy, high school girl kind of hatred that people are supposed to outgrow around age sixteen, the variety that isn’t supposed to exist in a dowdy middle-aged rabbi’s wife. But it was there. Man, was it there. She would raise her chin and stare straight ahead whenever I passed her in the hallway. Every time she came into the admin offices to use the copier she would passive-aggressively greet everyone but me. Her Mean Girls-style bitchiness was exacerbated by the fact that all the congregants thought she was as sweet as pie. They fucking loved this woman. And she was everyone’s favorite cantor; I heard one congregant gush that she had the voice of an angel when she sang during services. Personally, I found her singing voice to be pretty damn mediocre and preferred the synagogue’s other cantor, a friendly twentysomething woman who was a hundred times cooler than Tamar.

From Day One I tried to figure out what it was about me that this woman found so odious.  I wondered if—incredulously—Tamar thought I was attracted to her husband Rabbi Prince. Tamar needn’t have worried; I couldn’t have been less attracted to her effeminate control freak of a husband. Jesus Christ, I’d sooner start a torrid affair with the synagogue’s elderly Hmong janitor. And I definitely didn’t envy Tamar her “perfect” children, a loathsome trio of ill-behaved brats that I frequently had to corral whenever there was a special function happening at the synagogue. Nope, I didn’t covet a damn thing about Tamar. Perhaps it was my lack of starry-eyed reverence that got under her skin, since most of the congregants acted like the sun shined out of her generous tuchas, and told her so at every opportunity.

Shoshanna
Shoshanna was a whole other bag of tricks. Thirty-hour work weeks and two hour lunches were the norm for her, and she was determined to keep it that way. Consequently, she was always behind on her workload, so any projects Shoshanna couldn’t finish were unceremoniously dumped on me. When I was unable to complete them on time, she promptly bitched me out to Elena. I tried to explain to Shoshanna—in the most diplomatic way possible—that I couldn’t meet her last-minute deadlines when I was saddled with two other jobs along with the one for which I’d been hired. Shoshanna chewed this over, and later that day as I was leaving, she invited me into her office and calmly showed me her Franklin-Covey planner. “This is what keeps me organized,” she said, without a trace of irony. “I think if you had a similar system you wouldn’t struggle so much.” I bit my tongue and squeezed the shit out of the little foam stress ball she kept on her desk, imagining it was her head. “I’ll give it a try,” I said through clenched teeth, and promptly went home to drink away my seething frustration.

“I hate my job,” I wrote in an email to a friend. “My boss is a nightmare, the cantor hates me, and Rabbi Prince totally sucks. I’d rather work for Morris Day,” I mused, referring to the flamboyant singer who played Prince’s nemesis in Purple Rain. “I wonder if he has a synagogue.”

As time dragged on, I started to fantasize about quitting. Just ripping off my name badge, sweeping the papers from my desk, and dancing down the hallway, screaming “SHALOM, MOTHERFUCKERS!” Still, I was afraid of ditching my post and leaving the education department in the lurch. It was only February, and the synagogue’s religious school was in session until the end of May. My stubborn sense of responsibility and paralyzing fear of unemployment kept my ass chained to that desk, much to the detriment of my sanity.

Then, a miracle happened.

I was talking to my dad on the phone one day when he dropped a bombshell. “I’ve got some money set aside for your wedding, in case you ever get married,” he told me. “But you don’t have to wait until then to use it. Hell, you don’t even have to get married. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it,” my twice-divorced father chuckled. “Basically, the money is yours whenever you want it.”

I clutched the phone to my ear, tears of joy welling in my eyes. I thanked my savior of a father profusely, and told him that I would gladly accept that money, and could he send me a check for the lump sum on May 31st?

After that, things started to look up. My job at the synagogue was still hell on earth, but I didn’t care anymore. I had glimpsed the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and it was glorious. I went about my duties, my eyes only seeing the squares on the calendar and the clock on the wall. My days were numbered. Soon I wouldn’t have to deal with Rabbi Prince’s psychosis, Tamar’s animosity, or Shoshanna’s incompetence. Soon my job would be a distant, unpleasant memory.

On the morning of May 16th, exactly ten months to the day that I’d accepted the job at the synagogue, I walked into Elena’s office and gave my two weeks notice. Elena responded with the requisite “We’ll be sad to see you go,” speech, then quickly hired my replacement, a bright-eyed recent college grad named Rachel. I pitied the girl immensely, but knew that it wasn’t my problem anymore.

I kept in touch with Jo, Elena’s secretary and my only ally at the synagogue. Jo informed me that Rachel broke my record, lasting a scant five months in the position before she ran away screaming. Rachel’s successor was fired after six months. I wonder about the poor soul they found to fill the job. According to Jo, she’s still there. She has my deepest sympathies.

After quitting my job at the synagogue, I spent a glorious summer going for long bike rides, stumbling from happy hour to happy hour with my friend Shane, and working on my novel. When the summer was over and my wedding fund was depleted, I went back to temping. I developed a new appreciation for mindless typing and filing. Eventually I found a full-time job that I enjoyed. And to this day, I wake up every morning, clutch the bed, and thank God I don’t have to go to the synagogue.

*All names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Andie Nash is a writer living in the Twin Cities. She changes her hair color often, she is obsessed with the TV show Mad Men and her favorite Cure album is a toss-up between Boys Don’t Cry and Disintegration. Her novel Thanks, That Was Fun is available for download here.

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