The Cream Cheese Incident
Rabbi Jennie Roseenn is a Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumna, Class IV. She is the Program Director for Jewish Life and Values at the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Jennie can be reached at email@example.com.
It happened nearly twenty years ago, and I hope I will never forget it. I had just finished my first year of rabbinical school and was serving as the student rabbi of a congregation on Cape Cod for the High Holidays. Ne’elah – the closing service of Yom Kippur – had just ended. The gates had closed, and it was time to break our fast. We were gathered around a table laden with bagels, salads, and spreads. Hungry, tired, and slightly elated, I was standing in the crowd with a bagel on my plate when a man turned to me. “What are you waiting for?” he asked me. “Cream cheese,” I answered somewhat puzzled. “The rabbi needs cream cheese,” he bellowed. Suddenly the sea of people parted. “The rabbi needs cream cheese,” someone echoed. A murmur spread over the crowd: “The rabbi needs cream cheese! The rabbi needs creams cheese!” Men and women, established doctors, writers, teachers, and business people cleared the way. A woman four times my age handed me a knife. Her husband handed me the cream cheese.
On the bus back to New York to resume rabbinical school I mulled over the episode. It’s not about you, I told myself. It is about people’s respect for Judaism, for Torah, and for God; you must always remember this.
Whether in positions where I get my own cream cheese (Hillel) or where the cream cheese is served with deference (philanthropy), I keep this scene fresh in my mind. May I always know that the source of my leadership is far beyond me.