Tuesday, March 26, 2013


 The year 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of my retirement from the congregational rabbinate. The transition has been a smooth one but not without its pitfalls.

When I was a congregational Rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom, Needham, MA where I spent 23 years at the head of a mid-size synagogue (c. 550 families), I was at the center of my temple’s cultural, spiritual and social life; I had a large office with a window, a “sacred spot” in the parking lot reserved for me alone, and secretaries and office personnel who carried out my directives. Things changed after my retirement. I teach at Boston College (BC) on a part-time basis.  I write a blog once in a while. A few months ago I published a new book, an introduction to Judaism in Spanish (Vivir Como Judio), and am now in the process of finishing another one on the Ten Commandments. For the last eight years, my wife and I have been going to Barcelona, Spain for a short period of time in order to help out a small liberal congregation that cannot afford to pay a Rabbi. With all that, I still have some time to spend with my children and grandchildren. 

Being a part-time faculty is, on the one hand, exhilarating but also a humbling experience. I have been teaching at BC for the last 12 years. In the past, I taught electives on Bible and various Judaica subjects. Now, because of budget cuts, I am teaching only two parallel courses on Comparative Religion (Judaism and Christianity). For the academic year 2013-14, I was promised just one. Most of my students are sharp, inquisitive, and do well. The administration is supportive of what I do and I have a few good friends on the faculty. Having retired from the congregational rabbinate in 2003, being a “professor” now is one of the main paths I have carved for myself as I seek purpose and meaning at this stage of my life. (For the record, I am 74).

However, as a part-time teacher, I am required to teach only what the full-time faculty does not want to teach. I am poorly paid, receive no benefits, have an inside office that I share with a colleague, and I, like any other employee of the College, have to pay for a parking spot wherever I can find one. But I have adjusted to this change, simply because I am able to do what I love best, namely, to teach, and seem to be good at it. Recently I had an unpleasant experience at BC that reminded me of my new status.

                                         Boston College

 I teach on Mondays and Wednesdays in the afternoon.  This past February, on a Monday morning, I arrived around 11.30 am and drove to the covered garage, looking for a parking spot.  Could not find one. I went around and around to no avail. In desperation, I drove up to the roof where a number of cars were already parked, left my Nissan and walked to my office. After teaching my classes, I returned to the garage but noticed that a ticket was placed on the dashboard. Not a warning, mind you, but a whopping $75 traffic ticket! I could not believe it. I thought if BC wants the faculty to teach, the least it can do is to provide easy parking opportunities. Upset, I went to the police station and was told that according to a new rule, one needs to buy a special permit for that part of the garage. I did not know that. They suggested I appeal. The next day, I sent an email, claiming my ignorance of the new rule and promising not to do it again. I really felt devalued.

Good news: my appeal was granted today. Phew!

Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D. Rabbi Emeritus
March 2013