Rachel Ackerman talks about the rabbi-mom balance

Rabbi Rachel Ackerman with her husband, Jake, and daughters Avital and Kinneret
Rabbi Rachel Ackerman with her husband, Jake, and daughters Avital and Kinneret (Photo by Jake Singer-Beilin)

At age 2, Avital Ackerman-Singer has been to more synagogue meetings than most people 25 times her age. Her mom is Rachel Ackerman, senior rabbi of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase. Avital’s father is Rabbi Jake Singer-Beilin of Bet Mishpachah in the District.

Avital arrived into the world just as the coronavirus pandemic was settling in. Ackerman was working remotely in those days.

“She very patiently, or not so patiently, attended lots of Zoom meetings and services,” said Ackerman. “Which was not at all what I had anticipated it would be, and in many ways was extremely difficult, as the pandemic’s been extremely difficult.”

“It often meant I had a kid in a diaper running through a video call,” Ackerman added.

Ackerman learned quickly that she needed to find a balance between being the rabbi and the mom.

She said living and working in such close quarters gave her the opportunity to watch her daughter grow up “all day, every day for the first 14 months of her life.”

Ackerman said Avital has become well known and beloved at Temple Shalom and the toddler doesn’t lack for congregational attention.

“There’s always someone to chase after her during services, or a teenager who I can hire to watch her during religious school if needed, Ackerman said. “The community has really just stepped up and shown a lot of love and support for all of us.”

In March, Ackerman gave birth to Kinneret Ackerman-Singer. This time Ackerman took parental leave. While she focused on being a mom, the entire congregation stepped into her rabbi’s shoes — leading services, offering pastoral care, conducting baby namings and checking in with congregants.

Ackerman returned to work last month and she is working to figure out how to balance the long days and many meetings of an in-person rabbi with the responsibilities that come with being the mother of a newborn. Lately, Ackerman has been bringing Kinneret with her to synagogue meetings. People seem to be comfortable with that, she said.

At the same time, Ackerman is trying to figure out “what’s the best way for Kinneret not to be at meetings. And to make sure she gets fed and to make sure I can get the food for her that she needs, and have breaks in the day to be able to do that.”

One of the adjustments she has made is bedtime. As a rabbi, the people she needs to meet with are often only available after normal working hours. Such meetings result in later mealtimes and later bedtimes for her kids. In that way she can be with them before they go to sleep.

Ackerman said she loves getting to watch Avital grow into the role of a big sister. No sibling rivalry so far.

Ackerman believes she wouldn’t do anything different if she could do it again.

“Both me and my husband are very fortunate to have two kids, and both very fortunate to have congregations that we serve, and very fortunate to have congregations that support us in raising our children,” said Ackerman. “We’re also pretty fortunate that my kids are very connected … to our community, so that it is another space that they can call home.”

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