Friday, January 4, 2013

The Having It All Project: Rabbi Allison Berry

I have been friends with Rabbi Allison Berry, of Temple Shalom in Newton, MA, since long before she was "rabbi" or even "Allison," as she will always be Allie to me. We met at the end of our freshman year at Brandeis University, when we both became members of the incoming Hillel board. At the time, we laughed and said "how have we not known each other so far?" Though we don't get together in person as often as we should, each time it's like we've never left each others side. I'm thrilled to have Allison as the first guest poster for The Having It All Project; here's how she's having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
Currently I am the mom of two (3 year old and 6 month old) and work as a part-time rabbi at Temple Shalom in Newton. Rabbis work a unique schedule – days off are usually on Mondays and the weekends are filled with teaching, service leading and a myriad of other activities. After over three years of leading a very full-time congregation I made the decision before my second child was born to move to part-time work and a position with more structured boundaries (usually 25 hours each week and very few emergency 4 AM phone calls!). One of the best parts of my current routine is supervising programming for families with young children within the synagogue. Basically I get to plan and implement activities that directly benefit my family! Not only am I very proud of the work I do – basically a full-time job with part-time hours – I now have more time at home with my kids. The balance has worked incredibly well. Some weeks I work 15 hours and others 45 – but I have incredible flexibility. On the downside – we make certain budgetary sacrifices to make this type of lifestyle work.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
What has always worked for my family is flexible childcare! Because I have hours that are not traditional (on the days I work I could NEVER do a 5 PM school pick-up – I generally work until 9 or 10 at night) we rely on two key childcare providers. Our nanny is amazing. She works for us three days a week – in particular she arrives early in the morning and helps minimize the early morning chaos. I am NOT a morning person, but because she helps at this key time I get to work on time and keep my sanity intact! She leaves early on Thursdays (one of her three work days) and that is how we make the finances work and she can be there when I need her the most for my own emotional state
and happiness. We are also blessed to send our son to a preschool that does not penalize you for a late pick-up or a change of schedule. Need him to stay until 3 PM instead of 1 PM? Of course! Add an extra day that isn’t usually scheduled? Absolutely! They do charge us a set amount for the extra add-ons – but just knowing that if I have a funeral come up or am in a counseling session I don’t have to leave in the middle or risk my life rushing to be on time is a huge relief.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
Lately we struggle on Friday afternoons! Something always goes wrong and plans go awry. I help lead worship services at the synagogue on average two Friday evenings each month. My husband will commute from Cambridge to Newton to meet us at the synagogue and take the children home. Something always goes wrong. There is terrible traffic and I end up late for services (has happened and been so embarrassing – imagine having someone announce to a room full of 200 people that their rabbi is late, stuck in traffic on 95!). One of the children has a tantrum and screams the entire car ride. Or – my husband is late from work. Then I find myself leading Shabbat services with two children – infant and toddler jumping up and down and on and off the bima (altar/stage). We can’t seem to fix this problem. We thought hiring a mother’s helper to meet me at the synagogue would work – it did help – but my son still had a tantrum when he realized I wasn’t going to stay with him too. We are still working to fix this one. Would love any ideas!!

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't
work for you?

Balance role models – I meet every other week with two other women clergy. They are slightly older and have children in late elementary school. They always have the best ideas and advice. One of them once told me – “Stop trying to fit your needs into the boundaries of what traditional childcare offers! Your life doesn’t fit those boundaries so why should your childcare needs.” I really felt like she gave me permission to find options that fit my schedule and emotional stressors. So now I hire help for early mornings when I’m not at my best and manage evenings (dinner and bedtime routines) on the evenings I’m not working on my own when I’m in a better frame of mind.

What wouldn’t work for us -- When I worked full time we had no family time on the weekends. Since I moved to my part-time position I really cherish the weekend time we have together as a family. Even if we just go grocery shopping it is really important to me that we do it together. Not only can my husband and I support each other – we get out of the house so much faster when there are the two of us getting the kids ready – but we can actually relax a little and have fun. I missed those unstructured hours terribly. It doesn’t work for us to be overscheduled on the weekends. We don’t do a lot of play dates or programmed activities. My kids are still little so we will have to see if this is realistic as they get older.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to
be then?

My mom died four years ago. I never expected at the age of 18 to be raising two kids without my mother around and available to help! My mother-in-law lives in Canada – she is very helpful when we see her – but it isn’t all that often. What I have learned is that none of us should ever take our family – especially family that is ready and willing to help (even if the help isn’t always perfect or the way we would do it ourselves) for granted.

Relate to what Allison is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at!


  1. I love your approach to childcare. It seems like the model is going to have to change since so few of us fit it anymore!

    And congrats on making it work with an infant in the house. My 2nd child is 10 months now but I was nowhere near getting things under control for those first six months. So intense!

  2. I love this! Great profile and some really good practical advice about balancing life as a mom with a really demanding career. You guys are both awesome. :)

  3. Allison, I'm Rachel Goldenberg's husband. Friday nights are a huge challenge for us as well. My son will invariably taunt our daughter into crying when we're giving them blessings. One or both of our kids will cry because they have to go to shul with me instead of Rachel who can't really have them hanging around while she does service prep. I've had to leave services early the last two weeks because Ziv was too tired to last. Really the last time we had a decent Friday night rhythm was when we were in Dallas and lived across the street from synagogue. I could feed the kids before the early service, leave services early, put the kids to bed, and have a nice dinner on at a reasonable hour. We even had people without kids over. The 7 p.m. service has basically killed Friday night for us, but with everyone else in the synagogue living so far away, there isn't really an option to go earlier.