Stories We Tell: The Rabbi and The Small Apartment

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

Many of us have had to change our daily routines recently as a precaution against coronavirus. With work and school now centered at home, our family dwellings might feel a little smaller. This week, join Saul Kaiserman, Director of Lifelong Learning at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, as he tells the story of a man living in his own small apartment with his family, and how their new living routine brought them closer together.

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[URJ Intro] Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast presented by Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of passing our stories down from one generation to the next. And here, we continue that tradition each Thursday. This week, we're going to hear a story from Saul Kaiserman, the Director of Lifelong Learning at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York. Saul is going to share a story which might sound familiar, a bit of an old classic, but with a very relevant, contemporary, new twist.

[Saul Kaiserman] Once upon a time, there was a man who lived in a small apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, with his wife and two children. And they were happy. But they thought that their apartment was too small. So one day, the man went to his rabbi and said, Rabbi, I love my family, but our apartment is too small. I wish my wife and I didn't have to use our bedroom as our home office. I wish my children didn't have to share a bedroom. And I really wish we had a second bathroom. It feels so crowded in our apartment. What can we do?

The rabbi nodded and piously said, take your child, who is in school, and have that child do all of their schooling in your apartment, via Zoom. Well, the Upper West Sider didn't really know what to think about this, but said, OK, went home, and set up his child to do all of their schoolwork on a laptop in that home office bedroom.

Well, the apartment did not feel any bigger. So the Upper West Sider went back to the rabbi, and said, Rabbi, you know our apartment, it still feels pretty small. Actually, I have to say it feels more crowded than when I came to you before. What should we do? The rabbi thought a moment and answered, put your other child, who is on school break, and keep that child in your apartment with you. And make sure that this child doesn't have any activities or play dates with friends outside of the apartment. And come up with things for that child to do all day long. In fact, why don't you share your phone with that child, so that your child can be entertained if you run out of books or art supplies or creative ideas for games to play together.

Well, the Upper West Sider didn't see how this was going to make the apartment feel bigger, but did exactly what the rabbi said. And now there was one child on a laptop in that bedroom home office, doing schoolwork. And another in the living room on this man's phone, playing Duolingo, and texting with friends, and doing whatever I guess it is that kids do online. But still, the apartment felt small.

Well, now the rabbi didn't want to meet with the Upper West Sider in person, so they set up a Zoom meeting. And on that Zoom meeting, the man said, you know, Rabbi, my apartment feels smaller than ever. Are you sure that you understand what my problem here is? Well, the rabbi thought this over for a moment and said, you know, why don't you stop going into your office at all. Spend your whole day in the apartment together with your children. The one who is doing school work, the one on spring break-- just spend the whole day together in the apartment with them.

Well, the Upper West Sider wasn't sure how this was going to help, but he did exactly as the rabbi suggested, and started working entirely from home. And this involved learning a lot about Zoom meetings, and it also involved a lot of swapping around-- like who was on his laptop, and who was on his phone. And actually, with both of the children in the apartment all day long with him, the apartment really was feeling quite crowded. So the Upper West Sider decided to try to Zoom with the rabbi one more time. And said, Rabbi, what can I do? My apartment still feels really, really small. And the rabbi said, well, why don't you have your spouse work from home too? And then why don't you stay in your apartment together for, oh, well, certainly at least two weeks. And then let's see how that feels.

Well, the Upper West Sider and his family were now all very crowded in that apartment. They were in every available spot. They were even using the bathroom as a workspace. But you know what? After some time had passed, they were all allowed to go back outside again, and go back to their offices to work again. And they said, you know, here we are. We're healthy. We have each other. We just spent a lot of time together having real conversations, and on Zoom with our family and friends. You know, we're actually pretty lucky. And that Upper West Sider never thought about their apartment being too small again.

[URJ Outro] After hearing that story from Saul, I'm wondering if there are things you believe that you'll be able to take out of these last few weeks, or the weeks going forward, which might make you think about things that you are grateful for, and how to be aware of them, right in the present. We'd love to hear about it a bit on social media. You can find us at And on Twitter where our handle is @reformjudaism.

And thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoyed this week's story, please subscribe and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can always find new episodes every Thursday on And don't forget to visit to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals or culture or holidays, and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week, l'hitraot.