The Miss Jobless Chronicles: The Rabbi

Ed. note: “The Miss Jobless Chronicles” is a weekly series written by Caitlin O’Toole. Read the rest in the series here.

I should know better by now than to respond to craigslist ‘help wanted’ ads. But, being a craigslist addict in every sense of the word, I can’t resist. (I still scour the pets ads and the free sections.)

I answered a job posting last week — this time, to be an executive assistant to someone “prominent” in the entertainment business. Sounded feasible, fun and right up my alley.

I have no personal assistant experience, but I have enough experience in the entertainment world — mostly as a writer — to be able to fudge it.

My cover letter reads as follows:

“To Whom It May Concern:

I’m interested in the Executive Assistant position and I’d love to be considered for it.

I’m a seasoned journalist with many years of experience in the business, so you can count on me understanding your busy schedule and keeping you organized. I work hard, am smart, savvy, creative and funny. I’m also extremely detail oriented.

I hope to hear from you. Resume is attached.”

I got a response the next day from the very curt assistant of a very prominent executive rabbi. He lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey. I figure I have nothing to lose — and decide to go see him.

I put on my Sunday best — a greenish tweed jacket that looks kind of like a riding jacket, black pants, and black “flats” (my mom’s favorite word). It feels weird to be out of sweats. But it feels good, too.

The interview is at 1pm, so I leave at 11am — which will leave me enough time to get to the GW bus station and catch bus number 171 to Paterson.

The bus ride is kind of fun, but I figure if I get the job, the novelty will wear off soon. I get off at the Fort Lee stop, right over the bridge. I have no idea what kind of structure I am looking for — an office building? A temple? A house? I just have an address scribbled on one of my old business cards from people.com.

I manage to get lost for about 20 minutes, walking, trying to find the address, a blister stinging my right foot. Finally I find it. It looks like OJ’s Rockingham estate. A gated mansion obscured by autumn-colored trees. There’s a Bentley in the driveway. And a lime green VW bug. I buzz the gate and a female voice answers, asking my name. I say I am here to see the rabbi. I am let in.

At the back door, there is no sign of life — not a barking dog, not a radio, not a footstep, not a sound. My ears are ringing. I knock unsurely, then twice, and finally a woman answers the door — Nadine, she says, and tells me it’s nice to meet me. She has the personality of a wall, and I imagine she’s the personal assistant I would be replacing.

She leads me down a dark corridor and apologizes — the rabbi is not “back yet” and I can have a seat at the computer and wait. The energy in the room is heavy and depressing. I try to imagine myself working every day in such a quiet, remote place. I can’t. But I am desperate.

Nadine gives me a writing assignment.

“We just want to get a sense of your writing style,” she tells me, and I’m wondering what kind of ‘style’ is needed to be an executive assistant to a rabbi. The assignment: Write a letter to him, telling him about yourself. I go to it.