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Harriet Berkal
photo by Megan Wilson


by Harriet Berkal, March 10, 2017

Had my beloved father been a plumber, a car salesman, an insurance agent, doctor or a lawyer, my life would have been dramatically different. Why?  The other professions don’t attach any social/ sexual connotations to the offspring of these individuals. Clergy on the other hand, take on this god like presence, which gets transmitted, to their kids one way or another.


Of course I can only attest to  my own experience as the child of  a Rabbi , and other children of clergy may have had different experiences than I have had.  


I adored my dad who worked all the time and was well loved by the community at large and quickly I figured out that in order to spend time with him, I’d have to hang around the synagogue more. My solution was to join the junior choir and went with him every Saturday morning. We left quite early so no one would know that he had driven his car, as our home was a good distance to walk to shule and we were always the last to leave. But there was a price to being a Rabbi’s daughter that is worth conveying.


I noticed this unique status at a very early age that I was expected to act in a certain manner akin to my dad, by friends, teachers and numerous others. There was an expectation that I shouldn’t swear, drink, try drugs or be sexually active until marriage to a nice Jewish boy – nothing less. 


This unique status  was so notable that  I encountered situations where EVEN non-Jews heard that my Dad was a Rabbi, I sensed that they would  alter their behavior around me. It’s as if they assumed I was keeping track of them for admittance to heaven via osmosis. How ridiculous is that? But true enough it happened over and over again. 


The first words that came out of the mouth of my husband’s friend at the time  upon meeting me when I was living with Larry before marrying, were: “ The Rabbi’s daughter – is she really that PURE?” It was an ignorant and insensitive comment and it hurt my soul. We both took offence to that comment but it wasn’t worth the confrontation with him. (As an aside, I am fairly certain that my folks weren't too thrilled with us living together but they adored Larry and he was Jewish)


Acting out in a rebellious fashion might reflect poorly upon my father and could potentially jeopardize his relationship at the synagogue. So you either towed the party line, or acted out in a low-key manner. But the question begs: “Is it fair to judge me or any other “PK” (preacher’s kid) just because of  a father’s  chosen profession? No it is not!


The aftermath can be quite damaging.  It affects your self-esteem and places you on an altar, where your every move is being watched and judged. 


Doing well in Hebrew school was fully expected as you lived with your own private Jewish tutor. No excuse to not get an aleph on anything and everything. And of course having a Bat mitzvah was never an option – it was a must. 


At my Bat mitzvah I had this enormous pressure to enter a jam-packed full sanctuary and perform. There were high hopes that I would sing like an angel as did Louis Berkal, but those hopes soon vanished. That talent skipped a generation and the cantor part carried its own unique burden.



Dietary laws presented another whole set of challenges. I had to keep kosher then and so at bar mitzvah parties, if my mom forgot to call ahead, my filet mignon was auctioned off at the table like I wasn’t even there, while I filled up on bread. 


People would apologize for swearing in front of me as though I could inflict a plague on them. And dating and socializing carried its own weight as you had the Rabbi’s daughter present and was she a snitch? 


In grade 12, I had formed a student rights committee at Grant Park High School along with a friend who was also left wing. We objected to the mixing of church and state where students were being asked to read the Lord’s Prayer in class. It was even taken to the School Board for a very close vote. When it received Winnipeg Free Press coverage I was never sure if my dad was pleased or disappointed in my open protest (Today of course, the courts have held that public schools can not impose the Lord's Prayer, so if anything I was ahead of my time).Today of course, the courts have held that public school's can not impose the Lord's Prayer, so if anything I was ahead of my time ) 


Of course my mom as the Rebbetzin had expectations placed upon her. She was expected to attend all synagogue functions; weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, condolence calls, sisterhood functions etc. But she was a trendsetter and decided to not ruin her hairdo from Friday and stopped wearing a hat to shule. Nor did she think it practical to not wear pants to shule in freezing Manitoba winters.. 


Much time has passed but at the age of 58, the status of being a "PK" still bothers me but less so, as most often now people who  knew my dad as Rabbi Berkal, remember him fondly, or have come to know me as a person in my own right. 


The message is simple and should resonate with us a community. Preachers kids carry the burden of being non touchable and different than the rest. 


The reality speaks loud and from a place of pain: we are just normal people with the same challenges as the rest of society.



Don’t expect more or less from us simply due to the origin of our father’s occupation. It’s hard enough to grow up in that atmosphere so stop and think is it fair to judge someone for a position in life they found themselves in? 


We are LIKE everyone else with the same desires and hopes and it is so important to not distinguish us as super humans or expect that we will break if exposed to the natural surroundings and coming of age milestones which everyone faces. 


As imperfect beings we make mistakes and have opinions, which can be political at times. We stumble and fall like the rest of us. And we are no closer to a higher power than anyone else.  We are humans like you. 




Both of  these two quotes below are quotes from Pastor's Kids in Barnabas Piper's book  entitled The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identityhttp:/s/


"As imperfect beings we make mistakes and have opinions, which can be political at times. We stumble and fall like the rest of us. And we are no closer to a higher power than any of you.  We are humans like you."


 'There is a straightforward, blunt, in-your-face expectation that PKs will behave “better” than our peers. We will have inherently better judgment, avoid temptations common to our age and gender, express none of our baser thoughts or feelings, and generally reflect positively on our parents and their position. Which is total nonsense."


The quote below is from a PK named Kari:



 "The thing that makes me most upset about being a preacher’s kid — “PK” as we’re often called — is that no one really understands our specific experience, nor the specific pressures that come with it. In society, we’re typically stereotyped. Made fun of. Looked up to yet resented at the same time. It never really occurs to people to ask us who we are. And it never occurs to people that many of us are in pain. And are terrified to talk about it." 






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