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Sep 3 2013

Should Young Families Have to Pay to Pray?

By at 11:50 am

pay-to-prayHave you heard the one about the young Jewish couple who have a kid while living in a big city and find themselves searching for community around the high holidays?

You know, the couple who decide to pony up for synagogue membership at a large congregation in their city neighborhood, and then subsequently become involved through the synagogue preschool, the young sisterhood, and various holiday events? This couple basks in the warm glow of baking challah and attending Tot Shabbat services. They introduce their kids–first the one kid, then two–to more Judaism in five years than either of them had been exposed to in over 25. And they enjoy it! Never before had they yearned for Jewish connection and yet here they are, singing the prayers, making Jewish friends, teaching their kids Hebrew. Then, as the creep of Kindergarten approaches, said couple feels the need to find a new home in the suburbs. As a consequence, they leave their big warm city shul and head east (or in this case, north).

Do you know what happens next, in this all-too-familiar-tale? Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 27 2012

Coxsackie & Car Troubles: My Yom Kippur of Chaos

By at 11:23 am

car open hoodI remember Yom Kippur without kids, back in the day when you just worried about where you would eat before and after the holiday. Suffice it to say that Yom Kippur with kids is a struggle–it’s tough to make it contemplative and meaningful. Sometimes it is even tough to make it at all. Please, allow me to take you through my Yom Kippur of Chaos.

You see, we belong to two synagogues, one of them close to our home in New Jersey and the other in New York. We both love the High Holiday services for the shul we belong to in New York: the music, the attentiveness of the congregants, the active participation of the crowd are all unrivalled, and impart beautiful spirituality. So we go there for High Holidays each year. Hey, I know some fellow suburbanites who go into “the city” for a doctor. Consider this a religious checkup. But that being said, it does mean compromises–like having a 26-27 hour fast. Good times. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 20 2012

Finding a Synagogue is as Hard as Finding a Nanny

By at 11:05 am

viewfinderAdi is getting older (20 months on July 7th) and she’s developing an attention span and she’s starting to be able to sit through things.

It’s time to find a synagogue.

The only problem is I can’t find one. I know. I must be a lunatic. I live in Manhattan and there’s a a synagogue about every three blocks, right?

Right.

But I can’t find one that I like. I’ve been researching on every one. Visiting every website. Reading every review. I figured I’d pick three that I would want to visit and then pick one. I’m searching for a synagogue the same way I’m searching for a nanny.

I haven’t found a nanny, either. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 27 2011

The Few. The Proud. Jewish, and in The Marines.

By at 3:37 pm

As a Marine Corps family, we have lived in many small Jewish communities where Jewish life is, well, a challenge.

Six years ago, my husband and I were stationed in Kingsville, Texas, where tumbleweed literally blows down the streets. I was quite certain there were no local Jews. I was having a rough first pregnancy, so it was hard to make the hour-long trek to the nearest synagogue. By the time the High Holidays rolled around, we hadn’t met many other Jews.

A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, when my husband went in to request time off, he was surprised and thrilled to see three Jewish sounding names on the sign out sheet who had all listed “religious holiday” as their reason for needing the day off. Not only were there other Jews living in Kingsville, but there were Jewish military families living in base housing! We were so excited.

By Rosh Hashanah, our “shtetl” in military housing had grown. We met at least two more Jewish couples through my husband’s work, and even more single military members. The rituals and services of the high holidays brought us together, and our shared experiences and need for Jewish community brought us even closer. The remainder of our short time in Texas was enriched with Shabbat dinners and bagel and lox brunches with some of our closest friends to this day.

After our time in Texas, my family spent four years in North Carolina. While we enjoyed being members of the local synagogue, we had trouble finding meaning in the abbreviated services they held on the High Holidays. In search of a more traditional service, we spent our first Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a small motel room a few blocks from a synagogue in Wilmington, a few hours away. We struggled to please and nap our almost 1-year-old while my husband tried to make it to most of the services. It wasn’t easy, but we made it work because it was so important to us to have a good High Holiday experience.

Two years later, during one of his weeks home from training, my husband lead Rosh Hashanah services at a Jewish military chapel an hour from our home. We had a minyan for most of the services, and thanks to a few large families, my daughter had children to play with. We had a beautiful tashlich service and spent time with some of the regulars we had come to know. With the Jewish chaplain out of the country, it was such an amazing feeling to know we could bring Rosh Hashanah to this small Jewish military community. It was also heartening to get to know other Jewish service members and families from around the country and feel connected to the larger Jewish community.

By Yom Kippur, my husband had left for more training and there was no one to lead the service. With no other option, I drove back down to Wilmington with two other wives of deployed Marines and 12 kids between us. We barely made it in time for the children’s service, which was all we could. While it may not have been the most spiritual or profound Yom Kippur, I will never forget the feeling of shared determination to give our children a Jewish experience on such an important day of the year.

They say anything worth having is worth fighting for. While jumping through so many hoops to observe the holidays would seem to make them less appealing, it has actually done the opposite. The challenges we have faced over the years have strengthened us as a family and deepened our commitment to Judaism. Our experiences have also deepened our appreciation for life in a larger Jewish community, where holiday observance can be as “simple” as walking as a family down the road to the local synagogue.

And finally, this year, we will have an easy Rosh Hashanah.

My family of five will walk down the street to our local synagogue for services. My children will join many other Jewish children for age appropriate play and programming. I might have to travel to get meat for my holiday meal, but I will have no problem finding Jewish friends to join my family as we celebrate the new year.

It sounds pretty simple, but for us, this ease feels like a miracle.

Sep 26 2011

Looking for Some (Free) Rosh Hashanah Services? Look No Further

By at 9:01 am

So many synagogues, so little time.

Every year, at some point in September, I get to my annual “Oh shit, where are we going to go for services?” moment. First there’s the family negotiation–are we going to visit my family? My husband’s family? Who’s hosting? Where will we be for which holiday? But now that we’ve got a kid in the mix, it’s even harder. She can’t always make it through late nights of meals, and she certainly can’t make it through evening services (or morning services, for that matter). We try, but she’s only 2, so usually we have to escape early.

So now we’re trying to figure out where the best toddler services are, and when, and whether we need tickets… and I came across an incredible High Holiday services roundup. It’s a really comprehensive list to get you started. They even have a phone number and email to get a personalized High Holiday service consultation. What service!

And if, like some of us, you’re looking for where you can go that’s on a drop-in basis (or free), check out Ohel Ayalah (in Manhattan and Brooklyn), Union Temple (in Brooklyn), and Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (in Manhattan). But if there’s somewhere else that you’d like to check out, be sure to ask about fees, as lots of synagogues and minyans offer reduced rate tickets for grad students and young families. And lots of children’s services are free! Read the rest of this entry →

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