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.