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Jul 17 2014

How to “Do Jewish” in Huntsville, Alabama

By at 1:57 pm

Jewish-in-Alabama

It was two days before our visit to family in Alabama. Feeling hopeful, I Googled “Huntsville kosher.” Nothing useful came up. I tried “Jewish Huntsville.” Not much better. Finally, with “Huntsville synagogue,” a Conservative shul and a Chabad center surfaced,­ neither of which had weekday services or kosher food. I sighed and went to pack a few boxes of granola bars.

Figuring out how to “do Jewish” in different locations is always on my to­-do list before a trip, but some cities make that job easier than others. We hadn’t even left and I was already feeling disconnected from our usual community.

Even my children thought to do some advance scouting of the Jewish landscape. They asked me if the family member we were visiting was Jewish (yes) and if he kept kosher (no). I explained that the place where we were staying had a kitchen and that we’d be arranging for our own food, which would all be kosher. That seemed to satisfy them.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 27 2014

I’m Thinking of Joining a Temple, But Am I Ready to Commit?

By at 9:59 am

joining-a-temple

My husband and I have been married for close to eight years, and up until our son turned 2, our attendance record at temple had been pitiful at best. But over the past six months, we’ve all been attending monthly Tot Shabbat services at a local temple, and we really like it there. The people are warm, the rabbi is great, and the programming so far seems to meet our needs. On more than one occasion, we’ve been given a nudge to consider joining, but it was only recently that I finally decided to request a membership info packet. I was all set to fill out the forms, send in my check, and call it a day, but then I realized that becoming a member of a temple carries a lot more weight than simply dealing with paperwork.

It got me thinking about the first time I decided to join a gym. I knew back then that I wasn’t just signing up to pay a monthly fee–I was making a real, actual commitment to go. Regularly. More so than that, I was making a commitment to my body, which meant eating right, getting more sleep, and embracing healthier habits. It really was a lifestyle change, not just a membership that came with a glossy card.

When I think about joining a temple, I’m faced with a similar thought process. To me, joining a temple is more than just having a random piece of paper lying around confirming my membership. I’m already committed to a Jewish lifestyle, but there’s one aspect I’ve yet to commit to, and that’s my local community. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 24 2014

There’s a Difference Between Saying You’re Welcoming & Being Welcoming

By at 12:08 pm

new-community

Recently I wrote an article for Kveller titled “Are Jews Too Concerned With Seeking Out Other Jews?” In that piece, I discussed my tendency to feel an instant connection with a “member of the Tribe” whether it’s on the sidelines of our kids’ soccer games, in a professional context, or anywhere, really.

While many readers strongly related, in a positive way, to this warm and even mystical element of the Jewish community, a side issue of exclusion came out of the discussion as well. Several readers–Jews and non-Jews alike–commented that they found the Jewish community cliquey and unwelcoming. The conversation eventually meandered to the difficulty of making new friends as an adult, regardless of religion.

I was once a newcomer in Minneapolis–a stranger in a strange land, if you will–and it took years for me to feel comfortable here with my fellow Jews and non-Jews, too. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 19 2014

Why I Bring My Kids to the Boston Pride Parade

By at 12:40 pm

Pride-Parade

“Bloody Mary party at 11 o’ clock!” a voice chirruped from the float to our left.

Lilah, skipping along beside me in her bobbing ponytail and little purple Keens, pulled on my arm. “Mommy, what’s a Bloody Mary party?”

One of the women behind us laughed and I turned to smile at her. “They always learn something new at Pride,” I said. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 17 2014

In Favor of Letting Toddlers Run Wild At Temple

By at 3:33 pm

Torah-ark

This past Shabbat, my wife, son and I visited another shul. For the record, we went to this shul not because we were unhappy with our current one, but because there was a guest speaking and friends had invited us to join them. It was during Kedusha that our 2.5-year-old son began to do what he does best: explore.

Amit loves the Torah service, he loves the regal aspect of the Torah being passed around the room and giving it a kiss and delighting in the traditions that keep us going. You may see where this is going. Amit took finding the Torah into his own hands. He promptly walked on the bimah (podium) and made a beeline for the ark. He pulled back the curtain just enough so he could see the Torah scroll and then stood on his toes to touch and kiss.

As parents divided by the mechitzah (the divider between the men’s and women’s sections of an Orthodox synagogue) and stuck in our tracks as we stood for Kedusha, my wife stood at the front waiting for a moment to get his attention. I, his father, stood near the back and was torn by emotions. Should I move throughout the shul anticipating disaster? Or should I just let my son do what he does best and then handle it if something goes awry? I’ll admit, though I’m not a nervous person, I did schvitz a little; it was a new shul and there weren’t many other children in the sanctuary. I moved closer when I could, and did a double take–Amit was the only child in the sanctuary! He was doing what he should: exploring shul and finding the beauty in Judaism. Read the rest of this entry →

May 16 2014

How Traumatized Are Kids By Gruesome Bible Stories and Fairy Tales?

By at 10:02 am

gruesome-stories

On a Shabbos morning some months ago, my husband, fatigued by minor surgery he had the day before, left the service in the main sanctuary of the synagogue and went into the small, empty chapel downstairs. He lay down on his back on a pew and closed his eyes. Soon, he told me, he heard the voices of young children.

“Do you think he’s dead?”

“He might be sleeping.” Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 25 2014

In the Midst of Divorce, Finding Peace Through Prayer and Poetry

By at 11:12 am

poetry

The children’s service at the synagogue where I teach on Shabbat–filled with singing, dancing, and prayer–is saving me during my never-ending divorce proceedings. Though designed for a young audience, the hour provides an opportunity to reflect on the past week, to give thanks, and to ask for strength in the week ahead. I listen to a few words about the Parsha (the weekly Torah portion), kiss the Torah with the children, and take comfort in the momentary peace.

My favorite part of the tefilah (prayer) is and has always been the silent prayer. While I love our tradition, enjoy the melodies we sing and appreciate the liturgy that has been passed down for generations, the silent prayer is the one prayer I “get.” This prayer enables me to say whatever is in my heart in a way that reflects who I am, silently, unscripted, and uninhibited. My silent prayer now includes hopes for our children and asks for assistance with my problems, but overall the prayer is the same one I have been reciting since I was a child.

This past Shabbat, following class, I joined a friend for lunch at a nearby cafe. As we meandered back to our car enjoying the long anticipated spring weather, we passed by two women on a park bench typing on old typewriters. The sign next to them read, “Give us one word and we will give you two poems.” Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 28 2014

10 Reasons My Daughter Would Make A Great Rabbi

By at 10:18 am

risa-daughter

All parents have wishes of what their children will become and this is mine: I want my daughter to be a rabbi. At the young age of 4, my daughter loves being Jewish. She loves Shabbat, she loves all the Jewish holidays, and she loves learning about Judaism. She says the Kiddush proudly on Friday nights wearing her kippah.

My daughter is lucky to attend preschool at our local JCC and the program is simply amazing. Not only has she made wonderful friends, but my husband and I have, too. She learns about doing mitzvot and about being a mensch. She learns about the Jewish holidays and takes it all in like a wet sponge.

For someone who went to the Joint Program, (Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University) I have a good understanding of what Rabbinical school entails and I think she would be able to handle it. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 18 2014

Teaching My Son to Be a Mensch Through Music

By at 3:18 pm

Music-mensch

When I say my 3-year-old son Ben is into music, I mean it. Toddler parents will get my seriousness when I say he loves music more than his beloved trucks, play kitchen, and extensive puzzle collection. Looking for Ben? Check his “concert,” a corner of our living room that’s become packed with kazoos, shakers, a ukulele and a “guitelele,” and–our third birthday present to him–a beautiful djembe drum.

My husband and I were both high school band types, and going out to hear live music was a big part of our pre-Ben social life. So it felt right to take Ben to his first concert at age 8 months, to a Saturday morning family show at Club Passim, the famous folk music club in Harvard Square.

Alastair Moock, the musician who played that show and later appeared at such prestigious venues as Ben’s second birthday party and the Grammy Awards, did not, to our delight, wear a costume or do a goofy “character” voice. He played real instruments–guitar, banjo, ukulele–and sang wonderful original songs plus folk classics I recognized from my parents’ record collection. Ben stared intently. He was in. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 13 2014

Why I Added Some Jewish Learning to My Over-Scheduled Life

By at 12:15 pm

why I added Jewish learning to my life

I am undoubtedly overwhelmed, overextended, and stretched too thin on any given day, at any given moment. A 3-year-old son, almost 10-month-old twin daughters, a home to maintain, a small business we are trying to grow, a new photography venture, articles to write, a cooking club, and a few other activities all make my life insanely chaotic and wonderful.

Then why did I commit myself to one more thing? Because, if you notice the list above, there was nothing dedicated to being Jewish. I am committed to raising my children in a Jewish home, but was I doing enough to achieve that just by sending my son to the daycare at the local JCC? So when I was invited to join Chai Mitzvah, a women’s learning group at my synagogue, I jumped at the chance. Read the rest of this entry →

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