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Dec 12 2014

I Came Late to the Jewish Party–But I’m So Glad I’m Here

By at 1:00 pm

I Came Late to Judaism--But I'm So Glad I Did

The question of whether or not to raise our children Jewish wasn’t one that my husband and I ever clearly articulated–but it’s what’s happening.

I came late to the party, as far as Judaism is concerned. I didn’t convert formally until I was in my mid-30s, and by then I had already had my first child. It’s not that we didn’t talk before we had children–we did, endlessly. Neither one of us wanted to give up our traditions, and we both wanted to raise our kids to honor and celebrate both sides of their family tree. We understood that there would have to be a lot of on-going compromise, patience, and discussion.

We approached religion and spirituality from two very different places. For my husband, Judaism was about identity, Israel, and belonging to a People. For me, religion was the opposite of spirituality. I grew up Catholic, and had dabbled in Wicca and a free-flowing sort of Paganism. For me, spiritual identity was tied less to a specific religious path and more to traditions and heritage that weren’t necessarily religious. Organized religion made me uncomfortable; the idea of belonging to a religious community was foreign to me. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 19 2014

What the Gruesome Images from the Jerusalem Terror Attack Taught Me About Hope

By at 11:18 am

tefillin

The images are gruesome. Heartwrenching. So much blood. I don’t want to see. And for a while I don’t. Not really. I scroll quickly from one post to the next. Four killed in terror attack. Har Nof. Rabbis. Synagogue. Even as my heart is rushing and the tears are falling, my fingers slow down. To read. And to see. To really see.

A blood-soaked tallit (prayer shawl) crouches in crumpled horror. The red-splattered bookshelves stand feebly by. They are a quiet, ueseless protection to the forever stained siddurim (prayer books) they hold. Kehillat Bnei Torah Synagogue is a bloodbath.

“No. No. Nonononono,” I whisper, now unable to stop the onslaught of image after horrific image. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 28 2014

When Having a Baby Isn’t an Option

By at 11:43 am

I Lost My Womb But I Found A Community

It was a difficult time, the Shabbat before my hysterectomy. Though I had already had a procedure called a uterine ablation, actually losing the organ was more difficult than losing any vestige of fertility. At least with my uterus still in place, I could go to Israel, as I regularly did, and pray and weep at the holy sites. I believed, like Hannah in the Torah, that a miracle was possible.

But on that final Shabbat before my last surgery, all hope was gone. So when a heavily pregnant woman walked into shul, it was more than I could take. I barely made it out the door before I was sobbing. My friends found me weeping on the bathroom floor. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 7 2014

My Daughter *Actually* Loves Hebrew School

By at 10:42 am

hebrew-school

Growing up I spent much of my time after school at Hebrew School. I did not enjoy it very much and would try many tactics to get out of it. My favorite was holding a thermometer under my lamp. That worked very well for me.

Because I went to overnight Jewish summer camp and learned quite a bit about Judaism there, I felt bored during the school year in Hebrew School. I have heard many stories from friends about their “Hebrew School torture,”and the one common thread was the lack of creativity in the lessons. Unfortunately, that was my experience. It simply was not fun.

But now, my 4-year-old daughter loves going to Hebrew School. We are incredibly lucky to belong to a synagogue that offers a wonderful preschool curriculum and every Sunday morning she attends for three hours. The lessons include reading books, doing art projects, special services, and music where my daughter is learning about the upcoming holidays and so much more. This week she came to me and said, “Mommy, shmi Iliana. That means my name is Iliana in Hebrew.” I thought I would cry I was so proud of her, and so glad that she is absorbing so much from this class. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 18 2014

Why I Will Be Bringing My Kids to High Holiday Services

By at 4:57 pm

why i make my kids go to high holiday services

I will never forget the first time my parents took me to Kol Nidrei services, and the congregation stood, as the night fell, to put on their tallitot (prayer shawls). After the blessing, those who were standing like a forest of people all around me picked up their tallit and draped them over their shoulders. The movement of hundreds of people in silence all together was stunning. That silence was incredibly beautiful–and the wind that I felt from the lifting of the fabric felt to me, a small girl, like the wings of angels beating.

Eileen Price’s recent post on Kveller, “I Won’t Force My Kids to Attend High Holiday Services,” prompted me to respond. In my opinion, it is incredibly, incredibly important to bring children to services for the High Holidays. There are so many reasons, but to my mind, it all boils down to two simple ones:

1. No matter how Jewishly observant a person is the rest of the year, this is a time when all Jews come together as a community. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 17 2014

I Won’t Force My Kids to Attend High Holiday Services

By at 10:31 am

high-holidays-kids

That’s right. You heard me. I’m not doing it. I, a member of a Modern Orthodox shul, mother of four Jewish kids who keep kosher and observe Shabbat weekly, executive director of an Atlanta Jewish day camp, will not be forcing my kids to attend services on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about since this summer at camp, and something I decided firmly last weekend while attending a Jewish family retreat.

Here’s the thing. My kids love being Jewish. It’s the essence of their being. It’s the foundation of their friendships. It’s the laughter and joy that fills their Saturdays. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 25 2014

My Plan to Give My Daughter a Unique Bat Mitzvah Isn’t Going So Well

By at 1:41 pm

torah-scroll

My oldest daughter will be called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah this December. I have a bit of chip on my shoulder about it.

Actually, it’s not just her bat mitzvah that I’m cynical about, it’s the whole bat mitzvah “thing.” (I’m using “bat mitzvah” here to include bar mitzvahs too, of course.) As Patrick Aleph argued persuasively in Kveller last year, there are a lot of problems with this ceremony. Despite this, we’ve seen examples lately of young Jews who transform their b’nai mitzvah into something powerful. We just read last month about the young Jews in Chicago who are building a playground. There’s a young Jew at our synagogue who is riding his bicycle from Mexico to Canada to raise funds for the Sierra Club. But even without the grand, headline-making accomplishments, there is significant untapped potential for this rite of passage to be better reflective of the status-change it is intended to complement.

My daughter’s day school education has been, on the whole, truly wonderful. However, one constant struggle for her has been tefillah (daily prayers). It’s not that she has trouble learning them, it’s that she has trouble engaging with them. Her teachers have been very consistent in their reports that she doesn’t seem interested in participating–she doesn’t follow along in the siddur (prayer book), and is frequently just spacing out. Our daughter confirms that she finds tefillah to be awfully boring. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 18 2014

Why Are Temples So Empty Over the Summer?

By at 11:53 am

Pews

The temple I recently joined offers fabulous Tot Shabbat programs throughout the year, but none during the summer. And recently, over lunch with a local mom friend and fellow member, I casually mentioned that since we hadn’t been to services in a while, we were thinking about going before the summer ended. Her response: “Oh, nobody goes to temple during the summer. The place is empty.”

I’ve heard this of other temples too and wonder why it is that come summertime, so many people tend to put temple-going on hold. Granted, some families do go away, but most don’t have the luxury of taking a two-month-long summer vacation, which means they’re probably in town for a good part of the summer but either making other Saturday morning plans or simply choosing to stay away.

Now, as a once-a-month temple-goer at best, trust me, I’m not judging. But I do find it odd. Children are generally encouraged to keep up with reading and certain skills over the summer so that they’re not rusty come the start of the school year. Why doesn’t the same hold true for Judaism? Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 24 2014

Tweens Ditch B’nai Mitzvah Parties to Build Playground in Chicago’s South Side

By at 4:20 pm

tweens

The kids are alright.

Meet Marc Luban and Ariana Handelman, a pair of 12-year-old BFFs from Chicago who have decided to forgo the modern bar mitzvah party, often ostentatious affairs featuring celebrity performers like Christina Aguilera (rock on, Sam Horowitz), in favor of helping other kids their age. In a partnership with their temple, Anshe Emet Synagogue, and the nearby Bright Star Church, the 7th graders will design and physically build a playground to serve the Bronzeville community on the South Side of Chicago, which is plagued by high crime and has few safe places for children to play.

The kids of Anshe Emmet and Bright Star Church have teamed up in the past for several events and projects. In fact, it was when Marc and Ariana visited the church to watch Barack Obama’s second inauguration that they noticed the area lacked a decent play area. Read the rest of this entry →

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 →

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