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Jan 27 2012

Friday Night: All Florida-Bashing Ceases on Shabbat

By at 11:43 am
palm trees

Shabbat shalom, indeed.

Over the summer we moved from Brownstone Brooklyn to suburban Florida. While our three children are thrilled about year-round pool and playground access (which actually is pretty awesome), for me it’s been a rough transition.

I miss my friends. I miss my kids’ friends. I miss my kids’ schools. I miss the front porch of our 100-year old house. I miss being able to walk a few hundred feet to get a coffee, a light bulb, or a manicure.

So yes, I complain about our new home. A lot. Luckily for those obligated to listen to me, though, there is one 25-hour period each week when I cease all Florida bashing. See, on Shabbat, I kind of love it here.

As fabulous as our old neighborhood was, it was not a particularly easy place to be an observant (or in my case, observant-ish) Jew. New York being New York, there was more than one shul within walking distance, and we were just a short drive from some awesome kosher markets (ah, Pomegranate, I dream of you still). But there was no real community of people who treated Saturday any different from Sunday.

Which was mostly fine by us. Friday night we lit candles and ate challah, and on Saturdays we’d hang out at home, take walks in Prospect Park, and once in a while even drop by the local, randomly populated Orthodox synagogue.

My husband Moshe and I occasionally spoke about how at some point we might want our kids to be able to spend the day with friends who weren’t busy with birthday parties and errands, but not enough to seriously contemplate leaving. Together with a few other families we’d helped start a Jewish day school, so the education piece wasn’t an issue, and while a place with a more vibrant Jewish life would have been nice, outside of the Upper West Side (which wasn’t realistic) our only options were suburbs saturated with just one type of person. After living in such a diverse, interesting place, we just couldn’t imagine anything else. We were decidedly anti-shtetl.

And then we moved to one. I won’t bore you with the various logistical reasons behind why we chose this area when Moshe was transferred to Florida, but I will say it was a very hard decision to make. I will also say that it’s turned out to not be so bad. Especially, as I mentioned, on Shabbat.

Here in this uber-temperate, palm tree-lined community centered around a modern Orthodox shul with 500 member families, the day finally feels peaceful and languorous and special in exactly the way I’d hoped it would when I ramped up my observance a while back.

I don’t drive on Shabbat, so after sitting in traffic on the highway and pulling in and out of strip mall parking lots all week, a reprieve from my car has a Xanax-like effect. Plus, in a car culture you don’t make the same kind of face-to-face contact you do on a daily basis in the city, so there’s something hugely refreshing about our mostly pedestrian-free neighborhood suddenly bustling with people on their way to synagogue or the park or a friend’s house.

Our new neighbors are laid back and lovely and incredibly welcoming–we are invited to a Shabbat meal nearly every week. Zack, our 6-year-old, is making lots of local friends at the Saturday morning shul youth program, and I think Ayla, our toddler, simply likes being surrounded by all of us all day.

There’s just one member of our family who isn’t feeling it: 8-year-old Benjamin, who has autism.

The social nature of the day and the overall lack of structure are a toxic combination for a child who hardly shows interest in his peers and thrives on routine. There is no shul program appropriate for him, and when we go to people’s homes, he spends the whole time searching their pantries for snacks and jumping in and out of every bed in every room.

I’m not saying the day was easy in Brooklyn, but at least there we were walking the same city streets we always walked, and he wasn’t forced into long meals in strange homes for hours on end. In the same way that the day didn’t feel that different to us, it didn’t feel that different to him either. And Benjamin likes sameness.

Last week we were invited to the rabbi’s house for lunch.

“There’s just no way that’s happening,” I said to Moshe exactly a week before the meal, right after Benjamin jumped into our hosts’ freezing pool, fully clothed.

So for the first time, on a day we have always set aside for family, we made other plans for our son.

At first I felt guilty, but it didn’t last long. Benjamin spends the whole week–at school and at home–learning how to better fit into our world, to abide by our rules and follow our agenda. Maybe, I realized, he needs one day a week when he doesn’t have to do all that. Maybe that’s how he wants to observe Shabbat.


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