The Best Part of My Synagogue? The Other Moms. – Kveller
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The Best Part of My Synagogue? The Other Moms.


Our Conservative synagogue is currently engaging in something of an existential crisis. Our rabbi, who came to us three years ago fresh from rabbinical school, has decided that he doesn’t want to be a pulpit rabbi. As a co-chair of the fledgling search committee, I know we are about to grapple with questions that seem to be plaguing all Conservative synagogues. Can we get by with lay leadership for some amount of time? What we are willing to compromise on and where are our lines in the sand? What does a synagogue mean to its constituents and what do we expect from it in this post-COVID, does-anyone-want-to-leave-the-house-again world? 

More and more lately, I’ve realized that the last of those questions is one that I have no problem answering. Our synagogue, though tiny, is currently in the middle of a streak of non-stop b-mitzvahs, seven total between Yom Kippur and Hanukkah. During one of these services, I was sitting towards the back with my husband on one side and a friend and her husband on the other. Our youngest son, the one we can still drag — um, bring — to shul, was sitting behind us with friends, close enough for me to give him the stink eye if he got too loud. My friend’s husband also gave my friend and me the (joking?) stink eye when we got too loud. At one point the other friend we had been expecting came in and joined us. She and her husband sat at adjoining ends of two different benches which slowly slid apart from each other, causing us all to giggle. But we also beamed at the bar mitzvah boy and cried at the speech his parents gave. I silently corrected everyone’s trope as I followed along in my chumash. (Side note: I learned trope during COVID and am now exceedingly judgy. This from the person who gets so nervous chanting Torah that the last time I read I am pretty sure I blacked out and don’t remember half of it.) 

At one point I looked at the parents of the bar mitzvah boy and then searched around to find their little group of “Jew Mom” friends (my daughters’ name for us), that inner circle who would be chatting and also cheering. I couldn’t find them. I nudged my friend: “You know what makes me so sad about the Hebrew school classes after our kids’ classes? The parents didn’t find each other the way we did.”

These moms have been my advisors, confidants and co-conspirators on this parenting journey. They will reliably respond to my texts when I am ridiculously delighted by the Hanukkah offerings in Target’s dollar section (including… challah?). They obsessed with me over the million determinations of risk we made every day during the height of the pandemic. They answered my calls when my daughter’s depression made me want to crawl out of my own skin.

Our niece in Oregon recently had her bat mitzvah. A few weeks before the event, my sister-in-law called, asking me how to do a candy bar. I tried to explain it and then gave up and told her to hang tight — I would send her pictures in a few minutes. Within five minutes, the craftiest and most visually gifted of the Jew Moms had sent me pictures of her candy bar to send on to my sis-in-law. I texted my friends: “I don’t know how she is able to plan this bat mitzvah. She doesn’t have you guys.”

I was recently lucky enough to see some dear friends in a local production of “Elegies,” William Finn’s semi-autobiographical, very Jewish song cycle about loss, grief and hope. One extra poignant moment was the song “14 Dwight Ave, Natick, Massachusetts” in which the character of Finn’s mother sings about the neighborhood near Boston where she raised her children, arm in arm with her dearest friends, cooking together, surviving together, making each other’s lives more complete. “We were raising our children together, side by side, life was sweet, oh lucky us, for living on that street.” Lucky us, indeed.

And so, as we search for a new rabbi and grapple with what we actually want in a synagogue, there’s my answer. Having now been a parent for 22 years, one thing I know with certainty is: synagogue is community. I know that is not a hot take. I recently came across an article about the current rabbi shortage which shared that young adults who go into Jewish professions often come from households “bonded to friendship networks through which they joyfully engaged with a life of Torah and mitzvot.” Though I don’t think any of my children will become Jewish professionals (surprise me, kiddos), I do think they would all recognize the role those friendship networks formed at synagogue have played in their upbringing.

So, find your friendship networks. Find your Jew Moms. I am not an overly religious person, but I do appreciate services and I adore tradition and continuity. And I am grateful for our tiny, little engine that could synagogue for giving us that. But mostly, what I want it to do, what I need it to do, is to keep me connected with my people and for it to be there for the next generation of moms to find theirs. How else would anybody ever figure out how to do a candy bar?

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