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Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Questioning which way to go

For a long time, we've been feeling rather lost in the wealth of choices we have here in our community. When we came back from California, we rejoined the synagogue that we had belonged to for years before we left the state. I'd been reasonably happy at this particular shul, despite some issues that bothered me. I think that's normal for any person that belongs to a house of worship regardless of the denomination. Usually our choices of where to worship are based on childhood memories, family ties, and comfort. The shul we belonged to wasn't at all like the shul of my childhood, which was a positive for me. I also had no family ties to it at all, and although it wasn't particularly comfortable, I didn't feel like an outsider and I was reasonably active both as an attendee and a volunteer. Yes, I had some beefs, especially with the children's services held for school aged kids, which were run by some very overbearing men. But overall, the kids were comfortable, I wasn't miserable, we had friends in the congregation and the Rabbi didn't drive me over the edge so it seemed to work for us.

Then we moved to California and I began shul shopping. It was virtually hell. It was so depressing that I would come home shabbat after shabbat and cry. One shul I liked was just way too far away. The Rabbi was nice, he had worked in our town in MA and was familiar with what things are like here, but I couldn't stand the high holiday services, where hordes of people showed up and didn't even know the slightest bit about how to behave, never mind how to worship. That one was out of the running.

Then we tried another shul that should have been dubbed Millionare's Shul. Ugh. So cold and unfriendly, and at a bar mitzvah, the Rabbi, whom I found personally repellant anyhow, had the audacity to invite a young woman to speak without talking to the bar mitzvah family. This young woman spoke about the horrors of the Palestinians in Israel and she did so in front of quite a few relatives flown from Israel for the simcha. These relatives were survivors of a terrorist bombing and the last thing they wanted to hear was about the plight of the their attackers at their relative's bar mitzvah. This was so appalling to me that I had absolutely no desire to join this shul.

We visited Orthodox, Conservative, and even a Reform congregation, and nothing felt remotely right. Finally, someone in passing mentioned a shul that wasn't close by at all, but appeared to possibly be a good fit. We visited, and joined immediately. It was an unusual and wonderful shul, filled with very involved and knowledgable congregants. It had two minyans, a 'traditional' that was a mixed seating Orthodox minyan, and a second egalitarian Conservative minyan. You could go back and forth between the minyanim. Each were entirely lay led, and there was, thankfully, no cantor. I'm not a real cantor lover. Ok, I hate them. They drive me nuts. The Rabbi was delightful and friendly, his wife and kids were fabulous, the congregants were a wonderful mixture of people from single parents, gay couples, multicultural families, and plain old hankie headed women. I loved it. I became very active, volunteering for many things and happy to feel so at home in a congregation so different than anything I had ever belonged to before. I was miserable when we left, because I felt that this shul was my spiritual home.

Again, when we moved back we rejoined the congregation we had belonged to previously. But this time things were different. The Rabbi had changed, and certainly not for the better. He was unpleasant. No, he was downright nasty. The cantor pretended he had never seen me before. A good half of the congregants ignored us and couldn't be bothered to say "hello". Now that the kids were out of day school, they were signed up for Hebrew after school programs. The Boy's teacher tossed him out of the school within 3 weeks, saying he couldn't handle him. The class had something like 9 kids in it, and every single one of them were boys on IEPs, including a couple of pretty difficult autistic kids. My kid argued and, having had a day school education for several years, didn't fit into the educational mix. But to get tossed? Unheard of! The Rabbi never said a word to me about it, even when I made an apppointment to talk to him. He had no suggestions as to what I should do to prepare my son for his Jewish education, either. Meanwhile the Girl's teacher was such a moron that she called me, concerned that the Girl didn't know the Aleph Bet. When I told her that not only did the girl know her aleph bet, but she read Hebrew fluently and spoke it pretty well, too, this woman was floored. She had never asked, she just ass-umed that my kid was an idiot because she had never been to Hebrew school before. The whole experience lasted about a month and I pulled her out, too.

But the last straw was when my father died, and the Rabbi failed to acknowledge it. Yes, he knew, but he did NOTHING. He didn't inform the congregation, he didn't ask about a minyan at our home, nothing. I got more support from my Rabbi in California than I did from our current Rabbi. Needless to say, we didn't return the following year.

Next we joined a congregation that was known as the new, hip place to be. Hip wasn't quite the accurate discription. It was bizarre. Turns out that the Rabbi was much more of a Renewal, Buddhist, renegade Rabbi than I could handle. We only lasted a year there, too.

Last year I was so disgusted with Judaism we just didn't go to shul. From an extremely active member, I just blew off going because nothing seemed to fit what I wanted. Nobody seemed interested that my upcoming 13-year old twins had no b'nai mitzvah training, that I couldn't afford to hire anyone and needed volunteers to help out, and that due to circumstances I'm not going to blog about, it was nigh impossible to get the Boy the training he needed. As their birthday approached I was morosely depressed because I couldn't give my kids what they should, by all rights, have had. I had no place to turn and nobody to help me. I consulted with several Rabbis and they all said the same thing, "You have to belong to our shul for 3 years and have your child enrolled in our Hebrew school program or a day school to become a b'nai mitzvah here." Now, that's not really fair, because the Girl did have an opportunity to have an aliyah last winter on a Thursday morning and she refused. She talked to me privately about it and I understand why she refused, but she could have done it. The Boy can go to any Chabad shul and get an aliyah and have it over with. We have one around the corner, for heaven's sake. But he won't because the Girl can't have an aliyah there and he refuses to do it if she can't. Stalemate.

I'm just blowing it off. I've given up. They're not going to have a simcha. Maybe when they're older, they might opt to have an adult one. But they're so angry at Judaism right now, and I don't blame them one bit, since they've been hugely screwed by Judaism and completely marginalized by our particular community, that they just don't even want to consider being actively Jewish.

I'm completely at a crossroads here. I miss going to shul horribly. I feel as if something has been cut from my heart as we go week after week, month after month, without a service to attend. In fact, I can't even remember the last time we attended a service on Shabbat. I really can't.

I started calling around to shuls again, hoping against hope that I'd find something that I could deal with. The shuls here are huge. There is one that has 1700 families right in our town. Huge scares the crap outta me, but there are advantages to big. They have money to donate to camp scholarships. Very important. They have large Chesed groups that might help out with meals and some stuff around the house. That would be a dream come true. There are more likely to be kids that my guys already know, thus making it less threatening for them to return to the fold, as it were. But, but but.... one large shul that we felt comfortable going to, and where we have attended HH services in a small library minyan, has an organ. That's just not acceptable to me. Cannot deal with an organ, cannot deal with a choir, can't stand a cantor. This severely limits me to either the Modern Orthodox shul, and that won't work because of the seating issues, where the Boy would have to sit by himself in the men's section, or the very snotty and overbearing Minyan held downtown. While I like a lay led service, I am so not interested in competitive Judaism and this particular Minyan is just way too competitive for me. Plus the kids are all day school kids, and that won't work for us.

This leaves me with only a couple of options. There is an up and coming shul in the next town that might possibly work, but it's not close and I know only one person there, and it's not someone I'd feel comfortable hanging out with. She's fine, it's her kid that's the issue. Can you say Sex and DRUGS and Rock and Roll? So not what I need in my life.

Or, we could join the hugest of the shuls in town and attend a small chapel minyan there that's held twice monthly. This seems to be the best option for me, and the kids are sorta kinda willing to try it out, sorta kinda-ish. But there are some pitfalls. While this is indeed a lay led minyan, and I like that, usually in small minyanim like this, it's sort of a closed circle socially. Now I might be putting the cart before the horse, but I'm a tad bit worried. I need to fit in socially as well as spiritually. I'm kind of a social misfit. I'm extremely introverted. I know this comes as a shock to many of the readers here, but it's true. I can barely make myself talk to someone I don't know, and I'm just horrible at small talk. Give me an issue and I can go on and on and on, but small talk? Not so much.

I need some thought here. I need help not only deciding what might be the best option, but also how to break the ice about who were are and what our needs are. Any ideas?
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7 Comments:

Anonymous colleen said...

I enjoyed reading this and learned some things. Seems like it should be more welcoming. Is it between the large shul and the one with the organ? Which do you dislike worse? It sounds like whatever you choose will be a compromise.

22/2/06 10:40 AM  
Blogger Celena said...

I have no suggestions or ideas, but I know what you mean. I haven't been able to find a church that I like here in this town except for one that is clear across town, and that one is too much of an "outreach" congregation, rather than one that actually deals with hard issues. Good luck finding what you need.

22/2/06 2:46 PM  
Blogger Eden said...

I'm also outspoken online and an introvert IRL who hangs back and observes before jumping in.

If it were me, I would go to the large shul and blend in. If it's so closed that they make you feel unwelcome (is it big enough that no one might notice?), it's not like you've connected to anyone and I don't think your disillusionment w/ organized worship would be too much changed.

Then go on to the SDR&R Next Town shul which seems to fit with what you want from your faith. You may be able to bond with new people by saying "I tried going to Fancy Schmancy Shul and oy vey!" Also knowing the person you know, even if she's not someone you plan to be socially close to, could give you a little bit of an "in" there.

I practice my faith at home and that works best for me, although group worship could be an option. I understand what you're looking for in wanting to find a good fit. I hope you get it :)

23/2/06 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your son refusing to take advantage of a Chabad aliyah so as not to leave his sister behind is incredibly righteous and fair of him. You don't say what your daughter's reasons for not taking the Thursday morning aliyah were, but I suspect they were similarly sensitive in some way or another. I get the idea that your children want to do this right, really learn for the occassion and approach it with the importance it deserves, not get it over with by way of a quick aliyah.

Curious to know why your children didn't continue day school when you returned from CA. Finances? Would sending them to the Jewish high school be at all possible? It could solve a lot of situations.

How you've been treated absolutely sucks. I understand this situation of being isolated, maginalized, uncared for, and angry about it all.

I'm not involved anywhere either. It's painful.

I bet Emanuel is one of the shuls to which you refer in your posting.

All the places of which I can think that have some of what you need also have some of the obstacles you do not need.

If only you could form your own minyan!

Havurat Shalom in Somerville might be a good resource.

There are Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutors who have experience working with students with various special needs. You might be able to get a two-for-one rate.

Some of your local smaller Orthodox shuls (Adams Street?), while perhaps not egalitarian and not the right place for you all to join, might be worth visiting to make some connection with potentially caring folks.

Can you meet with the Chabad rabbi? He might be able to guide you to what you need, taking no offense that Chabad is not what you need. Given Chabad's proclivities for outreach to unaffiliated Jews, I would think the rabbi would want to help.

All Jews should want to help.

23/2/06 12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just came across this:

www.etgarlnoar.org

24/2/06 1:54 AM  
Anonymous Sheryl said...

It sounds like the hugest shul may be the best option. Don't make assumptions about the social circle,(I am very introverted too). If you can, call beforehand and let the leader know, "Hey look we're new, and I'm really introverted, how can I get hooked in with people?"

Otherwise I would prioritize which you hate the most: cantor, size, seating arrangement, travel time etc. Yes, they may all have something (or several things) you hate, but pick whichever one ticks you off the least.

We had to do that picking out a church here. I just couldn't find a church where I liked the people, AND the music, AND the teaching. So I had to say, okay, what's most important (teaching) and go with that one.

As for the bar/bat mitzva, I'm not Jewish, so I know absolutely nothing about it, but it seems like an important rite of passage. Is there a way you could celebrate it more secularly? Kinda make your own clelbration of the passage into adulthood? Just a thought.

Good luck!

24/2/06 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Been thinking of you and these issues . . .

If you are able to get a tutor, you could start with that, and then maybe where to have the service once the children are prepared would fall into place.

Also, you can of course try going to the chapel minyan and to any shul you like for as many services as you like before deciding whether or not to join.

26/2/06 7:18 AM  

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