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.

email: margalitc at yahoo dot com

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Spiritual renewal

For a long time I've been extremely angry at organized Judaism. Oh, I've got a lot of reasons why, and most of them have been discussed many times before on this very blog. I've found that my religion is not very good around certain scenarios, mostly dealing with financial situations, kids with special needs, and single parenting. All of those go against organized Judaism, where most people are very financially healthy, most children are intellectually and emotionally perfect (just ask their parents) and single women are considered shameful, especially if they are parents. It's not an easy place to be if you want to belong to a synagogue. They want machers, big donors. They want members who pay full dues and donate throughout the year for every mitzvah, simcha, and death. They want people whose names will adorn their walls. They don't want people that can't pay dues, never mind food for their families.

Jewish children are supposed to be compliant, very well educated, talented at art or music or maybe tennis or golf. They're supposed to excell at school and get into top tier colleges. The expectations for Jewish kids is difficult. If you have kids that don't fit that norm, well it must be bad parenting or something terribly wrong. Quirky kids don't really fit the Jewish idea, although it you think about it, some of the quirkiest people ever were Jewish. Albert Einstein, Lenny Bruce, Bugsy Siegal, Isaac Mizrahi, Noam Chomsky, Richard (Ram Dass) Alpert, Leonardo diVinci, Woody Allen, etc. Just the list of famous Jewish actors and actresses gives you insight into quirky kids. We've got more than enough evidence of quirky makes good, and yet truthfully every Jewish parent wants their kids to be doctors and lawyers. It's just who we are.

Lastly, being single is not really kosher in Judaism. If you don't ever marry, why what is wrong with you? If you choose to be single, either by divorce or just not interested in the institution of marriage, you're just a bit too weird for organized Judaism. They much prefer married couples with a nice healthy number of exceptional children. Take a look at children's books about Jewish themes. Mommy, Daddy, and Sarah and David, the kid. Maybe a dog or a kitty. But an intact family unit. Always. Being a single parent.... it's a shanda. A shame, an embarassment. Oh, people will try to fix you up with their cousin Nathan or their podiatrist, but only so you won't be single.

Consequently, organized Judaism and I, well we're not the perfect match.

After I left my last two shuls, both on account of the lack of support over my quirky kids, I just stopped going. I was so angry and frustrated and felt like it was such a joke that Judaism preaches all this crapola about families and togetherness. I felt lost and alone and just totally confused by the attitudes I found all around me in organized Judaism.

For a couple of years I did high holiday services, but the past couple of years I didn't even do that. I walked away from synagogue. I walked away from the expectations. I walked and didn't look back.

Last night a friend was over for dinner and we talked about a new shul in town. In our small city there are so many shuls that a new one hardly seemed possible and yet there it was. New, traditional, egalitarian, and open to new members. So we planned to go this morning.

She arrived first and was greeted by so many Shabbat Shaloms and Gut Shabbas greetings she was amazed. The shul I used to belong to, and that she still does belong to is very unfriendly and cold. They don't say "hello" to strangers. By the time I got there, a few minutes later, the service had started, but we both immediately got asked for an aliyah. People were unbelievable welcoming and friendly. The Rabbi was lovely. I'd seen her previously daven at another shul where she was the asst. Rabbi, and liked her a lot. The baal torah had a gorgeous voice and read beautifully. The president and most of the members introduced themselves and were so gracious.

The building was very reminiscent of a shul we attended often in Berkeley, old, wooden, sort of like a neighborhood schtibl. It was hot inside and all the windows were open to the green woods around it. Lovely. The voices of the congregants was learned and filled with emotion. They sang in harmonization, they sang all the tunes I already know and love.

The Rabbi's drash brought me to tears. She spoke of the invisibility of mothers, how we all are invisible except when we're needed for hands or for counsel. She spoke about how that invisibility is good, for it enables us to strive ever forward, leaving a path of goodness behind. For in the invisibility we're able to act with kindness and not out of obligation. It was really relevant to how I've been feeling, and especially relevant to my friend with all her tsuris.

At kiddish we spoke to the Rabbi and president, and they asked cogent questions about us, about our religious lives, about our families. They talked to us like people. They wanted to know us, not just as potential congregants (although it's obvious that they want to grow beyond the 75 member units they currently count as their congregation) but as people. As women without husbands in tow. Or chldren, for that matter. It was such a change from anything else I've experienced here in Boston.

So maybe, just maybe I've found a place where I can feel comfortable. Many more services have to be attended before I consider joining, but for now, at least I know there's a place I can go that actually will be happy to see me.

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OpenID cahwyguy said...

Our most positive congregational experience was at a small (under 80) family congregation, female rabbi. If it wasn't for the conflicts between the board and the rabbi (they decided they were an old folks congregation), we'd be there still. As it is, I still follow the rabbi from that congregation (she's now in Sacramento), and she's still a dear friend.

Small congregations, depending on the leadership, are often much more accepting, both of differences in people and differences in financial state. The larger congregations often become Marble Houses full of Plastic People (as we discovered at our most recent congregation).

12/7/08 9:25 PM  
Blogger dana said...

ok so what synagogue did you visit? sounds like i want to go thanks

12/7/08 11:54 PM  
Blogger margalit said...

Or Yisrael. They advertise in the Advocate so you can find the information there.

13/7/08 8:39 AM  

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