Why we home-shul

Admittedly, the title of my blog is a wee bit misleading. We are, in fact, members of a shul. (Actually, we are members of two shuls, if you count my honorary membership at the synagogue where I teach.) And we do attend every now and then. But I’ve discovered over time that shul doesn’t really work for my family for a number of reasons.
For one, my husband is not Jewish. He’s not anything else, either, but he’s certainly not of the tribe. Since he doesn’t read Hebrew, didn’t grow up with the melodies, and isn’t particularly interested in the Bible, there isn’t much going on within the four walls of the synagogue that can’t be found elsewhere, usually without having to put on a tie.
Second of all, my daughters are three and five. Too old to while away the hours breastfeeding, but too young to spend the morning trying to break into the vending machines the way I did when I was a kid. (Plus, our shul doesn’t have a vending machine. Do any shuls have candy machines these days?) We show up for tot-shabbat now and again, but it’s only once a month, and it’s a starting to get a little too, um, tot-y for us.
Mostly, though, almost everything I love about being Jewish happens at home. There’s the food, of course, and the making of the food. And the talking about the food. (Remember the Jackie Mason bit – “At lunch, Jews talk about dinner; after dinner they talk about where to get coffee, and after that, where to get cake….?” That’s totally how I grew up.) There’s lifting up our daughters so they can reach the shabbat candlesticks that belonged to my mother’s grandmother. Or watching my daughters play Pharoah and the Jews with their Polly Pockets after reading PJ Library books about Passover. Lying side by side in our sleeping bags, staring at the stars, while trying to fall asleep in the sukkah (and never quite making in through the night.) And all the other things I hope to describe in my new blog.
One of these days we may find a shul that gives us all that. But for now, we’re home-shuling.

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Liz Greenberg

posted March 1, 2009 at 9:57 pm

This is a lot how I felt for the first six years of being a parent. And living in rural Vermont half an hour from the synagogue, it made even more sense to provide Jewish education for my children at home. But there was a sense of community missing, and not a lot of Jewish families locally to celebrate holidays with. Last fall we joined the synagogue, enrolled our 6 year old in Sunday School and started making a weekly trek in to town. It’s been a really nice change, easier than I thought it would be, and a way to make sure my son (and eventually my 2 yr old daughter) will feel like they are part of something bigger than what I could provide within the walls of my home.

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posted March 1, 2009 at 10:03 pm

My older daughter started Kindergarten at a Jewish day school this year. We are finding real community through our connections with her classmates’ families, much more than we ever did with the synagogue. I’ve also helped create some home-shuling events for the whole class – we invited everyone to our sukkah and organized a havdallah potluck.

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Jess Horwitz

posted March 2, 2009 at 9:43 am

Hi Amy! What a great idea for a blog! I’m looking forward to reading more.

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Adrian Durlester

posted March 4, 2009 at 11:46 am

I’ve never been afraid to be a Jewish Educator who likes to talk himself out of a job. I’ve lived in communities large (my hometown of NYC, DC Metro area et al) and small (Fargo, ND, Elkhart, IN to name a few.) The small town experience has really helped me understand the need for community, joining and participating in the synagogue and sending the kids to religious school. My big city experience has taught me everything that is wrong with synagogues and religious schools (though these problems exist in small synagogues, too) and I understand the impulse to “homeshul.” Let’s face it – even with all the improvements made in Jewish education in the last two decades or so, religious schools just aren’t working, and need serious rethinking and revisioning. For years, I’ve been trying to bring to fruition my own vision that is a compromise between the two – a “community supplemental school” that offers a smorgasbord of learning opportunities and modalities. It’s truly a 7 day a week operation. Parents (and students) get to pick the content and pedagogic style of what they learn, and get to pick when they attend school. It covers from pre-K to high school (and could eventually be a lifelong learning center.) Active parental participation will be encouraged, but there will always be parents who prefer “drop-off” Judaism, and this program will even do its best to accommodate them (perhaps using singles and elders to pair with those students.) The programs would be open to all who want their kids to have a Jewish educational experience. The offerings would be structured so that as many as possible will feel accommodated-the offerings will allow people to customize the learning. Some might prefer a more traditional take, others more liberal, still others humanist. All would be able to find opportunities.
Would you send your kids to that kind of experience?

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posted March 4, 2009 at 4:55 pm

I hope no one takes the homeshuling title too literally. We really do participate in the Jewish educational world, and not only because I’m employed there. We’re mostly thrilled with our 5 years old’s Day School experience. My real point is that the best of what Judaism has to offer, especially for young children, happens at home.

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