The Sabbath World comes to visit. I wish she could stay.

the sabbath world.jpgOn the second day of Passover, a curious time for a show of interest to the Jewish community to be broadcast, I happened to turn on Fresh Air with Terry Gross when she was interviewing Judith Shulevitz about her new book, The Sabbath World – Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. As a Jewish educator and writer, I’ve read a lot of books and articles about Shabbat, and this was the first time I had ever heard someone articulate my actual experience of Shabbat, rather than the experience I wish I were having of Shabbat. (Yes, Rabbi Heschel, I know Sabbath is our “great cathedral”. It’s just that in my cathedral the pews are scattered willy-nilly, the windows need dusting, and the organ needs to be tuned.) So much of what she said resonated with my own experiences and struggles, and I knew her perspective as literary and culture critic would appeal to our highly intellectual and somewhat idiosyncratic Jewish community. As soon as the interview was over, and Yom Tov had ended, I emailed Judith to find out how I could bring her here. Thanks to much flexibility and graciousness on her part, and the help of a few local Jewish institutions, last night Judith Shulevitz visited our little town.

While her talk was fabulous, what I relished the most was our dinner together. It’s very rare that I have the opportunity to talk with another Jewish adult who is in a fairly similar place religiously. Once upon a time, I was the least observant, or at least the least religious, woman at my yeshiva. Nowadays, I’m more often the really Jewish one who people either want to learn from or confess to. Neither has given me much room to grow – I simply have no sounding board if I’m subconsciously defending myself or THE JEWISH RELIGION. Talking to someone about our kids’ day school educations, our own need (or lack of a need) to daven, our love of text study, and our ambivalence about shul, is something I apparently sorely need. (At the end of the evening I actually blurted out “But I’m going to miss you.” She politely pretended not to hear me.)


Of course, it’s not that I miss her, but I do miss this kind of discourse. Blogging gives me a chance to think aloud about my relationship with Judaism, but it’s no substitute for conversation. Even when you leave comments. (But do leave comments.)

Those of you who are parents of young, or even not so young, children – how do you grow your own spirituality? Where are your outlets for wondering and questioning and learning? Please leave your thoughts below. Maybe we can talk.

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posted May 29, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I had a small child, then a big child, and now he has children. I sent him to the prenursery at our synagogue, and then to the kindergarten (where he learned to read and write better than before) and finally to the day school through 8th grade, and finally to public school.
On Saturday mornings he went with me to shul and to the kiddush lunch which always followed, and then we came home and, with his father, went shopping and to the movies.
When he reached his teens, my father retired and began attending Suedasslisheet on Saturday evenings and I took my boy to that too and there we learned some nice Shabbos songs and experienced, in that smaller group (which dovened in the chapel–mincha before supper and maariv after), a comradery missing in the huge crowd that attends the Bar/bat Mitzvah service. OH, I should mention that he did us proud at his bar mitzvah; he did a Torah portion as well as the haftarah, and he led nearly half the service.
Even when I did the Friday night candles kiddush special dinner number, I did not feel the spirituality I had read about.
When he went up east to college, he connected to some old-time frummies and when he came home, HE made kiddush for us in a way that somehow was more spiritual than any I had ever experienced.
And somehow I absorbed that. Ever since then, I can make kiddush in a way that is felt, spiritually, by everyone present.
I don’t know what to tell you. Where do you live? How difficult would it be to visit Boston for a weekend and doven with a shomer shabbes congregation there? More importantly, can you contact the congregation ahead of time and tell them you ae trying to enhance your Shabbos observance and that it would mean a lot to you to experience it with a shomer shabbes family–and would someone please invite you to their homes for erev Shabbes and for the second meal and for Shalosh Seudah? It is my experience from my travels in many cities that frum congregations have many families who are eager to entertain guests and share their table and their Shabbos joy.
In addition, there may be a frum congregation in your home town. If so, they too would be happy to host you. But how can they host your entire family overnight? Maybe they can. If they can’t you would have to be able to get your children home somehow, probably in a stroller or in a car. That would probably violate Shabbos and they might be unwilling (or you might be unwilling) to go for that. But if you ask, they may have a solution. It’s worth a shot. Hopefullyl you can be exposed to a variety of styles of observance. A middle aged couple handles Shabbos differently than a household whose children include teenagers and toddlers. The latter is hectic, and that’s OK! I know the latter family, and one of the rambunctious toddlers grew up to be a rabbi. So you can feel comfortable with their child-rearing styles that may differ from your own, knowing that it does work for them.
And it might turn out that some of these families have women you can talk to, after all.
Gd bless you.

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Jared Gellert

posted May 29, 2010 at 11:20 pm

We struggle with this also. Big time. I think it has a lot to do with being in a liberal Jewish environment where people just don’t know that much. But since I can’t be orthodox, and can’t live in a big city, I have to think there is something for me to learn about myself and my place in the world.

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posted May 30, 2010 at 12:33 am

I struggle with this as well. I am Orthodox. My guess is it has more to do with being atypical in one’s environment than anything else. This can mean opportunities for leadership, but one doesn’t always want to be a leader, do we? And being a leader can be lonely! I am sure Rabbis encounter this problem all of the time.
While I am grateful that the blogosphere has widened the conversation for me (with people like you) as well, it isn’t the same.
The first year we moved to the small community we are in I urged to Rebbetzin to “push me.” I told her it was this kind of chizuk that I was used to and that helped me to grow, and that I didn’t want her to hold her tongue with me. She has come through, and it has been not only a great help to me, but the seed of what has now become a fabulous friendship.

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Your NameCarole Diamond

posted May 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Amy, I just love reading your blogs, they are so meaningful and full of love Carole

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posted June 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Oh, I hear you on this.
I’m either the kofer hanging out online with the orthos, or the “zealot” among my real-life family and friends, for doing things like lighting Shabbat candles. What do I do? I blog. I comment. I don’t really have a spiritual outlet right now, given my family situation and not being able to get to shul without the toddler.
So, no solutions, but I hear you.

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posted June 2, 2010 at 7:07 am

I am with you on this. We are active in our shul and yet I still do not have a good method for my own personal spiritual growth. I read books (currently hunting down your recommendations), blog and participate in email lists. The lists have been the most helpful for providing the closest thing to conversation and guidance.

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posted June 4, 2010 at 9:59 am

This resonated with me deeply. I wish I could hang a sign on my door, Smart and Committed but Confused Jews of All Backgrounds Please Knock for Actual Discourse. I’ve always been the type to be a little too “serious” or “philosophical” so I have trouble sorting out whether others are uninterested because they’re not struggling or because they don’t deal with issues like these in intellectual conversation like I do. So I blog about blintzes instead. It’s good to know I’m not alone.
Shabbat shalom.

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