My most reflective moments this Rosh Hashanah did not take place in shul. They did not place during a holiday meal. They did not take place during tashlich at the park (although those were pretty good too,) nor did they take place while leading Tot Services. Rather, they took place while sitting in the car in the parking lot of a toy store, while my mother and husband took Ella and Zoe shopping on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.
Why? Well, it’s a long, convoluted and somewhat embarrassing (but honest) story. My mother, who arrived a few hours before Rosh Hashanah to spend the holiday weekend with us, had promised (as always) to take children shopping for presents during her visit. I reminded the children that we don’t go shopping on Yom Tov (or Shabbat.) But, since my mother was leaving on Sunday morning, there was really no time she could take them shopping on her visit. Everyone was disappointed, some more loudly than others. Since our family has a terrifically flexible (aka loosey-goosey) approach towards halachah, I didn’t feel comfortable insisting they cancel the shopping trip. Instead I said they could go on the second day, but I would not come along. Friday afternoon, after our Yom Tov lunch, I asked my husband to take my mother and girls instead. This catapulted my older daughter, who struggles with anxiety, into a state of utter hysteria, sure that she would not be able to decide what to get without my being there. The rest of family, fed up with Ella’s outburst, loaded into the car. They were about to pull out of the driveway while Ella, who lay wailing in the top bunk bed, begged me to come along. Feeling pulled in a thousand directions, mostly by no one other than myself, I agreed to go along and sit in the car, so that if she needed me, she could come out and talk to me.
So there I was, sitting in the parking lot of A to Z, chewing on a plastic horse (don’t ask), wondering what the hell I was doing. Halachically, there was no real difference between my sitting in the car and my going into the store. I was embodying the kind of meaningless religious hypocrisy that has always driven me nuts. I know shopping isn’t important. I know that my children would have (eventually) accepted and dealt with my saying no to commerce on Rosh Hashanah, with or without me. I know that I made a mistake by not planning ahead, so the shopping trip could have taken place on Wednesday afternoon.
But as I sat in the car, chewing away on that horse, I realized a few things. I realized that I am not strong enough, or committed enough, or certain enough, to lead my family to a level of greater observance than our community’s. Consequently, that’s not the best place to focus my energy right now. Instead, I should invest more energy in finding, creating, or building, a community that feels like the best fit. Hopefully that community will inspire or lead us all in real growth in a direction that I can’t yet anticipate.
But what is that community? Should we consider switching our affiliation to a new shul? Even though our conservative synagogue is around the corner? And if so, do we switch to a shul that’s Orthodox, but far away, or Reform? Or might it mean starting a havurah, within our current shul? And do I really have the time and patience to devote to that?
I’m not sure yet. But during these ten days of teshuvah, I’m reflecting on both the joys of homeshuling, and also the limitations. And I’m looking forward to looking beyond our own four walls for sustenance and inspiration in 5771.