I have missed the mark. And chewed the tail off a horse.

       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. 

Thumbnail image for horse.jpg

       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.

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Molly@Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce

posted September 12, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I love those moments of clarity, and they often come in the midst of doing something that I have been resisting doing with the kids. I am always asking myself how I can be more “go with the flow” (pardon the hippie lingo) with them because fights are never fun.
I like how you put it, “Feeling pulled in a thousand directions, mostly by no one other than myself.” I realize that it is usually just me who is causing myself consternation, not the kids.
Good luck in your search for religious community. My yoga studio has provided a sort of spiritual community for me, and I am grateful for having found like-minded people.

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posted September 12, 2010 at 4:04 pm

You are very right that it is hard to have a different level of observance than the community around you. We are more observant than the majority of our shul. Yet there is no way that we can change to an orthodox shul because we are not that observant.
I wish you luck on your journey and hope you find the right path without too much heartache.

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posted September 12, 2010 at 5:07 pm

I love the honesty of this post. We all are “missing the mark” a lot of the time. The question is are we willing to step out of denial and face it, when it means we will most likely have to come out of our comfort zone? The idea of “aveira” comes from the Hebrew word “over” (you probably already know this) which means to pass or miss… so the Jewish view of sin is really “missing the mark”. There is this idea that once you can state out loud what it is your missing -(like Adam, without a partner, right?) then, and only then, will G-d go and send it…. hope it is a great year of clarity. : )

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posted September 12, 2010 at 7:12 pm

thank you Rachel. i must admit that i cringed a little when i thought about you reading this post-

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Jennifer in MamaLand

posted September 12, 2010 at 9:44 pm

It’s all so true. I remember feeling out of place like that in a Conservative shul and wondering what there was for me because I loved Conservative Judaism – just couldn’t find any Conservative Jews who were actually living it (just the rabbis…).
Good luck finding your tribe, or at least, some fellow-minded concerned citizens, in 5771!

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posted September 13, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Yeah, we run into this all the time, and it’s even worse when Bad Cohen and I have different levels of observance. I won’t even tell you what we were served for Rosh Hashana seudah by good friends who were raised in a kosher home… and are definitely not keeping kosher now.

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posted September 16, 2010 at 10:51 am

Amy, what a brave and honest post. So much that I relate to here. I have to confess that I envy your feeling that the fix is in the community. I’m often afraid that I am not strong or certain enough to lead myself (and my child) to a level of observance greater than our families’. Lots of cognitive dissonance, and it’s lonely too, at times.

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posted September 16, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I love love reading your real struggles as well as your poignant sometimes hilarious observations here on your blog. So I’ll just say and ask again (since you already did it): what is community? which community? This community Reform rabbi, who is also your community, does observe 2nd day of yontif, religiously, fairly halachically, but as you know also creatively, because it makes ultimate sense to me and feeds me, and I think it will feed me and ultimately my son in the bigger picture no matter if there is a thriving hip halachically oriented funky Shabbos-meal driven chavurah up the street or not, this year or in 5, or in wherever we may yet live. And I do know it is a lot harder here to maintain that. But it’s the experiment I ultimately want to have tried. Now what I really want to know is, what will it take for you not to chew on a plastic horse?
p.s. Denominational monikers don’t matter any more – cultural and aesthetic comfort and affiliation is a strong pull, but it no longer defines behavior or beliefs (if it ever did). I’m so glad I’m in community with you – I’m always inspired and aware how lucky.

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Aida Zaslow Fischer

posted September 25, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I’m 86. I was raised Orthodox. Out of 3 siblings, each with two children, only one is Orthodox amd I am so proud of him. The others are lost. Do not lose your children and your Judaiism. It is too beautiful to lose. It embodies goodness, responsibility, the 10 commandments, and love.

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