A Mitzvah for Me

Most of my Jewish life revolves around my family, and in particular, my kids. I put a lot of energy and thought into creating ritual experiences that work for them. And I’ve pretty much left it at that. As with most parenting decisions, if it works for them, it works for me.

When I was single, and exploring my relationship to observant Judaism, the practices that were most compelling to me were learning, and participating in a vibrant, independent minyan. Now, with  a five year old and a seven year old, and a full time teaching job, and some vague aspirations to write another book….someday….(oh yeah, and blog to keep up), I never, ever sit down with a chevruta, or even alone, to really learn. LimmudNY last year was a glorious exception to the rule, but a not-so-glorious stomach virus sent me home two days early. And as for meaningful, communal davening? More like, tot shabbat and family minyan. If that.
I think we parents make a huge mistake when our Jewish lives are completely focused on our children’s experiences. Becoming a parent might be a great reason to start keeping kosher, or celebrating shabbat, or going to synagogue, but it can’t be the only reason. Otherwise, what exactly are we teaching our children? That Judaism is just for children? And what are we teaching ourselves? What will our own Jewish lives look like as our children outgrow tot shabbat, family minyan, and, you know, our homes?
So, I’ve been looking for ways to work on my own adult Jewish self. I’ve been experimenting with increasing my own shabbat observance, without asking for any changes on the part of my kids. It’s nice. Very nice. But it hasn’t felt like enough. Maybe because it falls short of the way I used to be, when I was “really” shomeret shabbat. But it also feels as far as I can go, in this town, and this interfaith family.
Where else to go? I think I’ve known the answer for a long time. But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure I was allowed. I wasn’t sure I knew how. I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Then, after eight years of deliberation, a recent opportunity to write a guest post for the Mayyim Hayyim blog led to some encouragement from readers I’ve never even met (thank you!). Which led me to make a call to the Chabad rebbetzin. Which led me to make an appointment to go to the mikveh. Tonight. For the first time since my wedding.
I realize that going to the mikveh is not something typically publicized. It’s a private matter, between a woman, her partner, and the mikveh lady. (Unless the mikveh lady has left the building, that is.) But, I guess I’m realizing that this blog is the closest thing I have to a vibrant, independent minyan. We may never daven together, or dine together, but most of my serious adult conversations about Judaism take place here. So forgive me if I seem un-tznius, Really, I just need someone to talk to.
Comments read comments(13)
post a comment
Molly@Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce

posted October 18, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Excuse me if I am being irreverent on a blog about religious life, but is all this Yiddish code for something naughty?

report abuse

Sarah Buttenwieser

posted October 18, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Because this is a much more observant practice than I know anything about (save for a few books) I’m so glad you’re sharing your journey, making it that much more real. Steps on journeys should be shared if you want company/support. At least that’s my belief.

report abuse

Morah Mary

posted October 18, 2010 at 9:39 pm

I think learning/observing can begin with doing it “with/for the kids,” but I agree that it can’t stop there.
It sounds to me like you’ve been able to identify a need…. and are taking steps to address it. That takes honesty and courage – and your willingness to share your journey with us takes even more honesty and courage. What a role model you are, Morah Amy!
I hope this begins to address your longing for an adult Jewish life that works for you!

report abuse


posted October 18, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I like this entry! It is true that I do a lot of things Jewishly for the kids. I also learn what they’re learning in school, since I didn’t go to a Jewish school growing up! I think it’s great that you’re going to the mikveh. I hope you find it meaningful!

report abuse


posted October 18, 2010 at 9:49 pm

molly – you like oversharing, i like irreverance. sorry i didn’t translate enough.

report abuse

Leah Caruso

posted October 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Mazal Tov :-) i’m interested to hear your thoughts. it’s one of my favorite mitzvot to observe, and i’m always interested in other people’s take. good luck!

report abuse

Leah Caruso

posted October 18, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Mazal tov! i’ll be interested to hear your thoughts. it’s one of my favorite mitzvot to observe; i’m always interested to hear how other people experience it.

report abuse


posted October 18, 2010 at 10:43 pm

i’d like someone to start an “i’m not orthodox but i go to the mikveh” group.

report abuse

Jennifer Bennett

posted October 18, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Thank you for sharing these thoughts! I am a religious school teacher and a mom of 2 young girls so my current experience of Judaism circles around children daily. I am just beginning to try to figure out what my own connection to my Jewishness means to me. Like you, I recently began reaching out into my community and am taking my first Torah study class tomorrow.
Looking forward to hearing about your experiences!

report abuse

Jane Trigere

posted October 21, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Amy, You hit on upon an important feature in the lives of child-raisers. I am keeping it gender neutral even though this usually applies to women…but not always.
I grew up with no religious life or rituals and started inventing them or adopting them when I got married and then more intensely when the children came along. For a span of time I lived in Israel and so the whole society helped give my family the Jewish culture and calendar.
It was easier there. When I returned to America, it was even harder than before; the girls were 15 and 9.
And then they left home….and I was left to myself. I could practice what I wanted and as much as I wanted without that sense of parental obligation. I found myself flagging and wondering what was meaningful and how committed I was. Lehavdil…the same thing applied to my housekeeping duties. “Duties of the heart” and “duties of the hearth!”
I remember the mikvah as a powerful experience. I am ready to talk about this.

report abuse


posted October 21, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Good for you!
I’ve had exactly the same experience, of being cut of from the most meaningful aspects of my prior Jewish life when I became a mom.
My solution has been to volunteer to co-lead a Rosh Hodesh group for teen girls with another favorite Jewish mom, and to get a babysitter or make my husband stay with the kid so I can go to selected adult learning events at the synagogue. It’s nice for me, and it sets me up as a good role model of an involved Jewish adult – win/win!

report abuse

Jennifer in MamaLand

posted October 21, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Good for you!
I love going to the mikveh and have blogged about it in past. When I do, I save the posts until a week or two later. There’s no shame in dunking in a mikvah, God forbid; I just don’t want people to know exactly which night we’re “getting together.” :-)
In terms of finding your own, grown-up Judaism, I wrote about this in two posts a while ago because this was kind of my personal “theme” for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: Visualizing Your Judaism.

report abuse

Rachel Barenblat

posted November 1, 2010 at 2:42 pm

What a wonderful way to immerse yourself (on every level) in your spirituality and your tradition. Kol hakavod!

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

Teaching the Four Questions to young children
One of the greatest privileges of being a kindergarten teacher in a Jewish day school is having the opportunity to teach children to recite the four questions. Unlike almost anything else I teach them about Jewish ritual, this is "real work." ...

posted 7:36:03am Apr. 01, 2012 | read full post »

Guess what's Kosher for Passover (this will change your life.)
I'm not exaggerating. The bane of my Passover existence has been pareve baking. I cook a lot more meat during the holiday than I do the rest of the year, which means a lot more pareve desserts. Which has, up until now, usually meant margarine ...

posted 5:02:27pm Mar. 22, 2012 | read full post »

Why I love the New American Haggadah (and it's not just because I got to have a martini with Nathan Englander.)
I'm not a haggadah junkie. I know many Jews whose shelves are overflowing with numerous versions of the Haggadah - from the traditional Maxwell House to the not-so-traditional Santa Cruz - and whose seders are an amalgam of commentaries, poems, ...

posted 9:25:37pm Mar. 14, 2012 | read full post »

Best Hamentashen Ever, even better. And, a Purim opera.
This time of year, I'm always excited when I look at my google analytics and see that people have landed at my blog by searching for "hamentashen recipe". I love the idea of people all over the world making my great-grandmother's fabulous ...

posted 7:13:38pm Mar. 05, 2012 | read full post »

Edible Purim baskets. And, introducing...the cookie fairies!
My very favorite Jewish holiday tradition, bar non, is the mitzvah of mishloach manot - preparing and delivering gifts of homemade goodies to friends and neighbors on Purim day. This is a mitzvah which embodies so much of why Judaism is ...

posted 8:16:28am Feb. 26, 2012 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.