Mayyim Hayyim – my guest post

Reprinted from my guest post last week at The Mikveh Lady Has Left the Building.

I’ve gotten some flack for the title of my blog, Homeshuling. Why, people (most of them Rabbis) wonder, am I discouraging people from going to synagogue? What is Judaism, after all, without community?  I don’t disagree that Jewish institutions are important. The point of my blog isn’t to bash shuls – it’s to emphasize how rich and meaningful Jewish home life can, and should, be.


That being said, the truth is that my family does spend very little time in shul or any other Jewish institution, other than our fabulous day school. (And I’m not saying that just because I teach there.) For a non-traditional Jewish family like ours, it’s simply extraordinarily difficult to find places that feel like, well, home. My husband is not only not Jewish, but a frum atheist. I am a Conservative Jew by birth, who spent many of my adult years learning full time in yeshiva and living an observant lifestyle.  I am also deep down probably more pagan than anything else. When we walk into the four walls of a Jewish building, we tend to feel like outsiders. Almost every institution in our New England town is affiliated with a denomination, and no denomination feels like the right fit. Not even close.


When my husband and I married, I visited the local mikveh at the Chabad House in Amherst. The rebbetzin was warm, gracious and welcoming. She asked me if I was interested in taking a kallah class (a class about the laws of family purity) and I lied. I said I was learning with a friend from my yeshiva. Why? I knew that I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking her the kinds of questions I had (starting with – do these laws even apply to me, an intermarried woman?) and furthermore that I wasn’t likely to follow her interpretation of most of the laws. And while I was, and still am, very interested in observing some form of taharat mishpacha, I’ve actually never set foot in the door again.


Watching the video Welcoming Waters left me in tears, and not just because I cry wh
enever I witness life cycle events (including Vanessa’s Wedding Surprise. ) I cried because I was grieving for the mikveh I don’t have, and the Jewish world I don’t have. One that’s post-denominational. One that encourages every Jew to worship, observe, witness, and celebrate in a way that feels right for him or her. In other words, one that feels like home.

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posted October 4, 2010 at 8:23 pm

I love the term – post-denominational. That is truly what we need. Thanks for sharing this.

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Helen + ilana = Hi

posted October 4, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Well I sure get where you are coming from. My DH is a practicing Christian and I am a practicing Jew. (Family joke: Nu! With all that practicing surely somebody should be getting it right by now??) Since we live in a small town with no Jewish institution but every brand of Christian church, including his where he is the Minister of Music (ie Organist and choir director), we do Jewish at home almost exclusively. One son identifies Jewish and had a bar mitzvah. The other seems to be a frum agnostic. There is a very eclectic and somewhat ambivalent community here – we get together for holidays and life cycle events and we try to ‘hit the high notes’ for everyone present. I guess in our little corner we are trying to forge the new post denominational world of which you dream. It’s not ideal. But it’s better than a pigeon hole that doesn’t fit on many levels and let’s face it most of the Jewish pigeon holes don’t really have ‘room at the inn’ for my DH a dyed in the wool mench who just happens to be a Christian.

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posted October 4, 2010 at 8:47 pm

that is a great story. i’m dying to know where you live.

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Mom of 3

posted October 4, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I think the title of your blog is perfect. You aren’t discouraging people from going to synagogue; rather, you are helping people figure out how to bring more Judaism into their homes. The two are not mutually exclusive. As a fellow member of a “non-traditional” Jewish family, I truly admire all you do to give your children a joyous Jewish upbringing.

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Morah Mary

posted October 5, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Coming up on my 20th year as being a Jewish educator, I’d much sooner families “homeshul” than “drop-them-off-at-religious-school-and-you-do-it-all-because-I-can’t/won’t.”
What our kids get from us day-in and day-out is what sticks much better than what they get from outside the home. Unless Judaism is lived, Jewish education is not particularly effective, in most cases.
I’m sorry that those who don’t like your title, don’t seem to “get” that.

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Michael formerly of MA

posted October 6, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I hope you will return to Chabad (the one on the UMass campus, right? Are they still there? I remember the first time, as a freshman, I was stopped and asked, are you Jewish?”) It is the PERFECT place to ask questions that you kept inside. My Chabad experience has been one of teaching the opportunity of observance, not requiring it. I hope you at least ask about asking these types of questions, and will blog about what happens.

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posted October 10, 2010 at 7:54 pm

I think it’s a crying shame that you can’t find a shul in which your family feels welcome.
A fundamental tenet of Judaism, as I read it, is “Hachnassat Orchim” — the welcoming of guests or strangers. There are discussions suggesting that this concept is even more important than prayer itself.
That said, you would think that shuls, most of which are eager for members, would do a better job welcoming the stranger in their midst. Have they forgotten the notion that we were once strangers in a strange land?
I commend you for working to impart to your family an understanding of and appreciation for Judaism when the community at large seems not to be there for you. Unfortunately, I can relate all too well. You inspire me to make my home in which worship of any sort is welcome more Jewish/ Thank you and God bless you.

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posted October 10, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Let me be clear that no one has ever been unwelcoming. Quite the contrary. It’s just that we ourselves don’t feel as if we fit in. We have a warm, open community. However, our family needs are fairly particular and we will probably never find a perfect match. We just need to pick and choose and integrate on our own.

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