30 November 2012

To tree or not to tree, is that the question?

IFF considers whether people are still wrapped up in to tree or not to tree (see "Trees Are Sensitive"). For me, that's not the (only) question (see here for previous ruminations on this topic) -- but to say that it's not all-important isn't to say that it's unimportant. The tree issue is settled for me, but there are other December dilemmas:
- Is it special pleading, or totally reasonable, that I won't buy the Laurie Berkner Christmas album for my daughter/didn't take her to the recent concert touting the album (even though she is craaaaaaazy about Laurie Berkner) but am thinking I'll be bringing her with us to hear Advent Lessons & Carols conducted by one of my husband's colleagues in a church service? (I can explain it, really! But I suspect that it'll sound pretty fishy to some...)
- Do I wear my eye-popping Hanukkah sweater (blue with sequins + silver/gold stars of David: a gift from my Catholic mother-in-law; I think of it as my don't-wish-me-a-Merry-Christmas sweater) when I bring my girl to a gingerbread-house-decorating event for alumnae of the Episcopalian girls' school I went to for four years (where I had wayyy more fellow Jewish students  in my grade than I'd had in public elementary school, FYI), in response to their suggestion that "Holiday attire is encouraged"? Would it be caving to the majority Xmas-color-scheme-ism to dress my daughter in an adorable hand-me-down outfit of red jumper & white lacy collared shirt, both sporting embroidered gingerbread men [persons? they're not evidently gendered] with green-and-red accents?
- My non-Jewish relatives want me to give them holiday gift suggestions: is it nicely ecumenical, or too religious-culture-clash-y, if I include items I'm genuinely interested in but that jump right into the business of religious difference, such as the Jewish Annotated New Testament or ‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah: The Musical Battle Between Christmas and the Festival of Lights? (Maybe I should stick with chocolate and scented soaps...)
Happy holidays, y'all!

04 December 2011

A Good Thing At My Shul

Sunday, December 4
Not Jewish and Raising Jewish Children? Discussion
Come join our discussion of the joys and challenges of celebrating Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays. Learn holiday basics. Facilitated by someone married to a non-Jewish spouse. No charge.

A good thing -- I hope it goes well. And here's what I wrote in a note to the mom who initially posted about on the DCUM list about the idea of doing such an event/getting together such a parents' group:

... I'm one of those children raised Jewish by one non-Jewish parent (dad) and one Jewish parent (mom) [in a DC-area synagogue, in fact: I grew up here 'til I was 15 and was bat mitzvahed in '87 at Arlington Fairfax Jewish Congregation [now Etz Hayim], before my family moved to Louisville, KY, where they still live] and my husband's parents are Catholic -- so our 2-year-old daughter S. has one Jewish and 3 non-Jewish grandparents... I appreciate that fact that there's attention being paid to interfaith family issues that can affect all kinds of Jewishly involved families, of various compositions! If there's anything I can do to be helpful or supportive, please let me know -- on the one hand, I'm not in the demographic you're addressing directly here; on the other hand, sometimes it seems like it's useful to people to see someone X years on from the kind of upbringing their children may be having who thinks it's a fine & dandy thing (because even though much of the community is supportive of intermarried families, it can sometimes still feel like an uphill climb -- and there are definitely people who are surprised that my father's not Jewish, has never converted, etc., because of whatever preconceptions they have...)

31 August 2011

Here we go again (Forward article "Conservative Synagogues Crack Open Door to Intermarried Families")

A Shefanik posted the link to this Forward article, "Conservative Synagogues Crack Open Door to Intermarried Families: Movement Seeks Balance Between Tradition and Greater Openness."

As Sam says to Frodo in Mordor, "We've been here before!!!"


I'll see if I have more to say later on, but for now: noted, read, made one comment I couldn't keep myself from, and on we go. This is so old hat already...

03 August 2011

Musings of a Minyan(marginal?) Mom: The View from My Side of the Stroller

The comments below emerge from an email conversation in which I said I was "feeling a little distant from the Minyan these days" (the Minyan = the lay-led service that made us decide to join our current synagogue and live within walking distance of it rather than somewhere else) and I was asked to say why. Well, I did... and I ended up saying a lot more than I planned. So I thought I would share it here, as a snapshot from baby S.'s Minyan(marginal?) mom. I don't mean to imply that I have it so hard -- I know I'm lucky to be in the Jewish community that I have, and for there to be age-appropriate options for S. to enjoy at the synagogue's Tot Shabbat almost every week -- but even so, it's a big transition from what Life Before Baby, or even Before Toddlerdom, looked like:

It's a big change for someone who used to be in Minyan services pretty much every week, for up to two hours, to now spend something more like 20 or 30 minutes there every 2 or 3 or 4 weeks. There are many weeks that I don't even set foot in the Minyan: we walk 40 minutes to shul, we go to Tot Shabbat and/or S. runs around, and then we go to kiddush (usually for a long time, thankfully--S. can eat and run around, and we get to socialize a bit when she's tethered to a high chair or her path takes us near folks we'd like to talk to!). If one of us is davening or leyning -- which on the one hand we like to do, used to do with regularity, and kept us more connected to the community -- then the other one MAY try to bring S. in to the Minyan for part of it... but she may just run back out, or prefer to be in Tot Shabbat, and so instead of "let's all be at the Minyan" it's "divide and conquer -- you here, me there."

A lot of things changed when S. was born, but I may well have been in services more when she was an infant (and could be toted in if she was sleeping, or awake and not squalling, which could be a significant chunk of time) than now that she's a toddler. When she's older, there may again be a time that we're all able to spend more time in the Minyan together -- but with the current setup & her current age/stage, that time is not right now. And that makes me feel distant. I look at the emails (which is something), but I don't have a direct experience of what folks' davening or leyning was like on a given week, or who had an aliyah, or what the d'var was about...

I've had years of experience with the Minyan (and with other lay-led minyanim for the past 15 years), so I certainly still have thoughts about the kinds of matters we're discussing now. But was I there to see [a change in the davening space set-up that someone recently] tried out? No. Could I make a special effort to be present if we're trying something new? Sure. (I did make sure we got over to the Minyan when the cantor candidate was leading P'sukei D'Zimra -- though we still weren't able to get there at the very beginning -- and let me tell you, it was really nice to be in shul for PdZ and Shacharit for once! But it's not easy...) So I'm a lot less connected on a week-to-week basis than I used to be.

Tot Shabbat is where I spend the majority of my in-shul in-a-service time -- even if it's mainly Minyan folks plus Tot Shabbat families that we socialize with at kiddush. Outside of Havurah, when it's happening, is where I've usually parked myself when S.'s fallen asleep on the way to shul & I want her to stay asleep -- because I can sit on the bench outside the library or lurk in the library doorway and still hear/be some part of what's going on without the sound from inside running the risk of waking her up (which is not the case w/the Kogod, where noisy older children have woken her up pretty much every time that we've tried sitting on the benches there; if I bring her in to services in the Kogod or the Gewirz [= different places for holding services in the synagogue], which I do sometimes risk, then she may well wake up when there's a sudden change of volume [a constant buzz of davening/leyning isn't such a problem] -- from the silence before the d'var to someone beginning to speak, or the sound of her father beginning to leyn).

But at least I'm IN the shul building pretty much every Shabbat that we're in town (except last week, when S. had tested positive for strep and we had to keep her away from other little people until 24 hrs after the first dose of antibiotic!) -- because even with 80 minutes of walking to get to & from shul, in all kinds of weather, it's worth it to be there for about 2 or 3 hours of a little davening of some sort (mostly in Tot Shabbat), a lot of running around, and some socializing with shul friends from Minyan, Tot Shabbat families, Havurah, etc. -- rather than being trapped in the house with an active toddler! ;)

So that's my cri de coeur. It is what it is. Not saying there's too much the Minyan can do about the situation that obtains (though being in the Gewirz more would help), but just giving you the view from my side of the stroller...

16 December 2010

More thoughts sparked by a recent Velveteen Rabbi post here: http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2010/12/the-forest-beyond-the-trees.html

I'm glad to see more endorsement of the view To tree, or not to tree? That's not really the question! There's a lot here to consider, and I'm looking forward to exploring the many links and seeing the conversation that continues to develop!

That said -- my own experiences growing up with a Jewish mother & non-Jewish father don't lead me to agree with Susan that, because I as a child of intermarriage am "equally related to both parents, and both sides of the family, ...it is not so easy to define what is 'yours' and what is 'someone else's,' no matter how clearly you try to define their religious label." The latter part may be true for plenty of families, particularly if they don't feel comfortable joining in or affiliating with one or more of the existing religious/communal choices in their landscape (and I applaud "independent interfaith family communities" for creating ones that they find to work better) -- but it doesn't follow inevitably from the former proposition.

I'm Jewish. (And my father is not.) My spouse is Jewish. (And his family is not.) My daughter is Jewish. (And three of her grandparents, plus the majority of her aunts-and-uncles, are not.) The tree is not for me, or him, or her. The menorah is, the shabbat candles are, the sukkah in the backyard is. My in-laws will have a stocking hanging over the fireplace for each of us, as my father's mother did when we spent Christmas at her house in my childhood -- but that's part of their celebration, not ours. When we are on home turf, there are no stockings and evergreens and lights.

I understand that it's a different story when there's more than one religious tradition being actively celebrated under that roof -- after all, you can see my young self smiling with my brother in front of our name-emblazoned stockings in my parents' living room in photos from the year my father's mother was living with us, before she passed away. But that didn't make it any more my holiday than when we had previously visited her in her own home.

That this holiday is indeed "someone else's" doesn't make me less related to my non-Jewish relatives -- but it does mark that the ties that bind us are not those of religion...even if I open presents with them on December 25th; even if they spend Shabbat or a seder with me or other Jewish family members. We can celebrate occasions together whose basis may be religious for one party, but that doesn't make their religion mine or my holiday theirs.

I do agree that the language of the "guest" or "respectful tourist" (with regard to a religious tradition not one's own) assumes easy insides & outsides that don't obtain in a family of mixed religious background. For me, then "inside" and "outside" are different from "mine" and "someone else's": Christmas isn't mine, but it's part of my family memories and experiences; Judaism isn't my father's religion, but he's not an outsider at the seder.

And even though we don't tree, I think that "rabbis and religious teachers [who] tell these children and parents that they cannot have a tree" would do better to focus on what positive Jewish practices or customs they would like to encourage (you're cheered by greenery? put some up at Shavuot! you like assembling & decorating a holiday structure? here are some suggestions for Sukkot!) instead of finger-wagging about firs.

My comments =

12 December 2010

Prayer + change

I've got a post in progress -- current contemplations can be found in the comments on Velveteen Rabbi's latest blogpost: http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2010/12/prayer-life-changes.html#comments

What I said:

Wow -- a lot going on here, and thanks for saying it.
After becoming more traditionally observant & engaged in Jewish life in my mid-twenties, davening with the traditional liturgy on Shabbat + holidays has been the backbone of my prayer practice, with daily prayer more an aspiration more than a reality. When I took up a job downtown a few years ago, I made a choice to try to turn my weekday early-morning commuter walk into prayer time. Cue the joke about asking whether you can smoke while praying vs. whether you can pray while smoking: for me, it wasn't a choice between praying at home vs. on-the-go, but between praying en route & not praying this part of the liturgy at all. (There's a version of the joke at http://snipurl.com/1mrli6 if you haven't heard it before...)
I could usually manage a greatest-hits version of the Birkot Ha-Shachar/morning blessings through the Shema between my house and the nearest metro stop: if I timed it right, I'd emerge from a pedestrian path to glimpse other walkers streaming down Connecticut Ave. right as I reached the mention of bringing us in peace from the four corners of the earth, which seemed entirely appropriate -- from our individual homes, lives, backgrounds into the community of city life. Although I'd sometimes pray part of the liturgy on the subway (particularly if there were something special/longer to add, like Hallel), it seemed wrongly cut off from the rest of the natural world to do so -- I would usually wait until I was at least walking up the escalator to emerge into the light, and then pick up where I had left off, to cover the Amidah + at least Aleinu, maybe the psalm of the day or another bit here & there before I reached the office door. I might manage the full weekday Amidah text if I consulted my bitty black pocket siddur (picked up at a used bookstore in Prague or Budapest a dozen years ago); if not, my mental or mumbled version would settle for highlights (bookends of start & ending are easy, familiar from the Shabbat/holiday liturgy) and half-remembered sections or personal meditations/supplications on the weekday themes. The prayers for the sick always made it in: a different formulation from the communal mi-shebeirach on Shabbat but the same names I recited week after week -- until suddenly they weren't. You want for names to disappear from the list because the person has recovered. That's not always what happens -- the shock of the rhythm disrupted when a 39-year-old professor, friend, father of young boys succumbs to cancer and his name falls from my morning list, replaced by thoughts of those he's left behind.
Something about the morning commute worked well for me--starting the day right, fresh, focused on thanks and tasks, who I am (made in Your image) and what my role should be (loving peace and pursuing peace). Sure, every now & again I'd manage to daven mincha or ma'ariv, the afternoon or evening prayers, on my way home (depending on time of year, my return journey might be before or after sunset) -- mostly if I found myself without another distraction (reading or iPod) and realized I could launch into Ashrei rather than just stare at the subway walls. But mainly morning. And that was something new. And that was a start; that was enough.
And then -- things changed. One July morning, no commute -- my in-laws sleeping in the living room hear a stirring and ask if it's time for me to head to work: no, but it is time for labor. When I come home from the hospital with baby two days later, morning and evening have already given way to the blur of smaller cycles: feed baby, soothe baby, try to catch some sleep; lather, rinse, repeat. I am exhausted; our sleepy baby is not regaining her birth weight. Prayer is internal and instinctive, barely verbal, certainly not liturgical. Please let her be all right. Please let me get through this. (But perhaps not so far from the tradition, either: Moses's terseness in praying for his sister Miriam -- El na, r'fah na lah/Please, God, heal her.) When the pediatrician prescribes a nighttime break so that I can get more than 2 hours of continuous sleep, morning regains meaning: it's the time when I come downstairs and my husband, who has fed baby her bottle and settled her back to sleep in the Amby hammock in the living room, can sleep upstairs on a bed instead of the sofa where he's sacked out post-feeding. When the sun rises and I carry baby back and forth to soothe her, or wear her on a sling against my body. I sing: sometimes the words are from the liturgy or the psalms, sometimes children's rhymes, sometimes lyrics from music that won't make sense until she's much much older (Elvis Costello, anyone?). I cry, overwhelmed by emotion and sleep deprivation: she is so tiny and precious, so helpless yet demanding, such a source of joy and of fatigue. The singing and the crying are not: one happy, the other sad -- either one can be either, or both, or something in a space beyond either. In the stifling heat of a DC summer, I watch the day wax and wane through the windows of the air-conditioned living room: the thermometer hovers around one hundred as I realize I have not been outside in three days. I remember now stepping out onto the flagstone porch in my white silk tallit, outside for the first time that day even though it is no longer morning. I cannot tell you for certain whether it was Shabbat or a weekday, whether baby was one week old, or two, or four -- or whether she was not even born yet, this memory an afterimage mapped onto the right space from a different time, where davening outside on that porch by myself didn't mean keeping an ear open for a cry from just inside the French doors that would call me back to her.
We move to a new house. She is six weeks old. I go back to work. She is eight weeks old. I work from home two days a week, commute in two days... then two-and-a-half...then three. Davening on the morning commute doesn't so much happen -- but the pattern of snatching weekday prayer time from the midst of some other activity persists. In the early morning when baby wakes me, I bring her downstairs for changing, feeding, playing -- and sometimes, I drape my tallit over my pajamas and clip my kippah to my unwashed new-mommy hair and daven. I sing all the parts of the liturgy that have good tunes, to keep baby entertained; I carry her in my arms and bounce her around and dance. I balance a siddur on the top of the TV set so I can catch some of the text I've forgotten but keep it out of baby's reach. She fusses, and I sit down to curl her up in my lap, the silk of the tallit forming a curtain as she nurses. Mah tovu ohalecha -- how goodly are your tents...
(There's more I have in mind to say, particularly about Shabbat/holiday/communal prayer at this stage in my life, but as the better is the enemy of the good, I'm going to post this now. Shavua tov!)

[Comment 2/18/14 - just read this post by Ilana Kurshan, "Confessions of the Tehillim Lady: Further Reflections on Learning How to Pray"- which certainly resonates w/ my experiences, both re: davening on-the-go as described above pre-baby, and also re: davening-on-the-go e.g. with stroller post-baby, either walking around the neighborhood in early mornings when she was little so as not to just be stuck in the house as the only ones awake for several hours, or say walking to shul on Tired Parents' Schedule = might be getting there later on, so do some Greatest Hits of the part you'll be missing before you get there. Her baby brother is due within the next three days [Fri 2/21] so we'll see where things go from here!]

18 September 2010

A Come-As-You-Are Yom Kippur

(I made a post on Fiftypercenters.com just before Yom Kippur: visit it there, or read it here!)

Just hours until sundown, and I feel even less prepared for Yom Kippur than usual. The High Holy Days always take me somewhat by surprise (what? already?) -- and, with the joys of celebrating Sukkot with our community to look forward to, I anticipate the more shul-heavy Days of Awe with less enthusiasm than when they were the main events on my fall religious calendar.

And this time I have even less sense of what to expect from my Day of Atonement -- yes, even less than last year. Then, as a new mom with an 8-week-old, I knew I'd just be going with the flow, and not fully fasting -- I spent maybe an hour or so midday in one of the main adult services, nursing the baby under a cover during the repetition of the Musaf amidah, and nursed her again in the back of the late-afternon children's services, where the prayer leaders took suggestions from the kids of things they were sorry about and had everyone sing them back together, in the melody used for the traditional Ashamnu (an alphabet-acrostic catalogue of communal sins), confessing to "Not listening" -- "Saying mean things " -- "Hitting my brother."

Now I can foresee that my Shabbat Shabbaton will not exactly be a day of complete rest and reflection, with a one-year-old in tow. (Babysitting services for the holiday at the synagogue we go to here begin with age 3, so no luck there!) I'm running between parts of my lives, trying to finish up work I need to do, make sure we all get some food before sundown (even if not all of us are going to be fully fasting for 25 hours), get some shul clothes on, and get to Kol Nidrei (maybe).

For some people, the High Holy Days are time to dress up -- one way of manifesting the importance of the holy day: even if we no longer think of God as a king (a recurring image in the High Holy Day liturgy), shouldn't we at least show in our sartorial choices that this date with the divine is a significant event?

Me? Over the years since I became more observant & involved, my Yom Kippur dress has often been less, not more, fancy: if you go for the custom of wearing white and eschewing leather shoes, you may well end up wearing a long white cotton skirt, a not-exactly-matching-but-close-enough long-sleeved cotton shirt, and anything from sneakers to flipflops on the feet. And that's fine: it works for me, and even if some other people are wearing suits & hats, no one ever gives the impression that I'm not suitably dressed. :)

But this year I feel that it's even more a "come-as-you-are" Yom Kippur, inside & out. I'll be there when I can, for what I can, wearing what I manage to pull out of the closet in the minutes before we have to wrestle the baby into her stroller and walk out the door. Maybe I'll have been able to grab a shower -- maybe not. Maybe I'll have had some epiphany that makes me feel prepared for the day -- more likely not.

But I can say hineini -- "Here I am" -- and see where the day takes me.

On the eve of Yom Kippur 5771, I wish you all a year of blessing and abundance: shalom!