I’m a bad Jew. When living in Brooklyn, I was a member of a congregation, doing volunteer work, enrolling my daughter in school there, and attending shul whenver possible. I would have the honor of treating my parents to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tickets and I could successfully say hello the Rabbi there without feeling shy and somehow ashamed. I had and have had many ambivalent feelings about synagogues in general; typically, they require you to put your head down and push forward and one has to ignore whatever class and economical factors there might exist at the congregation. Too often, I kind of had to seek out those who were like me, or felt like me, in their commitment to religion and observance and I think I almost found that in Brooklyn a few years ago.
I’ve found that Rabbis and staff at synagogues to be invariably committed to the facility and collection of often difficult congregants that congregate there. I also found that a synagogue is typically run by a few very, very tireless individuals who want to make sure that the place can be the very best it can be; these are the ones who organize events, initiate fundraising, request speakers, and help educate children. It’s an amazingly huge set of responsibilities to be a full member of a congregation and it’s one that I hope I’ll have a chance to have again.
But since moving here, I’ve found it difficult to find just the right place (or know of the right place) to “belong.” It’s a matter of speaking with people, visiting congregations, and, ultimately, taking a risk. No one shul is perfect but there must be a place here where I can call home. We haven’t had the sheer time to do the research but I do hope there will be time soon.
But I’ve also felt like a bad Jew because I haven’t been doing the many things that I associate very strongly with Judaism and Jewishness – volunteering in the community, donating one’s earnings, praying and singing and dovening, and, mostly, reading. I’ve gone Jew LCD: Jewish Lowest Common Denominator.
It’s particularly difficult right now (spiritually or psychologically) because Christmas is almost upon us in full swing. And while, in New York City, one’s religion or religiosity could kind of get lost in the shuffle (for good and for bad), here it’s more apparent. One of the parents at Maeve’s school said today, “Don’t forget to get your Christmas money to me for our present.” I didn’t know what she meant and she explained that she was collecting funds to give to World Vision to give a gift of two goats or a dozen hens to an African or Asian family to give to the teacher. All of the commercial streets in our area have Christmas wreaths and, one by one, the lights are going up on each of the houses around here. We’re not the only Jewish family in the area. But it doesn’t make it any more odd to feel like a self-imposed minority in a new city that, truthfully, seems about as open to minorities as I could imagine.