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A strange thing happened when I left the only home I’d ever
known — New York — 11 years ago this month to move to the mountains
of Colorado: I looked for a synagogue to pray on Rosh Hashanah.
I was raised in a Reform Jewish family and loved every
moment of the togetherness and good food that each holiday brought. I loathed,
though, Hebrew school and the religious services that always lasted what felt
like an eternity in which I had to sit still, be quiet and wear blouses that
forever had itchy collars.
When I moved into Manhattan after college, my parents would
shake their heads with disappointment when I told them I wasn’t always able to
take the train up to their house for the High Holidays, explaining that my media
jobs didn’t always allow for me to duck out of work every time it was time to
atone on Yom Kippur or dip apples in honey for the Jewish new year. Secretly,
too, I was kind of happy not to waste glorious autumn days in a large, stuffy
sanctuary whose stain-glassed windows obscured the view of the changing leaves outside.
But when I moved away from home — literally the first
week I was gone — I only wanted to be in the temple. It made me feel connected
to my family 2,000 miles away. And when I married a man who wasn’t Jewish, we
agreed we’d raise our daughters 100 percent Jewish. I didn’t want to lose the
religion that was, for better or worse, part of my identity by doing anything
Rosh Hashanah was an escape from the secular world into our own, cozy creation that always made me feel all of the other days in the year were just times to wait.
My girls are now 3 and 6, and it is with incalculable
delight that I watch them gleefully anticipating celebrating Rosh Hashanah.
We’re making an apple cake that is more birthday cake than apple, much to their
satisfaction. We’ll attend a family service (translation: a blessedly short service)
in our Reform synagogue close to home, and then join other parents and
kids at a friend’s house where they’ll all get to run around, eat and celebrate
what the kids can’t exactly articulate, but what other parents like me know
from our own upbringing, which is basically an invisible, intangible attachment
to each other.
It’ll still be different for my kids than it was for me.
Jewish holidays, when I was a kid, was about togetherness, but specifically
with family. My cousins and I would disappear upstairs at one of our homes or outside and revel in hours of free play, ducking downstairs only to steal bites
of food and show off for our grandparents and great aunts and uncles the
prayers we’d learned specifically for each occasion. We’d change into pajamas when
it grew dark, crawl into the bed of the parents' home we were in and
watch TV until it was time to retreat back to our own homes and beds. It was an
escape from the secular world into our own, cozy creation that always made me
feel all of the other days in the year were just times to wait for these
showcase moments of what life was meant to be about.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t give more thought
11 years ago to the fact that I was risking settling in a place so far from my
parents and extended family for when the moment came for me to start one of my
own. But through and because of my daughters, what I realize is that it doesn’t
mean I can’t still create a different kind of heartfelt network for them.
Being Jewish, albeit 2,000 miles from grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts
and uncles, is still about family and connection.
We’re forging new ties, and chief among them is surrounding
ourselves with like-minded families (if not blood relations) to celebrate our
devotion to a belief bigger then ourselves that allows us to feel closer to others, even if just for a few days each year.