Looking for a spiritual home

Almost two years ago, the shul (synagogue) I had been attending moved across town.

The move made sense for the congregation as a whole, but it meant that attending shabbat services there would be an hour drive each way for me.  Not something that made it feel like a day of rest, especially since I never knew how long the boys would let me stay before melting down.  So I’ve been looking for a new shul ever since.

D attends preschool at the local Reform synagogue, and loves it.  I grew up belonging to a Reform synagogue (and identified myself as a Reform Jew, rather than a Jew), so it would be the natural choice.  Except that after 6+ years of a participatory havurah, Reform services feel too much like sitting in the audience, rather than being part of a congregation.  Plus, they don’t offer any babysitting during services, except for the High Holidays, so I couldn’t really go to services anyway.  They offer a tot shabbat twice a month, but that’s Jewish gymboree, not a spiritual experience for an adult.

There’s another shul that I’ve heard good things about, and looks like they might have child care during services.  I keep meaning to check it out, but haven’t done so yet.  One of the things that’s stopped me is the religious school pages on their website where they warn parents that children who don’t attend class at least 75% of the time (Sunday mornings, 9:30-12:30) may not be promoted to the next grade level. 

So Jody’s post a couple of weeks ago about the low priority that people place on church hit home.  She compared parents complaints about the expectations at church v. sports, and wrote:

"It’s not that parents won’t tolerate strict demands on their kids’ time, it’s just that they don’t think church is important enough to make those demands."

I do think shul is important.  But I know too many kids who never set foot in shul except on the high holidays between when they had their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs and when their own kids started religious school.  I don’t want my sons to resent religion for making it impossible for them to participate in sports, or to ever sleep late.  But I want them to know enough to make educated choices.  I attended religious school regularly as a child, but it was on weekday afternoons, which seems much less burdensome to families.  That doesn’t seem to be an option around here.

I’ve been going intermittently to another havurah, closer to my home.  They offer a low-key tot shabbat service once a month, and babysitting the rest of that morning.  And they don’t mind the boys wandering around the back of the room.  Their religious school is a "one-room schoolhouse" with mixed grades, meeting late Sunday afternoons.  It seems like it might be a good fit for us. 

3 Responses to “Looking for a spiritual home”

  1. LPF Says:

    I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the whole kids’ sports thing has just exploded over the past 20 years. My brothers and my husband and his brothers played Little League and Pop Warner, but they certainly didn’t go to the extent of the travelling soccer team my nephew is now on that has games in Cleveland and Philly—4+ hours from his house in Rochester, NY.
    Choir, CCD or Hebrew School, and youth groups were options in a much smaller realm of organized activities for kids. It’s not surprising that most of us in our 30s who grew up in religious familes (not me) were involved with something religious-based—social or educational. It was something to do and most of the time you were friends with the other kids in the class/group, so it was also fun. (My favorite youth group story involves a friend whose sister was dating the minister’s son—they had sex in the baptismal font, there’s blasphemy for you!)
    I was TOTALLY not sports-oriented as a kid (and am not now) and am a bit concerned about making sure that Miss Pink doesn’t miss out on the new norms of kids sports. I was, on the other hand, totally involved with school chorus and any play or musical I could get a part in. I hope I don’t push that too much with her, trying to recreate the fun and comraderie I found in those programs.
    In terms of finding a religious home, we have also been searching. Before moving to DC, we were in a small town in Ohio where we attended an amazing Quaker meeting. Trying to recreate that experience here in DC has been impossible—the DC Friends Meeting is huge and for suburbanites, a nightmare to get to and to find parking; the Langley Friends Meeting just wasn’t “us”—much older, wealthier congregation. I’m really happy that the Cleveland Friends Meeting is only a couple of miles from our house and also provides childcare during services. I want organized religion to be a part of our lives, but, truth be told, I’m not willing to inconvenience myself to make that happen.

  2. Jody Says:

    What irritates the heck out of me are people who SAY that religious participation is important to them, but then ask it to take a backseat to the things that really ARE important to them, in this case, sports. The folks who ask church to accommodate their other commitments, because it’s not fair for church to be so demanding. ARGH.
    If you were saying that shul was incredibly important, but you couldn’t fit it in because you were driving the kidss to preschool soccer up in (just for oddity’s sake) Bethesda, I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow about the no-shul thing, only about the lack of self-awareness in the original comment: because clearly someone doing that doesn’t actually value shul as much as they say they do. Parents of preschoolers who work and commute and have ten minutes of free time a week get, in my book, a free pass to do nothing whatsoever. I signed up to teach Sunday school just to force myself to attend, and then ended up with kids who are more religiously enthusiastic than I am. That’s good for attendance, but also occasionally freaky.
    Now, the other issue you raise is also incredibly crucial: you need to find someplace GOOD to worship at, because you want it to ‘stick.’ And it’s not easy to do that, between political commitments and services available and that indescribable “this is a good place” vibe. We’ve been helped, actually, by having very few choices: for so long as we stick with Lutheran, we’re going to one place or maybe two, and the lack of choices means we make what’s available work. And if we ditch Lutheran, it will be because of the GLBT thing, and that means we’ll still be limited in choices, and heading off for the UCC.
    I think a lot about the whole “leaving church after confirmation or shul after bat/bar mitzvah” thing. Not least because my siblings and I all worshiped at the same place, and one of us is now a Buddhist and another thinks organized religion of all kinds is a huge sham. Maybe I should actually take comfort from that: it’s more out of my control than I’d like to believe.

  3. jen Says:

    Hey Elizabeth —
    Just wondering if you could expand on your comment about not attending services between bar/bat mitzvah and having your own kids? I also followed that pattern, but it’s not really been a problem for me. If anything being away from church gave me time and space to reconsider what I’d learned at church in the cold light of reason, as it were. Once I returned it was on my own terms and in a much more purposeful way, not just because I’d always done it.
    But you’re right — finding the right place, with the right support structure for your family, can be a total dealbreaker. It’s very hard to motivate yourself to get there when the experience upon arrival is not the best.

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