Sunday, October 16, 2005


The religion thing. It nags at Smartmom: Nag, nag, nag. Especially during the Jewish high holy-days.

It's not like she grew up religious or anything. Hers was a secular Jewish upbringing on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In other words, she was brought up by atheist Jews who were, nonetheless, very committed to their Jewish heritage.

That meant Passover seders and the occasional trip to a synagogue for a service or a Bar Mitzvah. When Smartmom was ten years old, her parents decided that she and her sister needed to go to Sunday school. Her parents wanted to "give 'em some of that old time religion," she guesses. .

Whatever. It seemed hypocritical to Smartmom. And yet, it was probably a good experience even if they weren't happy about it.

Having to go to Sunday school meant no more Sunday morning bike rides in Central Park a cherished weekly family activity. Biking to the Sheep's Meadow, the Bandshell, the boathouse was one of the great pleasures of Smartmom's youth. Sitting in the basement of a synagogue discussing anti-semitism and Zionism was not.

They dropped out after a year.

And yet. And yet. Since childhood, Smartmom yearned for a spiritual connection. For reasons she still doesn't really understand, she wanted to fast on Yom Kippur, to eat only matzoh during the 8 days of Passover, to see the Hanukkah candles glow night after night. She once kissed a Bible after it fell on the floor.

Smartmom believe it was some sort of spiritual connection she was after. No doubt she felt exceedingly Jewish and exceedingly connected to the history and the culture. But she wanted more. And as a parent, Smartmom has struggled to instill a sense of Jewishness in her inter-faith children. She has tried to give them a real sense of their roots, their history, their connection to Judaism.

And she has suceeded to some extent. While her kids do celebrate Christmas with their Presbyterian relatives out in California, they also celebrate many Jewish holidays with their Jewish relatives in New York. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. They know that she meditates daily: a practice she values deeply; they have grown used to the small Buddha figurines around the apartment and her Tibetian singing bowls. This will either create great confusion or a multi-cultural melange that will be quite valuable.

Smartmom has never really found what she was looking for or an institutional religious environment she felt comfortable in. And oy has she tried. Over the last many years, she has been wandering Jew on the high holy days, going from one synogogue to the next, seeking an environment for her and her family that she wanted to make a commitment to.

But still, something keeps Smartmom from being anything more than a high holy-day Jew. That's when the urge hits her: Nag. Nag. Nag. She never makes plans in advance reservations. But she usually finds herself on the eve of Yom Kippur racing off to a Kol Nidre service somewhere. It's her favorite service of all -- for the music and the solemn, deep spirit of the evening.

The ritual of atonement seems essential to her. To take stock of the past year and atone (if not to God, then to herself) for what she is not proud of. It's such an important way to start the year; to help yourself grow as a human being.

So this Wednesday night as usual, Smartmom felt the urge to participate. She thought about it on and off all day and at 7 p.m., she googled Kolot Chayenu and found out that the Kol Nidre service was set to begin at 7:30.

Kolot Chayenu is a progressive Park Slope congregation of 250 members which bulges to such a big size on the high holydays, that they rent the Mission for Today Church on Sixth Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets right around the corner from Smartmom's apartment.

Fortunately, OSFO wanted to come along and they dressed up and ran over there in a teeming rain. They got there just as the service was beginning and saw a lot of people they knew; there was a warm and familiar feeling in the room. They were lucky enough to find a seat in the last rown right behind a pillar. Still they were able to hear the cantor's beautiful voice. There were other singers, as well as a violinist and a clarinet player.

OSFO got antsy about an hour and a half into the service; it was uncomfortable sitting on Smartmom's lap. Last year she lasted the full three hours. Smartmom didn't get to hear the most beautiful and moving part of the music, but she enjoyed what she heard and, as usual, she was glad to be there.

This year, as usual, Smartmom felt part of and not part of the service at Kolot Chaynu. I guess that's how she takes her Judaism. She is comfortable with marginality: that sense of belonging and not belonging (how Jewish) at the same time. Something compels her to connect with her fellow Jews on this night so that she can hear the stirring melody of Kol Nidre. Even if it means racing out of the apartment just minutes before the service: something compels her to belong.


At 7:52 PM, Blogger Erica said...

You have one foot in and one foot out, and if you really wanted to connect to Yiddishkeit, to the G-d of Israel, you would. I think that part of you does not want to let yourself believe in miracles.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Peter Kesel said...

Good tips & resources.Thanks for information.


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