Monday, September 1, 2008

Month of Elul, High Holidays comin' up

Taking stock of one's Judaism

I spent the middle of August in New Hampshire, at the National Havurah Committee's 30th Summer Institute, a kind of Jewish Summer Camp for adults (and kids, too), a Jewish Brigadoon (Brigadoonowitz?) that springs into being one week a year, bringing together 300+ "serious" Jews (by Bruce's definition) of all denominations, affiliations, gender identities, etc. Lots of things are wonderful about this event and this group, and in the avoidance of lashon hara, I will not detail my frustrations -- other than to say that, for the first time in 5 years of attendance, I did not return "charged up" about my own Jewish observance in the upcoming year. I do not blame the event, not at all -- it was wonderful in a variety of ways. But again, I didn't return ready to rush (back) into shul.
The Jewish year 5768 has been a weird one for me, in several ways. I spent Rosh Hashanah in Massachusetts, with my former mother-in-law; a rabbi friend who had recently moved to the Amherst area; my son, who had started college at NYU. I spent Yom Kippur, to my deep regret, at a faculty meeting my colleagues were unwilling to reschedule and that I, an untenured person, was not in a position to miss. And that precise psychological-logistical configuration -- being an over-40, untenured person, feeling myself "too old" for half of what I was going through, and "too young" for the other half, characterized a great deal of the year.
It was a difficult year for me, but really, it was a much more difficult year for a couple of people quite close to me, and part of what I spent the year learning very incompletely was when and whether something bad happening to someone close to me, is also something bad happening to me. There are useful and unuseful, healthy and unhealthy, ways in which one can feel one's fate and well-being and happiness are bound to another, and being the parent of older adolescents (one now 16, one 18) brings that to the fore.
So what's this have to do with my Judaism? Precious little, from one point of view. The shul of which I'd been a kind of satellite member no longer holds much appeal for me. It has become so predominantly a place of "young families," full of married young adults who believe (and maybe rightly!) that Judaism will mean to their children what it means to them (even though that's nothing like what their relationship to their own parents' Judaism is) -- just not a place for me, I'm afraid. The meditation "circle" of my Hebrew teacher, who I have great affection for and hold in the highest esteem, is not quite right either -- the life-stage issues of 50- and 60-somethings are not (quite) mine. So I find myself plodding along through my Prayerbook Hebrew course (which is great) -- the siddur would really be opening up to me -- that is, if I ever prayed in a group any more.

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