June 6 14

There are topics I tend not to tackle over here, for the sake of many things, including the privacy of family members—money, sex, religion. Sure, I skirt around them a little bit and sometimes dip a toe into some unchartered waters.

Today I’m jumping in. With both feet.

I guess in the {slightly butchered} words of Walt Whitman, I’m exercising my right to use this space to sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the blog.

You see, the thing is, my soul is feeling rather uninspired lately. Actually, this has been going on for quite some time.

Yes. Today we are talking about religion. 

I guess in the words of Michael Stipe, then, that’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion. 

My family became what you’d probably call Modern Orthodox Jewish when I was fairly young, elementary school, 5th grade, I’m almost certain. What this meant—extremely loosely according to no one but me—was that my family kept a completely kosher home, but sometimes ate cheese pizza at a non-kosher restaurant, my mother didn’t wear pants but also didn’t cover her hair with a hat or a wig, we were completely shomer shabbat, meaning that we kept all of the sabbath laws for 25 hours from Friday night to Saturday night each week.

We moved to a neighborhood that was closer to the Orthodox synagogue—that my parents were founding members of—so we could live within walking distance. We started going to a Modern Orthodox summer camp. Our traditional family was changing. A lot. And that didn’t only mean giving up Saturday morning cartoons.

I won’t lie, though. I absolutely loved it. When you are a kid, you don’t get caught up in the rules and the minutiae of it all. What you get is an instant community. You become instantly connected to people who do the same thing as you do every single week, every single day. There’s tremendous comfort in this. You get a constant flow of dinner and lunch invitations and you get the opportunity to reciprocate. You get 25 uninterrupted hours each week with your hardworking Type A+ parents — they are forced to turn off from work and turn towards you. So many of my favorite memories with my family happened over a Shabbat table, noshing on baked goods, learning to play Hearts, and laughing.

I didn’t think about the hows and whys and the questions.

I just did it. Because I was a kid. Because my parents were doing it. Because my friends were doing it. Because my community was doing it.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until I spent a year in Israel at a yeshiva to become more inspired about my Judaism that I completely and totally lost my inspiration. Instead of learning wonderful things abut this wonderful religion, instead of feeding my faith, I spent a year (when I was 18 years old) learning how to be a proper Orthodox Jewish woman. I learned rules and rules and then more rules. I learned all of the things I would have to do to be a wife and mother. It felt very unnatural, it felt very forced, it brought me nowhere closer to god.

Many of these rules and regulation made no sense to me.

But no one was asking questions about them. They were simply taking pages and pages of notes, learning how to do it. Learning what to do when you dropped milk into your chicken soup and other things that still baffle me to this day.

So I didn’t ask. I just did. And I became a {mostly} proper Orthodox Jewish wife and mother. 

I followed the rules. (Well, most of the them.)

And when I followed more and more rules and spent so much time trying to do them right, I completely lost all of my inspiration and desire to do them. I couldn’t get excited about serving a Shabbat meal to friends and family because I was too worried about making sure my timer on my Sabbath mode oven was set right. (That’s a simple example, but it’s the truth.)

There were moments as a young mama, when I was up nursing a wee one late into the hours of Friday night, crying because I couldn’t stay awake to finish the nursing session without my usual television distraction. (That’s a selfish sounding example, I realize, but it’s the truth.)

Uninspired.

So I just threw up my hands and decided not to do all of the things that made me feel uncomfortable, detached, uninspired. I just couldn’t picture myself raising my children to do things just because my parents did them, just because their parents did them.

And for a while this worked for me.

But it’s not really working any more.

Because here’s the thing.

I desperately want to be inspired again. 

I desperately want my kids to be inspired.

I just don’t know where to start. 

siddur-ceremony-first-grade

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  1. I’m not sure if this will help you at all, because we are sooooo far from orthodox, but we left a temple and found a temple we loved. And that helped. I think finding a community you like helps. I think doing what YOU want, and not what the rules say, a small step at a time. We have shabbat dinner every Friday. Michael asked to do that actually. (Most Fridays. Sometimes something comes up).

    [Reply]

    Comment by Jodifur on June 6, 2014
  2. We aren’t Orthodox but do skirt around the edges. Like last night when we were at a park yo celebrate Shavuot with the neighbourhood Orthodox shul.

    I’m not Orthodox but the most welcoming and friendly Jewish women that I met while living in Toronto were members of the Orthodox Jewish feminist book club that I attended. And while I’m not reform, I’m far from that observant.

    I want my Jewish life and practice to mean something, I need it to mean something. It’s more than nothing right now but I’m needing more.

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    Comment by Sandra on June 6, 2014
  3. I don’t know the answer, but I understand the dilemma. I hope you find inspiration somehow, however it works best for you all.

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    Comment by Alex on June 6, 2014
  4. Thank you for a beautiful and thoughtful post. Though I’m not orthodox, I have encountered first-hand that kind of community you mentioned when my son was on the JCC baseball team in a medium-sized Midwestern city.

    Now, as a rabbi and PhD in a small (80 family) congregation in the northeastern US, I have been seeking to create that same sense of community.

    It is, of course, hard to do. My congregation is the only congregation within an hour’s drive in any direction; we’re located in a college town of 20,000. What that means is we’re a kol-bo: we have the full spectrum here. I work very hard to create that palpable sense of community: toward that end, I’ve invited every single family and individual in the congregation to my house at one time or another.

    For those who have not experienced the warm embrace of the observant community, it’s really hard to convince them that it’s worth the effort. They have no idea how transformative it can be. That’s a central weakness of the liberal movements.

    For those who have come out of that observant environment it’s hard to convince them that genuine spirituality can flourish in a less-strict environment. That’s a contral weakness of the traditionally-observant movements.

    At any rate, the lack of inspiration you are feeling is likely a reflection of the fact that you don’t have a community of like-minded families to support you.

    The good news? It doesn’t take a huge crowd to make it happen; just a handful or 3-4 families to make it work. So keep looking for people who speak your language.

    If you’re interested, you’re welcome to subscribe to blog.ravkari.org if you’d like a weekly reflection on the Torah portion from someone who isn’t strict about the rules but is nonetheless (playfully) serious about Judaism.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Kari Tuling on June 6, 2014
  5. I am not Jewish, but my faith is very important to me. And when I am feeling uninspired, I know it means I have lost “the wonder” as I call it. For me, recapturing the wonder means looking at what God has done for me. What do I know I have because He gave it? It can be as simple as sunshine on a day I REALLY needed it not to rain, or it can be as heavy as looking into my child’s face and seeing my husband’s eyes looking back at me. I think writing, as you have done here, is a really good step to recapturing the wonder for you. xo

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    Comment by Jenny from Mommin' It Up on June 6, 2014
  6. Hmm.. so interesting. I wonder if this has anything to do with us having 13 yrs olds, and knowing that their time under our wing is fleeting. That we want for them what we experienced and we want them to have a good base in all aspects of their lives, including our own religions. My parents, especially my dad tried very hard to make sure we had a good religious base as kids. We participated in confirmation classes, attended our Anglican church pretty regularly, were confirmed and helped at services. My son is now starting confirmation classes and even though he was not very keen, after his first one he is looking forward to the next. I believe part of what you are feeling is making sure you pass on what you experienced as a child to your own children. I believe because you are conscious of it, you will make it happen too!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Sarah on June 6, 2014
  7. I know we’ve talked about this many times, but I love that you’ve decided to share it here.

    I may be a Christian, but it’s my understanding that the rules of the Old Testament were to flow out of the relationship between man and God. If you love God and have a personal relationship, then you do “the things” to show that mutual love.

    Take the ten commandments for example. If you love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, then you aren’t going to murder someone, etc., because you’re connected to God.

    I hope you find inspiration, wherever it comes from, friend. xoxo

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    Comment by Angella on June 6, 2014
  8. I’m an atheist, so I can’t speak to religion-derived inspiration.

    I know what inspires me, and that’s my community. I volunteer with a very hands on charity that provides meals and comfort to mothers in times of need, mothers who don’t have local support networks. My kids help me with this effort.

    I also commit to my friends and family as much as possible – being the person you can call when you need a last minute sitter for a doctors appointment, a strong back for moving out of a toxic household, meals when life is overwhelming.

    I’ve learned to look a lot closer to home for inspiration than something higher above, and it’s brought a lot of happiness to my life.

    Thanks for sharing Ali – I don’t comment much but I always enjoy your posts.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Sarah on June 6, 2014
  9. Yes. This. But, you know, as a Mormon.

    xox

    [Reply]

    Comment by Feisty Harriet on June 6, 2014
  10. Great post, my friend! I don’t have much to contribute, since I’m only fake-half-Jewish. But having celebrated holidays with you and your mom in Wisconsin, I get it. That community is amazing. I can see why you want that.

    I know you’re looking for synagogues and I hope you find one that fits for you and your family.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Kristabella on June 6, 2014
  11. […] hope to continue to be more and more inspired every single […]

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