As Elul and the High Holiday Season approached this year, Anne-Marie Slaughter sparked discussion throughout the country about women’s rights, family issues, work-life balance, and how to interpret personal satisfaction. Within this particular forum, we started explore what it means to “have it all”, spiritually. Now approaching half-way through 5773, it is time for a check-in.
I have to admit; I am struggling.
In some areas, I know I am lucky. I draw strength from my connection with God, not struggle. I feel blessed to find the Divine in the important everyday moments with my children and husband. Our bed-time prayer routine is one of the most rewarding points in my day. We are “in process” on engaging regularly in other home rituals which mark the passage of time. I feel good about all of these things. But Good Heavens, I miss fulfilling communal prayer.
Why not just go to services, you ask. The real answer is this: the stress of trying to keep our two little ones – both under the age of three – more-or-less silent and not dancing in the aisles distracts from any sense of peace or connectedness that I might muster throughout tefilla. By the time you factor in re-arranging Friday night dinner and bed times to fit with the services schedule, it is often more than we can manage as a family without someone breaking down in frustration. And frankly, I want to honor Shabbat with as much peace and kindness as possible. That means not setting the system up for failure.
Why not get a babysitter, you suggest. We could. But part of me is ideologically against it. I hate using precious babysitter hours on something that could be family-friendly. Shabbat services isn’t a date night at the art gallery or a knife-skills class. It is something that I want to continue from generation to generation. (Not that art appreciation and knife skills aren’t valuable… just on a different level, let’s say.) I want my kids to see and feel the awesomeness of communal prayer first hand, with me by their side. Letting them hang out at home with the babysitter while their father and I go to synagogue does not convey that message.
What about Tot-Shabbat, you say. Honestly, I find it … infantile. I know; that is part of the idea. And while I could try to change our local Tot-Shabbat, to be honest, I think the families find it really satisfying. They look pleased, or at least contented, as their children zoom around the room with Torah-themed arts-and-crafts projects, as a peppy prayer-music tape plays in the background. It only grates on me; to use a common two-year-old saying, I don’t want to yuck someone else’s yum.
So, what is a girl who loves communal prayer to do?
No, seriously. I’m really asking.
Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives in Ramat Aviv, Israel with her loving husband and two wonderful children. She is actively looking forward to a date night at the art gallery.