2017-10-11 / Editorial

Sometimes secular and religious life don’t blend easily

By NOA BEJAR Kveller via JTA

I love where my family lives right now. It’s like a kibbutz: A townhouse big enough to meet our needs and amazing neighbors who are quick to share a beer and a laugh, pick up my kids from school if I’m in a jam, and excited to teach me how to cook some Venezuelan dish—in my house because they know it needs to be kosher. The schools are amazing, and our kids are where they need to be academically.

But we live with one foot in the secular world and another in the religious world, and sometimes it’s hard.

I am grateful for the tolerance of my new world of multicultural neighbors, who have embraced my family as their own. If I make extra challah, I share it with them— because I know their kids love the “yummy bread.” I enjoy having unaffiliated Jewish friends join our Shabbat table for a meaningful, albeit less intense, Jewish experience. I now go by my legal name, though no one has called me Susan in 20 years. I thought it would be easier not to have to explain it here, in our new secular world.

Life is very easy here. There’s no rush to prepare the house for 25 hours of being locked in. There’s no disappointment at not having a Shabbat meal invitation or not having secured play dates prior to candle lighting.

But there is a void that makes my eyes water. There is a longing to belong to a world to which I never truly felt we belonged. I miss it even though we always had one foot in the secular world, since we were not convinced the various rules were something we could sincerely abide by.

We’ve stopped buying kosher wine. How silly to have been warned that it would lead to “socializing with goyim.” But wow—how profoundly that reasoning reverberates in my ears today. I spent the summer socializing with my neighbors over many a bottle of non-kosher wine, while our kids forged remarkable bonds of friendship and enjoyed idyllic unplugged months that left us dreading the encroaching school year.

But middle school has begun, and with it the adolescent begging to join peers out on a Friday night. I hear the catch in my own throat when I say “No. It’s Shabbat; come spend time with your family!” Then my friends come over to convince me: “We’re all going, please let us take him! Look, you finished your special dinner.” I smile, embarrassed because they have no idea, and I really don’t want to explain it, “Sorry guys, any other night.”

A foot in each world. I hate it. So I look for programs to help my boys engage with their Jewish peers in the Orthodox community. There are amazing high school programs! There are adorable youth activities. There is nothing for middle schoolers. Nothing. I have been told that it’s natural for my middle school-aged boys to no longer come inside shul to daven. We’re told that they will “come around, stay consistent.”

But I long for them to have a connection to and love of Judaism.

I accept that kosher wine doesn’t make sense in every situation. Finding a balance is terribly difficult. We’re torn between two worlds and two identities. I did not realize how hard it would be to live outside of a community. We relinquished our anchor.

We can’t move back right now. We need to get our children through the middle years— and to do so, I need to accept that ours is not an all or nothing situation and that it’s OK to blend our worlds, even if it’s painful.

Noa Bejar has worked in formal and informal Jewish education for over 20 years. She infuses her home with a love of Israel and appreciation for Jewish values and learning. She resides in South Florida with her husband and three children. Kveller is a thriving community of women and parents who convene online to share, celebrate and commiserate their experiences of raising kids through a Jewish lens. Visit Kveller.com.

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