The main thing that’s been so hard for me to overcome is the overwhelming sense of loneliness that so often floods up a week or two before the next Jewish holiday. Anglos are very social creatures. When Pesach looms around the corner, or Rosh Hashana, or Purim, or whatever it is, our first thought is ‘who can we invite’?
At this stage in the game, I realize that part of the reason that God has put me in a space and a place where there are very few opportunities to invite or be invited is because socializing on Jewish festivals and shabbat is often just another form of unhealthy ‘escapism’.
The people I know who have the hardest times just ‘being’ - being themselves, being with their close families, being honest about who and what they really are - are the same people I see repeatedly knocking themselves out on the social circuit.
In London, I used to be like that too: It was unthinkable for me to spend a whole Shabbat without being invited out, or having guests, for at least one of the meals. The times that happened were so few and far between, and nearly always made for a pretty unpleasant Shabbat.
Shabbat is quiet. There’s no i-Phones, no internet, no work, to movies, no soccer games, no arts and crafts or cooking to distract you away from your inner dimension. If the ‘inner dimension’ is a place where you’re happy to hang out, that’s great, and can be the springboard to enhanced awareness and spirituality. Which is really the original purpose of Shabbat.
But when you’re NOT so happy to spend quiet time in your ‘inner dimension’ - a quiet Shabbat can leave you rolling around on the floor tearing your hair out.
Which is why so many of us Anglos like to entertain so very much, so stop those overwhelming feelings of existential angst and loneliness from surfacing.
I’m the same way!
Except, God hasn’t been letting me get away with it anymore the last few years. Since we moved to Jerusalem two and a half years’ ago, I can count the number of times we’ve been invited out on one hand. I try to invite ‘in’ as much as I can, but that’s also been tricky.
Part of the problem is that there is space for another four people around my table, and most of the families we’d like to invite are much, much bigger than that. But, there’s also the ‘teenager’ factor, which works in two ways:
1) Often, my teenagers feel very awkward around people they don’t know, especially if those people appear to be more ‘more
frum’ or different ages than they are, so they don’t enjoy meals with guests so much.
2) We don’t really ‘fit’ into any recognizable Jewish box, so while my husband dresses like a chareidi Kollel guy, I dress chardal (kind of…), one kid dresses ‘dati leumi’ and the other one ‘dati lite’. Also, my kids are more 'Hebrew-speaking' Israelis, and me and my husband are predominantly English-speaking wannabe Israelis.
Trying to find guests that are comfortable with my family’s diversity is also not so simple, especially when you have factors involved like guarding the eyes, setting a good example to smaller kids, insisting that girls need to wear socks, etc….
It takes a lot of good will on both sides of the equation to make it all ‘work’. If I feel I’d have to cajole a kid into wearing socks to the table or dressing differently than they usually would in order for my guests to feel comfortable, then I usually can’t invite those guests, however much I personally like them.
Having more money or a bigger apartment won’t solve these issues. But, maybe they’d let me run away from the loneliness a bit more (because I’d build my teenagers their own ‘shabbat’ annex and pretend they didn’t exist.)
I’ve mostly made my peace with not having a lot of money, a career, external ‘success’ etc, but I can’t make my peace with the loneliness. How can it be that I live in a country of six million Jews, that all my neighbors are Jews, that most of them are even frum Jews - and yet, I dread Jewish holidays because I have no shul I feel comfortable in, no community to belong to, and no-one to spend the meals with?
I miss people. I miss having friends I could pop in to talk to on Shabbat. I miss having a shul that I knew was ‘my shul’ whenever I HAD to go, like on Rosh Hashana, or to hear Parshat Zachor.
I don’t know what to do about all these issues, and sometimes still, I feel very trapped and miserable about it all. On Purim, my oldest came with me to another ‘frum’ shul to hear Megilla. We lasted five minutes, then we had to go somewhere else. Even on Purim, her ‘not-so-frum teenage girl’ costume (ahem…) was more than the locals could handle (at least, that’s what she felt).
I don’t want my family to spend each holiday divided across four different synagogues, so I’ve been going with my kids to wherever they feel happiest - which is typically a 100% Hebrew speaking Israeli environment where I don’t know anyone and feel like the odd-one-out, but they have tons of their friends.
I’ll write more about this subject, but I think that my family’s experience is just reflecting the splintering that’s occurred at the heart of the Jewish people, where tolerance for the real 'inner dimension' of people has gone AWOL, and we can all just only hang out with the people who keep us firmly in our comfort zones.
I guess I feel it more than most people, because I don’t have a ‘bubble’ of family and old friends from the old country to cushion me from the existential loneliness we're all feeling today.
What I’m missing is a sense of unity and connection to my fellow Jew, and a feeling that I truly belong here, in the world, in Jerusalem, in Israel.
Of all the things I’m waiting for Moshiach to help me fix, this is probably the biggest.