I knew that I would be writing this at some point, I just didn’t know when that would be.
It is scary to write; and even scarier not to. And so, in the spirit of Rosh Hashanah; letting go, reflection and new beginnings, I continue my journey of being raw and real with you.
My religion let me down.
Writing this has been a long time coming because I have spent years believing that my religion let me down when it was not really my religion, but rather the community that I had trusted would be there for me, unconditionally.
To fully understand why, you will need a little history.
I was partly raised in a Jewish Community Center (JCC). From the time I was a little girl I remember spending countless afternoons after school, every Sunday and many, many evenings at the JCC while my mother worked. She was the Assistant Executive Director and her professional role in the community merged with her personal life as my mom. The JCC was my home away from home. From gymnastics, to Biddy Basketball, to fencing to day camp; our lives were fully integrated with her job.
Our time at the JCC was only one aspect of my Jewish identity, my parents were extremely involved in (especially my mother) our synagogue; where I spent every Sunday morning at Hebrew school before heading to the JCC for the afternoon.
Many years later, upon leaving my single life in New York to marry and move back to my town of origin, I fell quickly into an Interim Membership Director position to temporarily help out the imminently opening new JCC; a building for which my mother had raised many millions of dollars to build. I loved the job, the sense of community and the safety and security that this home away from home offered. In fact, a year later and having been named permanent Membership Director, I discovered I was pregnant in the bathroom of the building. I was eager and excited to raise another generation of children that could call the JCC their home too.
As my children grew we, as a family, also became increasingly involved in our own synagogue; eventually enrolling them in the Hebrew day school housed in the building.
My life as a wife, mother, daughter and professional was devoted to the Jewish community; my home away from home…my extended family.
But then I got divorced.
Loss is always a catalyst for growing, learning and evolving; and my divorce was no different.
With two little boys my life was turned upside down.
I worked hard to transition from married life to divorced lifestyle; navigating custody schedules, financial adjustments, professional re-assessment, and re-establishing a new normal as a single woman and mother.
Prior to my divorce, we spent holidays going to synagogue together as a family; the synagogue in which my ex-husband’s family were founding members.
We also spent most Friday evenings celebrating Shabbat with other families…not so much for the strict observance, but for the sense of community and sharing friendships. I truly enjoyed having dinners with friends and family every week.
I was part of a book club, mostly mothers from my kid’s school and women active in the Jewish community as well.
I thankfully had my job at the JCC which was my safe haven¦my home away from home. I was nurtured and supported and would continue to be so. Or at least that’s what I thought.
But then there was the divorce, which made me different.
Perhaps contagious. Perhaps a threat. Perhaps disloyal. I’m really not sure.
I was struggling, lonely and vulnerable. The world around me was losing its stability, and I thought that my grounding would include the consistency of Friday evening family dinners, the support of our small, private school family and the nurturing circle of women in my book club.
And, at least I had my work at the JCC.
So I waited for the phone to ring, and I silently prayed that my two young boys and I would be invited to share family dinners with friends.
But there were no calls.
My children’s school knew that we were managing the transition of divorce, and that we wanted to make sure that our children got the support they deserved. And yet neither the Principal nor Board ever called to see how I/we were doing.
I never attended another book club meeting. Apparently I no longer fit in; or that is how I felt.
Like any suburban community, the Jewish community here is small and insular, and my divorce became food for conversation. We were big news in a small town. And eventually, it was time for me to find a new job and environment, one where I could grow and expand.
Where my religion and community once grounded me, I now found myself floating just above the security of what had always been. I felt like a spiritual outlier and had no idea where I belonged.
My religion let me down.
Perhaps it is more accurate to say that my sense of community, spirituality and connection was shattered after my divorce; and this loss left a hole so big and so isolating that I simply put it in a box and protectively set it aside.
No more affiliation with a synagogue.
No more job in the Jewish community.
No more Jewish day school, book club or Friday night dinners.
The pain was excruciating and happened slowly over time. But I never shared it with anyone; at the time, I wasn’t really aware of how deeply it had affected me.
I lost trust in my community.
I lost what I thought was spiritual connection.
I lost faith in religion.
There were many moments when the loss temporarily made me feel like a victim, but over the years, as I have opened myself up to receive the lessons I am meant to learn, I have come to realize that in the space between what was and what would be, I have found myself.
I have found friends, colleagues, clients, love, and adventures that nurture me; filling little pieces of the hole that once existed. And through it all my family and our most extraordinary observance of the holidays has been my consistent and only source of religious connection. They have not known just how grateful I was for their relentless commitment to family connectedness when I resisted it most.
There is still an absence in my soul so I know that my spiritual journey is far from over. But I am ready in many ways to allow the beauty of Judaism and a greater connection to the divine back into my life. Yet this time it will be different; and I look forward to all that I will experience.
May all of you who are celebrating the Jewish New Year enjoy a year filled with peace, love, prosperity and passion. L’shana tova!