Finding a Religious Home

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Flashback: It’s Yom Kippur, my favorite holiday. This year I let myself have some coffee. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, but I really do just fall asleep at the first Barchu otherwise.

I think it is also the first year that I am actively trying to make my own spiritual practice.

I have just written a book (Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl who Couldn’t Stop Praying) about my obsession with prayer. I’ve spent years repeating the same phrases without knowing more than the rhythm and solace they offered as they buzzed on my tongue. I feel responsible now that I’ve published the book to accept this as my past and move into the present.

There’s also a kid to think about. My delicious little girl who is smushing cheese in her hands and dancing to NPR, but one day will hopefully come with me to temple and listen to these songs for the first time. My husband is not religious and he’s said she can do whatever she wants as long as she gets to experience a lot of choices. What do I have to offer her if all I know of Judaism are the prescribed songs and recipes that I’ve repeated over and over, often locked in a closet for hours at a time?

Union Temple is the oldest congregation in Brooklyn, founded in 1848. It is in an old building by Prospect Park and the seats creak. The bathrooms smell like cool disinfectant. There is a hunched man, whose name I think is Henry, always making sure people have their siddur and that they know when to go up on the bima for aliyahs. At Kol Nidre, Rabbi Goodman speaks passionately about the universal right to health care. Her voice is so urgent I feel ashamed for my inaction.

This is where I want to make my new religious home. I haven’t told anyone yet. Haven’t paid any dues or even introduced myself after services. There is still part of me that doesn’t know how to let go of my rooted traditions and to hear these prayers for the first time. There is a part of me that can’t believe or accept that I am the mommy now, starting an entirely new story. And there is a part of me that is embarking, growing, somewhat timidly, but yes evolving, joining my voice with whomever is near me in song, and then dipping out to wander home, feeling these new melodies swell inside me.

Posted on December 11, 2009

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