Thursday, December 10, 2009

First "Away" Weekend

In the two and a half months that Raphaela has been born, we have attended a few Friday night dinners at friends, and some Shabbat lunches as well. On Friday nights, whether I am at home alone with her or in someone else's house, I rarely get to eat past the first course. Even during the week, a civilized dinner has become a rare luxury.

This weekend, the baby and I are going to Efrat, to stay at the home of one of my oldest college friends; her husband runs a regimented and religious routine with their four children, and I have already let them know that my life is anything but orderly these days.

On the more banal side, I have no idea how to pack for a 36 hour period outside the house, other than the obvious ie diapers. I am also having a hard time dealing with my own anticipated discomfort, when I have to breast feed or if she keeps the family awake at night. I worry about Raphaela's reaction to a strange (non-home) environment, and the change in her routines.

On a more existential level, this weekend brings up the recurring conflict I experience regarding organized religion. This issue comes up for me every time the baby and I spend time with my cousins as well, who are Modern Orthodox but also place 100% emphasis on the Torah and Judaism in their home, in the way they raise their children.

I was raised in the New York Metropolitan area in the Yeshiva University/Rav Soleveitchik model: you can be a Jew with the Torah as your moral and behavioural compass, and also enjoy the benefits of the secular life and contribute on the 'outside.' My father, who got smicha (Rabbinic ordination) from Rav Soleveitchik, took us mixed swimming. I wore jeans, I took art lessons and drew nudes. Of course we watched television. In the past 20 years, most of the Jewish world has moved to the right, whereas I have stayed in essentially the same place, so now I am the less religious sibling, if you don't count my brother the agnostic.

I can pick and choose because I have the Jewish academic background and the personal experience of Orthodox Judaism, and I understand what parts of observance are truly important and what aspects derive from the male-dominated establishment and their need to control the religious population through fear. I find the synagogue atmosphere stifling and quite frankly, boring after a while; though for my daughter, it could become a place where she sees her friends, and therefore it inherits a positive image.

Living in Israel, however, presents a challenge for raising Raphaela. Israel, by the virtue of being The Jewish State, permeates with a cultural atmosphere of Judaism without necessarily keeping the Torah to the letter of the law. Secular Israeli friends of mine drive on Shabbat, and yet keep a kosher home, have Pessach seder and know more about the Torah than many Orthodox Jews in America.

And therein lies the question: do I educate my child in the Orthodox way, even though I find so many aspects random and distasteful? How can I offer her a choice as she gets older, if she does not realize and understand all the options available to her? And how can I explain to my child that there will be many within the Orthodox community who will look down on her, because of the way she came into this world, even when I followed halacha?

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