As a rabbinical student and a new mom I decided that this year would be about my own rabbinic and professional development. My family and I calculated that the cost of childcare would be roughly the same as the salary I would receive from any rabbinic internship. So instead I took this as an opportunity to spend more time with my daughter, observe rabbis in the field, and start an online project I’ve dreamed about. I told myself that it would be a great chance to enjoy being a ‘Jew in the pew’ again!
I did my research and set out to try a new service for the high holydays. As a Reconstructionist Jew, I have long wanted to experience Adat Shalom in Bethesda, Maryland; a large and vibrant reconstructionist congregation.
My family and I arrived at shul on erev Rosh Hashanah with our seven-month-old daughter in tow. We brought silent toys, an ergo carrier, and books for her to flip through. We had told ourselves that she ‘goes with the flow’, loves services she’s been to, and will clap along (even though it was nearing her comically early bedtime of 630pm). We had traveled from Philadelphia to Virginia that day (with some extra traffic thanks to a closure on I-95), and then got in the car for another 30 minutes to attend services. Ava lasted in the main service for all of about 20 minutes! And then she was done; back arching, about to wail, needed to nurse and go to bed. Done.
So we did what any parent would do, we got up to walk outside, essentially resigning ourselves in that moment that we were either leaving or one of us would be spending the rest of the evening outside the sanctuary. Ava is entering her separation anxiety stage and notices when mom or dad leave her side. To make matters more difficult, at night often wants mom. Great, I thought, we came all this way and now I’m going to miss services.
As we exited the room, the usher asked if we wanted to use the quiet room. ‘What is that?’, I asked. “It’s a soundproof room with toys where you can watch and hear the service,” the usher answered. What?! In all my years working in synagogues and Jewish communities I had never seen such a place! I took our daughter in and my husband and I alternated being with her while she played with the other young children there.
She had the time of her life! And I sat back and let her do her thing.
High holydays gives us a chance to reflect where we are at each year. It gives us the time to notice how we have changed, how we have grown, and what we need to work on. I’m adjusting to being a parent and what that means for the productivity in my life. Whereas the holidays used to be completely self-reflective for me, now I’m thinking about someone else’s growth too. Ava sits up so well, she observes others, and she smiles at everything, I thought to myself. Seeing Ava’s joy in the holiday allowed me to understand my own growth is tied to hers now. I might not be able to be in the services I want to anymore, but I know that I’m growing as I watch her discover the world. And that too is holy. That is just where I am at this year. May I be able to remember this throughout 5777 and may it be brought with joy and sweetness too.