Almost the only Jew in town

I haven’t posted in awhile, because this fall I had to move from my happy city apartment (within walking distance from two Conservative shuls) back home to a rural village in Eastern Ontario.  When I told people that I was moving there, one of the old guys at the morning minyan said, “Oh yeah, the synagogue in [Nearest Sizeable Town] has been gone for years.  I was the last one to daven there.”  I heard of one family that was there at some point in the recent past, but apparently it’s like all the Jewish people here have been driven out of Spain.  Based on walking around my little village during Hanukkah and looking for lights in the windows, I can say that I seemed to be the only one observing it.  Kosher butcher?  Ha ha, no.  Population is around 3500 people (this includes people living further out in the country), but there are three churches, two Protestant and one Catholic.  At the little diner up the street, they put ground pork in the hamburgers.  (When I informed the waitress that I sorta keep kosher, she warned me about it.)

I know there are plenty of worse places to live, and I’m still in touch with my rabbi via email, but it’s tough for me to feel severed from the community.  I have to make my own Jewish experiences happen as best I can, instead of being able to observe and learn from the people around me.

I had to move on Shabbat, just as Sukkot was beginning–the moving company only gave me one other choice of date, and that was Yom Kippur, so I said no.  I couldn’t celebrate the holiday at home, too exhausted and busy with unpacking.  For weeks, though, I had recurring dreams that I was building a Sukkah.  It was a little every night, fleeting images of setting posts and beams, hanging canvas, laying branches.  Since I do so much reading during the day on Convert Stuff, I have related dreams pretty often (we’ve all had the Nazi dreams, let’s be real).  Sometimes I have feverish pre-Shabbat dreams about what I’m gonna cook, discovering in a panic that my menu won’t work because the dessert has dairy.  But this was slow and progressive, consistent from night to night.  Finally I had the last one: I dreamed that my job was finished and the Sukkah was built, and I was sitting down inside it to eat.  I felt accomplished, at peace.  And that was it.

Now in December, my Hanukkah went off without a hitch.  I learned the blessings and songs, set out my chanukkiyah, lit the candles, and cooked latkes, falafel, sufganiyot, perogies.  When the 7th night fell on Erev Shabbat, I carved the bottoms of regular Shabbat candles with a knife so they’d fit in the menorah, candles big enough to burn from the early, early sunset (4:05pm) to nightfall.  It was lonely, somehow lonelier than if I’d been alone in my apartment–I feel self-conscious singing the berachot in front of my mother.  But I still loved it and was sad when it was over.

“But this isn’t actually…a rejection of Jesus, is it?” my mother asked.  I was stunned, because I’d thought she understood what I was doing.  I didn’t want to tell her that yes, that’s part of the deal, because I knew it would hurt her feelings.  But I said yes, I have some theological problems with Jesus, and I’m not just doing it because Conservative Judaism is easier on homosexuality than Catholicism is.  I’m doing it because I love the whole religion.  I love the people.  This is how I want to live.

It hurts that people approved more when I was miserable and angry inside the Catholic Church–people who love me.  I know that this is just a communication thing and a time thing, and that everyone else will get used to it.  It will look less alienating and scary to my family as they realize that I’m not trying to deny my ancestors or cut myself off from their traditions, but meanwhile…meanwhile all I want is to go to shul on a Saturday night for Mincha, Seuda Selishit, Ma’ariv and Havdalah.  I want to sing the goofy setting of Adon Olam and head downstairs for kiddush on Shabbat morning, eating herring on crackers just because dammit I will start liking herring.  My friend the gabbai hugging me when he sees me in the crowd.  The sunlight coming through the windows at breakfast after morning minyan, shining on the transparent pink slivers of lox on the bagels, on the sliced melon and bowls of strawberries.  People calling out questions after a d’var Torah.

All I want is everything, I’m greedy.  And I’m lucky, because I live in the age of the internet and I can still find ways to not be alone. I wonder about how people did it in other periods of this country’s history, when they really were alone.  There’s a Jewish graveyard a few miles from here, and I think about those people.  How do we live without the others?

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