Rabbi Ruth Adar, the “Coffee Shop Rabbi,” recently wrote up a fantastic guide to integrating with one’s synagogue community. Although some of the details and explanations are specific to Jewish congregations, I suspect people of many faiths would find Rabbi Adar’s tips applicable to the challenge of finding a place in a religious community — synagogue, church, or otherwise.
We military families face the task of fitting in with a new congregation more often than the average bear, perhaps every two or three years (or even more frequently, as in the case of rapid-fire PCS moves during periods of training). If we don’t make a place for ourselves in the community quickly, it might not happen at all. When we do succeed in finding a spiritual “home,” a place where we feel welcome and invested and connected, the next set of orders seems to come all too soon. Off we go to start the process at a brand-new duty station, to be the “new kids” yet again.
Although the challenge of finding a new synagogue, church, or other group exists for all military families who desire participation in a communal religious setting, I imagine that the process can look pretty different for people of other faiths and denominations. My neighbor, a Navy wife and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told me1 yesterday that one of the things she appreciates about her religious community is that the strong central authority and organization means that by the time her family arrives at a new duty station, all of their church records have been automatically transferred and a place in their new ward has been prepared for them. Since their ward is assigned based on geographic location, the notion of “shul shopping” or “church hopping” to find a congregation at a new duty station is foreign to them.
My neighbor’s experience is nothing like ours. She was surprised to learn that Judaism doesn’t have an equivalent to the LDS Prophet/President or the Catholic Pope or any single head of the religion. In her church, a strong, centralized authority ensures a consistency in each local Mormon ward that she finds comforting. In our religion, every synagogue has its own unique flavor or vibe, even within the same movement. I love that variation, and I feel that each synagogue’s harmony contributes to the joyful sound of the greater Jewish community, even if it’s not the place that winds up being “home” for us.
We don’t always have a wide choice when it comes to local Jewish congregations, though. We’re positively giddy when the Navy sends us someplace where there is more than one synagogue within an hour’s drive. We have some Jewish Air Force friends whose current duty station doesn’t have any kind of Jewish community within hundreds of miles, so we consider ourselves extremely lucky when we have any kind of Jewish communal life available to us. When we happen to find that the available local community is a good fit, it’s truly a bonus worth celebrating.
So I’m curious: If you’re part of a military family, how do you go about finding your spiritual home at a new duty station?
Is it as simple for you as it is for my neighbor, or do you find yourselves visiting lots and lots of different congregations before you settle on one? Do you think Rabbi Adar’s tips are relevant for your own “congregation integration” process, even if you’re not Jewish?
1. If I’m getting any of the details wrong, I apologize. I am not an LDS expert, and any mistakes are the result of my own misunderstanding.↩
Sara Rivka of Creative Jewish Mom has more delightful craft ideas to celebrate the New Year for Trees than I will ever be able to accomplish, so I selected just one for the upcoming holiday: a heavenly-smelling clove-studded orange called a pomander ball. The one I planned to make wasn’t the pretty kind with swirls and spirals of cloves, but rather the sort where the orange is completely covered in cloves and rolled in dry spices with an eye toward preserving it.
It was supposed to be, anyway, but I ran out of cloves. Rookie mistake.
If I hold it this way, I keep seeing the Eye of Sauron.
Maybe it could be a really fragrant bow tie.
Had I done it properly, my pomander might have kept for several months or a year. Oh well, at least my house will smell amazing through Tu BiShvat.
The New Year is almost here, and I’m getting excited!
Wait, didn’t we get all that New Year’s stuff over with last week? Let me first assure you that I am not so out of touch with the turning of the Gregorian calendar that I missed 2014′s arrival entirely, nor is this a WordPress glitch spitting out a post meant for December 2013. The New Year I’m talking about is on the verge of sprouting from the rich earth of Jewish time.
But isn’t Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New Year? I certainly spilled enough virtual ink on the subject last Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah. That Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year is certainly true, but it would be more correct to say that Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish New Year. We have three others.
That’s right, our calendar is so fertile that we’ve grown four whole New Years. Jealous?
Even if you’re not Jewish, you probably have more than one “New Year” coming up on this trip around the sun. If you’re in school or have children who are, you probably set your clock by the new school year. Businesses and the government decide when to hoard and when to spend profligately based on the proximity of the new fiscal year. You could even call your birthday your own personal New Year’s Day, and I wouldn’t begrudge you any champagne you might choose to imbibe in celebration — particularly if you invite me to join you.
The New Year I’m currently anticipating is called Tu BiShvat, which translates, thrillingly enough, to “The Fifteenth of [the Jewish month] Shvat.” The less literal and far more descriptive English name is the New Year for Trees. Rabbi Ruth Adar posted a good, quick rundown of the basics before the holiday last year. If you want to delve deeper, I have loved Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s annual reflections on a midwinter day that reaches forward to a time of blossoming and fruitfulness.
In 2014 (5774 in Jewish time), Tu BiShvat starts at sundown on January 15th. Although we don’t usually manage a full seder, a ritual meal drawing on mystical interpretations of the holiday, Sampson and I make an effort to include many different kinds of fruit in our dinner for that evening. I’m still contemplating how clever and fancy I might be able to get this year (hint: probably not very), but I’ll share whatever I come up with here next week. Maybe this will finally be the year that I make the pie from scratch.
Happy autumn, y’all! We’ve made it through the marathon of the Jewish fall holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah all come tumbling one right after the other) and visits from both our families. The picture I have in my head for an ideal October involves space to breathe as the days grow shorter and the Florida heat and humidity approach marginally acceptable levels. Oh, and also a lot of soup.
We love soup and eat it even at the height of summer, but I have to admit there is a special joy in it when there is a chill in the air. I came up with the following recipe over the summer when Sampson was flying late and I was pawing through the pantry for something quick, easy, and just a little more sophisticated than ramen noodles. Random canned goods to the rescue!
Lazy Pumpkin Soup
1 can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 can diced tomato
1 can coconut milk
1 tsp (or so) of garam masala or your favorite curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Open cans and dump into pot. Add garam masala or curry powder. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then drop to a simmer for about fifteen minutes.
Remove from heat and wield your trusty immersion blender to whirr up a smooth, velvety soup. If you only have a regular blender, sigh wistfully, add one to your wish list, then proceed to work in batches to blend the soup.
If the soup has cooled down too much for you in the blending process, return it to the stovetop for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a dollop of yogurt, sour cream, goat cheese, or what-have-you. If you’re feeling sassy, go nuts with some hot sauce at the table. Enjoy.
We’ve just about caught our breath from Rosh Hashanah, so that must mean Yom Kippur is almost upon us. I can’t say I look forward to Yom Kippur in the same way I looked forward to Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot (which follows on the heels of Yom Kippur — autumn’s a crazy season when it comes to Jewish holidays). Fasting is not my favorite way to spend a day; they ought to call it “slowing.” (Dear self: That is probably the point of the exercise.) Oh well, I won’t dwell on it for now, as we still have some time until our last big glass of water before sundown on Friday.
Last week, we welcomed 5774 together with friends and family. Our table was full (as were our bellies, in due time) and our home rang with laughter and conversation. The food was pretty tasty, too, if I do say so myself. I’m particularly pleased to note that my first-ever round braided challah came out looking far better than my bread fail a few weeks back. One of our fellow Jewish military families included an eleven-month-old boy who made me feel like a culinary genius by completely devouring my homemade hummus. Of course, I’m still finding places where he smeared it as he ran around trying to steal our coasters, but that just makes me smile while — let’s be real — I reach for the disinfecting wipes.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience. After everyone went home and the dishes were… well, at least started, Sampson and I started talking about the next time we could do something like this. For a couple of introverts like us, that kind of excitement is no small emotional leap. Rabbi Ruth Adar, the “Coffee Shop Rabbi,” has dared us to embrace the mitzvah of hospitality. I think we’re off to a good start this year. Here’s to keeping up our commitment even after this season of fresh starts is behind us.
G’mar chatima tova — may you be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!