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Finding Community As A Young Parent

January 28, 2013

In the early '70s, my parents discovered a way to make friends with other Jews in a predominantly Christian community. They joined a temple.

I grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Back then, I was one of maybe eight or nine Jewish kids in school. Yet all of my parents' friends were Jewish. There were the Snyders, the Schulmans, two sets of Friedmans, the Ashcheins, the Weils, the Glazermans, and more. Well over 30 years later, these couples remain my parents' closest friends.

communityMind you, they didn't form a havurah or any sort of organized Jewish group. They didn't worship together or discuss Talmud or do anything really all that Jewish (besides annual Break-the-Fasts after Yom Kippur ended). What they had in common was simple: they were Reform Jews, raising Jewish children, in a non-Jewish community. The rest was history.

As an adult with children of my own, I faced a similar desire for kinship. After years on the West Coast, my husband and I decided to settle down in Arlington, Massachusetts, a burgeoning town where Somervillians and Cambridgeons came to buy their first homes, have babies, and live close enough to the city that they wouldn't be considered "suburban." Like a slightly dorkier and better educated version of Portlandia, we joined a community where neighbors discussed compost methods and the benefits of raising chickens, where cyclists outnumbered car commuters, and where my husband and I felt right at home. Perhaps we had found our people.

However, with our oldest son approaching school age, I felt like something was missing. Some sort of cultural connection that I couldn't quite put my finger on. And then it hit me: I wanted Jewish friends. I wanted a circle of families to come over for potluck Shabbat dinners and discuss the merits of URJ vs. UAHC summer camps. I wanted the community my parents so intentionally sought out and forged so many years ago.

Here's the hitch: my husband isn't Jewish. In fact, despite a Catholic upbringing, his cultural identity doesn't really include any religious affiliation at all. So there I was, in my mid-thirties with two young boys and a non-Jewish husband, wanting my parents' experience of a Jewish clique. The question became how to get it in a way that felt familiar to me while also being inclusive of my husband.

One of my few Jewish friends turned me on to the Tot Shabbat program at the temple in the neighboring (and slightly tonier) town of Lexington. Temple Isaiah was everything a Reform Jewish girl from the suburbs could hope for... liberal, relaxed, welcoming, and incredibly familiar. I was nostalgia-struck for my childhood and hopeful that my boys would one day have their first kisses at a youth group convention.

We joined Temple Isaiah as members the following year. I soon met and befriended dozens of peers. I quickly sought out ways to get involved and became a co-founder of the "Yud," a young-sisterhood within the temple community for women in their 30s and 40s, which has since grown to have over 80 members. Within months, I felt established and connected.

My husband found his way as well. The whole experience of "joining" a religious community was new to him. As a boy, everyone in his town just "went" to church; there was no joining involved. Through attending High Holiday services, monthly Mishpacha (Hebrew for "family," a learning program for parents of religious school children), and our expanding social circle, he shared in the experience with an open mind and heart. True, he's not going to go out for the Brotherhood softball team or become an adult bar mitzvah, but he's chatting with the dads and learning about what it means to be a temple member.

So thanks, Mom and Dad, for modeling the importance of having Jewish friends and community. And thanks, my new friends, for filling such a vital place in my adult life. And of course, thanks to my husband for the openness and joy that he brings to being married to a sentimental Jew.

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. Hebrew for "fellowship," a lay-led group that meets for Shabbat or holiday prayer services, life cycle events, and/or Jewish learning or discussion. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "instruction" or "learning," a central text of Judaism, recording the rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history. It has two parts: Mishnah (redacted c. 200 CE) and Gemara (c. 500 CE), an elucidation of the Mishnah. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE.
Dana Hagenbuch

Dana Hagenbuch lives in Arlington, MA with her husband, two sons, and Norwich Terrier. She is Vice President of Commongood Careers, a search firm for leading edge nonprofits. She can be reached at dhagenbuch@commongoodcareers.org.

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