A year ago, I wrote about how I gave up a full-time job to stay home with my two young children. I took to freelance writing and gave the responsibility of paying our mortgage to my husband.
The details of taxes and insurance and CDD fees were not something I thought much about; we could make it work, temporarily, and I’d get to spend more time with my infant son, who was still nursing.
Then last September I needed to find a place for our family to go on Yom Kippur. It’s the holiest day of the year for Jews, the start of a new year and time to fast and atone for our sins – a fresh start, through sacrifice and self-reflection.
Most synagogues charge a lot of money for services for people who aren’t members, which I can understand since space is limited. The few places I called would have cost our family $250 or more to attend.
Then I called YoungÂ IsraelÂ of Â Tampa. I knew they were considered Orthodox, so I was a little intimidated at first by our non-observant background. Come, bring your family, don’t worry about what you wear or paying any money, Rabbi Uriel Rivkin told me from his cell phone in South Tampa as a I sat at my kitchen table in Wesley Chapel, asking lots of questions.
They welcomed us wholeheartedly, and I fell in love with Judaism through their dedication to Torah and excitement about sharing it with us.
We spent Shabbat meals with Rabbi Yossi Eber and his wife, Dina, who moved last year from Brooklyn to Trinity, looking to reach out to unaffiliated Jews. I continued asking questions, as they graciously reminded me to take it slow.
So now, here I am 10 months later. I’ve learned about traditions I never knew existed and have struggled daily to teach my children where we came from, about our responsibility as Jews to light up the world, treat others with respect and help those around us.
Much of the responsibility comes in seemingly mundane and hard-to-understand practices, like not eating pork, lighting candles Friday night and treating Shabbat (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) like a special day devoted to family, prayer and study.
Judaism as I’ve come to know it recently is a beautiful, all-encompassing lifestyle, difficult to practice without the support of a community doing the same. As a mother, it’s my responsibility to try to provide that for my family. On a whim, I sent resumes to companies in places I knew have thriving, Torah-observant communities.
One afternoon, while playing with my children, I got a call from a company in Washington, D.C. They wanted to meet me. How could I persuade my husband to uproot our family, leaving behind our parents and siblings? I didn’t give him enough credit.
While his hunger and journey toward observance is going at a slower pace than mine, he must have recognized my passion and enthusiasm and known somewhere down deep it was the right thing to do.
So we’re taking a leap of faith together, moving up north to the D.C. area, to a place in Maryland with a larger, observant Jewish community. I’ve never lived outside of Florida, and we’ve gotten our share of naysayers throughout this short process.
The cost of living there is extremely high, and we’ll need to downsize from our large home with a big back yard. Plus, I’ll be working full-time to afford living there (fortunately it’s a writing job).
Those aren’t the details my children will remember when they’re older. But rather, I hope, they’ll recognize the sincerity and courage of their parents, who did what they thought was best for their family.
And while our local rabbis are sad to see us go, what they’ve kindled within me will only grow stronger as we follow our hearts to a place where we can flourish.