My husband and I are trying to decide what our next step in life is. Currently we live in Pittsburgh with our five-year-old son, one-year-old daughter, and one on the way. If you want to live in a kid friendly, easy to maneuver, park-filled, very low-priced housing Jewish community, with over five orthodox shuls within a mile radius, come move to Pittsburgh. In fact, you can buy our house.
This is a wonderful city, but it’s not the life we want. There is a strong, bonded, Jewish community here, but it’s not our community. And we know it never will be. We’re outsiders. Chances are, wherever we go, we’ll be outsiders. What else could you expect from a baalat teshuvah (one who became observant later in life) born to hippie parents of the Jewish renewal persuasion, and her convert husband?
But there are options, right? Here is my ideal: a community out in the country with houses close but still somewhat private. Maybe an acre or two, a house, large organic gardens, small livestock (chickens, goats), fresh air, with a community learning center/shul, and a school for the children. I picture this community to be fully observant, but not monochromatic. Everyone is observant but do not need to keep the same brand of Yiddishkeit . This is my dream.
Here is the reality: it doesn’t exist. The small communities I've heard of either do not have a school, or a mikvah, or an eruv, or a rabbi, or a minyan, or are not observant of Jewish law, or all of the above.
I’m sure, dear reader, you're thinking: Yep, she’s definitely the daughter of hippies.
Neither my husband nor I grew up in a city. Although we have been living in cities for the past eight years, we still aren’t used to the noise, speed and chaos of city life. I like digging in soft brown earth with my bare feet. I love to eat a fresh carrot just pulled out of the ground with some dirt still stuck on it. I love being in touch with the rhythms of the earth as God made it. I’m sure, dear reader, you're thinking: Yep, she’s definitely the daughter of hippies. It's true but it’s not some natural ideology of ‘green before God’ that drives me. I realize God comes before recycling! It’s just a genuine love of nature. Before we Jews lived in ghettos and shtetls, we were shepherds and farmers.
Another option is to move to Israel which seems to have the most pros, but also some serious cons. There are many communities to choose from, but once you choose you commit yourself to living the lifestyle of that particular community – to dress the same way, hold by the same standards, practice a similar style of Judaism, etc. I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t know if I can ask my children to do that.
So now I ask you, dear reader, what are my options?
The other Israeli choice is to move into one of the cities, which have more options and openness. But then we’re back in a city. The influence of Torah would be everywhere, and that is a definite pro. I drool when I think of all the classes offered and the depth of the davening one can reach there. But moving to Israel means moving away from family and support, and into a volatile region. I try to live my life with faith and not make decisions based on fear, but I don’t believe that means moving into an area that is potentially dangerous. And lastly, though I have complete faith in my husband, and I know how capable, talented and hardworking he is, I still fear making a living will be difficult.
Any other options? Well, we could try to start my ideal community. But take a second and realize what that means. Finding a minimum of 10 like-minded families who can financially support themselves as well as support the community, which includes a school, a rabbi, a shul, a mikvah, an eruv, etc. Not to mention finding affordable, arable land in proximity to a city with hospitals, supermarkets and dentists. You get the idea.
It seems like all of the options involve more sacrifice than I’m willing to make. So now I ask you, dear reader, what are my realistic options?
This is not a rhetorical question. I truly want to hear your ideas and opinions. Is life a series of sacrifices where you give up your dreams? Or your religious ideals? Or on the other hand, where there’s a will, there’s a way? And if so, show me! I am not afraid of hard work. I am afraid of losing my connection to God. I am afraid of losing my connection to my soul. I am afraid of losing my children to the emptiness, if I can’t show them how to live with all parts of myself.
Dear reader, what do you suggest?