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Moving into a Religious Community

September 19, 2016 | by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

For years our fears and comfort prevented us from selling our home to move into a more vibrant Jewish community.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

For years my husband and I told ourselves some version of that, over and over. We were living in a beautiful home, in a wonderful vibrant Jewish community. We had our routines.

As my husband and I experimented with becoming more religiously observant over a period of years, there were enough resources nearby for us to manage. Buying kosher food wasn’t hard. Although the drive to our kids’ Orthodox schools was long, it wasn’t impossible. There was even a small Orthodox synagogue nearby which we joined.

Yet as our kids grew older, living in an area where we were one of the very few religious families began to feel limiting. Our kids had few friends to play with on Shabbat. Most of their school friends were miles away and our neighbors’ kids were too busy with sports leagues and outings on Saturday afternoons to come over and play. I longed to attend the Jewish classes that some of my friends living in more Orthodox areas told me about, but they were too far away to be convenient.

I found myself thinking of the advice of the Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel: Do not separate yourself from the community (Pirkei Avot 2:5). By living so far away from the center of vibrant religious life, were we cutting ourselves off?

In those years when we contemplated moving, my husband and I became adept at rationalizing away our problems. Maybe it would be too expensive to move. Maybe we’d miss our upscale neighborhood. Neither of us had much appetite for the wrenching effort it would take to move.

Our spacious suburban home was much bigger than anything we’d be able to afford in the more urban, religiously observant neighborhoods.

The biggest obstacle holding us back was our house. Our spacious suburban home was much bigger than anything we’d be able to afford in the more urban, religiously observant neighborhoods several miles away. Was my love of luxury holding us back from making a decision to change?

I remember standing in my kitchen during the last days of Elul, the Jewish month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and is a time for introspection and change. That kitchen was the nicest room in our house. Huge and luxurious, it was twice as big as the kitchens of my friends who lived in the more vibrant religiously-observant neighborhoods my husband and I were thinking of moving to.

“Do I really need this?” I asked myself. Gazing around the room, taking in the gleaming counters and copious cabinets, I found the courage to answer “no”. I’d be saying goodbye to luxury, goodbye to our home of 12 years, goodbye to the life we’d built for ourselves. I didn’t know exactly what was in store for us, but I was willing to take the leap and change and move to a place where we thought we’d be better able to grow.

It took us the better part of a year to move. One year on, I am writing this sitting in my new but small and un-luxurious kitchen. Instead of a beautiful spacious yard outside, my view is of a chain-link fence. But our kids are close to their friends from school, there are synagogues and opportunities to take Jewish classes nearby, and we’ve found ourselves in the more dynamic Jewish environment we long craved.

I think we knew we’d made the right decision a few weeks after moving. We’d been inundated with invitations for Shabbat meals; we’d met people and our kids were busy with their new social lives. One Shabbat afternoon, my husband and I took a walk. Every few minutes we were interrupted by a greeting from a new neighbor. One woman invited me to a class she was organizing. Other neighbors introduced themselves. Some people we’d known only casually for years from our kids’ school stopped and chatted and warmly suggested we get together on an upcoming Shabbat. At long last, here was the flourishing Jewish environment we’d longed for.

When my husband and I finally turned towards home, he smiled. “I think we made the right choice,” he said. “Maybe we should have done it sooner.”

Throughout the year that we deliberated whether or not we should move, Adele’s hit song “Hello” filled the airways. I identified with that song, wishing I could ask a version of myself on the other side whether trading our lovely house for a bigger Jewish community would be worth it.

Well, I’ve finally gone through to the other side of that decision and I’ve discovered that changing our lives was easier than we'd feared. I'm glad we finally had the courage to leave behind our doubts and fears, to stop hesitating and finally listen to our hearts.

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