Monday, July 14, 2008

Trying Something New

We are Trying Something New.

Last week, around Wednesday or Thursday, my wife approached me with an idea. She wanted to enforce a new policy, and needed me to back her up: no computer or TV on Saturdays from now on.

I was raised in a very "liberal" Jewish household. My parents' idea of fully participating in the Jewish religion has always been going to the synagogue twice per year (on the High Holidays in September), lighting candles and eating potatoe pancakes on Hanukah, and eating matzo and matzo-ball-soup on Passover. My wife didn't grow up Jewish at all. She was born into a Catholic family, dropped out of catechism and refused confirmation, and then started her own little 20 year spiritual self exploration.

For the first years of our marriage, I never pushed religion on her. I never asked her to convert to Judaism. I loved her just the way she was. Then, about a year ago, I changed my tune for two reasons: us, and the kids.

I overheard a conversation that started me thinking. A co-worker was discussing the fact that she had gone out and bought cecmetary plots for herself and her spouse so that they could be buried together. I thought about my own future mortality, and the cemetary where my great-grandparents and my grandparents are buried. Someday, (hopefully not for a long time), my parents will be buried there, too. I want to be there someday, so that my children and grandchildren can visit all of us and see for themselves their history in our community. I realized that, unless things changed, my wife and I would have to be buried seperately. Our love is like that of Tristan and Isolde. I could not bear the thought of spending eternity with her anywhere other than by my side.

Second, my children have a profoundly Jewish identity. They are very spiritual and are always asking about the nature of G-d and the universe. They want to celebrate Jewish holidays to the fullest, and to make Jewish ritual a part of their everyday lives.

So, my wife and have started making religion a more overt part of our family's existence. And, with the help of our local rabbi, she has contacted a rabbi at the Bet Din (the rabbinical court in Boston) to undergo an Orthodox Jewish conversion.

My wife is a very smart woman, and an absolutely voracious reader. It is not at all uncommon for her to devour 10 or more books in a week. This religious activity has now provided her with an entirely new course of study, and she is reading and learning all that she can, from a wide variety of authors.

A large part of traditional Jewish practice is the observance of the Sabbath. The Sabbath, or "Shabbat" in Hebrew, is held to be more than just sacred. As the day on which G-d rested after creating the Heavens and the Earth and all that is within them, it is incumbent upon people to do the same. Orthodox Jews won't even ride in a car or answer the telephone. They have a big celebratory dinner on Friday night at Sundown, with blessings over wine and fresh bread, and on Saturday they have a day that is devoted to prayer, study, and time spent together as a family.

I have long held that social and religious practices are like a technology in that they perform a function, and that they persist over time because they "work". In recognition of that, we began having the Friday night dinners over a year ago, and it has been wonderful so far. It makes for a great ending to the week, a night to relax together as a family and reflect together upon the week just past. We often invite over friends and family, my wife has learned to bake the best home made fresh bread in North America - definitely two thumbs up all around.

So now she wanted to take the next step, and make Saturday an exclusive rest-and-family only day. In addition numerous small adjustments, that means two big changes: no computer and no television.

I had honestly thought of this before, but decided not to say anything. After all, she is the one who is going through the trouble of converting. The last thing she needs on top of that is me pushing her too fast and telling her what to do.

Last Saturday was the big day, and it was fabulous. There were no arguments over who's turn it was on the computer, or what show we were going to watch. There was far less squabling in general. Instead, we spent the morning at home together, then walked down to the park. We played games, told stories, and just plain-vanilla spent time together apart from the bustle of the everyday world. No phone calls, no email, no tv news. Just he six of us, and the sunshine, and a little ice cream for a special treat.

Even the kids seemed to like it better. Not only did they fight less (actually a lot less - there were hardly any arguments at all), but they also all got a more full share of my wife's and my attention.

My wife actually woke up Sunday morning and felt like it was Monday, because she never feels that rested after only one weekend day.

We are definitely going to make this or new way to spend every Saturday. Or, excuse me, every Shabbat.

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