Monday, July 16, 2007

defining terms

I just met a fascinating man at davening, my father tells me. He used to run a yeshiva in [ ---], where kids could get an authentic Orthodox education. My father pauses and looks at me, his heretical daughter. Assuming you want your child to get such a thing.

I barely miss a beat. Hmm. And who gets to decide what counts as 'authentic' and 'Orthodox?'

Oh. Well, he does. He's the principal.

It proves to be the conversation of the weekend, which we play in various forms.

There was almost nobody at shul! What happened to the kehila [community]?
I look up from my book. Well, Dad, it's a Hillel [college Jewish organization], so it's a little sparse in the summer, while the kids are home from school.
No. I've been here before in the summer, and it's never been like this.
I raise my eyebrows at the Man. We think about it.
Well, there's all these competing minyanim [prayer communities/groups] around these days, they might be drawing some of the Hillel folks.
He thinks this over. Orthodox minyanim?
We grope, trying to describe the egalitarian prayer groups springing up in our neighborhood, as people experiment with combining Orthodoxy and a woman's role in religious services. My husband is fascinated by them, I'm made edgy by the idea of slippery slopes and (unthinking) habits reversed. We struggle with some language briefly, but finally give up.
Not as you'd consider Orthodox, no.

Barring that, it was a lovely grandparental visit. On Friday, they took the Eldest to a municipal pool, picked herbs and lettuce at our community garden plot, and played with the Toddles. On Sunday, they worked their well-fed (if I do say so myself) tushies off in my garden with me, doing a massive clean-up job, weeding, mulching and my father heroically pounded in some trellises to replace the fence the neighbor ripped down. Bereft of support, my poor honeysuckle was looking so sad - and now it is eyeing its new digs speculatively. We work well together, my parents and I. I forget that sometimes, but my tidy garden reminds me of their energy and willing spirit.

It's a tricky thing: typically, my parents come for a visit over the weekend, which means shabbat, or the Jewish sabbath. Shabbat is the well worn religious hinge of our weeks. Which means they watch us in our religious routine, no extra frills or furbelows for their benefit, just straight up how we do it. And how we do shabbat is not so very different to how they do theirs - ours has a lot less shining silver, less glamorous dishes, and the menu is certainly different, but the ritual patterning (blessings over wine, then challah and salt, with grace after meals) is the one they follow, right down to the liturgy.

The one kicker is our gluten-free, not technically appropriate for the blessing challah, which we bless anyway, so that the boys can see how shabbat is shaped. The term is 'derech chinuch,' or 'in the service of education,' and it means that we are rabbinically sanctioned to make the blessing over our fake bread, leaving my parents the option of joining us or sneaking out the door to bless their own, wheat-based objects. That they do is a small, but only a very small, bone of contention between us, but it's hard to blame them for wanting to complete the sabbatical rituals properly, while it's easy to feel slighted in our efforts to make normal the very-much-not.

So, if we do these simple, timeworn things the same, how is it (my father muses) that we are actually so different? Well, Dad, I'd say, I suppose it depends on how you define 'Orthodox.'


dykewife said...

there will always be a difference between the old and new :) that's one of the good things in life. it certainly helps to keep one's mind open to the past.

Jill said...

Nobody get under my skin quite like my parents. My feelings would be very much hurt in a situation like yours. Better to do the best you can with what you have than not at all. Also wanted to comment on the Dr. #1 son had some 'issues' at abotu 8 that we sought some extra advice on as well.

mama o' the matrices said...

DW, Jill, I agree. No, really.

It's okay that I go a different way than my father does - he walks a different religious path than his father, so why not keep with tradition? (heh)

But keeping the peace in a family where folks diverge over something as deeply rooted as faith, well, that's tough.

And jill, not surprised. As wonderfully level headed as you are, the psychosocial aspects of this gig are pretty weighty for we adults. So much more so for the kidlets!