David grew up in Skokie and Evanston, Illinois, and was bar mitzvahed in his neighborhood shul. I keep his bar mitzvah invitation in a frame on my bureau because the pencil drawing of his thirteen-year-old self in 'seventies big hair and yarmulke make me smile. He wants to give our children a religious education, but his emotional connection to Judaism is vague and tenuous. Our ease together as a couple is not based in faith at all, though I'm aware that so much of our common vocabulary -- our humor, eccentric relatives, close siblings, focus on food -- feels somehow quintessentially Jewish.
Since the arrival of our two children, I've tried to figure out how to incorporate rituals that acknowledge the sacredness in our daily lives. But my efforts still feel stilted, forced. I light candles on Friday nights when we're home, and savor watching our son, Benjamin, rip into the challah and pass pieces around the table. I love watching our daughter, Molly, imitate me sweeping my hands three times over the candles. Before the meal, I say out loud what I was grateful for that week and Ben and Molly pipe up with some thanks of their own. We all kiss each other and say "Good shabbos." But I feel David's discomfort -- he lacks my sentimentality, and ritual doesn't come naturally to him -- and that makes me self-conscious.
I pray briefly before bedtime most nights, thanking God for the health and safety of my children. But I worry that my appeals are too self-centered.
I'm still in synagogue twice a year on the High Holy Days. I've always loved the chaotic family suppers before we rush out to evening services: Mom sets a beautiful table with lace and silver, there are the round, shiny challahs, apples dipped in honey, familiar blessings. But I get annoyed by my mother's explanations; they feel like a reproach, a cue that I should know more about the symbolism of things. In synagogue on Kol Nidre -- the eve of Yom Kippur -- I always feel hypocritical confessing my sins. But that doesn't stop me from asking God for clemency: My list of lapses is always easy to summon up. During one service recently, I found myself weeping during the Shehechianu (the blessing that thanks God for giving us life, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this moment). I was overcome by the singing, everyone standing and swaying, arms around neighbors they didn't even know. Of course, minutes after that transcendent moment, I found myself flipping ahead in the prayer book to see how much of the service was left.
Every year, my husband says he doesn't know why he's fasting or going to temple since he doesn't feel anything there. When I suggest that maybe we ought to tell each other our sins for the year, he says he can't have that conversation when he's so hungry.