Shall I Tell You My Dream?

If anyone recognizes the film reference in the title of this post, let me know and you might get a prize. At the very least, you will have earned my utmost respect.

I mentioned this upsetting dream I had while I was on a brief vacation. It has been a while and the issue is at least partly resolved, but it was definitely one of those things where feelings that have been bubbling under the surface explode while I’m sleeping and send me a message that it is time to act on them before…well, let me tell you what happened in the dream.

I don’t remember all of it, but I know that I ended up in a hospital. Friends surrounded me, and I was talking to them, but crying all the while. It was as if I was unloading every issue, large or small, that was weighing on my mind. At some point, a psychiatrist arrived, and he told me “you’re not going anywhere,” meaning that I was to be admitted to the hospital’s psych ward based on my inability to stop crying. I felt some measure of relief that I was going to get help. The crucial aspect of this, though, is the one problem I cried over that I actually remembered when I woke up.

I saw that a guy who I will call JK had joined our little group in the waiting room. I told everyone else that I knew why he was there. I’d gone to school with him, but more importantly, his mother is the executive director of the synagogue I’d grown up in. I had been struggling over whether or not to enroll Einstein in the religious school for Kindergarten. And now some background is needed.

Before I was born, my parents moved to the town I grew up, to the house where my mother still lives. The area did not have a conservative congregation at that time, but my father quickly fixed that. He put an ad in the paper, and it was answered, and things got started and grew. Dad was a cantor, and although he kept his “day job” working for the D.C. government, he served as the new congregation’s cantor for the first 16 or so years of my life. So, as you might imagine, my Jewish identity was wrapped around the fact that it was my father chanting services, which also made me and my mother and sisters semi-famous at the shul (that’s a Yiddishism meaning synagogue). What I am getting at is that I really felt as if I belonged there.

But stuff changed. My father retired from the cantor position in 1986 or ’87. I wasn’t quite old enough to be told everything that was going on, but if I understand correctly, he left because his disabilities wouldn’t allow him to do as much, and they would not let him do less. He used to have to take breaks during certain parts of the service where he wasn’t needed, in order to put his feet up in his office (he had circulation problems). So as not to be too disruptive, he would leave the sanctuary through the kitchen that opened out into a corridor leading to the front office. Apparently, since Dad was a pretty large man, some people thought he was going into the kitchen to eat! It made me very angry at the time; it seemed as if some committee was forcing him out, and I thought that they shouldn’t be allowed to do that, since the whole establishment wouldn’t exist if not for him.

I went to college after that, but I was still local and came home a lot. It was odd going to shul without Dad being up on the bima (that’s Hebrew for stage, or for the podium used in the synagogue for those who are leading things). Nevertheless, I got married there in 1997, by a handpicked rabbi, and with Dad chanting the Sheva Brachas (literally “seven blessings,” a typical Jewish wedding thing). In December 2003, Dad, who had been suffering from various medical problems, became very ill and passed away. My connection to the shul was already frayed and it got worse.

My husband and I continued to go to High Holiday services at the old place, but we did not join. Besides the whole Dad thing, there was the issue of the husband having been brought up in a Reform congregation, so that for him, our services have too much Hebrew (and are probably longer too). Then we had children, and we knew that at some point we’d have to figure out where we wanted to be. My mother doesn’t like going to services there because of the lack of Dad (not to mention she can’t stand the current cantor’s voice), but she doesn’t feel she can go anywhere else. Although I still find myself pulled to the old place, I don’t feel as if I have to be there, and if the husband is happy somewhere else, that’s where we ought to be.

When the time neared for Einstein to start school, I decided we’d have to try out the area shuls (or “temples,” as the Reform refer to them). But, I simply didn’t get off my butt to do it. I inquired about the tuition for religious school at the old place in the spring, and found out that it is around $300-400 more for nonmembers (you don’t have to become a member until your child is in the 3rd grade). Not wanted to shell out that much more (and not realizing at the time that the membership cost is an astronomical $2000/year), I said, forget it, I’m going to figure out where to join and get the member’s price on tuition. But I didn’t and the enrollment time drew nearer. I thought it would be okay to wait a year; after all, Einstein just started regular school, maybe starting Sunday School at the same time is too much.

And then I had this dream. And realized that I have Jewish Mother guilt! Or maybe that Dad is somehow communicating with me. Or both! In any event, I knew I had to enroll Einstein at the original shul and put off worrying about where we will actually end up. A few good things have come out of this. One is that I discovered that many people do not join a shul until they “have to,” i.e. their children are at the age where they can’t attend religious school unless their parent(s) is/are member(s) of that shul. It turns out that enrolling your child makes you a quasi-member; you get the e-mails, you get the newsletter, you know what is going on. More importantly, my decision has helped me on my quest to combat Christmas Envy. Einstein seems excited to learn about Judaism; it is making him proud, and he is starting to get that we have a bunch of neat holidays that others don’t have. (Just to clarify–I have no problem with Einstein participating in others’ Christmas celebrations. I just don’t celebrate it my home, and last year Einstein expressed, several times, a wish that we could celebrate it. This makes perfect sense, but I’m trying to get him past it. I don’t remember being envious of my non-Jewish friends growing up, so whatever my parents did worked for me. Not my baby sister, though. But that’s another post.)

By the way, the executive director, whose son was in the dream, did offer to have me pay the tuition in monthly installments instead of all at once. The director of education kept my e-mail from my tuition inquiry back in the spring and e-mailed me not long before school asking if I was planning to enroll, and at that time I told her I was worried about paying the tuition. She told me that I should just pay the deposit and make arrangements with the executive director. I get the impression that they don’t want to turn anyone away. But we know the ED, because she has been in that position for a long time, and I was a little embarrassed and was dreading talking to her, so that was another part of the problem.

The next step? Visiting a bunch of places. With all of our free time. And I should be taking Einstein to “Junior Congregation,” which is a youth service that takes place twice a month, on Saturdays, of course. Saturday being our only totally free day now that Einstein has to go to school every Sunday morning! I foresee another dream…in which my head explodes. Meanwhile, I think I killed the last one, and my friends will not have to have me committed. Yay!!

4 thoughts on “Shall I Tell You My Dream?

  1. Isnt’ the synagogue joining thing stressful! Around here you can hardly go to High holiday services without joining someplace or paying hundred s of dollars for high holy day tickets. We finally decided on shul to join only to discover they were not taking any new members ! I was soo exasperated

  2. 12T – I think I need to spend more time with you. 🙂 I’m finding out lots that I didn’t know.

    I have to admit that getting up on Sunday morning to take Ari to religious school is a pain in the ass. BUT, he absolutely loves it. He also has a penchant for other languages and is actually learning both Spanish and Hebrew at a rate you couldn’t have convinced me of when he was 3 and not saying “mom” or “dad.” Of course, JCC Summer Camp helped with that one as well. And, you’re right, it really helps counterbalance the interest in Christmas. His identity is really blossoming. Though, it’s a bit disturbing lately that he says he wants to help me be a better mom so I don’t have to ask God for forgiveness next year. As you can tell, that talk about Yom Kippur had an impact. The tantrums, sassy mouth, hitting his brother, not going to bed on time, etc. don’t matter…I have to be a better mom. Let’s just say their cuteness helps them survive on this earth.

    You’re both right about the stress of joining a congregation. OMG Looking into it at all the places we’re moving is a bit maddening, especially going back to places we had particularly bad experiences. We just have to hope for the best, but obviously our focus is different now that we have kids.

    We call Saturday “Family Day.” It’s the day we hang out together and just get to be ourselves, whether that means going out and doing things or staying in and enjoying each others company. But it goes by way too fast. And, since dad can do moonlighting shifts on almost every Sat. he wants, those days no longer include him for now. Thank God we’re in the home stretch of this residency.

    Kiddoc – a shul that wouldn’t take new members? Is there a waiting list or something? I’ve never heard of a thing.

  3. Linda,
    Yes thats exactly what it is about the shul not taking new members. They are overcapacity and now have sorta started a waiting list. Or at least waiting until nov. 1 st to hopefully open their membership back up. Its a synagogue under a lot of transitions so it could be an interesting place to be (assuming they let us in ).

  4. Kiddoc and Linda, thanks for weighing in on this. I have become so aware lately of how much gets sacrificed just based on the fact that our time, energy, and (dare I say it) sanity are all limited. (“Our sanity is limited” sounds like a slogan for something, or maybe a good song lyric….)

    I left out of the entry above that I have seen what can happen when you make the wrong choices in priorities. Naturally, I want my kids to love Judaism, be proud of being Jewish, want to be involved etc. I want it to be ingrained; I don’t want them to just participate to make me happy, and I don’t want them to get to adolescence and decide they don’t give a shit about it. A certain child that is closely related to me had his bar mitzvah this year, and he got through it okay but did not read from the Torah (which, for those who don’t know, is not required but is often done in Conservative shuls; it’s difficult because the text you are reading from in the Torah scroll does not have punctuation, vowels, or the chanting marks you need so a lot has to be memorized) and if he sets foot in a synagogue in the future without being dragged there I will be surprised.

    No more nightmares so far, but this is still a source of stress! (But I’m thrilled to hear about Ari’s progress and how serious he was about Yom Kippur–that’s really great!)

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