It was a year ago that we left Alaska and boarded a plane for the midwest. Since then, it’s been a hectic year with our conversions, Mr. Safek’s heart surgery, and the busy-ness of living in a fully functioning Chassidic community. I have loved this year, even the tough parts. Our children both had some rough times with adjusting to the new schools and life. I had weeks I wasn’t sure where I was going, with so many appointments, work, driving teenagers around, and cooking meals. I have only grown to love our community more as the year passed. They embraced us from the moment we came here. They celebrated with us and they helped support us through the hard parts. I feel like I’m with family and I feel like I’ve always been here, which is more than I ever could have hoped for.
As a way of committing further to where we are now, we’re closing on a house tomorrow, just a couple of blocks from the one we’re renting. It’s an old house and a fixer upper and a duplex that we can rent part of out. It has tons of unique features including gorgeous original woodwork, soapstone farm sinks, original tile and hardwood floors, a plumbing leak in the bathroom, an asbestos roof, and a tree growing out of the chimney.
Yes…it’s a fixer upper. I have begun calling it “The Tree House,” partially in honor of the small tree growing out of the side of the top of the chimney and partially because we’ll be living on the 2nd and 3rd floors and renting out the 1st floor. Our chimney tree looks pretty healthy up there, with nice green leaves this spring.
It’s a work in progress, much like we are.
In the past year I’ve learned how to open up and let people in more. I’ve learned to lean on others when things get tough and I’ve learned to jump in to help others when their lives get tough. I’ve learned to give without expectations and to receive without guilt. I’ve studied a ton of Torah, but I’ve learned more about living as part of the Jewish people, which is probably where I needed the most instruction anyway. I’ve learned that keeping some chumrahs (stringencies) is worth it if you love being part of a community that does so. I’ve also learned that you don’t need to keep everything immediately, either. It’s ok to be growing on your own path.
I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, that my children will have to grow and learn what Judaism means to them and that wherever that may lead them, that’s not the measure of myself as a Jew. It’s my job to teach them and guide them as best I can, but it’s their job to decide what to do with all this. Sometimes, for my son, that means sleeping through morning minyan. Other times that means him being really picky about tiny details of Jewish law. He’s still learning and growing and figuring out what being a Jew means to him and that very well may look different than what it means to me.
And that’s ok, too.
Somehow, along the way from where we were last year to where we are today, my children both vaulted into being teenagers and my life is now taken up with learning to let go, bit by bit, and trying to know when I should hold on. What I should insist on and what I should let slide. Baruch Hashem, I have older families around me who have raised their teens and can give me advice and a helping hand.
The best piece of advice I got from a Baal Teshuva (Jew who became observant as an adult) was this:
“Don’t think that whether or not your children turn out frum (observant) is a measurement of whether you’re a ‘real’ frum person yourself, or a measure of your success at becoming frum.”
And that’s a hard one, because I think anyone who converts and especially someone who’s children convert as adults feel a heavy responsibility to raise kids that continue being observant. It’s hard to accept that all I can do is daven for it, provide them with the education for it and the environment for it…and hope…and love them whether or not it works out the way I hope…and keep on davening (praying).
So, tomorrow we close on the Tree House and I hope that we can make it a home filled with warmth, love, and Judaism. I hope it’s a place where people feel embraced when they walk in the door and that they always leave feeling a little bit more inspired, a little bit happier, a little bit stronger. I hope it’s a place where everyone feels safe and accepted.
Basically, I hope it reflects the community we live in and that we can be a good addition to that community for many, many years to come.