I grew up going to the same shul my father went to when he was growing up. Originally, the congregation was orthodox, but in the 40's and 50's, the second generation Jews were more interested in assimilating and the shul easily slid into a conservative format.
I went to Sunday SChool. I went to HEbrew School. When we went to shul, it was usually on Friday nights. For a very long time, I didn't even know that people actually went to shul on Saturdays. My mother tried to always light candles on Friday nights before she and my father would go out on "date night".
I was very into my Jewish education. I came home with such novel traditions as bedikas chometz. Something neither of my parents had ever heard about. I read everything Jewish I coiuld find. Sholem Aleichem, Elie Wiesel, IB Singer. EVerything. I remember thinking how chasidic men really had it made. They sat around and ate and drank and discussed Torah and danced and their wives waited on them while taking care of their 10 children. I wished that I would come back as a chasidic man in my next life, but I knew it wasn't possible since that life was over. There weren't anymore chassidim..... or so I thought.
I grew up in a town with two shuls. The Reform and the Conservative. My father loved to talk about how the reform Jews weren't real Jews, but we were because most of our service was done in Hebrew and men wore yarmulkes in shul and didn't take them off until after walking out of the building instead of taking them off before walking into the building, like they did at the reform temple. It's true, my mother never made a ham, but we had bacon all the time. We mixed milk and meat regularly in casseroles and cheeseburgers. Italian salami was a favorite treat. But then, my mother loved making matza brei and french toast from challah.
We "did" the holiays. We did one seder at our house. It's true that there wasn't bread on the table, but what was made was not kosher for Pesach in anyway. Chanukah, we lit candles and opened mounds and mounds of presents that my mother would pile up on our fireplace under our names in glitter on cut out draydels. When we were very little, my grandfather dressed up as Santa Claus and we have lots of pictures of me and my sisters sitting on Santa's lap. We always had new dresses for Easter and hunted for eggs with my parents' social group. We went to shul on the High Holy Days. We sat in our regular spot in the first row of the second section. This was ideal for greeting everyone just walking into the sanctuary. We went to lunch during the Yom Kippur break. My father had a tiny, portable TV that he would ran out and check on during services. OFten teenage boys would come with him to check on game scores and report back to their fathers still in shul. My mother remembers something big going on in shul a couple of days before I was born. It was Simchas Torah. I remember in 1977 when the first woman was allowed to carry a Torah. IT was a huge big deal. Almost a scandal. In 1978, I was the first girl to wear a tallis in our shul. IT was my bas mitzvah. I went to a Jewish summer camp. Reform, hippie camp from San Francisco. ( I hope to post about it soon) Very liberal. But it was there that I learned about the beauty of Shabbos and I will be forever grateful for that. I was involved in Kadima and USY and went to Israel when I was 16 and was determined to return as soon as possible. Like many of the kids on my trip, I wanted to keep kosher and Shabbos, but without the encouragement or help from my parents, it wasn't easy and I gave up.
I always wanted more, though. I couldn't verbalize it because I just wasn't sure what it was that I wanted. It was just a feeling. At 18, I decided I wanted to be a rabbi. NOt that I wanted a pulpit, but because I wanted to learn more.
When I moved away from home (1500 miles away), I went to a very large Conservative shul every Friday night. No one said a word to me. Not in all the months I was going there. I sat in the same place every time. Someone told me about a new, young, egalitarian conservative shul and I started going there. Very warm. HEimishe. Then I met my husband and we went there together. And we were very happy there.
(Next post will be a little bit about my husband's upbringing and what brought us to where we are now.)