266: A Family’s Search for Spiritual Connection in the High Holidays

elcome to our special ReadTheSpirit coverage of the Jewish High Holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah (the new year’s observance) starting at sundown tonight and moving through Yom Kippur. There are so many terrific Web sites and other resources about these rich traditions that our approach won’t be to duplicate those other great offerings. Rather, our ReadTheSpirit goal is to help people make “spiritual connections,” so our stories will explore the daily meaning of Judaism and these holidays for men, women and families. In that journey, whether you’re Jewish or not, you’ll find inspiration in our stories. Today, we begin with a popular ReadTheSpirit friend and occasional guest …

For the High Holidays this year, author and business consultant Lynne Schreiber will be making some new connections in her own spiritual journey and for the sake of her three children: Asher, 6 and a half, Eliana, who will be 5 in October, and Shaya, who is 2.
   We’ve shared some of Lynne’s journey in earlier stories (see links below). She’s a nationally known author and writer for magazines and newspapers. For many years, Lynne was strictly Orthodox in her religious observance. But, over the past year, she went through a divorce. She founded a new business, called Your People LLC, a “community-building marketing” firm that works with “companies that would benefit from building a sense of community with their customers.”
   In short, she’s been going through huge changes as a professional communicator, as a Jewish woman and as a Mom.

   “My whole journey has been about evolution and one of the things I’ve been searching for is how I can make meaningful connections between my kids and Judaism,” Lynne told me as she was preparing for the High Holidays. “Years and years ago, before I had children and I first contemplated fully observing the Sabbath, I said to a friend in Washington, ‘Oh yeah, it will be so great to observe the Sabbath when I have kids.’
   ”And the friend said, ‘Yes, but what about you?’ And I realized that I was thinking of the Sabbath as something just for the kids. What about my own connection?”
   She has written about her long journey into Orthodox practice and the joys she found within the Orthodox community. But, she also was feeling spiritually restless as she went through the many changes in her life.
   One of the conclusions she reached was: “For me, the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in Orthodox congregations were just impenetrable — very long and very hard to take. It was such a challenge that it didn’t enhance my experience. Actually, it made me less secure because the experiences were so hard for me.”
   So, a few weeks ago, she decided to visit the congregation where she grew up and went to religious-education classes years earlier. The congregation is Reform, so it was a leap for her Orthodox household of four, but Temple Israel is nationally known in the Reform movement as a very large and innovative congregation with lots of fresh ideas.
   Lynne had visited one of Temple Israel’s most popular summertime programs a couple of years earlier as a professional observer. “I was reporting a story for the Detroit Free Press on their summer Sabbath program, which begins early in the evening before sunset, so I could go and report on the story and still get home before sunset. I was really looking at this as a professional, reporting a freelance story, picking up a little more money to support the family.”
   But the memory of that service, which is held outdoors during the summer and attracts hundreds of people, remained. A few weeks ago, while trying to expand her children’s experiences of Judaism, she packed her family into the car and visited the outdoor service with friends — and stayed out until after sunset.
   ”We met another family who are friends and we had a picnic on the lawn before hand, so my kids had friends there already. It was just beautiful. There were 800 people there that night. Children were running around on the lawn. My oldest said to me, ‘I think this should be our new synagogue.’
   ”Then, we were driving home in the dark and this was something we’d never done before on a Friday night and we had to talk about it: Should we be doing this? How do you feel about this? And they were fine with that. We’d had this burst of energy for Friday night services that I had never experienced before.”

   Then, the big question loomed: What to do during the High Holidays?
   Lynne had such a good experience with her children at the Friday night service that she decided to bring her children to a well-known and very popular children’s service (for ages 8 and younger) at Temple Israel on the afternoon of Yom Kippur.
   ”Mostly, my kids have experienced Yom Kippur as a day when the adults are fasting and they’re cranky and the services are very long and boring,” she said. “So, this year, we’re going to have meals before and after the fast with my family and I’m going to take them to the service for children. It’s a service with some of the music and prayers from the whole 24-hour period designed for children to share the core of the experience. It isn’t heavy or too long. In fact, I have an adult friend who tells me he likes to visit this service because it captures the inspiring themes so well.”
   For Lynne, her central concern as a Mom is: “What is really going to be authentic and sink in with my children and make them want to identify Jewishly?”

   For the next couple of years, that journey will take her many different places. Already, for the High Holidays in 2009, she’s planning to take her children on a trip with the Adventure Rabbi, who we wrote about earlier at ReadTheSpirit. Rabbi Jamie Korngold leads hiking parties into beautiful areas of the American West for special services. “I am so excited by that possibility,” Lynne said. “I couldn’t do it this year, but I want to head out there with her for Rosh Hashanah next year and hear the shofar.”
   In a way, Lynne’s story represents a spiritual reality for millions of Americans that — to put it bluntly — is driving the leaders of organized religious groups nuts. She’s deeply committed to her faith as the core of her life and yet she’s on a journey that will take her and her children many places. Eventually, she may commit to a single religious congregation, but for now she’s on a journey. She doesn’t want to belong to one place entirely, at least for now.
   And from Lynne’s perspective — and the perspective of millions of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist Americans — this isn’t a problem. It’s an enormous blessing to be on such a journey.
   ”The message I’ve always given my kids is that every single person in this world has a relationship to God and has a job to do and is equally important,” Lynne said. “Even though we’re born Jewish doesn’t mean we have the exclusive claim on enlightenment. But this is our path and this is how we connect. That’s the message I’ve shared with my kids all their lives.
   ”Spirituality has to be a positive connection and has to inspire you to strive for something better. Otherwise, religion becomes this punishing notion about life. People don’t want to take that punishment any more.”
   In our life-long spiritual journeys, she said, “We have to have the permission to evolve.”

   Read Lynne’s earlier “Flavors of Hanukkah” story about recipes that connect the love of families through generations.
   Read Lynne’s earlier Passover story in which she talks about rebuilding spiritual connections in the face of the painful breaks that most of us encounter in our lives.
   Visit Lynne’s Web site, which is her gateway to her various projects from the new Your People LLC to her blog, Nourish Cafe. Or, click here to jump right into Nourish Cafe.

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   (Originally published in the ReadTheSpirit online magazine.)

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