Eight years ago, I moved with my husband and young son from a brownstone in Brooklyn to a house on ten acres in rural Connecticut. I had a lot on my mind at the time. I worried that we were making a huge mistake leaving the city for country life. What did I know from nature? I was a city creature, accustomed to sirens, pretzel vendors, doormen, Chinese take-out.
Three-year-old Jacob refused to set his bare feet on grass that whole first summer, and when he did, he screeched in bewilderment, as if the very texture of the grass itself was an affront to his already ingrained city sensibilities.
I worried that we’d be lonely, or that our days would be too quiet, or that there would be no place to buy broccoli rabe within a fifty mile radius. But the one thing about our move that most took me by surprise was that in this new rural life, my Jewishness asserted itself powerfully, with a sense of urgency.
I had never had to think about being Jewish before! It was simply what I was — as much a part of my identity as being female, or a daughter, a mother, a wife. In New York, it seemed the very air I breathed was Jewish air.
When I was growing up, my grandparents lived on the Upper West Side. My grandfather was among the founders of Lincoln Square Synagogue. I was raised in an Orthodox home, went to a yeshiva until seventh grade. Now, here I was living in a small New England town with three churches and no temple. What’s more, my son had developed a fascination with these churches. They combined his three obsessions: bells, towers, and clocks. He’d gaze up at the pristine white church on our village green, and we’d have the following conversation:
“We’re a little bit Christian and a little bit Jewish, right?”
“No, honey. We’re entirely Jewish.”
“A little bit Christian,” he would nod emphatically, as if the matter was settled for once and for all.
Dani Shapiro’s new memoir Devotion is now available. Come back all week to read her posts for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s author blogging series. She’ll be reading at Franklin Park in Brooklyn next Monday night.
Dani Shapiro is a best-selling novelist and memoirist and host of the podcast Family Secrets (now in its seventh season). Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vogue, and Time. She has taught at Columbia and New York University and is the co-founder of the Sirenland Writers Conference. She lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut.