So far this week, Dani Shapiro wrote about moving from Jewish N.Y. to churchy Connecticut and how to find Jews in the suburbs.
When I started writing my new memoir, Devotion, it was out of this sense of longing – longing for community, for a connection to my past, for a spiritual life both for myself and my family that felt relevant and authentic and true. If we hadn’t moved from the city to Connecticut, in all likelihood I wouldn’t have felt compelled to explore these matters in the depth that I have – in part, because it all would have been laid out in front of me.
I would have sent Jacob to one of a dozen great Hebrew schools. We would have joined the same shul as our friends. On Rosh Hashanah, we would have walked with the rest of the Jewish population of the Upper West Side to the Hudson River, for tashlich. Jacob would have gone swimming at the JCC.
Moving to the country forced me to articulate my own needs and desires for a spiritual life, precisely because it wasn’t being handed to me on a silver platter.
We have now lived in Connecticut for eight years, and I feel we have built a Jewish life for ourselves here. It took three tries — the third was the charm — but we did find a synagogue about forty minutes away, a Conservative egalitarian congregation that reminds me of the shul of my childhood. Jacob goes to Hebrew School there.
It isn’t perfect — but what is? There are only four kids in his 5th-grade class. The distance is a lot to drive. At times, it conflicts with other activities, like team sports and school functions — forcing us to assess and re-assess our priorities. But most importantly, it is a part of our lives — our fast-paced, secular, ex-pat urban, rural family life in which it matters, deeply matters, that we are connected to our heritage, our history, to our people.
Dani Shapiro’s new memoir Devotion is now available. She has been blogging for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning. 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.