Going back to my hometown and realizing it’s full of vibrant Jewish life is one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced. I grew up in a blue collar neighborhood and moved to a Jewish neighborhood in Baltimore during high school. I didn’t know much about them, save for the fact that they wore all black and walked everywhere (especially on Saturdays, what’s up with that?). Little did I know that one day I’d be somewhat part of this community that just a year ago seemed so distant from my reality.
When I first went back home and was trying to be kosher, it was tough. I thought there was nowhere to eat. I broke Shabbos left and right and back and forth and up and down and side to side. Then, over Christmas, my boyfriend Danny came home with me. With his help, I started to take in the Baltimore Jewish community, only to be more than pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it.
In December, I discovered a great bagel shop where Danny, his friend and I hung out on Christmas Eve. It was great not to miss Christmas whatsoever, especially with the help of Danny. We visited a kosher coffee joint for the first time where I got a drink that was comparable, if not better than a Starbucks frap. Since I started my conversion process, when I went home, I felt uncomfortable. I knew no one in the Orthodox neighborhood, and my Reform friends aren’t kosher or Shomer Shabbos. I pretty much lost any Jewish identity I gained in New York when I went back. But now that’s completely changed.
This past visit to Baltimore, just last week, I experienced my first Shabbaton, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve figured out the tricks to keeping Shabbat: 1. Buy a crockpot, timed lights (or “kosher lights” at your local Judaica store), a hot water heater, and a hot plate. 2. Cook your little heart out on Thursday night/Friday afternoon. 3. Plug your phone into your charger, so the screen is lit up so you can see if you missed any important/emergency phone calls. Maybe that last rule isn’t so kosher, but if you struggle the most with not checking your phone/emails on Shabbat like me, then at least that takes some of the anxiety away.
At the Shabbaton, I sat around, read 200 pages of my book, and had great conversations with the family whose house we were staying at. It was one of my favorite days so far this year, and definitely the most meaningful Shabbat I’ve had yet to experience. After it was over, Danny and I got some of the best pizza and french fries I’ve ever tasted- and they were kosher. The whole experience back home really exceeded my expectations.
I think it’s much easier to keep Shabbos when you have a family and people to talk to and take in the beautiful time of week with. Danny and I usually just stay home or maybe hit up Chabad. Our Friday nights and Saturday afternoons are usually lonely or boring or both. In many ways, it’s more difficult to celebrate the holiday when you don’t have a family. We live far, far away from our shul, which is even harder to get to in the very cold or hot weather. We are considering completely uprooting our life to live in a more Orthodox neighborhood, possibly in another state. Danny and I have both been disappointed, overall, with the Jewish communities in New York City and the surrounding suburbs.
Hopefully we will be able to make the necessary adjustments to our life sometime this year and find a “happy medium.” We don’t want to live amongst the Ultra-Orthodox, but we also don’t want to be completely assimilated. It’s hard to get to that middle ground, but we’ll just have to keep exploring our options and hopefully find our place in a nice community soon.