Thursday, July 06, 2006

Making a Jewish Home

During my conversion last fall, one of the wise people on my bet din asked me, "so tell me, what makes a Jewish home?"

I think I said somethign about our mezuzah and wedding covenants prominently displayed as you entered, about the tradition of hospitality we try to uphold, our Shabbat observance and attempts at a form of kashrut. At the time, with a nice, settled home, these responses were adequate for me (although my questioner pushed me further).

Today I woke up on the couch, with a cat on my (very pregnant) stomach, to see a jumble of furniture and boxes in the living room, and beyond them, stacks of junk and otherwise useless items in the carport. I walked through a narrow path between piles, past the front door (with no mezuzah yet) to a cluttered, unpacked kitchen, and further back to the chaos of an unpacked bathroom and bedroom. We moved on Monday, after a month of packing, remodeling, painting, cleaning, sorting, tossing out, donating, enlisting help, eating off paper plates, and driving back and forth to Goodwill about 200 times... into a house that was still not quite ready for us, which comes with all sorts of strings and tsuris because it's my husband's childhood home. We're beat.

According to all the definitions I gave last fall, this cannot be a Jewish home. None of the mezuzahs are up, nor is our Jewish artwork. Our books, including siddurim and the Tanakh, are all in boxes. On Tuesday, we had just unpacked all our dishes when the cabinet came crashing down off the wall, breaking all but 2 bowls and a mug, but B"H not injuring anyone. (I told my husband - "Clearly G@d wants us to improve our kashrut!") And hospitality? The neighborhood cats are getting fed, but I've asked everyone else to stay away until we're in better order.

Unfortunately, with the exhaustion and stress and expense of all this refurbishing and moving, we've also lost the one piece I took for granted last fall: Shalom Bayit, the peace of the home.

My husband and I love each other, we work well together, we share similar tastes and values and should, right now, be focusing on preparing for our coming baby. Instead we're slogging through our days in a fog of tiredness, trying to fit in some cleaning and unpacking between our work schedules and the ongoing fixes for the new/old house. Last night we had the stupidest argument ever, over which of the (really ugly and cheap) bookcases we owned were worse and had to be hidden at the back of the house. Hmm...

So, here's my new definition of what makes my Jewish home, which I'm going to strive to uphold over the next few weeks as we get through the mess:

1) A Jewish family living in it. This means people who treat each other like family, with love, caring, kind words, honor, and appreciation. Including not swearing at my cat for waking me up for the 20th time in the night because she's scared and wants to cuddle.
2) Shalom Bayit. Reaching a peaceful compromise is more important than where the computer ends up. Or the desk, or the bookshelves, or the filing cabinets, or the... you get the picture.
3) Holy Preparations. Just as we are to undertake our Pesach cleaning and kashrut with an attitude of devotion and joy, the preparation and arranging of a Jewish home need to be filled with a belief that we will do our best, and trust that things will turn out as they should. I had a wonderful moment last week when the nursery was finally painted and empty, and I could get down on my knees and scrub the floor to remove several years of grime. Why was this fun? Because the whole time, I was thinking of my child crawling on that floor, and then walking on it - I was focused completely on the ultimate purpose of the cleaning, as well as the minute details of scrubbing each tile.
4) Gratitude. Instead of focusing on everything that is still broken, I will be grateful for all the things that DID get done, and all the people who have helped and are still helping us. I suppose part of this is digging out my thank-you cards from the big box marked "desk stuff" .
5) An ability to find beauty and holiness in even the most ridiculous situations.
6) Putting off the keva (form) of a Jewish home until we can get the kavanah (intention) right. I have three beautiful mezuzahs. When we can find and act on all of the above, we will be ready to believe this can be a home for us, and put them up. I look forward to that day, may it come soon!