Choosing to be Conscious of A Jewish Home

As a kid, it never occurred to me to consider where my belongings came from, or how the house got so clean for Shabbos. Keeping Shabbos and Kashrut was a given part of my life, and did not require any input or effort on my part. As I got older, I was able to understand the basic processes by which the elements of my surroundings got there, but I never really appreciated the ongoing process of keeping up a home, particularly a Jewish home, until I moved out. Up until then, I lived in a general state of inability to fathom an existence prior to my own. It’s not that I didn’t cognitively know that my parents were once young adults with no idea what to do or where to go, it just wasn’t something I had ever experienced, and therefore I could not internalize the reality. My life as a Jewish person was, for all intensive purposes, automated.

Growing up in my parents’ house, Baruch HaShem I never had to worry about anything. Without even asking, I was given food, shelter, warmth, clothing and just about everything a kid could need. My parents always made caring for me look so easy, so when the time came for me to leave home for the first time, I wasn’t too worried about my well being. I figured that, even though I wouldn’t be living with my parents anymore, I would still have the luxury of financial dependence, so how hard could living alone be?

I didn’t move out overnight. I started by spending summers at sleep away camp, then a year in a Midrasha in Israel, and the real party began when I moved into an apartment in Queens, NY to go to school there. The gradual process of leaving home masked that pinpointed moment when I began to feel like I was functioning as an independent adult. When my parents dropped me off at my new digs in Kew Gardens Hills, I didn’t necessarily feel the weight of my new situation.

Then nighttime came and I got hungry, and suddenly I realized that there was no food in the fridge because I didn’t buy any. I succumbed to the ease of pasta and, lo and behold, I had no way to cook the stuff because I didn’t have a pot. The minute details of a simple pasta dinner like the plate, fork and condiments became illuminated and I began to realize the conscious effort that goes into keeping a home. I considered my parents’ home, substantially larger and more complex than my little apartment, and wondered how my parents possibly managed.

Keeping up any home is a day-to-day stream of conscious effort. It’s been over a year since I’ve been living on my own, and I am still bewildered by the way that dirt collects in every possible nook and cranny it can find. A Jewish home brings the added need for attentiveness to daily halachic observations like Kashrut and Shabbos. My roommates and I had to develop a system for keeping our dishes separated and labeling everything that might touch food as “meat” or “dairy”. Turns out there are endless details that arise in the maintenance of a Jewish home

As a young Jewish adult recently living away from my parents but still financially dependent, life is not a daily struggle per se. Rather the most poignant aspect of moving out was becoming conscious of my home. If I don’t cook, I don’t eat. If I don’t clean, the place becomes a pigsty, and if I’m not careful, my food and dishes could become treif.

The process of developing this consciousness is linked to broader implications. I don’t live with my parents anymore, and I am essentially at liberty to do as I please. If I wanted to, I could melt some cheese onto my hamburger and no one would stop me. I could neglect to cook for Shabbos and just eat a sandwich on Friday night. Becoming attentive to the details of a Jewish home requires conscious effort, but it also requires a choice. The development of a system for keeping a kosher kitchen is a testament to the choice to keep a kosher home.  I didn’t realize at the time, but starting Queens College and moving into my apartment marked the point in my life where Jewish aspects like Shabbos and Kashrut were no longer givens.

The process of choosing to be conscious of my own Jewish home is ongoing. Without realizing it, I chose to maintain the traditions and values that my parents passed on to me. This is not, however, an isolated, singular decision. The process continues as I, and many other young Jewish adults in similar situations, make daily decisions regarding the way we keep up our mesorah in our own right.

The choices regarding Jewish observance that we make on a daily basis no longer fall under the umbrella of rules that our parents set for us. Rather, the guidelines of halacha ebb only from the original source, from G-d. As a young Jewish girl recently exposed to the potential freedoms that come with living on your own, I find myself constantly changing and developing my own perspectives on practical Judaism. The sudden consciousness of the details that go into maintaining a Jewish home and a Jewish life is the off-switch for the autopilot setting of Jewish childhood. From now on, if and how I practice Judaism is my choice.

About the Author
Ayala Schnaidman grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey and recently moved to Kew Gardens Hills, New York. She attends Queens college, where she is an active member of the Hillel community.