Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, I was always in shul. Shul was the center of Jewish life to me. Friday night, Shabbos morning, Shabbos mincha/maariv – I was there. It wasn’t because I was so frum in the typical sense of the word. Dressed in capped sleeves and hanging out in the lobby during shalosh seudos with my classmates from my coed high school, I always made sure to get back into the sanctuary for maariv. Not out of any feminist motivation (I actually had no idea there was such a concept), but because there was davening going on and that’s where I needed to be.
I always knew that davening was my “love language” in my avodas Hashem, service of G-d. After I attended the NCSY learning program Michlelet in Eretz Yisrael the summer of 11th grade, I discovered that learning was another one of my languages. So, between my senior year and seminary year, I soaked in as much as possible, driven to improve my skills and motivated by the growth and connection I felt through delving into Torah texts.
Enter husband and baby a few years later and I’m bemoaning my declined spiritual state to my rebbetzin. She told me to listen to Torah classes while I cooked. I tried, but I couldn’t multi-task so well.
The first Rosh Hashanah came around with baby and I wasn’t in shul. And I hadn’t been for six months. I felt such an emptiness, such an intense inner longing for something I was missing out on, it was almost like I felt I wasn’t frum anymore – or at least like I used to be. It was all such unfamiliar territory. Because if my home for avodas Hashem used to be in shul, then how would I serve Hashem elsewhere?
I used to debate if growing up with such a connection to davening and learning really served me well now that I was a mother who didn’t daven and learn as much as I wanted to. Maybe if I went to a Bais Yaakov, I would muse, I would be better prepared, with chesed hours and a different, possibly more practical chinuch under my belt. I would remind myself that I was who I was because of my background and that my connection to Hashem and Torah was uniquely suited to me. I just had to figure out how to translate it into my new reality.
Over the years, the nagging sensation that I should really be in shul on Rosh Hashanah diminished. The trick was making sure my spiritual longings didn’t diminish with it. A few things helped. Jewish magazines replete with nuggets of inspiration and articles about the yomim tovim became my new sefarim. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur editions featured articles written by mothers in the same predicament as myself, and it was always meaningful to read that I was not alone and to hear solutions from other young mothers. Surrounding myself with like-minded friends was also beneficial in trying to keep my aspirations intact and not just fall into the trap of solely discussing sheitels, clothing, menus and strollers (which we did plenty). I still stressed about when I would fit in shacharis, mussaf and mincha for the yamim noraim, presenting new toys to the kids to distract them, but inevitably feeling the tug of my skirt moments after I took those three steps back.
At some point, maybe between my second and third child, I somehow transitioned into a new stage, and it was bigger than realizing that my avodas Hashem wasn’t in shul anymore. It was being at peace with motherhood. I had reached a point of acceptance: accepting this blessed role and accepting that this is what Hashem wanted of me. Not trying to force what worked for me in the past into my present, delicately balanced life of being a wife, mother, and professional. My life was now filled with the things Hashem wanted me to be busy with – and, most importantly, wanted me to serve Him with.
And there was zero guilt. I would go into shul to hear shofar, take it all in and fill up my tank, and walk out with the rest of the young mothers who had just allowed their toddlers to consume three lollipops and a juice box within the span of five minutes. Davening was still a priority, and I learned to feel satisfied with doing the best I could do. There is nothing like being at peace with the thought that what you are doing is exactly what you should be doing.
It is important to recognize – In whatever stage one occupies – that staying inspired and self-motivated in our religious lives while keeping our priorities straight is a challenge we all face. In the mid-1800s, Rav Shimson Raphael Hirsch said this of young Jewish women:
The Jewish home, the Jewish house is no longer a Holy Temple, the table no longer an altar. The spirit of purity has departed from their marriages, the spirit of consecration has left their homes. Family life is no longer a priestly service of G-d; the priestly sanctity of Jewish womanhood lies buried. New emotions are urged upon them. Domesticity bores them…Today, the ideal for which young women are educated is no longer the home, the hearth consecrated to G-d, but only society and culture. The rules of fashion and good taste are the laws our daughters are taught to worship; the Law of G-d is relegated to second place at best, if indeed it is given a place at all. And so they grow up, the future wives and mothers of our generation…
They no longer view the life of Judaism as an inspiration. They turn away from the fulfillment of their sacred duty as a Jewish wife and a Jewish woman. But then comes the call of the shofar, the same call that once rallied their mothers around Mount Sinai and that entrusted His sacred Law into their hands. He called His Law first the House of Jacob, and only thereafter the community of Israel, and in this House of Jacob He counts, first and foremost, upon the loyalty of the woman, the Jewish woman. This is the same G-d for Whom every house of Jacob must still be built, and every child in Israel must be born and raised to this very day. This is the same G-d to Whom all of us belong with all our hearts and minds, and Who expects that our thoughts, emotions, words and deeds build a family life in which, above all, His blessed Presence will dwell and His holy Law will be translated into reality. And for this consecration of our homes and families He relies particularly on the woman, the Jewish woman.
My avodas Hashem these days is all about translating Hashem’s will into reality. About feeling fulfillment in my role in my family as well as filling my spiritual tank in ways that work for me. The call of the shofar is there as a reminder that Hashem is counting on us, as He has since Sinai, for us each to proudly assume our role as Jewish women, in whatever form life demands of us. The call is the same, generation after generation. The necessity to view “the life of Judaism as an inspiration” – and what means we need to take to achieve that — is up to each one of us. It’s our sacred duty, for ourselves and for our families.
 Hirsch, Samson Raphael. “TIshri IV.” The Jewish Year: The Collected Writings Volume I. New York: Feldheim Publishers, 97-98.
This article appeared in The Chicago Jewish Home, volume 1, #4.