Total immersion - moving from Jerusalem to Buffalo Grove, Illinois: from almost complete Orthodox social insularity to very heterogeneous Jewish suburbia.
My husband had accepted his first pulpit position in a small outreach congregation, and I was about to learn everything there was to know about the Jews in the 'burbs. For the purpose of this post, I will refer to my fellow Jews that I met as HSJs (heterogeneous suburban Jews). This means they were not Orthodox, not urban, basically raising young families and sending their kids to (the excellent local) public schools. Some considered themselves Reform, some secular or unaffiliated, some of Orthodox sympathies but not observant quite to that degree, and some Conservative.
I enjoyed meeting these families so much, and they were patient and loving as I figured out what on earth I was doing (at the tender young age of 23). I learned much about them, and them about me. So what follows is hardly a judgment call, but simply my learning curve.
Here were the surprises:
1. HSJs are very big on birthdays.
Now, I am too. But just because it's my kid's birthday, or even my husband's or mother's, doesn't mean I am going to stop the clock and ignore everyone else. I found this devoted observance of birthdays surprising and interesting. Growing up, my mother always acknowledged our birthdays with a cake on the Friday night preceding or following our Hebrew birthday, or English. Depending on which came first. Or what else was going on. Occasionally a friend would have party, at home. With homemade cake usually, or something at the local kosher pizza place.
So when people told me they couldn't come to an event or class because it was someone's birthday, I couldn't really wrap my brain around it.
Here's why I think:
In the Orthodox world, people have a lot of kids. And people get married young and have more kids. This means a lot of cousins, neighbors and occasions. For example, in my extended family and community, about once a week, if not more, there is an occasion of some sort: bar/bat mitzvah, upsherin (first haircut for a 3-year-old boy), siyum (celebration of completion of a part of Talmud), wedding, sheva brachos (week-long celebration following the wedding), Jewish holiday, and on and on.
Birthdays, frankly, paled in comparison.
2. HSJs celebrate Valentine's Day.
This was a shocker to me. We couldn't plan an event on Valentine's? Really? For Jews? Wasn't St. Valentine, um, a saint?
Here's why I think:
Hallmark wins on this one, guys. It's succeeded in convincing us that this is not a religious thing, but a moral obligation for all husbands. Jewish guys are menschen, right? So they do the flowers, wine, and chocolate. Everyone forgot about the St. and is just trying to stay out of trouble.
3. HSJs live in the car shuffling their kids to sports events and then watch their kids at those events.
My siblings and I were into extra-curricular stuff. But it looked really different from what I saw in BG. I was in the drama group at school, my brothers played football on the front lawn every Sunday, and I took Red Cross first aid and babysitting through my school. My parents never watched us do those things, and I would never have expected them to.
Here's why I think:
I think this one just boils down to not only having a lot of kids, but being a part of a community where lots of people have a lot of kids. Therefore, the soccer mom model is simply not sustainable: not time-wise, and not financially. Expectations are radically different. I used to not get that when people said "How do you manage?" they were thinking of ALL. THAT. DRIVING.
I have enough driving with school carpools, going to friends, and household errands. I could never manage more. Thankfully, no one expect me to, because our community is just not structured that way.
4. Finally, HSJs were extraordinarily touched that we had chosen to live in their community.
I had wondered if anyone would wonder why the riffraff was moving in, but we received such a wonderfully warm welcome. Time and again we were asked if it was hard for us, living away from family, far from the day school, and not in an eruv.
They offered to help with my kids and bring us something kosher from the local bakery, and were thrilled for us when a kosher deli opened in town.
And this, for me, was the best surprise.
Have you ever been in a situation where you learned a lot about a different type of Jew?