Sisterhood Blog

Begging for Boundaries

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Sarah Seltzer
Sisterhood contributor Sarah Seltzer

The High Holidays are a beautiful but complicated time for me. Besides Passover and Hanukkah, which I pretty much celebrate the same way each year, the Days of Awe are the only time when I get “the itch” to observe, the only time when I feel like if I don’t do something Jewish and highly ritualized, a piece of me is missing.

This is complicated by the fact that my husband is ideologically opposed to shul but very devoted to having a holiday meal with challah and apples and honey, and my parents have fled the New York City synagogue scene to attend services at a hippie congregation upstate, which sometimes makes it hard for me to pray with them.

This year, my job at a Jewish organization means I have real days off, time I can use to do personal writing, not for money — which is my own form of secular devotion. Furthermore a close friend got married under the Brooklyn Bridge as the gates of repentance closed on Yom Kippur, and my humanist values, not to mention my affection for my friend, gave me zero pause in attending her wedding instead of Neilah and break fast.

All this is to say that my values as a humanist, as an observer of Jewish ritual, as a daughter wife and friend, and as a writer often come into conflict with each other during the High Holidays. And it’s up to me to sort through the threads.

In past few years, I have carved out my own path of observance. I go to a few hours of services, or skip them, or eat two meals with two groups of people, or one meal with everyone. This year I had dinner with my family the night before the holiday, slipped into free services alone, ate lunch with my husband near his office, and then spent the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah all by myself, with emotional rock music playing, working on my fiction writing for hours–a form of silent meditation that felt beautiful.

It’s complicated to write my own rules for the High Holidays, to balance my love of ritual with my love of my loved ones with my own needs. And I have never been good at boundaries. And so sometimes at this time of year I actually see it, so clearly, the appeal of having iron-clad rules telling me what to do. It’s the holiday; you can’t eat in a restaurant. You can’t attend a wedding. You can’t work on Shabbat. You must go to synagogue for the holidays. I suddenly “get” why some Jews decide to be more observant. How much easier it is not to have to choose all the time.

But of course, they still are choosing — just within a more limited range, and with a more limited set of perspectives to browse. Though it would make my decisions simpler to observe the holidays more strictly, that approach can’t work. To the core of my being, I believe in drawing from Jewish and other traditions to inform my own path and philosophy, my own decisions about how to be the best moral actor in the world, and how to express my love of the world. Choice is complicated, and in the past I haven’t chosen perfectly. That it has meant some high holidays where I’ve been lonely or separated from the ones I love, or with the ones I love but separated from the rituals I crave. But I’d rather interpret religion as informing my freedom to act than constraining me. Even if I have to draw my own boundaries.

Sarah Marian Seltzer is a lead blogger for the Sisterhood, a journalist, essayist and fiction writer. Find her at www.sarahmseltzer.com and tweeting too much at @sarahmseltzer.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.