Many years ago, I heard a speaker challenge an audience of up and coming Jewish community leaders: If a stranger walked through our homes and there was no conversation, how clearly would that person know we were Jewish? At the time, I was convinced that “feeling” Jewish was sufficient, but the lecturer was prodding the group to put more skin in the game.
It’s a long story how everything changed in our lives over the last thirty years, but I never forgot that challenge and the need for Judaism to permeate my home. I now know it’s not just about having a Jewish home. It’s about bringing my obvious Jewish presence everywhere — even on the very genteel, very gentile island of Nantucket. We have been coming here for nine years, and while there has been some yin and yang, sturm and drang, ratzu v’shuv, call it what you will, I am definitely more comfortable on this island, which I hope means that G-d is more comfortable with me here, too.
For one thing, I’ve had an attitude adjustment. The first year we came, I complained the whole time that I felt like Woody Allen in “Annie Hall.” But either the island has diversified or I’ve stopped caring. Or both. I also quickly appreciate that my husband Zev is restored and rejuvenated by all things oceanic, and G-d loves sholom bayis, peace between husband and wife, more than any other mitzvah.
I definitely stand out as the “Most Dressed” person on the beach, but this is true everywhere in the summer. Some years, our family’s presence is much bigger; our daughter Mushkie even got a call recently inquiring when Chabad of Nantucket would be on the island. With the men and boys wearing tzitzis and yarmulkes, we’re hard to miss. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, as long as our behavior reflects well on G-d, too.
And if you walked into the house we rented this year, you would definitely know we weren’t the non-Jewish owners. We brought our tefillin bags, prayer books, and a shofar. (We start blowing it every day in the month of Elul.) And because it’s tradition to light a yahrtzeit candle for the entire first year after a parent passes away, there’s one here burning in memory of my mother. What about kosher food, you may ask? Every year, between the internet and Stop&Shop, it gets easier for us to eat well on Nantucket. Our friend Robin owns a house here, and that’s where we store our grill, pots and pans, coffee maker, etc. (This year, we even bought a blender so we could eat healthy smoothies instead of potato chips for lunch, but so far, the blender is still in the box.)
It wasn’t all that hard to figure out how to have fun here, but it did take practice. Zev and I now rent a tandem bicycle, which allows for me to enjoy the scenery or space out; the first couple of summers here I tried riding alone, but I found out the hard way that enjoying the scenery and spacing out are not smart things to do while riding alone. Of course, the best part of tandem biking is that we can talk to each other while Zev gets the biking experience he loves and I get to pull my weight. (Only occasionally will he ask, “are you peddling?” And I always answer, “yes,” because I am.) I’ve even learned a trick for tying my skirt so it doesn’t get tangled in the spokes.
When our children were younger, I was concerned that the pleasures of the physical world, including vacationing in Nantucket, could compromise their spiritual health; I grew up equating pleasure with happiness and was hypervigilant to guard against this mistaken notion. Fortunately, we were all learning about the world from the Chassidic perspective, that all physicality was created as a vehicle for holiness. From this perspective, vacations are intended to strengthen, not weaken, our connection to G-d. Our children are now old enough to decide for themselves how they want to experience G-dliness– on Nantucket, and everywhere. Which makes it that much easier for me to experience G-dliness–on Nantucket, and everywhere.