Next week I am voluntarily walking away from the most Jewish part of my life – my job as Senior Program Specialist at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Never mind that my job title gives little indication of what work I actually do. In this building, there are lots of Jews and a few non-Jews doing good work for people in need of support, basic needs, a Jewish connection. In Chicago, in Israel, around the world. There is a culture of family, where the gossip is based on genuine interest and not malicious rumor. It’s a place where people help lift each other up if you’re having a bad day, bring flowers to the Shiva for your grandfather, and artfully wrap up homemade sweaters for your baby girls. Don’t get me wrong, it is not some idyllic Eden – just a nice place to work. There is still some yelling and frustration and those dramatic people who send beeping emails in large text because it is just so important to know that a meeting you are not attending has been moved from one room to the one next door. You know, the stuff of extra high importance.
Which brings me to the reason I am walking away from all this – the real red exclamation point, highly important, top of the priority list reason: my daughters. I feel lucky to have this once in a lifetime opportunity to spend my days with Violet and Autumn while they are still small, teaching them how to walk, talk, and fall in love with life. I am bursting at the seams to take on this new challenge.
Still, I will miss seeing my brilliant colleagues at the Federation every day. I will miss this built-in Jewish community. Yesterday, on one of my final morning commutes, I realized that I can no longer fall back on my place of employment as my Jewish connection. I have to find it somewhere else, or it will not exist for me, for Mandi, or for our daughters. For the first time in my adult life I am faced with prioritizing, or not prioritizing, my Jewish identity. Where does it fall on the list? There’s only so much time in a day, in a week, in a year. There are so many family members to visit in Wisconsin, so many museums to explore, so many friends to keep up with. Time is marching one foot in front of the other relentlessly, despite my grabbing at its heels and urging it to slow down so I can fit just one more thing into each day. I know that it will feel like suddenly the girls are in school, graduating, having their own children (if they want to, no pressure V and A), just as some days I feel like I have been suddenly launched forward seven years since my first awkward day at the Jewish Federation, into the body of a more confident, more grounded me.
After my last day of work, my Jewish life will consist of excitedly tearing open the monthly PJ Library package and reading Jewish stories before bed each night. We will attend JUF Book Buddies events when it works with the girls’ nap schedule. And we will look into Jewish preschool when that time comes in a very short while. I’m not sure how we will stay in the amorphous “affiliated” category after that, but from my experience here in my Federation community, I find comfort in the fact that there is a strong and welcoming Jewish community in Chicago. Being part of this community working toward a broader mission of tikkun olam is something I’ll bring with me and infuse into my family wherever we end up – in three years, five years, ten years, or tomorrow.