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February 24, 1989 - Image 84

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-24

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Putting Judaism On Hold

illil1i' - 'iii11111-0111111(1 --



Special to The Jewish News

n a walnut bookcase in my dining
room is a pair of ornate silver can-
dlesticks carved with an elaborate
pattern of grape leaves. They were
a wedding gift to my maternal grand-
mother in Poland in 1900 and were passed
down to my mother when she married my
father in Warsaw in 1938. Since my
mother's death a few months ago, they've
become part of my household. But, be-
cause I'm single, I find their presence
What does it mean to light the Shabbat
candles by myself on Friday night? Where
do Jewish customs and traditions — an in-
tegral part of my identity — fit into the life
of an adult who lives alone? I visited four
cities — Atlanta, Phoenix, Los Angeles
and California — to find out how others
view the issue of single adults and Jewish
While it is true that the national trend
toward later marriage and fewer children
has emerged in the Jewish community, fin-
ding people who shared my experience
turned out to be easier than even I had
I shouldn't have been surprised. A 1985
B'nai Brith survey of Jews in Washington,
D.C., found the percentage of adults who
described,themselves as "single" rose from
five percent in 1955 to over 30 percent in
1985. A recent article in Washington
Jewish Week noted that more than one-
third of the single Jews in their thirties
who live in Washington, D.C., and Los
Angeles have never been married.
How do other single adults handle the
difficulties of maintaining their Jewish
identity? I asked Lauren Salzenstein, ex-
ecutive director of the Hyde Park JCC in
Chicago, who told me many single Jews
just "put Judaism on hold:'
"For some people, it takes too much
energy to make the holidays meaningful
without a family," she said. "It is easier to
negate that part of life and to put it on hold
until someone else comes along." •
Barry Allen, 37, an Atlanta attorney, is
one of the few singles I met who has not
put his religious feelings on hold, actively


An informal survey of
Jewish singles around the
U.S. found that many are
turned off to the family
orientation of synagogue
and community life.



participating in activities at the
synagogue he has attended since
childhood, Ahavat Achim.
Allen admitted, however, that the
synagogue atmosphere makes him acute-
ly aware of not having children. -
"But if I wait until I have a family to
become active in a synagogue, I may never
get to do it," Allen said.
"We either have to get on with being
adult, religious, observant people who hap-
pen to be single, or it will be something
that we'll postpone and may never get to
observe," he said.
"It may hurt a little to go to services and
be single and not have the warmth of the
family, and to see some of my friends with
their kids enjoying the services . . . but
I'm no _ t willing to put off the enjoyment
that I get out of being at the synagogue,"
Allen said.
Many singles do try to establish ties to
a synagogue, only less successfully. They
attend services a few times, then, feeling
uncomfortable and discouraged, they give
up. Other singles either never learned or
don't remember synagogue rituals and feel
awkward about what they perceive to be
their ignorance.
A soft-spoken, curly-haired nurse, who
recently moved to Atlanta, confided to me
that for years she avoided services because
she felt uncomfortable that she "didn't
know what to do in synagogue."
The nurse, who asked not to be iden-
tified, praised what she called the "train-
ing wheel" services at Beth Jacob, an Or-
thodox congregation that holds a question-
and-answer format that helps educate peo-
ple with no religious background and who
are intimidated by unfamiliar rituals.
Some singles maintained that barriers to
their participation in synagogue life are
financial. The fact that most synagogues
do not have special dues for single adults
is perceived as evidence of a lack of interest
or concern on the part of congregations.
At a party in Atlanta, several women in
their mid-30s shared their views over a
bowl of potato chips, asserting that not all
singles earn high salaries and many are dis-
couraged from joining synagogues by high
dues and inflexible policies.
But Rabbi Jonathan Miller, one of four
rabbis at the Steven Wise Temple in Los


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