We are actively trying to improve the living situation.
We found lovely houses within 1.6-1.8 miles of a lively, active, egalitarian synagogue, that has pretty much gone back to pre-COVID levels of activity. In-person events, sit-down kiddush lunches, people inviting each other over for Shabbat dinners – it’s wonderful.
But we can’t buy one of these houses. Not *just* because of this crazy housing market (although, that too). But because the 1.6-1.8 mile walk between the house to the wonderful synagogue is not a safe, reasonable walk.
“Why not drive?” one might ask. That seems an easy solve to the problem of an unsafe walk. Because, although I officially quit keeping Shabbat (frankly, Husband doesn’t keep it either, although he claims to), we are operating under the assumption that we, and any future children, and future guests, will be Shomer Shabbat in our new home.
[I should also add here that even though I quit keeping Shabbat and even though I have violated it pretty flagrantly without regret, I discovered that actually, I preferred to have some form of Shabbat observance. So, while I’m no longer labeling myself as Shomer Shabbat, I’ve gone back to semi-observance. Long story short, the above-mentioned assumption is rooted in desire. Just wanted to clarify.]
We also found other lovely houses, 0.5-1 mile away from a different egalitarian synagogue community. But that egalitarian synagogue has not come back post-COVID. It is not active and lively. So yeah, we could buy a house (assuming we don’t get outbid) and walk to that nearby synagogue on Shabbat. But why?
Walking vs. Driving
If you had asked me pre-COVID, I would have said that there were immeasurable community benefits to being in a small walkable area. That it transformed Shabbat into this incredible communal experience. That arguably, Conservative Judaism‘s mistake was allowing one to drive on Shabbat to attend synagogue services – because once you allow that, people will inevitably drive anywhere else, and that weakened the community.
In the COVID era, in my opinion, a nice walkable Shabbat community didn’t matter anymore. What difference did it make to be less than a mile from shul and within the eruv – there were no in-person Shabbat services or dinner invites or anything. And even now, I don’t feel as though the eruv has done jack shit to bring the community back. Not to mention, it’s been over two years now. I feel like the state of the community is no longer temporary at this point.
So to have a community that has come back is no small thing. It annoys me that I’m so close to being able to have it – less than 2 miles isn’t much distance at all. And yet it’s still too far.
Location, Location, Location
Looking to live in a very particular location is nothing new. The distance of a reasonable commute to work is limiting. The zip code with a good school district is limiting.
Conceptually, to be limited by an eruv / a reasonable walking distance from the synagogue of choice is no different. It’s just so frustrating to be limited to a radius of a mile when looking for housing. And of course, everyone wanting to live in the same one-mile radius does all sorts of fun things to housing and rental prices.
One might ask, “But JYP, the market is awful. You haven’t found the right place in the right location. Why not wait? Why not try to improve the current living space and move when the market improves/something better comes up?” In fact, Husband did ask that very question.
I did try to improve the current living situation. I’ve been active in the community, active in the plans to bring it back. Recently, I hosted guests for Shabbat dinner, something that is not in my comfort zone and does not play to my talents.
It didn’t help. My guests asked rude questions about why we still lived in this shitty one-bedroom apartment. The answer is because we made bad choices. But seriously, who insults the hostess’s home where you’ve been invited for Shabbat dinner? Another guest asked me to invite some other person I don’t know. I thought that was rude too. There was a guest who kept asking how long Husband and I have been married. Most people think that’s an innocuous question, but I think it’s embarrassing to be married this long and have nothing to show for it, so I no longer tell people when we got married. I said I’m not telling you because it’s embarrassing and she kept pushing (I still didn’t tell her). But ok, rude guests are unfortunate. Just don’t invite them again, improve the space, invite better guests over while waiting out the market. Right?
For me, it’s not enough. There’s too much riding on getting a better space. Husband and I decided to kick off the home study for adoption, but you can’t pass a home study and adopt if you don’t have separate bedrooms for the kids. Our current living space is a one bedroom.
There’s a lot of faith involved in homebuying, even if you aren’t a religious person. You have to believe that the market conditions will do what you want them to. That the location and community will be one you’ll still want to live in decades from now. That the children you envision will live in the house will happen. That your financial situation will continue to allow you to afford the house. A Jewish, Shomer Shabbat homebuyer also has to believe that spending the premium to be in the tiny walkable radius for Shabbat is worth it.
I suppose that is the flaw in my faith. I believe in G-d. I can believe that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, that Shabbat is a testament to G-d creating the world, and that G-d wrote the Torah. I’m not entirely sure what I believe with respect to the divine reward and punishments, but I can believe that G-d would prefer that we keep the commandments rather than break them.
But I don’t know that I believe that keeping Shabbat – picking the more walkable but lackluster community over the thriving one that would require driving or waiting until something walkable pops up in the better community – I question whether it’s really worth it.