Convince Me Not to Drive on Shabbat

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.

Stock photo to represent a house we can’t have because it’s too “far” away from an awesome community. Photo by todd kent on Unsplash

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?

Stock photo to represent a house we can have because it’s not too far from a lackluster community. But why? Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

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.

The world is not really your oyster. In reality, you’re limited to a very tiny area on the map. Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash

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.

Waiting?

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.

My place doesn’t look like this, but it’s the best stock photo I could find to capture the “stuckness” of being in a one-bedroom. Waiting means putting other plans on hold too. Photo by Madalyn Cox on Unsplash

Faith

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.

I don’t have faith that keeping Shabbat is worth it. I have fear that it isn’t worth it. Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

52 comments

  1. You have a real dilemma of being unsafe at any speed. There’s a short piece in the upcoming issue of The Economist that predicts some easing, maybe a crash, of housing prices, but who knows when and if that will happen. Once I get home on Friday afternoons, I often don’t drive my car again until Monday morning. Being hermits, no socializing for us other than with our cats, foul beaked birds, wild animals, and whoever we might meet walking and the ditch banks and in the bosque.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the thing with all these predictions – no one really knows.

      Really, the center of Judaism is supposed to be the home, not the synagogue, a lesson driven home (pun intended) by the pandemic, although not particularly comforting if your home life is lacking. In your case, it sounds like home is the place to be! Why bother to go out if you have such an entertaining cast of critters

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      • Never a dull moment around our place. I read some interesting research about why predictions are often so wrong. It had to do with most people can’t visualize anything outside their experience or what has happened in the past, so predictions assume some rehash of the past or present. Now that is probably not bad in itself as people do often have short memories and do the same things again and again. An another Marcos was voted into office in the Philippines, for example. Jewish apocalyptic literature was based on predicting the future based on the present and past. The Apocalypse of John (Revelations in the New Testament), is all about Nero being the Antichrist, the evil of Rome in the first century CE, etc. Many Christians still believe John was predicting times to come. But people would predict the future on present and past, completely miss great shifts in paradigms and their predictions are all wrong. When I was a kid, the predictions were for a planet completely overrun by people, running out of food, mass starvation another ice age, all animals gone extinct. We were supposed to be living in a Mad Max, Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green world by the 1980s. The people making the predictions could not foresee how technology would change everything.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s a great question why (our) predictions tend to be so bad, especially long-term ones. Our meteorologists do pretty well in predicting the weather for the next couple of days, especially in the scorching summer when it’s pretty accurate to say “it’s going to be another scorcher tomorrow!” 🙃 But their ability to predict the weather a month out is iffy at best. (And yet we continue to listen to them…) Is the world too complex for us to be able to (currently) make accurate predictions?

          Liked by 2 people

          • They do much better at weather than other elements of the future. The weather is awfully fickle. It can change in an instant out here. The one weather feature they never get wrong out here is wind. When the wealther app shows the wind is going to blow, the wind blows. The weather feature they rarely get right out here is rain. Although the weather app showed a 50% chance of rain last night. It rained for 30 seconds and left rain spots in the dust on my car.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Even with the weather though. I read an article about a study that showed that actually, the meteorologists studied didn’t do a particularly good job on just the question of “will it rain today”. I will have to dig it up. The world is complex, and I also think people have a ton of bias leading to inaccurate predictions

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          • Cut off my own comment, lol. Anyway I was camping the weekend of The Rapture in an area that had zero cell service or anything. One member of the group I was camping with made the point that if The Rapture happened we would have no idea.

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          • The world has ended so many times. Harold Camping, an Evangelical, calculated from the Bible that the rapture and judgement day would happen on May 21, 2011 (https://wp.me/p1yQyy-1A) and that the world would end on October 21, 2011. The world as we know it certainly didn’t end, but who can really say that the rapture didn’t happen? Maybe the chosen Christians were taken away to Heaven on May 21, 2011. Lots of people disappear mysteriously without a trace. The point is, Mr. Camping, who thought he was among the chosen, and the rest of us were left behind and we may be in the midst of the battle of Armageddon.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Yup. I distinctly remember May 21, 2011 – I was at the Shabbat retreat of sorts at a campsite. Everyone was Shabbat -observant, and if we weren’t there was no cell service or anything at this place. A fellow retreat attendee may the point that if the rapture were happening, we would have no idea. I suppose we’ll all have no idea. True, the world is always ending.

            Liked by 1 person

          • It would be interesting to know how the rapture would be reported. Although I don’t think the secular news would recognise it. Here we are still living in a world of urgent need. Rapture or no rapture, we are stuck here like the Gnostics. Some of the heretical Christian sects, such as the Gnostics, believe the Jewish God was an evil God because he created the physical world, which is an evil place, and they, the Gnostics, are trapped in icky, disgusting physical bodies. Their spirits are trying to escape and make back to the Pleroma, but they are blocked by the evil Archons. Sophia and Jesus are of the Lower Aeons (demigods in a way). Jesus became incarnate to bring the secret knowledge, the key, to escaping this evil word.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I feel like it must be very difficult to live as a Gnostic. Feeling trapped in your icky disgusting physical body in an icky disgusting physical world is not a particularly pleasant existence. Would the Gnostics prefer to just not exist at all in the physical world? I think the approach of enjoying the physical world whilst maintaining enough of a spiritual mindset to avoid debauchery is, if nothing else, a more pleasant way to live.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Absolutely. You are dead on with your assessment. After Christianity became legal, it became almost impossible to become a martyr. So asceticism set in with a high level of athletic deprivation to show how dedicated and Christ-like one was. Where these depraved, deprived individuals came of with the idea that Jesus was an ascetic I don’t know. Jesus was always in trouble with the Pherosees and Sadducees for eating and drinking, especially with the wrong crowd. From my take on the New Testament writings, Jesus was looked on as a party animal. He enjoyed life. The physical world is good, but things should not be one’s gods.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Were you able to see the blood moon eclipse the 15th? One of our planners who is working on a master plan for a chapter on the Navajo Nationed told me that on the 16th everything eas on a two hour delay on the Navajo nation because of the Eclipse. She was told when eclipses happen, the Navajos have to stay up all night or at least until the eclipse has ended. They can’t go outside or look at the eclipse and they have to fast during the eclipse. There I was outside in the howling wind photographing it until the clouds totally covered it. I love lunar eclipses, they are bloody awsome. We are going to Texas in April 2024 for the totality solar eclipse. We have hotel reservations and an invitation to view it from a friend’s ranch. How cool is that?

            Liked by 1 person

          • I did not. I lived vicariously enjoying your bloody awesome blood moon photos. That is awesome that you have made plans in TX for April 2024 for the solar eclipse. Actually, I am also impressed with the mere fact that you have plans for April 2024 already!

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  2. Good luck. Sounds like you and your husband are making steps toward a better future together. I hope you can find a house that meets your needs. Don’t you hate rude guests that are incapable of taking a hint?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ugh people. That’s what my daughter and her husband love about their community, but I prefer no guests ever. It’s so extremely stressful to have people in my space… dunno how I managed when I was married and hosted things. Drugs, I guess. It’s no one’s biz why you don’t have children (yet)! Geez. I can see the benefits of the walkable shul over the other…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh dear. What unfortunate guests. Please don’t invite them again. Only ask people you like or want to get to know better. People will come for the atmosphere and conversation. Don’t let any criticism get to you. For years we lived in a cottage with unpainted walls. No time or energy. I used to give private tuition and one day one of my students shyly looked up from his books and asked if he could paint the wall for me. I could have been embarrassed. Possibly should have been embarrassed. But I just said thank you, this is how we like it. He didn’t offer again! I might have taken him up on it a couple of years later!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Your story makes me feel better. I find not only the actual work of home decor, but also the sheer number of decisions involved in home decor (what furniture and how to arrange? What color paint and where? Etc.) completely exhausting. I have a sibling who is super into home decor – if we manage to get a house and still have money left over (this market is ridiculous) I will hire my sibling to redecorate it! And I will never host said guest again!

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  5. JYP, learning about your practices is enlightening. The house/synagogue proximity and social customs. Judaism is family & community oriented unlike other religions. Unless you live in a walkable small town like I did years ago. The Catholic & other churches were within walking distance. Kids walked to school. I heightened the concept of a strong Jewish family in my book, Three Years of Her Life, just self- published on Amazon KDP ebook & paperback. Not having a strong family background myself, I wanted one in fiction. An alternate life. As for the housing market, it will stay as is in CA per my real estate guy. I’d wait it out to get a decent priced house in your walkable community. And limit your dinner parties to supporting friends. It’s good to see you back. 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Those guests were very rude!

    I hear you. The thing I’m dreading most about getting married is house-hunting, and house-hunting while E is legally barred from entering the country for visa reasons. I don’t really know many areas well and neither E or I drive, so walking is an issue not just to shul, but to shops (kosher and general), the Tube and the library (E is a big library user). I do believe keeping Shabbat is right for me, but I struggle with trusting God that things will turn out for the best sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is probably just as well that I don’t really like hosting because I am running out of people I’m willing to invite!

      I also struggle a lot with trusting G-d. Which is odd because by any metric, G-d has been ridiculously gracious to me. But it’s like I keep waiting for the bad news. Like there’s no way that this kind of good fortune can continue.

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  7. Hmm what a tricky dilemma. If it were me, I’d do the drive even though you’re not really supposed to because the importance of going would override closely sticking to the rule. However I also completely understand wanting to adhere to it, especially if you hope for a family. All I’ll say is that in general we’ve got to decide what is of the highest importance to us. I hate when people tell me how I should practice my religion, like when I said I didn’t want to work a certain day because I had to go to church, I was told church shouldn’t be an obligation. Wish I had some insight into this location situation. I’d pray about it and keep my eyes on the real estate sites.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I feel like this too which is why I don’t really like hosting. I always feel like I’m saying, “Welcome, come judge my shortcomings” in a way that I don’t feel if I’m going to someone else’s home or a communal location. It can be fun, and I’ve had these guests over before and I don’t normally hate them, but this time, they really rubbed me the wrong way. But yeah, it is very difficult to maintain a home-as-my-sanctuary and still open it to guests.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Honestly, there’s a big part of me that would prefer the option of “buy the house less than 2 miles away from the better synagogue and drive if it’s not safe to walk”. I grew up with my parents driving us to the synagogue (we lived 2.5+ miles away – I did walk it once I became shomer Shabbat as an adult) and it was beneficial for me to grow up with that connection to the synagogue community. And the other option, buying a house walkable to the other synagogue that is lackluster and not vibrant, this option drives me crazy. Why spend so much money to live close to somewhere that may never come back post-pandemic? Anyway, it almost doesn’t matter – all houses in question have now sold because this market is insane. Prayers are definitely appreciated! But totally agree that you need to decide for yourself what your priorities are and not let someone else tell you what they think yours should be.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, at least that particular decision was made for you, I guess? Community is important too. Being able to carry out the same routines as the other members really makes you feel part of that community, but if no one’s there to do it, it’s not really a community anymore.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, the housing market is basically going to make the decision for us, and that the decision is going to be to wait, by default. Like we found a house within 1 mile of the better community, discussed, then decided three days later to call the realtor to make an offer, and it had already sold. On the one hand, there’s an odd relief to having the decision made by factors other than you because you don’t have to take as much responsibility if it’s the wrong decision. On the other hand, I loathe the idea of having to wait, even if financially, it makes the most sense, and practically, it may be the only option. WTF is up with all these home buyers?

          Liked by 1 person

          • What I hate about house hunting is that if you find something you like, you basically have to just pull the trigger then and there to say you’d like to make an offer, otherwise by the time you get home, someone else already did. I prefer to take time to analyze and sleep on it for such a huge decision but it just doesn’t seem to work like that, does it?

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  8. You’re struggling with a lot of issues, religious and social. I commend you for trying to make things better in your community, like inviting guests for Shabbat. (even though the guests weren’t great)
    Is there a Rabbi who you respect and can talk to? I always find I need another opinion to make any kind of decision about anything since I’m not good at making decisions. I hope you find the path back to an enjoyable Shabbat experience. Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good question. I don’t have a rabbi in that capacity at present. Actually, I’m not sure if I ever did. Hometown Rabbi z”l would have been an ideal candidate, but he sadly died some years ago. Also, I did not take advantage of the opportunity to have conversations like this with him when he was alive.

      Still, it’s an intriguing idea.

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