The Divorced-Parent Family & the Synagogue Community

When the synagogue is welcoming, the newly divorced begin to overcome their inhibitions about reconnecting to the Jewish community.

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Regardless of the sensitivity of the synagogue toward the single parent, the most important issue is the rebuilding of the adult's personal relationship with his or her own Judaism. In this area, a pragmatic shopping list of congregational "do's" cannot be presented: The resolution lies completely within the individual.

Judaism Can Also Be a Path to Return

Personally, there were two major turning points in my own return. The most dramatic event was the presentation of my long sought-after get. Not only was I now freed from my civilly dissolved marriage, but also I felt "cleansed" and ready to reenter synagogue life. This dramatic reaction, which was extremely pivotal to my own Judaist observance, underscores the importance of the get both for Jewish legal reasons and for psychological self-absolution.

The other turning point was the gradual realization that, although the marriage was gone, the family still remained. Within the context of Judaism, the protection and companionship of coupledness was gone, but the privilege and nachas [joy] of rearing Jewish children still remained. As I learned to accept and enjoy my aloneness, I was able to focus on the need to reestablish stability and order within the family.

If Judaism presents a problem to single-parent families, it also presents a much-needed structure. Through the observance of Shabbat and kashrut [following the dietary regulations], for example, families can reestablish the time and space needed to delineate the bounds of the present unit. Being together every Shabbat, regardless of external enticements, strengthens family bonding and, by example, increases the concept of the importance of primary familial obligations.

As a family unit, the duties and privileges of Jewish home rituals remain to be filled. The single parent must learn new religious skills once performed by the other adult in the former marriage. For this reason, both men and women should be familiar with all home rituals.

Another problem of single parenting is the lack of support from another adult who has similar values. The single parent is burdened with being the sole judge and model, but synagogue-focused Judaism can offer an alternative to this situation.

In many ways, the synagogue community can become the other parent. Through the pageantry of mitzvot [commandments] and holidays shared with the synagogue community, the single-parent family gains a greater insight into the essential similarities of all families' behavior--"singled" and "paired." As friends who share the same Judaic value structure, the rabbi and members of the congregation are available to "check things out" and provide much-needed reinforcement.

Despite the initiative of the rabbi and the synagogue and despite the soundness of the single-parent family's relationship to Judaism, one fact still remains: the single adult and the single-parent family exist outside the norms of Judaism. For the sake of Jewish survival, the traditional model of marriage and family life must continue to be stressed: Therefore, adults who are single either by choice or circumstance and members of single-parent families face the continual, guilt-producing conflict between their own lifestyle and traditional Judaism.

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Barbara Karlin Bundt Bond lives in Israel.