Helloooo? Got Jews?
If someone had told me, at any point in my life, that one day I would be desperately Googling, “Synagogues in Alfalfa, Oklahoma,” I would never have believed them. I belong to a strong synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. That will do, I would have responded.
Growing up, I listened to the same mantra as most Jewish young people: “Marry a Jew.” Hearing that, I most simply imagined my life going in two possible directions. If I married a non-Jew, I would still be active in my own synagogue, still attend (ideally with my husband) family holiday get-togethers, and raise my kids Jewish. If I married Jewish, I would do all of the above, but with the enthusiastic attendance of my husband at my side.
I never considered the possibility that my Jewish husband’s career would land me in a seemingly haphazard fashion all over the map, seeking out canyons to echo, “Any Jews here?”
Okay, the last part is a joke. Instead of canyons, I’ve used the Internet.
If you read my columns with any regularity, you know I’m getting married next summer. My fiancé is a Navy officer. The first reaction of most is: “So he’s in Iraq?” No. For the more military-educated, a common question is, “Oh, so you’re gonna move all over the place, all the time?” Bingo.
In a few weeks, my fiancé will move to Pensacola, Florida, for the first stage of his military career. Beautiful beaches, gorgeous weather, and enough Jews to fulfill our religious needs, I was told by a rabbi there. He’ll bask in the sun, jump over waves and benefit from all the synagogue has to offer.
After our wedding in the summer, I will most likely move to his second destination: Enid, Oklahoma. When I found that out, I conferenced with Google, which informed me that the closest synagogue to Enid is in Ponca City. It’s a Reform congregation, which is not my top choice, but it would do. So I told all my Jewish friends and relatives that I would be living in Enid, going to services in Ponca City. I thought it sounded pretty hilarious and wonderful.
That is, until I did a map search and discovered the two cities are over an hour apart. That is when the frantic searching began. Any synagogues in Alfalfa? How about Garfield? I don’t care if they have Chinese food, can I pray in Kingfisher? No. Oh, wait. There is a synagogue in Enid! How did I miss it?
While I will not insult any sect of Judaism, I will also not join a messianic congregation.
As I took a recess from my Google session, I remembered an argument I had with a fellow congregant. I asked him why he never attended services, even on the high holidays. He said he didn’t see the need to pray within a big group. He was satisfied praying on his own. I thought it was a selfish and silly thing to say. I pointed out that many find it comforting to pray surrounded by others, so maybe he should contribute to that group. And how can he truly connect with God without ever setting foot in the synagogue? He said it was a personal choice he made and he had no problem with mine. "Why would he?" I thought angrily. I left the argument feeling stung. I love my congregation and my Jewish community. I enjoy being one of hundreds, while feeling like a key part at the same time.
Thinking back to that argument, I realized how fortunate I have been. I was lucky enough to be born into a warm congregation, a community so filled with Jews, the local grocery store now offers an entire kosher section. I could attend a Jewish activity every day if I wanted to. (I know, I’m bragging!)
As much as I want to be surrounded by a strong Jewish community during my fiancé's military career, I know it won’t always be an option. I have spoken with rabbis at synagogues in Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City, cities we may move to eventually, where I was welcomed kindly. While the Jewish communities in both places are smaller than that of Minneapolis, I look forward to exploring them and making the best of a new situation.
I don’t know what I will do in Enid. Perhaps I will make the trek to Ponca City a few times a month. I know people who drove over an hour to attend my synagogue when I was younger. It amazed me at the time. Now that might be me and I can understand it. Other Shabbat mornings, maybe I will try praying by myself, or with my husband.
I talked to a former Navy chaplain who gave me great advice. He said military communities are like Hillel, a group of people thrown together who make the best of their situation together. He told me to be a leader in the Jewish community, so other Jews who may not have spoken up sooner will join together.
Wherever I end up, whether surrounded by zero or 5,000 Jews, in Enid or Okinawa, I am happy I will have a dedicated Jewish husband at my side.