Welcome to Miriam’s House: Not Your Children’s Judaism

July 1, 2014Barbara Kavadias

I am about to become an empty nester. Years ago, when the kids first started going to camp, my husband and I used to call ourselves “ENITs,” Empty Nesters in Training. Although this long-anticipated event was delayed by my husband’s cancer and too-early death, my days as an ENIT are just about over. Having finally found their wings nearly six years after our loss, my kids are on their way, and I have been thinking about what my life will look like in their absence.

How many people do you know who, when asked about their sukkah, say, “Oh, we stopped putting it up when the kids went to college.” Further conversation will likely reveal that they also stopped lighting Hanukkah candles, and maybe even Shabbat candles, too. Is Judaism only for kids? Without my kids around, will I stop baking challah each week? Will I celebrate Purim again only once I have grandchildren? Indeed, what does practicing Judaism mean for someone who lives alone?

Beyond my Jewish life, too, I’ve been considering my empty nest. Is it appropriate for me – a single person – to live in this house designed for a family? Is it right for one person to consume so many resources? Even if I can justify it, can I singlehandedly manage the upkeep and maintenance – the gardening, cleaning, snow removal, and myriad other ways the house demands my time and attention? Can I afford to stay here and devote so much of my income to running the house? I could sell the house and move, which would resolve the space issue, but it would not address my inner life. I wanted to figure out a way to resolve both issues.

I have decided it is time to try something different – something that will allow me to stay in my house and not be wasteful, something that will allow me to explore Jewish living without children, and something that I hope will allow me to give back to the larger community. At the same time, it will draw on history, social trends, and experiments, as well on my own past.

Welcome to Miriam’s House.

Based loosely on the Moishe House concept, kibbutz living, and my own house-sharing days in college, I seek to create a new, extended family of like-minded souls, starting with a nucleus of people who will live with me in my house. Together, we will explore meaningful, experiential Jewish living as a “family,” and find ways to engage Jewishly – as we envision it – with others from the broader community.

We may be couples, singles, or some combination of the two. No one will pay rent at Miriam’s House, but we will share in the expenses and benefits of the household. We will have to find a fair way to account for the equity that will accrue to me, over time, as the owner of the house. I have some ideas I think will work. Although Miriam’s House is an experiment, it is one we can enter practically and sensibly.

We will be green, non-sexist, and kosher – and as a group, we will explore how to best live together given these parameters. The ways in which we choose to serve the larger community also will be a group decision. Whether we choose to host fundraisers for Jewish causes, grow food in the garden for the food pantry, or sponsor Shabbat dinners or study sessions for other adults, the possibilities are endless. No matter our choices, we hope that not only will they invigorate our commitment to Judaism, but also that they’ll refresh the commitment of those in the community around us.

With multigenerational families no longer living together and Jews in the diaspora spread far and wide, we need to find new ways to encourage and support Jewish living in all stages of life. Miriam’s House is one such way. Who knows? Maybe there is a Miriam’s House in your future!

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