The High Holidays have come and gone, and while nothing went perfectly, plenty of things went reasonably well.
Let's back up for a moment. Since leaving college, we have shul-hopped nearly every year:
Year 1: Temple Ol'Faithful with my high school buddy and his family- lots of English, no connection with the shul, and a particularly awkward invitation to lunch on Yom Kippur.
Year 2: Beth Elderly with a college friend- this was during the year we spent a lot of time there while they were trying to keep themselves going without a regular rabbi. During the high holiday services, their aging rabbi emeritus came back so they would have someone to lead. A lot of Hebrew, very little transliteration, a gigantic age gap, etc. We were trying very hard and so were they, but something wasn't quite clicking. (Though they do get two awesome points for inviting us to open the dark during Avinu
Year 3: Our first year of living in the Mission and our only time going to Evil Minion for the Holidays. Zero transliteration, very hard to follow. Also I got sick and couldn't fast. Not very fun.
Year 4: Temple GLBT. Decent mussar but a little overly political for my tastes; also more English than I would have preferred. Was feeling depressed and didn't fast.
Year 5: Temple GLBT, round two. First year with Machzor Eit Ratzon! Finally had the ability to pray as much of the service-- in a traditional way-- as I wanted, which made a huge difference in my experience. Got sick again. No fasting.
So this was year 6, which makes us feel very old. Since we've decided to shore up Beth Elderly's young guard ranks, we returned to the shul for the holidays, and I have to say, it was actually very pleasant. In some ways, not a lot has changed: the building has still seen better days and most of the congregants are as old as my parents, if not older. But in the four years since our last HHDs there, the tone of the shul has really started to develop, at least for us. The rabbi and his family have made a huge difference, as has the appearance of a handful of younger people our age. The shul has invested in new partially-translated siddurim and machzorim, as well as some basic cosmetics like new chairs for the congregants. The regulars are clearly working on trying to make the shul appealing and inviting to younger members.
More than that, though, this time around we've really been trying to invest some time and effort to connect with the shul, or at least key members of the community. We aren't always successful (Shabbat attendance is still a challenge, especially with my new job taking up so much energy), but it's definitely making a difference. People know who we are, and we're getting a little better at knowing who they are, too.
On a deeper level, too, I feel like we're finally starting to get some sort of idea about where we want to be-- or at least which direction we want to go in-- in terms of observance. We certainly aren't at the point where we're going to become shomer mitzvot but I think we're developing a greater awareness of Jewish values (such as kashrut, shabbat, tzedaka) that we want to honor and take seriously, though we're not yet clear about what form that might take.
Feeling more confident and educated about davening as well as greater Jewish identity made a huge difference in my High Holiday experience this year. Also, I'm happy to report that for the first time in a while, I was able to fast! (Unfortunately the next day I came down with a bad cold that I'm still getting over and which caused me to miss Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Having all these holidays coincide with being exposed to tons of child germs is a really bad mix.)
I'm sure I'm reading too much into all this, but I feel like this High Holiday cycle is a decent metaphor for where we are with our lives generally (community/observance-wise, job-wise, housing-wise, and family-wise): no, things aren't perfect, but they're better than they've been in a while. So here's to enjoying getting to a halfway-decent plateau. I'm hoping things will only get better from here.