>>Do people accuse your family of shirking their “communal responsibilities” by not supporting the schools?<<
No, this isn’t something we’ve personally been accused of when homeschooling (though we were once accused of this when we sent our kids to a different school than some in the community wanted us to), but I’ve heard the ‘al tifrosh min hatzibor’ argument put forth as if that phrase alone was enough reason to make anyone back down in shame. If I did have this discussion, I’d be quick to point out the false assertion that the schools alone comprise the community. There are many ways to be involved in the community other than the schools. Many people say a lot of things like this because they’ve never thought too deeply about what they’re saying. Would they tell that to someone who has never had children, or whose children are grown, or who is deeply involved in other aspects of klal work?
>>How do you keep your family plugged in and connected (to the frum community) when you have stepped outside of it in certain ways? <<
Most people feel like school is the only way to be connected to the community because their lives are so dominated by school that they aren’t aware of how many other paths are available. It won’t surprise you that I feel there are other better, or at the very least, equally valid, ways to be connected. You can support your community with your active involvement, passive presence, and finances. All are necessary and many overlap. Here are some things that come to mind:
Shul (synagogue) – though I don’t go to shul (unless it’s to meet my husband after davening), my older kids do. The boys go daily, the girls on Shabbos. In addition to services, there are also social events hosted by shuls where attendance is important.
Shiurim – for adults and older children. Our older kids have all attended shiurim in the community; ds went to a daily morning amud shiur for adult men in the beginning of this year (until the days got short and it was so dark in the morning that he started going to a later minyan because it didn’t feel safe to him walking alone), both girls have attended a weekly Pirkei Avos shiur given by our shul rav for the last couple of years for teen girls. There are Shabbos groups for younger kids and teen minyanim but I don’t support these; however, it is one way for your kids to feel involved.
Financially – donations to organizations in your community; there are many needs in our community except for the schools. Do you pay shul dues? Do you ever shop in stores/use services owned by others in the community?
Volunteering – I think this is the best way for kids to feel like they can help their communities. Our kids routinely help out in different ways at our shul, and periodically help other organizations. For example, my ds leins every Shabbos mincha for our shul, several of the other kids frequently help set up and clean up after shul shalosh seudos as well as at other events.
Hosting guests – Shabbos meals, sleeping arrangements, etc – what would a community be like if there was no hospitality?
Aside from these obvious ways are many more subtle ways to be an asset to your community – like giving helpful advice or support to someone while shmoozing in the supermarket. A community is made up of many individuals and the little things they do; every positive thing you do contributes even if it’s unseen and seemingly unappreciated.
What I’m about to say is something I feel very strongly about, and have found to play out in my own life. Steven Covey writes about the circle of influence and circle of concern. The circle of influence is what you actually can take action to improve (your behavior, your job, your family). The circle of concern are things that you care about but can’t do much about (like world politics, the devaluation of our currency, and the price of tea in China). The problem is most of us don’t make distinctions between the two and waste our precious time and life energy invested in the wrong areas. By focusing on your circle of influence – this begins with yourself and your family – your circle of influence will gradually become wider and expand to begin affecting your circle of concern. But if you focus first on the circle of concern, your personal power will become diminished and you won’t even be of much help to your immediate family. What this means is that neither you or your community will benefit if you help your community (circle of concern) before your family (circle of influence). So even if it seems like someone is being selfish because they’re focusing all of their attention on their family, in the end they will have been of much greater service than someone making the opposite choice.
>>once you step a little toe outside of the line, you already alienate yourself- to a certain extent- from the community. <<
There’s a difference between you actively distancing yourself from the community and others alienating you because you’re not ‘toeing the line’. At least for your own sake, be clear who is doing what.
>>i find it so hard to keep my kids respecting daas torah and frum people when those are the very people who say we are crazy for homeschooling- they have told my childrens’ friends that we must have problems and this filters back to my children. it’s pretty demoralizing and it is starting to make my kids really resent our neighbors and our community. because they have nothing to balance that out, they are starting to conclude that the frummer you are, the more narrow minded you are, and it is really really becoming a problem. so, do you encounter that at all? <<
I’d seriously consider moving if faced with this dilemma. I think your kids are religiously in danger and there’s a very real concern you’re all going to end up cynical, frustrated, and resentful when everyone around you is criticizing you for what you feel is a positive choice for your family. If you’re already at fault just by virtue of doing something different, and people won’t consider who you are and how you live before jumping to rash judgements, it will be hard not to feel defensive about your choices unless you can cultivate an attitude of finding the humor and letting what others say roll down your back. That’s not so easy to do.
If moving isn’t an option (and I realize that usually it isn’t), you’ll need to define for yourself and your kids what the Torah values that you believe in are and how that may differ from what others are doing. What actually is the Torah position and what is following the crowd? For example, one Torah value is giving charity. Here in our city, we have a community initiative to encourage people to give a high percentage of their charity dollars to the schools. However, the way giving manifests itself for some people isn’t the only way to give charity. Because my kids understand that the Torah value is tzedaka, they realize that everyone should choose what causes in the community they want to support, and we aren’t obligated to support this initiative even if many others do.
We constantly discuss hashkafa (Jewish philosophy and outlook) with our kids. We talk about the prevailing view, why people believe that, how different issues have evolved over the years (for example, women working to support kollel husbands, the yeshiva system, rebbeim as more important that parents, the working and learning balance, sending kids away to yeshiva at a young age, etc), and our position on an issue and why we came to that position. Dh is particularly good at showing the kids sources in seforim for our choices. So the kids don’t feel like we’re not frum because we homeschool, or have our babies born at home, or anything else that might not by typical, and if someone said something about it, our kids would dismiss them as being uneducated or close minded.
We talk about these things frequently, not in a lecturing way but in a shmoozy conversational way. The kids bring up something someone said, or something that bothers them, and we discuss it. Your kids need to know that you have a conscious and thoughtful approach to your yiddishkeit; if they see that, what others say might annoy them but won’t be a danger of being turned off to a Torah lifestyle.
I also think it’s important for you to help your kids find someone they can respect and look up to who is supportive of your family. It doesn’t have to be the rav of the community; even a family that your kids consider a good family is enough. It’s hard to feel you’re the only ones making this choice and the world is against you; when you know there are others who are supportive of you, even if the numbers aren’t big, it makes a difference.