Happy New Year
October 10, 2008
First, I would like to wish a slightly belated L’Shana Tova to my Jewish readers.
Mel at Stirrup Queens has described the holiday wonderfully, and a couple of years ago she wrote a fantastic post about the fertility-related traditions around the holiday.
Last month I wrote a post about my own ketubah and Judaism’s history of ostracising infertile women. As a result of that post, many readers got the idea that I am Jewish. Of course they did, it’s only logical.
But now that we have just experienced the Days of Awe (the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time for reflection and forgiveness, at the end of which time your fate will be inscribed in the Book of Life), I must offer a clarification.
I am not Jewish.
I married a Jew from a pretty observant Orthodox family. There was enormous pressure on me from the family (never from DH) to convert to Judaism before our wedding. I held firm, believing, as I still do, that you should not change your religion because someone tells you to.
Instead, after much heartache and reflection and work, we were married by a Conservative rabbi who conducts interfaith weddings. I researched the components of a Jewish wedding extensively. I ditched the parts that I objected to. We incorporated the parts that resonated with us. Some of these components have been barely noticable at other Jewish weddings I have since attended, which often run quickly through many of the compulsory elements. Because it was my first exposure to Jewish matrimonial traditions, I tried to embrace each aspect mindfully.
Our beautiful Jewish wedding was attended by a small number of friends and family. It was not attended by key members of DH’s family, who had a problem with my non-Jewishness.
Eventually, everyone came around. They grew to see me on my own merits, not just as a member of an out-group. DH’s very observant grandfather declared before he died that although I had not converted in the Orthodox sense, I had converted in the Reform sense. (In fact, I have not converted at all, but that was his interpretation of my actions.) DH’s grandmother and I used to discuss techniques for cooking certain holiday foods, and a couple of times I surprised her with my “creativity.” For example, I added chocolates to desserts that don’t normally have chocolate. When you don’t grow up with specific ways of preparing foods, you are perhaps more flexible. I used to grate the potatoes for potato kugel by hand until one of the Lubovitch relatives declared, “Oh, no, I use a machine. Grating by hand is too much work.” So much for my attempts to do things the “right” way.
So yes, I never converted, but in practice our home is more observant than the homes of many of DH’s lifelong friends, who all grew up either Orthodox or Conservative. I have Kosher dishes (in fact, all of the pottery that I have made is designated Kosher dairy in our house). A couple of hours ago I completed my annual fast on Yom Kippur. I observe Passover restrictions to a T. I learned to read Hebrew. I make perfect latkes, fantastic challah, and deliciously “creative” hamentashen. Every door of our home has a beautiful mezuzah, many of them inherited from his grandparents or purchased all over the world at different synagogues. There are many other things that I would be willing to do but don’t, such as lighting candles on the Sabbath, because DH isn’t into them. But I try, I really really do.
Since I first was pressured to convert over a decade ago, I actually have been considering conversion, for reasons that I won’t get into today. But for now, I remain a non-Jew who sort of practices Judaism.
And what about children? My plan all along has been to convert our children and raise them in a way that would make their namesake great-grandparents proud. They will observe all of the holidays and traditions. They will not eat non-kosher food. They will speak Hebrew.
Strangely for someone who was the victim of so much judgment years ago, I can be judgmental of other mixed couples sometimes. My oft-mentioned sister-in-law is marrying a guy who isn’t Jewish. Yeah, I know, I’m not Jewish, but this guy is really not Jewish. Their children, who obviously will be coming soon because that is the Murphy’s Law of Infertility, will likely be raised never walking into a synagogue, never speaking a word of Hebrew. My SIL has always been a bit less observant than DH and much of the rest of the family, but her fiance seems to spell the end of Judaism for her emerging little branch of the family.
One of DH’s friends is married to a woman who, again, is really really not Jewish. Once I made a comment about attending their young daughter’s bat mitzvah someday. They laughed. I didn’t mean it as a joke.
At a recent wedding at an Orthodox synagogue, that same really really not Jewish wife wore a sleeveless dress. I silently judged her for not having the sense to cover her shoulders in an Orthodox synagogue. Throughout our marriage I have constantly tried to prove that I am not “that kind” of shiksa. I am not the kind who steals a Jewish man away from his faith and singlehandedly reduces the Jewish population by one. If anything, DH is more observant because of me than he would be on his own.
DH has a complicated relationship with Judaism, as do many Jews that we know. I seem to walk a fine line between participation and disdain. Disdain, either at their exclusion of me as a non-Jew (an exclusion that would still continue in some ways even if I choose to convert, although generally the religion is very welcoming to converts), or at their systematic “separate but equal” treatment of women. For example, I have been to several Orthodox synagogues, but I refuse to worship at one. On the years when DH has attended an Orthodox synagogue for the High Holidays, I have stayed home. I refuse to sit by myself, tucked away on a balcony or the other side of a wall with the other women — if they would even let me in.
Just as I did with my wedding, ultimately I will pick and choose the elements of the religion that speak to me, and conveniently ignore the rest. Although I have observed many Jewish traditions over the past decade, this week marks my first Tashlich and my first real, self-imposed Shabbat. I don’t know if this marks a turning point in my relationship to Judaism, or if it just means that we’ll be taking a day off once in a while.