Why do we have to hide?

I put up my tree last night. ¬†And on Sunday, I was at a PJ event, and one of my friends confided that her kids were picking out their tree later on that afternoon. ¬†Confided, because it’s something that is still somewhat shameful. ¬†And while a part of me understands the secrecy, I do, there’s a huge part of me that doesn’t.

I’m Jewish, and I’m doing my best to raise the next generation of Jewish children. ¬†I worked HARD for this Jewish label, I met with a rabbi for close to a year on a monthly basis. ¬†I took my two oldest children to a mikvah, and sat before a Conservative Beit Din. ¬†I dunked my screaming toddler three times (okay, only twice, because the rabbi took pity on him and said enough was enough). ¬†I’ve got my own challah and hamentaschen recipe, candlesticks, I crocheted matching yamulkes for my husband and son. ¬†I’ve read and studied and thought and debated and discussed. ¬†I’m proud of my Judaism.

But I’m never going to be a Jewish woman who grew up steeped in the culture. ¬†My grandmother didn’t make matzoh ball soup, my grandmother was Irish and English and Catholic. ¬†I’m not ashamed of that. ¬†My mother isn’t a Bubbe with her own challah recipe, she’s Grammy and she decorates wildly and enthusiastically for all holidays, from Valentines Day straight through until Christmas. ¬†My kids come from that. ¬†I don’t feel like I need to hide that, or be ashamed of it, or pretend that it’s not a part of who I am, and who they are.

I know not everyone agrees with me. ¬†I know that there are lots of people who really, really don’t agree with me. ¬†People who think that being Jewish is, in large part, defined by what you don’t do, and putting up a Christmas tree and celebrating what, for many, is absolutely a Christian holiday, is perhaps one of the biggest signalers of being Jewish. ¬†People who think I’m confusing my kids, and watering down Judaism and perhaps I never should have converted in the first place. ¬†I know that.

But I truly believe that I’m a good Jewish mom. ¬†I think I’m a good Jewish wife. ¬†I think I’m doing my best, to be the best Jewish woman I can be. ¬†By showing my kids that you need to honor all that you are, not just the parts that society deems acceptable. ¬†That, in the end, all you can do is be true to who you are.

If that means that my family doesn’t understand why I converted, then it’s up to me to educate them. ¬†To teach them what Judaism is, to show them why it’s so important to me. ¬†To bring them in, as much as I can, so that they can see what I see when I see my oldest teaching my son how to read Hebrew, and hear my baby recite the blessings. ¬†If being who I am means that there are members of my community who disagree with me, and think my tree has no place in a Jewish home, it’s up to me to show them that maybe they need to look past the tree to see the Jewish home. ¬†To see the PJ Library books scattered all over the rug, and the Shabbat box that came home from preschool on Friday. ¬†To see the Siddur on my daughters bedside table, and the bag of yamulkes I keep in my china closet so that guests in our home on Friday night can put one on.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s my job to make it a little easier for the woman who married a Jewish guy and is trying to figure out how to raise her children in a tradition that isn’t hers by birth. ¬†Because it’s hard. ¬†Really hard. ¬†It takes determination, and flexibility and a lot of encouragement and acceptance. ¬† There’s a huge number of us, non-Jews who married Jews and we want to do it right. ¬†We want our kids to grow up feeling secure and welcomed and happy about both sides of their heritage. ¬†Whether that means exploring Judaism and converting ourselves, or not. ¬†I converted, and I’m so grateful I did. ¬†For my family, for me, it was the right choice. ¬† But a dip in the mikvah doesn’t change the thirty plus years of not being Jewish, nor should it. ¬†I’m not ashamed of converting, and I’m not going to tell my children that they aren’t a part of my family’s traditions. ¬†They are. ¬† Their story starts with ours, with my husband’s journey as well as mine.

And in our house, we put up a tree. ¬†And we don’t hide it.

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