A family member of my husband’s, whom I’ll call Devorah, recently told me that although I may have converted, ”you will never think like a Jew.” At the time I didn’t say anything. This woman is an elder and I respect her opinion. But later I kept running that sentence through my head, and I realized it struck a nerve. Is she right? As an adult convert, will I never “think” like a Jew? And by extension, will my children never think like Jews, either?
After ruminating for days, I decided to ask my husband about Devorah’s comment. He explained that Devorah believed that I converted out of a sense of duty to him, rather than on my own terms. I thought back to my conversion process and it struck me: I had kept the process intensely private, and I sat before the beit din (rabbinic court) and had my mikveh (ritual bath) only one week before my son was born. In Devorah’s mind, I was Jewish for the sake of my children.
Rather than being upset with an elderly relative with whom I had never explained my conversion process, I realized that I needed to work on becoming comfortable discussing my beliefs and my very real reasons for converting. And I needed to be discussing it with both my non-Jewish relatives and my husband’s Jewish ones. This will be difficult for me. I came from a family where we didn’t discuss faith or religion, and we certainly didn’t discuss individual belief in the context of religious doctrine. My discomfort with discussing faith is rooted in not having any prior experience talking about it, and I have to explore how to do that. Additionally, I need to learn to share my beliefs with my children and teach them to verbalize what they believe. Not because I want them to fit into any particular doctrine, but because I never want a comment like “you don’t think like a Jew” to silence them.
As everyone who is reading this already knows, December is probably the most stressful/crazy/anxiety-ridden time of the year. Or at least that’s what everyone wants you to feel. Especially if you are intermarried or if you grew up in an interfaith family. The questions – What are you doing for the holidays? Do you have a tree? Do your kids believe in Santa? Do your kids get presents for both holidays? Maybe it’s because I have been intermarried for 10 years and have had kids for the last 7, but thankfully I do not have a dilemma in December. This is due to my amazing husband, in-laws and extended family and because we really did and continue to do the work to secure this non-dilemma situation during this crazy time of the year. We celebrate Chanukah in our house and Christmas at my in-laws and extended family. We each have our own menorah and bring it with us when the holidays overlap. We have a great time and so do our kids. While my in-laws celebrate Christmas as a truly religious one, we celebrate it as a truly fun day or two to spend with family – exchange gifts – and eat cinnamon buns.
The first year we were married, and I didn’t observe my family’s Jewish Christmas tradition of going to the movies and going out for Chinese food – unique, I know – I was completely overwhelmed by the gifts. My in-laws are completely non-materialistic people so that made me even more taken aback. Chanukah in my family was one nice gift and a bunch of little things for the rest of the seven nights. Thankfully after we had kids, the bulk of the presents went to them – rightfully so – but I still haven’t been able to make my own peace with all of the presents. Even today, I went to Macy’s in our local mall for a Chanukah Family Fest and was simply in shock at how many people were at the mall and all of the shopping bags they were walking out with. Not that I am anti-gifts – my kids would never forgive me for that. In fact, I am done with my shopping and I bought almost all of the gifts at non-commercial places like independent toy stores and book stores – crowds make me a little crazy plus I am a bad decision-maker so smaller stores with fewer options work out better for me.
The first couple of years with our kids at Christmas, I was slightly adamant about their gifts being wrapped in non-Christmas paper: something wintery was fine – snowflakes or snowmen – and I definitely didn’t want any gifts from Santa – only from Grammy & Poppy. I am beyond grateful that my in-laws respected my wishes – and humored me. I also feel that my husband and I have done our job as parents for the other 364 days out of the year so one day is not going to make a lasting impact in their identity.
Now our 7 year old is the one asking questions – Why aren’t stores decorated for Chanukah? Why do only people who celebrate Christmas put up lights in their yard? Why do more people celebrate Christmas than Chanukah? Is Santa real? My husband and I try to answer these questions with simple yet truthful answers and in a way to let him know that we know these things can be hard to understand. The Santa one is the hardest because it is such an honest question and one that we don’t want him to ruin for his friends – kind of like the tooth fairy. It’s a tough one – what do you tell your kids?
My son, thank G-d, was born September 13, 2011. Eight days later was his Brit Milah, his circumcision. He was so good. He slept. I cried.
The Mohel included my husband in the ceremony. We recited a beautiful prayer, asking G-d for help in parenting, for helping our son live a wonderful life and of course thanking G-d for our son.
My husband gave a beautiful speech after the ceremony. He explained how he had asked his mom, on her death bed, that she ask Hashem (G-d) for a bit of help as we were having trouble conceiving. He said he learned that when you believe, good things can happen. I know he was talking about Hashem, G-d. I have to say my husband has a strong belief in G-d, he always believed we would have a child, even when I was ready to give up, even when I stopped keeping Shabbos, my husband kept saying, “don’t worry, you’ll see”.
I am so grateful for my son, and for my husband.
Shabbos candelighting is in a few hours (so early!) and now I continue to pray for guidance in parenting. For patience. That my son have a beautiful, long, healthy and safe life. And I thank G-d for my son. I really should also be thanking G-d for my husband a bit more. My husband, even though he isn’t Jewish, has taught me a lot about what it means to have Emunah and Bitachon in Hashem – Faith and Trust in G-d.
I am another one of the fab parenting bloggers. I am actually a parent in waiting… due in 3 days! (Will baby be on time? That’s a different story.)
I am Jewish and grew up mostly culturally Jewish. We had three sets of dishes in the house, milk, meat and treif. We went to my grandparents’ for Shabbos (by car) and the synagogue was reserved for High Holidays.
My husband is not Jewish. He grew up… well, kind of non-denominational. Technically Catholic, his parents forced Sunday school on him in his early years but then they weren’t committed to any religion.
After much research and discussion, my husband and I have decided to raise our little guy as a Jew. Add to this journey, that I have been growing more observant, in that I have been actually keeping Shabbat (no driving, no electricity). My husband has agreed to follow suit once the little one is here (to avoid confusion).
How will this all work out? Don’t know. But I do have a lot of questions!
P.S. You can read some of my articles describing my spiritual journey on InterfaithFamily.com