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This yearâ€™s Rosh Hashanah became the beginning of a challenging New Year. Approaching the middle of my third trimester with a two-year-old at home I refused to cook. I spent the Wednesday afternoon before the festivities with my feet up while blowing bubbles for my daughter. There was only one small tantrum that occurred in the kitchen when I said â€śchickenâ€ť and my daughter said â€ścookieâ€ť and then when I pulled out a cutlet there were a few kicks and screams and â€ścookie, cookie, cookie!â€ť demands. Other than that, things seemed to be going my way.
We had Rosh Hashanah dinner at my motherâ€™s house and my daughter and nephews played until they exhausted themselves and then we all went to bed. The real Rosh Hashanah tradition begins in the morning when my mother and I walk one mile to our Orthodox synagogue every year. This is purely tradition. We are not Orthodox and I have been running an interfaith household with my Mexican/Catholic partner since before our first daughter was born. But the walking to the synagogue where my father prayed and where we went to visit my grandmother as children, because she lives half a block away, is the tradition I have kept because it is most important to me. It is also important for me to share that tradition with my own daughter and the new baby girl on the way.
It was so humid for our walk in the morning that my mother and I had to stop every few blocks. (AtÂ 72, my mother is in better shape than her pregnant daughter.) We huffed and puffed and made it in time to hear the shofar, the traditional ram’s horn that the rabbi blows into every year. And every year he says the same thingâ€”that no one can hear the shofar in the streets without trembling. I always tremble when he says this because it is such a unique image and I imagine the olden days when perhaps this was true.
It is always the walk to synagogue with my mother that matters on the High Holy Day. Of course we pray and we listen to the rabbiâ€™s sermon, but when we walk, we share memories. We wonder and are in awe of how we both made it so far with so much heartache. We look at my daughter and marvel how a baby so Jewish and so Catholic at the same time can be so blessed.
Our walk home this year is what changes things. On our way back to the house, my mother tells me she is excited because she will be going with my nephews to synagogue on Friday morning. At first, I think my brother will be bringing them to our synagogue. He doesnâ€™t live too far away but he would have to drive them over. But then my mother assures me that he is not driving, in fact SHE is driving to their house in the morning and going to a new synagogue in my brotherâ€™s neighborhood. I stop walking and have to sit down.
During my most challenging times of trying to balance two cultures and two religions in my own home and trying to give my daughter the gift of both beautiful worlds, I have never broken my own traditions to do so. I have never told my mother I was not going to synagogue with her. I have never missed a Passover seder. So it shocked me when my mother decided to do something she has never done before on our most important holiday. It also shocked me that I hadnâ€™t been invited. I was stunned.
The next morning was a beautiful day in Brooklyn. It was what Rosh Hashanah is made of. The neighborhood was green and the sky was a piercing blue. There was no humidity. The sidewalks had cooled off and the Orthodox women in my neighborhood shuffled by in their best dresses. Lilac, burgundy, opal and sea foam green were the colors of the dayâ€™s fabric. I walked out of my house without my mother. At first, I thought that I should try a new synagogue. Next door to our apartment, where I held a baby naming for my daughter, they had a service. When I walked in and the woman asked if I needed help I told her I had forgotten something at home and I walked back out onto the street.
I took the long walk to synagogue alone. When I approached my seat inside, the rabbi had just brought out the torah and everyone stood. Rosh Hashanah signifies a new beginning. It is the day God opens a new page and decides whether or not we will be forgiven for our past sins. It is a joyous holiday celebrated by the tradition of eating apples dipped in honey for the desire for a sweet year to come. It is on this day that I can always hear my father singing, even though he has been gone for so long. It is on this day that I thank God for the opportunities I have, for a family I have made with two faiths. But it was never in my mind that on this day, I would sit without my mother when she is still alive and well. It was never in my mind that I would miss someone. It never occurred to me that the matriarch of my own childhood family would be the first one to truly break tradition, to unravel it like a typewriter ribbonâ€”as if at the last minute she decided to change the story.
Insomnia. Itâ€™s awful and Iâ€™ve never had it before. Until now.
Part of this has to do with me getting pregnant again shortly after a miscarriage. Another part has to do with the anxiety, fear, loneliness, happiness, joy and gratitude I feel approaching motherhood for the second time. The second time is different, of course. With a toddler at home the exhaustion level of pregnancy is overwhelming. This is how I found myself a few weeks ago at two in the morning with the refrigerator door open asking myself, â€śWhat else can I eat?â€ť After making my way through a bag of potato chips, a bowl of cherries and the rest of a half-eaten Kit-Kat bar, I get the feeling I should be doing something elseâ€¦like meditating.
A long time ago I worked at a yoga studio. I was the desk girl and I would check people in and only occasionally take a yoga class. But, on Wednesday mornings they would have a meditation group and I would go and sit in the middle of the sunny studio and listen to a woman in a long kimono tell me to relax. It was relaxing, though not at first. At first there was total panic. Why couldn’t I turn my brain off? Why did everything else seem more important than just sitting with myself for 30 minutes? Eventually I got better at it. But, at two in the morning I feel a need to sit down with myself again.
My household is a testament to two faiths being able to coexist peacefully and even intertwine and become something even more beautiful than what they already are. A walk through my apartment will reveal the Jewish and Catholic aspects of my familyâ€™s life. There are prayers for the home in Hebrew at the entrance. A mezuzah in the doorframe and a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe protecting my daughterâ€™s bed while she sleeps. At two in the morning I look to all of these objects in order to steady my thoughts.
The Dalai Lama calls Buddhism not a religion but a â€śscience of the mind.â€ť So on my way back from the fridge I grab a pillow from the couch and sit on it in the lotus position hoping that Buddhism will help me in my Jewish/Catholic home. I want to stay calm. I want my thoughts to stop if only for a minute. I also want to relax so that I can finally get some sleep!
The pillow is uncomfortable. My already growing belly feels smashed. I forget the pillow and sit on the floor. The floor is too hard. My back hurts. Those potato chips were a bad idea. I lie on the floor. The carpet is too itchy, and so on and so forth for the next ten minutes. I exceed Julia Roberts’ performance in Eat, Pray Love. Meditating is hard.
I decide to commit to sitting in a chair for at least ten minutes every day and trying to quiet my mind. I look up mantras and then I realize that I can use any mantra I want. Iâ€™m part of an interfaith family! I can use a prayer, a word or even a saying. I choose something that Iâ€™ve been saying before bed since I was a little girl. â€śShema Yisrael,â€ť the prayer in Hebrew of â€śHear Oâ€™ Israel.â€ť Traditionally said before one goes to sleep I repeat it over and over again breathing in and out and trying to focus on my breath and the sound of the words.
By 4 oâ€™clock in the morning Iâ€™m still awake. At 6 a.m. I fall asleep. My daughter wakes up at 9:30. But, I keep saying the Shema. Every night when I canâ€™t fall asleep I sit upright in a chair, close my eyes and invoke Israelâ€™s name. Every night it gets easier. Some nights it actually puts me to bed.
I think about that prayer and the way I learned it. It was not taught in my house but in my school when I was a child. This gets me thinking about my daughter and my child to come. How beautiful faith in something, anything is. That a prayer so etched in my memory can come to me when I need peace and quiet. It makes me happy that my daughter and my future children will have a plethora of prayers to choose from. There is the Jewish â€śShema,â€ť there is a Catholic prayer of St. Francis that I love which begins, â€śLord, make me an instrument of your peaceâ€¦â€ť and then there are the Buddhist prayers for loving-kindness or forgiveness.
One night I try a specific meditation in which one is supposed to meditate on a difficult situation one is having and then replace oneself with a saint or a holy being like Gandhi or Mother Teresa. I do this thinking that of course mother Teresa will show up in my mindâ€™s eye. But, as soon as I close my eyes itâ€™s not Mother Teresa at all. Itâ€™s my Grandma Rosie and sheâ€™s holding a bowl of chicken soup. So I say, â€śGrandma, what are you doing here?â€ť She says, â€śI heard you couldnâ€™t sleep so I made you some soup.â€ť I laugh when I open my eyes.
The next night I make the family my Grandmotherâ€™s chicken soup. I kiss the Hebrew prayer on my wall, I kiss the mezuzah on the doorframe and I kiss Guadalupe. That night I sleep like a baby. Sometimes faith, any faith begins right at the kitchen stove.
The doctor calls Adrian and me saying, â€śCongratulations! Youâ€™re pregnant!â€ť Adrian hugs me and we lift Helen up and kiss her little 16-month-old cheeks. â€śHelen! Helen!â€ť we cry, â€śHelen you are going to have a little brother or sister!â€ť Helen pushes our faces away not exactly understanding and gallops into the bedroom in search of her favorite stuffed animal, Senor Buho (Mr. Owl). Adrian and I are elated and we head out to our local kosher grocery store in search of kosher meat to cook as a celebration. Of course Adrian wants pork, but our home is kosher so celebrating is limited to all other delicacies.
On the Avenue, I feel lightness in my step and I whisper to Helen all day about how we are going to welcome a little bean into the family. I do everything right: I get my prenatal vitamins, buy Omega-3, stock the refrigerator with fruits and vegetables, rest and drink tea. I am five, maybe seven, weeks pregnant. Thatâ€™s when everything goes wrong.
One morning, I wake up early and see blood. Itâ€™s not a lot and itâ€™s not bright red, but I call the doctor anyway. â€śDonâ€™t worry,â€ť she assures me, â€śitâ€™s normal.â€ť Adrian also tells me not to worry, but I worry all day. I worry so much that by the evening, Iâ€™ve sweat through my clothes. Helen senses something is wrong and puts her head on my knee while Iâ€™m sitting on the couch. This calms me down a little, but only a little.
The next day I start to make promises. â€śHashem, God, if you make everything OK I will be the best person in the universe this year. I will do good deeds and feed the poor and work harder and pray more,â€ť I pray. Adrian thinks this is foolish and I ask him why he doesnâ€™t pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe, who is known to help in times of worry and distress.
â€śBebe,â€ť he says in a serious tone, â€śthatâ€™s not how God and the saints work.â€ť I laugh because even with our interfaith family, I obviously think I can trick myself into convincing God of something.
I do everything right. And then, everything goes wrong.
The next day, I wake up and there is a lot of blood. Itâ€™s not brown, but itâ€™s red. My body feels heavy like itâ€™s losing something. â€śBebe,â€ť Adrian says, â€ścall the doctor.â€ť The doctor tells me to go the hospital right away. I rush to Manhattan and am attended to at Beth Israel/Mount Sinai with the thought, Â â€śThis is a place of miracles.â€ť I am shaking in my seat in the waiting room and I clutch a small pink book called â€śTefillas Channahâ€ť meaning Prayers of Channah (my Hebrew name). When I am finally called in, the doctor does an examination and tells me sheâ€™s sorryâ€”I have had a miscarriage. She adds, â€śBut it was very early, which is good.â€ť
Loss of any kind is letting something go when you were never ready to part with it. â€śBebe,â€ť I say to Adrian on the phone, â€śI have some bad news.â€ť I bleed for days. The doctor tells me this is normal, but it doesnâ€™t feel normal. I have not cracked my Hebrew prayer book to defy my God the way I feel he has defied me. I realize that these thoughts are irrational, but this grief is overwhelming.
After one week on the couch, my daughter brings me a book. It is a book about animals and I flip the pages for her. â€śBubbles!â€ť she shouts and I laugh. There is a miracle before me that I havenâ€™t been able to pay attention to. By far, Helen is the grandest miracle that has been gifted to me. Over a year ago, Adrian and I, out of fear for her life, decided to put Helen on formula when she had dropped down to 4 pounds. I prayed to God then. Now, Helen is in the 90thÂ percentile for height, walks, babbles, speaks some words in Spanish and English, points to the Virgin of Guadalupe before bed and I sing her the prayer of Israel in Hebrew at night. As I get up to get the bubbles, my body feels like it has been crouching in a cave.
â€śBebe,â€ť Adrian says a week into his own grief, â€śwe will try again.â€ť
I reach for my Hebrew prayer book to try to find the right words for what Iâ€™m feeling. Somewhere in the middle of the book, I find it: â€śAnd so I come before you, Hashem, EternalÂ who reigns over rulers, and I cast my supplication before You. My eyes dependently look toward You until You will be gracious to me and hear my plea and grant me sons and daughters.â€ť I look at Helen as she plays on the rug and I understand that I have been granted a miracle. With the two faiths that shine brightly through my house, I will be granted another one when the time is right.
We are so excited forÂ Mark and Priscilla’s recent baby news! After Max’s birth, this generous interfaith couple pledged to donate 99% of their Facebook shares to charitable causes.Â
By Joanna C. ValenteÂ
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla ChanÂ justÂ announced some pretty big news: Theyâ€™re going to be parents againâ€“making theirÂ 15-month-old daughter Max a big sister-to-be. Of course, the Facebook CEO made the announcement on his Facebook (because where else would he?).
The 32-year-oldÂ shared the happy news alongside childhood photos of himself and his wife, which makes the whole thing feel even sweeter (and also makes you feel old, because doesnâ€™t it feel like yesterday when you were just a kid yourself?). His post, while full of happiness and joy, isÂ also marked by his honesty and candidness about his fatherhoodâ€“as he admits why he had hoped their second child to be a girl:
â€śPriscilla and I are happy to share weâ€™re expecting another baby girl! After our difficult experience having Max, we werenâ€™t sure what to expect or whether weâ€™d be able to have another child. When Priscilla and I first found out she was pregnant again, our first hope was that the child would be healthy.
My next hope was that it would be a girl.Â I cannot think of a greater gift than having a sister and Iâ€™m so happy Max and our new child will have each other.
I grew up with three sisters and they taught me to learn from smart, strong women.Â They werenâ€™t just my sisters but some of my best friends. Theyâ€™ve gone on to write books, excel at performance, music, sports, cooking and their careers. They showed me how to compete and still laugh together afterwards.â€ť
He goes on to say how Priscilla grew up with two sisters herself, and how valuable this was to who she has become:
â€śPriscilla grew up with two sisters and they taught her the importance of family, caring for others and hard work. They supported each other as first generation college students and in their careers in medicine and business. They have so many inside jokes â€” the kind only siblings can understand.â€ť
Part of the reason why the coupleâ€™s announcement is so striking is the fact that Chan has been upfront about her fertility and pregnancy struggles in the past, including multiple miscarriages,Â statingÂ previously:
â€śItâ€™s a lonely experience. Most people donâ€™t discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you.â€ť
In another post, Chan said:
â€śThere are really dark moments where you think youâ€™re alone. And when we realized that we werenâ€™t and that there were other people traveling along the same road with you.Â I think having that, knowing that youâ€™re not alone, was incredibly important for us. And we wanted others to know that they werenâ€™t alone, either.â€ť
Mazel tov to the growing family! We hope the pregnancy goes smoothly.
This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.
Joanna Valente is the Editorial Assistant atÂ Kveller. She is the author ofÂ Sirs & Madams,Â The Gods Are Dead, Xenos, andÂ MarysÂ of the Sea, andÂ received her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College.Â You can follow herÂ @joannasaidÂ on Twitter, @joannacvalente on Instagram, orÂ email her atÂ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four months ago, I gave birth to a baby girl. After a long labor and unexpected C-section, there was only one thing that mattered to my husband and me: that our baby was delivered safely into the world and was perfectly healthy. Not that I was expecting anything different. She was in the good hands of doctors I trusted and my husband and I did genetic testing before I got pregnant.
Genetic testing seems to fall under the category of undiscussed maternity issues, like breastfeeding difficulties and post-partum recovery. I was only aware of its importance because of my work with InterfaithFamily and some of the pieces weâ€™ve published.
Before we got married, my husband was having a routine blood test and asked his doctor to throw in a Tay Sachs panel. There are multiple strains of Tay Sachs along with several other genetic diseases that are common among Jews as well as various other ethnicities. There was one uncommon disease that my husband turned out to be a carrier for, and that’s whereÂ our experience with genetic counseling began.
When it comes to genetic diseases, both partners would need to be carriers of the same disease for there even to be a risk of passing it on to their offspring. If I tested negative, we were in the clear for that disease. What we learned along the way is that some of these diseases are pretty darn horrible. I wonâ€™t get into specifics, but I can see how knowing ahead of time that you could potentially pass one of these diseases on would be very scary. In my opinion, getting educated about your risk ahead of time is the first responsible thing you can do for your future child.
I opted to have a full blood test with a comprehensive panel of testing to make sure we were casting the net wide for all possible diseases. I wasnâ€™t a carrier for the disease my husband was, but I was a carrier for a different, more common one. This meant he had to be tested again, this time for that specific disease. Luckily we had no overlap, and it was a huge relief that we could start making babies worry-free! At the same time, it was a cumbersome process which ended up being very costly and time intensive. I wished that:
a. More people were talking about their experiences and offering advice; b. Health insurance would cover the costs, even though we were not already pregnant; and c. That the counselor working with us had more knowledge of the way the health insurance system worked and could have helped guide us through the process in a less costly way (sometimes testing for a broad panel of diseases can cost less than just checking for a couple specific ones).
A great option for interfaith couples considering having kids someday is JScreen, an organization that can screen you for more than 100 diseases and only requires a saliva sample (via a â€śspit kitâ€ť) which can be sent by mail. If you find that you are a carrier for a disease, theyâ€™ll set you up with a genetic counselor so you can understand what it means.
Jewish genetic diseases are not only of importance to Jewish-Jewish couples. Because so many other ethnicities carry genetic diseases, including Tay Sachs, itâ€™s not just Jews who are at risk.
While it can be nerve wracking to go through this process, it will either afford you peace of mind to go into your pregnancy unburdened or give you a chance to learn about your options while theyâ€™re all on the table.
I feel blessed to have a happy, healthy baby girl and Iâ€™m grateful to have been able to rule out certain life-threatening diseases from the long list of things new parents have to worry about.
Like many parents, for me this time ofÂ year signifies both an overwhelming sense of relief (Yesss! No more homework orÂ projects!) and stress (What am I going to do with Roxy and Everett all summer?!?). This year has presented unique challenges for my family because I now work from home and can’t possibly spend my days on the beach with the kids while juggling conference calls and Google Adwords, no matter how much I want to, nor can I physically run around with them at more than six months pregnant. Roxy wants to do “tween” things with her girlfriends and at 9 years old her focus is on nails, music and learning the latest dance craze. Everett at 6-and-a-half prefers to spend his days dreaming up new ways to make his sister crazy by setting up Lego booby traps around the house and playing pranks on her while idolizing every move she makes. The realization of needing summer activities came way too late, and suddenly school was ending and panic set in.
In my perfect world, this would have been the ideal summer for them to both start camp. Overnight camp. JEWISH overnight camp. And I felt like it would have been an uphill battle that only I understood. Their dad thought they were too young for overnight camp. The kids were apprehensive about going away where they didn’t know anyone. My bank account laughed at me after talking to the Reform Jewish camp director and learning how much it would really cost me to send them. We talked about scholarships. I researched it online. I considered asking family for help. But in the end, it was not to be, because the kids had scheduling conflicts with local and family activities that made the discussion a moot point. Yet I ached inside, saddened to know yet another summer would go by without a Jewish camping experience.
Their dad and I finally worked out a plan for the summer and two weeks ago they started camp at our local town recreation center. They are loving their first camp experience, are there with both established and new friends and come home at the end of the day happy and exhausted. They love going on field trips and having action-packed days, but I know in my heart something is missing. My Jewish kids in Maine are completely disconnected to Jewish life now that school is over. Hebrew school doesn’t start up until the fall. There are no holidays to celebrate. With the chaos of living in two houses, I’ll admit that Shabbat just doesn’t happen in our house every week. And when I go on Facebook I feel a twinge of jealousy when friends postÂ pictures of their own happy campers being dropped off at a URJ overnight camp, and status updates of “I got my first letter in the mail from my camper!” because I’m wishing so deeply that Roxy and Everett were part of this tradition.
To add insult to injury, the kids have been obsessed with a book Everett received recently from PJ Library called No Baths at Camp!, which basically follows a child through each day of a Jewish camp experience through the beauty of Shabbat. They are enthralled by this book and the activities presented and take turns reading it to each other, carefully pronouncing the Hebrew words and reveling in the excitement of the Shabbat description presented. I take comfort as they absorb the experience through the words on the pages, yet desperately wish they could be there in person. We talk about it each time using words like “Next summer you’ll get to do this” and “One day you’ll help camp get ready for Shabbat” and “Do you think you’d be good at Israeli dancing?” I long for them to be part of Jewish overnight camp because I know how much of an impact it can have on identity and connection, especially after years of working professionally in the Jewish community. But who knows if I’m going to be able to financially pull it off next summer either. It’s already looking doubtful.
The funny thing is, I never went to camp. I revolted against the idea as a kid, preferring to spend my days on the Jersey shore not recognizing what a precious gift camp could be for me until I was in high school and involved in NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) and by then it was too late. I was old enough to be a counselor but too old to have created lasting friendships established over years of camp attendance. The majority of my Jewish friends understood this and as we entered adulthood and I recognized what a significant impact Jewish camping had on their lives, I promised myself that when I had children they wouldn’t miss out like I did. Except here I am, a mom of two camp-aged kids with a third on the way and I couldn’t figure out how to make it happen for them. I find this reality painful, especially living in Maine, where they are “the” Jewish kids at camp.
I cried one night when they were at their dad’s house, feeling like I’m failing them. My boyfriend, who isn’t Jewish, comforted me and agreed that if I couldn’t make it happen this summer that next summer was a must, and how good it would be for both of them. To have him truly get why it was so important to me for them to be there means so much, because I know that when it comes time for this baby to be of camp age, there won’t be a question, just love and support. He groans along with me when No Baths at CampÂ inevitably makes it’s way into the living room, and I catch him laughing listening to them try to pronounce the counselor’s name with an Israeli accent. Matt still doesn’t have a clue about this whole Jewish thing, but he knows that having a connection to Jewish life is pretty important to me and the kids and has made it clear he’ll help me navigate these types of hurdles when and as best he can.
The book is tucked away on the shelf for the time being and this summer I will embrace their first camp joys as well as I can, even if it’s not what I want most for them. Summer is already going by faster than I’d like it to, and before I know it we’ll be preparing backpacks for the first day of fourth and second grade while welcoming this baby into our family. Today I will look at this as a Shecheyanu moment, a thankfulness for new things, growth for all of us and an ever-evolving connection to our faith. It might not be a Jewish overnight camp, but Roxy and Everett have started along their own camp journey, one that will changeÂ over time, and maybe just maybe include some Israeli dancing.
Once upon a time, Amy, a divorced Jewish girl from Jersey, met Matt, a divorced Irish Catholic boy from Philly, in the unlikely state of Maine. They went on some dates. Amy tried to convince herself Matt was too â€śnice and normalâ€ť and Matt ignored her and made her dinner and bought her flowers.They both realized pretty quickly that they were living a real-life Disney movie and suddenly the two found themselves blissfully in love, minus the talking animals of course.
Matt and Amy knew that they had a partner in each other, to support one another, laugh with, cry with and everything in between.Â They introduced their children to each other, they met one anotherâ€™s families.They created a new life for themselves, together, figuring out how to start over in a serious relationship after divorce while already having kids and embracing the chaos, the unknowns, the differences and the sameness. Matt moved into Amyâ€™s house, and to this day, continues to help her create what has become an actual home, reflecting the uniqueness of the kids and adults who live there.
This month, I celebrated my 40th birthday with Matt and my kids by my side. The significance of turning 40 has been huge for me, making me feel like Iâ€™m crossing some kind of real grown-up threshold and am caught between not quite feeling old enough to truly be the adult I imagined, while balancing paying a mortgage, organizing the household and parenting. Having Matt in my life to share it with makes the transition smoother, and as I have been reminded numerous times, 40 is the new 20 (without the ability to understand snapchat). So this week, with me settling into this new decade, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to really make things interesting for our family and friends, because thatâ€™s how we roll around here.
Using the power of social media, we enjoyed shocking everyone by announcing that weâ€™re expecting this fall, which was as terribly fun to share as it was unexpected news (yes, our immediate families all knew prior to our announcement). And let me tell youâ€”doing this at 40 with a 9-year-old and a 6 1/2-year-old at home is sooooo much harder than it was when I first started the journey of being a mom. Iâ€™m exhausted all the time and I somehow blocked out the joys of morning sickness, body aches and maternity jeans (actually, that last one Iâ€™m kind of in love with). But Iâ€™m feeling pretty good overall, and as my belly grows so does my excitement and nervousness about our expanding family.
Before Matt and I found out we were new parents-to-be, he joked to me one day thatÂ if we ever had a kid together I could pick the religion if he could pick the sports teams. A die-hard Philly fan vs. a New York sports fan was going to be hard enough with us living in New England, but thereâ€™s truth in laughter and my answer with a smile and a giggle was sure, darling, fair dealâ€”never imagining that at 40 it could ever be reality. Yet here we are, finding ourselves with a child on the way, facing these very real questions about how weâ€™re going to parent and what kind of impact our interfaith relationship will have on our baby on the way.
Our families have their own opinions and questions, many of which havenâ€™t been vocalized, yet their subtle, careful questions paint a clear picture of uncertainty. Friends have been surprisingly more to the point, with direct questions expecting exact answers. My two kids, with their strong Jewish identities had their own Jewish birth stories, with a community naming ceremony for Roxy and a bris for Everett, both on the eighthÂ day of their lives. Mattâ€™s 10-year-old was baptized in the tradition of his own religious lineage, and itâ€™s all Matt knows when it comes to connecting birth and religion.
Weâ€™ve discussed our own connections to these traditions and our journey of figuring out our â€śwhat nextâ€ť has truly begun. What felt abstract about our interfaith relationship before is now â€śin your face,â€ť and while I feel confident that our communication is strong and that we have the ability to be open and understanding with each other, thereâ€™s so much on the table that truly overwhelms me.
Raising a child is hard enough, even when the parents come from similar backgrounds.Â Add in divorce, co-parenting and a couple committed to each other who come from different worlds and arenâ€™t engaged (can we please just deal with one major life change at a time?). Welcoming a child into this conglomeration? Well, this 40-year-old pregnant woman and her amazing boyfriend are doing a killer job of navigating, if I do say so myself.
Matt keeps me grounded through it all, with his calm demeanor and his â€śStop worrying about everything, of course weâ€™ll figure it out and I just want you to be happyâ€ť attitude. And heâ€™s right, I know heâ€™s right. Iâ€™m going to trust in him, and in this.
We might not have it all figured out, but this baby is already a blessing. The ride might be bumpy, but the destination will surely be joyous.
Adrian and I met working at a restaurant. Some might call it an â€śinterfaith restaurant.â€ť Tucked away in Cobble Hill, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, La Vara was the restaurant that brought us together. Its menu is based in Southern Spain during La Convivencia. The English translation of the word Convivencia is to â€ścoexistâ€ť or â€śto live together.â€ť The Convivencia took place during the late 1400s in Spain. It is known as Spain’s Golden Age. It was a time when the Jews, the Moors and the Christians sat together, lived together and ate together in peace. La Vara was also a Sephardic newspaper printed in Ladino in Brooklyn from the 1920s to the 1940s.
This is where I met Adrian. He worked in the kitchen and I worked out on the floor. One night after conveying the specials to a couple at the bar I ran past the kitchen and heard the boys in the window begin to tease me about the way I said the specials. That night we were serving suckling pig, squash pancakes (almost like latkes) and a white gazpacho.
â€śThe Jews donâ€™t eat suckling pig,â€ť one clever boy holding a pan and tossing garlic smirked. I could see past him to Adrian quiet and waiting for my comeback.
I stopped inches from the kitchen window and looked the boy right in his eye.
â€śActually,â€ť I replied with a smile equally sarcastic, â€śthatâ€™s true. The Jews donâ€™t eat pork. I donâ€™t eat pork. But, when the Jews were in hiding in Spain and the war started they would hide pork in their food so that people would not accuse them of being Jewish.”
Adrian laughed as if to say, â€śMan she told you!â€ť The boy with the pan wanted to flee but I kept going.
â€śAlso, youâ€™re from Mexico right?â€ť I asked the boy. The whole kitchen staff cheered because there is much pride in being 100 percent Mexican. But the boy with the pan was wary of my next move.
â€śYou know why we serve white gazpacho?â€ť I asked.
This time it was Adrian who approached the window with a question, â€śwhy?â€ť he asked, his eyes gleaming.
â€śWe serve white gazpacho,â€ť I began, â€śbecause Spain didnâ€™t have tomatoes until after they invaded Mexico, so their gazpacho was made from almonds, thatâ€™s why itâ€™s white. Itâ€™s known as the original gazpacho of Spain. After they invaded Mexico they brought back tomatoes and made something called Salmorejo, which is more like a tomato gazpacho.â€ť
Adrian stared at me. The boy with the garlic and the pan disappeared. Later I showed Adrian articles I had written about Mexico. They were articles written in Spanish for a Spanish press in Brooklyn. They were about the Virgin of Guadalupe and about why Mexican Americans feel like they donâ€™t belong either in Mexico or the United States. Itâ€™s as if they feel they are in the middle. Adrian and I liked being in the middle. It seems that right from the start we were thrown into the middle of everything.
On our first date we walked through Coney Island at three a.m. On our second date we went to the promenade in Brooklyn Heights to see the New York skyline. Every night after work I would ride my bike through Sunset Park and visit Adrian so that we could order tacos. We ate steak tacos on his bedroom floor and listened to music. I wrote and worked at the restaurant with him. After a while I moved in with him. We lived on the border of Sunset Park and Borough Park. Sunset Park is a big Mexican/Catholic neighborhood. Borough Park is an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. The middle always had a way of working toward our advantage. On Jewish high holy days we would go shopping in Borough Park. On Catholic holidays it was the Mexican bakery in Sunset Park we would frequent.
A few years later we moved to Midwood, the neighborhood I grew up in. Itâ€™s a Jewish neighborhood but we still frequent Sunset Park often. As soon as we painted our new apartment we decided to start a family. It was the right time. I waited tables and bartended through my nine months of pregnancy at La Vara. Adrian stood his post in the kitchen as well.
Our newborn was born on the day that was supposed to be my last shift at La Vara before my maternity leave. My water broke the night before on my day off and I called to let the staff know I wouldnâ€™t be in. Adrian was in the middle of tossing seafood paella when I called him to tell him to leave work.
When our little girl arrived at 2:10 p.m. on a Saturday we had a photo texted to us from the restaurant. It was the whole staff who worked that day huddled together with a sign that read â€śWelcome to the World!â€ť In that photo there were kitchen staff, servers, bartenders and managers all from different cultures, backgrounds and faiths coming together to wish us well. I always knew it would be fine that our little one would grow up with two faiths but that picture secured my belief. She will be rich in spirit because of her interfaith family; she will be open and understanding and double blessed.
There is a Hebrew proverb that says, â€śA woman of valor who can find? For her price is far above rubies.â€ť Our little one was born at a peaceful table. She was born celebrating a time when people shared their food, their culture and their faith amicably, willingly and harmoniously.
I believe in the mystical. Tarot Cards, Ouji boards, even the woman on the corner of Ocean Avenue who stares at me with one blue eye and one gray eye and says â€śyou have a purple auraâ€ť when I walk by. Yes, I believe in her too. As I watch my newborn grow and change every day I wonder what magic I will teach her. What mysticism will her father share with her?
The Hebrew word for Pregnancy is Herayon. In Hebrew every letter is paired with a number and the letters in the word Herayon add up to 271. This is because a womanâ€™s pregnancy generally is equal to 271 days. Here is another interesting Kabbalistic fact about Herayon: Har, the first part of the word in Hebrew, means â€śmountain.â€ť This is because a womanâ€™s belly is shaped like a mountain. I try to explain this to my significant other, Adrian. We compare notes on magic.
The month before my daughter was born I went to the Judaica store in my neighborhood and bought Channaâ€™s book of Prayers for Jewish Women. I was nervous about delivery. I was looking for a magic spell. I called Adrianâ€™s mother on a regular basis. â€śSeĂ±ora,â€ť I said, â€śIs it very, very painful? Is it unbearable?â€ť She did not lie. She said it was. My own mother told me the truth as well and then she added, â€śBut the pain doesnâ€™t matter. In the end you get a baby.â€ť
But I needed magic! I needed the Zohar to whip me up a flying carpet and deliver me from the agony of childbirth. More than this I wanted my newborn delivered into the world safely and with the prayers of both my Jewish background and Adrianâ€™s Catholic background.
I thought of the word Tzirim. The Hebrew word â€śtzirimâ€ť means â€ścontractionsâ€ť or â€ślabor painsâ€ť but there is another literal translation as well. â€śTzirimâ€ť can also mean â€śhingesâ€ť like, door hinges. This is because a woman is opening a door for her child to exit through during childbirth. The Kabbalah compares contractions to snake bites and when this happens the woman gets ready to push the baby out of the womb and into the world. Snake bites make me nervous. Again, I needed magic.
Adrian is from Puebla, Mexico. In his small village his parents speak a language of the Aztec empire. They speak Spanish but they also speak a language called â€śNahuatl.â€ť It is an indigenous language. It is a dying language. It is the Hebrew of Mexico.
The Nahuatl people believe that when a boy is born his umbilical cord should be buried on a battlefield and when a girl is born her umbilical cord should be buried in the field because the cornfield is where tortillas come from.
But the birthing process for both cultures, for both religions is the same. In ancient times Jewish women gave birth in tents surrounded by other women. The same is true for Nahuatl women. In fact, when I spoke on the phone with Adrianâ€™s mother she told me that she had birthed all seven of her children in her house surrounded by her female family members and one witch doctor.
I asked to speak to the witch doctor but I never could get a hold of her. My pregnancy began to take on an artistic form in my head. In my imagination, my giving birth began to look like Frida Kahlo and Amedeo Modigliani had lunch together and then had a painting competition. I saw myself painted slim across a canvas with a dark red background and serpents coming out of my nose. My imagination was winning over my mysticism.
Here is the truth about birth: It hurts. It hurts, but it is the one true visible sorcery. I had been so concerned about what my newborn would learn, how she would grow, what she would believe in. What I didnâ€™t realize is that SHE was pure wizardry. On every contraction I felt the hinges inside swing back and forth. On her long entrance into the world I asked Adrian, â€śCan you see her head?â€ť he nodded yes. I asked, â€śIs her hair black?â€ť he nodded yes again. She arrived black haired as the raven, audacious as the eagle and breathtaking as an Aztec monarch.
The Hebrew word for love is ahava, andÂ its numerical value adds up to the number 13. There are other words that add up to the number 13 as well. Zeved, for example, means â€śto giftâ€ť or â€śto bestowâ€ť and its letters add up to 13. To whisper or meditate is Hagah in Hebrew, also a numerical value of 13. Even the number 1 in Hebrew, which is Echad, has a numerical value of 13. Thirteen plus 13 is 26. In Hebrew, the letters in G-dâ€™s name add up to 26. Love is a gift, love is a whisper, love is one and so is magic in any culture or religion.