Send to Friend  Bookmark  Print

Next Year at Liz's and Josh's

From the time she was a little girl, my daughter Elizabeth's Judaism has been important to me. Perhaps I would have felt the same with any first-born child, but I can't help but think that Elizabeth's adoption has influenced my feelings. Converted as an infant, my daughter was neither born into Judaism, nor did she become a Jew-by-choice. Instead, her father and I chose to make her Jewish, and for me, this decision brought with it feelings of responsibility, privilege, pleasure and challenge. I wanted Elizabeth to grow up feeling connected to faith and proud of her Jewish heritage.


My efforts to make Elizabeth Jewish began with weekly trips to buy hallah and continued with having her help me prepare gefilte fish. Since I had been raised in a High Holy Days Only family, it felt special to begin these new traditions with my daughter. Along the same lines, I chose a religious school that offered an adult class at the same time as the children's class, enabling me to learn more about the Judaism that I was offering my daughter.

Elizabeth went on to become a bat mitzvah and to be confirmed. At each event, she did a magnificent job and I kvelled big time. Again, this may simply be what a mom does when her first daughter becomes a bat mitzvah, but I think that my pleasure was heightened because of my ongoing sense that Elizabeth's Judaism was a gift, not a given. There was also a certain perceived fragility about her religious identity--her initial protests about becoming a bat mitzvah, although not unusual, had made me somewhat fearful that Elizabeth might not embrace Judaism in the ways that I hoped she would.

When Elizabeth was in high school, she had neither Jewish friends nor boyfriends. I reacted to this with such Jewish mom comments as "I hope you will marry someone Jewish," to which she replied, "It's not important to me. I'll marry the person I love." As time went on, this response morphed into, "Religion is not important to me." Looking back, I do not believe that Elizabeth was rejecting Judaism, but at the time I was afraid that that was what was happening. From various things, such as a little contraband Christmas tree that I found in her bedroom, I perceived her indifference to all religions as an attraction to Christianity.

Fast forward several years to Elizabeth's wedding. On October 14, 2006, Elizabeth married a lovely young man who is Catholic. Their wedding ceremony and reception included no religion whatsoever--no huppah, no breaking of the glass, no priest, no rabbi, no hora (Jewish circle dance). When I asked her my "Jewish mom" questions in advance, including "Can't you just break the glass?" or "Can't we have just one little hora?" Elizabeth politely but firmly responded, "No. There will be no religion at our wedding. No Christianity. No Judaism. No religion." She rested her case.

Elizabeth's wedding turned out to be an occasion that did not need to include religion in order to feel traditional, personal and connecting. After celebrating with her and with Josh, her husband, I felt I had made peace with their inter-non-faith marriage. But as a mother, I should have known that nothing remains the same for long?

Elizabeth has always wanted a Christmas tree and so it came as no surprise to me that having and decorating a tree would be important to her. I was grateful when she assured me that she did not see Christmas as a religious holiday. Even when she invited our family and Josh's for Christmas dinner, I did not have the sense that it was a religious holiday. Hence, it came as a real surprise to me to arrive at her home and see a large menorah in the window. In addition, I noted a felt menorah on the Christmas tree and an ornament in the shape of a Star of David.

At the end of a lovely Christmas dinner, Josh's sister said, "This was great. Can we come for another holiday?" To this, the newly rejuvenated Jewish mom in me piped in, "How about Passover. Elizabeth, why don't you have a seder?" Instead of clobbering me, she said, "Yes."

Over the course of the three months between Christmas and Pesach, I anxiously approached Elizabeth several times asking her if she still planned to do the seder. Each time she said a calm yes, and let me know that no further discussion was welcome or needed. Even a few days before Pesach, she responded with her calm "yes." And to my offers to make haroset or kugel, she simply said, "I want to do it myself."

And so my daughter, who seemed so indifferent to Judaism, made a seder. She invited my husband and me and her dad (my ex-husband). A few others were invited but couldn't be there. Elizabeth made matzah balls, soup, haroset, chicken and brownies and apple cake. Josh made kugel. I brought them a set of family hagaddahs that were filled with playful pictures for children. Elizabeth said the hagaddahs were cool and the pictures made it easier for Josh to understand the seder plate and other rituals. Together we read the four questions, the four sons, made Hillel sandwiches and sang Dayenu. It was "seder lite," but it was seder. To say that I kvelled big time is an understatement. To say that the night was different from all other nights is equally an understatement. At the end of the seder, we substituted "Next year at Liz and Josh's" for "Next year in Jerusalem." Elizabeth smiled and said, "Yes."

I am sure that if I asked Elizabeth if Judaism matters in her life, she would say no. I doubt that she will ever attend synagogue unless it is for a bar mitzvah or a wedding or a funeral. To my surprise, neither of these things matters to me anymore. By making a seder, Elizabeth affirmed her connection to a history and a people and a tradition. Looking back, I realized that this is more than I ever hoped for.

Known in Hebrew as "magen David" (literally," shield of David"), it is more commonly recognized as the star of David, a six-point star. The symbol has origins in the Torah, and has been used as a symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism in Europe since the Middle Ages. Yiddish for "stuffed fish," a patty made of ground up varieties of fish, matzo meal and spices, boiled in fish broth. A popular dish on Passover, sometimes served on Shabbat and other holidays as well. Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Plural form of the Hebrew for "telling," it's the text that outlines the order of the Passover seder. There are many, many versions of this book, which dates back almost 2,000 years. Because we are commanded to expand upon the story, the Haggadah contains ancient interpretations, as well as stage directions and explanations, for the Passover meal. Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Derived from the Hebrew word "cheres," which means clay, it's a mixture of fruit, nuts, and wine eaten as part of the Passover seder. Symbolizing the mortar that the Hebrew slaves used to build the cities for Pharaoh in Egypt, it's one of the symbolic food items on the seder plate. Hebrew for "candelabrum" or "lamp," it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel's coat of arms.) Hebrew for "enough for us," it's the refrain and name of a liturgical song from the Passover seder. A bread that comes in a few different varieties; its most common variation is a braided egg bread, though there are water challahs that don't have eggs, and there are whole-wheat challahs which sometimes also don't have eggs. It is customary to being Sabbath and holiday meals by saying blessings and eating challah. Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. Hebrew word for an unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the holiday of Passover. Hebrew for "Passover," the spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Yiddish word for a savory or sweet pudding made from either noodles, potatoes or matzah. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. Hebrew, derived from the Greek word for "dance," a variety of dances done in a circle, popular in Israel (and the Balkans).
Ellen S. Glazer

Ellen S. Glazer is a clinical social worker in private practice in Newton, Mass. Her work focuses on infertility, adoption, pregnancy loss and parenting after infertility. She is the author or co-author of six books, the most recent being Having Your Baby Through Egg Donation.

Send to Friend  Bookmark  Print