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I'll Conversion Talk If I Want To

Originally published by Galit Breen in her Minnesota Mamaleh column on TC Jewfolk "It's My Blog-O-Versary And I'll Talk Conversion If I Want To."

January 14, 2010

About ten years ago, I was a Kindergarten teacher by day and a thesis writer by every other impossibly, unforgivingly awake moment. These roles melded together within my over-scheduled brain and I found myself intrigued by the interfaith families and children that I was getting to know.

So for my thesis I explored the nature of these (specific) couples' dialogue, openness to questioning and lack of given, predetermined answers. I was curious how all of that wonderfulness fostered open ended, thoughtful questions from their children.

And here I am, ten years later, still contemplating children. And their questions. And the wide world of possibilities of answers available, but not always necessary, at our fingertips. Except now, I'm thinking and writing about my own children. And my own family.

Sometimes a different perspective changes how you see things. Just sayin.'

What might surprise most of you to know is that the alternate title for this article was, "Why We're Not An Interfaith Family, And Why We Are." When Jason and I met ten years ago, he was a Catholic boy from the Midwest. He was the "Epilogue" of my thesis.

After "doing" a year's worth of Judaism with my family, he found that he fell in love with that piece of me and could easily see himself fully immersed right in the midst of it all. So he decided to convert, which he did about a year later. This article, however, is not about Jason's decision to convert. It's also not about the conversion process. Because those are not my stories to tell.

What this post is about is how our family's Judaism is formed and affected by the fact that one of us is a Jew by Birth and one of us is a Jew by Choice. The two of us saw Jason's conversion as the sign-off on our happily ever after. We would raise our children in a Jewish home. Everything was buttoned up. Tight. And the deal was sealed. Cue sappy end music here, right?

And that is, indeed, how it works sometimes. There's no negotiating his childhood traditions with mine, fighting over his tunes or mine, deciding between his mom's recipe or mine. And I will admit that the control freak part of me thrives within this system most of the time.

But every so often both Jason and I have been struck by the total and complete miss of our children not experiencing a part of my husband's story. His memories. His tunes. His recipes. There's something amazing about seeing your childhood traditions and beliefs through your children's eyes. It's sweet and endearing, for sure. But there's also the joyful vulnerability of saying This is who I am and seeing what they do with it. On the flip-side, there's something equally amazing about being that child participating in a tradition that your parents treasured when they were children and are now choosing to share with you. And you know what? I want all of that amazing-ness. For Jason and for our children.

I have often found conversion to be a hush-hush topic. Not really talked about. Ever. Well maybe once you're really close to friends you let the cat out of the bag. A Jew is a Jew and not a Convert. And I get that, I do. But... Oy! Sometimes, most times really, we do need to talk. We need to discuss what happens outside of our family. Christmas. Sunday School. Easter. There's also the things that boil over on the inside that need to be addressed or they run the risk of becoming a wall or a division between us. Things like Jason having been part of the mainstream and then, well, not. For us, even though we're still stumbling over the words, the lessons and the what's-importants, its been literally impossible to not talk about these things.

So we do. We talk about it in little bits. We keep it about us. As a cohesive family. And we keep the conversation open-ended. We answer our children's questions honestly. And as best we can. Without overwhelming them with information. We find ourselves telling, sharing, explaining more each year. So bit by bit our children will see how Jason grew up, what he did, what he learned and what he has chosen. There's something powerful in that information, isn't there?

Jason made a move of love for me. For our children. For our Judaism. And ultimately for our family unit. On my end? That move, or change per se, comes in the form of cobbling together our family's religious, spiritual and cultural traditions from scratch. And I do do some of that on my own. I pull from what I remember growing up and what I'm learning from so very many of you. The together part comes as we figure out works for us, as a family.

Ultimately it means that that we keep redefining as we go. So no, Jason's conversion didn't give us the ease and simplicity, the given of answers that we assumed we were going to have access to for our children. But it is, in no uncertain terms, our happily ever after. Our question asking, answer unknowing, sometimes fly by the seat of our pants "tradition" creating happily ever after. And I'll take it. In a heartbeat.

Galit Breen

Galit Breen is a Minnesota writer. On any given day she can be found juggling three kids, one husband, one puggle, and her laptop. Galit writes women's fiction, is the series editor of Pens and Paint, an anthology of children's poetry and artwork, and is co-producing Listen to Your Mother Twin Cities 2013. Galit blogs at These Little Waves and (it has to be said) tweets and Facebooks a lot.

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