Gary Goldhammer is a freelance writer based in Orange County, Calif. Visit his blog, Below the Fold, at http://belowthefold.typepad.com.
It's been a long time and the years don't make this any easier. If anything, writing you now is almost pointless after all that has happened, after all you've missed. But you need to know. I need you to know.
Her name is Alexandra. We've been together nearly five years, and it has been the most amazing experience of my life. We laugh, we talk and we love each other very much. I can't imagine a world without her, and if you met her, you would feel the same.
Oh, and one more thing: Her mother is a Christian. There, I buried the lead.
Technically, she's not Jewish like us. Traditionally, she's not recognized as a Jew by other religious Jews. But practically, none of that matters, at least to me, because she lives every day as a practicing, observant, contributing member of our Jewish community.
Dad, you won't believe this, but she speaks Hebrew. She goes to synagogue and observes Shabbat . She almost knows more about our people and our religion than I do, probably because she pays more attention in services than I ever did.
She is a Jew, Dad. I want you to know that. She has taught me that you don't get Judaism from a book--you get Judaism from your soul. Religious people don't simply observe their religion; they observe themselves and others through their religion. God is everywhere, but God begins from inside.
Alexandra is more "Jewish" than anyone I know. So what does it matter that her mother isn't a Jew? Don't I matter, too? Aren't my genes relevant? Being a Jew has nothing to do with DNA, it has to do with spirit and belief. I've seen plenty of "real" Jews treat the Ten Commandments with all the respect of bird-cage liner, so trust me, my patience is wearing thin toward allegedly devout Jews who would question Alexandra's authenticity.
Sorry, I didn't mean to give a sermon. Maybe I'm overly defensive, I don't know. I guess this isn't as easy as I thought it would be.
Alexandra's mother is very supportive of her Judaism. Her mother's family, however, is more reserved.
When they visit, they come with warm smiles and hugs. They give Alexandra gifts and tell stories. They fill the house with so much love I worry that the foundation won't hold.
Then comes Sunday, and they take her to church, and she comes home talking about Jesus. She loves Christmas and sings all the carols. And I smile, and I sing, and I am scared to death.
You see, I wonder whether Alexandra's relationship with her mother's family will change her attitude toward Judaism. But I also know, and have learned to accept, that she will make her own choices. It's not my decision, nor should it be.
Maybe I will bring Alexandra to see you. But I don't know if I should, since she wouldn't recognize you.
She has a picture of you in her room, beneath her Winnie the Pooh mural. She calls you Grandpa Herb and asks about you, what you were like and why you left. I tell her that you are my daddy, and that you will always be here for us, as long as we remember you.
But at the cemetery, you are not like your picture, you are not Grandpa Herb. You are just another name, in a place where all dead people look the same.
By the way, Alexandra's middle name is Hope, after you. She starts kindergarten in a few months, and will begin her third year of religious school. She might even join the choir someday--you should hear her sing the Barachu, it's amazing. Her mother, Christine, sings it pretty well, too. Oh, and Christine also puts together the synagogue newsletter and is active in our havurah. Not bad for a Lutheran.
We are a happy, healthy, blessed interfaith family. And you have a beautiful, happy, healthy, blessed Jewish granddaughter, who misses her Grandpa Herb very much.
I miss him, too.
Rest in peace,