Out on the Porch

By Annie Modesitt

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My husband is Jewish; I am not. We have a Jewish home; we also have a non-Jewish home by many definitions. The truth is we have an undefinable home in the most multi-cultural and American sense of the word. The fact that a home such as ours exists is a fearsome thing to many strict adherents of certain religious ideologies, but here we are–at home in our house devised of two different cultures–roof, walls, crumbling bricks out front and yard in need of serious maintenance–we have it all.

I’ve often thought of Judaism as a house. In some rooms men meet to argue over Talmud, in others women pass on generations of physical wisdom to their daughters. Small closets where women used to secretly chant Torah have opened into large parlors filled with men and women all davening together. Walls break down, rooms are added–Judaism in physical transition.

When people convert they move into the house, they pass the threshold. However some of us who choose to affiliate with Judaism but not to convert are still standing out on the porch.

I love a good front porch. I love to see the neighbors go by, watch the kids playing, have a glass of tea and a few cookies while I sit and knit through the evening. I have a lot of company out on the porch; good company. But at some point it’s nice to go inside–and not just as a guest–but as a treasured member of the household.

Judaism is changing. This has been true ever since Moses went back up the mountain for the second time while his wife–the non Jew–waited at the bottom with their two sons, her sister-in-law and an entire universe of folk. I often wonder what Zipporah (Moses’ wife) and Miriam (Moses’ sister) talked about as they waited. Did Aaron and Zipporah have many conversations during those years of wandering in the dessert–did they talk at all? What was the “December dilemma” of their time?

Did Zipporah feel that she was out on the porch, too? (Can a tent have a porch? More interesting–if you open all sides of a tent, does the whole world become your porch?) She must have felt an outsider in her husband’s community–a stranger in a strange land–a feeling that Moses knew quite well.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone telling Moses, “Your marriage will spell the end of the Hebrew people.” Neither will my own. In fact, I have the nerve, chutzpah and joy to believe that marriages and families such as ours will usher in a new renaissance of Jewish thought and learning. I can’t pretend to understand the mind of God–I can’t even understand my own mind most days–but I do believe that every human contains within a spark of the divine that knows no dogma or worldly affiliation.

When Yitro (Zipporah’s father) met Moses in the desert after the flight from Egypt and brought Zipporah to him, he stayed around at least long enough to offer a burnt sacrifice to the God of Israel and to teach Moses the finer points of leadership through delegation. Yitro did not subjugate his own intelligence and cultural history when he affiliated himself with Moses and the Jewish community. I feel that it is incumbent on all non-Jews who have chosen to affiliate themselves with Jewish spouses and families to use their own cultural tools to enlarge the experience of the Jews in a positive way. It is incumbent on all of us to help in the work of healing the world.

In the same spirit, it is vital that the Jewish community welcome the non-Jews who has affiliated themselves with Judaism. Outreach is an important part of this, but quite often it’s difficult to see past the stereotypes and truly receive people into the community for themselves, not as representatives of entire cultural groups.

Change can be frightening, but every generation of Jews has faced change, and this has strengthened the faith and culture of the Jewish people. Without change and a bit of assimilation there would be no Yiddish or Ladino Language–much of the richness of Jewish tradition, borrowed from other cultures, would be missing.

So, how can I fit better into the Jewish house? Can I make the porch more livable? Add a few swings, or maybe screen it in? I’ve been preoccupied with the idea of adding a porch to our own 1920s-era home. I’ve drawn up plans for a pergola–an arbor supporting a trellis roof–because it would suit the style of our house.

It has recently dawned on me that the pergola would make a wonderful booth for Sukkot.





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About Annie Modesitt

Annie Modesitt is the author of Confessions of a Knitting Heretic (ModeKnit 2004), Twist & Loop (Potter Craft 2006) and Men Who Knit & The Dogs Who Love Them (Lark, Jan 2007). She celebrates all types of holidays with her husband and children in South Orange, N.J. They plan a move to Minnesota, where they intend to add a few Scandinavian holidays to their calendar. She blogs about knitting, teaching and life at target="_blank">www.anniemondesitt.com