Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Welcome Home

I’ve been staying at my parents’ house for a little over three weeks. But today was the first time in a long time that I truly came home.

Let me bring you up to speed on my family.

My family is a very religious Catholic family of 7 (two parents, five kids including me). And it all stems from my mom, who is the powerhouse of the home. Church every Sunday, confession on Saturday, a crucifix in every room, grace before meals, rosaries in the evening, church every morning at 7:30AM in the summer (it didn’t even feel like a chore by the time I reached high school- I WANTED to get up at 7 and go), Christian music in the car and on the radio, fish on Fridays (even when it’s not Lent), and all of us kids have been altar servers, lectors, cantors, the like in church.

In my family, it’s always been 1. God, 2. Family, 3. School, and then 4. Everything else. I’ve been pulled out of class and dress rehearsals for church obligations in the past. All of my parents’ decisions are based on the Catholic church’s interpretation of Christianity. Even though I decided Catholicism is not something I could truly live whole-heartedly, this upbringing coupled with my loving parents gave me the solid foundation I needed to grow into the moral, respectful, observant woman I am today. I have no qualms with my parents or my childhood.

The last time I was here was the week of Passover/Easter because it was my school’s spring break. Despite my awkwardness with eating a completely different diet than my family and dipping out to go to seders at friends’ houses, I found my mother was extremely accommodating of my religious decisions. I was touched by every little gesture that my family made to accommodate my foreign Jewish lifestyle.

Apparently, spending Passover with my Catholic family was the best thing I could have done.

Today, my mom said that having me home for Passover gave her the opportunity to try and help me live according to my new lifestyle, such as when the two of us went out to buy matzah together. She really wants to help me live my new life, but she feels like she can’t ever really support me in my religion the way she can for my siblings because she doesn’t know anything about Judaism.

To hear my mother say that she wants to support me and my new identity made my heart swell. I’ve been waiting to hear these words for a really long time. I honestly thought I would never get her approval. I knew that my Jewish lifestyle felt like a rejection of everything my parents had ever taught me, and I preferred Shalom Bayit- peace in the home- to fights over my life choices.

For a while, I’ve been living Jewishly, regardless of whether I’m at school or with my family. This Jewish identity is one that I’ve adopted as my own and one that I am proud of.  Now I feel like my mom has come to a point where she has adopted a Jewish daughter as her own. It’s more than I was ever expecting, and for the first time, I feel like I can be comfortable in my own skin at my house.

Though my family will not be joining me at the mikveh this Thursday, it’s nice to know that I have their acceptance waiting for me when I return home. After thanking my mom for everything she’s done so far, I assured her that there’s much more I want to learn as well and we could do it together. I can see her in my future as a Jew- it’s easier for me to now picture my parents at my wedding, my children’s Jewish life rituals, and holiday celebrations. While it won’t be easy, it’s wonderful to know that we’ll be together for the important stuff, and that’s all that matters.

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Paschal Flame

My story is already woven into the fabric of the Jewish people. It has been since before I was born. I’ve only just stumbled upon the tapestry now and can only see threads at a time, shimmering and elusive.

Here are a few loose threads from Monday and Tuesday’s seder. Pesach can best be summed up in bursts of light and sensory moments.

Candlelight blurs the edges of time-

Curling around the edges of faces, giving the back of Marc’s kippah-covered head a new lively expression,

Tracing the features of people I love until the edges are left glowing behind my eyelids when  I close them,

Reflecting off Eliyahu’s glass in the middle of the table, sending reddish beams into my own cup.

When I pour the liquid light into my mouth, it dries out my throat, and the contents of the glass beside me  soak through the table amidst much laughter and napkin-mopping.

At the other end of the table, Eric holds the matzah above his head as he says the blessing, the shimmering cloth cover dripping with tassels.

The evening melts away, sliding along silver candlesticks.

Words congeal, passing from mouth to mouth as we try and steal lines of the haggadah from each other, making it into a game.

Smiles flicker, spreading warmth and glow from one person to another,

Wavering in the kitchen where the debate is more heated than even the meatballs.

Only sparks remain from an luminous evening,

Lighting the night

Mixing with flakes of cold, wet snow

Guiding us back home

And fusing us together.

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My Pesach Mishpacha (My Passover Family)

Chag Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover!

I could write about everything that happened at my first seder in a nice chronological order, but some aspects are more important than others.

Like family.

I could not have asked for a more perfect seder or for a more beautiful representation of the Jewish people. The seder is nothing without a family to share it with, and everything in the haggadah is incredibly family oriented and kid friendly.

Allow me to introduce you to the family I’ve adopted after two nights.

My friend’s mom was the voice of the seder. Every time a song appeared in the haggadah, she would walk over to play the old upright behind me. The room vibrated with minor melodies, her mellifluous voice lingering long after dinner as she continued to spin out the blues, doo-wop, and swing.

After meeting my friend’s dad, I now understand where my friend gets his sense of humor. His dad had no qualms about both making his guests feel welcome and making fun of them. His open-nature and slightly goofy personality put me at ease.

And who could forget about grandma with her soft smile and kind eyes?  She had a bright spirit in the way that she twirled on the living room carpet, grasping her grandson’s hand tightly in her own. She would call out “How are you, my kinderlach?” as we walked in and gently rest her hand on my back throughout the evening.

Oh, kinderlach. That’s us.

The kinderlach

The kinderlach

Traditionally at Passover, there are four types of children: the wise, the wicked, the immature, and the simple. Each child asks different types of questions reflective of his name. It is clear that the wise child is favored over all the others because he asks the best questions and his name “wise” has the most positive connotation. However, the seder would not be possible without all four types of kinderlach, and each of us added something important to the seder.

The wise child: He ended up leading most of the seder and has a quiet control about him.  He knows the ins and outs of Passover and likes to be the one not just with all the answers, but with the most in-depth questions. There’s something calming about someone who is comfortable taking the lead and setting the example.

The wicked child: She doesn’t always see herself in alignment with what everyone else is doing. Sometimes, she is able to take a step back and question herself, asking whether she truly believes what she’s been taught. She has enough self-awareness to remind us of an outsider’s perspective while still fully participating in the traditions she loves.

The simple child: He asks the most important questions like when are we going to eat? What’s for dinner? His warm heart is full of the zest of life. He reminds us that even though we are gathered to celebrate an important holiday, we need also to live in a way that appreciates the simple aspects of life. His slightly maniacal laugh adds an infectious humor that lightens the mood of the entire evening.

The one who does not know what to ask: She is experiencing Passover for the first time. She has read up on the rituals, and her mind is constantly full of questions. However, she would rather take it all in rather than question the beauty she sees unfolding before her eyes. Some might take her silence for stupidity, but she is truly a master observer.

I couldn’t help but grow closer to such wonderful and varied friends. The people I was with truly made my first Passover both sacred and special. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to know them all a little better.

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