Dec 18 2014
I would have liked to marry a Jewish man, but obviously not enough to make sure it happened. But why, out of all the men I could have picked in this great big world, why did I have to fall in love with a man with a preposterously non-Jewish name? As my mother said, “If you had to marry a non-Jew, couldn’t you at least have found one with a last name like Smith or Harris? Did it have to be Christmas?”
I ask myself the same thing. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 16 2014
“We get twice the presents!”
Most interfaith kids will utter this classic, and rather obnoxious, boast at some point during childhood. And I have to admit, it makes me wince and grit my teeth a little. As an interfaith child myself, I understand all too well that bragging about Christmas and Hanukkah gifts can be a defense mechanism, designed to dazzle and deflect those who view interfaith families with skepticism and disapproval. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 12 2014
The question of whether or not to raise our children Jewish wasn’t one that my husband and I ever clearly articulated–but it’s what’s happening.
I came late to the party, as far as Judaism is concerned. I didn’t convert formally until I was in my mid-30s, and by then I had already had my first child. It’s not that we didn’t talk before we had children–we did, endlessly. Neither one of us wanted to give up our traditions, and we both wanted to raise our kids to honor and celebrate both sides of their family tree. We understood that there would have to be a lot of on-going compromise, patience, and discussion.
We approached religion and spirituality from two very different places. For my husband, Judaism was about identity, Israel, and belonging to a People. For me, religion was the opposite of spirituality. I grew up Catholic, and had dabbled in Wicca and a free-flowing sort of Paganism. For me, spiritual identity was tied less to a specific religious path and more to traditions and heritage that weren’t necessarily religious. Organized religion made me uncomfortable; the idea of belonging to a religious community was foreign to me. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 18 2014
My Jewish grandmother is stereotypical—and proud of it. She’s short, round, warm. She loves to bake (or, as she puts it, “to potchke in the kitchen”) and to play bridge and Mah-Jongg with her friends. She finds nachas in her family. Perhaps above all else, she’s desperate for great-grandchildren.
So when she found out that I was gay, her first response to me was a despondent, “You’re not one of those, are you?” Then she sobbed. And for a while, she would only say, “We’ll see,” when invited to meet my partner.
My partner, now wife, wasn’t upset by any of this; her parents had her quite late, so her mother is of the same generation as my grandmother, and thus Fi is experienced with the quirks and prejudices some elderly people can have. She kept me calm by reminding me that it would take a while for my grandmother to absorb this news, and that we had to understand that it’s painful for people to give up on the dreams and expectations they have for their relatives. And, if the worst happened and Grandma never came around, well, that would be dreadfully sad, but we reside in another country and could just go on with our lives as we liked. She felt sure we’d get through this together, as we had gotten through many other things. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 10 2014
We were walking out to the car after Yom Kippur services when my son Matheus, 14 years old at the time, unexpectedly broke the silence and asked, with a tinge of exasperation in his voice, “Father, when can I go to church?”
It had only been a few months past our first anniversary since I’d adopted him and his younger brother from Brazil. Up until then, Matheus had mostly kept to himself any thoughts he might have had about his religious inclinations. His brother had decided that he wanted to become Jewish, abandoning his Christian roots barely nine months into our first year together—he could hardly wait to attend Hebrew school later that year. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 3 2014
I sat in the parking lot of the Baptist church. Five minutes until the service would begin, and it was time to go inside. I stared at the huge stucco building; it was much more grand and modern than my Conservative shul, and I was surprised to see so many worshippers on a Tuesday night. I was vaguely uncomfortable about walking in alone. I didn’t know what to expect of the ceremony that I’d be witnessing, and I anticipated feeling uncomfortable in a non-Jewish service. But I was there for a good reason. I was attending a dear friend’s baptism.
I walked in and took a seat in the rear of the sanctuary. It looked like a professional theater, with camera and lighting crews, and a vast stage with large screen TVs flanking the sides. People slowly filled in the hundreds of seats, and I was no longer inconspicuous in the back. I’d rehearsed in my head what I would say if asked why I was there. My sense of not belonging made me sure I’d stand out. Me and my Big Jewish Neuroses. But no one questioned my presence. The people in front of me turned around, introduced themselves, and welcomed me. No one cared why I was there, and I began to relax. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 30 2014
The author and her not-husband.
Well, for one thing, I don’t know him.
But, from now on, whenever anyone asks me yet again why I married my African-American husband instead of a fellow Soviet-born Jew, I will hand them Shteyngart’s recently released memoir, “Little Failure.” For in it, he has done a pitch-perfect job of putting on display everything I absolutely, positively cannot stand in a man.
To whit, the following are things that, in the history of humanity, have only ever happened to Gary Shteyngart, and then solely for the purpose of vexing him:
1. Russia is cold
3. Attending Jewish Day School on financial aid Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 23 2014
My family always asks me what Jews believe about the afterlife. My family is Mormon but my husband’s family is Jewish—they belong to a Reform synagogue—and my father-in-law is slowly dying. So whenever my family members ask me how my mother-in-law is doing and I give them the update—that she’s coping but still sad—they always shake their heads and say, “How does she do it without a belief in the afterlife?”
This is incredible to them. Mormons spend a lot of time thinking about the afterlife. For example, even though my uncle died tragically, before I was born, he was still very much a presence in my extended family. So much so, that when I was little and I would say my nightly prayer, sometimes I would ask God to put him on the line. Then I would say, “Hello, Uncle Rich. How are you?” and I would tell him things that I thought he might want to know about my grandma, my cousins, etc… (I kept it upbeat, so he wouldn’t feel bad about cutting out early). At my grandparents’ funerals we sang “God Be With You ‘Till We Meet Again,” and I meant it. To Mormons, the idea of an afterlife is the only antidote to the sting of death. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 15 2014
I’ll never forget the first roll call in fourth grade at the St. Fabian School.
“Levey, Hilary? [Pause] Really?!”
Yes, really. My father, who gifted me his last name, is clearly a Member of the Tribe (Levite, natch). But my parents decided to baptize and raise me as a Roman Catholic, like my mother. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 14 2014
I’m desperate to redo the sad, drab entryway in my house. After seven moves with the U.S. military, I’ve become accustomed to simply putting our things “where they fit” in whatever home we’re currently living in.
Our family–and our belongings–have become the only real indication of where our “home” is after moving so much. But now that we’re more settled at our current duty station, it’s time to really reevaluate.
Does this home look like we want it to? Like us? Who are we, anyway? Read the rest of this entry →