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Nov 18 2014

How My Jewish Grandma Came to Embrace My Gay Marriage

By at 11:03 am

How My Jewish Grandma Came to Embrace Me, Wife and All

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

My Adopted Son Wants to Be Christian–And I Need to Let Him

By at 9:54 am

Learning How to Raise My Christian Son

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

What Going to a Baptism Taught Me About Judaism

By at 3:04 pm

What Going to a Baptism Taught Me About Judaism

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

Why I Didn’t Marry Gary Shteyngart

By at 4:45 pm
why i didn't marry gary shteyngart

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

2. Asthma

3. Attending Jewish Day School on financial aid Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 23 2014

As a Mormon, How Can I Comfort My Jewish Mother-in-Law?

By at 3:48 pm

We Don't Agree on the Afterlife but We're Family

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

The Catholic School Teacher Who Made Me Want to Raise My Kids Jewish

By at 9:36 am

school-girls-skirts

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

Pinterest Has No Good Ideas For Decorating Jewishly

By at 11:56 am

Chagall-window

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 →

Oct 7 2014

Why I’m Dreading My Son’s Bar Mitzvah

By at 4:58 pm

Reading-torah

My son’s bar mitzvah is this weekend. I’m recently divorced from my non-Jewish husband. My ex offered to pay for some of the bar mitzvah, but on the condition he bring his girlfriend–the same person with whom he had an affair and broke up our marriage.

We have agreed that he will pay for half of a small evening party, but the cost and preparation of the Kiddush lunch are all on me. And due to some logistical issues regarding the second day of Sukkot, I’m going to have a hell of a time getting lunch ready for 100 guests and 100 congregants (yes, we are cooking lunch for 200 people). A caterer is helping out and I hired servers to set up and clean up because I’ll be in the sanctuary. But no matter how you do the math, there is no cheap way to feed 200 people.

I’d be the first to understand that this sounds like a giant whine. And it is. Because our synagogue hasn’t acknowledged anything but the two-parent family model (gay and lesbian families are very welcome, but they have two parents). I’m a divorced mom. I have multiple sclerosis. I have full custody of two teenagers and the ex has alternate weekends. I work part-time and am fortunate to collect child support. My parents have both passed away and my siblings live far away. I have fewer financial, emotional, and time resources to put together the same event that two parent families have. It is literally all on my shoulders. Read the rest of this entry →

Which Soviet Jewish Baby Superstition Will Mila Kunis Try?

By at 10:05 am

Mila-baby

As even Kveller has reported, actress Mila Kunis has given birth to her first child, a daughter. The dad is her former “That 70s Show” co-star, Ashton Kutcher.

On Friday, they revealed the baby’s name: Wyatt Isabelle.

And my first thought was: Mila’s parents will never be able to pronounce it. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 3 2014

The One Day of the Year When I Always Felt Jewish

By at 9:56 am

Foliage

Growing up as the only Jewish family in town meant that we missed out on a lot of things. We didn’t go to Hebrew School, we barely acknowledged Shabbat, and we had very little connection to the Jewish community. My Israeli mother did her best to give us a basis in Judaism, but since my dad did not have a Jewish background and there were no other Jews for miles around, being Jewish was more of an abstract concept than a way of life.

But, every year, when the air turned cooler and the leaves turned colors, something would change in our house. My mother would grow quieter, more solemn. Instead of laughing and scolding us in the kitchen, she’d be in her room, poring over prayer books and muttering to herself in Hebrew. Even the air would feel heavier.

On Rosh Hashanah, we’d pick a few apples from the old orchard behind our house. We’d dip them in honey, wish each other a Shana Tova, and go back to our lives. Read the rest of this entry →

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