My wife isn’t Jewish, but she’s very open to coming to services with me. We’re expecting our first kid this year, and we’ve talked about sending him to Hebrew school, too. The only thing is, every time we step foot in a synagogue, I get so nervous that she’ll hate it or feel left out because it’s too Jew-y. Especially when they speak Hebrew. I don’t really know what it all means; I just like the way it feels familiar. Should I just go by myself instead?
-Lonely but not alone
Just curious—do you pre-chew all your wife’s food to make sure it’s properly seasoned? Warm up her slippers so her toesies never get cold? When was the last time you two went to a film and you watched the moving images on the screen instead of her facial reactions?
Listen, my dear kreplach, I’m giving you a hard time, but I think you know what I’m getting at. You are not the Ambassador to Jewville. You never will be either, because:
1. The hours are excruciating and you get paid in herring
2. Ambassadors are usually grandfathered in, and
3. It sounds like you’re still figuring out what part of Jewish tradition speaks to
I empathize with you, Lonely. Really, I do. As I’ve mentioned here before, I swim with a spouse who is not Jewish. Mr. Gefilte is a delicious mix of atheist Buddhism who gives thanks for seltzer when we say our version of grace before meals. After almost a decade of marriage, I still have to force myself to sing louder and stand taller when I light the Shabbat candles in front of him.
Why, you ask?
Actually it’s me asking myself why, because if you haven’t noticed I get to work out a lot of my gefilte-baggage in these columns. But anyway, let’s ask why in unison. And here’s what I’ve come up with for an answer:
Sharing faith with someone is the deepest kind of intimacy. When you do it for real, you are naked in your soul.
Lonely, I give you huge props for bringing your lady to temple. Now remove the kids and rabbis from the room and hear me out:
Yes, I do believe that inviting your partner into your belief system is just as vital, sacred, terrifying, and thrilling as an orgasm. How so?
FACT: If you’re always looking at your partner’s face and making sure she’s smiling, you will miss out on a lot of the fun that could be had.
FACT: It has to be a give and take, and sometimes that will mean you want to go at it alone.
FACT: Singing loudly always helps.
LITTLE KNOWN FACT: They’re both encouraged on Shabbat.
Lonely, I love this article about the meditative qualities of Shabbat. Even if it’s just closing your eyes for a few moments at sundown on Friday night, it’s a sacred practice. Do a little research about which rituals are meaningful to you. How do you react when you hear Hebrew? Are you into organ accompaniment, or do you like a guitar-toting cantor? Where is the place you feel familiar and new at the same time? Treat yourself to a few different services and congregations and ask yourself over and over again, how do I feel here?
Once you start answering some of these questions for yourself, I think you’ll have a lot more joy in your faith. And a lot more to share, if that’s what you want to do.
Just please remember: You cannot control anyone else’s experience of a moment. Everything and everyone is subjective. Your lovely wife may have one of those seats where the springs pinch your butt. Or she could get a whiff of some blue-haired lady’s Anais Anais. Maybe the rabbi looks too much like her annoying cousin, Mandy. You just don’t know. On the other hand, she could think the minor chords are breathtaking, the Hebrew sounds like a love poem, and what pregnant lady doesn’t like ruglach on a Friday night?
I promise to sing louder if you do, too.
With love and schmaltz,
Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might just get an answer.