I buy egg noodles like they’re going out of style. Inside my pantry are bags of noodles– some full, some half empty–and some with the last handful sitting in the bottom of the bag. I wasn’t always such an egg noodle fanatic. In fact, it wasn’t until I started cooking for the Jewish holidays that my love of egg noodles began.
A few years ago, as my husband and I discussed the menu for Rosh Hashanah, we decided on brisket (his mom’s recipe), matzah ball soup (made by his mom), and a veggie dish. But we got stuck on the kugel.
“I want you to make my family’s recipe,” he told me.
“I want to make my mom’s recipe,” I responded.
After a lot of fighting, and an extra trip to the grocery store to get more noodles, I ended up making all three kugels–his family’s, my mom’s, and the obligatory gluten-free.
The meal went off without a hitch and I learned to stock up on egg noodles. But more so, I learned how challenging combining Jewish family traditions could be, even when starting from a similar religious place.
I was reminded of this struggle recently, at dinner with a newly-married friend. She was raised Jewish and her husband was raised Christian. Their wedding was conducted by a rabbi who married them on the condition that they raise their children to be Jewish.
“You’re so lucky your husband is Jewish,” she said. “It just evens the playing field.”
Though she is right in many ways, my husband and I still have our fair share of differences about religion. He was raised in Los Angeles, where Jews are plentiful and synagogues are the norm. His family attended a conservative shul and he participated in the requisite Jewish youth group. I was raised in Phoenix, where you’d literally have to wander the desert to find a Jewish community (though that has changed significantly in the last few years). My family celebrated the big cultural holidays and I mostly associated Judaism with Camp Tawonga, the Jewish summer camp I attended outside of Yosemite.
Nonetheless, we met on Jdate and even went on our first date on Rosh Hashanah. We knew right away we had something special, and having a Jewish backbone made it that much sweeter.
But as we delved deeper into our relationship and started wedding planning, we quickly learned just how different our views of “what’s Jewish” are. He wanted to be married by a rabbi; I wanted a Jewish wedding without the rabbi (I won). He wanted the seven blessings (traditional Jewish wedding prayers) to be sung in Hebrew, I wanted them translated (we did both). He wanted to break the glass; I wanted to do it together (he won). Our wedding was amazing… but these disagreements were just the tip of the iceberg.
Fourteen months after our wedding we found out we were pregnant. And when each of our daughters was born, we found ourselves negotiating once again. My husband wanted a traditional baby naming ceremony; I wanted to have a more unique experience (we compromised and created our own tradition of doing a Hebrew baby naming as part of our kids’ first birthdays). When it was time for preschool, my husband was drawn to the Conservative synagogue’s program; I was in favor of the Reform program (we ended up in a secular program for a host of unrelated reasons).
And when each Jewish holiday comes up, we once again revisit the menu discussions and decide whose recipe wins out that year–his family’s, my family’s, or both (as is usually the case in the name of fairness). However, to combat some of that tension, we have also started our own tradition of introducing a Jewish food from around the world at each holiday which is a great opportunity for us to try new foods and help the world feel that much smaller.
We are constantly navigating what our own family’s definition of Judaism is and how we meld together our different traditions, ideals, and upbringings into one cohesive approach. This means we often compromise our own preconceived ideas of how to raise our kids and sometimes we must push past our own comfort level in order to maintain a solid foundation. And as we think ahead to Hebrew school, bat mitzvah planning, and all the other Jewish milestones that will come our way, we know we’ll continue on this teeter-totter of compromise.
Two things are certain, however. Our kids will grow up in a loving, Jewish home, and we will always have enough egg noodles.