conversion

Was I Jewish Enough?

I walked into the grocery store last week and saw a tower of gleaming honey crisp apples. As I carefully picked my bounty, I breathed in a memory of last year’s Rosh Hashanah when my husband and I toasted the new year by dipping our favorite apples in honey while our 8-month-old son gobbled up some homemade apple puree.  “This year, he’ll have apples and honey with us,” I smiled to myself.

Over the last few weeks, the anticipation of my toddler dipping apples in the stickiest substance on the planet and watching his eyes sparkle with delight still brings a smile to my face, but this time of year also reminds me that being Jewish and, even more so, feeling Jewish are very new to me.  Four years is not enough to time to have a full repertoire of Rosh Hashanah recipes tasted and perfected to bring to a friend’s house.  I don’t have crafts and decorations from years ago to pull out and hang around our house and my shofar blowing is spotty at best. I’ve never baked my own challah and I mourn the loss of my mother-in-law because we have no Jewish family to tell stories of my husband’s Jewish childhood. At a time when Jews around the world are reflecting on a year of works and worship – I find myself asking, “Was I Jewish enough?”

We only lit the candles a handful of times, but I perfected the art of cornflake chicken strips and we sing the
Sh’ma
every night.

We had a Hanukkah party and fumbled our way through latkes while my baby ate the wrapping paper on his gifts and returned the ‘present’ in his diaper the next day.

My best friend sewed an adorable King Ahasuerus costume for my son, but he fell ill with fever and we spent Purim in the emergency room.

My husband and I gave up chametz for the entirety of Pesach for the first time this year and I baked some delicious chocolate meringues and almond butter cookies.

And this past month, my toddler and I welcomed the return of Tot Shabbat at the JCC and I almost cried when I saw him clapping along to the familiarity of dinosaur Shabbat.

Most days I feel like I’m fumbling my way through creating a Jewish household and every year my husband and I promise to do better.  When our son was born we felt like we had some time to figure out what Judaism looks like for us, but when my beaming toddler brings me his “bat-bat” (Shabbat) book I feel like time is running out. I picture him looking up at me and thinking, “Do you even know what you’re doing?” Because I don’t.  I haven’t perfected the art of moist roasted chicken, and I’m still googling, testing, and ear-marking recipes.  I wish we lit the candles and blessed our son every Friday. I want to know more prayers and songs by heart.  I am envious of those who are surrounded by Jewish family to kvetch and kvell with as they prepare a traditional meal.  I don’t know how to instill a strong Jewish identity in my son, when I’m only just discovering my own.

When I first wrote about my conversion on Kveller, someone commented, “Your conversion means that your soul was present at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. Honor your Jewish soul with a meritorious life…” Reading these words brings me great peace and I want believe this with all my heart. Cultivating a Jewish household is truly my biggest challenge, and greatest pleasure.  I hope G-d knows that I try and I never have to search far for a resolution because, for me, there is so much more to do and to know.  So many Jewish memories left to make, moments to inspire and lessons to instill. I want my son to always know that he’s Jewish, and I want to believe it about myself too.  L’Shana Tova.

Tamara ReeseTamara Reese, MPH, CHES is a stay-at-home Mama and consultant in the field of Maternal and Child Health. She is a contributing editor to Kveller and her work has been published in academic journals, La Leche League USA, Brain, Child Magazine and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tamara lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, two boys and ginger-baby daughter. Her passions include child injury prevention, gentle parenting, and breastfeeding advocacy. #YouAreAGoodMama

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