I am 21 and I want to convert to Modern Orthodox Judaism. It makes me feel like a better person; it gives me strength and compassion. I’ve faced skepticism, and as a woman sometimes even hidden discrimination, but it never managed to keep me away and has actually encouraged me to work for change.
Unfortunately, my family doesn’t feel the same—they’re practicing Catholics, and my mother once told me she would rather celebrate my funeral than watch me convert.
I live with my family and I’m studying at University for two more years. It would be very hard to move. I tried to tell them I would be happier, and I’ve had too many theology discussions.
I just want a normal Jewish life: kids going to Hebrew school, family reunited at Friday nights…nothing transgressive (or maybe a little, I’m an Orthodox feminist after all!).
Why does it have to be so hard?
A big hug,
Have you heard of this Swedish phenomenon called The Kanelbullar Effect?
It’s the reason why I sob uncontrollably every time I smell the cinnamon rolls at IKEA. I know several people who do this. Some say it’s the mixture of prepackaged dough, sawdust, and fluorescent lighting. Others point to the fact that cinnamon rolls (aka Kanelbullars) are posited as a “reward” after roaming through a torturous maze.
My personal theory is that I’ve just spent an hour/lifetime sifting through wood-paneled toddler beds and scented candles, waiting for my dead parents to give their blessing on my purchases. I devote too many hours of my life this way—swimming through the murky deep searching for their approval.
I was actually just talking about this last night with a dear friend who’s estranged from her family because of a very abusive past. I love this friend dearly and I was so excited for her when she broke away and left home. It’s taken her almost half her life to work through her trauma and understand that she didn’t ask for or deserve that abuse.
But when she finally had the means to find a new home, she went to IKEA to furnish it cheaply. That’s when the Kanelbullars truly hit the fan.
M, I’d love to say, “SWIM AWAY! Follow your heart and find true acceptance within!”
But that would be pretty irresponsible of me. I don’t know if you can afford to live on your own, and it sounds like you want to find a way to coexist peacefully with your family, which I admire.
Lately, I’ve been smitten with an author/poet/philosopher/badass named Mark Nepo. In his book, “Seven Thousand Ways to Listen,” he really dissects what it means to tune in with an open heart. He also gives these challenges, like describing what it means to listen and recalling the first time you felt you listened wholly. One of my favorite Nepo-isms:
In daily terms, the work of listening is to be constantly worn free of our preconceptions and preferences so that nothing stands in the way of our direct experience of life.
(Extra credit if you chew gum at the same time.)
So here’s my question for you, M. Can you open up this theological discussion with your family one more time and just listen? To their gripes and misperceptions and prejudices and accusations? You can (and probably should) put a time limit on it. Tell them to let loose for 10 minutes, or as long as you think you can take it. And just listen.
You don’t have to swat away their anger or defend yourself. If you want, you can play a little game in your head where you try to pick out any new words or phrases they’ve never hurled at you before. See which words come out with the most emotional heft.
Then, it’s your turn to talk, and they have to listen. Explain the rules—no interrupting or defending. Just keep the ears open.
This entire exchange should not last more than an hour. And most likely it will not lead to a sing-a-long of Kumbaya. What it can do is give you a little aerating. Then, you can step away from this topic—for a week, a month, a decade. Remember, you don’t need their approval to pursue your spiritual path. There must be other things you can all connect on—maybe you have a weekly spaghetti dinner or all love Parcheesi. You share a dog, a roof, a love of pitted olives.
There are still ways for you to come together.
You can show them this awesome video of Jews and Arabs kissing.
You can soak in a pot of broth and compare fillet techniques (old Gefilte tradition).
You can even go caroling on Christmas Eve like Mom has been begging you to do. Just hum the words if you don’t feel like talking about Jesus that specifically. The notes are still beautiful. After all, music is the one language we all get to share.
With love and schmaltz,
Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might just get an answer.