My husband was the first Jew I’ve ever met.
I’m exaggerating–ish, I’m sure I knew someone, who met someone whose aunt went to undergrad with a Jewish person. I’m sure there were chosen people living on the same street as my Lutheran grandparents on Long Island. I think my brother had a friend who wet his pants whose last name was Greenberg and I’m positive the guy who owned the bagel shop in town (with the salt sticks, swoon!) was Jewish. But personally, I didn’t know a single one. I’d never heard of a Sedar and I probably thought that Kwanza was the Jewish equivalent to Christmas. In college I auditioned for Fiddler on the Roof and was cut before I even opened my mouth because I “didn’t look Jewish enough.”
I met my husband while in graduate school, at the ripe old age of 22. I found him to be gorgeously obnoxious, crude and absolutely perfect for me.
He was an only child raised in an interfaith household (faith in the sense that bacon was served at his bar mitzvah) to a Jewish mother and Christian father. His mother passed away when he was a teenager. His step-mother is a Presbyterian minister. Somehow despite all of the theological marriage swap – he still identifies as Jewish.
When life brought us together, we had to have grown-up conversations about things like my fecundity, religion and obsession with hoarding toiletries. I was pretty sure I wanted a baby, I was willing to donate HALF of my unopened lotion to a women’s shelter and I wasn’t tied down to any one idea of religion. My husband, always quick to offer up a suitable compromise, shared his views of what our hypothetical “interfaith” marriage might look like: “I’m not down with Jesus.”
Me: “Okay, what do you know about Judaism?”
Him: “Little to nothing. Just that I’m Jewish. My mother was Jewish and my grandmother is Jewish.”
Me: “Do you believe in God? Or heaven?”
Him: “I don’t think Jews believe in heaven.”
Me: “But I’ve never seen you eat salmon on your bagel or wear a tiny hat?”
Him: “Like I said, I have a lot to learn–and I look terrible in hats.”
Over the next four months we attended weekly “Introduction to Judaism” sessions led by the local synagogue forum. I converted in the reform temple August 22, 2007 after two years of careful thought, study and reflection. I took a naked bath in front of strangers and I have a new name and a certificate to prove it.
Now I am charged with building a Jewish home. This daunting task would be difficult for a Midwest gentile WITH an overbearing Jewish mother-in-law – yet somehow I am stumbling through it with a distant Jewish aunt, my own study (thank you Kveller) and my husband’s bad memory (but good intentions). My infant son doesn’t have a Bubbie or a Zadie–but he has us.
When I converted I told my Rabbi that I felt like an impostor, like my green eyes and red hair were screaming that I shouldn’t be wearing this star around my neck. He told me that the best way to truly feel Jewish was by making Jewish memories. I taught Hebrew to rambunctious third graders at Jewish Day School. I composed the text for our custom ketuba and was married under a chuppah in front of our Christian friends and family. I managed to pull my postpartum-self together to host 20 people in my home a week after my son was born for minor surgery and brunch. I had a sukkah in my front yard a few months ago (although it wasn’t ours) and managed to light the Hanukkah candles on the right night in the wrong order. I’ve proudly friended 16 Jews (including a Rabbi!) on Facebook — all of whom I know–PERSONALLY!
I guess what I’m trying to say is, my inner Yentl has arrived.