So, I’m not Jewish. My husband is, however. Within the Jewish community, there’s a lot of talk about interfaith marriages–what it’s like being in one, how you celebrate holidays, what practices you keep together and independently, how to avoid cultural tension. You know, all the good stuff. A lot of it, I’d say, isn’t even entirely unique to being in an “interfaith marriage,” but in a committed relationship to begin with.
When it comes to the holidays, it gets particularly complicated for us. My family is Greek Orthodox (and ultra proud of it), while his family is Jewish and Catholic and Buddhist and Atheist. Which essentially boils down to this: Everyone does everything. There are no rules, which in many ways is easy, and in others ways, causes chaos. It means there’s always someone being disappointed about where we spend Christmas (AKA our moms). It’s also beautiful, because it’s really just about being with family. (And really, moms being disappointed about not seeing you just means they love you. A lot.)
This year, we’re doing it a little differently. While we lit our Hanukkah candles, we also put up a Charlie Brown-esque Christmas tree with an assortment of cheesy ornaments and sparkly red and green Christmas lights. Talk about being inclusive and diverse, right?
In the past, both holidays were pretty separate–it wasn’t ever a conscious decision, we just never put much thought into it. And to be frank, I’m not religious–while I’ve always considered myself Greek Orthodox for cultural purposes, I don’t believe in Jesus. For me, it’s merely an interesting story to explain a facet of what God may or may not be like–it’s a way to understand the mysterious. Tradition is fun for me, whether it’s my own, or someone else’s. I enjoy the long-seeded history, how it brings people together, and the spiritual intimacy and self-awareness that comes as a result–like many others, it makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.
So, when I told him I wanted to bake challah together on Christmas Eve before we spend it with my parents, he was all for it. And of course, he appreciated the irony of it all. Baking together is not unusual for us, but baking challah is a challenge. It makes your hands all sticky and red and raw, as you literally punch the dough to get the air out. We could just make cookies–it’d take half the time. So why bother?
Because of the ritual of it. It’s important for me that both of us remain individuals, while also remaining together. The idea that we’re sharing each other’s holidays, and meshing cultures together, is not just fascinating, but it’s important to celebrate. Because isn’t the whole point of life and love and family coming together, and not feeling left out or alone?
As a poet especially, I want to be able to connect to the world around me, and that includes the generations of men and women before us who have ritualistically made challah together, and alone. And in sharing this bread with my family, we’re sharing a slice of that together. As much as our family traditions may be different, we can still share intimacy–intimacy itself is defined as “close familiarity” and a “private cosy atmosphere.” It’s that feeling of sitting across from a best friend and not having to say anything, of eating a family dinner together with some kind of instinctive understanding.
Humans are a patchwork of veins and organs linked together, like solar systems. Yes, we are all different and we are all alone in many ways–never aligning perfectly with others, even in our own families.
But even in that isolation and space, we sometimes see other blinking stars and planets, some alive and some dead, all merging together in a blurred glimmer–I think it’s that very space that makes us close, because we have to work for it in the same way you knead the bread over and over and over again. It’s what makes me hungry for something more delicious and more beautiful.