L’Shana Tovah! It means (simply) Happy New Year, in Hebrew. Tonight at sundown marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and for me brings to focus the identity crisis I’ve been in for just over a year. I was not raised a Jew, nor did I convert. However, I have raised three Jewish children and been married to a Jewish man for 25 years this February. I have acted like a Jewish mom, viewed myself as one, and for all intents and purposes, have been Jewish for twenty-one years at the least. However, about this time last year, I began questioning what that really meant and whether I can continue on this road… and if I don’t what does that mean?
Last year I really began to feel some disconnect from Judaism, as it had defined my life for the past twenty-five years. I was not missing the “Christian Mutt” back ground I came from: a bit of Christian Scientist, a bit of Protestant, some Catholicism and tiny bits of other churches I attended as a child. I was not particularly seeking any other faith, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to be pseudo-Jewish anymore either. I had recently learned (after 10 years of membership) that my votes at the Synagogue we belong to were not being counted, as a non-Jew. Silly me had been voting all this time, and had assumed it counted. Principessa, who had just begun a year abroad in Israel was telling us that she wanted to convert to Orthodox Judaism. She didn’t intend to live a strictly Orthodox life, but she needed to convert in this manner in order to immigrate to Israel one day. Immigrate! These changes for her, had strong implications for me and my perception of our relationship. As I non-Jew, I could no longer cook foods for her unless I made efforts to have a kosher kitchen. Some of her previous favorites (hello: ribs, Dungeness crab, shrimp pesto, etc) were now permanently forbidden. I would potentially not even be able to poor wine for her, as a non-Jew. And, more importantly, in explaining some of what she was going through, it became clear that her mother (me) not being Jewish was really at the crux of her dilemmas. Because I am not Jewish she and her brothers are not considered fully Jewish, amongst Israelis and more conservative Jews. Frankly, that translated in my mind to: all that you have done, all that you sacrificed in your own family, all the Passover meals, the drives back and forth to Hebrew school, the Onegs you’ve hosted, etc, did not really matter, because your kids are still not Jewish enough!
I tail-spinned into this crisis. No sugar-coating that one. That then tail spinned into other crises, but that’s another post for another day. I wanted to go back and clarify things, do a little more Christmas and little less Hanukkah maybe? I wanted to see all my Jewish family (my husband’s family) finally come to our house for one Christmas. I needed to skip Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, to assert that I was not obligated to attend. And this past summer, when Principessa came home from Israel and set up her 2 burner cook top, in my kitchen and bought a set of kosher dishes/pots and pans, I wanted to put bacon bits on everything. I had pork on the brain for months! It’s fair to say that there was less passive in my passive aggressive than aggressive, for sure.
Now a year later, I am still working much of this out. It’s been a hard year on so many levels. However, I’ve come a long way baby and I feel things clearing a bit, on this and other horizons. After a hard-fought “battle” our synagogue reversed its policy and is now allowing non-Jewish members a full vote, as family members. I was the poster child for that touchy issue, that involved several congregation meetings (each time leading to me being questioned and asked to represent the non-Jewish nation). It has been and continues to be painful that for the first time in our life together, my daughter and I have really been at odds… for an extended time, for an important reason. This is not the stuff of dances and whether she can stay up later. That is still brutal, tough stuff of self-identity and faith. Tough on both of us, because we love each other so much but see some things so differently. She is back at school now and I see her happy and exploring her choices and paths, as I am doing here. There are bound to be a few more speed bumps in our road, but we’re both slowing down a bit and the bumps may not be as damaging.
Today, I feel as if a New Year is indeed upon me. I am beginning to breathe a little easier and relax a bit about the things that have troubled me. I feel like I’m moving into a new skin, that fits better and allows for growth. Tonight, I will go to our synagogue and celebrate the New Year with others who hope for new starts and positive things. This year when they blow the Shofar (the sound of which is much more powerful inside the Synagogue) I think I will feel good again about my quasi-Jewish identity.
Note: I know this wasn’t as short as “Middles” should be, but it’s what came out.
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