Religion, politics and money: the 3 topics that are commonly taboo for first date conversations. However, this isn’t our first date. We’ve been together for quite some time that I think it’s safe to talk about religion.
I am Jewish. I was born to two Jewish parents. My mother’s parents are both Jewish (grandma was born in the US and grandpa was born in then-Palestine/now-Israel as his parents fled Europe in the very early stages of WWII – he enlisted in the US Navy and was stationed in the South Pacific). My father’s parents were both Jewish (grandma was born in New Jersey to two Russian emigrants; grandpa was born in Lithuania – as the second eldest, his parents sent him and his older sister to the US when they saw things getting bad in Europe – grandpa enlisted in the US Army to try to find his family – instead, he captured 35 Nazis and brought home a Swastika armband – the family left behind perished in the Holocaust). My stepmom is Jewish as are both of her parents, but I don’t know their stories. I think they are both Manhattan/Bronx-born.
I was raised conservative and still lean this way. I graduated valedictorian from my Hebrew School after my Bat Mitzvah, where I chanted 4 aliyot from the Torah, the Chazak Chazak V’nitchazayk that’s said when a book is finished, chanted my Haftorah, and gave 2 d’var torahs (speeches). I grew up in a kosher home where we had 4 sets of dishes/pots/pans/utensils – one for everyday meat, one for everyday dairy, one for Passover meat, and one for Passover dairy. We were strictly kosher for Passover. When we ate out, we either ate at kosher restaurants or ate fish/pasta at non-kosher restaurants. We went to temple every Shabbat but had piano lessons in the afternoons. We walked to temple on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and didn’t use electricity on those High Holidays, but we left the TV on in order to hear what was happening in the Middle East and Israel. When my grandfather passed away in 1995, my father went to temple every morning and every night to say kaddish for a year. I joined him most of the time. We have kept the tradition of going to temple together on both my grandparents’ yahrtzeits.
My extended family can plot points on the line graph that is Judaism. On one end, I have a cousin who married a non-Jewish girl. On the other end, I have a cousin who is orthodox and made aliyah (moved to Israel and became Israeli citizens) with her family. The rest of my family is scattered somewhere in between. The first cousin knows the traditions but doesn’t really keep a Jewish home. The second cousin wears a sheitel and observes Shabbat and all Jewish holidays.
I fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. I keep a kosher home but I’ll eat non-kosher meat out of the house and I’ll mix meat and dairy. I go to temple on the High Holidays and on my grandparents’ yahrtzeits. I have mezuzot on every doorway of my home. I believe women should count for a minyan but dislike music during Shabbat services.
With all of the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish sentiment around the world lately, my Jewish heritage has become a point of pride for me. I walk out the door in the morning with a Jewish star either around my neck or hanging from my wrist. I wear my stars to state “I am proud to be Jewish” but also because the star, the Magen David in Hebrew, literally the Shield of David, is my shield. I feel protected wearing my star. Mayim Bialik (you probably know her best as Amy Farrah Fowler on Big Bang Theory) wrote a piece on Kveller that expresses why she wears her Jewish star. Her feelings align with my own and are written better than I ever could.
In the face of such adversity and the growing number of Holocaust deniers, it has become so much more important to keep our traditions and to pass them on to future generations. I am in no way saying intermarriage is bad nor will I judge someone for the way they do or don’t keep Judaism. My own personal beliefs lie in the Conservative movement and my practices lie Conservative but can at times lean Conservadox or Modern Orthodox.
When I was in my early twenties, I said I could never date a Jewish guy because I didn’t want to be suckered into his beliefs and because I didn’t know what exactly my beliefs were. After dating my share of non-Jewish guys and half-Jewish guys who were, for all intents and purposes, not Jewish, I have reached the conclusion that Judaism is much more important to me than I ever thought it could be. I want to marry a Jewish man who knows the customs and traditions, even if his family celebrates holidays differently from mine. I want him to have gone to Hebrew school or yeshiva and had his bar mitzvah. I want my kids to know what it is to be Jewish and the customs, traditions, ethics, values, and morals that go with it. They will go to Hebrew school where they will learn how to read, write, and speak Hebrew along with the history of the Jews and why we celebrate each holiday. We will go to temple every Saturday as a family, celebrating and honoring Shabbat together.
Alright, dear Fitters, the floor is yours.