I was not raised with any real religious conviction to speak of. I remember attending Sunday School at St. Maria Goretti in Arlington, TX. I sang Jesus Loves the Little Children and colored pictures of the snake tempting Eve with the apple, and other biblical scenes. By the time I started first grade I had a working knowledge of Bible stories all children should know. Occasionally I would go to the same church with my Memom where I would skip Sunday School and instead get to kneel in pews and play with her rosary.
Looking back on this, I laugh, because after the service Memom and I would often go shopping at Buddies (the local grocery store at the time, which is now Tom Thumb, I think). I loved shopping at Buddies with Memom because she lived by the rule that all of the Brach’s candy was free while we were in the store. I would put three shiny, wrapped candies in my pocket (or her pocket) and while we were shopping I would savor the delicious orange, vanilla and butter rum caramels. I am not sure if God agreed with her interpretation of “Thou shalt not steal.” She was a kid from the depression, perhaps in Kulpmont, PA they were allowed to test the candy?
I tried this same “free while in the store” line of reasoning with my Mom when we went shopping. She was not amused. It became a private thing I shared with Memom on Sundays or whenever we happened to be shopping at Buddies.
Religion and overly religious people have always freaked me out a little bit because it’s so unfamiliar. I would attend Bible camp with various friends growing up and there was often swaying and crying during the religious gatherings. I was always on the outside looking in. I am inherently skeptical of outward displays of religion, even now, though as I have gotten older I am much more at ease around it, provided they are not blowing anything up in the name of it.
My great-grandfather was a preacher for the Disciples of Christ, but I never saw my Gran Gran pray or set foot in a church. Somehow all that churchin’ growing up had turned him away from God, at least that I could tell. The only stories he ever told were about his Mom putting cloves in a Spam for Sunday supper. Given how much my Gran Gran liked to eat, a life of preaching, praying and eating canned “ham” on Sundays was not going to be for him. I often wondered if it became a private thing for him? This was not anything we ever discussed, though now I wish we had.
Despite my unfamiliarity with religious expression, I have always felt there is something much greater. The fact that there is something greater cannot be proven, but the fact that there is not can’t either. Ultimately, I live by what feels authentic to me, and God has become a very private, yet very important part of my life. It’s not something I will blog about often, but it is Sunday and Christmas is upon us … so my inner religious conflicts are at the forefront of my mind.
In 2007, I converted to Judaism before I got married. I did this because I wanted to give our children (children we do not have yet) a foundation I always felt I was lacking. I jumped into the conversion with both feet and joined a local conservative synagogue in Studio City, CA. Before I met my husband I was already headed towards Judaism. I had started the conversion process when I was attending a reform synagogue in Hollywood, but stopped after 9/11. That horrible day turned me away from God for awhile. Eventually, I found myself silently praying again, and ultimately back on my Jewish track. I love the ritual of Judaism and being musically inclined, I love all of the singing, even if it is in Hebrew.
My husband and I attended services on Friday nights for awhile, but he is not a fan of all the singing in Hebrew. He wants to hear an intellectually enlightening sermon. When the rabbi he liked left our small synagogue, that was it for him … at least for now. Without a synagogue and a community I have never been able to develop my Jewish roots, so to speak. When all is said and done, I feel no different than before. There is no real interest in the ritual of Judaism from my Jewish family, though we do celebrate the major Jewish holidays at the family rabbi’s house. But ultimately, the conversion feels phony and empty.
My new family simply is Jewish, regardless of their practice or lack of it, being Jewish is inherently a part of them. They have never not felt Jewish. Judaism is a faith and a culture all rolled into one (though some would argue this point), and if you are born into it, you can be one without the other. For converts like me, it is a difficult journey to take alone when you are married to someone not inclined to take the journey with you. I converted so my children would be Jewish, but what does being Jewish mean if there is no practice of the faith? I struggle with this and my love of pork …
My internal religious conflict becomes more pronounced this time of year because the only ritual I know is Christmas. My husband loves Christmas. and he actually had a tree in his house growing up. He doesn’t mind if I put up a tree and present my snowman collection to the world, but in doing this I feel I am betraying an oath I took when I converted. They say as Jews we cannot celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah simultaneously as it is a confusion of faith. Intellectually, I know it is, but my heart longs for Christmas.
This year, I have decided to fully do both. I know what the naysayers say, and I respect it, but there is a spirit of this season that only comes once a year. Strict Christians will tell me, “He’s the reason for the season” and Jews will tell me “You can’t celebrate both.”
At this juncture, I am not confusing any young minds, I am enriching my soul. The holiday season is a time to reflect, give, receive and evaluate your life as you enter a new year. (Yes, Judaism has its own new year with Rosh Hashanah. We get to evaluate our lives twice within the span of a few months!) Holidays should be celebrated how they feel most authentic to you and your family, while honoring their meaning, warmth and magic as you light candles, trim trees, bake cookies, give gifts and receive the grace that comes from the spirit of the season that is upon us.
I hope you and yours are getting ready for a beautiful, meaningful and reflective holiday!
Many Blessings ~