Sunday, March 24, 2013

Trouble with the Great Maker

As I have mentioned in a few posts, I have a boyfriend. He is really great, and not just relative to the quality out there, he really is a great guy. Maybe he's not perfect but he's pretty perfect for me.

That being said, he does have one flaw. He's not Jewish.

On Monday he is being introduced to my family. I am taking him to our traditional Seder meal.

For those of you who don't know, a Seder is a long, to varying degrees religious, meal. It's a bit like Easter dinner or Thanksgiving. I compare it to Thanksgiving because this is the big annual meal when my family comes together and we have a dinner. We sing the same songs year after year. We have used the family Siddur* for over twenty years and are still asking God to allow the Jews out of the USSR. Some copies have my crayon artwork on them, for when the meal was too long for my 6 yr old ADD brain.

*A siddur is the traditional book you read from during Passover that tells the story of Exodus: Pharaoh  Moses, 10 plagues, escape from Egypt- if you don't know the story, there's a Disney movie you can watch.

Anyway, bringing a guy to Seder is a pretty big deal. I've brought a few friends before and once the guy I dated for three years. He made fun of the meal (to me) on his first go-around and I never invited him again.

To put how big a deal the Seder meal is into perspective, my freshman year I spent Passover in the dorms. I had just been home from Spring Break, it was my freshman year, I loved college. Why not? I ended up being so homesick and missing the meal so much, that every year after that, I would fly home (or extend my spring break) so I could be there for this meal. My coworker, who's from Texas, just flew home on Friday for his family Seder.

This coworker has also met boyfriend on a few occasions. He once said to me: "Not only did you not go Jewish. You really swung for the fences on the not Jewish."

My boyfriend is a blond haired, blue eyed 6'3, Ukranian.

I am not commenting on whether or not there is a "Jewish" look. I have known blond haired, blue eyed Jews. I hate when people say because when I am with my mother's family (all Jews), I am the only one with dark eyes. Some people say I look Jewish, some say I don't.

That being said, my boyfriend does not look Jewish. It will be noticed and remarked upon. I will be judged for not dating a "member of the tribe." It is not a bad thing. It is not a good thing. It is just a "thing."

This dynamic is always difficult to explain to outsider. After all, from the outside, I know it is seen as racism. I have had friends comment, resentfully, that they are offended because Jewish boys won't date them because they're not Jewish. I'm sorry? The truth is, it just makes things easier and sometimes there can be unforeseen conflicts.

One of the few "dates" I went on in college was in many ways, an early affirmation of why dating someone of the same religion "makes things easier. I don't remember his name, but him and I had been eyeing each other for months and when we ran into each other at the library, we decided we should go and get a cup of coffee together. In my college world, this was the of the closest things to a date I'd ever had.

We started talking and somehow the topic of his tattoo came up. I, having studied Medieval art, immediately recognized it as St. Sebastian.
(Sebastion! That was his name! Note to self: FB Stalk Later)
We started talking about his religious beliefs. His very elaborate St. Sebastian tattoo took up most of his bicep. I had noticed it because we took a gym class together and he often wore sleeveless shirts. It was probably my bad for going on a date with someone who wears sleeveless shirts, my only excuse is that I was young.
He told me that he had a very real problem with the church as a religious institution. I probably brought up their bloody history and he, of course, agreed that the church did not have the most stellar reputation which certainly tainted his feelings towards the institution. He explained however, that his connection with the church was not about brick and mortar, it was about spirituality. His belief in God.


We didn't go on a second date. A week later he got a girlfriend and I'm pretty sure he was just checking all his options before settling down.

My new boyfriend is a great guy. I decided to overlook religion because, as he pointed out, he couldn't help how he had been born. He also told me that it had been a long time since he had been to Church and his religion wasn't a "big deal."

J hasn't been to a religious service in month, but he carries a prayer on his key chain. It is meant to give comfort in a time of crisis, that if you should die, Jesus is waiting to take you into Heaven.

I was not raised believing in Heaven or Hell. You do good things because they were right and good for the world, not because there was some reward (or punishment) awaiting you in the afterlife. I never believed in God as someone who could help me or save me. Because Judiasm for me is not just about spirituality. Or a belief in God. It's about Seder meals.

It is about my family and our history.

I once asked my father how he felt about my having a Christmas tree. He told me: "I feel like you would be turning your back on 10,000 years of suffering and persecution."
"Oh. So, that's a no?"

I think it's important to note, that my father, the man who will not abide my having a Christmas tree, is an atheist.

So this Seder is a chance for me to show my boyfriend what my religion is to me. It's about time with family, connecting with traditions that have been carried on for thousands of years, because we married within the tribe, and we fought through generation after generation to pass the siddur down from one generation to the next.

I recently met a woman who was one of the Jews who was trapped in Russia until the 90's. She came to America and has never looked back. I knew her story because it is a part of the story we tell every year about the continuous struggles of the Jewish people.

How do I give up any part of that fight?

The problem isn't that my traditions couldn't still be celebrated in a mixed-religion household. The trouble is that they might lose power and become diluted and then my children might not feel the same zeal that I do for keeping traditions alive. And if I fail in that, than I have failed my father. And his mother. And my great great grandparents who died in the holocaust.

When we talk about raising kids. we come to an impasse. J criticizes my inflexibility. And I don't blame him. I am fairly rigid. I want my kids to be Bar or Bat Mitzva'd. The boys will have a Briss. These are non-negotiables for me. But he asks for compromise. I want to give it to him. If we can agree on a movie on Netflix then sure we can come to an agreement about this.

But then there comes the fundamental difference. How can we introduce two religions with inherent cultural and spiritual conflicts. As a Jewish mother, I cannot and will not allow my children to be raised believing Jesus Christ.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that there was a man named Jesus. I believe he was killed by the Romans. I don't believe he was my lord and savior. How can there be compromise when I am against the very tenant of the other religion? But how can ask someone to give up their religion when I know just how important my religion is to me?

Luckily, we have many years still before we have to answer these questions. Kids are by no means imminent. And we are still light years from even being engaged. But I still find myself asking these questions and wondering if this challenge will prove insurmountable.

When I told my aunt that the boy that I was bringing wasn't Jewish. Her response was "well, he can always convert."

People laugh when they hear this, but I know it's not a joke.

I realize this seder won't be easy for J. He will be judged. I will be judged. I don't care. He makes me happy and he genuinely cares for me. I am bringing him to this seder because I hope that it helps him begin to understand how important my religion is to me. I am hoping he sees the beauty in the ancient celebration and doesn't see it as "cult-like" as my ex did. I am hoping he sees the culture of it. The history. And that God has nothing to do with it.

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