Passover begins this week, followed quickly by Easter. As a former Catholic married to a Jew, I hate this time of year. It reminds me -- once again -- of just how unresolved my husband and I are about the status of religion within our family.
This is not a new issue for us. My husband and I have periodically mulled it over ever since we took an interfaith workshop titled "I'm Jewish; You're Not" at a University Hillel
12 years ago. By mutual agreement, we ruled out Christianity early on. But we've still never managed to come to any closure on the Judaism part of the equation. Sure, we've had great reasons to delay: we've had two kids, moved several times, and I've changed careers twice. But the truth is -- like many interfaith couples, I suspect -- the real reason that we haven't done anything is that we're deeply ambivalent
For his part, my husband suffers from the classic religious-cultural split. On the one hand, he seriously doubts God's existence. I keep reminding him that Judaism is a law-based religion, so as long as he follows the rules, faith technically isn't required -- or so, at least, a rabbi once told me. But that seems hard to square with the observant Jews I know, all of whom are believers. (Unless you wish to count the postmodern graduate student from our interfaith workshop, who declared God to be a "process" and left it there. Oh, to be a grad student again . . .)
My husband also has a very strong Jewish cultural identity. This might be because he grew up in Atlanta, and his parents chose to send him to an academically rigorous Presbyterian school. My husband has wonderful memories of the school's weekly devotional sessions. While everyone else was bowing their heads and closing their eyes to pray "in Jesus' name," the Jewish students would all smile and wink at one another -- a small act of non-violent resistance.
Because of this singular experience of growing up Jewish in the South, my husband is fiercely attached to his ethnicity. So attached that, for example, he's disallowed the display of Christian symbols in our home. I once placed a small, colorful gourd on our mantelpiece. It had a tiny -- and I mean minuscule -- Day of the Dead-style Nativity scene painted inside. From my husband's reaction, you'd have thought I'd paraded a bloody crucifix around the house. He demanded that I "close the gourd" -- which I did -- though "opening the gourd" quickly became a metaphor for religious tolerance within our interfaith discussion group. (The gourd's final status within our home remains under negotiation.)
Which brings us to me. I'd like to blame my husband's wishy-washiness for our lack of commitment to Judaism. Unlike him, I'm not wavering over whether or not to send our kids to Hebrew school. If nothing else, I figure it would ground them in religious history. It might also enable me to let someone else explain some of the -- ahem -- more delicate aspects of religious life to my children. Just the other day, for example, a little boy in my son's class informed him that "Jews slash their willies." Jesus, Mary and . . . Moses, I thought! As I struggled through some rather primitive illustrations of the male anatomy, I realized that I'd really rather hand this over to someone else.
So it's not the religious stuff that gives me pause. My problem is entirely cultural. Although I've been estranged from Catholicism for 25-odd years, I still feel out of place in Jewish settings.
Take services. I'm used to the idea of a Mass where everyone enters at a set time, sits, stands, and kneels with the rest of the congregation, and then processes out of church only after the priest leaves the altar. Imagine my discomfort the first time I went to High Holy Day services and saw all these people arriving an hour late, and then actually getting up to go to the bathroom!
Even my given name, Delia, raises issues. I sound (and look) like a distant cousin of a leprechaun. At our wedding, all the people from my husband's side of the guest list fumbled over my name awkwardly.
"I'm sorry," they'd mumble. "Did you say Delilah?"
"No, DEEL-ya" I repeated.
But it was no use. Call me Ishmael.
My own family doesn't help matters. To her credit, my mother has always gone out of her way to make my husband feel at home when he visits. She's flooded him with Torah-shaped bookmarks, avant-garde mezuzahs
, and enough bagels and lox to feed the entire Chosen People. But while her intentions are good, they only reinforce my own feelings of being neither fish nor fowl. (And we all know what Jesus would prefer . . .)
Back when he was alive, my father was more subversive. Every year, without fail, he would mail me an Advent calendar at Christmas (to mark the days leading up to Jesus' birth), a rice bowl during Lent (to commemorate the sacrifice of His death), and an assortment of glossy magazines from Catholic relief organizations depicting starving Bangladeshi children (presumably to underscore my pagan materialist lifestyle).
The bottom line is that I can run but cannot hide: Christian rituals and obligations haunt me wherever I go.
Which leaves us where, exactly? I'm not sure. We've been invited to both a Seder and an Easter egg hunt. In the spirit of the religion-sampling
I've been embracing this year, we do both. Because until we can get a handle on what what's right for our family, I think we'll just continue to wing it.
And that's OK. Because God is a process, right?
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