Saturday, December 27, 2008

Swirling thoughts

My thoughts have been all over the place lately. The holidays always make me feel weird. I'm Jewish, and I have a strong ethnic identity with being an Ashkenazi Jew. I'm not very observant (or observant at all, really), but there was a time in college that I actually thought about going to rabbinical school. I really enjoy the study of religion and comparative religion. In the end, I couldn't picture myself actually being a rabbi, even if I would enjoy rabbinical school, so I decided it wasn't the correct educational path for me.

T is not Jewish. He went to church a little bit when he was younger, but he is very disillusioned with organized religion and he vehemently does not believe in god. I sort of believe in god, but not really in the traditional Judeo-Christian way of believing in god. When T and I talk about these types of things, even though we put different words to the way we believe the world works, our differences are essentially semantic. It's pretty striking, however, how important semantics is under these circumstances.

Before we got married, I told T that I wanted to raise our children Jewish. Because I have such a strong cultural identification with Judaism, it has always been important to me to have children that identify as Jewish. I also sort of feel like the world has tried to eliminate the Jewish people so many times, and by abandoning the Jewish tradition, I'd be abandoning the strong history of the Jewish people. I don't know, it was kind of like if I didn't raise my children as Jews that Hitler would win somehow. I know that sounds crazy, and I didn't even have any immediate family still in Europe during WWII -- 3 out of 4 grandparents were born in this country. But I still believe that I owe it to my 'people' to continue at least some of my traditions, even if they are Americanized and not followed particularly strongly.

Unlike most western religions or ethnicities, Judiasm passes from mother to child. A child born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. It doesn't matter if the father is not -- Judaism is matralinial. When we were trying to have a child, I felt like my child would be Jewish because genetically he or she would come from me.

Now that we are adopting, I feel really differently about all of this. When you educate yourself about adoption, you learn that it is really important to acknowledge the genetic history of your child. People who adopt from other countries often try to learn as much as possible about the child's home country and often try to education them about what life is like back there so that they can have some connection to their roots.

As I heard a conversation about klezmer and other Jewish music on the radio yesterday, it really got me to thinking about all of this stuff. I guess I'm not sure how to reconcile all of this mixed culture stuff. I'm not sure how to handle it. Sometimes I feel like abandoning my attempts at trying to stay a little Jewish. I mean, I know I'll always be a little Jewish, but at some point it seems like trying to pass that on it's no longer worth it. But then I think I'm being defeatist. My brothers' families are mixed marriages and the children, to varying extents, are Jewish. One of my SILs is about to convert after being married to my brother for 15 years. One of their kids was adopted, and she is 'vehemently' Jewish -- meaning she notices how Christian-centric everything in the US is. So even though all of my nieces and nephews are technically not Jewish (none of their birth mothers were Jewish at the time of their birth) they all still identify at least somewhat as Jewish.

I'm just not sure how to reconcile all of these things. Being Jewish is a kind of unique thing -- there are certain experiences that come from being brought up Jewish in the US and dealing with Christmas that somehow makes you different. Being out of school for the high holidays and teaching people about matzoh when you bring it to school for lunch adds to this experience. And even after my SIL converts, she doesn't quite understand that part. And that's the ethnic, cultural part of being and American Ashkenazi Jew that I'm talking about. Even after she converts, she'll still 'miss' Christmas -- which I know she does. (Understandibly -- Christmas can be such a lovely thing for some families. And then there's the smell of pine and the decorations and the significance of ornaments, etc. Though it hasn't been my experience, I listen when people talk about such things and have been at friends' houses while they decorated the tree.)

I guess what I'm saying is that I just don't know what our family traditions are going to become as we form our family, and I know it's going to be a bunch of traditions mixed together. And I guess my real question is that how much watering down turns a tradition into nothing?

This time of year often brings these questions up for me. And it's always weird to think about because I know my behavior would change if I was with someone who was Jewish. The questions I would be posing would be different ones.

I suppose I should find someone to talk to about all of these issues. I think I'd like to, but my work situation makes it not so easy. Maybe I can in a couple of months after things have settled down.


Deborah said...

Hi Rachel. I'm not sure why your work situation complicates things, so this may not be useful advice. But there are tons of resources of people to talk to about this. There are online discussion groups, groups for Jewish families by adoption, interfaith discussion groups at synagogues (a Reform synagogue would probably be your best bet). Or you could call your local Jewish federation (in Boston it's Combined Jewish Philanthropies) and ask them for resources. They're a clearinghouse of all sorts of Jewish things. I don't know what resources are provided by non-Jewish groups, since I'm Jewish, but I know there are many people out there in your situation. An online discussion group or listserve would be a low time commitment, if that's a concern.

I hope that helps!

luna said...

interesting issue you raise here. while judaism may be matrilineal, I think so much of it as a parent is deciding what traditions you will celebrate.

I imagine you've been asked about this issue before -- I know we've been asked 3xs already. if you haven't yet worked it out, maybe a discussion group would be helpful? good luck.

Bri said...

I think one of the beautiful things about adoption is that you get to explore many different cultures and backgrounds. You have a unique situation which I think can turn into a huge positive. You child will be very educated in lots of different cultures and be very open minded! I think you should do whatever feels right- and you may not know that that is now but you will!

Also, I totally get the defeated thing. I sometimes feel like i have worked so hard to have children, that little things that I thought would be so huge once I have kids I don't know if I will have the energy to fight for! I think that defeated feeling will go away once your baby is in your arms.

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd said...

I think it's not so much a case of traditions being watered down as it is a case of creating new traditions. Even if T were Jewish, your kids still wouldn't have the same experiences you had, just because life is like that and things change. You and T just need to create new rituals and experiences for yourselves and your kids and they will be equally significant for your kids when they look back on them in however many years time...

Foxxy One said...

Hi Rachel - I hope you don't mind the comment as I just fell upon your blog. While my husband and I are not "practicing" Jews, we both identify as being Jewish and went through the rituals of converting our son (adopted from Guatemala) to Judaism. However, like any other Jew, he will ultimately make the choice as to whether or not he wants to continue being a Jew at the time of his Bar Mitzvah.

I think, as Jessica said, you are going to make your own rituals with your husband and child. Many will be Jewish, others will be more secular in nature. Most important is that you are both on the same page.

Good luck in your adoption journey.