A Melting Pot

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​When I was a kid, I would occasionally say that I was Canadian. My father would not have it. He told me I was an American, not Canadian. I tried to argue. But Grandpa was born in Canada. His family still lives there. Why aren’t we Canadian? We’re American he would say. And that was the end of the discussion.

It wasn’t a diss against Canada or our Canadian relatives, but to him it was more than important; it was pride, it was honor, it was a patriotic act.

When my kids have done their genealogy or ancestry in school or for class projects, they’ve asked, and we’ve told them where their families have come from. We’re Jewish so for us it wasn’t that we came from Eastern Europe, but that we were Russian, German, Polish, but always prefaced by being Jewish. It was our ethnicity more than our religion despite being both.

My kids are all of those things, but their families also come from Canada, Russia, Germany, Poland, and Ireland. We eat foods and follow traditions from all of those family histories.

I’m an American. And some of my family is Canadian. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and neither takes away from the other.

When I heard the first time someone referred contemptuously to Elizabeth Warren’s nod to her Native American ancestry, I had to shake my head at their myopia. She wasn’t saying she was Native. She wasn’t saying she was Indigenous. She wasn’t asking for a government benefit or acknowledgment. She was simply relaying a family story that she’d heard her whole life about her heritage, about the traditions in her own family.

It was the President who made a political issue out of it, and then the racists jumped onboard with their laughter and their name-calling. The President continued with his name-calling just this week.

Even Democrats criticized her for bringing it up now, a distraction from the important midterms, although I would remind them that the President is the one who brought it up, and Senator Warren simply responded. I know what it’s like to have that continual gnawing inside when someone says something about you or your family. They say it, and it’s forgotten, but not by you, not by the aggrieved. The hurt remains and festers and dogs in to all those places that have been hurt before.

I think she also knew the President wouldn’t follow through with his promise of a charitable contribution; he has never kept his word, and he’s not about to start now, but still…

Was she supposed to ignore his taunts? Is she supposed to take it because the timing isn’t right for the election campaign cycle according to some pundits? Is she just supposed to sit down and be quiet little lady?

As someone who lives in a melting pot, I understand where Warren was initially coming from, and the more air we give to the nonsense that this President does and says, the more air he sucks out of the room, and the rest of us, the rest of us are suffocating.

So good for Elizabeth Warren.

One day my kids will be telling someone about their Canadian or Irish ancestry, and they will be mocked because they don’t have the proof; just a handful of family stories they cherish, and I hope they don’t back down either.

Reflections on Living an Interfaith Life

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​​We’re more than halfway through Passover, and everyone is tired of matzo. Can’t we have pizza for dinner? Dinner rolls with our chicken? Pasta? Pleeeeeease. 

We have always been an interfaith family. We didn’t attend religious services but we observed and celebrated all of the major holidays of both Catholicism and Judaism. That was how I was raised Jewish – following the traditions, participating in the observances, eating the holiday food. We’ve always had a Christmas tree in my married life. We are so blended that when I converted to Catholicism, my daughter assumed that my husband was the Jewish one since we’re both faiths and I was Catholic.

People blend their interfaith families in a myriad of ways. For me, I try to find a way to blend without overshadowing or ignoring either. I also don’t usually like to combine them. For example, I don’t like Jewish related ornaments on Christmas trees. I think that keeping the holiday traditions distinctive is better for our kids to appreciate both equally. We still celebrate Chanukah on Christmas if it falls that way. We will light the Chanukah candles and decorate the tree on the same day if timing demands it.

If we were spending Easter with my mother-in-law, I would not object to the kids eating bread or her special Peeps bunny cake. They deserved their special time with their grandmother during her special holiday.

I dread looking at the calendar to see when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall because my son’s birthday is in October and there’s a chance I will have to choose between fasting and praying and celebrating my son’s birthday. (My son wins every time. One thing about both the Jewish and Catholic faiths is that family is a priority.)

This year, Passover began right in the middle of the Triduum. From Holy Thursday through Easter, I spend about 11 and a half  hours at church between the prayer services, parish dinner, masses, and the Easter Vigil. It is exhausting, but I love it. Right before that, my son was in the hospital, and our oven wasn’t working.

I did not even mention Passover until after Easter dinner*. Yes, we missed the first three nights, but Monday morning, bright and early, we were a bread free house. I realize it’s not kosher, but it’s kosher style, and they still get the dietary restrictions as well as the stories and the celebration of freedom from Egyptian slavery. They also love latkes, which I make more during the abundance of potatoes for Passover than for Chanukah. This year I made fried chicken tenders using crushed matzo in place of the bread crumbs. I had never done that before and it was well received. I believe we have a new tradition.

After the huge windstorm we had yesterday, we’ve had no power since about 12:30am, and won’t be getting it back until later tonight, or so I’m told. That means we will probably need to eat out, which means I probably won’t restrict their food choices. I can always make the matzo lasagna tomorrow night. Obviously, grocery shopping is also postponed.

The most important aspect of sharing a house with multiple religions is respect. Our two faiths are equal in importance and in worth. They are valued with the same respect and reverence. My time at church is important to me, and my family understands and accepts that. My time making latkes is also valuable and important to me.

We light Yartzeit candles for my parents and now for my mother-in-law, who wasn’t Jewish. I know she wouldn’t mind. We also have mass said for her.

I would love to hear from any readers who juggle this very issue of interfaith or multi-faith within your families. I think we do a good job, but it’s good to give acknowledgment to others who are doing a good job as well as getting ideas on other things we can do differently or better.

I hope your Easter is a blessed one and Chag Sameach for your Passover.

What other holidays do you celebrate (they don’t necessarily have to be at this time of the year)?

[*My husband jiggled the heating element for the oven, and so we were able to have turkey dinner for Easter.]

Holiday Traditions and Change

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​Everyone has family traditions that they follow throughout the year, but none more than on those special holidays. I’ve written about some of our family’s traditions, some that have come from my family and some from my husband’s family as well as the ones we’ve begun ourselves.

For Thanksgiving, we’ve adopted my family’s sweet potato pie. I don’t always make pie, sometimes I make a casserole. It had already been changed from the original recipe that I received from my friend in New Orleans by eating it as a side dish. My mother could never fathom it as a dessert. She wasn’t much of a pumpkin pie eater either; more coconut custard or cheesecake.

My husband’s mother was born and raised in Northern Ireland. She brought many of her Christmas traditions to her family including a roast dinner for Christmas dinner and the most amazing trifle, which I find impossible to replicate, so I choose not to.

When we began to have Christmas at our own house with our immediate family, my husband was insistent that we follow his familiy’s traditions to the letter. This includes Chinese take-out for Christmas Eve dinner, Dunkin’ Donuts for Christmas breakfast before we open our gifts, and roast beef and mashed for Christmas dinner. Since I had grown up Jewish, we didn’t have any Christmas tradition conflicts. After my conversion, I attend mass and events at my parish, but those are usually not in conflict with what we’re planning at home.

We’ve added our own like the gift of pjs on Christmas Eve night for all the kids, baking cookies for Santa, and watching the Doctor Who Christmas special.

In between all of that, I attend the masses, the Advent reconciliation prayer service, and the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a wonderful musical event that my parish holds every year.

Having every year flow in nearly the same way with only a few differences is comforting. It’s how we build the family and let the kids see what and who is important at the holidays.

Things change as the kids get older and want to spend time with their friends, girl- and boy-friends; they have jobs and have to juggle days off, and the like.

That is our challenge this year. My oldest son is an EMT, and he is working Christmas Day. He is working from 6am until midnight on Christmas Day. After some now-what-panic, i jumped into mom mode, and rearranged all of our days so we will still have our family holidays time, simply by moving everything up by one day. After the regular Vigil Mass on Saturday, we’ll have our Christmas Eve Chinese take-out, and make sure all the gifts are under the tree. We’ll wake up Sunday morning, and open our presents all together. Unfortunately for the kids, Santa doesn’t rearrange his schedule so they’ll have to wait for him to come on Monday morning, which is a bonus for we parents who can make the kids go to sleep early. Sneaky, IO know. Monday morning, my son will see if Santa filled his stocking before he heads out to a full day of work, and I will go to Christmas Day Mass that I usually miss in favor of the Christmas Vigil.

We all have our holiday challenges. This is a good reminder to everyone that as long as you’re with the ones you love, it will all work out in the end. It isn’t just the thought that counts; it’s the people.

Insta-Thanksgiving

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My church has a beautiful Thanksgiving tradition. Instead of the typical collection basket, there is a basket at the entranceways for donations to St. Vincent de Paul Society. They provide food for Thanksgiving and Christmas and gifts for Christmas for those less fortunate as well as throughout the year. During the offertory, parishioners bring up canned goods and nonperishable foods and leave them on the altar for the Society. At the end of Mass, we are given a loaf of bread to continue the communion of the Eucharist at home as well as to break and share bread with our families. (c)2017

Thanksgiving Dinner with my sister-in-law and her family. Good food, good people. (c)2017


Dessert: apple pie and pecan pie. (c)2017

Blending the Holidays

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​In talking about how we balance an interfaith family, I’ve mentioned how I like to keep Christmas and Chanukah as their own holidays. Usually, the calendar cooperates by keeping them separate. The same goes for Passover and Easter. Usually, I can juggle Passover’s restrictions with Easter’s celebrations. When we would go to my mother-in-law’s for Easter, I tried to allow my kids to enjoy Grandma’s holiday her way without making our Jewish traditions …, well, restrictive.

For a long while, I bought all the new kosher for Passover cereal, pancakes, muffins, and the rest. It cost a fortune and we usually had several boxes of things leftover. By the time the next Passover rolled around again, they had passed their expiration dates.

This year, all I bought was a large box of matzo, Temp-Tee cream cheese, matzo ball soup mix, potato pancake mix, and macaroons. Oh, and gefilte fish.

The blending of the two holidays has been a bit more complicated since my baptism. I try to give both their significant place in our family.

Both promise death from life.

In our Exodus from Egypt, we began with the Ten Plagues, the angel of death and the first born. After forty years of wandering in the desert, we found new life over the Jordan in Canaan.

Easter begins with forty days in the desert, death by crucifixion, and life everlasting.

The kids see matzo and bunnies, chocolate and latkes. They get more latkes during Passover than Chanukah.

This year sees a lot of compromises. My church has a community dinner on Holy Thursday to commemorate the Last Supper, held before the Mass of the Last Supper of the Lord, the first day of the Triduum. It’s always lasagna. We will join my church and share the Holy Thursday meal with the other parishioners before Mass in spite of it being Passover.

I don’t know how it translates religiously, but in according both holidays proper observances, I think it brings the long held traditions to my kids. I never went to temple (kids weren’t really allowed), but I remember Seders and presents lined up for Chanukah. Lighting candles. Somewhere I still have my childhood Haggadah, dogeared and torn in places; colored and drawn on, and every year, read from cover to cover.

I remember Elijah’s wine glass sitting on our radiator with the front door open to let him in. This was unusual for my mother – her doors were always closed and locked, but not on Passover. There’s always a space for Elijah.

And by the same token, there’s always a space for learning, understanding, and sharing our traditions with each other.