What My Family Thinks…. Yeah…..

7 02 2007

I keep meaning to write this post, but every time I sit down to do it, I find other things to do.  The issues that have come up with my family have been the hardest ones to deal with, and (while not the most tragic; I imagine I’ll tell that story sometime soon) the most painful for me.  This is a bit of a long, and probably convoluted post, since all the stuff with my family is closely tied up in the whole explanation of my conversion process. Sorry for that. 

My relationship with my family has always been a bit rocky.  My dad and brother got along fine with me, but my mother yelled at me about every little thing.  She was never very close to her mother (with very good cause) and she saw me as a chance to redo that relationship.  This meant that she expected me to relive her life, and to make the choices and do the things she wished she had.  I think that would have worked out fine, except that of the two siblings I’m the one who’s least like Mom. My brother is like her, but I’m practically a carbon copy of my dad.  Anyway, regardless of the reasons, the facts of the matter were that while my brother could get away with nearly anything, I got in trouble for the smallest things (Generally grades lower than an A, I was then and still am a really straight edge kid.)

I was raised Quaker, and went to a Presbyterian church for a couple years with my mom.  Around 7th or 8th grade I started to question the whole Jesus concept.  If the messiah had come, wouldn’t the world be much better than it was?  Anyway, I looked briefly into Islam in 9th grade, but decided that I had too many issues with it.  Mohammad struck me as a bit pretentious for saying that he was the seal of the prophets, and there were too many prophecies that seemed a bit too convenient for my taste (Example, he has dinner guests who won’t leave, when all of a sudden G-d tells him that people shouldn’t over stay their welcome.  Subtle, no?)  Once I’d ruled out Islam and Christianity, Judaism was the obvious place to look, and once I started looking into it, it just fit so well with everything I believed.  (Now, at this point I was looking at Reform Judaism as an ideal, not as it was practiced.  The only Jews I knew then were Reform, so it was the only thing I even knew about).

I decided I was going to convert in 10th grade, and once I made that decision within a couple weeks 4 different people on different occasions asked me if I was Jewish out of the blue, and my good friend informed me that I really ought to be Jewish, it’s just where I belong, all without me having said anything to anyone about it.  I decided not to do anything about it right then, since I didn’t want to tell my parents while I was in high-school because of the fights I thought it would cause, and no reasonably Rabbi will convert a highschooler without the rest of their family anyway.  I decided to put it off until college, and then more or less forgot about it.  I chose my college without really considering Jewish community except to check that there was a Hillel on campus, and somehow ended up at a school where roughly 25% of the students are Jewish (I really feel like this is an example of G-d looking out for me and making sure I ended up in the right place.  This school has one of the best programs in the world for what I want to study, and the community is wonderful.  It’s just too lucky to write off as coincidence)

 Once I was at college, I didn’t do anything until the end of my freshman year, since I didn’t want to them to be able to say it was because most of my friends in college were Jewish and I was just trying to fit in.  (Most of my friends were and are Jewish here, but it’s really just a freaky coincidence and has nothing to do with my decision to convert.)   Over that summer I did tell my parents that I was planning on converting, and they said that they were happy that I had found something that I cared enough about to commit to, and that it was silly to think that they would get angry at me for that.  The important thing to note is that at that point I still wasn’t doing anything Jewish, like keeping kosher or Shabbat (I was actually planning on converting reform at that point, but that changed over the next several months).  That winter break I wasn’t doing anything really Jewish,  I probably wouldn’t have eaten pork, but that wouldn’t have stood out since I never liked it.  I didn’t want to make a fuss over anything, since it was becoming clear that my mom was not nearly as ok with this as she had said she was over the summer.  She kept telling me how hard she was trying to be supportive of me, ect.  She had called before winter break to make it very clear that I would eat what the family ate, off of the same dishes, no two ways about it, and I said that would be fine for now.  In retrospect, that was a poor choice.  Even though I did make it clear that I might not always be comfortable with that, it set up the wrong assumptions about what I was and wasn’t willing to do.  Spring break was more or less the same, although at that point I wasn’t eating treif meat, but I offered to cook pasta, or fish when we were home, and ate vegetarian stuff while we were out at restaurants. 

It was over that spring semester (a year ago) that I decided that I should just convert Orthodox.  I did talk to my parents before I got home over the summer saying that I was petitioning to get off the meal plan for keeping kosher, and talked to them then about food at home over the summer.  The whole summer I did my own cooking, with my pots and dishes. I would cook for the whole family when I could, and always made the effort to be eating at the same time as the rest of the family so we were still having family meals every night when we were all home.  (There were times when I would get up at 6 in the morning so I could cook my dinner before I left for work so that we could all eat together when I got home) I did all the extra stuff so that we could eat as a family, since in my mind the important thing was that we were all sitting at the same table, at the same time together, not what food we were eating.  My mom didn’t agree. 

She spent the whole summer yelling at me on a near constant basis (starting at the airport when I flew home) about how I was choosing “this thing” over being a part of my family, and how I was making a huge effort to cut myself off from the family in the most destructive way possible.  She made it clear that she thought it was stupid and archaic for me to be keeping kosher and Shabbat, and that while it was fine for “those people” I was being stupid and destructive.  At one point she actually told me that she thought I was converting because G-d was punishing her for not having a better relationship with her mother by taking me away.  She also said that I was being pretentious to do this, and I was basically telling all of our (largely non observant) Jewish friends that what they were doing wasn’t good enough, and that they were being bad Jews.  “Nobody we know does that” and other comments about “those people” were thrown around a lot, and I was informed that what I was doing was “cult like”.  She complained that I would never find someone to marry, and that even if I did, I wouldn’t have the Catholic wedding she’d always dreamed of me having.  By the end of the summer things were pretty bad, even though I was doing everything I could to remain a part of the family, and to show that they were important to me.

This winter break was a bit better.  My mom got a bunch of books about kosher cooking, and went out of her way to find kosher beef to make soup I could eat for the party we had Christmas Eve.  I didn’t bring my pots home with me, so I was eating more or less the same food everyone else did, off of the same dishes, which I think mattered a lot to her.  I only got yelled at for one thing that wasn’t my fault over break (some wine not being kosher if it’s handled by non-Jews) but overall it wasn’t bad.  I think she’s realized that she’s not going to convince me not to convert, and that even though I’m converting I still care about and want to be a part of the family.  We can talk on the phone without yelling now, and I think things are slowly getting better.  My mom actually suggested that I spend this summer doing a study abroad program in Israel, so (IY”H) that will work out, which means that I won’t be spending any prolonged periods of time at my parents house anymore (I’m a junior in college, so it’s really time for me to move out anyway).  I plan to keep making an effort to prove that I am still a part of the family, even if I’m choosing a different religion. 

(I don’t mean to imply with any of this that it’s all my family’s fault for being intolerant.  I relize that I’m asking a lot of them, and that even though I’m doing everything I can to put the burden on me it’s still difficult.  And yeah there are definatly things I did poorly, but I am trying, and I think that has to count for something?  Like I said, things are getting better.)

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10 responses

7 02 2007
Camilla

Wow, it’s pretty brave of you to share that story. I too am working towards a conversion (Conservative) and I’m not getting a whole lot of support from my mother either. I wish you all the best! 🙂

7 02 2007
Emily

Yes, sharing things is scary, but I’m sure I’ll have to be able to talk about it all in person in front of my Beit Din. I think I’ll need to get a lot braver over the next year or so. Thanks, and best of luck to you too!

8 02 2007
Lilian

Thanks for sharing your story. I hope your mum (as we say here in the UK) continues to come round more and more to the idea of your conversion. She should be proud to have such a brave, intelligent and commited woman for a daughter.

8 02 2007
Emily

Lilian- Thank you. I really do think things are starting to get better now that we’re talking more, since Mom can see that I’m not actually becoming some sort of zombie.

8 02 2007
Melanie

Hi, I think I found you through TikkunGer a while back, and I’ve been reading ever since. I didn’t realize, until this post, how similar our paths to Judaism are. Interfaith stuff is tricky! I wish you the best in your conversion process, and thanks for sharing about your family.

8 02 2007
Emily

Melanie- 🙂 A lot of Quaker beliefs fit really nicely with Jewish ones. I don’t feel like I had to change my mind on anything really important in terms of my faith to move from what I grew up with to Judaism. (All the things I left behind were things I was confused by anyway, and most of those were from the Presbyterian teachings, not the Quaker ones.

22 03 2007
Chaya Mushka

If “the goyim” bothers you, then don’t read Tanakh since its all over the place there.

23 03 2007
Emily

Chaya Mushka- I’m assuming you meant to put that comment on this post : Language I Hate, since I didn’t mention those terms at all in this post.
In the Tanakh it would be “HaGoyim” not “The goyim” The reason I specified the definate artical is because I don’t object to it’s use in the Tanakh. Like I said in the post, it is completly unacceptable “[u]nless you’re using it in the biblical sense of “nation”, and speaking Hebrew.” I think we can all agree that the Tanakh meets both those conditions.
I don’t think for a moment that HaShem thinks any less of someone for not being Jewish, or meant it in any sort of demeaning manner. However, you must admit, it’s not used in a neutral sense in English. In English, it’s used as an insult, and a slur. That’s what I object to.

9 04 2007
Matthew Hartgraves

I am currently a deist and am thinking seriously about converting to Reform Judaism. A lot of the beliefs are similar, mainly the belief of a loving God without the ridiculous doctrine of hell fire. That is why I am not baptist anymore. One thing that I find in Judaism that I like that I do not find in Deism is the belief in a personal God, which really resonates with me. I have not informed my parents of either the thought of Judaism or even me being deist as they are serious Christians. I know my family will disown me or annoy the crud out of me if i do.

12 04 2007
Emily

Matthew- I would recommend that you check out B’nei Noach stuff, it sounds like that might be just what you’re looking for! Good luck talking to your parents, it can be really hard.

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