Thursday, March 27, 2014

Family Ties

What happens when you are a person who has always tried to put family first, only to find that a part of your family does not feel the same way? This has been a problem we have been faced with over the past few months.

We do not have a big family. I was an only child to a single mom growing up. My husband just had one younger brother, his mom, dad, and step father.

When we first discussed conversion with our families the response was good, for the most part. My mom was wonderful. She took the news in stride and did her best to try and understand our new faith. She read books, she asked us questions, she even attended services with us. She was always engaged in helping us learn more as well by telling us about something she had read or heard. While we didn't really have any deep discussions on why we were converting, I could feel her acceptance by her actions. She was as excited about Ya'akov's bar mitzvah as we were, even helping to make kippot for the family, before her passing. That excitement, understanding and love never wavered. Quite the contrary, her interest in our conversion spurred us to an even greater excitement about conversion and our chosen faith.

Then there is the other side of the coin. My in laws. While my mother in law initially appeared to be happy (I attribute this to the fact that my husband was not religious for quite awhile and she was just happy he had "found religion" - it's a southern thing), over time her reaction changed to ambivalence. Yes, we had found a religion we were happy with, but she made no attempt to learn more, at least not that we could tell. There were no discussions on faith, no evidence of having read more about it, no questions about practice or even why we were converting. While I hoped for more, I was simply happy that she didn't disown us.

Then there was my brother in law. He took a different route. He ignored it. At least that's how it appeared to me. He was much like my mother in law in regards to his actions. There was no apparent attempt to learn more or even ask us questions concerning our choice.

Still, silence, I thought, was better than cutting us off from the family.

For awhile things were going well. Then it all changed. My mom passed away and her enthusiasm for learning more ended the family involvement in our faith. (As a side note, having family support is very helpful to new converts) So we were left with just my in laws and their superficial knowledge of Judaism (we go to service on Saturday and don't work that day, if they know more than that they have never let on to me this knowledge).

I won't go into the details of the falling out between me and my in laws, but suffice to say, they did not see the importance, or significance, in Ya'akov's bar mitzvah. To me it appeared that they believed it to be just another day, but Ya'akov got to stand in front of everyone. So when they did not come to his bar mitzvah, it broke my heart, and Ya'akov's. He had planned and worked so hard, he was already missing that his grandma wouldn't be there, he wanted the support of his memaw and papaw and uncle. I watched as my son would look towards the door, every time it opened, waiting with baited breath for his memaw to come in the door. I watched as the tears built up in his eyes that she was missing his big day. On a day when we all should have been happiest, the tears of sorrow were falling.

Then I waited. I waited for my in laws... I waited for them to show some sign that they understood the heartbreak they had caused by not coming. I waited for them to show some sign that they understood the importance of the day. I waited for them to at least call and congratulate Ya'akov. I waited for them to call to apologize to him. I waited...

Should I have been the first to call? Maybe. But after watching the hurt my son went through, I could not bring myself to talk to those who had caused him that pain. So part of the rift in the family may be my fault. Maybe I should have been the first to pick up the phone. 

Now it is March. Ya'akov's bar mitzvah was in October. The contact with my in laws is minimal and strained. At least my mother in law does call, infrequently at best. I have no contact with my brother in law as his response to the entire situation was to blast us on facebook and on his blog, attacking myself, my husband, our family and our faith with his hatred and anger (because we did not call to wish them all a Merry Christmas).

How do you respond to being, effectively, shunned by your family? I have gone the route of becoming more involved with our synagogue. My synagogue family has helped me through the struggles of the past few months. The loss of my mother, the shunning by my in laws... my friends at shul have been there with a hug or a shoulder to cry on when I have been at my lowest. They have been there for the birth of our fifth child and the excitement around planning Yitzhak's bar mitzvah.

I miss my family. While I can forgive the things that were said, hard as that is as some of the things said broke my heart to a million pieces, but I cannot forget. The old adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but name can never hurt me" is incorrect. Words can hurt just as badly as sticks and stones and the pain from those words goes deeper and lasts longer than most physical actions. So now I am trying to move on. To learn to live this new experience without the support of my family. I still have some aunts and cousins (my mom's side), and while we are not close, they do not judge us based on our faith and they do not seek to hurt our family with words.

I will continue on. One day I hope that my in laws will see us as the loving family we really are and not make jokes about us or treat us or our chosen faith with disrespect. I pray that day comes soon but if recent events are any indicator, I will be praying for many years to come. Until that day, I will hold my husband and children closer.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Purim is the story told in the book of Esther. Simply put, Esther is taken to be a part of the harem of the King of Persia. The King loves her more than the others and makes her the Queen. The king doesn't know that Esther is a Jew (because Esther's uncle, Mordecai, told her to hide this little tid bit from him). Haman (the villain)is the king's adviser. Haman did not like Mordecai so he set out to try to destroy the Jewish people.

Haman told the king, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people's, and they do not observe the king's laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them." Esther 3:8. The king told Haman to do what he wanted with the Jews. Haman's plan was to exterminate the Jews.

Esther spoke to the king on behalf of the Jewish people, though she had not been summoned before the king (an offense during the time). But she fasted and prayed to prepare herself to talk to the king. She saved the Jewish people and instead it was Haman and his sons who were exterminated.

Now we celebrate Purim on the 14th day of Adar (Hebrew calendar). The 13th of Adar was when Haman had planned to exterminate the Jews.

The day before Purim is a minor fast day, in recognition of Esther's 3 day fast, we fast from sunrise to sunset.

On Purim, we are commanded to read the Megillah, the scroll of Esther. During the reading we stamp our feet, boo, hiss and shake groggers (noisemakers) to drown out the name of Haman.

Something else we do for Purim is drink. We are to eat, drink and be merry. In the Talmud it is said that a person is supposed to drink to the point where we cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "Blessed be Mordecai." We also dress in costumes and have carnivals and parades. It is a fun holiday to celebrate the story of Esther.

It is also traditional to make gifts to charity and friends at this time. Personally, I enjoy making hamentashen.

Hamentashen are cookies that are filled with sweet treat and shaped like triangles. This year I made raspberry, apricot, almond, poppy seed and chocolate hamentashen. My family and I will share these hamentashen with our friends and neighbors (who seem to look forward to this holiday as much as we do).

Purim doesn't have the same work restrictions that Pesach, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah have but many people do treat the day a little differently. This year Purim goes from sunset Saturday until nightfall Sunday. So we are going to a Purim party at our shul Sunday morning.

Now to figure out some costumes for the kids... D'vorah wants to be Queen Esther. That won't be too hard. But the other children are having trouble deciding and we are running out of time. :-)

Some of our hamentashen this year. This batch is raspberry. The triangle shape is supposed to be the shape of Haman's hat (though some traditions say it is a reminder of his ears which were said to be pointed)