Jan 21, 2010

The Big Questions. Answer at Will.

Life is hard. Life is tough. My father says, "Life's a bitch, and then you die." Sometimes, I think his approach is accurate. I try to maintain my optimism, and Tuvia is a great help. But sometimes, it's difficult to see through the clouds. So let's pose a question. I'm asking for some full-frontal here, so feel free to respond anonymously -- I won't be hurt!

If you're a ba'al teshuvah, or if you hate that term but are still someone who has returned to Orthodox roots, or even non-Orthodox roots, but has found some type of active Jewish lifestyle contrary to how you might have grown up, or if you're a convert, how has your family dealt with your lifestyle choices?

How has your family dealt with your wedding or simchas that might be out of the bounds of what they are familiar or comfortable with? What do you do when family events -- weddings, graduations -- are on Shabbat and you simply can't make it and family doesn't understand?

Maybe you changed your  name, or go by a different name, what has been the reaction to that?

And most importantly: How do you cope with all of these things? Or do you not? Are you closer, less close, with your family? How much can you say, "this is my life, and this is how I choose to live and be," and how much do you feel you have to back down and give in?

22 comments:

SusQHB said...

Weddings bring this out in all cultures, not just ours. I was interviewed in NY Times just before my wedding about cultural/traditional/religious weddings and was comforted that most brides as special as we all deal with these issues. Check it: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/fashion/weddings/14field.html. The important thing is that you make all of your guests feel comfortable and in the know of all the interesting features of the day. Print a program with important Jewish wedding customs. Remind them to dress modestly if you think that necessary. Other than that, we wait and see...

TMC said...

Would you like a Buddhist "convert"'s view? I won't be offended if you say no. It's not apples to apples, but tough nonetheless.

Chaviva said...

@Sus I'm talking about more than just weddings, though. Especially about family events on Shabbos and not being able to reconcile.

@TMC Of COURSE!

Beth said...

Obviously I am not Jewish, but I do come from a fairly devout Roman Catholic family, and so did my husband. Some aspects of our lives are just never going to be acceptable to the more 'traditional' members of our family, i.e. me being the breadwinner instead of hubby, and our dual last name. I stick by my guns for the most part, though we did do a traditional Catholic Mass wedding ceremony in our hometown instead of the Hawaii elopement I had dreamed about, mainly because our grandmothers wanted to be there. I am actually the first grandchild on my dad's side to have a Catholic wedding (everyone else is more Evangelical), so I wanted to make the elders happy in that way.

I think you just have to live your life, but realize that you can't expect people to accommodate your needs. You just need to look out for your needs and speak up when necessary, but not make an issue out of it. Just be honest. It's like being vegetarian or allergic to cats--you just tell people you don't eat meat or can't be around their cat, and they either empathize and make it work, or they don't and you don't eat what they cooked or go to their apartment. Long-winded, I know, but you know what I mean. You can't control people's reactions to your choices, but you can choose how you react to them, you know? Best of everything to you. :)

ZPP said...

Chaviva, sometimes I can't believe I put up with some of the stuff from both sides - my family and my new Jewish family...

It can be quite stressful because you are asking to different cultures to collide in very personal terms when neither necessarily wanted it. Especially in Orthodox Judaism and possibly in your family's religion if it is an integral part of the family. Any strongly religious family is going to have gut-level reactions to such a change.

For me, it took awhile to feel comfortable in my new Jewish identity. If I was uncomfortable, I had to imagine my family felt even more uncomfortable. And I know many were uncomfortable in my new Jewish family.

It is a struggle because many times I feel like I have to play the middle-man or a "bridge" trying to make two sides understand and be happy with my new life and Jewish identity.

If it is any consolation, I have been a Jew for about 7 years and I am getting better at negotiating such challenges. This happened because I was becoming more comfortable with who I am and what I wanted in my life.

In the end, it is your life and you have to feel comfortable enough to stand up for what you want and believe in.

Anonymous said...

My family has generally been fairly supportive of my conversion (which was not Orthodox, nor am I). Everyone has their moments, but we had, for instance, a seder at my parents' house. This, of course, requires me to 1) eat in my parents' house in the first place and 2) eat in it during Passover, but in trade, we had a seder for which my mom cooked everything according to Passover rules (barring the lack of Passover dishes or cleaning--not Orthodox,remember) and my aunt and uncle (neither of whom are Jewish) carped about the lack of timmes and kugel. All of this is probably easier because I am a Reconstructionist Jew and my family is made up of a range of liberal Protestants/secular types. So the change is not shocking to them.

Jenny said...

I grew up in a beyond-secular household. Becoming "Jewish" (it always sounds like it's in quotes when my parents say it) was the ultimate rebellion on my part. I think my father thought it was a phase that would pass. At first he was very disappointed ("how could I raise a child who believes in G-d? No intelligent person could believe in G-d") but he got over it. He'd ask, in disbelief, "You're fasting for Yom Kippur? You're not eating bread for Passover?" Etc., etc. And truth be told, I'm not that observant. I'm not shomer Shabbat or even kosher. But I've found a place that I'm comfortable with.

Flash forward, oh twenty years. I'm now in my 40s and last May I had my bat mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue. My parents actually asked if they could come. I felt a little uncomfortable with it, because I was worried that they'd be sort of mocking of it. But my father told me that while he has problems with some of the religious aspects, he can respect the historical tradition of it, and enjoy it on that level. That was good enough for me, and I was happy they came.

They understand our kids are being raised in a Conservative synagogue, and they've been respectful. My kids understand their grandfather has different beliefs from them, but my father has promised to not discuss them with the kids until they are adults. When he's at our house, he wears a yarmulke for Shabbat and says the blessings with us. He attended my son's (Orthodox) bris and my daughter's Simhat Bat. My mother and my grandmother even worked together to sew the huppah for my wedding (which was fabulous--if you can get folks involved in ways that are meaningful, I think it would go a long way). We've found a happy medium. I don't expect them to change for me, and they don't expect me to change for them. It took us a while to get to this point, but we made it.

Boy, that was a novel in an of itself! Sorry for the length. I hope this was the kind of response you were looking for.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what others have said. Negotiating such personal issues with family and friends I feel to be one of the most challenging aspects of the conversion process. I find myself in much the same situation. While my family respects the fact that I am shomar shabbos and shomar kashrus, they often find it baffling. I am afraid I have little by way of helpful advice to give other than take this one step at a time. As much as many of us see our conversion as a profound change for ourselves alone, our families are on the journey with us which I would venture to argue most do not wish to be. In my particular case, it didn't come as too much of a shock that I wished to become Jewish because my father is though I often get the sense that they would have been much happier had I embraced a more liberal form of Judaism. Family simchas on shabbos and chagim are by far the most difficult I feel. I wish I had a more conclusive answer for you. I hope this was helpful, at least somewhat! Stay strong! Shabbat shalom!

Carla Gordon said...

I am a Ger, my family are very religious in a spritual way, very Protestant. My father is ignoring the fact that his daughter converted thus "went to the other side, going to hell and all that good stuff", my mother is agnostic but is happy that I have found a religious home of some sort, eventhough she does not understand it, my grandmother was/is delighted, because all her family was Jewish to begin with.

They respect the fact that I observe Shabbat and Kashrut, they try at least to understand, many many questions are asked. They do not understand Kashrut and many of the daily things that Jews do. But they respect me for it anyway. I think it helps that my family is Protestant and the fact that both sides have a very liberal sprinkling of Jewish ancestory.
There are many things they will not share or participate in my life, like going to shul, seders or any of the Jewish Holidays.
But that what being Jewish is about, being seperate, when you convert, your new life begins, it is different and not always easy.

Most parents want whats best for their children, even if they do not understand their childrens choices or lifestyles. Shabbat Shalom!

Malka said...

IMHO, it all comes down to having a ton of tact and patitience. I tried to get my family used to one concept at a time, first that im shomer shabbos, then not eating out etc. as overwhelming as it can be to be the one taking all these new things its just as overwhelming for the people around you. I am now in my fifth year of being torah observant and the family stuff gets easier and harder at the same time. if you need anything please feel free to msg me more.

shavuatov said...

Hmmm... One side of my family is overjoyed, interested, encouraging, but that is because I'm going back to Jewish roots that originated there. The other side - frosty is not the word, but then that's due to many, many issues I can never hope to unravel. And that's the point really - I can never hope to reconcile one side of my parentage (my parents are divorced) over my path, it has to be up to them. In the last couple of weeks, things have warmed up a bit, especially after I emailed them some recent poetry that I wrote about my trip to Auschwitz in the summer (on my blog!). Getting them to grips with the albeit recent history of the Jewish people, and my reaction to it, seems to be the way 'in'.

Anyway, at the end of the day, you have to be able to reach the people who are uncomfortable with what you are doing and who you are in a language that they understand. Plus, there is only so much you can do - you really cannot spend the rest of your life almost apologising for who you are. Religion is a hellishly complicated issue to deal with, all tied up with emotions, family expectations and so on. As you go through life, you will realise that there is always going to be something that upsets/angers/disappoints someone, somewhere. You just have to learn how to manage your own response to these bumps on the road...

Good luck in negotiating things with your family.

Shira said...

I think there will always be that hurt there, to some extent. People bond and show love, over food, and food related events specifically. And its not just food, as you said... graduations, etc. But celebrations. Its really difficult. I was ba'al teshuvah for a time, so I can relate in some ways. Now my hubby is frum a nd I am not, so we go through those things between us as well.

I think the more important issue for your relationship with family/friends is that when you can't go to their events, they feel abandoned, that you've put someone/something/hashem before them and love them less. And I think the answer to that is not to do what they want and give in, if you can't, but instead to find other new ways to insinuate yourself into their lives. So find ways to be there for them at different times, where you might have not in the past. So, if you would have one to a graduation or wedding in the past, but not communicated by phone or letter much, start spending other time together more often, call them regularly, show them you care!

Dunking Rachel said...

Bluntly….it is hard…there is loss for all involved, even if the loss is in service of a wonderful something new! Yes what everyone said about compromise is true but ultimately there comes that moment when you hit the wall. I am much older than you, but the family push back has been intense, yes they are supportive of me and try to understand, they love my husband, but bluntly they never have truly understood what I have chosen to do. I have an extra element of an adult (21) year old daughter who I changed the life rules on.
In some ways my wedding almost 2 years ago, was easy compared to the endless events such as this true example:
“Why can’t you go to your class reunion, everyone expects you to go” “well mom it is on Friday night and it is the Eve of Rosh Hashanah”…..”Can’t you just go on Saturday …you spend so much time there anyways and everyone here wants to see you…” “no ma I can’t”…this went on for weeks.

Recently my mother in-law passed away. A lovely woman. We once again followed law and tradition to honor her but also to support us in our grounding in our shared faith in a time of grief. My family came to offer support and help out…that is wonderful…but my heart sank….my Kosher home is not understood, no matter how many times I try to explain it…. I have endless kitchen moments…..I was grieving and at one point nearly screamed at my own elderly mother as she was saying to me,” I couldn’t find anything to put the cream into but I guess I’ll use this bowl”…as I lunged forward saying “nooooo!”
A funny event that occurred in relationship to this recent funeral/shiva my very Italian/Catholic father pulls me aside and tells me he talked to a Rabbi! He wanted to know what to expect….after some exploration I think he may have spoken with a Chabad Rabbi in CT. …the thought of this warms my heart and also makes me laugh!...
My family means well, they love me but they will not for all their emotional reasons and traditions come to understand it all. And I’m not orthodox! A long time ago….I said I love y’all but it is my life…..”I try to be supportive of you(family, sister parents daughter) try and be supportive of me”
I tend to think less bout compromise than educational moments……I try to do most holidays and secular gatherings at my home because that takes care of any Kosher problems..but sometimes you hit the wall no matter how hard you try and feelings can be hurt. I must be true to myself, untimely my actions are my only belongings, they are the ground upon which all is based.
I try to remember when having conversations /encounters, that will have these type of potential conflicts, to speak from the place of compassion and love. I changed the rules/relationship and way being….I need to understand how hard that is for them, and although I mostly do not compromise (remember not orthodox…conservative) I try to always remember loving kindness and care.

Bethany said...

My family are NOT happy with my Orthodox conversion. I was threatened about going to a wedding that is going to be held an hour after Shabbat ends in the middle of nowhere Long Island - and I don't know how I'll handle it. I'm planning on eloping when the time comes for me, dealing with all my family's issues with Orthodox Judaism are going to be too much on my day. I'm so sorry about your problems, I hope they'll come around! The only important thing is that you're happy!

Anonymous said...

Boruch HaShem my family are wonderful, want to be involved, they're interested and they actively show this. My mum has no issue with frumming it up to come to a religious neighbourhood, she is happy to stay out the kitchen and says "I've been making your meals my whole life, I am more than happy for you to have a turn" - it sounds moody now I have typed it but the big smile on her face proves otherwise. My mum loves the concept of Shabbos, and always asks me "How was Shabbos" or wishes me good shabbos. I feel very blessed to have such a family. I am sure they think I am a bit nutty, but seeing the beauty of Orthodox life has certainly changed their minds about "mindless tradition". Shomer neigah needs reinforcing a lot, but what do you want from people who have never encountered such a thing? Every time it is reinforced they keep it, until the next time we meet and I reinforce it again lol. It all depends on how much you show you are not willing to compromise even in the very slightest for yiddishkeit (my parents have to enter into a chassidish world, not just an ortho world), but how you are more than happy to have them with you every step of the way. may you have much nachas from your non jewish and jewish family.

Christopher Darrin Horn said...

The ones that care about me most send me j-man stuff all of the time. It's just all that they know, heck, if it wasn't for the fantastic and my stubborness to know the truth I would still be the same. I love my family, I love Israel, I love Hashem. Hashem loves those things too, in my opinion, so to save a life I give my family what I can, Hashem is eternal. I am sure he will wait for me. Just my humble opinion.

Brought up glatt tref said...

My totally Jewish family was very secular/assimilated and I grew up with Easter baskets and Christmas trees, ham and bacon. These items were seen as "American", I think. As an adult I do many things that my parents didn't/don't. I keep kosher, observe holidays and Shabbat in a Conservadox way, support Israel, etc. An earlier post used the word, "baffled," and I think that best describes my parents' original attitude. Back in the day they flew here on Yom Kippur and were genuinely baffled that I couldn't pick them up at the airport. Now they understand. You just have to have patience and strength.

Chaviva said...

Wow. What STORIES you guys have. What stories. I'll be honest, and I hate to say it, but I'm glad that there are so very many people to which I can relate and vice-a-versa. Jewish or not Jewish, it seems like many of us have been and will be in the same boat.

Basically, what I pull from this is to be patient, resilient, and not stray from what I know/feel is right. That's easy enough, right?

Probably not. EEK.

Melissa said...

I think everyone's situation is unique, but it's always challenging to go through a major life change such as this. Some families are more easygoing, but even in the best of cases, there may be disappointments and a general lack of understanding of what's kosher and why (in both the specific and colloquial sense, here).

In my case, my family of origin is Catholic, but my parents are not very religious. My in-laws are Jewish and used to affiliate as Conservative, but even they look askance at some of the observances I try to incorporate into my life. They are pretty supportive of my keeping kosher (though there are sometimes remarks about food we can't bring home). I don't tell anyone that I go to mikvah because a) I don't want to discuss that area of my life with my extended family and b) I'm not ready to divulge where I am on my own Jewish journey to everyone just yet. I also have an ex-husband who is Christian and who is raising our son as such, which makes it complicated as I try to walk a fine line of explaining "this is what I/Jews believe and do" without confusing the child and turning him off on religion and an understanding of the divine altogether.

You've undergone significant yet gradual personal changes on your Jewish journey, but you've done it as an adult living away from your family. So, what seems natural and right and non-negotiable to you may still be quite foreign and hard to understand for others. Weddings and other major life events are already emotional obstacle courses fraught with conflicting dreams and expectations. All these variables make for a complicated situation, even for the most loving and diplomatic among us.

I think you summed it up already: you have to be patient and compassionate, but firm when necessary. Pick your battles, and be happy that you're having an experience that reflects who you are and where you've been in the best way you know how.
B'Hatzlacha!

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shavuatov said...

"Basically, what I pull from this is to be patient, resilient, and not stray from what I know/feel is right. That's easy enough, right?"

If only, if only. I find that the older I get, the more able I am to 'defend' my position on most things. But things that are so emotive (ie, your Judaism, your bashert, your plan for your life) - oy, it can be tough to get the words out.

Just keep on keeping on... you know where we all are!!!

Anonymous said...

My mother is feminist/reformed. My father was a convert/reformed. My wife is an orthodox convert from Asia.
I've found that if you're consistent and can give a good reason (how you learned it) for why you do what you do and why you won't participate in this or that, most family and friends will understand. They'll still think your crazy, but at least they'll be polite ;-)
The biggest piece of advice I have is that tolerance goes both ways. It's not your job to mikarev family members. It's just your job to set an example. Likewise, it's not their job to pull you away from Yiddishkeit. And they will, out of ignorance or thought, do things that will create challenges. Stick to your guns and you'd be surprised what happens. My mother is still anti-frum, but she wore a sheitel to my wedding!

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