a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

I survived Christmas and ate Chinese food, too

Posted on: December 26, 2010

First things first, did you read my post on the Sisterhood??  If not, go read it and come back.  I’ll wait.

It’s true.  I ordered Chinese food on Christmas afternoon.  The original plan was to make some eggs and enjoy a mimosa while watching endless episodes of The L Word on Netflix.  I opened Mirs’ fridge to find that she was out of eggs and anything else with which to make brunch  and instead opted for the “traditional” Jewish Christmas meal-Chinese food.  The food came within 30 minutes of ordering and was pretty sub par but, it got the job done.  I spent the majority of the afternoon on Mirs’ couch and the later part of the day on my friend’s couch watching the NBA marathon on ABC.  I have to be honest, it was a pretty okay day.

I think  that if I were at my parents house with my mother’s three Christmas trees and the presents and the big dinner that I would’ve felt more nostalgic.  Instead, it felt like any other Saturday.  I worked the night before and enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner with friends before going to bed.  I didn’t get to light my Shabbat candles, by the time I made it home it was 11PM.  I’m not sure how comfortable it would’ve made me or how odd it might have felt to light them on Christmas Eve but I can honestly say that I felt OK.  I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t lonely, I wasn’t depressed.  I was OK.

I’ve been reading a really remarkable and inspirational book by Rueven Hammer called Entering Jewish Prayer-A guide to Personal Devotion and the Worship Service.  I’m in Chapter 9, The Amida, and it sounds cliché but I’m surprised at the amount of strength the book lends.  I was reading another book on Jewish Prayer called To Pray as a Jew by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin and could barely get through the first few chapters.  Both men, to my knowledge, or Orthodox but Hammer’s book reads in a more down-to-earth, easy to understand, and most important-interesting way.  I find myself quite engrossed in what I’m reading, even more inspired to learn Hebrew, but in awe of the English translations that I’m reading.  I mean, every Shabbat in shul I hear the words being read in Hebrew and I’ll be honest that I’m mostly so enthralled with the sound of Hebrew being chanted, the cantor’s voice, or trying to read the transliterations that I don’t actually know what I’m saying or more accurately praying.  Having 30 minutes on the subway twice a day to read the prayers in their entirety as well as Hammer’s and The Sages interpretations of the prayers, the reasons why we recite the prayers, and the importance of Jewish prayer is beyond description.

I’m fully aware that in Catholic Church or Episcopal Church the liturgy is the same each week with the same passages from the Bible that are read from here to England.  I just never knew why we did the things we did in church.  With Judaism I’m captivated by the Hebrew while I’m in shul, that’s for sure, and honestly didn’t care what I was saying because I was certain that I was praising God’s name.  Now, I feel a better connection to the prayers that are recited each Shabbat because I understand them.  I mean, I don’t understand them like I can talk about them comfortably here but I understand.  When I’m done with this book and take a breather from prayer to read another one of the dozen books I got from Amazon before taking another stab at Donin’s book. 

I’m feeling good, though, on this December 26th with December 25th behind me and Purim ahead.  Thanks to all of you for your kind words you’ve posted as of late on my blog.  It’s so comforting to know that there are Jews out there, born or by choice, who care enough to read and share.  Thank you.

9 Responses to "I survived Christmas and ate Chinese food, too"

I tried to read Hammer’s book nearer to the beginning of my conversion journey. It didn’t speak to me then. Now, as I see myself becoming a religious Reform Jew (my rabbi just asked me to write my conversion essay), I may pick it up again after reading your post. I know it is centered in a different tradition than mine, but I remember the sense of kavanah Hammer’s words had. I really feel that inside, now, every Friday (and many Saturdays) in shul.

My Christmas Eve and Christmas–also my first as a non-celebrant–were spent marking my mom’s yarhtzeit (another first) by saying kiddush Friday night and Saturday Shabbat services, lighting a yarhtzeit light, and hosting two Christmas orphan friends (they didn’t go home to their families) for Shabbat dinner on Friday. All of that together made my non-Christmas really amazing.

We did the Chinese dinner on Christmas Day thing, too. I sat there with my kippah on while the entire restaurant wondered where the water and tea was (service took a nosedive that day.) When my table of Jews and non-Jews offered one of our unused tea cups to the family at the next table, a woman seated there said, “Hey, thanks! We’re all family! It takes a village, huh?”

I can’t tell how you Jewish I felt at that moment :-)

Of course I meant “saying kaddish.” Damned ADHD. My mother was, obviously, not a glass of wine. Oy…

That’s such a great Christmas story!! I love those moments when you “feel” Jewish. Our rabbi caused quite a stir in class when she talked about that moment when it clicks and you feel like a Jew. It caused a lot of commotion with some of the converts-to-be because they were on a wedding time-line. For those of us who are not we totally got it. I have moments when I’m surrounded by Jews and feel like a Jew and I have those moments where I feel like I’m not.

I’m sorry to hear about your mother but there is something about the tradition of the yarhtziet that is very…something. It sounds morbid but the Jewish Funeral was my favorite conversion class. There’s so much tradition there that is absent, in my opinion, from Christian funerals. I feel like because all Jews have these traditions of rememberance, grieving, kaddish that it’s connects us to our loved ones in a way that’s unlike any I’ve experienced before. I’ve lost all of my uncles, save for one who’s very ill with the same cancer that killed one of his brothers, and it’s sad for me to acknowledge the fact that I cannot remember their death anniversaries. It’s almost like we forget? The yarhtziet prevents that. I dunno, I’m rambling. Sorry!!

I would say definitely read Hammer’s book now. It is truly inspirational, for me at least.

Thanks so much for finding my blog, reading it, and posting lovely comments. Your mother will be in my prayers.

Shalom!! I just stumbled upon your blog and loved this post!! I am also a convert to Judaism, so I can relate to all the emotions around this season.

I totally hear you regarding prayer/liturgy! Hammer’s book is fascinating! You might also enjoy his Entering the High Holydays. Hammer is actually a Conservative rabbi and I have loved all of his work. He just came out with a new book called Entering Torah. The My People’s Prayerbook series is also great!

Shalom to you, Leah! Yes, I’m absolutely loving this book and now Amazon is loving me because I’m ordering those other titles!

It’s great to have so many of you relating to how I’m feeling! I had an icky comment on the post I did for the Jewish Forward and it’s refreshing to have people who understand where I’m coming from and what I’m going through. I hope that we’ll continue to connect as we go through this process! You, too Michael!

Thanks so much for finding my blog, Leah-and for the great book recommendations!

Your excellent “Sisterhood” piece brought me to your blog. As a straight, male, white, non-convert (child of a sixties mixed-marriage, actually), I deeply appreciate your writing, perspective and struggles.

I too grew up with Christmas in the largely-secular mode; we went to no services, of any religion, at any time. I too went through the struggle to give up the tree, the decorations, the carols, the egg nog, etc.

Truthfully, I still miss some of it. Living in Southern California (I’m from New England) makes it easier, as does having children who have never known it. We get our taste by going to friends or family who do celebrate it: our Jewish identities are secure enough to not be threatened.

To judge from your writing, your identity is equally strong and confident. Forgive me if that sounds patronizing. I mostly want to say: thank you for sharing your journey and blessings as you continue on it.

L’shalom
Jonathan

I am not sure if you know about Rabbi Denise Eger, rabbi at Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood and current President of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. She blogs at http://rabbieger.wordpress.com/

Jonathan-
As a straight white male born Jew I can honestly say that your words are not patronizing and welcomed! I love having perspective from people whose back grounds differ from mine, especially if they can some how relate to mine. Thank you so much for reaching out to me and I appreciate your kind words.

I’m grateful that you found me and appreciate what I have to say. It’s great to hear about people’s stories and lives and experiences. They help me in my journey and allow me to remember that I’m just once piece to the giant puzzle that is Judaism.

I’m excited to start reading Rabbi Denise’s blog! I hope to see you back here soon.

Many Blessings to you and yours.
Erika

Shalom Erika,

So glad you’re enjoying the books! It’s always great to connect with other converts and those in the process!! Best of luck to you on your journey into Judaism!

Being surrounded by Christians, coming from a Christian family and marrying into another, I know Christmas will always be Christmas no matter what I do. But this year was quite nice. My mother who has until now been in denial actually brought up my soon to be Jewishness and had a conversation about Kashrut with me. Another family member, a Muslim, said he was very proud of me. It was a lovely weekend. Glad it went well for you too.

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