a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

What to do

Posted on: April 24, 2011

I’ve thrown a lot of things my parent’s way in the years I’ve been in NYC.  I’ve come out as a lesbian and last summer I told them that I was going to be a Jew.  Because of those hose two very identifying factors, coupled with the fact that I live in what is arguably the most famous city in the world-they tend to take everything I say…with a grain of salt? 

I’m 31 years old and am finally comfortable in my skin.  I’m comfortable with how I celebrate my blackness and my black identity.  I’m comfortable in the way that I identify as a lesbian.  I’m starting to realize that my “Jewish Coat” is no longer a coat that I put on occasionally but something that is becoming a part of who I am.  They, unfortunately, still see me as the Erika that lived in Ohio 5 years ago.  She’s a person that I barely recognize but someone with whom they are very comfortable.  I don’t expect them to change for me.  I don’t expect them to identify with me.  I don’t expect them to accept these changes for them but I do expect them to try to understand.

I try to take myself outside of my reality and put myself in their shoes.  My parents are raising my sister’s children.  They own a home, my father has a business that my mother works in.  To say that they have a lot on their plate would be putting it mildly.  They’re changing diapers for goodness sake!  My reality and who I am is so far removed from their reality and who they are I can understand how they don’t “get” it.  I understand how it seems that I’m flighty or all over the place or lack any real grounding because we’re out of touch.  It still hurts, though, when they don’t try.

My father’s been commenting on really old facebook pictures and referring to my partner as my “friend” and on Friday my mother wished me a Happy Easter.  Both of those things were hard for me and clearly still weighing heavily on my mind.  There’s the very childish part of me that wants to stamp my feet, cross my arms and poke out my bottom lip in protest and the other more adult side that remembers the giant plate that sits before them both.  On the other hand this person isn’t my friend, she’s the woman I want to walk down the aisle with, my partner of 3 years.  This Judaism thing isn’t a faze or a fad, it’s what I’ve decided was best for me after years of a disenchanted religious youth.  They’re the two most important parts of my life and huge identifiers into who I am at my core.  Because of these things I am changing who my family is.  As far as I know I’m the only out gay person in the Davis clan.  I’m certainly the only Jew.  Because of who I am I’m making who we are different.  I have guilt about it, but also want them to reach out, ask questions, and be involved in it.  It’s probably asking too much and when it comes down to it, has nothing to do with them…or does it?

I sent my Mom home with a copy of Choosing a Jewish Life and she has yet to read it.  I want to find a way to let them know how important it is for me to have their…something.  It’s not approval, it’s not blessing, but an understanding, perhaps, or acknowledgement more accurately of what and who I am. 

I don’ t know, rambling tonight.  Any other converts out there having the same issues?

16 Responses to "What to do"

My family has zero interest in my Judaism or understanding who I am. My parents are not at all happy that I am converting and we do not discuss it. Period. Nobody talks about it, nobody asks me questions. They pretend nothing is happening. My mom did ask me when Chanukah happens and what I could eat at her house as far as kosher. That was a HUGE deal. When I had offered her a book she told me she didn’t want to know anything about Judaism.

I do not really expect them to understand or to even try to understand. I’m on my own here as far as my family and friends are concerned. I had Easter dinner today with my husband family. My MIL wished me a Happy Easter. Why? I don’t know, I guess because she’s just used to saying it. She also served ham and they said their Catholic prayers even though none of them go to church except her mother. The two atheists and soon to be Jew just looked down at the table.

I’m not sure I can say my family doesn’t accept who I am – they are simply in denial, I think. Or they simply really couldn’t care less about who I am and what I do.

My dad is smart enough to know I wouldn’t go to church with him. I think he made my siblings go but he didn’t dare ask me!

So yeah, I’m having the same issues but I don’t expect anything out of anyone except my husband.

Do I totally sound like a Debbie Downer? I hope not :-)

Some parents take this religion thing too seriously. So many people in the generation of our parents were raised thinking that only their way was right, and that children should continue on with the traditions of their family. It inspires issues like what both of you are talking about. For my mom, coming out was like adopting another religion. She initially saw it as a rejection of God in totality, and even proclaimed one day that He told her He would ‘heal’ me. Heal me from what, I can’t imagine. Being incredibly happy? I hope he forgets about that in a hurry.

I don’t know what she would do if I actually fully converted to another religion. Yesterday morning I got a text message from her that said, “Allelujah he has risen!” if I were in a mood to be cruel, I would have responded with a healthy, “mom… that was 2k years ago.” I wasn’t in that sort of a mood, and in terms of religious studies, I understand the importance for some to ‘relive’ important moments in their religion’s history or tradition. It’s still just strange, and annoying because it was followed with the question of ‘did you go to mass? I know you had off.’

It wouldn’t matter if I told her, straight up, that just don’t go to church anymore. I don’t see the need to conform to one tradition like that, and in all honesty, it makes me uncomfortable to consider. As in, it just feels wrong, and I’m willing to bet that for any converts to a specific religion, it would feel wrong to *not* embrace it. It still puts us in the same boat, regardless of converting to or… deconverting. We still have the parents, who are stuck in their ways with little room, or perhaps even desire, to realize how good we feel about our religious choices. Too many times Christian sermons talk about people who have converted to another religion and claim they feel lost, unfocused, and confused. I couldn’t think of a worse description. Maybe in terms of Judaism, they should realize that Jews are getting right down to the basics of Christianity… not many more religions can brag that the guy who inspired their faith wasn’t part of it.

my parents totally pretend that it isn’t happening. when i came out as queer, they were like: “we know.” when i came out as trans, they were still relatively unphased. when i told them at 13 that i was converting to christianity (i was raised athiest/agnostic), they were floored. when i told them at 16 that i was going to be ordained, they were confused. when i told them at 31 that i was converting to judaism they were desensitized to the confusion but did not engage me. when i told my dad last week that i wanted to be a rabbi, he FINALLY said “religion has always been important to you” but also talked about it as though it was a phase i might run the course of. i emphasized that it wasn’t, but my religiosity is far more uncomfortable for them than my sexual identity.

i think it’s a little easier for me because my parents aren’t religious to begin with. my dad is english and his parents are both athiest; my step mom i think is vaguely christian, but not in any meaningful way. they are definitely culturally christian but religious practice in any organized way means nothing to them. they don’t respect what i’m doing, because they don’t understand why i would. but they don’t think i’m going to hell either, so that’s something.

I don’t know where to begin! ha! thanks to all of you for your feedback and insights!
@Dena-you don’t sound like a Debbie Downer, you should like me-really effin’ frustrated! I feel like I should just give up (and ask for my book back) on the other hand, I really would like them to be at my conversion ceremony, I’d like them to be at my Bat mitzvah…A girl can dream, though trying to push it any further may be a lost cause.
@Colleen-I love when Christians want to “heal” us homos…and forget that part in Genisis that says we were created in the image of God. I also love that some Christians forget that Jesus was a Jew…he died as a Jew and if he rose again, he rose as a Jew. Early Christians were just a little sect of Judaism before they became the Christianity we know now, but no one takes the time to learn or accept that.
@Heath-How interesting that your religion was more of a shock than your sexual orientation! I’m very interested in going to rabbinical school, too. We should chat ASAP! I owe you a coffee date, any way ;)

yes! yes and yes!

Im having issues with this, too, Erika. However, I’m far from close to my family, so I don’t normally care what they think/say, but that doesn’t stop it from being less annoying or hurtful at times.

Just this past Easter, my aunt made a huge feast, as she usually does any holiday, and of course I dug in , with my older sister (who I don’t talk to at all) saying snide comments about eating “easter dinner” and “keeping kosher”.

The other day, I was talking out loud to myself about making time to go back to temple with someone, and out comes the rude and stereotypical comments about Jewish people, and rude comments about my converting to find a “nice rich Jewish boy.”

Sometimes I regret telling anyone besides my roommate, because people’s attitudes about it makes me want to slap everyone ( just an expression, I’m not violent! :) )

Other than that, they love to tell me what I should b doing as a Jew, when they aren’t even good Catholics! :(

Erika, I don’t even plan on telling my family I’ve officially converted. I’ll put something on facebook and whoever see is will know but I don’t plan to mention it otherwise, unless asked. I’m taking my husband with me and that’s it.

I agree with this 100%

I think of my conversion as a birth of sorts and I don’t want too many people watching me, if that makes sense?

As a Jew, I found it frustrating this week when good friends of mine were wishing me a Happy Easter. I was talking about the matter with a Muslim friend and we both felt the same way; it’s offensive when somebody close to you fails to acknowledge something so significant. Both of us don’t know how to answer “Happy Easter” or “Merry Christmas” though; at the moment, I just offer thanks through slightly gritted teeth, wondering how it could be physically possible to make it any more obvious that I actually have just finished celebrating Pesach, and not any other festival.

I am talking about my friends here- I couldn’t begin to even imagine what it would be like if it were my family. The thought of someone denying my sexuality is similarly nauseating.

As a double-minority (gay and Jewish), I needed to spend a lot of time growing into my idea. It took me a long time to realise, but now I’m glad that I know gay Jews have been blessed at least twice ;-) . I don’t know you or your parents, so I can’t say for sure, but I’d guess that it might settle in their heads if they can see that you are happy with and proud of today’s Erika.

You know, for next easter I think I’ll say ‘sure, and a late Pesach Sameach, too’ and for the past two Christmas’, working retail and dealing with the holiday crazies, I’ve been saying, “or Happy Hanukkah!” along with the Christmas, because I love it when they look at me like “…okay.”

My SIL (who fully supports my conversion and if the only person who will actually speak about it) calls it Zombie Jesus day for me.

@ Dena-I’d like to think that I wouldn’t want to involve my family in my conversion process, have them at the mikvah (waiting outside) and have them engaged in at least conversation with me about the process. I know that it’s asking a lot but I also feel like a spoiled child and just want to stamp my foot louder and demand that they pay attention to me and this really big thing that’s happening to me. I had my meeting with my individual rabbi yesterday and we talked about it further. She’s under the impression that they will eventually be “ok” with it when they realize that I’ve chosen a religious faith rather than the years of faithlessness that I’ve been living. I decided in her office that I’d just let it lie. If they ask me questions, I’ll give them. I’ll give them the information that they need and send them an invitation to the celebration after the beit din but without the expectation that they’d actually come. Which hurts.
@Jezel-We’ll have to make our own NYC Jewish Family, eh?
@Aurel-My rabbi and I also talked about the secular Holidays that Easter and Christmas have become…people just say it. But when it’s your family or friends it definitely feels more like a slap in the face, it’s like they’re choosing to purposefully deny your identity. It was like when my mother kept telling me that her friend had a son in NYC that I should meet. I finally had to say, I like the p***y, Mom! and she stopped trying to hook me up with men. It was crude and cruel but she wouldn’t listen!
@ Colleen-we need more folks like you in the world, my friend!

“It was like when my mother kept telling me that her friend had a son in NYC that I should meet.”

OMG! My mom did that to me, too. There was some guy I don’t even remember but she said he was really interested in what I was doing. And I was like ‘you’re trying to be sneaky about it, but I know what you’re doing and the fact is I don’t care about whats-his-name. I don’t even remember who he is.’

‘Oh dear of course you do!’

“o.O. Just stop. It’s been four years, I’m not confused.”

Oh, and thank you for the compliment.

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