This is the first of a pair of tardy post-holiday posts as I reinvigorate this blog for 2011. When last I left off my on Voyage into the Great Jewish Unknown (a.k.a. my Reform Jewish conversion journey), Christmas was approaching. In my daily Jewish observance, I had come to discover a sense of wonder and joy I used to associated with once-a-year Christmas. My mom’s yahrtzeit (death anniversary) was approaching, too. I used to mark her death–and life–at Christmastime. Now, I had the chance to mark her death in a Jewish way.
Last month’s weekend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day fell on Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath. I was happy during the lead-up to the weekend that the cheer that sailed me through Chanukah didn’t abate. I spent the month a happy little almost-Jewish soul, getting a kick out of the happiness of non-Jewish friends around me. (To a point–the second of these two tardy posts is about Yuletide commercialism and my experience of it as a first-time outsider.)
I bought a yahrtzeit light at Jewel (a minhag, or tradition, I found particularly tender), and prepared to spend a quiet Shabbat at home and in temple, where I would recite kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer, with my congregation. At the last minute, my boyfriend, Ryan (who, for the first time, no, you don’t know all about yet), decided not to go to his parents’ house in southern Illinois, and my friend, Nick, let me know he was alone for Christmas Eve.
I was cat-sitting at Overly Frank’s house, and he had put up a tree. So we ended up three people, two Christians and a pre-Jew, lighting candles, doing kiddush (the blessing over wine), and sharing Shabbat dinner by the light of a Christmas tree. Nick would have come to temple too, were it not for the Hero Event. Long story short, a great way to get yourself permanently invited to Shabbat dinner:
- Jump up in the middle of the candle blessing and say, “Mind if I go get my Subway sandwich out of the fridge?”;
- Munch chips through kiddush;
- Eat the bread before the motzi blessing;
- Take off your shoes and socks in someone else’s house and put your naked feet up on their couch–during dinner;
- Decide to take a nap in someone else’s car without permission.
Just. Don’t. Ask.
Anyway, Ryan did come with me to temple Friday night as moral support for kaddish. After the evening I’d already spent, when they very sweet and well-meaning Linda turned around during the service and asked if I was OK, there was no doubt in my mind I was. And would be. Ryan came to synagogue with me the next morning as well (kaddish must be said at temple throughout Shabbat), and on the bus ride back downtown, he said something that blew me away:
“I never knew anything about Judaism, but going to temple feels like all the things I always wanted going to church to feel like. I can’t believe you get to question and argue the way that I saw last night and today.”
Jewish women would pay for non-Jewish boyfriends to say things like that. (He also refuses to start eating unless I’ve said a bracha, or food blessing, first.) He also said one more thing. “That may be the best adult Christmas I’ve ever spent, with you at Shabbat dinner and in temple.”
Oddly enough, me too.
Minus the naked couch feet. No holiday’s worth that.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.