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Life Stories: Compelling and True


Our readers are encouraged to submit material for review and publication in this section. Details must be changed to conceal personal identities.

Send all correspondence to black@JewishAmerica.com


The following is a loose adaption of my life experience in that most if not all of the who/what/when/where details have been changed. But the major themes and personal feelings are very much those of my actual life. One can say that it is a fictional account but very close or similar to autobiographical.

My message is for those on the verge of intermarriage . I hope to illuminate  some points they might not think about and possibly give them pause for reconsideration. That was why I wrote the story and the reason that I would like to see others have the opportunity to read it.

- Rachael Leah Donally

++++++

1990

I first fell in love with Jaimie in 9th grade at Shadow Hills High School. I'd been secretly practicing a new signature since the age of 14; Rachel Leah Donally, Mrs. Jaimie Donally, or sometimes the more politically-correct (although that term didn't exist at the time), but infinitely dorkier, Rachel Leah Greenblatt-Donally. Well, the gods had been smiling down, and thanks to my nightly prayers to whoever answers the phone up there (and in not small part to my magical, mystical, marvelous plastic surgeon over at Beth Israel who provided me with an only VERY slightly 'schicksa-esque' but very realistic new nose), at age 22 I got the 2 ˝ ct marquise-cut diamond, and a date, May 8th. Tomorrow, my mom and my maid of honor, Sherry (NOT my sister Avigail, for reasons that maybe I'll tell you about later if I drink enough peppermint schnapps) have an appointment at the boutique in Bloomingdale's for the first fitting of my lace and silk (size 2 - don't worry, I plan to go on a grapefruit and ex-lax diet, my friend GiGi swears by it, and she's a gymnast), off-the-shoulder cathedral-length creation. My 8 bridesmaids plus Sherry will be trying on their peacock-blue lace strapless gowns (unless we have the service in Jaimie's family's church, the mere possibility of which of course gave my grandmother, Bubbie Yetta, a heart attack until I told her that Rabbi Cynthia would be officiating right along with the minister or pastor or Father or whatever they call the marriage person there in the "Church of the Overly Dressed" as my mom calls it when she has too much wine. And don't worry, Bubbie, they DO BREAK THE GLASS, I PROMISE!! In any case, the "Church of the Permanently Pressed" or whatever, does not allow bare shoulders or other immodest attire during ceremonies (HOW SEXIST AND ARCHAIC!) so if we do the wedding there, I will have to order sleeves for my girls.)

Anyway, in case it isn't immediately obvious to you, I am Jewish, by birth, although lately not by much else. My grandparents were very frum (Orthodox) from the old country. I did go to Hebrew school for a while and oddly enough, lived in Israel for a few years when I was younger, so I speak and read fluent Hebrew and would describe myself as a very secular, Israeli-style Jew.  But that's another story altogether and anyway, I'm much too busy with my AIDS awareness projects to get too involved in international politics, especially when it really has nothing to do with me.

Jaimie and I have talked about kids. I think we both want two, and to tell the truth, I'd love to have them both at once, wouldn't twins be cute? So we decided we'll go down to the fertility doctor and imply that we have been trying longer than we actually have so we can convince him to put us on that drug that makes you conceive multiple births, and see if we get lucky. Needless to say, Avigail is totally plotzing about this and has now told me that she will neither attend the wedding nor discuss our poor babies (her words). AS IF I care. She's the one losing out and anyway, with her 200 kids (not really, actually only 7) and a husband who looks so much like a rabbi that I think he actually IS one, they can't possibly have any idea what fun and joy is all about, can they? In any event, they probably wouldn't even eat anything at our reception if they came since they are so irritatingly holier-than-thou kosher. It's not as if I'm planning to serve bacon, for G-d's sake! Lighten up.

Jaimie and I have also briefly talked religion. It was a real short conversation since neither of us feels especially tied to the religion of our childhood (Jaimie doesn't even really know what his is, since it changed so often as a kid). I think we both have a bit of antipathy toward organized religion as a concept since so many people have been persecuted and killed by people claiming that they know the ONE TRUE WAY. Whatever, it doesn't matter to us. Maybe we'll have a Xmas tree with a menorah on top, an Easter egg hunt with Jaimie's family and a Passover seder (if we can stand sitting through it) once a year with my family. Avigail probably wont even come to that since she doesn't think Bubby's kosher is kosher enough for her standards. Oh yeah, and our kids can be equal opportunity lazy bums and stay out of school for both Rosh Hashana and Xmas! Easy enough, don't you think?

1993

It's our two year anniversary tomorrow. I can't believe how fast time flies. My little angel Melanie Catherine is almost 11 months old. No, we never did try to bamboozle the fertility doc, so we'll have to settle for one baby at a time. Mellie's starting to walk and even to say a few words. One of them, by the way is NOT Auntie Avigail, since we only see her and her mishpocha of millions about once a year when they invade Philly (where we live) from Cleveland (where they live), and try to force us to sit through the endless Orthodox services on the High Holidays (why do they call them "high" anyway, I certainly feel like I AM, after sitting through 5 hours of eternal yatayatayata-oyveying while (pretending to be) fasting!) Jaimie thinks I'm nuts and we actually had a fight last year because he didn't want me subjecting little Mellie to "that nonsense" as he put it. Personally, actually, it was kind of comforting to be around all those moms and kids singing and stuff. Some of it kind of sounds familiar from when I was in Hebrew school, NOT that I'd ever put Mellie through THAT torture.

Avigail told me, after hearing about my fight with Jaimie, that not only do my kids have a right to learn about their heritage, but that I have NO RIGHT to keep them away from it! Can you believe the chutzpah of her? What gives her the right to butt in and keep telling me over and over, buttinsky things like: "Mellie's mom is Jewish so she's Jewish BY LAW!!!!" As far as I'm concerned, Mellie is nothing. Just like her father. Just like me.

I found out in April that I'm pregnant again. Avigail can't understand why I even have kids since, as she says, I work so many hours at the bank that I never see Mellie. I personally don't understand how Avi has any business talking when her life, if you can call it that, consists of changing measureless diapers, going to endless Hadassah (or whatever) meetings and serving chicken soup to her useless husband, Yossie as if he's some kind of king. Yossie, who makes just about enough money to keep the family from having to live in a car, as far as I can see, spends most of his time in the ever-so-worthy pursuit of reading the same indecipherable Hebrew texts over and over, and debating their detail, ad infinitum, with other men (who all look so similar that I don't know how, or why, their wives try to tell them apart!) at the local "Yeshiva-of -the-Sloppily-Dressed".

Anyway, just last week, Mellie called the sitter "mama". I have to admit, that hurt a bit, but daycare never killed anyone, and the Montessori school we want her to go in a few years costs a fortune, so my income is pretty important. Working at the bank (I'm a SENIOR financial analyst as of last year!) is pretty cool. People think I'm really savvy and knowledgeable about financial stuff and sometimes I have some pretty interesting conversations. Jaimie is doing well at his dad's law firm, but secretly I wish he wouldn't drink quite so much in the evening and maybe he'd work longer hours, get a promotion, and who knows, maybe I could cut back on my own hours. I have to say that my life seems something like an infinite loop of rushing to work, rushing home at 7:30 in time to put Mellie to bed (sometimes), working some more at home, watching late-night "Seinfeld" reruns, sleeping 5 hours a night, going back to work and spending weekends grocery shopping, and arguing with Jaimie about bills. Maybe, if we're not too tired, once every couple of weeks we get a (different) sitter and go out for dinner, drinks or a movie. We have this great house that we bought for "entertaining" but we have no time, and, I hate to admit it, no friends, either. Avigail asked me once how I can live like that, with no community, whatever that means, no support network. As if I might want to be like some Stepford housewife out of the 50's, trading recipes and attending PTA meetings and taking turns helping other mommies "wash that grey right outa their hair " so that we can all look nice for our weekly, squeaky-clean family church/temple service attendance! I don't think so!

1994

Matthew Adam was born two weeks ago. On Thursday I had his bris. Shhhh, it was a secret- no one knew about it except me, Matt, Mellie, the babysitter (who thought the whole thing was some sort of voodoo ritual, as would have Jaimie no doubt, had he known about it) and the Mohel. It was a secret because Jaimie would have had a coronary if he had found out about it. He thinks Judaism is archaic and elitist, not to mention barbaric. Fortunately, he had to go to work early that day because he had missed so much work the previous week from being "sick" (as in hung-over). His dad has warned him repeatedly to cut back on the booze but he has really started to go overboard sometimes. Avigail says he's abusive but, of course, she disapproves of everything in my life, and anyway, she shouldn't talk. Just because her husband doesn't drink or cat around, he really doesn't spend enough quality time with the kids. All that "Torah-this" and "Talmud-that" that he discusses with them, they can't really consider that fun, can they?

OK, so back to the bris. I don't know why, but somehow I was absolutely possessed with this feeling, this urge to undergo this most difficult and painful (at least for the baby!) ritual. Avigail says that no Jew can deny the importance associated with the beginning of life and that we owe it to our sons to enter them into the covenant, even if we do nothing else Judaically. After all, if we don't, and they decide to pursue their Judaism later in life, they're gonna be real mad that we neglected that little surgical procedure when they were babies! I don't know, maybe Avi is right. Birth and death, the two most profound moments in a Jew's, in ANY person's life, represent the only two important Jewish rituals for me; the bris and a kosher burial.

When the Mohel was almost done, we gave little Matt his Jewish name, Mattisyahu Ahron, after my father who died last year. He would have loved little Matty, even if he would have laughed at the bris! My poor mom is so depressed, she really didn't know what to do with herself. Avi virtually forced her to sit shiva, and you know, I think I'm beginning to understand what she meant by "community". Mom really coped better than I would have expected with all those caring people dropping by, feeding her and keeping her company day and night.

Anyway, the bris inspired me (actually shamed me) into giving Melanie a Jewish name at a Shabbat service at the local temple. It's not Orthodox (as Avi continually kvetches) but who cares? So next week 18-month old Melanie Catherine will have a baby-naming ceremony at Temple Beth Shalom. She will be named after my great aunt, Chana Miriam, who died in Bergen-Belsen (interestingly, in the same barrack, and in the same week that Anne Frank died!)

Avi called me and told me that as a gift for the bris and baby naming, she had asked her Rabbi in her (naturally, Orthodox) shul to "bentsch" the Yiddish names for each of the kids so it can be done "correctly". She explained that to "bentch a name " means to make a blessing at the Torah, naming the child with his or her Jewish names. I panicked, envisioning a hellish trip out to Cleveland with two kids and some excuse to Jaimie, until she explained to me that the service could be done quite easily without the children even being present. (Luckily, Matty's Mohel was Orthodox, so there could be no doubt that his bris was "correct" and we will never have to do THAT again!) So now my two kinderlach have been officially inscribed in the "Book of Life" as Chana Miriam bas Rochel Leah and Mattisyahu Ahron ben Rochel Leah v'Avraham Avinu (which means Matthew Aaron, son of me, Rachel Leah, and of Abraham, our Forefather, since Jaimie isn't Jewish and therefore, apparently doesn't count, in baby namings, anyway).

1995

Miracle of miracles. Jaimie's long overdue promotion to Senior Associate finally came through, though no thanks to any modification in his alcohol consumption. He merely decided to drink earlier in the evening so he could take out his hangovers on me, and then sleep it off comfortably enough to go to work perceptibly sober. With his higher salary we have enough money for me to quit my job and stay home with my children. This is a true blessing, since I have just discovered that, thanks to failed birth control, I am pregnant with number three. I guess this baby will call ME mama (or maybe 'Ima'?!?!). With more free time, I have been speaking more often on the phone with Avigail and she has finally succeeded in piquing my interest in Judaism a bit. Perhaps now is a good time for a brief digression about Avi and our relationship.

Avi is 7 years older than me, my only (living) sibling, to my father's eternal despair. I think he lost any religious feeling he might have ever had when he realized that, in addition to taking away his second daughter at the age of 4 by way of the Leukemia Angel, the Almighty had no intention of blessing him with a son to carry on the majestic Greenblatt name. Avi had had enough religious upbringing to instill in her a strong sense Jewish identity from an early age. Prior to my Angel-sister, Lila's death, my parents had kept kosher, been Sabbath-observant, and sent Avi to Orthodox Jewish day school. I guess you would have called us your all-purpose, modern Orthodox family. However, when Lila died, and my mother had her hysterectomy the following year, my parents, especially my father, fled religion with a fervor they had never displayed for its observance.

In any event, Avi was hooked. She loved the ritual, the melody, the learning, even the restrictions and rigidity. I guess Avi really and truly loved the G-d that my father had, of late, rejected (and, by doing so, had rejected Him for the rest of the family by proxy). Not Avi, though. In fact, as she got older, her adolescent rebellions tended to center around forcing religious observance or at least forcing its presence on an uninterested and somewhat hostile, militantly assimilated family (we had started calling ourselves Reformed at that point, but that simply meant non-affiliated, G-d-Rejectors).

To everyone's surprise, Avi's religious interest survived and flourished. When she was 17, having just graduated Bais Chana Girl's Academy (don't let me get started on my parents' opinion of their oldest daughter's education. Suffice it to say that my mother never attended a PTA meeting at Bais Chana), Avigail decided to spend a year studying at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, Bais Yaakov. During that year, she and I, in fact, she and everyone else in the family, had little contact, especially after her several heavy-handed attempts to "convert" us to her lifestyle. She spent her vacations traveling around Israel and had no trouble finding a variety of kindly, generous religious families to take her in for the seemingly infinite number of Jewish holidays. It was through one such adopted holiday family that Avigail met Yossi Sacher, her future husband. Theirs was a long courtship (by Orthodox standards); 6 months. Yossi, an American relative of the "holiday family" wanted to return to his hometown, Cleveland, after what had been several years' of study in Jerusalem, and so Avi packed her bags, and flew back home a week after seeing Yossi off at the El Al gate. She never did graduate from her year in seminary, but since, for all appearances to the rest of us, seminary was what Orthodox girls did when they couldn't find husbands immediately upon high school graduation, what did it matter?

Yossi's American family was very religious so it was given that his wedding would also be. Because mama had absolutely no clue what an Orthodox wedding entailed, it became immediately obvious that her role in the wedding preparations would be reduced to that of the seemingly unlimited supplier of funding. Yossi's mother, with all the subtlety of a speeding bagel truck, virtually exhaled a cloud of wedding plans, events, dinners, dignitaries, guest lists and such exotic sounding items as the 'bedekken', the 'uhfruf', the 'kaballos panim' the 'sheva brochos', the 'kesuba', the 'eydim', and the "giggle giggle giggle - 'yichud room'" (later I discovered that all the giggling referred to the fact that by Jewish tradition, the couple is expected to consummate the marriage in this room while the guests are helping themselves to canapés and Kedem Champaign next door). To be fair, Mother Sacher had already developed a full resume of wedding preparation experience, having married off six daughters thus far (with two more to follow!). She was rather generous with respect to the guest list. Out of the 250 invitees, my mother (meaning Avi) was allowed to invite 50 of our closest friends, relatives, co-workers and assorted acquaintances.

The wedding was like something out of "Fiddler on the Roof". The men and women ate separately and danced separately, even the bride and groom, which to me seemed rather hypocritical at the very least since they had presumably just finished doing a lot more than dancing in the yichud room. (Actually, Avi confided in me, all they did in that little room was stuff their own faces with canapés and Champaign, since by Jewish custom, they had fasted for the entire day up until the wedding). The Klezmer band was really quite good but, while they were capable of a very rousing rendition of "Hava Negila", try as we might my friends and I were completely unable to convince them that "How Deep Is Your Love" was the name of an appropriate wedding song, and not a teenage attempt at undermining the dignity of the wedding reception with filthy slang. By far, however, the biggest disappointment to my romantic 13 year old heart was that the bride and groom were not even allowed to kiss at the end of the ceremony. OK, forget "I take you in sickness and health to be my lawfully wedded husband," but NO "you may now KISS THE BRIDE"?!?

So, now my sister Avigail Greenblatt had become Mrs. Yossi Sacher. She began covering her beautiful long red hair with a cheap nylon wig, except on holidays when she proudly wore the 'fancy' one that was made of ˝ human hair. And, one by one, she started producing nieces and nephews for me; Chaim Mendel, Chana Bayla, Bryna Freida, Dovid Mordechai, Yisroel Sholom, Deena Gittel and little Shayna Brocha. Shayna Brocha was born 9 years after Chaim Mendel and there were no twins, I might add. Avigail did not work outside the home, a fact for which I had almost no respect at the time. A baby-making machine, who waited on her husband hand and foot and dressed herself and her family as if they were refugees from a small village in Lithuania, was more of an embarrassment than a role model. People actually thought that Chaim Mendel was a girl until his third birthday because, according to custom, religious Jewish boys do not get their first haircuts until that age. When Avi and her family would come visit, my parents and I would look for any possible excuse to avoid public appearances with them. G-d forbid my best friend Sherry or my gaggle of giggling girlfriends might see me walking around with these little boys with their beenies, strings hanging out of their shirts and sideburns down to their shoulders, and these little girls in ankle length skirts, heavy socks and long sleeves even in 90 degree weather. (It wasn't until many, many years later, that I began to I appreciate the beauty of their modesty and the outward symbols of their piety and pride in their heritage).

So, here I am, 28 years old, two kids, one on the way, married to a lapsed Irish-Catholic alcoholic, and suddenly developing an interest in my Jewish roots. One day I decided to purchase a book on Jewish tradition, and the best Jewish bookstore happened to be located in the Orthodox shul's giftshop. I went in and a very friendly women who introduced herself as Yocheved Leiberman, the Rabbi's wife, showed me around and spent far more time than necessary helping me select the book I wanted. An hour and a half later, Rebbitzen Leiberman had invited me to attend a Shabbos service that week. "There is going to be an excellent kiddush after services," she enthused, "It is sponsored by Dr. Green in honor of his grandson's bris which will take place Friday." I thanked her quickly and started to walk out, but before I could get past the mezuzah on the door post, inexplicably I started crying. Not small, pearly, attractive little tears of joy, but big giant ugly red-faced sobs, which by the time I reached my car (thank G-d) had turned into hysterical wailing. I drove home, virtually blinded by tears and immediately phoned Avi. When I described what had happened, much to my surprise, she seemed almost sanguine about my experience. "Rocheleh, honey, don't you see? You can't abandon 4000 years of heritage so easily. Your childhood memories, even your genetically transmitted memories from Mt. Sinai (OK, let's try not to forget I was a biology major here, Avi, don't get carried away) are pulling you back. You feel sorrow for what you have lost and I think we both feel sorrow for what your children never had. Go to services, try it, see what it feels like, then call me again."

By the time Saturday had rolled around, I had already decided that 1) Avi was a complete lunatic, 2) I must have been suffering from an acute case of PMS at the bookstore the other day, and 3) I'm wearing a hat to shul, like all the other women, because otherwise everyone will stare at me and think I'm some sort of interloper or spy. Unfortunately, I had no choice but to tell Jaimie what I was doing, since at that point I had no intention of bringing the kids to shul. Jaimie refused to even talk to me as I got ready to go, and left me wondering whether the baby would remain in the same poopy diaper all morning and Mellie would be searching through the trash for a crust of bread to eat by the time I returned. Oh well.

I'd like to be able to give a literary, colorful description of the services but unfortunately, all I remember were the sounds of the screaming kids, the outrageously bad-mannered behavior at the kiddush buffet (years later, I admit to myself that this is traditional behavior at all synagogue kiddushes, and never changes) and especially the kindness of the women and men who greeted me as if I were royalty that they were trying to recruit for permanent residence.

When I returned home, to my surprise, my little family was well fed and dressed and enjoying the remains of a McDonald's Happy Meal. Unfortunately, Jaimie was not nearly as happy with me as I was with him. He absolutely hated the idea that I had gone to the synagogue (you'd have thought it was a devil worshiping ceremony, only maybe that would have been better!) and we started fighting for days. However, during that same time period, several of the women that I had met at services called, some even stopped by, to ask about my family, invite us back to the shul next shabbos, invite Mellie over to play, and even bring a "welcome to our community" potato kugel! Rebbetzin Leiberman (who asked me to please call her Yocheved, Rebbetzin, which means "rabbi's wife", made her feel old) invited my family for Shabbos dinner the following week, which I happily accepted. Naturally, with my lack of foresight, I was unprepared for Jaimie's reaction to all of this, especially the dinner invitation, "You do what you want with your nutty Jewish friends, but leave me and the kids out of it." I tried to rationalize his attitude, but failed to understand why he would feel so threatened by something he had never experienced. Then I hit on it: Avigail! His only exposure to religious Jews had been Avi and her embarrassing family. The solution would be for Jaimie to come along and realize that these people were in no way as weird as Avi and Yossi. Well, I finally wore him down and he went to Shabbos dinner. And there were about 30 other people, and yes indeedy, they were EXACTLY like Avigail's family; they dressed the same, they sang the same, they ate the same, and worst of all, they endlessly discussed minutia of the Talmud, tractates in the Text of the week, stories of the rebbes from the 1100s and on and on until, at last, when it finally seemed like we could graciously take our leave, the Rabbi announced "why don't we go ahead and bentche?" Huh? Uh Oh, Grace after meals. Another 20 minutes of nearly indecipherable mumbling putured by moments of unified bursts into song and then back to the mumbling. At least I could read the Hebrew and follow, but, I told myself, poor Jaimie! And, despite my concerns over Jaimie's reactions, I found that not only did I enjoy myself, but that I truly felt, for the first time in a very ling time, that I had made a spiritual connection with my G-d, the G-d of my forefathers, and, yes, the G-d of my children.

Well, poor Jaimie made certain that night that I would never forget what he had been put through. As I held an ice pack on my black eye (poor Jaimie had had a bit too much Mogen Dovid at dinner and mistook me for a punching bag), he made it crystal clear that we would NOT be participating in any events, social or religious, with these fanatics. I was rather sad because, as I said, I had truly enjoyed it (it brought back memories) and the kids had really seemed to participate, singing along and playing games with all the others.

Over the next few months, I turned down several invitations for my family and Jaimie, but continued to attend Shabbos services, now with the children along. We very quickly became familiar with the ritual and the songs and sometimes in the car I heard the kids humming bits and pieces of the services. As time went on, I started becoming more involved in both the synagogue functions and the Jewish community overall. I forgot all about the Montessory school and enrolled Mellie in the Jewish preschool, I think at that time Jaimie was so in his cups that he didn't even notice and certainly didn't object. I started accepting invitations to peoples' houses again, and surprisingly, every so often Jaimie would join us. Interestingly, everyone seemed to like and fully accept my husband, although they were aware that he was not Jewish (mind you, they were NOT aware that he was a wife-beating alcoholic. Even Avi didn't know about the beatings; or so I thought). I began buying Jewish ritual items at the synagogue gift shop. A pair of crystal Sabbath candlesticks, a silver kiddush cup, a prayer book (siddur), a challah cover, and finally, a mezuzah for the front door. Jaimie wouldn't like it, but by that time I didn't care. He had his alcoholism, I had my Judaism, and my Judaism was beginning to feel very good. I knew that I had a long way to go if I really wanted to become a serious Jew, as I phrased it. After all, bacon was not unknown in our home and we certainly weren't Sabbath observant - I drove to shul, didn't I, and my beautiful candlesticks and challah cover sat unused on Friday nights. And most importantly, I was still unsure of the exact nature of my relationship with G-d. But, as someone once said, the longest journey begins with the first step.

When I started bringing a stronger sense of Judaism into the home was when things started to really become problematic for Jaimie and me. I koshered our kitchen and somehow managed to convince Jaimie to keep the milk and meat pans separate and not buy non-kosher meat. He grudgingly complied, although he did complain frequently. I started dressing the children and myself more modestly, I invited my new acquaintances to eat Sabbath meals with us, and I played Jewish music at home. The children and I learned to say Tehillim (Psalms) in times of great trouble or great happiness (Mellie said that it felt to her as if we were actually singing directly into G-d's ear). We began to sit down to a traditional Friday night dinner every week, complete with candles, wine and challah. Mommy lit candles, daddy said kiddush, kiddies said the blessing on the bread. Jaimie gamely went along with it, usually with a bit of an attitude, but at least he did it. I think he had started to realize that some religious training was going to be good for the kids, so why not Jewish? But, something was definitely wrong, both for me and for Jaimie. From my perspective, the more I became involved in Judaism, the more I chose to learn, the more classes I attended, Torah I studied and women's groups I participated in, the more I realized that something will always and forever be missing from my Yiddishkeit, from my sense of Judaism, and that "something" is a Jewish man. Whether that man is a doctor, a rabbi or a man like Yossi who is financially unambitious but spiritually driven, a man is as central a part to a Jewish home as is a woman. Not just any man, as unfair as it sounds, but a Jewish man, for many reasons. Judaism is structured around gender roles. Men's roles are centered on prayer and ritual while women's roles are centered more on home, children and family. While to some this may sound sexist, to others it feels natural, and in many ways represents a relief from a world that expects us to be all things to all people. A woman's pmary responsibility is to raise her children, first as good people and second as good Jews. As I learn more, I begin to realize that the two overlap more than not. And I thank G-d that this is my role, because in my family, it is left to me alone to do it. But, I am sad that I don't have a Jewish husband on the other side of the mechitza, the synagogue petition, wearing his prayer shawl and singing his love for his G-d and his people. I feel very humbled when I have to ask one of the other men; the Rabbi, my friends' husbands, sometimes a complete stranger, to allow my children to stand alongside his own children beneath his tallis for the Priestly blessing. I am sad that my children do not carry a father's Hebrew name. I am sad for the million tiny things that children are supposed to learn from their father, but can't when it comes to Judaism. And I am sad that I cannot go to mikva (ritual bath attended by married women) since by halacha, Jewish law, my marriage is not even recognized. As I grow more religious, as I become ba'al teshuva (newly observant), I realize that even our Shabbat dinners are a sham, since Jaimie is technically not empowered to say kiddush for members of his family. At times I even feel as if Jaimie and I are not really husband and wife since we are not, and can never be married under a chuppa (marriage canopy) according to the laws of Moses and Israel. I actually find myself envying Avigail her own religious Jewish wedding.

The weekend rolls around. Sunday afternoon I am reading a book by Eli Weisel on the Holocaust. I am feeling a profound sense of loss for a world that was obliterated and can never again be. With my newfound sense of comfort and faith that He is up there listening, I confide in G-d that I am feeling an even deeper sense of shame at my betrayal of my people and my heritage for what I have done by marrying out of my religion. I have seen the statistics. Something like for every Jew who intermarries, by the third generation, out of the hundreds of offspring, maybe 2 will have any Jewish identity at all. We are slowly, but inexorably finishing Hitler's work, not through violence and torture and murder, but through love. Love of the non-Jew.

Sunday evening I try to explain some of this to Jaimie. He has, of course, by this time decided that he too has found god, and his god is certainly not interested in whether he eats a pork chop or a BLT. Oh no, his god is too busy blaming the Jews for their rejection (murder?) of his one and only begotten Son, whom he loves. His god has declared a new covenant, rendering the mitzvot in the Torah obsolete, superseded by the birth, teachings, death and resurrection of this murdered son. I spend hours, weeks, months, and eventually years trying to explain to him my newfound sense of responsibility, to carry on a 4000 year old tradition with my children (and, hopefully beyond), as well as my guilt at betraying my ancestors who died sanctifying G-d's name just because they were Jews, and finally, of my obligation to help replenish the Jewish nation so that we can someday be redeemed and worthy of the coming of the Messiah. My mother reminds me time and again that I do not have to single handedly carry the responsibility of this replenishment- I now have 6 children, (I did get my twins, but WITHOUT help from the fertility doc), all being brought up with a strict Torah education. Judaism does not come cheaply, you see, and apparently, it cannot be discarded cheaply either. Needless to say, my feelings about my heritage are only mildly of interest to Jaimie, and only because of the opportunity they provide for him to preach at me New Testament gospel about the word of G-d being revealed in the flesh of Christ, thereby supposedly nullifying my millenia-long heritage.

Inevitably, I try to convince Jaimie to convert, but by this time he is so caught up in his own version of his religious rebirth that not only does a conversion seem impossible, but it's all I can do to keep our home a Jewish one. But I will, because countless millions have died because of their Jewish homes, and therefore, neither I nor my children will willingly or unwillingly give up ours. I wish I had a husband to share in this with me, no Jewish home is complete without one. Why, you may wonder, don't I just leave Jaimie, as the Rabbi says I should. Why don't I get a divorce, look for a Jewish husband, one who wont hit me? Because I am too weak, and because my children need a father, and because I still harbor a dim hope that, although highly unlikely, Jaimie will someday convert. Avigail tells me that my guilt and sadness is the punishment that G-d has destined for me, and it is a fair and just punishment because I have brought it on myself. My job, she says, is to continue to fight to raise my children as observant Jews, and to pray that someday my husband will see a different truth and beauty than the one he is blinded by now. Where there is life, there is hope, she says, some day yet I may see my husband under a tallis on the other side of the mechitza in shul. But, this is the risk of marrying a goy: It all seems so romantic, you're in love, you think religion is silly anyway, you cant wait to get in each others' pants, but then come the kids, and what religion are they, anyhow, and, little sister, worst of all, sooner or later when you argue and push comes to shove, you will hear the words that we have heard from those that have hated us for millennia ,"you dirty Jew" and you will hear those words from the mouth of your beloved. And then she surprised me. Her last words before she hung up were, "And Rochele, I know, push has come to shove, and to slap, and to punch…"

1999

Well, I'm happy to say that, as time has passed, Jaimie no longer drinks or physically assaults me. But in a way, the lack of pain and beatings from the outside has forced me to focus more directly on the pain I generate for myself on the inside. The pain of the guilt I bear for doing the very worst thing a Jew can do in the post-Hitler world; marrying a non-Jew. The pain of having turned away for so long from my G-d who would have helped me make better choices. And I cannot escape this pain, because, you see, every night when I go to sleep, I close my eyes and I see 6 million faces, faces of my great aunt Chana Miriam who died next to Anne Frank, reaching out to me. Reaching, yet pushing me away as if to plead, "Do not join us, do not condemn your unborn great-grandchildren to this oblivion. Do not finish Hitler's work for him. You are a Jewish woman, you are more powerful, yes, but even more dangerous than ten thousand Hitlers could ever be, because you truly hold the future of the Jewish nation in your hands. You, Rochel Leah, you and your sisters will be held accountable for keeping our heritage alive for what is left of our people, or, G-d forbid, for letting it die. This is your heavy burden, made even heavier by your choice to marry outside of your faith. This is your responsibility and this is what you must never, ever forget." Tante Miriam, I never will.

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In Loving Memory Of Our Father, Mr. Joseph Black (Yosef Ben Zelig) O"H
In Loving Memory Of Our Mother, Mrs. Norma Black (Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh) O"H
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© 1996- by Harlan Black, JewishAmerica. All rights reserved.

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