For my children

During the High Holy Days I think about what a magnificent time it is to be a young immigrant living in Jerusalem.

By EMILY BERNSTEIN
October 12, 2011 16:20
4 minute read.
‘THE TRUE mission of the Sanctuary – or succa – is

Succa Building 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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During the High Holy Days I think about what a magnificent time it is to be a young immigrant living in Jerusalem. Yet, the reasons for my connection to the High Holy Days in Israel may be a bit surprising.

I come from an interfaith family. I identify myself as Jewish, but my mother never converted.

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In our household, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were observed as a family, a fact that as a child I never thought much about. I cannot remember one holiday where my mother did not come to services with us, always remarking on the themes and motifs in prayers that she connected to or found inspiring. These connections, I now realize, were her way of being part of an interfaith family.

As a child I did not comprehend that differences between our two faiths existed. It was only once I took on the practice of fasting on Yom Kippur – a ritual that my mother does not observe – that I began to understand my mother’s efforts to bridge societal and religious gaps. She always tried to minimize the differences that being Jewish in America further magnifies. It was my mother who was always sitting by my side throughout High Holy Day services as my father, who had gone to an early morning service, worked at the synagogue. She always sat there, from beginning to end, praying and supporting.

Raising an interfaith family as Jewish is a challenge. Putting your religion to the side for the sake of your children having a religious identity is a great gift that should not go unappreciated. My mother goes through the motions of the holidays out of love for her family, because in America, a multicultural society, the little differences can feel large. Ironically, the differences, the very ones that she tries to bridge, are not as prominent in Israel.

I have an inkling that here in the State of Israel the holiday spirit would befit my family more than it does in America. The beauty of walking through Jerusalem on Yom Kippur – seeing children riding their bikes down normally traffic-jammed roads, men and women clad in white, and families strolling in the middle of the street – is an experience unique to Israel.

In Israel, the holidays are not just about fasting or religious motions. Rather, the spirit of Israel, of a community connecting to its past, comes alive. Secular, religious or somewhere in between, no matter how one observes the holidays, families come together.



People spend quality time with one another. Israel, as a country, takes a step back, breathes and prepares for the next year. People here all have their own way of observing the holidays and connecting to their Jewish roots, even if it’s simply through rest, time with family or personal reflection. The High Holy Days in Israel emanate a spiritual atmosphere and amplify the importance of loved ones; these are the qualities that, in my family, trump any difference.

It is also during these same times that I am led to reflect on my everyday place in Israel as a Jew. I chose to live in a country where even when I marry a Jewish man, I cannot have an official wedding and my children will not be recognized as Jewish for many governmental purposes. Challenges, that no matter how deeply I identify as Jewish, the current Israeli conversion process will complicate.

Confident in my Judaism and my beliefs, I am willing to go through the motions of a state-sponsored conversion process. However, I simply cannot guarantee that after completing the conversion process I will maintain a religiously observant lifestyle – a factor that can retroactively void both my Jewish status and that of my future children.

This game of recognition is not fair. Not just because my Jewish status can be taken away from me after I convert, but because different people are subject to different state-sponsored conversion programs, regardless of their Jewish background. The expedited army conversion process, for example, takes approximately half the time than that of a civilian. At the very least, let us all convert with a process that has a standard application (with caveats for one’s Jewish upbringing).

As I go through the motions of the holidays, I ask myself: Why in a country where I have joyfully chosen to live, where my family’s Judaism would thrive, am I being pushed back to America – a country where it is easier for interfaith families to have no religion at all than it is for them to be Jewish?

This season I am praying for a way to fit into the conversion process, to find a way to be recognized, if not for me – then for my children.

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