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Let There Be Hanukkah

Posted by Jen on December 10, 2008 at 7:00 AM in HolidaysJenRaising Girls
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It goes like this.

Leah calls Madeleine to see if she'd like to come to some kind of activity or service with her at her synagogue. Madeleine is just about to give an enthusiastic yes when Leah insists her father or her mother need to talk to me on the phone. One or the other or sometimes both parents assure me no one is trying to convert Madeleine, that they are hardly Jewish themselves, that they're atheists really.

I tell them I'm not worried at all, and I'm not. In this family? If anyone at all decided they wanted to be religious, I'd be pleased as punch. All my efforts at spiritual formation have fallen flat from the very beginning.

Then Madeleine gets back on the phone, decides she wants to go anyway and has a wonderful time. That week, this week, and the next week. In no time, despite the endless disclaimers of Leah's incredibly nice, liberal and not very Jewish parents, Madeleine thinks conversion is the best idea since saving all her money with Carter to buy the Wii.

Mom, seriously, seriously. Can I convert to Judaism?
Me: Hmmm....Let me think about that. What's making you think you might like to?
Madeleine: Well, Jews have the best holidays and I love the singing and the dancing and the having a prayer to say for everything--did you know there's a prayer you can say for going to the bathroom?--that, and oh, I love Friday night dinners.
Me: Me, too. Okay, well, we should probably wait to talk to Dad and see what he says. There's no rush, right? I mean they probably aren't going to let you convert over night. I imagine it will take some time. There's probably some kind of big involved process, don't you think?
Madeleine: Oh, no, mom. Some guys--what do they call them?
Me: Rabbis?
Madeleine: Yeah, rabbis. Some rabbis make you wait forever, but there's one way you can do it that's really fast.
Me: Like a fast track to becoming a Jew?
Madeleine: Exactly.

If only the rabbis could hear us now.

The next conversation is on the phone again and it sounds like this:

Madeleine: Dad, dad, dad! Can I become a Jew?
Dave (after he makes her slow down and explain what she's talking about): I think that would be great. But don't you think that's the kind of decision you probably need to make when you're a grownup?

Madeleine, of course, is devastated, and feeling slightly persecuted.
She flails herself on the couch, despondent, while Carter and I watch her like television, wondering what we should do.

"Carter," she asks, opening her eyes for a moment. "Do you support me becoming a Jew?"

"I don't know what support is," he answers honestly. "I don't know how to help anyone."

Madeleine sighs, but she's not angry. "Mom," she says, turning to me with all the sobriety of an old soul. "Will you support me?"

"Yes," I tell her. "And I think Dad will, too."

This eases the pain for awhile and we turn our minds to other things like when we'll get a Christmas tree and if you can celebrate Christmas if you're Jewish and how problematic she thinks it might be if she becomes a Jew and then marries a Jewish boy and then loses her ties to the other religions completely and how nice it would be to be able to celebrate all the religions all at once instead of having to pick just one.

"I'm just that kind of person," she tells me. "I can't help it. I can't wait until Chinese New year and I just have to have a Christmas tree. Do you think we can get a Menorah?"

And I smile and nod and send her and her little heart, so full of wanting to belong and wanting to honor the sacred in each and every form, right upstairs where she'll sleep on all this and then some in her cozy pink bed. No matter what happens, I hope when she wakes she'll still be searching, still be hoping, still be counting on finding her place in a much bigger "we," in a space where her heart tells her there is always, always more.


Liz K writes...

Tell Madeleine that I actually married a Jewish guy (I was raised Catholic) and we have an "embrace it all" approach. But sometimes I really want to convert too. So I guess you can tell her that at almost-40, I'm still just trying to figure it out.

Kohn writes...

Hanukkah, from the Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration", marks the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV and commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil."According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.

An Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock, has stood on the site of the Temple since the late 7th Century AD, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, from roughly the same period, also stands on the Temple courtyard.

Maccabees had the the reason to celebrate Hannukka but how do the present day Jews celebrate Hannukka when the same temple is controlled by a Waqf (an Islamic trust).
Is not their job to sanctify the temple like Maccabees did and then celebrate Hannukka instead of competing with christians and christmas.

Leah writes...

I have many friends that knew they would convert from a very young age and eventually did. One of the things I love about my rabbi, the one who supervised my conversion, is that he said "It will take at least a year, but it might take 25. You'll know when your ready, in the meantime try it on."

So... I studied and converted after one year, another friend after 8 years, yet another after 20 years.

And if you watch Conan on Friday night this week, you'll see a rapper that knew when he was Madeleine's age - but was 18 when he converted.

nancy writes...

I'm 43 and I'm still trying to figure it all out.

My nephew converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism when he was either in Jr. High or early High School. Surprisingly, he didn't like the Catholic church's treatment of women! Odd for a young boy, but showed his kind heart. (He's a young man now, but the kind heart has not changed.)

There were many, many, MANY meetings with the priest, pastor and parents before the deal was done, but he made up his mind and never looked back.

Personally, I think all paths lead to the same destination. Jewish, Christian, Muslim - whatever. We are all just trying to find our way to a kinder, better world.

Jennifer writes...

She's such a dear soul. She might like to read a short article I wrote for an interfaith family website, it was just put online this week.
I think there's lots of ways to share traditions, and I know that Madeleine, especially with you guys in her corner, will find her way.

Cynthia Samuels writes...

Well I started to rhapsodize about "what a remarkable child" but then I realized who her mother is so what else could she be? In her home, she's allowed to become the best Madeleine she can be - supported as she seeks that path. And I'm sure she'll find it. I can't imagine that a Rabbi of any consequence would conduct a full conversion on someone barely in double digits - I hope there are intermediate steps that allow her to become familiar with the lifestyle without making a commitment that would be painful to undo. A kind of test drive.

In our synagogue when adults want to convert they come to many classes and all services and meet with the Rabbi and learn the ropes. The rabbi decides when they are "cooked" and they convert. If I were talking to Ms. Madeleine I would tell her that if you take promises seriously, (and I'm sure she does), you respect the way Jewish conversion is designed because the whole purpose is to prepare you to choose to make a promise; to be prepared for it, and prepared to keep it, so they don't suffer as they might if they found they needed to undo it later; better she should take her time and be sure.

I need to meet this child. She sounds as amazing as her mother.

phyllis writes...

May she always continue to find love and peace within all religious traditions and may she be blessed to find her own path to the Divine throughout her life. What a beautiful story...

John Donaldson writes...

Hello there…

I didn’t notice the link to this site when I commented on Dave’s facebook status comment. I did not hear back from him but both of the two questions I asked (and one or two that I didn’t ask) him are partially answered here.

Kelly writes...

Thank you for sharing your daughter's spiritual journey. Your perspective of her in your post is so touching. I pray I can see my children in that way.

Aliza Hausman writes...

What a great story. I am a convert myself and it was extremely funny to read. I knew I wanted to be Jewish before I knew what Judaism was. I decided at 13 to be Jewish and then at 14. But I didn't pick it back up again until 25 when I finally converted. So, yes, some of us know really young that we want to go ahead and make the leap and give up Chinese New Year and Christmas for all those great Jewish holidays. I've written some articles for and on my blog, about conversion. I'm still smiling from this piece!

rachael writes...

Jen! I LOVE this post! It's incredible!

My dad was raised Christian, and my mom Jewish... and I was technically brought up Jewish (Hebrew School, Bat Mitzvah and the whole kabang!--just wait until Madeleine starts getting invited to those babies... then she'll Really want to convert). For the record, I like to think of myself as a humanistic JewBoo (Jewish Buddhist ;)

But I was most definitely raised in an "embrace it all" setting. No Christmas Tree or lights on our own house, which I always longed for... but every year I went with my grandma to pick out her tree and decorate her house. It was such a deeply beautiful experience being exposed to multiple customs and traditions--appreciating heritage from multiple angles.

I remember one Christmas my entire family went to this HUGE Christmas show in PG county with real animals walking across the stage and Jesus flying to the sky during his resurrection. I was dumbfounded and amazed. I also remember the first time I went to the Holocaust Museum in DC when I was 12 and sobbed for an entire 24 hours afterward. It's a true gift to feel connected to the hertiage and history of multiple peoples.

Madeleine is a lucky girl to have a mom who said "yes" to her soul's desire to embrace connection and unity. I'd be happy to invite you both over to my house for Hannukah one night--we have crazy, big, Jewish feasts and children running wild. Or I can bring over a travelling Menorah--we have many :)

Parentopia Devra writes...

I'm a Jew, married to a Not. He's "not Jewish, but not anything else either." He always jokes with me about how Judaism seems like a gang, that you have to be Jumped In; you can't just show up and ask to be one of The Tribe, ya gotta prove you know what you want and why.

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