A Place Where You Belong
With our focus on Chanukah and interfaith celebrations this year, we wanted to chat with our 2019 MazelTogether Fellow Rachel Weinstock who shared her experiences with us. Follow her personal adventures at her blog Tired As A Mother.
Being raised in a Christian home, we celebrated Christmas and Easter, attended church, Sunday school and youth group and prayed before each meal. From a young age, I remember how these times brought my family together. This sense of belonging would be a theme that wove itself throughout my life and spiritual journey, and ultimately a huge reason I fell in love with my husband and his Jewish family.
Several years ago I started dating my now husband; a Jewish man I’d met at work. I don’t recall learning much about Judaism growing up, nor did I have friends whom were Jewish so it was all new to me. As ignorant as it sounds, Judaism was as foreign to me as a language I didn’t understand. My first real exposure to Judaism was Yom Kippur.
My then boyfriend and co-worker had taken the day off work to go for a drive in the mountains to think as a part of Yom Kippur. I’d thought nothing of this until I received a text from him later that evening. You see, we’d been dating only a short amount of time, and I was actively seeking new employment on the East Coast. In this text he told me how he wanted to be with me where ever that meant we lived. It was sweet and a big step in any relationship. “What was this holiday that made him turn into such a romantic?” I thought to myself. After some discussion, I understood that Yom Kippur was a time to reflect and his reflection had made him think of his future with me. I stopped looking for a job out of the state after this day.
Not too long after this, the holiday season was in full swing with Christmas and Hanukkah quickly approaching. Being serious with a Jewish man made me nervous that I wouldn’t get the joy of celebrating Christmas as his family celebrated only Hanukkah. Christmas was a time my family would drive from near and far to be together. We had a Thanksgiving-like feast where my Granddad would always sneak me pieces of turkey before it was served. My aunts would bring baked goodies I’d wait all year to eat and my dad would drive us around to look at the Christmas lights right after Christmas Eve service. I had sung in Christmas Choir and loved the candle light service where we sang Christmas carols and stood side-by-side each holding a candle. Christmas was a time when no matter who you were, you were welcomed and I loved that.
That first year of our relationship, his family had invited me to come stay with them in California over the holidays. I’d agreed to go, but wanted to fly home on Christmas Eve. Although I wouldn’t be flying home to my parents as they’d divorced and Christmas had changed from when I was a kid, I still wanted to be in my own little apartment for Christmas. Certain I’d be able to fly home early enough to run to the store to get the necessary ingredients for cinnamon pull aparts—my family’s Christmas morning breakfast—I flew home for Christmas, away from my boyfriend and his family. To my dismay, the store was closed by the time I got there and I sobbingly left a text with my boyfriend that I wish I’d stayed in California.
My phone rang as I walked into my empty apartment, it was my boyfriend likely calling to give me a hard time for not staying longer. But, it was my boyfriend and his entire immediate family: sister, brother-in-law, four and a half year old nephew, two and a half year old niece, mom and dad. After I said “hello” they broke out singing, his niece loudest, to the song Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Here I was running home to be alone on a holiday I wanted to celebrate so badly when I should’ve been where I belonged; with my boyfriend and his family who loved me for exactly who I was.
From then on, I knew holidays would be a bit different with my new Jewish family, but a place where I’d belong. That year, I bought my first menorah and a bundle of ornaments in the shape of the Star of David to place on my Christmas tree. Now, we have a Hanukkah and Christmas tree in our home and we celebrate holidays interweaving both my husband and my upbringing. Our home is a place where all belong and we love to celebrate.
My religious journey has changed over the years, and I’m proud to say it is now with a wider view of others’ spirituality. My husband’s family has been the most welcoming example I’ve experienced from a religious point-of-view, always happy to answer my questions, accept me as I am and continually making me feel included.