Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Parents Have No Idea What I've Gotten Them Into by Converting to Orthodox Judaism

My parents have no idea what I've gotten them into.

My dad reads this blog, so he knows that I've told him this phrase so many times over the last few years. They just have no idea. But to their credit, they're willing to go with the flow and deal with the problems when they cross that bridge. All while being respectful and cheerful. I'm certainly luckier than most!

Thankfully(?), most of the "big" problems don't reach critical mass until there are kids in the picture. I just finished reading a book precisely about these kinds of problems: What Do You Mean, You Can't Eat in My Home?: A Guide to How Newly Observant Jews and Their Less Observant Relatives Can Still Get Along. This book is written for BTs, but is perfectly applicable to any convert. Having tried eating kosher in my parents' home when I had only been kosher for 2 months, I wish I had read this book first!

Jaffe identified the following areas of contention within families with varying levels of observance:
Shabbat and Holidays
Laws of Tznius
Orthodox Dating Practices
Gender Roles

I've touched all of these issues, at least superficially, with my family, but I'm going to focus on Shabbat and kashrut for this post.

My family is learning about Shabbat and holiday observance, but there's a lot more information to digest. Also, when celebrating Shabbat in my parents' house, it's mostly self-contained. I don't ask that my family change their routines, but I control my own actions. Their way of coping appears to be avoiding asking me to do anything on Shabbat and just let me do what I'm going to do. I also volunteer for activities I know I can do. I certainly have no plans to EVER spend Pesach at their home. Heck, I'm not even spending it in my own home this year!

Over time, they'll get a better feel for Shabbat. But what about when kids are in the picture? The book had the ever-present example of cousins trying to play together on Shabbat, but the non-observant (or non-Jewish, in some of our cases) children want to play video games or color. I wasn't as satisfied with Jaffe's answer because it basically came down to, "Eventually your family will realize what is and isn't allowed, and maybe they'll even start putting away the muktzeh before you arrive!" (That is a paraphrase from memory.)

Kashrut is even more difficult because it's every day! By myself, it's easy for me to take care of my own meals at my parents' house. It's actually much easier than I expected, even though I was still a kashrut idiot when I last visited. But kashrut is somewhat unfortunate since my dad is an excellent cook, and being a good Southern parent, food is a key way of sharing your love with your family (a very Jewish idea too!). I know it bothers him to not be able to cook for me, and quite frankly, I miss the amazing food! But, being luckier than average, my dad listened to my never-ending, poorly-explained halacha explanations, and he discovered a way to cook me a meal when I last visited! However, while kashrut can be easy in a non-kosher kitchen, it'll be a lot harder when there are more mouths to feed, meaning bigger quantities of food to prepare and keep separate.

Personally, I'm uncomfortable asking my family to accommodate me. Sure, they may eventually do these things on their own as a kindness, but there's a very fine line between doing it out of love and feeling like a bad person for not doing it (especially if they still think you think G-d will smite you for not following the rules!). I think both emotions will inevitably be present in any loving family, and that makes ME feel like a bad person for inconveniencing my family and giving them little to no choice in the matter. I have to follow the rules, and if I'm going to visit them, I have to be able to follow the rules in their house. No exception.

Jaffe emphasizes trying to host as many family events as possible within the home of the more observant person. Coming from a non-Jewish family, I know my family will complicate things for my children (though less than having a non-observant family, in my opinion), but I also think it is important for my children to see where I come from and experience Southern culture firsthand. There is something different about transplanting my family into my Jewish neighborhood. Being a frequent victim of stereotypes, Southern culture is not known for looking good out of context. It's also artificial.

I hope all these issues don't affect my ability to visit my family in the future. At least I have plenty of time before children are in the picture, so maybe we'll settle into a comfortable pattern before then. But it's certainly a worry.

1 comment:

  1. I'm also going through an Orthodox conversion and just had a conversation about this very same thing! I wish you the best, your blog is wonderful (I just found it so I'm reading through every entry haha).