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This is the last post on this site. After much thought, I’ve decided to integrate all of my blogging into one site, which you can find at http://honeyandollie.com

there is something to be said for living a fully integrated, Jewish life!

The answer to one of my questions, from Jewish Treats:

The ha’mo’tzee blessing is recited before one eats bread. Since bread is considered the staple of the meal, no other blessings need be recited since the ha’mo’tzee blessing covers all the other foods that are eaten at that meal.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam ha’mo’tzee lechem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Awesome.

Also learned a song for Modah Ani, and got the basic order of shabbos down, during my Partners in Torah study session today.

It didn’t work out to invite the family for Chanukkah this year, due to a schedule conflict, but in keeping with my resolution to make the holidays amazing, we are having a bunch of friends over for an early holiday meal, latkes and other goodies, and having a Jewish film fest that first afternoon. It should be a lot of fun, I’m really excited.

Are you kidding me??

My house was burgled last night, while we were totally home. Thief came in the back door and stole a laptop out of one of my children’s rooms, while we were making dinner in the front.

I am torn between all manner of emotions. Anger – I’m f*cking furious that someone would enter my home and steal from us. This person went into my child’s bedroom that she had just exited not ten minutes previously. Fear – what if they come back? Relief – at least my child was not in the room. At least they didn’t steal anything else. At least the cats did not get out through the door that was left open. Anger again – if I’ve said it to the kids once, I’ve said it a thousand times, lock the back door!!!

My daughter is now dealing with the loss of her entire culinary school portfolio, all her music, all her pictures, everything. She no longer has a computer for school, and is starting a block of academics that require writing every night and logging in to do assignments on the school website. We can’t afford to buy her a new one and we don’t have renter’s insurance. To make matters worse? The kids went in and out that door a few times after the burglary before I realized it and told them NOT to touch anything, so the crime scene person could not get any prints this morning. There went our hope of catching the thief/retrieving the laptop.

This is one of those, “we were lucky, it could have been so much worse.” issues and I’m well aware of it. So much so that I feel a little guilty for feeling so angry. But, I’m still really mad!

peace restored.

I had a great talk with my Partners in Torah mentor about the upcoming holidays and my dilemma. She was so helpful and compassionate. She reminded me that if I go all or nothing, it will be hell and I’ll probably abandon ship and hate everything about observant Judaism down the line. That slowly but surely is the only way to go, and that I have very real emotional connections to all these traditions so tossing them away willy nilly is NOT a good or healthy thing to do. She recommended that next year, to prepare for EDDLM, I spend some time really educating myself about Jewish customs and beliefs around death. Put an egg on the ofrenda (Jewish symbol of rebirth) and maybe omit the overtly religious imagery like the Virgin and saints.

She said, “Have Christmas this year, like you always do, but focus more on making Hanukkah amazing.” So that’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to do our big family festive meal for Hanukkah with traditional Jewish foods, light menorahs, do gifts each night, all of it. Invite the inlaws. Friends. And we’ll do Christmas like always, keep it low key and relaxed with special foods we like but that aren’t a lot of work. Instead of having the family celebration here, we’ll go to the inlaws for their big meal and celebration, etc. I really LOVE that idea.

Instead of Greek Easter, we’ll do a thing for Purim and have lamb and Greek food then. And so it goes.

Find ways to incorporate the trappings of the old holidays into the Jewish holidays. She said it may take several years but I’ll find a level that I’m very happy with and at some points along the way it will likely be that I no longer need to observe certain holidays because other Jewish holidays have become equally special.

I can totally live with that. I’m so glad there’s a voice of sanity and reason in this journey!

I feel bad though. I was telling her that we don’t particularly do anything Halloween like, besides handing out candy to children in the neighborhood. And then I was going through some pictures? And I realized… oh dear. I totally lied.

Ollie's Halloween Costume

For some members of the household, Halloween is obviously still a big deal.

My friend, Aliza Hausman who writes Memoirs of a Jewminicana, sent me the link to this article yesterday, thinking I might find something thought provoking and comforting therein. She was right, I sure did.

This quote in particular really helped me: “No one can ever take your mitzvah away from you. Don’t get me wrong, we should all strive to do as many mitzvahs as possible, but just because you are not yet at the point where you eat kosher food every day doesn’t take away from your mitzvah of lighting candles on Shabbat.”

sooo…. no. It helps to know that even if I am not yet at the point where I can give up certain things, the things I have taken on still matter. We will hang our Christmas stockings this year, just as we observed El Dia De Los Muertos this weekend (sans saints and Virgin). It won’t take away from the other mitzvahs that I am doing and can do with a full heart. It doesn’t lessen my modest skirts, my covered hair, my giving up pork and shellfish. Those things are still good.

After a few truly sleepless nights, I realize that I need to step back and let things level out a little. This all is not meant to spin me up into a bad mental space of self recrimination and guilt and I’m going to attempt to not torture myself any more over the subject of the upcoming holidays. Going to attempt not to overthink everything so much. Well… maybe a little torture? I still want to make Thanksgiving totally kosher. Which means the Cool Whip dilemma still looms on my horizon.

And on the subject of cultural appropriation? I said this last night in an email conversation to a friend, and it struck me as something I wanted to put on the blog.

“I am not used to thinking of any holiday as “religious” really. In my upbringing they were ALL about the food and the presents. No G-d needed. Now I am realizing on a deeper level, for the first time, that holiday means HOLY DAY and they can’t all be mine. Crossing the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation is… tricky. If something is around you all the time, you love it and begin to think of it as yours, or that you are a part of it, when you really aren’t. And when you’re a mongrel like me, it’s even harder, because you don’t think of yourself as anything or you think of yourself as many things, so what is one more you picked up on the way?”

I have picked up a lot of things along my way. It’s been a long way, moving in and out of a lot of places, influenced by a lot of people and cultures. 40 years. It’s okay to take my time about deciding what is really mine and what I want to appreciate from a distance.

I am in the middle of this domino effect of how I am reinterpreting the calendar of my year.

The holiday season is killing me. I mean, it is a horrible conflict in my heart. I am learning about Avodah Zarah . It seems to be so much LESS about a previous comment that was left, re: submission to G-d’s will (which I think is a really Christian concept, actually, I don’t think of Jewish people as being “submissive” to G-d for some reason, I think of them arguing with G-d and asking “Why?” and struggling every step of the way) and more about avoiding assimilation (because we were dispersed against our wills and are all just hanging in there making time till next year in Jerusalem… emphatically not assimiliating thank you.) In reading the commentary, I can see it, the reasoning makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t know if I can commit to it yet, but the arguments are compelling.

And?

Our traditions, our family traditions, they mean something very important to us. To me. I’ve talked about this before on the blog, of course, and about my decision not to give them up yet, but that doesn’t mean I’m entirely 100% comfortable with the idea of not giving them up. I have not achieved balance.

So. El Dia De Los Muertos. Let’s talk about the Day of the Dead. Based on the Catholic All Saint’s and All Soul’s days, a celebration that is totally ubiquitious around my community this time of year. Obviously not a Jewish holy day. I lived in a primarily Oaxacan neighborhood for over a decade so it’s not like you could miss it. Our favorite bakery is the best place in LA for pan de muertos and sugar skulls. At some point in my previously secular life, the day spoke to me and filled a vacuum where there had previously been no meaningful ritual to deal with life’s final transition. I’ve celebrated EDDLM for years, and as more of my loved ones die each year, it becomes more and more important to me. Cultural appropriation? I honestly don’t know. There are cultural aspects that went into its evolution that I cannot understand, not being part of the culture it came from (one of these disconnects became quite clear to me tonight, actually) but I still respect it.

I have a weird idea of culture, because I have straddled multiple cultures my entire life. The culture of my apostate-Orthodox Jewish grandmother who wept when I lit candles and pinned all of her Jewish hopes on me; who gave me my menorah and taught me my prayers, yet served ham for Chanukah and decorated a Christmas tree with enthusiasm. The uptight Edwardian Brit culture of my dad’s family. My dad, that funny guy of British and Scots descent who plays the bagpipes, descended from that MacBeth, a guy who wears a kilt with flair – and who adopted a strange culture, learned Hebrew and took Judaism for his own so he could raise me in a somewhat Jewish home after my wandering mother left us for… travel, excitement, boyfriends, the life of a beach bum on Corfu. There’s the culture of my adopted Greek grandparents whose holy days and Greek traditions were a huge part of my young life. That wonderful family adopted my wayward mother in her wanderings and by extension, me. All these people and cultures are a part of me and I stand in the middle, not quite belonging fully to any of them. It is sort of the quintessential American experience, I think. In light of all that, no, adopting a holiday beloved by my neighbors and friends doesn’t feel like appropriation or assimilation. It feels like being a part of the community.

I live in a melting pot called Los Angeles, you can’t live here for 15 years and NOT assimilate, experience other foods, traditions, cultural influences. Maybe you can if you live in Pico-Robertson and send your kids to Jewish day school? But that’s not been my experience of living in this city as a secular Jew for 15 years. Maybe that’s it right there, the assimilation thing and why people worry about it. I think maybe I’ve hit on something important that I’m not ready to dissect yet, so we’ll table that point for now.

The point is, for years now, we have observed EDDLM on the day after Halloween and it has been a very special time for our family. Has always been, thoughout the years of my children’s growing up. We don’t pray any specific Christian prayers, we don’t honor any gods, we just have warm memories of our loved ones and sometimes talk to them and tell their stories and take a moment out of our busy lives to acknowledge that they lived. That they are not forgotten. The Jewish equivalent – Yizkor? Yizkor is confusing. It is more time standing up in shul, not understanding what people are saying, feeling disconnected and alone. I want it to touch my soul and give me that connection to those who have gone before. It just doesn’t. Maybe it won’t always be like that but for now, it is less about comfort and more about confusion.

This year, the EDDLM stuff went up, as it always has. Well… not entirely, this year I gave away the saints candles, saints being pretty obviously Christian symbology, ditto the Virgin candle. Everything else went up though. All the pictures, all the skellies, all the flowers.

By the way? Jewish people have some weird ideas about death that I don’t get. I don’t have a kneejerk reaction to death imagery as innately bad or polluted or scary. An old school Goth, I like skellies. Ditto an affection for stompy boots with striped knee highs. It’s all one big happy package, like clove scented smoke, an unnatural love of Tim Burton movies, a deep affection for the Cure…

So was it idolatry if there were no idols and nothing was being worshipped?

Of course, as I write this, I’m looking in my dining room and there’s a whomping huge tin Sacred Heart with a Virgin of Guadalupe in the middle hanging on the dining room door. It occurs to me, sinking feeling going on (not unlike when I virtuously ate a meat lunch last week, thought to myself ‘I have to wait six hours for dinner since we are having cheese tortellini’ and then proceeded to eat a bowl of chocolate pudding twenty minutes later because it didn’t occur to me that pudding is made with milk and therefore… dairy… oh bugger… not again…) that… uh… dude, that’s totally a Christian symbol. Like, I’ve always looked at it and thought, “Mexican folk art I purchased from a street vendor in Baja, which makes me remember that fun vacation we took in 97.” but it’s Mexican folk art with heavy Catholic meaning from a Catholic society which is why it is used in folk art (because the symbology is meaningful, not unlike our hamsa or chai) which…. yeah. Wow. Ok, penny dropping. Which is the big revelation and disconnect I mentioned above. You can’t understand something like that fully if you aren’t from that culture. You can respect the culture that it came from, but you’ll miss something important and unwittingly break the cardinal rule (which is “Don’t be a dumbass.”)

Y’all, I can give up the Sacred Heart Virgin of Guadalupe. But I am totally not giving up my skelly dog, or my dead tango dancers, or the bride and groom skellies I got to represent my grandparents (married 65 years, bless them) or my sugar skulls. They’re put back up in the dining room in their customary year-round places. I plan to table the EDDLM portion of the Wheel O Happy Holiday Fun Times and Confusion (Now With Fretting About Possible Cultural Appropriation) for another year. Obviously, Greek Easter is probably right out. Another holiday, gutted.

My point is? NOTHING IS SIMPLE ANYMORE. Everything comes with a struggle, with questions, and nothing is what it was a turn of the wheel ago. Not complaining. But I do have a headache.

Next up? Thanksgiving. Where I struggle with the fact that turkey is fleishig, pareve mashed potatoes are unacceptable to my family (there may be a full scale rebellion if I try to make them without butter) plus I must embrace the idea of pumpkin pie with Cool Whip.

As sure as G-d made little green apples, Cool Whip is SO NOT ON .

random things I wonder….

Do you have to say the hamotzi every time you eat bread or just when you bless challah on shabbos? And if you’re eating a sandwich, do you have to say a separate blessing for every component plus the bread? What if you’re having pancakes? French toast made with bread? What about if you order dinner and there are rolls? Do you bless the rolls, the chicken, the vegetables? Or do you just say one blanket prayer?

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