5 Things I Learned the First Time I Wore a Sari. Or, Bring Aspirin to an Indian Wedding.

This East Coast woman has been living in California the last almost-month, predominately in Irvine, with stints to LA, Hemet, Huntington Beach, and Newport Beach. What I did not expect was to experience complete and utter culture shock in my mother’s own home state. So what I plan to do in this post is to give all of you attending an Indian wedding for the first time some tips for getting through the multitude of events you are about to experience.

My current S.O. is Indian, and as part of this trip, I attended the wedding of the fantastic N. & N. (names redacted to protect the spiderphobic subjects of this post). I’ve been to all sorts of weddings, and for crying out loud, I study and teach both religions (Jainism/Islam) covered by this wedding. I’ve heard stories of other weddings and seen my fair share of Bollywood movies. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for these series of days.

Yes, days. We actually missed one of the first events, being held on a Wednesday, or otherwise, it would have been a Wednesday thru Saturday celebration. Traditional American weddings: take notes.

I won’t bore y’all with the details of every single ceremony (by my count, we attended at least 6 separate things spread out from Orange County to the LAX Hilton), but I thought I would share some things I’ve learned about myself and my new partner’s traditions while attending the various portions of this wedding week.

(Thanks to N&N if they’re reading this for inviting me to be a part of their special week. But seriously, y’all, stop getting married. What are you up to, 15 separate sets of vows?)

5 Things I Learned the First Time I Wore a Sari. Or, Bring Aspirin to an Indian Wedding.
1) Let’s start with “bring aspirin.” Unless you’re a dancer used to dancing barefoot, parts of your body you didn’t even know could hurt will hurt for 2-3 days afterward. And yes, part of this may be a “Holly needs to be in better shape” issue, but part of it definitely was a lack of arch support. And with regards to arch support, in the immortal words of Danny Glover’s Murtaugh, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

2) Aunties are your friend. No seriously, collect them like Pokémon or POGs. Aunties will help you redo your sari when the pleats get screwed up (they will), will reattach your bindi, and will explain to you what the hell is going on with all the ceremonies you’ve never seen before (assuming you’re white or non-Indian like me). They are basically G-d’s gift to first-time wedding-goers. Ask questions. Many people from the community my own age didn’t even know what was going on (Indian traditions are so varied, after all), so chances are you’re not the only one with questions.

3) Prepare to be emotionally and physically wiped. Seriously. You’re going to be active for 15 hours a day. And most of what you experience is going to be brand new and wonderful, from the music, to the food, to the conversations. There will be so much sensory input your brain is honestly just going to get tired. And after your third night of only 5 hours of sleep, you’re going to get cranky. Plan ahead, stay hydrated, and remember, you will have fond memories of your experience (G-d willing) after you get some much-needed sleep. (And you will need sleep. Prepare to take an entire day off after the last event).

4. Don’t be surprised when you start picking up on Hindi/Indian vernacular words in future conversations. You absorbed a lot more than you realized the last few days. This literally just happened to me. Some woman on my plane literally just hollered “Chalo!” (Let’s go!) at her kid. (If you’ve ever travelled to the Middle East, this is gonna be your “yalla.”) My head whipped up like I was being yelled at. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you start acclimating to the new culture and traditions you find yourself surrounded by.

5. Finally, embrace the sari. Or whatever clothing you wear, even if it’s Western. I was terrified of the sari for the first hour I wore it. It wasn’t mine (Thanks, S., for letting me borrow yours!), it is different to wear than any other formal clothing I have ever worn, and I was terrified I was going to trip and munch it horribly. (I did, once. And I didn’t faceplant, so go me.) And know that there are probably at least 5 other people there just as uncomfortable for that first hour as you. At least two Indian women approached me to tell me I was wearing the sari well and asked me how often I’d worn them. They were shocked to find out it was my first time and responded that even they avoided them at all costs. What I’m trying to say is you’re going to be far more comfortable and confident than you thought you would be. Be prepared to kick off your shoes and dance for hours. Feel free to move and have fun in whatever you’re wearing, whether it be a sari, kurta, or suit.

So, hopefully the spirit intended by this list comes across. Of course, everyone’s experience will be different, but this is what has been mulling around in my mind since the wedding was over on Saturday (at 2 a.m.). On my way back to Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) now. Y’all have a pleasant sleep.

Accidental Chametz

Well, it’s the first morning of Pesach and we’ve already had a chametz fail in the House of Jordan.  R. came over to sign tax forms (blech, April 15), and I offered him breakfast.  Eggs or cereal.  A perfectly fine offer if it weren’t the first morning of Passover.  He poured out cereal.  I then freaked out and realized what I’d done.


This year's seder.  Photo credit C. Matheis.  http://oughtornot.net

This year’s seder. Photo credit Christian Matheis. http://oughtornot.net

I’m starting to think that the annual Passoverification of one’s home isn’t as much about the ritual cleaning of the home, which strips it of any leavened product, as much as a way to force yourself from doing exactly what I just did:  forgetting it was a special week of our year and offering chametz to the first unsuspecting victim.  It forces you to start the week acknowledging it’s different and special.

In case you missed it in Sunday School or didn’t learn about this in high school or college, the story of the Exodus hits its climax when the Egyptian Pharaoh allows the Israelites to leave Egypt and head home.  Of course, this happens with little warning and everyone must flee immediately.  The story goes that they left so quickly that they did not even have time to let their bread rise before baking it.  As such, Jews now eat matzah (unleavened bread) during Passover and strip their homes of chametz, or leavening.

By strip, I mean a top-to-bottom cleaning of the home to remove even a crumb of chametz.  It’s kind of like spring cleaning and sets you up for the rest of the holiday cycle.  In recent years, I’ve gotten kind of lazy about it.  Passover hits right during crunch time during the school year, and frankly, I can’t often afford to give away (or G-d forbid throw out) all of the chametz in my home (This is a cool tradition btw.  You’re supposed to get all the bread, flour, etc. out of the house and either burn it or donate it to a needy family.  Nice!).  Sometimes, I’m responsible enough to put it all in a bin and hide it for the week.  But no, not now.

I found this awesome resource about the history of the cleaning out of the chametz that says even better what I’m feeling this rainy morning:

In cleaning for Passover, we are first and foremost fulfilling the mitzvah of biur chametz — getting rid of chametz. Biur chametz is actually quite an easy mitzvah in terms of physical exertion. The Torah says: “tashbisu se’or mibateichem” — make all your sour dough rest. The Torah commandment is that you can possess all the chametz you want, but in your mind it must be dust — ownerless and valueless.

Now obviously we are dealing with something subtle and vague. What goes on in your mind, no one knows except you and God. It’s quite easy to think you have considered everything “null and void,” when in truth you can’t wait for Passover to be over so you can partake of all those goodies!

So the Sages instituted a requirement to physically destroy chametz. This mitzvah is known as bedikat chametz. The Sages say it is not enough to emotionally write the chametz off as “dust”; you must actually search out any chametz you can find — and physically destroy it.

(from http://www.aish.com/h/pes/l/48970611.html.  Ironically, aish means “bread” in Arabic…)

So I learned the hard way why the bedikat chametz is so important.  I fully plan to get my tuchas in gear next year and start doing this correctly again. Lesson learned.

In close, may you have a blessed Passover.  Chag samach, y’all.

New (Totally Awesome) Lyft Service in Tampa

So sometimes this blog deviates away from academia to travel.  Given I used a brand new form (to me) of transportation this trip, I figured I’d give them a shoutout.

I was in Tampa for the 2014 AAG National Conference, but my flight (through Allegiant Air) was out of St. Pete’s.  SuperShuttle wanted 56 bucks (what?? Hosers) to get me, so I started looking for other options.  My awesome partner-in-crime S. suggested Lyft, which I’d not heard of prior (I live in the sticks, y’all).

I'm seriously.

I’m seriously.

I downloaded the app and was immediately rewarded with 50 free rides in Tampa Bay.  Seriously.  50 free rides.  I asked my driver if this was going to affect his pay, and he said absolutely not.  So yeah, don’t feel guilty about using these free rides.  At all.  Why the free rides, you might ask?  Well, Lyft just opened up its market in Tampa four days ago, so they’re trying to boost business.

So anyways, back to using the service.  I of course had the typical raised-in-the-90s paranoia about strangers, but Lyft is awesome.  People sign up with their cars to give you a ride.  Drivers go through background checks and their vehicles go through safety inspections prior to being allowed into the fleet (clearly I did some research on their website).  They show up with a massive fuzzy pink mustache in their back window (their icon/symbol), and you are required to sit in the front seat and actually talk to your driver.  You pay completely thru the app (I thought the app allowed for tip, and if you can tip thru the app, I’m techno-stupid and couldn’t figure it out.  I’m so sorry, Collin!).

Say hi to Collin!

Say hi to Collin!

Speaking of Collin, my driver was awesome.  A graduate of USF, he actually got to work with Susan MacManus during the Bush/Gore election. The Susan MacManus.  In Florida. The national capital of hanging chads. Awesome.  We also talked about SEC football, family stories involving La Jolla, Calif., and the ridiculousness that is mass transit in Tampa and Atlanta.

This repartee is what sold me on Lyft.  I’m a naturally social person, so cab rides where I sit in the back seat through interminable minutes of awkward silence are just awful.  A taxi service focused on actually providing a fun ride instead of just a service is something I can totally get behind.  And the driver had a similar school background as me.  How awesome is that?

Excuse the grammar and adverbtive vomit.  I'm on a lot of DayQuil.

Excuse the grammar and adverbtive vomit. I’m on a lot of DayQuil.

Reservations are made through a smartphone app (sorry dumbphone users) and payment is made through the same app.  A receipt gets mailed to you immediately for those of you who need it for reimbursements or tax purposes.  And the fees are reasonable.  I was able to calculate my fare within a dollar before I even reserved.  When you pay, you can leave a review and vote 1-5 stars (Collin totally earned a 5).

So yeah, I wholeheartedly recommend Lyft.  Safe, clean car.  Awesome driver.  Totally convenient.  And given how G-dawful Tampa’s mass transit it, this service will be a blessing for both professionals in the city and people traveling for vacations.  Good choice, Tampa.  And thanks, Lyft.  I will definitely be using your service again.

“Grandma’s House”

When you’re a military brat (and I’m sure in many other kinds of childhoods, too), home is an ephemeral concept.  I could say to you “I’m so excited to be going home this weekend!” and unless there have been other context clues in the conversation, that could mean any number of cities (or states!).   But for me, my true home is Grandma’s house.

I’ve written other posts from the house in Brooklyn (MD) but never a post about the house in Brooklyn.  For me, this house will always be Grandma’s house, even though my aunt has lived here now for at least seven years.

Thanks, Google Maps! Oh hey, there's my brother's car!

Thanks, Google Maps! Oh hey, there’s my brother’s car!

It’s honestly nothing that special to the trained eye.  A rancher in Brooklyn Park, MD.  Full basement.  Sizable yard, good porch, driveway but no garage.  But for me, it’s home more than any other place.

It hasn’t always been “Grandma’s house.”  My (great-great-great?)-uncle Charlie (pronounced Chah-lie if you’re from Balmer – R’s usually belong only at the end of words) built it in (according to Zillow) 1964.  When his wife died, he asked my great-grandparents to move in with him (he was really old.  Like 90s) and help him keep up the house.  When he died, the house became theirs.

So I guess, for my aunt, uncle, and father, this house, too, for a time, was “Grandma’s house.”

When my great-grandmother died, my great-grandfather asked my grandparents to move in with him.  When he died, the house became theirs.  Noticing a theme?

I enter this house’s life a few years before my great-grandfather (Pop-Pop) died.  Some of my earliest memories involve eating strawberries at the kitchen table (the table that is now in my own apartment) and sneaking him 5th Avenue bars out of the fridge (if I could nab two without getting caught, I got to eat the second one.  What a good Pop-Pop).

After my great-grandfather died, my grandparents remained in the house.  The house became known in my head as “Gramma and Grampa’s house.”  It was the house where everyone came for holidays and birthdays.  I have vivid memories of spreading out newspaper on the kitchen table and 15 people cramming around a table that normally sat 6 to eat blue crabs.  Christmases were in the living room with every chair in the house dragged in so we could open presents.

It’s the house where my name is pronounced “Hally” (O’s don’t exist in Balmerese.  If you want a good laugh, get me to pronounce “Orange”).  Where “Oh my gaaaaaaad” can mean anything from surprise to empathy.  Where if something amazing happened, someone would yell out “Hot dog!”

I slept in the bed in “Grandma’s room” the night before my flight out to California last thursday  It hasn’t been Grandma’s room in nearly eight years, and the bed in there now certainly isn’t the one I jumped up and down on as a kid when the adults weren’t looking.  The bed promptly broke… and I had to frantically help my cousins put it back together (and by help, I mean play lookout).

My aunt moved back in sometime after my grandfather died (again… common theme) in 2001, and around 2007, my grandmother had to move into a home.  It’s really my aunt’s house now, but it’s almost impossible for me to think of it that way.  And I think that’s the case for my cousins too.  Cousin E. asked my aunt if I was staying with her that night or in “Grandma’s room.”  That’s what got me thinking about writing this post.

Another early memory is sleeping in my pop-up playpen in my grandmother’s room.  It was a special treat instead of sleeping in the “middle bedroom” with my parents.  And then later, sneaking episodes of Sliders and Boy Meets World with my older cousins when my parents had deemed me “too young” to watch such things.  I better not mention all the Ren and Stimpy…  My dad reads these posts.

I’m heading back to Baltimore today from Orange County.  Landing at 1:05 a.m. EDT, so I’m sure I’ll want to do nothing but sleep once I get back.  And as with many other trips and stays, my aunt is picking me up at BWI and taking me home.  Home to Grandma’s house.

Please, Stop Calling My Friends Lazy

Disclaimer: These ideas are half-baked.  That’s how (in my mind) blogging works.  I look forward to a healthy discussion, and I am completely sure that I will rewrite on this topic in the future having learned from y’all and amended some of my points.  Flamers gotta flame, and I know that.  But try going into this assuming that if something I said sounds off that maybe I just didn’t state it well and give me the opportunity to try again before you decide I’m a horrible human being.  I also fully admit that I am writing this from an incredibly privileged I-actually-got-to-go-college white-cisgendered-straight-female East-Coast-American point of view.  My peer group, my friends, and the “we” I refer to throughout this article are not many people’s “we.”  Writing from experience got me yelled at in philosophy classes and probably will get me yelled at on the internet, too.  Just try not to stray into Godwin’s territory.

It has been ten years since I matriculated at Converse College, full of dreams of a career and a love for learning that often got me in too deep with extracurriculars and 18 hour semesters.  I went to a fancy private school, and I have the student loans to prove it.  I have a top-notch liberal arts degree and graduated an honors student.  I went on to get a MA from the University of Georgia and am now working on a PhD at Virginia Tech.   I wanted (and still do) to be a college professor.  I still don’t think it was a bad goal.

My parents helped when they could, but I have had a job in some capacity since I started college (and even before) in 2003:  federal work-study, cashier at Target, adjunct at far too many colleges to name.  I have always had a job not because I wanted to – being a full-time student is already a full-time job – but because I have had to.  TA stipends are all publicly accessible, so I know I’m not spilling any secrets, but my stipend at UGA for my MA was $10,000 a year, plus full tuition remission, for a 2/1 teaching load.  Pros:  in theory, one should not have to take out any student loans (and if you add out-of-state tuition to 10 grand, it’s not bad) and would end up with a valuable degree.  Cons:  the 10 grand was only a 9 month stipend (summers didn’t count) and you didn’t qualify for food stamps.  Roommates were a necessity.  Second jobs were discouraged by the department but were absolutely necessary.

In any case, I’ve been lucky.  I have generally been able to find work when I’ve needed it, and I have been able to teach (and not work retail) since I completed my MA.   My one not-academia job between my MA and my PhD was actually (sort of) in my field.

But I do refer to myself as lucky intentionally.  I have worked hard.  I haven’t done my very best every single day (who does?) but my overall trajectory has been upward.  Yet many of my peers have worked just as hard, if not harder, and find themselves so incredibly lost.  People with MAs still only able to find part-time work.  Incredibly brilliant women from Converse who still only make $10/hr (on at least their 6th job) after seven years on the job market.  Friends who have managed to make it, but only by leaving behind what they have studied and finding a job completely outside their field (You studied accounting? How about being a photographer.  Journalism?  Yeah, why not work at the Apple store.  ROTC?  Oh, well, you actually got a job in the Army.  Good for you).  Some are happy.  Many are not.

We graduated at the peak of the last bubble.  Some of us got lucky and managed to get jobs just prior to the burst.  Others are still drowning years later.  And yet, we are called entitled.  We took out student debt we couldn’t afford.  Because we banked on getting jobs we were told our entire lives we would get.  So we worked hard and believed what we were told (teachers and parents aren’t supposed to lie, right?).  And now, I don’t know of one friend right now that isn’t on loan deferment or income-based-repayment for their loans.  Not because they don’t want to pay their loans, but because they can’t.

I was talking with my best friend from undergrad tonight, and so I will admit some of these ideas are hers.  But overall they got me thinking.  We are told we are the entitled generation.  But most of us have caved, crumbled, given up on dreams.  We’ve not necessarily accepted our fate of being less secure than our parents’ generation, but we are trying our best to work within the “new normal.”

I now have multiple friends who have resigned themselves to not having children.  When I was a kid, we were told (by often… well-meaning(?) adults) that people who chose not to have kids were “yuppies” that “chose not to have children” so they could “travel” or “buy things” or “have a life.”  How heteronormatively classist.  I’ve come a long way in understanding, I hope.

Now, I have friends who would be brilliant parents electing to stay childless.  Not all of them, but many, are making this decision not because they don’t want children, but because they know they aren’t financially stable enough to responsibly bring them into the world.  My parents have always told me “you’re never truly ready to have kids.”  I’m sure on some level, that’s true.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be really ready to be responsible for a thing that can’t even support its own head for months (is it months? Or weeks?  I have no idea.  Maybe this is why they have parenting classes), but if that time comes, I’ll hunker down and figure it out as best I can, as every parent should.

The difference is that these friends who are now electing childlessness aren’t being paranoid.  They truly understand that they can’t afford to have children and raise them responsibly.  Hell, many of them cannot even afford retirement plans for themselves, let alone rent without roommates (as married/partnered thirtysomethings).  So where are college funds for 2.5 kids, when college is more expensive than ever and you really need a masters for any job of “value” (massive sarcasms/scare quotes here.  And let’s not bring up the fact that graduate students cannot get subsidized loans any longer), supposed to come from?  These very real issues don’t just “work themselves out on their own.”

I’m not an economist.  I have tons of friends (or, at least two) that can claim that title.  But I do know that I had friends slightly better off than we were (Enlisted Navy Brat here, y’all) whose parents had way nicer and newer stuff than we did. And bigger, nicer houses, that their parents owned.  And looking back, I’m sure most of it was on credit that places like Wells Fargo gave them with limits they could not truly afford.  But everything was good, right?  The economy was booming, and everyone could have new, shiny things.

My generation is now dealing with the aftermath.  The good news is that medicine is getting such that we can have kids later and later.  The bad news is even with that, many of my friends who want to still may not be able to.

So what is this rambling rant really all about?  I’m not trying to advocate having kids, or buying things you don’t need, or a return to “the way things were.”  I’m just sick of daily hearing at least one of my friends lamenting a situation that in many ways is not their fault, which they are made to feel guilty about by some of the very people that got us here.  And I’m also not trying to say that our parents and grandparents are terrible people.  Most of them had no idea of the big economic picture (and if they did, I would hope would have made different choices).

Here is (finally) my thesis:  My friends are not lazy (yeah, there are exceptions, but generally speaking, my generation is not plagued with a do-nothing disease).  And we are quickly losing our pie-in-the-sky ideals (high-paying jobs, houses, cars).  We are definitely far more pragmatic than we are often given credit.  I still drive the 1997 Subaru that I inherited from my parents.  I currently have three jobs to make sure I’m not going into (much) consumer debt to survive.  I help proof job letters and resumes for my friends whenever I can.  I watch my friends list jobs on Facebook from their companies to see if they can help others find a job.

If anything, it is our parents that are still living with certain assumptions.  That everyone ends up with a house, and a car (or three), and 2.5 kids.  That we make more than $18,000 a year in professional jobs (I’m talking teachers, y’all) ten years out of high school.  Why not? They did.  And that was in the 80s/90s, when $18,000 went quite a bit farther.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn, and I’m certainly not saying that we Millenials are perfect.  But please, stop calling my friends lazy.  Stop firing my friends or reducing their hours so you don’t have to give them health insurance.  Stop telling them they have to work harder if they really want to do better financially only to nag them about why they haven’t had kids yet.  Stop expecting us to own homes when our student loans are $600 a month for loans you co-signed on while telling us we would have no problems paying them off.  I know you’re trying to give us advice, but you’re only adding to the emotional burden.  Most of us really are doing our best.  Please, just stop.  You’re only making us feel worse.

Snow Day Cooking – India Edition

So the East Coast, USA has been covered in snow the last two days.  At this point, I can barely find my car and Virginia Tech has preemptively closed twice now (Hell has indeed frozen over).  This is the view of my porch when I woke up this morning.

Not too shabby, Virginia.

Not too shabby, Virginia.

My brother and I decided that if we were going to be snowed in for days that we should at least eat in style.  Having had some amazing Indian food in California in January, I’ve been craving it ever since.  So up on the menu:  matar paneer, roti, and raita.

Now I won’t bore you with all the details of the cooking, but I did want to share some photos and recipes:

Paneer is an incredibly easy cheese to make.  All you need is pasteurized (but not ultrapasterized) milk, lemon juice, a candy thermometer, and cheesecloth (I used an old pillowcase).  It works better if you soak it ice water prior to using it (we used snow water…).  Don’t ask me why.  I’m not a chemist, just an amateur cook.

Cucumber-Mint Raita
This is a gorgeously simple recipe.  Very similar to tzatziki.  Eaten with the matar paneer, it really helps cool your mouth off.

Similar to naan, but unleavened.  Basically I screw up every single leavened bread I make.  My challah always turns out closer to matzah than actual bread… So I figured if we were going to make a panfried bread, I should go foolproof.  This was surprisingly easy and incredibly basic.

Matar Paneer
And now, the finale.  I love any dish involving paneer.  Who doesn’t love a non-melting cheese that picks up flavors like tofu?  And who doesn’t love peas??

The one thing I will say about this recipe is that it was not nearly spicy enough as written.  I will double or treble the requisite spices next time.  Still, quite tasty.

Put this all together, and you get an amazing no-silverware all-awesome dinner:

The chianti worked surprisingly well.

The chianti worked surprisingly well.

Well, there you have it, Constant Reader.  A beautiful snow day in the NRV complete with delicious food, excellent wine, and great company.  And now, here it is: Your Moment of Zen.

The happy cooks just prior to om-nom time.

The happy cooks just prior to om-nom time.

“Are you still going to be Jewish?” – Or, “This isn’t ‘Nam! There are Rules!”

I should start by saying that if anyone needs to freak out on this blog post, please do it here on WordPress and not on my syndicated statuses (I really don’t want a Facebook avalanche).  I’m sure there will be some Big. Shock. on some of your parts by the contents herein.

I visited my grandmother in Baltimore yesterday.  I was in town in preparation for a trip out to the Left Coast today (I’m typing this on the plane next to two lovely new people I’ve just met.  Tyler Durden would be so proud).  It was the first I had seen Gramma since announcing my divorce to my family and close friends (if you’re just now learning this, sorry.  You may be my close friend and I just forgot…  Yes, I’m fine.  No, I don’t want to publicly talk about it), and to say I was apprehensive to see her would be an understatement.

I’ll admit it; I’d chickened out and hadn’t told her myself (I made my father do it…).  My grandparents were married 49 years before my grandfather died, and having only been married 2.5 years, I’ll admit I was a bit embarrassed to admit to her that I had failed.  Of course, being the good grandmother she is, she hollered at me for thinking she wouldn’t understand and told me I had her full support.

But one of her questions did blindside me:  Are you still going to be Jewish?

Too much Passover for one hand.

Too much Passover for one hand.  2009.

I suppose it’s a reasonable question on the surface.  My partner and I converted together (along with my wonderful friend E.) about four months after we got engaged, so I could see how it would seem that I had converted because of him.  But her question got me thinking: how many people in my life 1) think I’m Jewish because of my partner (and if this is a lot, how bad am I at communicating?) and 2) do not understand how conversion to Judaism works?

These questions kept me up last night.  Seriously.  I’m an instructor of religion, after all, so what do I do with all this nervous mental energy?  Start composing a blog post in my head at 3:30 in the morning (on my cousin’s couch, between superhero sheets, like a BOSS).

Some things people should know about converting to Judaism (NOTE:  this is from a Reform/Liberal POV, so it is, of course, liberally biased):

  1. The rabbi will not let you convert if they think you have been coerced in any way.  Meaning, you cannot convert for someone.  It must be your choice, and the choice must be made freely.
  2. Many people do convert when their intended spouse is Jewish, but in many Reform (and some Conservative) marriages, conversion isn’t necessary.  For Orthodox couples, both partners must be Jewish.  In any case, it still must be the choice of the convertee and not the partner.
  3. There is an education process associated with conversion, which gives you time to change your mind if necessary and to make sure you fully understand the new life you are choosing.  This can vary in length depending on the denomination and the impetus behind conversion (I’ve heard it as few as six weeks in the event of an upcoming wedding and as long as 18 months).
  4. Part of your vows when you convert (in front of a beyt din) are to live a Jewish life and to raise any children you have as Jewish and to forsake all other previous religious vows.
  5. When you convert, it is not an individual experience.  Three other Jews have to stand for you (the aforementioned beyt din).  The ceremony is public.  Your community becomes your family.  You take on the entire history of the Jewish people as your history.  The Holocaust, the pogroms, the Inquisition – all of these historical events happened to your people.  Your rabbi makes absolutely sure you understand this.

And what about my conversion?  I will not go into the details of why I chose to convert, but I came to the decision separate from my partner.  I had been contemplating this decision since high school but did not convert until October 2007, due to moving around and trying to find the right temple to take classes.  Classes were monthly, taking place over the course of one year.  In addition, I had to attend services weekly to make it through one entire festival cycle.

Torahs are really heavy.  I don't recommend strapless dresses.

Torahs are really heavy. I don’t recommend strapless dresses.  2007.

When someone converts to Judaism, they take on a Hebrew name.  This is the name one is called to the bema, or altar, with, to say prayers and to read from the Torah and other books.  If born Jewish, your parents choose your Hebrew name, and you are “that name the son/daughter of their names” (so if I were to use my English names, I would be Holly the daughter of Michael and Cynthia.  As a convert, I was given the parents Abraham and Sarah, the de facto parents of all converts.  I chose the name Devorah after my Aunt Debbie, who has always been incredibly supportive of all of my school, religious, and life goals.  Now that I am changing my name back to my maiden name, I had considered taking Devorah as my middle name, or second middle name, but it doesn’t quite work with Holly Jordan.  And Dr. Holly A. Jordan just looks smashing on a door.

Being Jewish with my partner, who converted in the same class with me (again, because he was already on that path and not because of me), was a blessing.  Knowing that I would raise Jewish children in a Jewish home was an important part of my relationship.  I will not say that relationships cannot work out with different religious traditions (all my Cashews prove otherwise, and I’ve got some Jain-Hindu and Muslim-Jewish friends, too), but having that support, and having a Jewish wedding and life, was always important to me.

But no, my new life doesn’t mean an end to my Jewish identity.  My Jewishness is my self, not my relationship self.  I think I’ve been Jewish since my father brought me home my first menorah from a yard sale (or since I realized that Old Testament/Hebrew Bible stories are WAY more fun [and less redundant] than New Testament stories).

If nothing else, the tumultuous events of the last several weeks have led to a rededication to my Jewish life.  My first Friday alone in my apartment, I took down my candlesticks and kiddush cup for the first time since I moved to Blacksburg and welcomed in Shabbat (with my sad little Stouffers veggie lasagna and bottle glass of wine) with my dog.  I felt more in touch with my Judaism than I had since my wedding.

So will I still be Jewish?  Yes.  Could I convert back or to something else?  Absolutely.  I have that ability as a human being.  But the process of conversion ensures that it is a decision that you do in fact want.  I am Jewish.  Nothing will change that.