20 Years A Jew: Installment 3 – “What’s an Orphan To Do?”

By Athena DeRasmo

With High Holidays 5779 behind us, it seems fitting to comment on what the Holidays mean to this convert. I have heard it said, and I paraphrase, “Time keeps the Jewish people.” The Jewish calendar sustains the Jewish people in the diaspora then and now. It can even be said that time is more important than geography. We do not need to know the exact location of Mt. Sinai, but we do need our calendar to remind us when it is time to commemorate what happened there. We do not need the Kotel, but we do need our holidays. Even precious Jerusalem is just a pile of rocks when compared to the sacred moments in time that make our continuation as a people possible and assured.

So, if time keeps us, then it is right that we turn around and keep time. The Jewish community, families, and individuals share this responsibility – as a conversion candidate 20 years ago, this really sealed the deal for me. The single flame that burns in every Jew would burn in me and follow me wherever I would roam. Be it to different congregations, different lands, new destinies, my life as a Jew came with me and could be manifested in time, anywhere, place did not matter — have Torah, will travel! And so, I did.

For years I would have different homes in different lands, and it was during this time that I discovered that even with the calendar and my Jewish flame, I was in a very practical way – an orphan. My own biological family has never held any interest in my conversion or anything Jewish. They do not even know when the holidays are, what they mean, or even what I can and cannot eat. My conversion is ignored by my family, and frankly, it does not bother me. My conversion is my own. However, what does bring me sadness is when I find myself without a place to go on the holidays. More than once I have created a Seder plate for one, or had a tuna sandwich as my Rosh Hashana feast, or settled for French fries instead of latkes – talk about your bitter herbs! To be sure, congregational events help with this loneliness, a lot! Some years I get very lucky with a really nice private invitation. When I was living with Sophia [my non-Jewish daughter] sometimes it was just the two of us, and that was good too. But the fact is, that without a Jewish family or significant Jewish other the Holidays can be a time that reminds a convert that they are ever so slightly outside of the tribe. This is no one’s fault, it just is.

As the years have gone by my Jewish skin becomes more comfortable, the Jewish calendar is now a natural progression for me, and my flame continues to burn.  I will do my part to keep time, and in turn, time will keep this orphan.


More Installments:

Installment 1 – “The Decision To Convert – Simple, Right?”

Installment 2 – “Why Judaism? What Made It Special (To Me)?”

Installment 3 – “What’s An Orphan To Do?”

Installment 4 – Balancing Secular and Sacred 

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