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A friend of mine has invited me to a Zozobra celebration. If I understand correctly, we will put paper representations of the worries, fears, and stresses that have plagued us into a small effigy, set it into the barbecue on the balcony of her apartment, and light them on fire. It is an annual purging of gloom, and according to my friend it has roots in several different faith traditions.

Her celebration coincides with Rosh Hashanah this year, and it seems to me appropriate timing, if accidental. What better way to start a new year than by leaving behind the gloom of the old? One might even say, casting it off?

A few nights ago, this friend and I were out with another friend of hers, a woman I hadn’t met before. I said I was going to bring honey and apples to Zozobra, or maybe honey cake, and we all agreed that adding Jewish food traditions to the already jumbled heritage of this holiday seemed to make good sense. Later in the evening, we were talking about our mothers and their reactions to various boyfriends, and I of course recounted the three questions story. I was puzzled as to why it didn’t get quite the laugh it usually does, but the conversation went on. Finally, the new friend asked hesitantly, “But wait, why was your mom unnerved? Aren’t you supposed to — I mean don’t Jewish moms want their kids to find nice Jewish partners?”

My friend jumped in to explain that I wasn’t Jewish and I agreed, “Nope, I’m Episcopalian.” And after a beat, I added, “I’m intermarried.”

It’s the first time I’ve ever identified as such, rather than simply saying that my husband is Jewish, and there was something about it which felt different. It was a statement about my identity, about our identity, rather than his and mine as two separate things. We are intermarried. Our home is interfaith. Our lives together are not threaded separately, they are woven together into a gloriously complicated braid.

This comes on the heels of something I have been struggling with for the past couple of months. BWB and I have been apart since July, and will not see each other until October. It’s been really hard, and I miss him horribly. I also miss going to temple on Friday nights, miss Shabbat. I miss the little traditions we had just barely started kindling together, miss lighting candles, the smell of the challah, the sound of his voice still self-conscious through the Hebrew. I have felt like I am not entitled to miss these things, that these traditions are not mine and that I can’t claim them while my husband is gone. After all, he is the Jewish one.

And yet, I have been listening to my small but growing Shabbat playlist and surreptitiously lighting candles on Friday. Honestly, I don’t even know if I’m supposed to light candles without all of the rest of it, but I’ve been doing it anyway. I have nearly gone to temple alone, but haven’t quite worked up the courage to do so. I was secretly delighted at the timing of the Zozobra party as an excuse to bring honey cakes and other food I was trying to justify making without the Jewish husband in the house.

At first I have to admit that I wondered if this was a sign that I was more interested in conversion than I had previously thought. Maybe wanting to do these Jewish things meant I should be Jewish after all? The idea scared me, but as I explored it I realized it wasn’t quite right. Instead, I came to a conclusion that feels a little like a soap bubble, shimmering and delicate. I can want these things and still be content, because my I have simply added a facet to my faith that wasn’t there before. I am becoming a little bit of what my children will be born into, an interfaith woman in an interfaith household. These traditions belong to my family, and I am part of my family, and therefore they belong to me, too.

That is such a scary declaration to make. Scary because I am waiting for someone hateful to find it and tell me I am less of a Christian because of it. Scary because I am waiting to be told that I am not Jewish enough (at all) to have any right to those prayers, songs, or foods. Scary because I am waiting for someone to come along and burst my little soap bubble. But here I am, making that scary declaration. I am stepping into that in-between place where it is never easy to be, and deciding I would like to set up camp there.

Saying out loud to my new friend that I am intermarried was not an intentional choice of language, but I think from now on it will be. As much as it is a scary declaration, it is also the best way I can begin to convey that my faith doesn’t come with his and hers towels.

This week, I’ll take apples and honey and honey cakes to a pagan, Mexican, Native American celebration and ring in at least two or three different kinds of new years. If anyone asks, yes, I’m bringing those foods because of the proximity to Rosh Hashanah, and yes, I’m okay with that. Or at least, I’m working on it.

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It’s about time for a lighthearted post, and I have just the thing. Food!

Specifically, my mama’s gazpacho recipe. This is one of those foods which will forever be associated with summer for me, since it was one of my mother’s favorite things to make for picnic suppers. She would make up a huge batch and bring it to the pool, setting it out on the wire patio tables in an enormous pottery bowl. Crusty bread was a must, the obligatory green salad, and beer for the grownups. We would usually be meeting up with another family, and the grownups would be carrying on with grownup things while the kids did kid things and argued that we could totally go back in the water even though we just ate. I can’t tell you how much I treasure the memory of those lazy summer evenings, running around the pool, in the pool, or in the grass along the treeline behind the tennis courts where we knew the best spots to find blackberries and honeysuckle. Gazpacho has become a summery comfort food, reminiscent of those firefly-chasing, barefeet-in-the-grass, chlorine-laden nights.

The ironic part is, I hated gazpacho. Detested. I thought the idea of cold soup was hideous, and I was fairly certain that my mother had radically misunderstood a recipe she read somewhere for (hot) tomato soup. In fact, I had a very strong suspicion that she was making the whole thing up, which would explain the crazy-sounding “gazpacho” name in the first place. Nasty, nasty stuff. I groaned every time I heard that was the dish of choice for the evening. I really thought it was one of the most disgusting things on the planet, truly and honestly.

I’m not entirely sure when I changed my mind about the stuff, but the first time I remember making it was right after I moved to New Orleans. At the time, I was living in a house without central air, only window units. The unit in the kitchen, bless its little heart, wasn’t strong enough to overpower the heat of the oven, and so I was left with the options of either cooking all of my meals in the wee hours of the morning when the summer heat slightly lessened, or finding foods which didn’t involve the oven. I made gallons of gazpacho. It was delicious. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gazpacho Ingredients This recipe is my mother’s recipe, with a few tweaks. Most of the things I have changed are actually things she does anyway, but when she writes down the recipe she puts down the original version and then verbally reminds you of all of the things she does differently. I consider myself lucky that she writes anything down at all, as one of my favorite stories she tells about her father is when she tried to get him to write down his recipes for her. It ends with her endless frustration at his inability to quantify how much salt that was, or how much sugar went in that. The tendency to vagueness in recipes is, apparently, genetic.

The only thing I have really added is cilantro. Have I mentioned that up until a few years ago, I thought cilantro was a horribly nasty herb created to make things taste like soap and ruin perfectly good salsa? Yeah. Anyway, I love cilantro now, so I have added it to this soup. If you leave it out, it’ll be fine and the anti-cilantro people will be grateful they don’t have to eat something that tastes nasty. Assuming they are down with cold soup in the first place, of course.

(Mostly) Mama’s Gazpacho
2 medium cucumbers, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium-sized green pepper, deribbed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 medium-sized red pepper, deribbed, seeded and coarsely chopped
l large onion, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, unchopped (roughly — I admit it, I didn’t measure. It was a handful. See: Granddaddy.)
32 oz V8 juice (or similar vegetable cocktail)
ΒΌ cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt

In a food processor, pulse the cucumbers until they are finely chopped. Don’t overdo it! You want them to have a good texture. Transfer them into a large bowl, and then process the tomatoes in the same way. Continue with the peppers, and finally the onions, garlic and cilantro all together. (You can do these batches in any permutation, this is just what worked best for me and my processor.)

In the end, you’ll have a bowl of little chopped up bits of veggies (as pictured to left). Add the red wine vinegar and the salt. Now add in the V8 juice until you get the consistency of soup that makes you happiest.

(My mother’s notes say: Here you can whisk in 4 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon tomato paste. I do not. Since she does not, I do not either, but I figured it was worth mentioning.)

Cover the bowl tightly with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until thoroughly chilled. Just before serving, whisk or stir the soup lightly to recombine it. Ladle into large chilled tureen or individual soup plates. Top with croutons, bagel chips or bagel croutons, or finely chopped peppers or cucumbers.

Optional: Take to pool. Torture long-suffering daughter by serving. Enjoy!

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