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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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