Despite being just 7 years old, I devoured Judy Blume’s book “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” as I have always been an avid reader. The protagonist, Margaret Simon, who was older than me, spent 170 pages longing for the onset of her periods and the appearance of her breasts. However, what struck me the most was her quest to comprehend her bond with God, which to me, overshadowed the distress of bra shopping and learning about maxi pads, as I had already witnessed my teenage sisters experiencing those struggles.
Similar to Margaret, I also had a parent who was raised Jewish and another who grew up in a Christian household. Their wedding took place in a restaurant, and none of my grandparents attended due to their religious differences. However, unlike Margaret, my mother passed away when I was only three years old, and my brothers and I were taken in by our Catholic aunt and uncle with their three children. During the two years in between, I switched between various extended family members and their respective religious practices. I was a baptized child attending Hebrew school, and later on, a young Jewish girl who received her first communion in the Catholic Church.
Although I couldn’t recall my mother, my grandparents helped me appreciate her religious beliefs. I admired the mezuzah on the door, the sparkle of the menorah, and the smooth texture of my grandfather’s kippah. When my Irish Catholic grandmother took care of me, I sat motionless in admiration as the organ’s soothing tunes resonated through the chilly wooden benches. I enjoyed gazing at the peeling gold leaf paint at the pinnacle of the Corinthian columns that supported the ceilings.
It is impossible to be both Jewish and Catholic, and the speaker became a Catholic through adoption. However, similar to Margaret, the speaker still desired to discover their own religion. Despite losing their mother, the speaker found comfort in a metal Star of David that belonged to her, which they wore on a chain with their Miraculous Medal – a present from Sister John Helene for memorizing the Rosary prayers.
My adoptive parents were aware of my desire to have a connection with Judaism, so they allowed me to spend Chanukah with my friend Amber. During the services I attended with her, elderly members of the congregation questioned my inability to read Hebrew. Similar to Margaret, I found myself caught between two worlds, feeling like an outsider in both. I became increasingly confused and asked God for guidance, yearning to know which religion I should follow. At times, I even wished that I had been born into a specific faith.
Margaret expressed the emotions that were dwelling in my heart. I yearned for answers from God, but sadly, my pleas remained unanswered. As time passed, I felt a growing distance from my faith.Now, as a mother myself, I prioritize passing down the customs and beliefs of my ancestors to my children. I have made sure that they are aware of their origins from a young age. While they were all baptized in the Catholic faith, I also take care to celebrate their Jewish heritage. Interestingly, my husband, who was raised Methodist, recently discovered that he also has Jewish roots. So, he too is learning about his ancestry alongside our children.
My children attend church with the woman who raised me. They have been taught to show respect by genuflecting when entering the pew, and they are familiar with the prayers. Sister John Helene, who used to reward them, is no longer present, but my little ones still know that the prize for attending the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass is a delicious donut in the church hall. It brings me comfort to see them walking past the same tombstones on the hill that I used to run around as a child, gently running their fingers over the engraved names of loved ones who rest in the shade of the weeping willow tree next to the chapel where I got married.
Even though I never got the chance to meet my birth mother or grandparents, I have managed to connect with a lot of relatives who can share their stories with my children. This is an invaluable gift. Recently, I was able to find my second cousin who is 86 years old through Ancestry.com. On the first night of Chanukah, I sent her a photo of my frying latkes and asked for her advice on cooking them. Beverly replied that they looked delicious. This year, my middle daughter wanted to light the Menorah. While she lit the last candle on Christmas Day, her face glowed with happiness and she had a gingerbread cookie in her mouth.