Starting with eighteen
because 18 is a significant number in Judaism: it has the value of the word “life” in Hebrew חי
- I was raised in a very secular Jewish family, my father being from an old French jewish background on his father’s side, and Ukraina from his maternal side, but both parents born in Paris, France. You can trace my paternal family back to very far, thanks to the works of a member of this family who went back to the craddle. I think I am the 7th or 8th branch on the 5th generation from the first ancestor he traced back to the eighteenth century, before the French Revolution.
- On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a Sephardic Jew and his name can be found in Chronicles (Chr I, 23-11) which kind of make me pretty vain about it (being able to say that you would trace my Yiddishkeit back to the Tanach, who would not feel a little proud about that anyway?). My maternal grandmother was coming from a prominent Lorraine family (ashkenaz) and they were already settled in Paris, France when citizenship was granted to the Jews right after the French Revolution (9/28/1791), so you can trace her family in the civil official registars back in 1792.
- I grew up with absolutely no religious education. My parents were very liberal, and my mother pretty free spirited. Most of my extended family that had any kind of religious practice were attending liberal shuls (would be called “conservative” in the US although it does not exactly match the definition).
- My first recollection of being in a synagogue is being the flower girl at a wedding. I clearly remember the blue ribbon that was holding my bangs (I probably kept it for many years). Being on the bimah made the whole experience very memorable, and the only thing that struck my mind was the breaking of the glass. I was 7 or 8.
I look very much alike my paternal grandmother, who was assassinated in Auschwitz in September 1943.
- I started to be interested in religious matters when I was in 7th grade. Of course, the majority of my class (being in public school and in a dominantly catholic country) was involved in their solemn communion that year, and the only girls left behind in class in June were either Jews or communist-atheists! My best friend at the time was a Muslim and she shared with me some things that made me read a small book about Kuran, while I had her read another small book from the same collection about Zohar.
- My next encounter with religion was much later. I met an orthodox Jew whom I dated for some months and he introduced me to the beauty of Shabbat, which I started to observe. At that time we had started a Talmud Torah group, we were meeting every week and would study the parsha together. The group lasted until most of the participants got scattered around. Two of the initial group of five (it became more numerous at times, but started with 5) made Alyah eventually. A third one who joined the group later out of curiosity became b.teshuvah, although you would have never thought that she was one to ever embrace shomer neguiah!
- My interest in Judaism certainly stems from this study group, and the nearly kibbutz-like life we developed at the time spending all the main religious holidays together. I should have been even more serious and marry the guy (see 10) instead of the other one…
- I didn’t know that my soon to-be new boyfriend and eventually husband and father of my children was jewish. When I realized he was, that’s when I actually pursued him more seriously. I had in mind that I would only marry a Jew for a long time ago although I have no recollection that it had been a spoken instruction in my family. I am actually the only of the three siblings to have married a Jew.
- I did not have a religious wedding. At the time, I felt like my father would have been really upset if I had done so. My husband and I had discussed that we would eventually do it… later. It turned out to be a pretty abusive marriage and later, he divorced me, and left me behind anyway. I was kind of relieved that we did not marry religiously because I doubt he would have given me the get, out of spite or whatever was in his mind at the time of the divorce. Although I haven’t had any inclination to date again, one never knows.
- I discovered a totally different approach to secular judaism through my (ex)family-in-law. There was some tension when my father-in-law told me I was “not a real Jew” because I had never been to Israel. Out of respect I said nothing, but it hurt my feelings badly, and it showed me that bigotry could lay in all sorts of prejudices. I learnt how to overcome his adverse opinion of me when I tended to his wife when she was terminally ill.
- I learned a lot by myself, and I learned the jewish mourning rituals on that occasion. My family-in-law was totally at a loss when she died and would not know what to do, but they were very thankful that I arranged things in the most jewish fashion. I had learnt about it at the time we were studying (see 8) and one friend had lost her father. Putting it into practice was very meaningful for me. It really fortified my confidence that Judaism was the right answer for me.
- Although it was a tradition for me to spend Passover sedarim with my friends, on several occasions I decided to go to a seder in my extended family, and it turned out that once it was at my uncle’s who passed away the year after, and the other time it was my second-cousin’s father’s last seder too. I am very thankful that I had a chance to build a memory that stays as a link with my cousins til this day now.
- When I arrived in the United States in 1998 I had no idea what the different jewish denominations meant. The Jewish culture is very different in France and in the U.S. anyway, so I didn’t really mind what shul I would attend. I did not “shop” as I understand it is the custom, now that I have accustomed to the country. My first encounter with the local synagogue and its congregation and rabbi was pretty awkward. In everyone’s eye I was an “orthodox” Jew, because my observance was different and they were reform. It was kind of useless to explain that I came from a secular background and that my observance was certainly very far from being orthodox!
- I did not have a Jewish name. When I asked my mother what she would choose now if she had to give me a Jewish name, she couldn’t come up with anything, so I chose for myself. My Jewish name is Hadassah bat Rachel (Rachel is my mother’s hebrew name).
- Because he is severely autistic, my elder son didn’t get any formal Jewish education in religious school, and was not able to speak for himself for his bar-mitzvah so I gave a drasha myself on his parsha. It can be accessed for whoever would like to read it here (download .pdf – 220 ko)
- I simply love being Jewish. The more I study, the more I enjoy it. I started learning how to read first in 1993, then had to stop attending the class when I got pregnant. I started again in 2009, although the class turned into a conversational modern hebrew class rather than biblical hebrew (I guess our rabbi had too much trouble with the level of the class in general, but that’s fine with me). On a religious point of view, my main focus is on shemirat halashon.
- I still haven’t been to Israel yet. I can picture myself living there permanently however. One never knows.