Deck the halls with matzah balls
Fa la la la la la la la la…
In a nutshell, that’s what is like being in a home with mixed religions and mixed cultures. It is a constant blending of traditions and a constant teaching process. It can be challenging but very rewarding as well. Translation: “What did I get myself into?”
Dadmission: Gloria is Catholic. I am Jewish. Gloria is Latina. I am white. Officially, that makes Alicia and Andreya Judeo Christian Rainbows… Or confused.
When we took Alicia in for the pre-op appointment for her tonsils, they asked us what our “religion of preference” was. That really threw me. We didn’t know what to answer. Gloria is more religious than I am. What I really wanted to tell them is we prefer the religion that guarantees us a 100 percent surgery success rate and no nasty bills from my HMO. In the end though, we just left the line on the form blank. Right now we choose to expose the girls to both religions and that’s what we prefer.
The girls find eggs at Easter and afikomen at Passover. They celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. They know Jesus and Moses and people in between. And I admit it: I love that time of year when we have a fresh cut Christmas tree decorated in our house surrounded by our lighted menorahs. I cherish that one old gold menorah my family has had for decades. The menorah tilts to the left, frail from age, and you can smell the candle wax of generations past. The girls love lighting that menorah, decorating the tree, baking Christmas cookies, eating candy canes and making potato latkes.
With the traditions come the toys. No question, being a mixed religion family can be a budget buster. Adam Sandler sang the Hanukkah song about getting gifts on eight crazy nights. Now add the mother lode of gifts you get on Christmas. Then add the gifts from every other family member and the kids’ room resembles FAO Schwarz. Here’s the equation:
T= A + A x 8 + 2 (Toys equals Alicia plus Andreya times 8 plus two.) Two is the number of aspirin to handle your headache after.
Gifts aside, the blending of religions has made for some very proud moments like Alicia’s baptism, when she was dressed in her Tia Vanna’s baptism gown and sprinkled with holy water. In Boston, we got the tremendous honor of being there with my mother for Alicia’s Hebrew baby naming. We chose “Ellie” as Alicia’s hebrew name after her brave cousin in Israel who battled cancer. And some day soon, Andreya will also be baptized and will also receive her Hebrew name. My hope is that we can raise the girls with an understanding and appreciation of both religions and even others. One day they’ll gravitate towards the religion they identify with most.
I know Alicia, Andreya, their mom and their abuelita would like to host quinceaneras some day, the coming of age rite for young Latina girls. I’m Jewish, and I know my side of the family would love to see the girls have bat mitzvahs.
So I’ve come up with really the only logical conclusion… Wait for it…. “bat mitzvaneras.” Yes that’s bat mitzvaneras. Say it ten times fast.
It’s an original… Documenting a Latina-Jewish coming of age party could be MTV’s next big hit… The perfect Wilgoren Party. It’s the Torah, hora, Latina, pupusa, all-purpose party. They can do the quinceanera routines and then the Hava Nageela and never need to leave the room. We can do knishes, empanadas, Manischewitz and Sangria. Bat mitzvaneras… Think about it.
Along the way, Gloria and I have learned from each other about our respective cultures and we’ve passed these nuggets on to the girls. I got to teach them about my love affair with Jewish delis. There is nothing like a corned beef omelet, LEO (lox, eggs and onions) or a pastrami sandwich with brown mustard piled a mile high on a bulkie roll. In Jewish culture, you can trace your family roots by the delis you’ve been to (my first job was actually at Steve’s Deli in Sharon, MA, washing dishes and bussing tables for four bucks an hour). I got to teach them about the wonders of fresh baked challah bread. There is nothing like picking up a warm bread on Friday morning and ripping off that first chunk to eat. Unfortunately for me, the girls always “canoe” the bread and rip out the best inside part, leaving only the outside. And I’ve shared my love of fried matzah and butter with the girls although they don’t love it. With all the deliciousness comes the acquired tastes. When it comes to tongue, chopped liver or herring, I choose to Passover! I did very briefly introduce Gloria to the Jewish delicacy of gefilte fish. It’s one of those foods that tastes good if you don’t think about it too much. If you don’t know what this is, imagine a Jewish version of Fear Factor:
Recipe for Gefilte Fish
1) Take a bunch of various fish
2) Mince them all up into a big pile
3) Form odd oval shapes out of them
4) Dare to eat those odd oval shapes
Gloria’s family has its own rich food tradition from El Salvador. She introduced me to carne asada, a marinated flank steak grilled just right and never burned. It is my weakness. There is arroz con leche, quesadilla (in El Salvador this is a cheesy bread) and sweet vs. salty tamales (there are ones with prunes and ones without. Hint: I like the ones without). A family favorite is the pupusa, a thick handmade corn tortilla filled with cheese or pork or in my case, just beans. Gloria’s family knows exactly which Pupuseria makes them just right from scratch. And her family makes some killer Christmas turkey sandwiches, too. They make the turkey sandwiches with lettuce, radishes and this special sauce that her mom created which is incredible. And don’t forget the rice and beans. Yum yum yum.
Dadmission: A home filled with two religions makes for one big waistline: mine. Translation: Don’t blame my big butt on me.
Now the Latinos have some acquired tastes as well. They have menudo — and i’m not talking about the 1980’s super group. Picture a cauldron of animal insides mixed with broth. It is slow cooked and served on the weekends like some sort of special event. Thankfully, this is not a tradition in Gloria’s family, so I’d like to just move on.
The Wilgoren cultural exchange program extends far beyond the dinner table. In Gloria’s culture, she taught me about a tradition where newborn babies sleep with lettuce under their heads to ward off the evil spirits. In my culture, I taught her about a tradition where babies get the foreskin of their penis cut off. I prefer the lettuce story. In my culture we have the tooth fairy who collects teeth. In Gloria’s culture there’s the Ratoncito, a little mouse who collects teeth. In Gloria’s culture they eat grapes on New Years for good luck. In my culture, we order pizza and drink.
I learned about the wonders of the piñata from Gloria. You go and hang a candy-filled paper animal from a tree and take out your aggression over the cost of the party on it. When the candy falls out, your therapy is complete and the children are happy.
Gloria learned about the wonders of the Hora from me. You go and defy the laws of gravity by taking the adults at any Jewish party, hoisting them high off the floor on an unstable folding chair, and then dance around at a high rate of speed until they fall off or your back goes out.
Her Selena is my Jazz Singer. It’s J.Lo versus Neil Diamond in the culture clash of the ages. I have Yentl and Fiddler on the Roof. She has her novelas and Sabado Gigante with Don Francisco.
We can still learn a lot from each other. Already the girls speak fluent Spanish. And when the dishes are done and the food is put away, we can sit and relish in the uniqueness of our family. My sister reminded me of a time when Alicia was younger where she said, “Mommy is brown, Daddy is white and I’m pink.” Maybe Alicia was the original Pinkalicious. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is an excerpt from Dadmissions.
Find more at Facebook/ Dadmissions The Book.