Dadmissions: The Bat Mitzvañera

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?”

My wife is Catholic.
I am Jewish.
My wife is Latina.
I am white.

Officially, that makes our kids a rainbow melting pot.

When we took our older daughter in for her tonsil surgery, they asked us what our “religion of preference” was. We didn’t know what to answer. My wife is way 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, we just left the line on the form blank. We choose to expose the girls to both religions and that’s what we prefer.

They 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 this time of year when we have a fresh cut Christmas tree in our house surrounded by our lighted menorahs. I have that one old menorah that’s been in the family for decades. It 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 too.

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 daughter plus daughter 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 my older one’s baptism, when she was dressed in her Tia’s baptism gown and sprinkled with holy water. In Boston, we got the tremendous honor of being there with my mother for her Hebrew baby naming. We chose “Ellie” after her brave cousin in Israel who battled cancer.
Our younger daughter was just baptized too. And some day soon, she 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 the girls, their mom and their abuelita would like to host quinceañeras 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 mitzvañeras.” Yes that’s bat mitzvañeras. 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 party. It’s the Torah, hora, Latina, pupusa, all-purpose party. They can do the quinceañera routines and then the Hava Nageela and never need to leave the room. We can do knishes, empanadas, Manischewitz and Sangria. Bat mitzvañeras… Think about it.

Along the way, the wife 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 my extended family 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

My wife’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. Her family knows exactly which Pupuseria makes them just right from scratch. And her family makes some killer Christmas turkey sandwiches, too. They make the sandwiches with lettuce, radishes and this special sauce that her mom created which is incredible. And don’t forget the rice and beans.

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 the wife’s family, so I’d like to just move on.

Our cultural exchange program extends far beyond the dinner table. In the wife’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 the wife’s culture there’s the Ratoncito, a little mouse who collects teeth. My family has the tooth fairy. In the wife’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 the wife. 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.

She 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 Jlo 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 our older girl was younger where she said, “Mommy is brown, Daddy is white and I’m pink.” Maybe she was the original Pinkalicious. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.




About Pete Wilgoren

Author of Dadmissions. Pete Wilgoren is an Emmy winning journalist, blogger, and author writing about parenthood, life, and other stuff
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5 Responses to Dadmissions: The Bat Mitzvañera

  1. Naomi says:

    I love it!

  2. This was such a great article. My husband and I have the same situation as you (but I am not a Latina), so at times we struggle when dealing with the whole two religions thing. And some people will just say the most awful and awkward things to us…glad we have people like you on our side who can make us chuckle about our unique situation!

  3. andi says:

    This is hilarious!! I can so relate 😉 Life in perpetual culture shock can be trying, but when you approach it with humor and a stretchy waistband, you’re bound to come out OK. My husband and I are about as opposite as you can get, but you know what – we’re doing this thing and having a good time, too. Cheers!

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