|In Which a Jewish Mother Brainwashes Her Son
and His Wife to Love HanukkahHere’s my Hanukkah present to those of you whose children have married outside the faith. Yes, you can get them to carry on the traditions that make the Celebration of Lights so special. But it takes a lot of effort. And a little luck.When my son married a woman born in mainland China, I thought I’d dodged a bullet. That country discourages religious affiliations and her parents saw no point in joining a church once they moved to the U.S. That worked out well for me — sort of. I wasn’t competing over which religion the kids would practice. But my son and daughter-in-law saw no reason to embrace the rituals or beliefs of Judaism . . . or any other religion for that matter.So I set out on a mission to convince them otherwise. They live in New York and I live in Florida so I couldn’t be there for every holiday. But I did my darnedest to make the major holidays as fun and meaningful as possible. On Yom Kippur, I’d fly up and prepare a traditional break-the-fast, even though neither of them fasted, and welcomed their friends to come over. It wasn’t an elaborate affair. I brought in bagels and lox and eked out a noodle pudding in their miniature oven. But it made the holiday real.
Later in the year, when my son announced he’d picked up a pine tree and Christmas ornaments, I raced to the Judaica store and express mailed a menorah and candles. I also put together a package for my daughter-in-law—one gift for every day of Hanukkah. Sure it was a bribe. But who cares? When I fly in for Hanukkah now, we light candles and sing songs. And the ready-made latkes from Katz’s Delicatessen are a big hit.
Passover is my favorite holiday so I cram a Seder plate, a silver hand washing cup and a pile of coffee-stained Haggadahs into my carry-on bag. One year, I found the ingredients for a Seder plate at Zabar’s and spent an hour and a half on the subway to get it. I was stunned by the number of young people who wanted to participate in our Seder that night.
I have no guarantees that celebrating these holidays means my son and his wife will continue to observe these Jewish traditions. But by making such rituals an important presence in their lives, I hope I’ve shown them what they’d be missing. My daughter-in-law recently gave birth to twin boys and agreed to have a cantor officiate at their baby naming ceremony. They also plan to send the boys to a Jewish preschool, claiming it offers the best education in their neighborhood.
My son argues that he’s raising the boys Jewish for me and his father. I don’t believe him. I suspect he likes the idea of belonging to a unique tribe. He’s comfortable having a sense of identity that dates back multiple centuries. The couple socialize with Jewish, Indian and Asian friends and seem to find pleasure in sharing our rituals with all of them. I can only hope they will continue to share these traditions with their own children.
Not that they have a choice. If they don’t, I’ll be up there, lighting candles and holding Seders with the grandchildren myself.