Call it luck. I have unearthed that rare beast, a single guy who loves my kids. In many ways, we're the perfect team. He's too slow in the kitchen to cook for starving children; I do high-speed gourmet. I can't draw; he's a professional artist. But I'm also an observant Jew, while Ted grew up Catholic.
Even so, my kids adore him right back. He tosses them in the air, plays all the "wild" games I refuse to. What impresses them most? As my son, Yerachmiel Meir (YM), told Ted admiringly, "You can eat squirrel if you want to!"--something YM can't do, due to kosher dietary laws.
Okay, so my children (Elisheva, 4 and YM, 5) lead insular lives. They go to Jewish schools. We share Shabbat (Sabbath) and holidays with family and friends. They say brachot (prayers), with a fluency that I-not raised religiously-secretly envy. Ted, a co-worker I've been dating for a year and a half, has been their first glimpse into an exotic world that contains non-Jews. YM announces to strangers, "Ted's Christian," like he's bragging.
As accepting as they are, the kids are puzzled; they wonder what he's doing here. I overheard YM saying to Elisheva, "You can't marry Ted; he's not Jewish!"
Once, I thought perhaps we could be a "mixed" family. Ted rarely attended church, so we'd only have to deal with seasonal "Christmas/Hanukkah" and "Passover/Easter" issues. And as puzzling as Judaism was to him, he admitted that it seemed good for my kids, and that it made sense to raise any future children in the same way. But as the months passed, I felt less and less satisfied. The relationship was blossoming, but I found myself wishing for more of a shared Jewish and spiritual connection.
Finally, I confronted the truth: I wanted a Jewish family. Or, rather, I needed Ted to join the Jewish family we already had. He'd been holding back, observing our rituals from a distance, like an anthropologist. Finally, I broke down and admitted to him that although his companionship meant so much to me, the picture of our future together could not be complete without one final piece: his neshama (soul).
A Few New Rituals
YM told Ted once: "You can come live with us; all you have to do is become a Jew!" To them, Judaism comes naturally. It's just a matter of learning a few new rituals. To Ted, though, this religion is a baffling world, with its own multi-sensory vocabulary: new words, smells, tastes, and images coming at him from all sides. Only recently has he begun to relax and start participating when he's with us for Shabbat or holidays.
Every Friday night, after kiddush (blessing the wine), we troop into the kitchen for the traditional hand washing before eating the braided Shabbat challah (a bread made with eggs that is traditionally eaten on the Sabbath). Lately, Ted's been joining the knee-high crowd around the sink, where I lead him through the blessing afterwards. One time, though, I was busy, and YM noticed that Ted hadn't "made his blessing yet."
Since they were babies, my kids have known the words that begin most blessings: "Baruch atah Adonoi...(Blessed art Thou o God.)" I usually just have to prompt them with the single syllable, "Ba" to get them going.
YM began coaching Ted. He opened his mouth and said "Ba"--and waited for Ted to continue. Finally, I broke the silence: "say all the words." Patiently, YM spoke the syllables for Ted to repeat. Ted finished confidently, and YM chimed "Amen!" Together, they headed back to the supper table.
A Strong Footing
It can be frustrating for Ted, feeling like he's miles from "catching up"--even to the children's level. Elisheva has had almost 250 Shabboses (Sabbaths)--Ted has experienced barely a fifth that number. They cannot imagine the difficulties involved.