two lasagnas by flickr user maggiejane

AlefNEXT Guest Blog: “Italian-Jewish for the Holidays”

The following is a cross-post of a guest blog I had the privilege of writing for AlefNEXT. The original post can be found here.

Via the about page:

Q. What is Alef? A. Alef: The NEXT Conversation, is a web-zine which explores Jewish identity. From memoirs on “Why I Eat What I Eat” to a soul-searching narrative on serving jury duty during the High Holidays, to a travel piece on a Passover Seder in Ghana, Alef showcases the diversity of Jewish identity through stories, pictures, poems, music, and more. Alef is published by Birthright Israel NEXT.

My blog entry was part of a series of what it means to be Jewish and growing up in an interfaith family during the holiday season. One of the other blogs that I really enjoyed was “Kosher For Christmas,” it’s a great read. Those looking to contribute to this blog should read this.

Italian-Jewish For the Holidays

By Jake W-M

The beauty of having an Italian father is being born into a giant, very localized, Roman-Catholic family in the New Haven area of Connecticut. Most people think the big fight in New Haven is over which pizza is better – Sally’s or Pepe’s – but local guidos like us know there are a dozen other places to go. Growing up, I spent more time with my father’s side of the family than my mother’s; the fact of the matter is, the Italian side was always larger than the Jewish side, so much so that they easily outnumbered my mother’s family at the bnei-mitzvot of my sister and me.

two lasagnas by flickr user maggiejane

Having an appreciation for religion, my father’s family has been very supportive of my Jewish observance and background, though perhaps occasionally confused or frustrated by my inconsistent practices and the subsequent complications. To this day, when I visit for Christmas celebrations, they greet me with a “Happy Hanukkah!” even though it is not usually the reason I’m there (and in spite of my insistence that, in the holiday rankings, Christmas is really a few steps higher). My aunt has even taken to making a vegetarian lasagna just for my sister and I (the traditional version is loaded with delicious treif). I kvell every time! And I’ll never forget the Christmas dinner, when after saying grace–in Latin AND English–my Nonni (Grandmother) turned to me and excitedly told me to “Do it in Jewish!” After the initial confusion over what I was being asked to do, I had the presence of mind to say hamotzi in English as best as I could. Perhaps not in the moment, but in retrospect, I realized that it was such a heartfelt gesture that my grandmother, in her own way, wanted to include my Jewish practices in the family celebration.

For years I had made up reasons in my head for why I should play down the Jewish thing, but it just wasn’t necessary. Sure there were bumps in the road, and maybe some baggage that predated my own existence, but really I feel blessed to have a family that accepts and supports me the way they do, especially having heard stories where that’s not the case. Just like mishpocha is mishpocha, famiglia is famiglia, and I wouldn’t trade mine for anything.

Chag Hanukkah Sameach and Buon Natale!

Photo by Maggie Hoffman, licensed under Creative Commons / CC BY 2.0

I’d very much like to thank the great staff at AlefNEXT for this opportunity. It meant a lot to me. Comment, please!

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