Hag Hodayah Sameach! My Thanksgiving of Firsts.

Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

This Thanksgiving is my…

first Thanksgiving in Israel.

first Thanksgiving away from my mom.

first Thanksgiving with Jews.

first kosher (non-dairy) Thanksgiving.

first Thanksgiving spent working.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, not only because of the food but because of the overall spirit of family and joy. Now that I have to add Jewish holidays into the mix, I am not quite sure if it is still my favorite but no doubt that it is up there. I love the food, the weather, the family, the feeling of gratitude, and the football. My mom always hosts Thanksgiving and this year was no exception. The cousins, aunts and uncles who usually attend were all there. There were about 45 family members total, but still some people were missing this year, including my grandfather who passed away at the end of the summer. I did miss seeing my family, but the excitement and novelty of Thanksgiving in Israel was enough to keep me from being homesick.

On Thursday, Thanksgiving day, I had to come into work. It was strange to not have Thanksgiving off, but luckily it was a short and slow day. I spent the majority of my time sitting in the office watching Thanksgiving sitcom specials on Netflix. I did multiple episodes of How I Met Your Mother, King of the Hill, Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier and even an episode of Rugrats to bring back childhood memories. That evening I went to eat Thanksgiving Dinner along with other students in my program at the Deputy Ambassador’s house. It was great to see friends from my program, but the event felt much more like any other dinner rather than Thanksgiving.  The formality of the evening just didn’t make it feel like Thanksgiving. I have to admit that after my excitement for the event, I was let down from the lack of Thanksgiving cheer.

On Friday, my adviser was hosting Thanksgiving at her home. She was having 35 people over for dinner a Thanksgiving themed Shabbat dinner. As soon as I walked in the home, it smelled, looked and felt like Thanksgiving. The food was all traditional but kosher. Everything was so delicious that I didn’t notice there wasn’t butter in my mashed potatoes or dairy milk in my cornbread. I didn’t know any of the guests before the dinner except for my adviser and her husband. The guest list was very eclectic, and I enjoyed everyone’s company. There were only three people from the U.S. (Minnesota, California, and Texas). Other countries represented at the dinner were South Africa, Ethiopia, China, Germany, Argentina, England, Holland and Israel. The mix of languages at the table was inspiring.   That dinner felt like Thanksgiving.  All the traditional Thanksgiving foods were there, including pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and cornbread, but more importantly, her house filled with about 35 of her friends all smiling and laughing together.

Even though my Thanksgiving ended up being a day late and being shared with people I had never met before, it was still a real Thanksgiving filled with love and thanks. I am grateful for the chance to experience such wonderful holiday feelings so far from my family.

I know Christmas will be harder, but at least I know holidays away from family are possible.

Living For Myself, But Not Living Selfishly

Converting to Judaism is the most selfish thing I have ever done. Moving to Israel is a pretty close second. I struggle with the guilt I feel over my selfish decisions most days. I make decisions based on pleasing people more often than I should, but the few decision I have made in my life that have been for myself have all been major life decisions that have effected those around me, most importantly my family.

One of the hardest things I have ever done was telling my parents that I wanted to convert to Judaism. My sister and brother-in-law already knew. My best friend already knew. A few other friends and cousins knew. The only people left to tell, whose response I cared about, were my parents. To be honest, telling them was much more than one conversation. It was a series of conversations over a few years. They knew I was interested in Judaism, Jews, Hebrew and Israel, but they never wanted to believe that it was more than a passing fascination. My parents saw my passion as nothing more than a naĂŻve child mystified by what was in front of her. This is the way they view most of my undertakings. To be fair, it is true that the things I am most passionate about were inspired by my natural curiosity and excitement to encounter and take hold of what intrigued and baffled me. At the same time, there is a difference between wanting to sky dive or even ride a roller coaster, both of which are things I would never have the guts to do, and making major life decisions. I am not haphazard or reckless by nature. Instead, my decisions are made with deliberation, struggle and care, which almost makes it worse because then I am selfish.

I don’t make decisions on a whim without thinking of the consequences to myself or those around me. I carefully think out the implications and aftermath of my decisions, which makes deciding what to eat for dinner a hassle. With large decisions, I know that others will be affected. I know that often I am hurting someone, and yet, I do it. I decide that my wants are greater than someone else’s wants. I make a selfish decision knowing that I am being selfish. I struggle with this. I love the decisions I have made, but I hate the way it has affected other. I often fantasize about how I would live my life if I lived in a protective bubble. Not a bubble that protected me from my decisions, but a way that my family was protected from feeling any impact from my decisions. How differently would I live?

My sister and brother-in-law, my bearers of sanity, talk me back to reality. They remind me that it is okay to make decisions based on what I want. I might sound silly, but it is something I need to be told. It just doesn’t seem right in a Mexican family. Family comes first- always. With the change of times, this is also changing. My generation is really the first to step outside of this box. Family is still of utmost importance, but we learn to redefine what family means and what providing for the family means. It is in my generation that children are beginning to educate themselves and move outside of the 30 mile radius that is the hub of our extended family. As this shift takes place, the generations before us, my parents, their siblings and aunts and uncles, struggle with the shifting priorities. It feels like a true loss of the family unit. I mourn this loss a bit stronger than some of my cousins. I feel myself letting down not only my parents and the generations before them but also the generations to come that will have very different assumptions and experiences of familyhood than I did.

I have created a Hispanic parent’s worst nightmare. My decisions go beyond myself. My family will not be the family that my parents ever envisioned. I live further away than my parents would like. I am pursuing a profession that makes little to no sense to my parents. I am practicing and believing in a completely different religious system than my parents. I am going against tradition in almost every imaginable way, and it hurts us both.

Even though there is pain, I continue to grow. I continue to learn. I continue to live. My sister is right in saying that my decisions are just that- mine. She wants me to claim my decisions as selfish and embrace the selfishness as a badge of honor. That has worked well to inspire her to live a happy, healthy life for herself, but I am different and can’t quite do that. Selfish will always have a negative connotation for me. Instead, I remind myself that taking care of myself and living my life my way is not selfish. Oscar Wilde has a beautiful quote that has become my mantra in times of feeling guilt for my “selfish” decisions.

“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live”

This quote has become increasingly meaningful after my move to Israel and as I try and plan what is next. I already try to live my life in such a way that I don’t impose myself on others, but this quote goes beyond that idea by expressing that it is not just okay but necessary to dictate yourself. I can’t make other people see decisions this way, because that would be against the principle itself. All I can do is continue to focus on what is important to me, ask myself how I want to live my life, and live accordingly.

U.S. Election 2012- Hope for Minorities, Like Me

This morning, I woke up and watched the final moments preceding the announcement of the elected U.S. president. Just a few minutes into watching, the magic number of 270 electoral votes was hit. Even though Romney had not yet conceded, I knew that Barack Obama was going to continue to be my president.

I am one of the most apolitical people I know. I would not call it apathy, but I am the first to acknowledge that I am not educated enough on any political issues. I can not even believe I am writing a reflection on anything related to the presidential election right now. Despite my limited attention to politics, I could not help but think of a true shift in the political paradigm of the United States in the days leading up to the election.

For the first time in U.S. history, there was no White Anglo-Saxon Protestant candidate.  And in the days leading up to today, I knew that regardless of the outcome I was excited for this shift. I am not saying that White Protestants can not make good candidates, but the realization that the country was for the first time voting outside of this demographic that has been the vast majority of presidents was thrilling.

Not as a Democrat, not as a Republican but as a young, Jewish, Hispanic, female U.S. citizen, this gave me hope. No matter which way you cut it, I am a minority (even if the female population is technically the majority statistically). The fact that regardless of which candidate would be president, my president, the president of the United States, would also be in the minority was reason to smile and feel more secure in the future of all minorities in the United States.

I struggle with being a minority in both the United States and in Israel, but then  moments like this make me feel the weight of the worth of the historically repressed and underrepresented voice- my own voice included.