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My Big Fat Jewish Waspy Family Reunion

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“You’re so tiny!”

Those were the first words uttered by my future in-laws. And no wonder I seemed so tiny. They were huge. Barely scraping five feet and weighing in at 100 pounds, I was and am small. But in the Jewish world, my stature is common. Normal. And never the cause for shock and awe. But for my future in-laws, a combined almost 12 feet between them, the wee fireball of energy they met that evening 15 years ago was out of this world. A miniscule Jewish girl, whose father happened to be a rabbi, was dating their atheist son.

I had yet to introduce my boyfriend to my parents because they were none too pleased that I was living with him. To put it bluntly, they were devastated that I had done the one thing they could not support: that’s right, the rabbi’s little girl was in love with a non-Jew (like many minority groups, they were hoping I’d stay within the religion). But what can I say? I was 22, rebellious, and simply crazy for my very tall, hot boyfriend (he even drove a motorcycle).

We sat down to the most delicious dinner one night at his parents’ place, and the strangest thing happened: I could hear chewing. Yes, chewing. That had never happened at my house. You see, we never stopped talking long enough for any silences, and we all had to yell our opinions to be heard. But at Jake’s house, I heard my voice and only my voice. A lot. His family didn’t interrupt mid-sentence or discuss completely inappropriate topics, like Mr. Pussy from Sex and the City, and they actually ate quietly. To them, I was a party game. Bring her out and watch her spin.

Lovely, kind, gentle and quiet is his family. When the time ultimately came for Jake to meet my parents (who by now had accepted the fact that I loved this man), he was equally as surprised and out of place as I had been when I first met his family. My normally talkative guy didn’t utter a single word. Not that he didn’t have a million opinions, but he had no clue when he was supposed to voice them. He didn’t quite get the “jump in whenever you want” Jewish style of conversation that I had grown up with. And he wasn’t used to the loud voices. He has a family of five and a whole slew of aunts, uncles and cousins, while my entire family consists of four people. But the four of us together are louder than his entire family combined watching the Superbowl.

My in-laws are amused and probably embarrassed by me at times. I can ask a stranger about circumcision or his or her sex life with no compunction. As for my own parents, they love how much Jake loves me. And our two children. Over the years, we’ve both managed to fit into each other’s families, as if we’ve always been a part of them. Any tension or struggles seemed to be in the distant past.

That is, until a phone call changed everything.

My in-laws had finally booked the place for their upcoming family reunion, the biggest bash of their lifetime. In the fall. Even before they’d told us the exact date, I had a horrible sinking feeling. The fall, when the leaves are burning crimson and orange,  is a lovely time of year to have a party. If you’re not Jewish, that is. For Jews, the fall happens to be filled with holidays, including the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). I just knew the date would coincide with one of these holidays. I thought it would be Rosh Hashana, which would have been bad.  But no, it was worse: their most important party ever was on Yom Kippur! The very holiest of Jewish days.

What was I going to do? If Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson were taking my calls, I would have asked them because I was sure they’ve been in the same situation. But since my Jewish celebrity counterparts weren’t available, I had to go with my gut. And with my gut churning, I knew what my answer was. I couldn’t go to a party on Yom Kippur and eat bacon wrapped in cheese. Actually, I’m sure that’s not on the menu, but it would just top one of my worst days ever. I was deeply upset and stayed up all that night thinking about the what-ifs and whys.

Why hadn’t I checked the Jewish holidays months ago when they had first mentioned the party? Why didn’t I get them a Jewish calendar in the first place? Why did I have to suffer so? Was there any way I could make this work without disappointing all of the most important people in my life? Maybe Jake and our 4-year-old son could go to the party while I celebrated the holidays with our 1-year-old daughter and my parents? Nope, that wouldn’t work because this year, our son would be ready to attend his first children’s service at the synogogue – an event my parents have been waiting for since his birth.

For the record, our kids are Jewish. But we celebrate Christmas. We always thought that was a wonderful mix of my religion and Jake’s culture (Christmas is the only holiday his devout atheist family celebrates). And until this debacle, it has actually made it much easier than if they were church-going Christians. So, maybe Jake could take our daughter to the reunion and I’d take our son to synagogue? Nope, that wouldn’t work, either (my daughter is still firmly attached to my boobs).

Many sleepless nights and no solutions later, my in-laws showed how much they love me. They might not always get what Judaism is all about, but they understand me. So, without any drama or awkwardness, they changed the date.  They changed the date! Crisis averted, hurdle jumped and stress magically taken away.

It is not easy to navigate life within two cultures, but it is possible. It just takes a little finesse, a lot of love and a very thorough Jewish calendar. Maybe that’s the gift I’ll give my amazing in-laws when we all attend their family reunion this fall.