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Choosing to be Jewish—and How

Being supportive of my fiancé’s conversion means letting him decide the role he wants Judaism to play in his life

Alexandra Pucciarelli
October 16, 2017

This is the second installment in a series chronicling the author’s fiancé’s conversion to Judaism. You can find the first installment here.

Just like that, another round of High Holidays has come and gone. This year was a bit different, though. My sister Gabbie, who goes to Colorado College, surprised me with a New Year’s visit. Since she was only in town for a few days and not feeling the idea of spending them in temple, we decided to skip services. This was the first time in my adult life that I haven’t gone to High Holidays services and let me tell you: It was exhilarating. We had a festive meal with some friends at Jack’s Wife Freda, which has always been my favorite part of the holiday anyway.

I expected this year to feel somehow different, since my fiancé Ian was in the process of converting. But despite a few bumps in the road, it ended up being the same as always in a lot of ways.

While interning at Tablet means getting days off for all the major Jewish Holidays, at Ian’s office, taking off for the High Holidays requires using vacation days (which is odd, considering his whole department is Jewish). Since he often uses up the majority of his paid time off by the fall, I usually end up going to at least one of the holiday services by myself. Meanwhile, his department marks the holiday in their own special way by moving at a slower pace. This year was the same, except neither of us went to services. But we were together for our festive meal, which was great as always. His Jewish co-worker Naomi, who had never celebrated a High Holiday before, joined us. It felt really special to share this tradition with her. It’s interesting to think that Ian, who is choosing to be chosen, has had Jewish ritual as a part of his life for a longer time than his Jewish co-worker. It’s not really shocking though; converts often end up knowing more about Judaism than those of us who were born Jewish but aren’t particularly religious.

The other big High Holiday weirdness was that Ian was in Memphis during Yom Kippur. Last spring, Ian decided that he wanted to drive to Gonerfest, an annual fall garage rock festival in Memphis. While he started getting a group together for the trip, I realized that he would be missing Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. I tried to convince him to cancel the trip, but he felt like it would really disappoint his friends. (I mean, what about me?) While at first it felt personal, I slowly realized that he wasn’t choosing the musical festival over me—he was choosing it over Yom Kippur. This was a choice he was making about the role Judaism, or at least the Jewish Holidays, would play in his life.

I didn’t want to force him to celebrate the holidays the way I do: Very minimally, but joyfully. I was still really disappointed though. I wanted to spend this holiday with him. I like to spend all the time with him—what can I say, I sort of like the guy. Everything changed a month later when he proposed, because now he was my future husband, and I would get to spend all the time in the world with him. But his decision to go to a punk music festival on Yom Kippur made me question if he really wanted to be Jewish. He assured me he does want to be Jewish, but that he also wants to be punk. If Tommy Ramone was able to do it, I guess Ian can too.

Looking back on this argument, I now see it as Ian making his first real choice about how he wants to be Jewish. And who am I to judge—I skipped services this year. But he promised he’d be there for both High Holidays next year. That we’d be there, together.

Alexandra Pucciarelli is an editorial intern at Tablet.