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Making Room For Two Religions In One Family

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With Thanksgiving right around the corner, turkey is the talk of the town. But in my house last Friday, I wasn't scouring the web for low-fat stuffing recipes or new ways to use leftover dark meat. I was searching for directions to make the ultimate vegetable curry. Not just any curry...No, I was on an emotional quest to track down the "Seven Vegetable" delicacy that my husband grew up eating on Diwali, the Hindu New Year and Festival of Lights. I wanted to surprise him. Much of our family lives faraway and this would be the first time that our children would be old enough to comprehend on some level what a holiday is. I felt compelled to make it a special event -- even if it was just my humble attempt to replicate a boyhood favorite.

This is a new chapter for us. First, we were just another interfaith couple who ultimately overcame some familial resistance to our courtship...Then, we became newlyweds who were still so engrossed in our careers that the business of celebrating a holiday was relegated to deciding which generous invitation we would accept from relatives to join them for temple or a meal. Now, as the parents of young children and with family all over the globe (from Pune, India to Philly to Phoenix), we suddenly face a new imperative. It is up to us to create a spiritual life in our own home and figure out how our parents did what they did to impress upon us certain values and traditions. It is a daunting task.

I thought navigating how to celebrate and respect our different faiths would be the tough part. I am Jewish, by the way. But surprisingly, what I have found to be the most challenging is to be observant at all. I never appreciated how hard my parents worked (especially, my mom) to make holiday memories for us. It is not easy to keep up traditions when we live in a time that makes it just too easy to order a turkey dinner from Whole Foods and call it an night.

Why go through the trouble of planning and setting aside time to mark an occasion? I guess for me, it is a way of reasserting who I am and at the same time, I hope, giving my kids something to hold onto. I want them to share in all of the meaningful things my husband and I enjoyed as children. And somehow, as a newer mother, I have discovered in myself a deep need to carry on the traditions --bothof our traditions. In some ways, giving our toddlers the gift of those experiences -- whether it is tasting apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah or reading them the books about Diwali, taking time to do those things makes me feel that they are gaining a foundation for their identities later in life. Who knows which religion, if any, they will choose? But I want our children to know that we value where we came from and want them to value it, too.

It seems I have stumbled upon yet another aspect of the complex identity shift that comes with motherhood. Who we are spiritually in so many ways transcends which God you believe in or whether you believe at all. To me, religion and culture are bound up in the business of making a house a home.

As for my curry, I finally did find a website that featured the Sindhi version my husband would have enjoyed. But I didn't recognize some of the ingredients -- I had no idea what a brinjal was. (Turns out it is eggplant.) What's funny is that we had been so lax about holiday traditions in the past that I hadn't even heard of this special "Seven Vegetable" curry until Friday morning when we were on the telephone with my in-laws in India wishing them Happy Diwali. It was only then that I heard my husband sound a bit nostalgic for it. In the end, I made a quick Americanized version that actually turned out pretty well and was mild enough for our toddlers to enjoy. It was a pretty modest gesture but a big step forward on our path to starting some traditions of our own. Here is the recipe, by the way. (I added half a can of light coconut milk, boiled fingerling potatoes & swapped out vegetable broth for the vegetable bouillon cube and water)

The experience got me thinking about the holiday season and the roles of faith and family once you hit motherhood. This week on The Well Mom , we share some ideas about spirituality and new motherhood. Feel free to send in your personal anecdotes about interfaith families or how your perspective on religion and values changed when you became a mom. Email I hope to write a follow-up column in December and would love to draw on your stories and traditions.
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