One of the hardest things about being a Jew-by-Choice (to me anyway) is finding a place to celebrate Shabbat and the holidays. I spent my first Shabbat with Barbara and Phillip Einsohn, who welcomed me into their home as if I were family. My next introduction to Jewish hospitality was Temple’s Passover program that pairs people who are looking for a seder to attend with families who are hosting. I attended my first seder at the Gammieris’ home. Shelly worked at Temple at the time and, in fact, was the staff person who worked with conversion students and her husband, Vince, would eventually become my coworker at Federation. These first two shared celebrations introduced me to the Jewish concept of welcoming the stranger.
This concept that resonates deeply with me. I’ve written extensively about my positive experiences coming into the Jewish community, but I’ve also run into some deeply uncomfortable and unwelcoming situations that leave me wondering why I chose such a foreign religion. I don’t exactly fit the “typical” Dallas (and American) Jew profile because I am not white. I’m half-Filipino and half-Hispanic, a heritage I am proud of, but never really thought much about until I found myself in very different circumstances surrounded by very different people than those I had grown up with.
I struggle everyday to see where I fit in the Jewish community. It’s easy to say that Jews come in all colors, nationalities and creeds, but it’s not so easy for someone like me to fit in among a mostly white crowd. I vacillate from loving this community unconditionally to feeling completely left out and cursing the barriers (perceived or not) that separate me from the rest of the community I long to be a part of.
In the past, I would have run from such awkward situations, but maybe deep down I knew this community was my home and perhaps that’s why I didn’t leave. Maybe that’s why I continued with my conversion studies and made myself go out into new situations with people I didn’t know. Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege to celebrate Passover with many wonderful families who reminded me each year not to let my discomfort and people’s prejudices turn me away from the community I worked so hard to become a part of and love so deeply.
So, this fifth night of Hanukkah is dedicated to those families who welcomed this stranger into their home: the Einsohns, the Gammieris, Apryl Mathes and Adam Shulman, the Lerers, the Fines, Mort Meyerson, David Portnoy and Shira Lander, Jaynie Schultz and Ron Romaner, Rabbis David Stern and Nancy Kasten and the Kahalniks, with a special thanks to Bradley Laye who kindly arranged for me to spend Passover with some of these families. I look forward to the day when I can repay their kindness by welcoming the stranger into my home.