As I bit into a kosher, vegetarian mock-lobster roll, I thought of my Grandma Gussie. In 1912, she (then known as Golda) and her younger sister Ethel left their home in Warsaw, bound for New York City, where they lived to enjoy countless family celebrations filled with laughter, latkes, cousins and kreplach.
Of the six children they had between them, only one survives, but their grandchildren still get together for important life-cycle events. The latest such occasion occurred on a recent weekend, when Ethel’s grandson, my cousin Michael, held a brit habat baby-naming party for his recently adopted daughter Chloe.
Michael, an elementary school teacher, has been happily partnered for the past 17 years with Darryl, a Chinese-American man. The couple began the process some time ago of adopting an infant from China, and were finally blessed earlier this year with Chloe, who had been abandoned on her second day of life on the steps of an orphanage. As their invitation put it, “We have always imagined that our daughter would complete the circle that blends our culture heritages,” adding, “We have decided that she will be raised in accordance with our interpretations of the traditions of the Jewish people.”
The moment of heritage-blending took place in the well-appointed surroundings of a kosher Chinese restaurant. As Chinese music played softly in the background, a friend and rabbi named Karen conducted the ceremony, reading traditional blessings welcoming Chloe into the covenant, and having the little girl, now a 22-month-old charmer, perform her first official act of tzedakah, dropping a coin into the charity box. Karen’s partner Rachel, a Jewish social worker, and their two children looked on proudly, as did 60 other beaming friends and relatives. The men wore bright red yarmulkes covered with elaborate Chinese embroidery, and everyone broke into “Siman Tov and Mazel Tov” after Chloe received her Hebrew name. (Actually, Darryl’s family just smiled and clapped along.)
Chloe has already attended her first Tot Shabbat service at my Reconstructionist synagogue, and how she’ll include Judaism in her life remains to be seen. My Israeli cousins can barely get their minds around the concept of a female rabbi, and my Orthodox relatives in the U.S. reject the entire scenario that took place the other day. But as Chloe was dubbed Chaya, in memory of Michael’s late mother, a name derived from the word for life, it seemed to me this moment was a tribute to the liveliness of modern Jewish existence. And while reaching for a dumpling that could have passed for kreplach, I also hoped that somehow, somewhere, 90 years after their arrival in the Goldene Medinah, Gussie and Ethel were kvelling.