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My American Jewish Family

Elise Passy is JOI’s new Big Tent Judaism Coordinator in Houston. She partners with the Houston Jewish community to create and implement low barrier, welcoming programs that serve all those who might find interest and meaning in Jewish life regardless of affiliation or family structure. We are excited to add her voice to the JOI.org blog. Meet Elise here.

Why am I involved with Big Tent Judaism? Because I am part of an American Jewish family. Growing up in Houston, Texas on the “not Jewish” side of town, I was always one of a few in my class at school. I remember my mother going into my class and explaining about Hanukkah and making latkes for all of the kids in the third grade. I knew I was different. I liked it. I was the kid who taught religious school, who was in the leadership of multiple youth groups. I was deeply involved.

After I graduated high school, my mom, a widow, remarried. My step-father has three kids, and together they had emigrated from South Africa. The American Jewish community was different from what they had known. Blending a family is not easy. My parents were fortunate in that only one of us lived at home full-time.

After college, I worked at the Jewish Community Center in Houston where I taught religious school, and eventually pursued a Masters in Jewish Education. I met and married my husband while living in Vancouver, BC. My mother-in-law was someone who found Judaism. A Jew-by-choice and single mother, she worked diligently to give my husband a connection to Judaism, and to the tradition she fell in love with. At our wedding, she gave my mother a note that explained how our marriage validated her choice. My father-in-law, an Israeli, is married to an extraordinary woman, who is my contemporary, and they have one daughter, two years my son’s senior. Brought up with a different religion, she and my father-in-law have managed to give my sister-in-law a balanced view of religion. My teenage sister-in-law defines herself as half-Jewish.

Having moved around a great deal as an adult, I continue to be involved with the Jewish community both personally and professionally. It has been the constant in my life no matter where I have moved, and I have found it has been the greatest source of intellectual stimulation as well as solace where I have been.

In the room next door to me growing up was my brother. An amazing athlete, he played football with boys who ended up playing for the NFL. Unlike me, he did not go to religious school. He played soccer, had a tutor, and had a bar mitzvah. He became a high school cheerleader, and was the guy who planned all of the parties for everyone. He played basketball with Jewish kids, he had some Jewish friends, but his Jewish needs were different than mine.

My brother waited a long time before he found the right person. He had a long list of what this wonder woman should be. He found her, and she is the yin to his yang. She certainly grounds him. Her mother was from California and her father from Iran. She did not grow up Jewish. She took my brother on a spiritual journey, and together they read and learned about many paths. Together, they chose to create a Jewish household, and she decided to make this tradition her own.

Why am involved with Big Tent Judaism? Because I believe there is room for everyone, and we need each other. I believe Judaism is relevant. I believe in the American Jewish community, and I am part of an American Jewish family.



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