This is my second year celebrating Hanukkah, and my first as a married woman. (Alas, as a good friend pointed out, it turns out that there just aren’t any good “My First Married Hanukkah” ornaments out there. Dangit! How am I supposed to commemorate this special milestone in my life without a fitting Hallmark memento???)

Despite my very limited experience, I have had a surprising number of people wish me a happy Hanukkah this year. More so, in fact, than have said anything to my husband, who is celebrating his fortieth such holiday. How is that possible?

Being a non-Jew, the most intriguing part of dating and marrying a Jewish man has been how obsessed everyone seems to be with his religion. When we first started dating, the time came for me to bring him over to my parents’ for dinner. My mom, the chef, was out of town that particular night, so my then-brand new boyfriend offered to cook. (Wisely, no one thought to ask me.)

When my grandmother found out that he was making dinner, she asked my aunt and uncle, “Do you think he’s going to make something… Jewish?,” i.e. spicy and unfit for her consumption. They assured her that no, he was not going to make something “Jewish,” and indeed, he cooked decidedly a secular salmon dish… with an unspiced portion left aside for my grandmother. Let me tell you, that went over huge.

Ever since then, people in my life have remained thoroughly preoccupied with my beloved’s religion. It’s almost as if they had never met a Jew before! Granted, the fact that he observes the holidays, knows all the prayers, and has lived and studied in Israel was something of a novelty to me. But I grew up with two religious scholars, both of whom are conversant in Hebrew, and I shared an apartment with a nice, non-practicing Jewish boy in college. In other words, my husband’s religious heritage has never really been that big a deal to me, other than a few road bumps here and there when we’ve run into differing expectations.

Now that we’re married, it seems as though his exoticism has somehow transferred itself onto me. In fact, judging by the number of people who wrote to wish me a happy Hanukkah, I am now even more Jewish than my husband. And yet, when I listen to him or his family singing the Shabbat prayers, I feel completely alien, my silence sticking out like a sore thumb as I sit there with a polite smile on my face. They tell me not to worry, I will learn the prayers, given about eight or ten years. I hardly find that reassuring, however, given that it comes from our six-year-old niece who already knows everything by heart.

So I inhabit a strange no-man’s land between secular and Jewish America. Through my association with an observing Jew, I myself have become something different, set apart. And yet within his Jewish family, I also feel like a foreign body, an observer from another land. Perhaps I will learn the prayers eventually, and with some work, I may even understand what they mean. But will they ever truly be my prayers, from my heart, to my God? That remains to be seen.

What I do know is that tonight I helped my husband to light our three menorahs, and am watching the candles melt down while I write. I may not have understood the words to the prayers that my husband said, but I hummed along, and I plan on doing so again next December. In a few years, I will do the same with our children. And eventually, perhaps without even noticing it, I will be singing the prayers right along with them. In this manner, I hope to gain a foothold in my new world, and by doing so, bring it that much closer to the one I came from.

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