My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

So Many Names for Such A Little Girl (Redux)

Before I get into the post proper, a quick note about photos... You may have noticed that fewer of my photos clearly show the Pipsqueak. In deference to the wishes of her mother to not post easily-identifiable portraits of her online, and based on my own knowledge & experience in the realm of Internet security (along with a wish to preserve what little privacy my family may have left), I am trying to avoid including clear images of my niece's face on this public platform. Depending on how events progress over time, and as her appearance changes as she grows, I may post clearer images of her at a very young age -- but for the time being I will err on the side of caution and try to make it a little more difficult for random passers-by on the street to easily recognize this little girl who means so much to us all.

And now, with that in mind, back to the blog...

On Wednesday the 17th, all us grownups took the Pipsqueak to a local synagogue for a formal mikvah conversion. If you've read some of my earlier posts, you'll probably remember the first entry titled, "So Many Names..." where I talked about the Pipsqueak's formal Hebrew naming ceremony.

A broad-brush description is probably the best at this point: the naming ceremony was to give the Pipsqueak a formal Hebrew name within the "family" of all Jews; the Mikvah conversion was to formally make her a part of that family in place of her being born to a Jewish mother. (The religion is passed from mother to child; given the Pipsqueak's birthplace, it's a pretty safe assumption that her birth mother wasn't Jewish. <g>) I'm leaving out a few layers, but these descriptions will suffice for now.

We're not exactly the most religiously observant family on the block, but our religion still plays a large part in our family & personal identity (identities). Since the Pipsqueak will be brought up in this religion, AJ wanted to be sure she was free to move about within it (so to speak); if she should decide to marry within it, or join a more conservative congregation in the future, the mikvah conversion would ensure that her choices would not be limited by rulings over whether or not she was "really Jewish".

A quick personal aside: I have typed and re-typed the above paragraph, and quite a few that are unlikely to ever see the light of day, in discussion of the "really Jewish" issue. (In part because I know a lot of people are surprised by the very existence of such a question.) My feeling is that if you truly identify yourself as being Jewish (or Catholic, or Muslim, or Protestant, or Sufi, or Buddhist, or Wiccan, or... you get the idea) and you make a sincere, ongoing effort to follow the major teachings of the religion... well, then that's what you are. As the Pipsqueak's Grandma is known to say when the subject of "really" being Jewish, the ovens didn't know the difference. The formal conversion -- which we all happily participated in as a joyful event -- was done in part because AJ wanted to ensure her daughter would not have to face this particularly odd (to us) species of discrimination in the future, and with that I'll get off my soapbox and back to the previously-scheduled post.

We found our way to the synagogue, and with the help of a very nice gentleman who just happened to be entering at the same time, were guided through a maze of hallways and stairs to where we needed to be. As usual, the Pipsqueak collected a bucketful of "how CUTE!" comments (in my unbiased opinion, all absolutely correct and well-deserved!) from various folks while we waited, and soon the "mikvah team" joined us. One of the rabbis unexpectedly gifted the Pipsqueak with a cute stuffed animal (we called it a giraffe but it really looks like either a gorse or a hiraffe), and then we again wound our way through the maze to the special mikvah room. We were all a little surprised when the Pipsqueak willingly let the female cantor hold her hand & walk with her through the building, but in the short time she's been with us we've learned she doles out that type of familiarity & trust very sparingly -- let me tell you, that lady really rates!

I hadn't known what to expect -- somehow I'd come to visualize either an ornate basin or something carved from stone (and yes, the baptism scene from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" also came to mind!) -- so I was surprised to find what looked like a large shower room all done in plain white ceramic tile, with a plain rectangular (but deep) pool on one side that looked suspiciously like the corner of any plain ol' in-ground swimming pool. It was explained to us that the water, while filtered for hygiene, includes a particular percentage of captured natural rainwater and is also warmed close to body temperature as per millenia-old rules governing ritual baths. We gave AJ & Miri a little privacy to change & get ready (AJ wore a modest swimsuit, the Pipsqueak wore skin), and then all squeezed onto the small dry floor area while mother & daughter entered the pool.

We had been a little concerned because the ritual includes several full submersions, but my niece is a real water baby; she was having a grand ol' time and every time she was dunked she came up laughing and asking for more! The only time she got upset was when we all started singing & clapping; she hadn't expected the sudden noise (and it was loud & echo-y in there), but the upset only lasted a few moments and I think she was disappointed that she couldn't play in the water with Mommy for a longer time. As we finished, the woman in charge of the mikvah room laughingly told us that Miri had reacted so much better than most little children to being dunked that she wanted her to be the synagogue's mikvah poster child!

After our mermaid faction dried off & dressed, we went back upstairs for the conclusion of the ceremony. One part required Miri to touch the Torah while the rabbi read a particular passage; in typical Pipsqueak fashion she got curious and was checking out the texture of its cover long before she was supposed to reach for it, which one rabbi smilingly said was a good omen. We soon finished, were presented with a pretty certificate -- shortly to be framed -- and then shared some kosher wine & cake with the entire team. (We'd brought it with us because, as Mom explained, back when she & Dad were kids it was a customary "thank you" from the family to share something sweet with those who performed such ceremonies & honors.)

With one last smile from the ladies at the reception desk & gift shop, we found the correct hallway and made our way back out to the parking lot. (Oh, did I mention that there was a crew with a crane in the parking lot, moving huge pallets of roofing material by dangling them in mid-air over our heads every time we walked in & out?!?) After a quick discussion, we headed to -- what else?! -- a kosher-style deli for a celebratory lunch. When not eating french fries, Miri entertained herself by visiting us all under the table, and after a while I took her outside for a walk. We did a little window shopping (she pointed to a particularly gaudy pair of rubber boots in a store window, said "boots!" then after studying them more closely decided she liked them, gave a nod and proclaimed, "my boots!") and then all headed home with a warm, happy glow.

Later that evening, I had some thoughts about my niece's identity -- or is it identities? -- that I'll share in a future post but right now it's past my bedtime so I'll close out this post before it grows much longer; I have a lot to say on the subject, and it deserves a post (probably just the first of many) of its own.

1 comment:

  1. You know, the mohel's of Pittsburgh all seem to gift youngsters with odd stuffed animals, too. Miles got a duck, if I remember correctly, and his friend Malcolm got a stuffed Torah scroll.