BOTH SIDES NOW – ANDI + SARA

Australians talk about love, life and Judaism: MIRIAM HECHTMAN asks Andi and her mother Sara about their journey through life. (PLUS61J MEDIA)

Dr Andi (Chani) Salamon, 45, is a teacher and researcher at Charles Sturt University, and has an 11-year-old son. Andi’s mother Sara Salamon, 69, is a customer service guru for Westfield in Chatswood. They both live in Sydney.

ANDI (Chani)

I am Brooklyn-born to Ukrainian Jewish parents and was raised in Sydney. My early childhood was in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and then we moved to Sydney when I was five and a half. I always say, “[it’s a] way to mess up a kid”. Just when you think you’ve got the world sorted, just pick her up and put her in Lane Cove in 1980.

Growing up in Brooklyn involved being part of an ultra-Orthodox community. I went to a Yeshiva. Yiddish was my first language. You heard it on the streets. So, in my early childhood everything was just normal because the home I was born in to was the culture I could see around me. And I say “culture” because for us, it was never really religious; it was always traditional and cultural.

When we came here I started to feel “different”. I never really fit in because what I was seeing didn’t fit this internal model that I’d come to expect.

My parents had lots of expectations around having a Jewish identity because everything they did, we were told as often as could be told, was for us. They left the old country so we could go to a Jewish school, although the greater end was really so that we could marry Jewish men. And growing up, we knew this. I think it was said that we would be cut off if we didn’t marry Jews.

I never really came out about being queer or did a big event. I didn’t declare anything to anyone. It really didn’t matter even then in relation to my parents, aside from them expecting me to bring home a Jewish man. So that was something I needed to address when I got older.

When I was 25 I did a course about coming from truth and coming from love, which fit with my family. I knew that I was a good person. I understood how hard it would be for them at all levels – that I was attracted to and interested in women as well as men, and then to fit that into the Jewish discourse.
I was pretty patient. I remember having to breathe deep and summon courage to say it. I had to start that conversation. I was in the kitchen and they were both there and I said it.

I think they kept a little hope until I met Lu, with whom I was going to settle down and have a child. That opened up a whole other level of complexity, confusion and maybe hurt for them because it that seemed to make it final. That then opened up the question, for them, of “is this my grandchild?”

Their responses have never been hurtful to me because I understand how hard it is for them. I’m a teacher so I understand that our behaviours, even as adults, are just the tip of the iceberg. So I do my best not to react to the behaviour but to come to a place of understanding.

I think Judaism partly plays out in my resilience. I have a strong sense of gratitude for people and things in my life, including safety and sustenance. That’s partly because of our family history. It plays out in the responsibility I feel to help my son to value gratitude and giving.

My mum and I are close in really underlying ways. Sometimes Lu and I can be talking about whether we are going to go to see my parents on the weekend and mum, in the same moment, will text me and say, “are you coming on the weekend?”

My relationship with my mum is warm, secure. I know she’s always there for me. I really appreciate that she will listen and sometimes change her view based on what she’s heard. I think she wishes I spoke to her more. I think that’s a part of the Jewish mother thing.

SARA

We come from a little area in Ukraine called Zakarpattia. I was brought up in an Orthodox family because my father and his family were followers of the Viznitz Hasidim. I went to a secular Russian school and it was very different for me because even though I grew up in an Orthodox family, I somehow always felt a little bit restricted by the Orthodox Jews and was always trying to do things that I shouldn’t have been doing.

My husband and I immigrated to America, with his parents, in 1972. I was 21 and seven months pregnant. We couldn’t speak a word of English. We didn’t have choice about living an Orthodox life. But we adapted the religion to a certain point and respected the people around us.

My first daughter Ruth was born in 1973, and Chani in 1975. Chani is her Yiddish name. In America they asked me for an English name so I gave her Andrea. In 1981 we moved to Australia with Abe’s mother. Both Abe and I insisted that we wanted to give the girls a Jewish education. I never stopped maintaining the Jewish life that I wanted to have.

We always used to say when you wish someone something, the best thing you can say is, “I want to see you bring your children under the chuppah”. This was a wish that all of us were proudly looking forward to.

Ruthie came up first, telling us that she was going to marry a non-Jew and then Chani said she had a female partner. But with Chani it was a little bit easier because we already went through something with Ruth and we accepted that, so the pain wasn’t as severe.

It was still very uncomfortable but from day one I never hid the fact that I have a daughter whose partner is a female. Yes, we want our children to have Jewish partners and some of my friends even asked me, “is she Jewish?”

No, but it doesn’t matter if she is or she isn’t, because Lu is like Chani and respects and shares the stories and culture of Judaism with their son.

I never knew my grandparents. It’s not necessarily Orthodoxy that has to be passed on; it’s also the tradition, through stories, history, backgrounds. I’m very proud to be Jewish.

Chani is a very soft, emotional person who takes things literally. She is a very strong character as long as she gets what she wants and she’s fighting for what she wants. She’s very warm, very loving. When her grandmother had Alzheimer’s, Chani was the only one who would climb into bed, talk to her in Yiddish, joke with her and help her, and take her out for walks. She’s an amazing person.

I’m not worried about her Jewish life because I know she will always follow in footsteps similar to ours. The traditions will always be observed. I think we gave her a good base for it. Orthodox she will never be, because it didn’t suit me either. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, so it was not convenient for me to be Orthodox. Chani will be fine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s