Jewish& is a blog by Be’chol Lashon, which gives voice to the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of Jewish identity and experience. The original multicultural people, Jews have lived around the world for millennia. Today, with globalism and inclusion so key in making choices about engaging in Jewish life,Jewish& provides a forum for personal reflection, discussion, and debate.
Though they did not start off life as Jews, Puah Millsaps and her multiracial family have never felt more welcome than they do in the Jewish world. Be’chol Lashon caught up with this busy mom between homeschooling lessons to hear more about her family’s unusual journey, their joys and challenges.
Team Be’chol Lashon: Tell us a bit about your family.
Millsaps: We have five children and one on the way this summer.
BL: Is it a challenge to be such a big family?
Millsaps: Of course. Especially when my husband Brett is at work, and I am doing the parenting on my own. When it is the two of us it is easier. Now that we have older kids, it’s easier. It flows. We have our routines.
When we go out without Brett, the most common comment is “you have your hands full.” Today’s society is not set up for big families. With both parents working, most people can’t have big families. We don’t have family-oriented homes. It is not as intimate as it once was. There are not used to seeing big families. In Asheville, [where we live] we get lots of positive comments about a beautiful family.
BL: Are there any challenges because you are a multiracial family?
Millsaps: Being a multiracial family has not really popped up. When we got together, [me and my husband] we were living in West Virginia in a small town and they had no diversity, except the college kids. So a couple times we got looks, but we didn’t really pay attention. We do know that there are places out there that will do that. We have not run across that. We have never had discrimination in housing or jobs. In the Jewish community, the concern is more about us being converts and having so many children.
BL: How did you come to Judaism?
Millsaps: I grew up in Christianity with my family. My father and his lifelong best friend moved to West Virginia when I was 13 and when I turned 22 they were into a movement of finding their faith. It was all within the Christian tradition. When I was 18 they started looking for a church of their own and I went with them. We were Pentecostal for about six years and then my dad’s friend found a Hebrew Roots movement because in our small town there were no synagogues there was no way to have a broad Jewish affiliation.
It put stress on my parents’ relationship because my mom was Christian and now my father was on this new path, and I looked to him for advice. I was living with them and watching his journey. It was amazing to watch in my mid-20s. So I got into the Hebrew Roots movement and beginning to look into the Torah. My father’s friend would hold Shabbat at his home with his large family.
Brett emailed he was going to school in the town over from us and came across our group and was interested in coming to a Shabbat. So he came for Shabbat. In the beginning, we developed a friendship. There were not a lot of young people around so we had more in common. We started courting. I already had two children but our beliefs were bigger than my baggage.
We moved to North Carolina and became more fluent in Judaism. I move with my spiritual instinct. Brett was keen on writing things down. He would write down large passages of text from the Old and New Testament and memorize them. I was not sure I could get on board with the New Testament. That brought us to a more Jewish approach. The ritual spoke to us on a practical and spiritual level.
Two years ago, we were feeling very isolated, because we did not have enough of a community. We had outgrown our Hebrew Roots community. We wanted to find a place that would help our children build a legacy. So we visited synagogues that were close to us. We started attending in Asheville, it reminded me of home. And we have made it our home. We found CBI and Rabbi Goldstein and it was everything we were imagining.
BL: Did you feel welcome?
Millsaps: The synagogue was so welcoming and included us in the family education. They wanted us to come and join and feel connected. They did not put the money front and center, they put the people front and center. They made sure there was not a financial barrier.
It is a special place, and the rabbi taking us on and helping us through the whole process of conversion. It was especially easy and joyful. And I’ve seen him do it with other families. He is open and is always willing to meet with me if I have questions or ideas. He’s glad to help us make things happen. It was never a burden.
BL: Do you have a favorite Jewish holiday?
Millsaps: Hanukkah is my family’s favorite. But I love Sukkot. They love Hanukkah. When we started with the holidays they really got into it because it was hands on and we were able to do it without breaking the bank, making decorations, and telling the story and playing with dreidel. I love Sukkot because I love to camp and being able to be outside with a minimum of resources is great. We have not had a sukkah because it is too expensive. We did a teepee. Now, I know that a teepee isn’t kosher because of the covering, but we hope to have a sukkah one day.
Pronounced: KHAH-nuh-kah, also ha-new-KAH, an eight-day festival commemorating the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and subsequent rededication of the temple. Falls in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which usually corresponds with December.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Pronounced: SOO-kah (oo as in book) or sue-KAH, Origin: Hebrew, the temporary hut built during the Harvest holiday of Sukkot.
Pronounced: sue-KOTE, or SOOH-kuss (oo as in book), Origin: Hebrew, a harvest festival in which Jews eat inside temporary huts, falls in the Jewish month of Tishrei, which usually coincides with September or October.