Every since I can remember, I've felt the burden of being the last link to my heritage. This little voice in my head said, "If I don't continue my cultural traditions and rituals, they will be lost for future generations." Yet, being fourth generation Japanese-American and newly Jewish, this feels like a total set up. What are traditions and what are rituals? Do I even have any of my own? If I don't, how do I make my own? Are they still "real" and "authentic" if I'm making them up as I go along?
First of all, what is a tradition and what is a ritual? At Nourish, we define tradition as a behavior that happens in a continuing pattern. For example, my Mom has a tradition of making 30 pounds of mochi each year for Japanese New Year, which my Dad then delivers to family, friends and neighbors who may not otherwise have access to homemade mochi. In our highly connected modern world, traditions can add a seasonality to our year. They can give us a reason to disconnect from technology for a bit and reconnect to our loved ones. Often, traditions are passed down from our ancestors to future generations.
Rituals are a set of actions that are performed in a particular sequence- these actions can take place as often as every day or as little as once. For example, before our wedding Bryan and I met with our rabbi to construct our wedding rituals. Often, rituals are associated with religious rites, but can also non-religious, like a morning routine. Having some rituals in place can help us feel supported by our communities and offer healing during challenging times. Rituals can also help us feel like we have some level of control when the world is moving at an increasingly fast pace.
When I first started thinking about this question, the problem was that I didn't really have any cultural traditions and rituals of my own. My Mom had been doing much of the heavy lifting for years, and I never really learned how she did them. So days, months, years flew by and I did nothing but carry around the burden of being the last link to my heritage. It wasn't until before we got married that I started thinking more seriously about this. Bryan and I were merging two distinct heritages and I was converting to Judaism. I worried that there wasn't enough space in me for the parts of me that were Japanese and the parts that were Jewish. I realized that if I didn't take on a more active role, my Japanese cultural traditions and rituals really might be lost for future generations.
This is when I started to really doubt myself, my identity and my narrative. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and always felt like an outsider when I visited my mother's home country of Japan. Up until now, I have about a year of experience being Jewish. I felt like a total fraud. But here's what I learned: The root of the traditions and rituals from our heritages have so much wisdom. And We HAVE to make traditions our own if they are going to survive. Let me give you an example: Because of my unique narrative, I'm not likely to connect to the very powerful story of Passover if it's all in Hebrew and told over six hours before dinner is served. This year for Passover, I made a Japanese-inspired matzah ball soup and served saké with dinner. Our community of friends came over and we shared stories of immigration in our families. Everyone was so engaged and connected and I was in awe that thousands of years later, the Passover story is still relevant. The evening felt almost magical.
Now that we've defined what traditions and rituals are and we've cleared a few things up (break the rules if it helps you connect), let's talk about the HOW. By no means am I an expert, but I have had a few years of practice and picked up a few tricks and tips along the way:
Here's what I tell myself: “If you can just incorporate one new tradition or ritual into your life each year, it will be enough.” What I’ve found over the years is that some rituals have even become tools, support and anchors when I’m going through a particularly tough time. They make me feel close to those who are no longer here anymore. Many of them make me feel joyful and grateful. They’ve helped Bryan and I build community and meaningful relationships in our big city and nourish my soul, which helps me be the best sister, daughter, friend, wife and leader I can be, to all the people I love.
*Photos are of my Bachans (grandmas).