It is no secret that being a military spouse runs parallel with pride and sacrifice. We all know what we give up on a daily basis so that our spouses can defend this great nation, yet at the same time we are all vigilant of the undeniable gratification that runs endlessly through our veins.
One of the fundamentally identifying characteristics of the military spouse culture is our ability to create family with complete strangers, duty station after duty station, based solely on our common understanding of this lifestyle that tears us from every root we have ever had. Ironically, it is precisely that which instills comfort in our daily lives and the constant feel that we are at home, no matter how new and unfamiliar our surroundings are.
Each of us had different upbringings. One of our greatest challenges is creating traditions for our families that mimic the familiarity and significance of our customs that shape our memories from our childhoods. Holiday after holiday, we battle the ultimate dilemma of whether we should establish our own practices or if we should have our spouses take leave and pack our entire family up into suitcases, invest in pricey plane tickets and impose ourselves on our blood relatives who frankly don’t understand much of our current lives.
I grew up in a very Jewish community. I was raised in a conservative home, in an orthodox area. There are synagogues on every corner for miles, my public high school was 90% Jewish, there were upwards of 10 private Jewish schools within a few minutes of my home and several kosher food stores as well as strictly kosher restaurants. The town shuts down for Rosh Hoshannah and Yom Kippour but is filled with boredom during Christmas and Easter. Most homes don’t have television or computers, women wear skirts and head coverings and it is unheard of to drive on the sabbath. It is common practice that those of us that didn’t attend private Jewish schools would attend hebrew school a couple of times a week after secular school hours and on the weekends. The most trivial part of our middle school career was determining whose Bar or Bat Mitzvah we would attend on which weekend, because frequently there would be 3 or 4 that would overlap. Many Saturdays were spent hopping between synagogues to try and make it to at least part of each of my friends big days. To me, that was how the entire world was. How would I know any different?
(Traci and her daughter lighting the Menorah with family during deployment)
When I moved out of Pikesville, a suburb of Baltimore, I was utterly shocked to discover that the world is not primarily Jewish. It absolutely blew my mind that I was the minority. Upon marrying my husband, my own personal reality was shaken even more. We were sent to Alaska where, needless to say, there is not a significant Jewish population. Kosher food was next to impossible to purchase, holiday items were scarce and expecting my husband to have the day off of work for a holiday that no one else had even heard of became outlandish. During deployment, my husband made Chanukah Menorahs out of chem lights to celebrate in Afghanistan because there were no services or gatherings offered, I had to mail him Matzah and other Passover foods because there was nothing kosher for Passover available at the chow hall and he worked a normal shift in the Afghan heat while fasting for 24 hours on Yom Kippour, without so much as mentioning it to anyone else. For our daughters hebrew naming, no one even understood the significance and though the room was full of loving people who came to celebrate her big day, we were the only ones in the sanctuary that could possibly comprehend the sheer importance that ceremony held in her life.
Eventually, after settling into our duty station in Alaska, we established friends that had turned into family. Our holidays, although foreign to our new found family, began to feel festive. Sharing each others festivities became what the holidays were about and it no longer mattered that our beliefs were vastly opposite. As with all military family stories, we PCSd right as our new comfort levels were established.
Now here we are, approaching not only Thanksgiving, but Chanukah as well. There is no block leave for Chanukah, the radio stations are not blaring with repetitive dreidl jingles and department stores are not filled with menorah decorations. We haven’t YET established a North Carolina family and truthfully, it just doesn’t feel like the holidays at all.
(Jared’s chem light menorah)
I am not complaining. My husband is on American soil; he is safe. My daughter has her father home and I could not ask for more. We are blessed with healthcare, a roof over our heads and food on our table every night. I am very proud of what he does and our families sacrifices don’t light a match to what many go through. A steady paycheck is something that many Americans are not lucky enough to claim and we are so incredibly blessed that he can work and make a living for our family. BUTTTTT I want my mommas chanukah potato latkes, dang it! It is scientifically impossible to replicate a moms cooking… EVER. If giving up her latkes to support my husband isn’t sacrifice, then frankly I don’t know what is!
This year is the first time in history that the first night of Chanukah falls on the same night as Thanksgiving. In the Jewish community it has turned into sort of a gag holiday that we call ‘Thanksgivukkah’. As bummed as I am that I can’t be home to purchase ridiculous ‘I lived to see Thanksgivukkah’ t-shirts, light a Menurkey (a Chanukah Menorah in the shape of a Turkey) or simultaneously place bets on an intense game of dreidl AND the big thanksgiving day football game, I did what any Military spouse would do and made it special in my own way… I met with the Rabbi of the local synagogue and we planned a completely off the wall project to take my mind off of being away from home for the only time this big day will happen for the next 78,000 years. I even conned a fellow Army wife into making a fool out of herself with me.
I’d like to think that my approach to missing home and family is the same as any military spouse, even if my delivery is unconventional. I took what I had and made this special occasion memorable for me and my family, despite the hurdles that stood between the quintessential observance. Sure, I will go through the motions to observe the holiday traditionally, but as we all have to do regularly, I improvised to make this a happy occasion rather than a mourning for the life we would have if my husband wasn’t a hero.