Minnesota Mamaleh: Girlfriends

The inside jokes. The pedicures. The cocktails. The laughter. There’s just nothing as soul-soothing as time with girlfriends.

Right now, my kids are best friends, for sure. Eventually they'll want and need a greater community.

In my college days, friendships felt easier to nurture. Even though we didn’t think it was so, we really were on similar schedules, had similar ideals and led similar lives. Key word: similar.

Here we are ladies! Twenty one again, at least here!

One of my most treasured groups of girlfriends is indeed from college. We spent a LOT of time together and were truly a family. Dancing until all hours of the night? Check. Sobbing over boys? Check. Life changing “a-ha” conversations? Check. We had it all. Birthdays, holidays, mini-vacations. Check, check and check.

We were, for sure, not one and the same. We had our varying interests. Science. Art. Parties. But amongst other things, at our core and in our hearts we had our Judaism in common. We didn’t all practice our religion in the exact same way. But it was close enough, similar enough, to feel safe. Comfortable. Easy.

I’m still in touch with my college girlfriends although they are  in California and I’m here in the Midwest. Thank goodness for Facebook, right? Even though their lives are busy, their friendships are maintained. Prospective boyfriends are checked out. Husbands are approved of.  And children are loved.

A few years ago, we all got together during an unfortunately-few-and-far-between visit to  California. The kids were playing and the

"Party of Five" with an addition or two here and there!

adults were…being…because that’s what’s best about the bestest of friends, you can just be. Recently I was reminiscing about that trip and lamenting the fact that my kids won’t have the experience of growing up alongside my girlfriends’ kids. Building memories of holidays and celebrations, much like we had together. When we were young. Although, I’m not 100% sure if that wish was more for my kids or for myself.

In reality, having family-like friendships is on my list of wants for all of us. As is having a strong Jewish community. For many, that community comes “built in” if they settle where they were raised. For those of us who transplant, it just isn’t so.

It’s hard making and maintaining friendships as an adult. Like a real adult. Not the “adults” that we thought we were when we lived in dorms, ate in cafeterias and had some (or all) of our bills paid for by our parents. Lives, jobs, spouses, kids. They all take time and energy. Girl time has to be carved out. Hence Book Clubs, Scrappin’ Nights and Girls Nights Out. But first you have to find the girlfriends!

Meeting people in the Midwest is…interesting. The term Minnesota Nice has taken a beating here and there. I have heard it said that Minnesotans are so nice, they’ll show you the way anywhere- except to their own home. Ba-dum-bum. My take on it is that Minnesotans are oh-so-very settled. As we brave another Winter, one of my native Minnesotan girlfriends wonders, “what were my ancestors thinking?” Too cold, drawn out Winters aside, long-term Minnesotans have had their groups of friends for a long time, too. That doesn’t always leave room for new relationships, new friendships. But sometimes it does. I have met some amazing people and formed incredible friendships in Minnesota. Interestingly enough though, not one of my heart-and-soul friends here are Jewish.

At our wedding in California...pre any and all dreidel and sledding incidents

Isn’t that just plain odd? Judaism is such a huge part of my identity and of my life, but not of my community. I used to be pretty solid in my belief that interfaith friendships could only go “so far.” I had had the “OMG! You’re Jewish, too?!” phenomenon and thought it was the only way to do friendship. In my younger days, I thought you could only get so close to someone of a different religion or someone who holds different political views than you do. And then there’s a gap. A stop. A limit.

Today I see things oh-so-very differently. The first family that Jason and I became close with in Minnesota are Christian. And Republicans! (I know!) We quite literally talk nonstop, learning about and from each other. Politics, religion, parenting– No stops. No gaps. No limits. In the early years of our friendship they celebrated Hanukkah with us. And (perhaps brilliantly) suggested that dreidel would make a great drinking game. They invited us to a faux-Christmas dinner. And told us that it was “tradition” to go sledding naked afterward. No, we didn’t fall for it. Thanks for asking, though. We made the kind of bond that I had previously thought could only be bound by similarities. But this time, it was bound by differences.

Today one of our closest family friends are also Christian. They are spiritually and foundationally tied to their faith.

As long as we're going back in the day...Wow! Kayli's 1st Birthday...All interfaith conversations revolved around us adults back then, and there weren't any kids' religious books to jump-start the conversations!

And are open and upfront about what’s inside their hearts. It’s not uncommon for one of our kids to pick up a religious children’s book at their house and ask to read it. Not a single adult skips a beat. We work together to explain what we can in an age-appropriate manner. We might burst out laughing at the irony of the situation, but none of us feel awkward or threatened by the situation.

Close friendships require peer-into-your heart dialogue. I think it’s odd and fascinating and interesting that for me, these conversations have been more comfortable and frequent with people of different faiths. Perhaps we take things from an apples-to-oranges perspective. As in too different to compare. Too different to judge.

Now does it surprise me that we haven’t met anyone in Minnesota (yet) who does Judaism quite like we do? Reform-ish. Totally and completely over-the-top tied to holidays. But at the same time more than just a tad traditional? No, of course not. But it does make me pause and wonder how those of us who identify ourselves within the same organized religion but perhaps practice differently or identify with a different type or sect, how do we approach each other? Apples to oranges or too similar to be so different? Now I know that we can’t group people together or make assumptions. But still, in general, how do we do things? And in that doing, what messages are we sending to our kids?

In my heart-of-hearts I want us to have the best of both worlds: different and similar. Some relationships that require and allow for questions and learning. And others that allow for the feeling of one and the same. All-the-while breaking through the Minnesota Nice factor. Having all of that is possible, right?

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About Galit Breen

Galit Breen was a classroom and reading teacher for ten years. She has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in human development. In 2009, she launched a career as a freelance writer entrenched in social media. Since then, her work has been featured in various online magazines including Brain, Child, The Huffington Post, TIME, and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle. Her book, Kindness Wins, is a simple no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online. You can learn more about Galit by visiting TheseLittleWaves.com.

Comments. Add Yours!

10 comments

  1. This was great, Galit! Having friends who understand and share what lies in our deepest of hearts is definitely comforting, and those lifelong relationships keep us grounded for life. Sharing our hearts with people who accept and embrace us for who we are, even if we’re different, is oh-so comforting, too! On that note, I can’t wait to see you tomorrow 🙂

  2. Lisa, thanks for the note! Our families are a wonderful example of history, similarities and differences and how they all intermix and work to make a wonderful relationship! here’s to kids (and adults!) playing for 5+ hours together! 🙂

  3. Isn’t it amazing how simple friendship (ultimately) can be — & not how you thought it’d be simple, either? Lovely.

  4. —Now does it surprise me that we haven’t met anyone in Minnesota (yet) who does Judaism quite like we do? Reform-ish. Totally and completely over-the-top tied to holidays. But at the same time more than just a tad traditional? —

    You know, Galit, it’s kinda funny to me that you say you haven’t met anyone in Minnesota that goes Judaism quite like you do. Because believe it or not, *I* do Judaism just like you do… (and so does my entire very large family)!

    I think it might be tied to having your Judaism tied more to the way they do things in Israel, and spending years in Israel early in life. I think Israeli Judaism is a lot more of a “nationhood” or peoplehood oriented Judaism, and therefore more like a way of life than just religion (more like being an American or a Frenchman). So holidays are huge – those are the markers of our peoplehood, and our shared history. And they’re *always* over-the-top, no matter how you “believe.” And they’re food, and tradition, and children, and noise, and home, and comfort, and all that good stuff. And you don’t feel you have to be consistent, since you’re not obsessing over faith quite so much – you might pick and choose what you do, but when you do it, you go all the way (and sometimes, that means all the way traditional!) – it’s like the American who might skip Thanksgiving altogether and vacation abroad one year, but if he’s going to do it, you can damn well be sure there will be mashed sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, even if everyone HATES pumpkin pie! ‘Cause it’s tradition, damn it!

    I think it’s different for American Jews, who tend to focus a lot more on the religious aspect of their Judaism, and therefore much more on the synagogue-going, and prayer, and ritual, and meaning, and “what’s it all about?” questions, and lots more on needing more consistency in their faith, and with the way their “chosen movement” does stuff – so if you’re “traditional,” you have to be traditional in everything, and if you’re not going to be traditional, you can’t be traditional ever, and must always be “different” and “modern” and “progressive”.

    Have you ever seen other Israelis (or, for that matter, many Eastern European Jews I’ve met, too) do their Judaism? Does that perhaps look more familiar to your way?

  5. Sarah, thank you for boiling things down to simple and lovely. Truly how heart-and-soul friendship feels. So much fun to hear from you on here!

    & Jenna, You. Me. Religion soul mates. Indeed what you described is *exactly* how I was raised. I think that most American Jews would be horrified at what I grew up with for Seders, for example. Does “skip to the next cup of wine” sound familiar to anyone else?! I think that probably, the reverse is true, too, and that most Israeli Jews don’t really “get” how Americans do Judaism either. Is your family from MN? Are there, you know, *others* like us here?! Thanks for the thoughtful comment. As always, much appreciated! 🙂

  6. Galit,

    Unfortunately, my family is in California (I’m guessing like yours, as well).

    But I do my best to carry on the big big holidays tradition all by myself out here in the cold. 🙂

    I’ve found a few like-minded Jews to do it with me, but you and I should definitely try a holiday together sometime! I bet it would be just like home.

    ~Jenna

  7. anytime, jenna. anytime! we would LOVE it! 🙂

  8. I think you’re very lucky to have found good friends, of whatever faith. It’s wonderful to get together and watch your kids grow up with your friends’ kids.

    I live in Israel, so everyone I interact with is pretty much of the same faith. But I can attest to the fact that it’s VERY difficult to ‘make friends’ in adulthood. Everyone is busy with their own family and career. Plus in Israel, most people live relatively close to extended family and childhood/army friends. Their social schedule is full, and they’re not really ‘shopping’ for new friendships.

    Enjoy your Minnesota friends, such good (adult) friendships are a rare and wonderful thing.

  9. shira, thanks for the note; excellent to hear from you. i think it’s absolutely fascinating that the friendship situation is so similar in israel and mn. settled, close familial and childhood ties, perhaps hard to transplant into, etc.and i agree completely *all* friendships should be cherished!

  10. I too am a transplant…13 years. I have a grown daughter, her family and thats it. They moved a ways from the Cities now so we dont see each other much.
    I am a very “hip” older gal & a mascianic jew and cant make a friend if my life depended on it. Its been a very lonely existance for me. I work full time and do my thing alone. It sound like a pity part but dont mean it too. I would love to meet people and enjoy life with others..got any ideas??

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