Teresa & Judaism: Being Jewish When Your Family Isn't

This is a tricky time of year that has become even trickier since I became Jewish.

Teresa & Judaism: Being Jewish When Your Family Isn't
Yahrzeit candle I lit for my mom this year, which I displayed with her certificate from Suburban Tech, where she studied to become a nurse's aide later in her life. 

Well, aren't things are looking different around here!

As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, I've been considering alternatives to Buttondown (which is a good platform if you 1) only want to do a newsletter, and 2) are better than I am at dealing with back-end stuff, despite their great and helpful customer service), and have decided to switch to Ghost. In addition to being purdy, Ghost seems to function better as a hub for other content I might want to create.

I'm also adding a new, regular feature! Now that I'm writing somewhere frequently, I wanted to share some of the pieces at The Mary Sue I'm proudest of in every newsletter.

In other news...

MARCH UPDATES

IRL--

March was when I could finally start incorporating "soft food" into my diet post-surgery. So, while I wasn't yet able to eat "everything," I didn't have to drink all my meals! And yet, my appetite's changed, and I don't really get hunger pangs anymore, so my relationship with food is very different these days, and it's weird. My brain and my body think very differently about food, and I guess the next struggle is getting them to match? Something for my therapist and I to discuss.

It was nice being back at The Mary Sue! And because of my work for TMS, I both attended WonderCon and had my colleague and fellow Angeleno, Julia Glassman, invite me to an advance screening of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, which I loved.

I helped my wife celebrate her birthday; hung out with friends and family; went to an evening of monologues by Jews of Color put on by The Braid; attended an IKAR Valley "house party" (a monthly thing that happens at a different member's house every time where we get together with fellow members who live near us and get our learn on); and applied for both another IVF grant and the Sundance Episodic Lab.

Graphic for the Disruptors Fellowship's "Disrupting the Hollywood Pipeline" panel at the Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival. There's white text with info along with photos of the four panelists: Kirby Marshall-Collins, Tee Jaehyung Park, Kai Choyce, and Teresa Jusino against an aquamarine patterned background. The info text reads from top to bottom: "outfestfusion.com March 24th-April 2nd Grab your tickets today! Disrupting the Hollywood Pipeline with the Center for Cultural Power. Moderated by Julio Salgado and Kat Evasco. Sunday, March 26th 2:00PM PDT."

Also, I was invited to participate in a panel about the DISRUPTORS TV Writing Fellowship (I was a Fellow in 2021) at Outfest Fusion Film Festival. It was awesome to meet fellows past and present in person for the first time (my year was totally virtual), and talk about this program that meant so much to me for so many reasons. Wanna see a bit? Check out the pics and clips in the Disruptors' IG stories!

Graphic advertising 'The Fanbase Weekly' podcast's Ep. 221. There is an image from the show 'Andor' where Cassian and Kino are facing off, and there's a comic speech bubble from Kino that says "You know you ruined the Mandalorian for me, right?" In the lower left-hand corner, it says "Sponsored by: Geoffrey's Comics at Hi De Ho."

And remember when I told you I was gonna be on a podcast this month? I joined writer Gabe Cheng and hosts Barbra Dillon and Drew Siragusa to chat about the week in geek news on Ep. 221 of The Fanbase Weekly! We talked such topics as some Star Wars fans thinking Andor being so good makes The Mandalorian look bad, the intro of a new Native character into the MCU, and Spotify ramping up audio dramas. Check it out wherever you get your podcasts!

WAITING ON--

Still waiting on hearing from the production company that expressed interest in developing Project Blanca, as I mentioned in last month's newsletter. Things move at a glacial pace in this industry--until they suddenly move very, very fast. * sigh *

There's also another feeler out. A friend of mine happens to work for a certain company that creates a certain line of historical dolls and books about characters who are girls. From America. 😁 Anyway, when I expressed interest in writing for them, she mentioned that they might be considering creating a Puerto Rican character. Since they want their writers reflect the communities the characters are part of, she asked me for my resume and a writing sample and said she'd keep me in mind if they move forward on that character. Fingers crossed!

RECENT BUMMER--

I applied for a grant from the WESTAF BIPOC Artist Fund and found out as I started work on this newsletter that I didn't get it. Womp-womp.

Nothing of note coming up. So, let's keep this newsletter train moving!

Ramon Jusino Jr (left) and Mariana Hernandez Jusino (right). Ramon is a dark-skinned Puerto Rican man with short black hair and a mustache. He's wearing glasses and a dark suit with a white buttondown and a red tie. He has his arm around Mariana, who is shorter than him. She is a white Puerto Rican with short black hair and wearing red lipstick, and a red blouse under a black skirt suit. They are standing in a living room with the dining room table in the background.
My parents: Ramon Jusino Jr and Mariana Hernandez Jusino (circa 1980s?)

Teresa & Judaism: Being Jewish When Your Family Isn't

This is a tricky time of year that has become even trickier since I became Jewish.

My mother, Mariana, died on April 5th, 2006 (seventeen years ago!), and my father died on April 19th, 2014 (nine years ago). They were both very Catholic, and the rest of my family still is. Until 2019, I observed their deathiversaries on these dates, according to the Gregorian calendar.

But I became Jewish in July 2018, and since then my spring observances have changed. For those who don't know:

  • Jews observe yahrzeits: the anniversary of the day of death of a loved one, according to the Hebrew calendar. While you can observe a yahrzeit for anyone, you have an obligation to observe the yahrzeit of close family (parents, children, siblings, spouses, and grandparents).
  • You generally observe a yahrzeit by lighting a candle that burns all day (see my photo up top) at sundown on the day of the yahrzeit (Jewish days are from sundown to sundown) and reciting the Mourner's Kaddish in a minyan. Other than that, there's no other prescribed observance.
  • When a Jewish person dies, the focus is on the dead person until they are in the ground (usually within three days). After that, all of the rituals--shiva, yahrzeits, etc--are for the mourners. It's less about what "the dead person wanted" or honoring them, and more about the community rallying around the people left behind. You recite the Mourner's Kaddish in community so everyone can support you as you grieve. Shiva is a whole week where people come in and out of your house bringing you food, tending to other needs, and ensuring a minyan so you can recite kaddish every night. I've gone to shivas for members of my synagogue who I don't even know. Because that's what you do.
  • Jews use a lunar calendar. So, we're currently in the year 5783 on the Hebrew calendar, and its dates fall differently every year.
Image of two lit yahrzeit candles sitting in the darkness.
A couple of years ago, I lit two yahrzeit candles for my parents on the same day--like a President's Day of grief.

My mother died on 7 Nisan 5766, and my father died on 19 Nisan 5774. This year, my mom's yahrzeit fell on March 29th, so I lit her candle on the evening of the 28th. I always try to place either a photo or a meaningful object near the candle to help me remember, or focus my thoughts, so this year I used her Suburban Tech certificate. And my synagogue has a "morning minyan" every morning over Zoom, so I'm able to recite the kaddish in community without having to schlep to my synagogue half an hour away.

This year, I also watched an episode of the telenovela Luz Clarita, one of many my mom and I used to watch together in the 90s.

While I find comfort in these new rituals, it's strange being a Jewish person with the obligation of observing a Jewish ritual for someone who wasn't Jewish. Someone who would never have expected me to light a candle or recite any prayer in particular.

It's strange to have observed my mom's passing a week before my siblings. So, if I want community with my own family in our shared sadness, I get an "extra day" of grief on the Gregorian calendar, too.

It's also strange that her anniversary on the Gregorian calendar this year also happened to be the first night of Passover, a holiday we never celebrated together. One I spent with my wife and my mother-in-law, people my mother never got to meet.

There are fleeting moments of guilt at times like these. I grew up a Catholic child of Catholic parents, and sometimes it feels like I've thrown over the most important thing they tried to instill in me.

But then I remember the other important things they instilled in me: things like "everybody finds God where they need to find God," which was how my mom responded to my brother converting to a different Christian denomination for a while when I was a kid. Or things like asking questions of religion and challenging clergy, which was very Jewish of them, even if they didn't realize it.

Most importantly, in ways explicit and not, my parents always behaved as though the best thing for me to be was myself. I was never made to feel wrong for following my instincts or values.

While there were plenty of times when my parents and I would argue about the differences in our worldviews, I never got the sense that they thought less of me for disagreeing. In fact, my dad in particular seemed to get charged up by the arguments. He loved to debate, that guy. 😏🙄

So, while guilt (something Catholics and Jews have in common) creeps in and out occasionally, for the most part I believe that observing my parents' deaths in a Jewish way honors them by honoring how they raised me.

My father's yahrzeit is today--the 10th of April. I'm observing it for me. And I'll observe his Gregorian deathiversary nine days later, for my family.

My Fave Mary Sue Posts This Month

Illustrations of 18 different women (3 rows of 6 figures each) cosplaying as their fave geek characters and all standing in profile in the Rosie the Riveter "We Can Do It" pose (one arm held up and making a muscle). Characters from top left: Starbuck, Katara, Captain Janeway, Daphne, Chell, The Bride, Princess Leia, Carmen San Diego, Wonder Woman, Mulan, Storm, Uhura, Rei, Tank Girl, Princess Mononoke, Hermoine, Leela, and Velma.
The many cosplays of The Mary Sue. Art by Christianne Gillenardo-Goudreau.

Here are the pieces of mine from March 2023 that deserve eyeballs:

Stock image of someone with their slippered feet up on a wooden coffee table watching TV.

FILLING MY CUP

There's so much to watch! Almost too much to watch...

TV I finished in March--

  • SWARM (Amazon): Dominique Fishback shines in the role of Dre, a young woman who's a huge fan (ie: obsessed) of a Beyoncé-like singer named Ni'jah. When Dre's best friend Marissa (a compelling Chloe Bailey) dies by suicide, this sets Dre off on a Ni'jah-fueled killing spree. It's an 8-epsiode limited series I'd highly recommend.
  • PRETTY BABY: BROOKE SHIELDS (Hulu): This two-part docuseries is a nuanced, compelling, and sometimes chilling look at Shields' life in the spotlight, and the effect of the "commodity" known as Brooke Shields on all women. It's a fascinating look at the life and career of someone rarely given the chance to be anything other than a pretty face, and how she now--in middle age--can finally be herself and bring her ideas and intellect to the table.

TV I'm currently enjoying--

  • SHRINKING and TED LASSO S3 (Apple TV+): After hearing about Shrinking from several people, I started watching it, and it's as great as they say. Hilarious, poignant, and smart with an awesome cast. And Ted Lasso is back! I've been a fan of this show since its first season, and I'm loving that every season goes deeper and deeper, allowing for wonderful evolution for these already nuanced and compelling characters without sacrificing the funny.
  • NOT DEAD YET and A MILLION LITTLE THINGS S5 (Hulu): Both of these shows are fun and "soapy" while also managing to look at some serious issues in an intelligent way. While AMLT is in its fifth season, Not Dead Yet is in its first, and I'm really enjoying it. It's an awesome vehicle for Gina Rodriguez, has an interesting premise, and provides some solid autistic representation with an actually autistic actor in the role.

Films I enjoyed in March--

  • WOMEN TALKING (MGM): This was a beautiful, brilliant, compelling film that told a harrowing story with intelligence, perfect pacing, and surprising humor. It was an acting masterclass all around, and after seeing it, I thought that Sarah Polley was robbed of a Best Director Oscar nomination. A+
  • DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES (Paramount): Even if you've never played D&D in your life, this is a fun flick! It genuinely feels like a campaign you’d play at your tabletop D&D session. Having only played two campaigns with more experienced players in a handful of years, I appreciated that the film kept things simple, and let me absorb the world without overloading me. I was really into the Tiefling, Doric, and I found myself “playing as a Tiefling” in my head and started thinking about how I’d handle the situations they came up against if I had her skillset. Honor Among Thieves was enjoyable not just as a movie, but also as a kind of game experience. B+
  • COCAINE BEAR (Universal Pictures): I went into this movie with expectations, and all of them were met. It was ridiculous, and I love ridiculous when it's done well. It was funny, the violence was the right amount of gonzo/shocking, and I love the kid from Sweet Tooth (Christian Convery) who played Henry. This wasn't a great "film," but it was a great "movie." B

Books/Comics I enjoyed in March--

  • Dune, by Frank Herbert. One day I will finish this damn book. I ended February on page 382 of 489. Now, I'm on page 400. So, I've read 18 pages in a month. Ugh. I remember when I used to read whole books in a month or less.
  • Saga by Brian K. Vaughan. One of my favorite comics came back after a hiatus back in January with Issue #61. I got #61 and #62 in March and read them back to back. While this is a sprawling story full of interesting and weird characters, I continue to be in love with young Hazel, the child who's the story's narrator and anchor. Watching her grow into her awesomeness, and her flaws, is such a joy. And Fiona Staples' artwork continues to astound.

5 Songs on Repeat--

  1. 'STUPID BIG TEETH' - EMMY
  2. 'Violet' – Connor Price feat. Killa
  3. 'I Didn't Change My Number' – Billie Eilish
  4. 'Freedom! '90' – George Michael
  5. 'It's Corn' – Tariq, The Gregory Brothers, Recess Therapy

See you next month!