How the Sims Helped Me Imagine My Jewish Family

One thing about me? I love the Sims. For those of you who have never played, the Sims is essentially a video game dollhouse. You design your Sims’ appearance, dress them, build them a house, and guide them through their lives – their career achievements, building a family, and maybe drowning a few in pools by deleting the ladder along the way. 

As a lifelong player with 3,000 hours in the game, I turn to the Sims to process major life events. When I was exploring my sexuality, the Sims allowed me to imagine a same-sex relationship. When deciding how to decorate my first apartment, I recreated the dimensions in the Sims to figure out how to arrange my furniture. Now, after I have finished my conversion and begun my Jewish life, I turn to the Sims to process the complex emotions that accompany this major life change. 

In the Sims, there is a popular challenge called the legacy challenge, where the player plays with the same family for 10 generations. There are several variations on this to spice up the gameplay – each generation is assigned a color, each generation exists in a different decade, etc. – but there is always a common goal: build a sprawling family tree with family traditions, heirlooms, and memories to match. If the player completes the challenge successfully, the Gen. 10 Sim is left with a large family tree and a house full of memories. 

To start the legacy challenge, you need the founder of the family – the Gen 1 Sim. The Sim enters the game like a pixelated Adam or Eve, with $20,000 simoleons, the clothes on their back, and a vacant lot in Willow Creek. Whatever past they might have had is not revealed to the player. When the player views their family tree, their box sits alone on a blue-green background, expectantly waiting for the player to create their family. It is up to this Sim to start to build the legacy that will be passed on for the next 9 generations. They purchase the memory box, take the pictures, and collect the heirlooms that will be passed down. It is upon their shoulders that the rest of the legacy challenge will progress. 

This is a rather long-winded way to say that I feel like a Gen 1 Sim in creating a Jewish life and home. I have my own family history, memories, and neuroses that have been passed down. But I stand alone in my family in my Jewishness as a convert. Sometimes, I feel great pride in this fact, like when I perfect a challah recipe I will one day teach my child. However, it often leaves me feeling unmoored, floating alone on the blue-green background of my family tree. I feel that sadness and longing most acutely when pulling all of my holiday recipes from a website, rather than having a grandparent to teach me, or when I think about how some of the heirlooms I will pass on will be from Amazon. 

Of course I have no idea how the rest of my legacy challenge will progress. Although I will raise my children Jewish, I left the religion I grew up with and certainly don’t begrudge them the freedom to forge their own path. For all I know, I could be an anomaly in the family tree – floating alone in that blue-green space forever. 

I do daydream of my great-great-grandchildren, Gen. 5, who after 5 generations do not doubt or feel the need to prove their Jewishness to anyone. Maybe they light the pomegranate and dove menorah from Etsy, cover their challah with the embroidered cover from Amazon, and light Shabbos candles in candlesticks from Goodwill. Their grandparent tells them of me, who taught them how to get the latkes perfectly crispy, and recounts Hanukkahs full of family, love, and light in their children. They come to the temple on my Yahrzeit and flick the switch next to my name. 

When one of the main drivers of a faith is tradition, it is hard to be the creator and keeper of those traditions. I guess that is why every convert is considered the child of Abraham and Sarah – the original converts, the true Gen. 1 Sims of the Jewish people. I wonder if they felt the same way I do, simultaneously overwhelmed with the loneliness and possibility of being the first. Ultimately, I turn to seek strength and courage from their example in my journey as the founder of my own legacy challenge.