This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
Romemu (roh·meh·moo) seeks to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice. This is a Judaism that will ignite your Spirit. We are a progressive, fully egalitarian community committed to tikkun olam, or social action, and to service that flows from an identification with the sacredness of all life.
Join the San Diego Jewish Film Festival and Jewish Family Service to explore the interfaith family experience, including a screening of the film Out of Faith followed by a facilitated discussion. Out of Faith is a feature-length documentary that follows three generations as they struggle with complex and emotionally-charged conflicts over intermarriage, familial duty, ethnic identity, and cultural continuity and survival.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
Jews donâ€™t live in ghettos anymore, and I think most of us would agree that this is a good thing. In our daily lives we interact with all sorts of people who are different from ourselvesâ€”people with different political views, people from different socio-economic backgrounds, people of different races and people of different religions. This exposure to diversity makes our lives varied and interesting. I for one donâ€™t know of many people who would want to give this up.
We donâ€™t live in a world of arranged marriages, and the simple fact is that people fall in love for all kinds of reasons, many of them inexplicable. Sometimes you just know when you have met â€śthe oneâ€ťâ€”even if that person is someone totally different from you, and even if that person is totally different from what you had imagined for yourself.
Many people, before finding their mate, have a â€śchecklistâ€ť of what theyâ€™re looking for in a partner. One of my friends always said sheâ€™d marry someone blonde, very physically fit andâ€”most importantâ€”Jewish. So when she met a man at work who had dark hair, was chubby and didnâ€™t like to work outâ€”and was Methodistâ€”she wasnâ€™t concerned when they started to spend a lot of time together as friends. Sure he was smart, interesting and funnyâ€”but he wasnâ€™t her â€śtype.â€ť But eventually their connection become deeper and they fell in love. It stopped mattering to her that he wasnâ€™t blonde and fit. What mattered was that she loved him. And though she didnâ€™t value her Jewish identity any less after falling in love with him than before falling in love with him, she was determined to find a way to make their relationship work since he was â€śthe oneâ€ť she loved. Eventually, they got married.
For my friend, â€śthe oneâ€ť is a Methodist. For Rabbi Michal Woll (who co-wrote the recently published book Mixed-Up Love with her husband Jon Sweeney) â€śthe oneâ€ť is a Catholic author. For me, â€śthe oneâ€ť happens to be another rabbi. But just because my friend and Michal married Christian men that doesnâ€™t mean that either of them values Judaism less than I do.
Iâ€™ve met numerous people who grew up with strong Jewish identities and who care deeply about the future of the Jewish peopleâ€”many of whom spent much of their lives certain that they would never even date, let alone marry, someone who was not Jewish but who simply fell in love with someone they knew, like a college classmate, a work colleague or a best friend. Some of them shared with me that they went through deep soul searching and many tears after having fallen in love with someone of a different faith, but ultimately they came to the conclusion that they could spend their life with the person they loved as well as live a committed Jewish life and raise a Jewish family.
These people didnâ€™t see themselves as having to make a choice between EITHER the person they loved OR the religion and community that they loved. Rather, they made the decision to BOTH spend their life with the person they loved AND to live a Jewish life and raise a Jewish family. Most people Iâ€™ve talked to who have made this BOTH/AND decision have acknowledged that there are challenges to being in an interfaith relationship (just like there are challenges in any relationship, especially one in which there are fundamental differences between the partners), but they would rather deal with those challenges together with their mate than having to choose EITHER/OR between their mate and Judaism, and they find meaning and often joy in facing those challenges TOGETHER.
The fact is that in todayâ€™s world, in most of the liberal Jewish community, having a partner who is not Jewish and living a committed Jewish life arenâ€™t seen as necessarily mutually exclusive. As Michal and Jon share in Mixed-Up Love, faith and religion are VERY important to BOTH of them; thatâ€™s a large part of what attracted them to each other. It just happens that in their case they each have a DIFFERENT religion. Together they are raising a Jewish daughter and making it work for themselves and their family.
So donâ€™t just assume that because a Jewish person is in a relationship with or married to someone who is of a different faith that their Judaism, the Jewish community and Jewish continuity arenâ€™t important to them. Rather than EITHER/OR, perhaps they have chosen to commit to BOTH/AND.
My children are too at home at our synagogue. Their dad is the rabbi there and they feel that his office is their play place. They know every inch of the building, including where to find snacks that arenâ€™t theirs to take. They know the staff. They feel comfortable expressing themselves during services. I have been thinking about how many other places we frequent and what this says about our lifestyle.
We know the supermarket well. Other parents think Iâ€™m crazy for schlepping (Yiddish for dragging) my 4- and 6-year-olds to go grocery shopping, but we basically enjoy the weekly trip. One or both of them ride in the cart and we eat as we shop. We follow the same path each week and we take the same items. Sometimes a new product appears and we examine it which can be fun and guess at whether we will like it (especially if it is in the gluten free section as our 6-year-old has celiac disease). We have our favorite check-out cashier and my kids love to say â€śhiâ€ť to Miss Sandra and pretend that they are shy.
The preschool and elementary school are also like extensions of our home. My kids are proud to show me around when Iâ€™m there. They point out artwork on the wall, we schmooze (Yiddish for small talk) with the school staff, and they reminisce about what happened in the gym that day or on the playground.
Food shopping is an activity
Then there are other peopleâ€™s homes. We are lucky to have cousins who live nearby: Aunt Stacie and Uncle Billâ€™s house is a comforting, familiar place to visit. The kids know how it works there as well. They take off their shoes in the right spot, they know what they can and canâ€™t touch, etc. They look forward to the different toys and activities that they encounter there.Â And of course, the people in the home seal the deal for loving this stop.
Two last places we frequent a lot (Iâ€™m embarrassed to admit on a weekly basis) are both Target and Party City.Â They know the aisles there perfectly. They know which stops they want to make first and they always have a treasure in mind that they have been dreaming about.
I wonder about how many â€śnormalâ€ť (non Rabbi-Rabbi families) think of a synagogue as a home away from home? Do you walk in and know where to go? Do you know the staff and do they know you? Do you know where to hang your coat, where the bathrooms are and when the building is even open? Would you ever think of stopping in at a time other than for services or Sunday School or Hebrew School?
You could come to read a book in-between meetings or appointments. You could come sit on a couch and do homework in a quiet and cozy spot with a child between afterschool activities. Dare I say, you could stop in to say hi to the educator and clergy! You could check out the flyers you may have missed, see what upcoming events are happening and read the Jewish magazines that are typically on display.
Synagogues are usually open during regular business hours. Stop in! Stay awhile. Say â€śShalom.â€ť Bring your kids. Feeling comfortable and familiar in a spot breeds connectedness and warmth.
Jewish American families have a pretty fantastic start for festivities this year since Hanukkah starts so early in the seasonâ€”and in case you missed itâ€”Hanukkah begins Thanksgiving style. It is a fascinating calendar correlation, and as cute as Thanksgivukkah is, Thanksgiving ends in a day, and Hanukkah still goes on for a full eight days that the oil lasted instead of the expected single day.
The candles will still burn long after the turkey leftovers disappear, and the celebration will continue.
Fried foods, dreidel spinning and songs are wonderful, but next to lighting the candles and saying the blessings, the only other obligation is to â€śpublicize the miracle.â€ť The miracle gets stronger every day and it is never too late to give thanks for the miracles and wonder all around us. How glorious to live in a country where we can celebrate our religious freedom. How fortunate to live in a time that is embracing interfaith relationships more and more every day.
Whether it is for Hanukkah or for Christmas, consider making at least one night extra special this month by creating a miracle for those less fortunate.
Acts of loving kindness and charity are timeless.
It is Jewish obligation to give consistently to others less fortunate throughout oneâ€™s life. We call this tradition tzedakah. Itâ€™s pretty well understood as charity, but technically it means â€śrighteous giving.â€ť We give because God has blessed us and it is the right thing to doâ€”to share the blessings with others. I love this part of Jewish tradition. Jews have been giving tzedakah for thousands of years. The ideal is to give 10 percent of your income to charity but do not get hung up on that, the most important thing is that everybody give something.
I encourage parents and grandparents and friends and family all around to support empowering tzedakah choices. There are around 1.5 million non-profits to choose from online (!) which can be pretty overwhelming, but here are some superb tzedakah choices for the holidays:
1. Go shopping as a family to a toy store and pick out a toy to donate to children less fortunate.Project Dreidel at CJP for Jewish Big Brothers and Sisters will deliver gift baskets to local kids in need.
2. You can look no further than the site youâ€™re already on! Giving to InterfaithFamily is not only a wonderful and easy gift, but it helps us to continue creating resources and programs to support you. Donate here and weâ€™ll send a Hanukkah e-card to your friend or family member.
3. Buy charity gift cards from JChoice.org. Rather than limit the experience to one charity that the recipient might not connect to, you can send your honoree a charity gift card (electronically by email, which is instant or by mail) that empowers the next generation to choose from 250 causes that are meaningful to the giver.
Want more choices? Check out these great blogs for more great tzedakah suggestions:
One of my favorite camp counselors from my youth, now a respected university instructor and demographer, Marc Dollinger, Ph.D. is the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University. He recently posted the following query on Facebook:
â€śâ€¦how many of the 613 mitzvot were classical Reform Jews obligated to perform? My undergrads at SF State want to know.â€ť
I was intrigued, so I started reading the 45+ comments. Professor Dollinger offered additional insight about the class that he was teaching when the question was posed: â€śToday’s lecture on post-Enlightenment denominationalism, at 75 minutes, was supposed to cover classical and modern Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox (overviews on questions of God, Torah, authority, practice) but we didn’t get past classical Reform. Thrilled with the student interest and passion. More queries coming…â€ť
Rabbi Evan Goodman, formerly from the Bay Area and now the UC Santa Barbara Hillel Executive Director responds: â€śâ€¦I know you stated you need a number, not a theory. However, I don’t believe this question can be answered that way and be authentic to Reform [Judaism]. As you know, Reform Judaism is non-Halachic. Its starting point is the premise that the mitzvot and other traditions are not legally binding on us. It was and is up to each one of us to learn and interpret these traditions in our own generationâ€¦â€ť
As the class continued its conversation with Professor Dollinger, he â€śtaught how the early Reform theologians employed rationalist thought to determine which mitzvot remained relevant in modernity and which were considered dated in light of the rapidly changing world. In this sense, wearing kipot and talit would lose value while commandments against murder and stealing would, logically, remain. Students had a deeper concern that once Judaism becomes ethics, what makes it Jewish anymore?â€ť
Rabbi David Cohen, also formerly from the Bay Area and now at Congregation Sinai in Milwaukee, WI, chaperoned my teen trip to Israel (many years ago). He offered that â€śthe classical reformers distinguished between rational, ethical mitzvot and non-rational ritual mitzvot. The rabbis of old would have called these mishpatim and khukim. Ethical mitzvot were obligatory; ritual mitzvot were optional. Each Jew was to make a personal, informed choice, choosing to perform a ritual mitzvah if s/he found it spiritually uplifting.â€ť
He points out that a distinction is made between ritual (i.e. religious) and ethical commandments. Fast forward to today. My post read as follows, â€śI’m curious how your students would respond to the recent Pew Study finding that most of their contemporaries would describe themselves as non-religious Jews. Is this the same or different from classical Reform Judaism shifting away from halacha? It seems that among the non-Orthodox Millennials today, ethical/cultural Judaism is their focus of interest, over religious Judaism.â€ť The distinction between religious and ethical continues.
So, what happens when Judaism becomes ethics? What do you think?
Thanksgivukkah has highlighted the endless possibilities in combining two holidays that give a great amount of civic pride to Jews in America. But now that the table is set with the dynamic duoâ€™s crimson and blue settings, how will your family do something a little different to not only capture the wonderful foods but also the spirit of both holidays?
I propose bringing Bubbie into the conversation. Beyond Bubbie, that is.
Beyond Bubbie is a website that shares photos, recipes and stories from the people who made us who we are. Every Bubbie has a recipe and every recipe tells a story. Thanksgivukkah is the perfect time to share those stories and recipes at your table. Better yet, why not cook and bake the classic treats.
At a time in life when it is so hard for extended families to get together, make this Thanksgivukkah meaningful. Instead of simply going around the table asking, â€śWhat are you grateful for this year?â€ť ask everyone what their favorite food memory is from your family. Pre-Thanksgivukkah, ask loved ones to share their recipes on Beyond Bubbie, tag your family name and have a place where your whole family can log-on for that cranberry brisket recipe or that Hanukkah lasagna.
At the Beyond Bubbie Knish-Off in San Francisco
Looking for an activity for kids while the turkey is being basted? Grab Bubby Ruthâ€™s Sugar Cookies and have a bake-off. Pre-bake the cookies. Display an array of various frostings and sprinkles and have kids go to town creating dynamic cookies and memories. Have the elders in your family judge the competition.
Not into football? Ask everyone to bring an old family photo and set up a quasi-gallery in your living room. Give grandchildren the opportunity to digitize these memories by taking photos with your smart phone. Photos and stories can then be shared on Beyond Bubbie.
There is no time like the present to give the present of culinary memories. Making the foods that warm your stomach is one thing, but making food that pulls at your heart strings elevates this once in a universe occasion to a whole new level.
Dina Mann is the National Marketing and Outreach Coordinator for Reboot. Please email Dina@Rebooters.net with any questions about Beyond Bubbie and ways to bring it to your community.
I know we are supposed to be in a time of joy and merriment but if you’re feeling like I am, everything is overwhelming right now. Preparing for the holidays can be busy! Are you shopping, cooking, traveling, negotiating, planning, decorating, compromising, missing and wishing?
Are you feeling well or exhausted?
Are you busy squeezing everything in and rushing?
Are you worried about money this time of year?
Are you worried about pleasing everyone?
Did you just have school conferences and new worries have cropped up?
Hopefully the joy of family and friends being together and the excitement and magic that seems to be in the air is filling your heart. Maybe volunteering and giving back is a fulfilling experience that you look forward to each Thanksgiving or on Christmas or as part of Hanukkah?
If you are feeling stressed, Judaism can offer some solace. I use a mantra that I return to over and over when my heart is beating fast, the emails and voicemails are unanswered, when there is too much to do and not enough time and when everyone needs me at once.
The mantra is from the Torah. The line is: Ozi v’zimrat Ya, vayihi li, yishuah. (My strength and the song of God will be my salvation.) This is a line from Exodus 15:2 and Psalm 118:14. To me it means that our inner strength coupled with the poetic, the Mysterious, and the beauty around us will lift us above the mundane and ground us with stability.
Many synagogues are holding their programs for Interfaith Family Shabbat this week and weekend. It is exciting to see the variety of programs that synagogues have created for this event. Some synagogues are having special movie screenings, others are hosting beginnersâ€™ services. One local synagogue, Main Line Reform Temple, was very creative and hosted a program entitled â€śInterfaith Family Shabbat Honoring our non-Jewish Spouses, Partners & Family Members: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Services (or anything Jewish) but Did Not Know Who or When to Ask.â€ť This program invited all participants to email the Rabbi with any question prior to the service in which he would do his best to answer them. It was inspiring to see how many synagogues took advantage of the opportunity that Interfaith Family Shabbat provides to create a special program to re-energize their welcoming culture.
Conversely, a few synagogues said that Interfaith Family Shabbat doesnâ€™t apply to their community because they are always welcoming. Without question, it is great to be committed to being welcoming throughout the year, but this is similar to celebrating Motherâ€™s Day. We should always appreciate mothers but it is meaningful to moms everywhere to have one day when they are recognized. For an interfaith couple, a blessing or recognition of interfaith couples and their commitment to Judaism is inspiring to many who have chosen to support their spouse in Judaism.
In a society where we define ourselves with labels, welcoming of various groups will be critical. Some consider themselves â€śJewsâ€ť while others are â€śProtestant,â€ť â€śCatholic,â€ť â€śHindu,â€ť â€śMuslim,â€ť etc. Â As long as we use labels, the need for constant and frequent welcoming will exist. After all, we are talking about walking into a synagogue, considered a haven for Jewsâ€”it makes sense that when a person walks into a house of worship that isnâ€™t familiar, they will feel slightly uncomfortable. Even Jewish people may feel awkward in an unfamiliar synagogue and certainly in any other house of worship.
Hosts should let people know where to sit, what page the Rabbi is on, explain Hebrew references, etc. Guests may not know when it is ok to take a bathroom break or when to stand, so a helpful host could guide them in this. Hopefully, after multiple visits, a visitor will feel comfortable. But those first few visits are always slightly awkward. We hope that there will always be visitors, thus there will always be a need for welcoming!
I attended one of the Interfaith Family Shabbat events. One of the speakers said that he and his wife were greatly hurt when the Rabbi from his childhood Reform synagogue refused to marry them. He said that this interaction was so painful that he now refuses to go to that synagogue. Ten years later, he is still quite emotional about this rejection. I know that this synagogue considers itself welcoming but obviously, this person is scarred from the rejection.
After the service, many people remarked that â€śthis community has always been a welcoming community.â€ť Yet, there were many congregants who seemed to be enlightened when the Rabbi said â€śJust because someone marries someone of a different faith, they are not rejecting their parents. They are not rejecting their childhood. They simply fell in love.â€ť There were congregants who really began to see the other side for the first time and understand interfaith marriage from a more loving perspective. It seemed that during this service, we learned that we should be more than understandingâ€”we should welcome all people into the synagogue with open arms. Welcoming is a constant effort.
Did you attend a program for Interfaith Family Shabbat? Tell us about it in the comments section below!
Learn more about Interfaith Family Shabbat in Philadelphia here, and in other communities here.
I was asked the other day what challenges I anticipate as InterfaithFamily moves forward with our objectives. As the great baseball player Mike Lowell quoted his father saying, â€śThere are many injustices out there. It is what one does with that injustice that will shape a person into the character that he will become.â€ť
Our mission at IntefaithFamily is to â€śsupport interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and making Jewish choices, and to encourage Jewish communities to welcome them.â€ť Sounds pretty good to me. So what could be the challenge?
Sticking with baseball shaping character, let us liken the game of baseball to religion. It is a joyous and meaningful game indeed, filled with thrills and sorrows, wins and losses, struggles to overcome, questionable calls (look out for obstructions) and blessings and prayers (and come to think of it, there is even a God Bless America thrown in sometimes toward the end). But letâ€™s play out this metaphor. Where is the challenge that I anticipate?
If religion is the game of baseball and every team is a religion, who gets to play? Who wants to play? Who â€śdeservesâ€ť to play? Who â€śneedsâ€ť to play? Who watches the game and who is participating? Were you born to play or did you fall in love with the game?
I had the privilege of seeing the movie 42, The Jackie Robinson Story, a few months ago. If you havenâ€™t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It is hard to imagine that professional sports were segregated for so long and it wasnâ€™t until 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke the â€ścolored barrier.â€ť The movie does not hold back in depicting how many players, EVEN ON HIS SAME TEAM were unaccepting and prejudiced at first. Some resented Jackie for making a sport into â€śa political situation.â€ť
One thing that becomes clear is that Jackie just wanted to play baseball. The world had things so very upside down back then. It was revolutionary at the time for an African American to play with whites on the same field. (And just as heartbreaking to see a world filled with segregated seating in the standsâ€”but it was one battle at a time back then). Jackie had courage and valor that we all admire, and the kind of determination one needs to overcome the prejudice of the old world. There was an unaccepting nature of how things were that constantly challenged him.
I am lucky, for interfaith work is not new at all. There are many great leaders before us that started this work and I am lucky to be part of the growing conversation. Boston itself is often at the forefront of innovation and acceptance of interfaith relationships and has offered great interfaith programming for years.
The majority of people do not like to â€śmake waves.â€ť It takes courage to stand up for something that you believe in, even if it is unpopular at the time. Bringing it back to interfaith families, here is the kicker: There are more intermarried Jews than non-intermarried Jews. The obstacle is people who hold back and are so set in the â€śold ways,â€ť that they fail to notice our own Jackie Robinson has joined our team.
It is intermarried couples who want to play ball. Jewish communities are enriched by diversity and a multitude of expressions and practices. Interfaith relationships are an opportunity not a threat to Jewish continuity. Collaboration with others is essential to the work that we do and open communication and education lead to understanding.
I hope that when times get tough and I meet those unwilling to see how Judaism is evolving and growing to be more inclusive and welcoming, that I will always remember good old number 42: Jackie Robinson, a hero to us all. The game has only gotten better and better and it is my prayer that everyone is ready to â€śplay ball.â€ť
Contact: Jodi Bromberg, President of InterfaithFamily
(Boston, MA) â€“ Interfaith families raising their children Jewish are continuing at high and stable levels to participate in secular Christmas activities, to keep their Hanukkah and Christmas holiday celebrations separate, and to believe that their participation in Christmas celebrations does not compromise their childrenâ€™s Jewish identity. These trends were confirmed in the tenth annual December Holidays Survey conducted by InterfaithFamily, an independent non-profit with headquarters in Newton, Mass.
InterfaithFamily has surveyed how interfaith couples raising their children deal with the â€śDecember dilemma,â€ť the confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas, annually for the past ten years. Some observers of intermarriage have cast a skeptical eye on interfaith families raising Jewish children participating in Christmas activities, arguing that interfaith families canâ€™t impart a strong Jewish identity to their children and celebrate Christmas. The results of InterfaithFamilyâ€™s surveys suggest that they in fact are doing so.
This year the percentage of interfaith families raising Jewish children who participate in Christmas celebrations was 86%, up slightly from 83% year. These families still make clear distinctions between the holidays and are giving clear priority to Hanukkah over Christmas, as both a family celebration and a religious holiday. The overwhelming majority (99%) celebrates Hanukkah at home, while a little more than half (59%) celebrate Christmas at home.
Hanukkah is much more of a religious holiday for this population than is Christmas. Only 13% attend Christmas religious services and only 4.7% tell the Christmas story in their own home. While slightly more families will give Christmas gifts in their own homes this year (67%) compared to last year (63%), and slightly more (56.5%) will put up a Christmas tree in their own homes than last year (49%), 88% view their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature, the same as last year.
Many families (73%) celebrate Christmas at the home of relatives, suggesting that Christmas is largely centered around the extended family.
Eighty-three percent of interfaith couples who participate in Christmas celebrations keep them separate from their Hanukkah celebrations, and 73% think that their Christmas celebrations do not affect their childrenâ€™s Jewish identity.
“Interfaith couples raising Jewish children and participating in Christmas continues to be common,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily. “These families see their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature and not confusing to their childrenâ€™s Jewish identity.â€ť
The Pew study released this year, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, reported that 71% of interfaith families (where one partner was Jewish and one was not) had a Christmas tree in their home in the prior year. Likewise, in past years, some local Jewish community studies (Boston in 2005, New York in 2011) have reported on the frequency of interfaith families having Christmas trees, but acknowledged that the data does not indicate what having a Christmas tree means to interfaith families. The respondents to InterfaithFamilyâ€™s survey made hundreds of comments in response to open-ended questions that shed light on precisely that question:
Christmas does not have religious significance for many interfaith families who are raising their children as Jews.
They primarily are honoring the traditions of their parent and relatives who are not Jewish.
Children can understand clear explanations from their parents, such as that Christmas is not their holiday.
Interfaith families continue to grapple with the challenges of celebrating the holidays of two faiths in their families, and what it means for their, and their childrenâ€™s Jewish identities.
Participating in Christmas celebrations can strengthen childrenâ€™s Jewish identity by not letting them take it for granted.
Interfaith families raising Jewish children still experience Jews being uncomfortable with their celebrating Christmas and do not appreciate being questioned, censured or shamed.
For more information, read the attached report â€śWhat We Learned from the Tenth Annual December Holidays Survey.â€ť It also can be found online here.
InterfaithFamily is the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities. We offer educational content at www.interfaithfamily.com; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative, providing coordinated comprehensive offerings in local communities, including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area.
EDITORâ€™S NOTE: InterfaithFamily has developed a resource page for interfaith families around Christmas and Hanukkah that includes a Thanksgivukkah Guide, and numerous articles that help interfaith families have a more enjoyable and meaningful holiday season which you can visit here.
I often feel that life is a series of days unless we pause occasionally to celebrate. There are definitely highs and lows of each day and some events stay with us for days or weeks, but generally days and weeks come and go. This is why entering a period of pause each week, called Shabbat is so crucial. This is why holidays and life cycle events are so important. They mark our time with meaning.
This past weekend, two events occurred in our house which felt they changed our lives. Although the two events were not monumental to most, they felt dramatic to me.
The first event was that my six-year-old had her first spelling test. First grade is very different from â€śhalf-dayâ€ť kindergarten. In first grade, she gets on the bus at 8:30 and comes off the bus at 3:30 and has had all kinds of experiences that she navigates herself. Most of her day is at schoolâ€”not at home now. However, this first spelling test brought me nearly to tears of joy. She had reached a new place in her young life. Now, she was being tested and judged based on what she studied and how she performed. Now, we as parents, had a new responsibility on our shoulders: to help her study.
The second event that occurred was that our daughter went on her first sleep-over at a friendâ€™s house around the corner from where we live.Â We were proud and filled with nachas (a Yiddish word meaning pride from a loved oneâ€™s accomplishment). She had to make her needs known. She had to perform her own self-care.
I got into bed the night she was not home and felt Godâ€™s presence as I have not felt in a long time. Perhaps because I have been moved by the stories my colleaguesâ€”fellow rabbi-rabbi parents have shared about their own sonâ€™s brave fight of childhood cancer and about the thousands like himâ€”I cherish even more keenly and with a different perspective our childrenâ€™s lives.
When I say I felt Godâ€™s presence, what I felt was the support of thousands of other parents over generations who have had the joy of seeing their children accomplish new feats. I felt excitement at what was to come. I felt in awe of how life moves along and how obstacles are overcome.
I love the shehecheyanu prayer (the Jewish Kodak moment blessing). It is said at new and joyous occasions and it thanks God for sustaining us and enabling us to reach this new place. The word â€śchaiâ€ť (life) is in the middle of this hard-to-pronounce word, shehecheyanu. Judaism is obsessed with life. With living the best life we can. Harold Kushner wrote a whole book called, To Life. Think Fiddler on the Roof, â€śTo life, to life, lâ€™chayim.â€ť
Of course I said shehecheyanu. I say it at every wedding. I said it when a first tooth was lost. (I think I was too sleep deprived to say it when that tooth grew in at three or four months old!) I said it when it snowed for the first time this season a few days ago in Chicago. But, I wanted a different, more specific prayer for this occasion of watching my daughter grow up.
Those who were raised with Judaism can be skittish about spontaneous, personal prayer. We like scripted prayers that start, â€śBaruch Atah Adonaiâ€¦â€ť I wrote my rabbinic thesis on spontaneous Jewish prayer because I am terrified of it. But, I prayed to God from my heart in my bed that night.
Over Thanksgiving dinner or the first nights of Hanukkah, maybe give yourself the freedom to add your own words, your own sentiments to our scripted prayers. Or fill the words from the sheets you read or which flow from your mouth out of memory with kavannah, special intention.
Judaism is all about turning the mundane into the sacred. A spelling test? A sleep-over? Yesâ€”these were sacred moments to mark.