“Sing, Sing a Song…”

I am blogging from a Holiday Inn on the road to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. I had a great time interviewing Judy Caplan Ginsburgh over the phone this week for a piece our site. Judy is a singer who has led many children and their parents in song over many years. She does a lot of work with interfaith families so that moms and dads who weren’t raised with Jewish music can sing with their children. We talked about why she sings in Hebrew in an American accent instead of trying to do a fake Israeli one.

By coincidence, my best friend from high school sent me a link to Brian Eno’s essay on NPR about why singing is the key to a long life.

I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor.

You know, it’s kind of funny when someone who all but invented synthesized music is telling you that you should be singing a capella–old Elvis Presley songs, no less. Continue reading

Because He’s Jon Stewart

Many on the internet are so filled with glee about this Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Hanukkah song that they are making comparisons with Adam Sandler. Here it is, hope you think it’s funny. If not, at least you were among the first to find it on the internet:

House Fire and Warm Memories

This has been a crazy week for me.  My parents’ house had a huge fire.  Do not worry, they made it out in plenty of time and no one was hurt. 

My dad just called while he was standing in what used to be our family home wanting to know what he could take for me.  Everything was under mud and insulation; the house is no longer structurally sound.  The first thing I thought of was Zayde’s siddur–my great-grandfather’s prayerbook.  Clothing can be replaced and homes can be rebuilt, but what I can’t recreate is the worn pages of this book or the times that prayerbook saw him through.

I think everyone has objects they relate to family tradition.  I hope as we move into the Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, Chinese New Year holiday season,  everyone can  create memorable traditions for our diverse families which transcend our differences and celebrate our spirit. We at InterfaithFamily.com are proud of our role in helping people create new holiday traditions.

As we look forward to Thanksgiving dinner, which is always a great experience in my family, I am full of gratitude. Even though my parents’ house is gone, I have memories of family events and late night chats in the kitchen.  This year I am thankful for those memories, and so much more for the new ones my family will create.

Breaking New Ground with Jewish Leaders

Last week the United Jewish Communities (UJC) held its annual convention, called the General Assembly (GA). Something different and potentially very significant happened: there was talk about intermarriage, in a positive way.

Adam BronfmanSince I got involved in the professional Jewish world nine years ago, I think I’ve been to every GA except for two that were held in Israel, including last week’s. There are probably more Jewish leaders gathered at the annual GA than at any other time or place.

For many years I have lobbied the UJC, usually  unsuccessfully, to devote  convention sessions to the subject of outreach to the intermarried. (Like most conventions, there are big “plenary” sessions where most participants attend, and then there are multiple competing sessions over many time slots that attract smaller groups.)

I’ve actually spoken on panels at at least two GA’s, but the sessions were always about inclusivity generally, not outreach to interfaith families in particular. At last year’s GA in Nashville, there was nothing about intermarriage on the program. A GA visitor who didn’t know better, based on the absence of discussion at GA’s, wouldn’t be aware that outreach to interfaith families was the biggest challenge and opportunity the Jewish community faces.

I’m sorry I couldn’t go to Jerusalem this year, because finally things changed. I urge you to watch a video blog posted by Jacob Berkman of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which is embedded below. Berkman reports that Edgar Bronfman and Adam Bronfman broke new ground by bringing the subject of welcoming interfaith families to the front stage of the Jewish world. Continue reading

Very naughty

I do not know how things have come to this pass, but somehow, I have figured out an excuse two very good reasons to embed a Monty Python video on my work blog:

1. Monty Python has just announced their own Youtube channel. They are going to post all of their own material. So this is based on BREAKING NEWS, people!

2. Monty Python created one of the best-known stories about a young man growing up in an (admittedly dysfunctional) interfaith family, Life of Brian. Of course, Life of Brian is also, to many many people, one of the most offensive movies of all time. That’s why I’m going to post the embedded video under a cut. Beware of the blasphemy, bad language and blasphemous bad language. I am serious–this movie offended Christians and Jews alike.

My first-year college roommate, raised Catholic, was very upset when she saw this movie. She thought she was an ex-Catholic, but people hang on to things from their religious upbringing longer than they think. I had sent her to see it and had to apologize.

(Goodness, the Wikipedia article about the movie says that there was an oratorio based on the movie called Not the Messiah. Be still my geeky heart.)

I saw Life of Brian when it came out in Jerusalem in 1981. I was on a teen program in Israel that taught Jewish history, so I got every joke. My two geeky girlfriends from the program and I laughed louder than anyone else in the audience. I think the Israelis knew the history but couldn’t hear through the accents. Or maybe they were just offended and didn’t think it was funny. Not like my later experience of seeing Yellow Submarine in Tel Aviv in 1994, with everyone around me singing all the songs.

Anyway, this isn’t my favorite scene from the film, but the Pythons haven’t posted the most apposite one. (You know, the one with the line about being a Red Sea pedestrian? Oh well.) Here it is below the cut. Continue reading

Civil Marriage to Arrive in Israel?

Civil marriage in Israel may have a new (sort-of) champion in Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, one of the two leading candidates for prime minister of Israel.

Last week, The Forward reported that Livni promised that if she wins in February, she will allow civil marriage for the 350,000 Russian-speaking immigrants and their children who are caught in the so-called “marriage trap.” In Israel, only the religious authorities have the legal authority to solemnize marriages. Because so many Russian Jews are unable to prove they have Jewish mothers, the chief rabbinate will not marry them.

Continue reading

Holiday Cheer?

Other people are not thinking about the December holidays. I am, though. I am soliciting, writing and editing material for our website about what it’s like to be in an interfaith family in December, when Christmas is. (Did you know that? Christmas is in December.) I’ve also been writing about Hanukkah, which is comparatively small potatoes. (Potatoes, get it? Potatoes? Waka waka.)

Fozzie and RowlfI’ve been thinking about different ways that people can make each other feel included, wanted and loved when they celebrate different holidays. I have read many moving and lovely stories about families making this work and I expect more in my inbox. So many people love their families and want to do right by them.

One thing I do not recommend if you’re trying to be welcoming is that you buy this Christmas ornament. Go ahead, click it, I’ll wait.

Does that look to you like a flaming cross, of the kind that racists burn in people’s front yards to frighten them? Maybe it doesn’t look like that in person, but… in the photo, it really does.

Nope, not inclusive. Buying Hanukkah stamps for your holiday cards is a good idea. Testing potato latke recipes in advance of the holidays, good. Flaming cross, not so good.

Independent Minyan Conference

pomegranate groupLast Monday I went to Mechon Hadar’s Independent Minyan conference. Mechon Hadar is an organization dedicated to observant and egalitarian Judaism. They have a yeshiva in New York and also serve as consultants for independent minyanim around the country that share a belief in egalitarian Judaism. The independent minyan movement meets the needs of observant Jews who prefer a traditional prayer service, but feel the participation of women should be equal to that of men.

The conference was amazing because everyone who was there seemed to share the vision of being part of an active spiritual community. This movement is really new and most of the approximately 60 of these minyans have been founded within the last few years. These groups are still emerging and it did not seem that the needs of or outreach to interfaith families was even on the radar. Hopefully in time, interfaith families can find homes at these minyanim.

If you are part of a spiritual community that is welcoming to Interfaith families please drop me a line. As the network director at Interfaithfamily.com I would love to contact them and make sure they are part of the InterfaithFamily.com network.

Ron Klain, Rahm Emanuel and the Christmas Madness

A story in IsraelNationalNews.com commenting on the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as President-Elect Obama’s chief of staff, and of Ron Klain as Vice President-Elect Biden’s chief of staff, leads with:

“Both appointees are Jewish, but while Emanuel is an observant Jew, Klain intermarried more than 20 years ago and his family observes Christmas.”

Ron KlainThis is the kind of careless comment, typical of Israeli journalists, that buys into the mistaken notion that a Jew who intermarries and whose family participates in Christmas celebrations is lost to Jewish life.

The author, Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, could have said: “Both appointees are Jewish. Emanuel is a traditionally observant Jew. Klain intermarried more than 20 years ago and his family observes Christmas, but he and his wife raised their children as Jews.”

The author knows this, because buried at the end of the article, he cites a New York Times article which states: “He is married to a non-Jew with an agreement that they celebrate Christmas but raise their children as Jews.”

For all we know, Klain and his family belong to a synagogue and send their children to Hebrew school. Their children may already have become, or plan to become, bar or bat mitzvah.Rahm Emanuel Reuters

There are thousands and thousands of intermarried parents like that — who participate in Christmas celebrations and who are raising their children as Jews. Many of them belong to synagogues, send their children to Hebrew school, and have bar and bat mitzvahs, at rates comparable to Reform in-married parents, as Boston’s most recent demographic study reports.

At InterfaithFamily.com we are completing our fifth annual December holidays survey. Thousands of respondents over the years have told us that their Christmas celebration has no religious meaning for them, that it is a way of respecting the tradition of the non-Jewish parent without compromising the Jewish identity of their children. Jewish people celebrate Christmas with Christian friends and relatives as a gesture of connection, not denial of Jewish identity.

The Jewish community ought to be just as proud of the appointment of Klain as it is of Emanuel, and not create artificial distance between Klain and the community because of his marriage.

Dreidel? Dreydel? Dreyidel?

Dreidel boyMy sister-in-law called me last night and as I answered the phone she said “How do you spell dreidel?” I was taken aback for a second. Not only could I not think of any reason my non-Jewish Irish Catholic sister-in-law was asking for the spelling of dreidel — I didn’t actually know how to answer her. It seems that transliterated spelling of any Hebrew word can be spelled a dozen plus different ways. I quickly googled the word while I was on the phone with her and suggested she spell it d-r-e-i-d-e-l. Then I asked, “Why?”

It turns out my nephew’s pre-school asked parents to tell them how their kids spend the holidays. In our family, my husband is Roman Catholic and we are raising my two sons Jewish, we throw a family Hanukkah party each year. It started about four years ago when I invited my sister, her husband and my husband’s family (two brothers, his parents, grandmother, kids and spouses) over for Hanukkah. His family was so excited to learn the songs, light the candles, hear the story of Hanukkah, eat homemade latkes (the first and last time I actually made them from scratch) and jelly doughnuts and learn how to spin the dreidel.

Since then my sister has moved away, but we still have the annual Hanukkah party at our house with my husband’s family. This was why my sister-in-law needed to know how to spell dreidel, so she can tell my nephew’s preschool how he celebrated Hanukkah. Now, let’s hope she doesn’t need to know how to spell sufganiot.