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 I would love to contact them and make sure they are part of the network.

Ron Klain, Rahm Emanuel and the Christmas Madness


A story in 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 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.

Shiva, The Movie


I wonder if this movie, Shiva, about a Jewish family from Morocco mourning for a family member will be released in English? I found the trailer, in Hebrew with French subtitles, on the South Jerusalem blog. I think the trailer is interesting to watch even if you don’t know the languages, but you tell me.

If the movie does come out with English translation or subtitles, it would be great for the people who read We know we get a lot of hits from people who want to know about Jewish mourning practices. An article like the ones that Lula Jones and Valerie Cooper each wrote for us about being a non-Jew at a Jewish funeral for the first time could be helpful. Still, it would be neat to have a high-drama movie like this one that coincidentally illustrates what Jews do during mourning:

A Goldmine for Geeks


Every few weeks, I get a call from a reporter, student or amateur researcher looking for statistics on intermarriage. Usually I can quickly answer the question–47% of Jews marrying between 1996-2000 married non-Jews, 28 million American are intermarried, 31% of all Jews were intermarried as of 2000–but sometimes I have to look things up. My secret weapon? The North American Jewish Data Bank.

The Data Bank is a comprehensive source for Jewish demographic information. It includes every–or nearly every–digitally available geographically focused demographic study in the North America, going back to the 1925 Jewish Communal Survey of Greater New York. Within months of any new study being published, it ends up on the Data Bank.

Continue reading

More Funky Internet Torah Study Opportunities


I love the internet. I know, I say that all the time. Look at this, It combines the trend for Torah study on the internet with the trends in Jewish creativity that I enjoy so much–Jewish music in diverse styles, like hip-hop, multi-vocality, and the use of animation. The creators of the site call it “low-commitment learning.” You can commit to it, though. It’s a podcast, so you can subscribe to it.

It’s true that this isn’t on the level of studying the portion of the week with Nechama Leibowitz, who used to ask very difficult questions. Leibowitz, one of the great Orthodox teachers of Torah, assumed that everyone, no matter what his or her education, could understand Torah in its own language and understand the major medieval commentaries. This podcast does give you access to many opinions, which is the part of Jewish study that makes it exciting.

The thing is, the first three of these seem a little simplistic to me, probably because it’s one opinion per portion, and usually Jewish commentaries include a lot of opinions per parashah. Rashi, the medieval rabbi who created the model for commentaries, gives more than one possible interpretation for practically everything. Still, this might be a good taste of Torah for a lot of web-savvy people, and I like the cartoons.

Take a look and see if this is your cup of tea. Below the cut, I’ve embedded the video for last week’s portion, Noah, Continue reading

Getting Ready for Election Night!


Vote o bothIf you are like me, you are getting ready to stay up all night tomorrow, watching the election returns. I do not remember an election in my adult life that seemed as important to the United States’ future.
As Americans debate the politics of the election, some are debating another matter. Some bloggers claimed to have uncovered evidence that Sarah Palin’s maternal grandmother was Jewish. Others assert that Palin’s maternal grandmother was not Jewish. You can read both sides of the gossip about Palin’s possible Jewish ancestry here, among other places on the web. Palin was raised Catholic and joined a Pentacostal church in adulthood. She identifies as “a Bible-believing Christian.”
One electoral race that caught my eye is Colorado’s 6th District race for the U.S House of Representatives where Hank Eng is running. He is a Chinese-American convert to Judaism. Though Eng was born in New York, he discovered Judaism when he lived in Bejing. Eng, who is married to a Jew, discusses his attraction to the Jewish idea of Tikun Olam, the obligation of repairing the world.
I would not be a good former Minnesotan if I did not mention that there are two Jews running against each other for the senate seat. Comedian Al Franken, a Democrat is running against the incumbent Republican Norm Coleman. Both candidates are in apparently happy interfaith marriages. I am pleased that no matter which way the election goes, the Frozen Chosen will be represented. and Werewolf Bar Mitzvah


On the main site, we are running two opinion pieces, one in favor and one opposed to doing Halloween as a Jew.

I admit it. I’ve never been that interested in Halloween. I went through a phase of feeling guilty that Halloween was a watered-down version of this major Celtic pagan holiday Samhain. Then several pagan and Wiccan friends of mine told me that I shouldn’t feel guilty. Well, all right. I can go feel guilty about something else, and go trick-or-treating with my kid if he wants. He wants.

jukeboxMy son thinks Halloween is the bomb. He went through a totally different sort of phase of wanting to borrow books about Halloween out of the library. He’s not a big candy eater, but he does like to get candy to give away to others and to eat in small amounts over such a long period that we throw out the last of it at Passover. He also likes the whole costume-magical-cutting up pumpkins element of things, because it indulges his mistaken notion that I am crafty. He told us last night that he wants to be a jukebox for Halloween, but luckily he’s figured out how to make the costume himself without me buying a sewing machine. (“Like Anna’s mom.”)

In the meantime, some wonderful person left a bowl of these amazing chocolate covered stuffed dates in the kitchen of the offices we share with many other Jewish organizations. So I had the insight that, because the dates are from Saudi Arabia, we could be Ha ha, thank you, thank you, I’m here all week folks.

I’ll just embed my Jewish-themed Halloween video now, shall I? It’s below the cut. Continue reading

Talking Torah on the Internet


There are a lot of nifty ways to study Torah on the internet. It’s a great way to get an introduction to Judaism–you can get weekly commentaries from a Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist or Jewish Renewal perspective. But this new one has me smiling.

Banjo sculptureMy old friend Michael Carasik, who is involved in the amazingly cool project of translating the major compendium of Torah commentaries for the Jewish Publication Society, has a podcast! It’s called, not very originally, Torah Talk. He’s a major scholar these days, and I knew him when. We used to ride the commuter train to Brandeis together, and unfortunately I associate his voice with joking, so listening to these commentaries is cracking me up. These weekly Torah commentaries aren’t silly but they are light and I think accessible to anyone. Let me know if you think so, too.

I thought it was pretty neat when Michael and his wife Yaffa sent us a New Year’s card and mentioned that the new volume of The Commentator’s Bible. I mean, I get advance notice of a lot of new publications because I surf the web, but there is something special about getting advance notice of a major publication in handwriting. But the podcast–that brings us up to the 21st century!