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Tu Bishvat is two weeks away!
As I said last year, “It’s a minor holiday and, as such, I think it gets lost among the bigger, better known holidays. But there’s a lot to it – and it’s a great way to gather friends and family in your home on a cool winter’s night to remind ourselves that, if nothing else, spring will soon be here.”
If you haven’t already, check out our beautiful new booklet on Tu Bishvat. It explains the historical roots of the holiday and Judaism’s long-standing sacred connection to trees and the environment. You’ll also find suggestions for activities for young children and ideas for hosting a Tu Bishvat seder.
And don’t let the spelling confusion prevent you from trying out this holiday!
It’s less than three weeks away, and you’ve started getting emails about Tu Bishvat events. You’re probably also getting emails about Tu B’Shvat and Tu B’Shevat, whatever those are. This blog has previously explained why “Tu Bishvat” is correct, while “Tu B’Shvat” and “Tu B’Shevat” are WRONG WRONG WRONG.
If you’re curious as to why Tu Bishvat is often spelled differently, or why this isn’t a difference of opinion (like the Hanukkah/Chanukah debate), check out The War on Tu Bishvat on the Mah Rabu blog. Why is proper spelling of this transliteration important?
Safeguarding the Earth’s future requires being prepared to accept inconvenient truths, whether that means the dangerous effects we are having on the climate, or whether that means that the first vowel in “Bishvat” isn’t the vowel you thought it was.
And, bonus!, we got a shout out on a subsequent Mah Rabu blog post for being among the few, the proud, the knowers of proper Tu Bishvat spelling.
Ready? Check out our collection of resources for hosting your own seder (festive meal) this year. Do you celebrate Tu Bishvat another way? Let us know! (I can’t be the only one thinking outside the box (or, rather, getting inspiration from TV’s How I Met Your Mother) by hosting a Tu Bishvat Pajama Jammy Jam…)
This article from the JTA is far too short, but let’s our imaginations run wild:
A substantial majority of Israelis want the country’s lawmakers to consider Diaspora Jewry when devising new legislation on Jewish identity issues, according to a poll.
Wow. Can you imagine what would happen if every single person who converted under Reform, Reconstructionist, or Conservative guidance in the Diaspora contacted Israelis, imploring them to view non-Orthodox conversions as “just as Jewish” as Orthodox conversions? Can you imagine what would happen if every single child of an intermarriage contacted Israelis, urging them to see their families, bar or bat mitzvahs, and marriages as “just as Jewish” as the child of inmarried parents? Can you imagine what would happen if every single Jewish organization that welcomes, includes, or otherwise supports interfaith families contacted Israeli organizations and explained their reasons for being welcoming, inclusive, and supportive of interfaith families in Israel?
77% of Israeli respondents think Diaspora Jews need to be kept in mind when Israeli law defines “who is a Jew.” Interfaith families are Jewish families in the Diaspora – and should be recognized as such in Israel as well.
[sub](Hat tip to Jeremy Burton's tweet, alerting me to this article.)[/sub]
Friday, January 13, we hosted a JCC Makor Shabbat for Interfaith Families with Young Children, a community dinner organized by the JCC Shure Kehilla. The guidelines for the dinner we hosted were that participants need to be 21-39, and some of the parents who came to our house were pushing this, but everyone loved the idea of a program whose aim is to connect this cohort with great Jewish happenings all around Chicagoland. The night we held our interfaith family Shabbat, there were three other community Shabbat dinners organized by the Kehilla happening in the city (blue-line Shabbat, travelers Shabbat, music and arts) and another taking place out in Wheeling.
For this Shabbat, however, we were having four other couples with their combined eight children to our home for blessings, dinner, schmoozing and playing. I started by getting the whole house organized and cleaned up (which actually felt really good to do). Then I went to Taboun Grill to pick up the food the JCC had ordered. When I got there, I met Genia who runs the Russian Hillel. I have known Genia in name for years through the work I have done in and around Odessa, Ukraine, but she didn’t know me. I was so excited to learn that she had become a Jewish professional in Chicago. I got to connect with her in person over some tea while we waited for our orders to be packed. (Genia was hosting the Wheeling Shabbat for Jews in the ‘Burbs, another of these community dinners organized through the Kehilla.) We talked about interfaith couples in the Russian community and what she is seeing in terms of identity and interests of her students.
A video has been making the rounds that explores what Jewish identity can mean – maybe you’ve seen it on Facebook already. It took me a while to get past the opening montage; I’m not a fan of “Jewish” being tied to Holocaust imagery, and the song from Schindler’s List is a little heavy-handed. But I stuck with it and found it interesting.
Watch it through, and let me know: Were you to create a video, poem or rant about how you relate to Judaism as an individual, what would you say? How would it differ from Andrew Lustig’s (that’s him in the video)? Would you mention your interfaith family, extended family, being a Jew by choice?
A difference between Christians and Jews, one could say, is that Christians believe the Messiah came (you might have heard of him – a fellow named Jesus?), while Jews are still waiting for the Messiah. Over the years, this basic difference has become, amongst some sects, more confusing:
But, Messianic Jews and some Chabadniks/Lubavitchers aside, the broad distinction remains; Jews and Christians view the role and level of importance of Jesus, as it pertains to their own theology, quite differently.
Boteach said he regrets that Jews allowed Jesus “to be ripped away from them without even a fight.”
The excerpt, from an interview with Ha’aretz, continues. Let me quote Shmarya Rosenberg of FailedMessiah.com:
Enter Jesus, the latest subject of Boteach’s ‘scholarship.’[/quote]
What do you think? Will you be reading the book? Will it further relations and bridge-building between Christians and Jews? Are you, like Shmarya Rosenberg, skeptical and worried?
The article notes that Elana is best known for is coordinating outreach programs specifically for interfaith families and couples. Elana is quoted as saying, “One of the great challenges and opportunities of the current and future Jewish community is to provide a warm and welcoming environment for interfaith families and extended family members who aren’t Jewish… Interfaith families are searching for ways to connect with the Jewish community and Judaism in ways that are comfortable as well as meaningful.”
Jewish communities don’t often enough single out for praise people working to engage interfaith families in Jewish life and community. It’s significant that both the Hartford federation president and JCC executive director sing Elana’s praises in this article. And the honor couldn’t happen to a nicer and more dedicated and capable person. Congratulations!
As you can imagine, there have been a lot of ups and downs for me since starting InterfaithFamily.com, Inc. ten years ago. I have a very distinct memory of one of the high points. Although I’m not completely certain where it happened – I believe it was at the then-United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Cleveland in 2004 where we had a booth in the exhibit hall – I specifically remember a man I didn’t know stopping by our booth and starting to talk. It was the start of a wonderful and sustaining relationship with Newt Becker, who sadly died two days ago.
If the Jewish world had more philanthropists like Newt Becker, we would be in much better condition. Not that it was easy to gain his support – in fact he was very inquisitive and he was very tough-minded. I have six pages of notes from a phone call with Newt in October 2005 filled with his questions on what we were doing and suggestions for projects we should undertake. He gave me many names of people to call and I noted “use Newt’s name” by each one of them.
I have an email Newt sent to a colleague, a professional fundraiser, after that call. He said he had made a commitment to IFF “but Edmund needs more than money.” He asked his friend to critique my powerpoint and pointed out a slide that he thought was important and missing. Fortunately, although the presentation needed improvement, Newt said that I was a “serious person.” The commitment he made was the largest individual gift we received in our early years.
We talked once or twice a year and the calls always lasted at least an hour. Newt wanted to know what was going on and when it was something he knew about – like distance learning and web based instruction and local chapters in our case – he shared his experience, made suggestions, and asked to review what we came up with. But he was very generous, and he was a committed funder over the years, and one of the nicest things he ever did was increase his gift by 25% – without being asked – after Madoff and the economic downturn in late 2008. The last time I talked to Newt this fall, in response to a matching challenge, he increased his gift again, this time by 33%.
Engaging interfaith families in Jewish life was not a popular funding area in 2005 (it still isn’t popular enough) but I don’t think Newt cared much about what was popular or not. He didn’t hesitate to support our efforts and my notes and emails are replete with his comments that the federations and movements should be doing more.
I didn’t really know Newt personally but I’m fortunate to have gotten to know his daughter-in-law Ann a little more. I’m sure Newt was a loving parent and grandparent because he often spoke to me proudly about his family, and because Ann has often mentioned happy family occasions like her son’s recent Bar Mitzvah. I hope Newt’s family will find comfort in what should be an outpouring of affection and gratitude for the very positive impact he had on our world.
InterfaithFamily/Chicago is offering our first two classes this year, which I am excited to be facilitating.
The first class is for interdating or newly married interfaith couples, offering the chance to think through how they want to bring religion into their lives. The second class is for interfaith families with young children, trying to figure out how to bring aspects of Judaism to their home (more than just Hanukkah!). This class with help the parent who isn’t Jewish gain knowledge about major aspects of Judaism that directly impact parenting and to see which of these traditions they feel comfortable embracing and making their own.
As I have been talking to different people about both of these classes, a couple of interesting things have come up. Here are two scenarios I have heard:
To these families I say, you don’t think you want the rubrics of religion in your lives but your children, like you, crave rituals and order, meaning and purpose. Every Jewish tradition and holiday has an ethical message or undertone to it. Lighting the Shabbat candles is as much about the spiritual as it is about the ethical, bringing family together for a special meal and time to share once a week. The Hebrew and blessings will come as you feel comfortable, but there is room within authentic Judaism for you to “do” Judaism in your own way, with your own language and your own interpretations, filling you in ways you may not yet be able to imagine.
To these couples I say, there is no such thing as “traditional” Judaism. You can connect to authentic Judaism, which is so richly spiritual that hearing the words of old told through a modern lens will fill you with awe, wonder, inspiration, joy and connectedness (that perhaps you never felt growing up at synagogue!). You can connect to Judaism today through nature, through yoga, through meditation, through study, social justice, and just hanging out with other interfaith couples and talking about what’s really important in your lives and families.
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If any part of either or both of these scenarios resonates for you at all, join us for the Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family course or Love and Religion workshop.
Love and Religion – Online is a four-session workshop for interfaith couples who are seriously dating or newly married, on exploring the issue of religion in their relationships. This workshop offers a safe environment for couples to work on creating religious lives together. The sessions will be each Wednesday for four weeks, starting February 1 in person, and then online February 8, 15 and 22. Each session runs 7:00-9:00pm and includes online resources including facilitation via videoconferencing. The cost is $36 per couple.
Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family is a one-of-a-kind, eight-session class for interfaith parents thinking about whether and how to bring Judaism to their home, their lives and their parenting. This class runs February 27 through April 27. Participants will learn one session each week online, with two additional in-person meetings for the whole family: a Shabbat experience on March 23 and a wrap-up session on April 22.
The stuff of identity (childhood memories and experiences, what works for you today, what’s important to you right now) is so complicated and can’t be summed up or wrapped up neatly in a scenario. But these are all of the kinds of things we can explore more deeply in these classes. I look forward to learning with you!
One of our readers wanted to make sure I (and through me, all of you) saw this blog post. Part of the Reform movement’s “Spotlight on Welcoming Interfaith,” the author writes about feeling like an outsider as a non-Jewish parent raising a Jewish family.
We contacted their Day School and set-up an interview. “You know, I’m not Jewish”, was one of my 1st comments. Their response was “Many of our mom’s are not Jewish. You’ll find lots of friends here”. And, they were right.
I think this speaks to the power that we as Jewish professionals, organizations, lay leaders, and just “regular” members of the Jewish communities, have in ensuring that all are welcomed and accepted.
As professionals, think about the answers you give new or potential members in your synagogues or schools, look at how you can make your website more welcoming by adding statements of inclusion, and find more resources and tips in our Resource Center for Program Providers.