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By Rabbi Robyn Frisch and Rabbi Malka Packer
Just like the approach of the secular new year, the approach of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year,Â is a great time to reflect on the past year and to make resolutions about how you can be better in the year ahead. (Click here to read how Jewish new year resolutions are different from secular new year resolutions.)
We propose that synagogues use this time to take stock of how theyâ€™ve been welcoming and inclusive to interfaith couples and families over the past year, and how they can be even more welcoming and inclusive in the year ahead. One way toÂ do this is to participate in InterfaithFamilyâ€™s Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative (IILI). But even for those not participating in IILI, this is a great time of year to come up with an action plan of how they can be more welcoming and inclusive. Below are suggestions based on a webinar on â€śLanguage and Opticsâ€ť that we are presenting to IILI participants. These suggestions are the combined work of a number of InterfaithFamily staff members over the years based on our vast experience working with interfaith couples and families. What is your synagogueâ€™s response to each of the following questions? Based on your responses, you can see where you have work to do.
Hopefully these questions can help guide your synagogue in institutional cheshbon nefesh (accounting of the soul) at this time of the year and encourage an action plan for becoming more welcoming and inclusive of interfaith couples and families in the year ahead.
To learn more about InterfaithFamilyâ€™s Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative click here.
If you like cute videos parodying pop songs for the Jewish holidays like I do, then youâ€™ll be happy to learn that theyâ€™ve been made not just for HanukkahÂ and Passover (see my favorites here and here), but for Rosh Hashanah too. So, as we approach the Jewish New Year, hereâ€™s a countdown of my seven favorite Rosh Hashanah pop song parodies.
7) Felicia Sloin and Tom Knightâ€™s “Apples and Honey” parody of Maroon 5â€™s “Sugar.”
6) The Fountainheadsâ€™ “Dip Your Apple” parody of Shakiraâ€™s “Waka Waka.”
5) National Jewish Outreach Programâ€™s Jewish Treatsâ€™ “Soul Bigger” parody of Kanye Westâ€™s “Gold Digger.”
4) Matthew Rissienâ€™s “All About That Rosh Hashanah” parody of Meghan Trainorâ€™s “All About That Bass.”
3) The Maccabeatsâ€™ “Book of Good Life” parody of OneRepublicâ€™s “Good Life.”
2) Six13â€™s “Shana Tova (2013 Rosh Hashanah Jam)” parody of Macklemore and Ryan Lewisâ€™ “Canâ€™t Hold Us.”
1) And my very favorite Rosh Hashanah pop song parody: Aishâ€™s “Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem” parody of LMFAOâ€™s “Party Rock Anthem.” Not only can these guys sing, but they can really dance too!
Whatâ€™s your favorite Rosh Hashanah pop song parody? Is it one of the ones listed above, or a different one? Let me know in the comments below.
â€śMeet Robyn,â€ť my friend, who is Jewish, said with a smile as she introduced me to her Christian daughter-in-law. â€śSheâ€™s an interfaith rabbi.â€ť
Ugh! I cringed on the insideâ€”the same way I do when someone calls me a Reformed rabbi (rather than a Reform rabbi) or a â€śRent-A-Rabbi.â€ť I thought to myself: Iâ€™m not an interfaith rabbi. Iâ€™m a rabbiâ€”a Jewish rabbi. And what is an interfaith rabbi anyway? To me, the term â€śinterfaith rabbiâ€ť sounds like a rabbi whose Judaism, and rabbi-ness, is somehow not purely and authentically Jewish.
Of course I knew what my friend intended. She wanted her daughter-in-law, who was in an interfaith marriage, to know that I was welcoming and open; that I wouldnâ€™t judge her marriage or look down on her husband because his wife isnâ€™t Jewish or her for being married to someone Jewish.
But stillâ€¦ Iâ€™m not an â€śinterfaith rabbi.â€ť What I am is a rabbi who proudly spends my time working with and advocating for interfaith couples and families.
There are many rabbis from the Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal movements who officiate interfaith weddings, and weâ€™re all regular rabbis. Weâ€™re rabbis who want to open wide the door to Judaism, and who want to bring Judaism to the most sacred moments in peopleâ€™s lives. Weâ€™re rabbis who donâ€™t judge a Jewâ€™s commitment to Judaism by who theyâ€™ve fallen in love with and decided to marry. Weâ€™re rabbis who feel blessed to work with Jews and the people they love and who love them.
So call us â€śnon-judgmental rabbis.â€ť Call us â€śwelcoming rabbis.â€ť Call us Rabbis. Just please donâ€™t call us â€śinterfaith rabbis.â€ť
In all fairness, I realize the irony of my preferring not to be called an â€śinterfaith rabbiâ€ť when I use the term â€śinterfaithâ€ť all of the time. I often refer to â€śJewish interfaith familiesâ€ť where one parent is Jewish and one isnâ€™t, whereas the family may identify simply as a â€śJewish family,â€ť in which one parent just happens not to be Jewish. I realize that the term I, and the rest of us at InterfaithFamily use is less than ideal for a number of reasons, including the fact that the Jewish parent and/or the other parent may not see themselves as a person of â€śfaith.â€ť But I use it because I donâ€™t have a better term or way of distinguishing the particular type of family with whom I work.
In my role as director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia, I work with all sorts of different types of families with one Jewish parent and one parent who isnâ€™t Jewish, all of whom have a variety of blessings and challenges as a result of the parents having different religious backgrounds. I use the blanket term â€śJewish interfaith familyâ€ť not because itâ€™s ideal, but because it helpsâ€”hopefullyâ€”to make clear who these families are.
I realize that my friend who introduced me to her daughter-in-law was trying to do what I do: to describe what type of rabbi I was in a short-hand form, limited by the language we have. I know what she really meant was that Iâ€™m an open-minded rabbi who works with interfaith couples and families, and she felt that by just saying â€śrabbi,â€ť that wouldnâ€™t come across.
While it still may make me cringe on the inside, and Iâ€™d prefer that you didnâ€™t, I will say that if you really have to, go ahead and call me an â€śinterfaith rabbi.â€ť
But still please donâ€™t call me a Reformed rabbi or a â€śRent-A-Rabbi.â€ť
A Reform rabbi, a Conservative rabbi and a 17-year-old Orthodox Yeshiva student sit down to eat Shabbat dinnerâ€¦ Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right?
Well, itâ€™s not.
It was my family last Friday night. We were also joined by my two younger children. In myÂ family, weâ€™ve got a taste of kâ€™lal Yisraelâ€”the whole Jewish communityâ€”under one roof. I often tell my younger kids jokingly (well, mostly joking) that if my oldest son goes on to get Orthodox smicha (rabbinic ordination, which many males in his Orthodox community do) then I want one of them to be ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, so we can have rabbis in all four major denominations of Judaism in our immediate family.
I was thrilled to have my oldest son home for a weekend break from his Yeshiva (Orthodox boarding school focused primarily on the study of traditional Jewish texts) and to have my whole family gathered together around our Shabbat dinner table. As I blessed my children after lighting the Shabbat candles, I put my hands on each of their heads and then kissed them, and I thought about how lucky I was to have each of them and how much I love each and every individual in my religiously diverse Jewish family.
Sure, having a very observant Orthodox child (which he has been for two years now) in our family isnâ€™t always easy. I had always assumed that my kids would all live at home until going off to college at the age of 18, but instead my oldest began boarding at an out-of-town Yeshiva this past September, when he was 16-and-a-half, and I miss having him at home. But when he is at home itâ€™s challenging that our level of kashrut (Jewish dietary observance) isnâ€™t as strict as his. While my husband and I will eat fish or vegetables at regular restaurants, heâ€™ll only eat at a kosher restaurant with a hashgacha (kosher certification) that he accepts. His lifestyleâ€™s very different from ours so that, even when heâ€™s not at school, itâ€™s not really possible for him to travel with us unless we were to go to places where predominately Orthodox families travel, so that he can pray, eat and follow laws of modesty in ways that are comfortable to him. But those same lifestyle choices might be uncomfortable for the rest of us.
We make it work. When heâ€™s home, we go to our favorite kosher restaurant. Last December we took our two younger kids out of school a few days early to go away over winter break so that weâ€™d be back in time for our oldest son to come home for his long weekend off that started on December 29.
As I tell the interfaith couples that I work with, and as Iâ€™ve come to appreciate in my own life: Being in a relationship means respecting differences, honoring the person you love even when you disagree, compromising where you can, and knowing what issues are non-negotiable for you and for the other person. (For example, my son wonâ€™t attend a service where men and women sit together, so I accept that he wonâ€™t come to my synagogue when heâ€™s home. And he accepts that, while Iâ€™ll wear a long skirt and follow the other laws of dressing modestly while visiting him at school, unlike his classmatesâ€™ mothers, I normally wear pants.)
Equally important is working hard not to judge the other person. When my son started to become very observant, my husband and I sat him down and said to him: â€śWeâ€™re very concerned about you being Orthodox, because Orthodoxy is so judgmental.â€ť My son looked us in the eyes and without missing a beat said: â€śDo you have any idea how judgmental youâ€™ve been of me and of my being Orthodox?â€ť The words stung, because we knew he was right. We werenâ€™t really being as open-minded, tolerant and accepting as we thought we were. Sure, itâ€™s easy to be tolerant of whatever youâ€™re already comfortable with. Itâ€™s a lot more challenging to be tolerant when something is outside of your comfort zone.
I often speak to parents whose adult children are in interfaith relationships. I tell them that when our children are young, we can choose how we raise them and what we expose them to. We have all kinds of expectations about what they should be like and what they should do as they grow older. And we think that by what we tell them and with the example we set, we can control how theyâ€™ll later lead their lives and the choices theyâ€™ll make.
Sometimes this is true. But other times, our children will follow their own paths, and fall in love with someoneâ€”or in my sonâ€™s case, a way of lifeâ€”thatâ€™s different from what weâ€™d planned. This can be difficult, but ultimately we need to respect and honor our childrenâ€™s choices. This same advice I give to parents whose kids are in interfaith relationships applies to my own religiously diverse family.
Being in a family with intra-faith differences, like being in an interfaith family, has its challenges. But just like being in an interfaith family, it also has its blessings. The bottom line is that I love my wonderful, crazy family with all of our intra-faith diversity. It isnâ€™t always easy, but itâ€™s my family, and I couldnâ€™t imagine it any other way.
Recently I read two thought-provoking articles in the Jewish press: Rabbi Elliot Cosgoveâ€™s article in the New York Jewish Week, â€śMikveh Can Solve Conversion Problemâ€ť and Rabbi Shaul Magidâ€™s article in The Forward â€śWhy Conversion Lite Wonâ€™t Fix The Intermarriage Problem.â€ťÂ Like so many articles dealing with issues related to interfaith marriage, the headlines of both articles contained the word â€śproblem.â€ť
I realize that, when someone writes an article, the headline they propose often isnâ€™t the one ultimately used. I have written several articles which have then been published with different headlines than the ones I proposedâ€”in fact, I often donâ€™t know what the article is going to be called until I see it online or in print. Editors give headlines to articles that they think will attract readers. And so, I presume that it wasnâ€™t Rabbi Cosgrove or Rabbi Magid who decided to use the word â€śproblemâ€ť in the headline of either of their articles about interfaith marriage (though in the first sentence of his article Rabbi Magid stated that intermarriage is â€śarguably the most pressing problem of 21st century American Jewryâ€ť). But, the editors of the articles did choose to use the word and I find that disturbing.
For too long, the Jewish community has referred to interfaith marriage as a problem. It implies that the people in those marriagesâ€”the Jewish partner as well as the partner from a different backgroundâ€”are also problems for the Jewish community. As a community, weâ€™ve been talking out of both sides of our mouth. On the one hand, we spend our resources (both time and money) trying to figure out how to engage people in interfaith relationships in Jewish life, and on the other hand, we tell these people that theyâ€™re a problem. So, hereâ€™s a statement of the obvious: If we want to engage people in interfaith relationships, letâ€™s stop referring to their relationships, and thus to them, as a problem.
Throughout the four years that Iâ€™ve been working for InterfaithFamily, a national organization whose mission is to support interfaith families exploring Jewish life and to advocate for the inclusion of people in interfaith relationships in the Jewish community, Iâ€™ve been especially sensitive to the language thatâ€™s used in the Jewish community to speak about people in interfaith relationships. Iâ€™m constantly struck by the negative nature of the language we use, even today, with an intermarriage rate of over 71 percent for Jews who arenâ€™t Orthodox. We hear about the â€śproblemsâ€ť and â€śchallengesâ€ť of interfaith relationships and we see classes on â€śthe December Dilemmaâ€ť and so forth. The focus is almost exclusively on the negative.
Iâ€™m proud to work for an organization that seeks to reframe the discussion and change the language we use when talking about intermarriage. Language doesnâ€™t just reflect the way we think; it also shapes the way we think. At InterfaithFamily, we speak about the challenges *and* blessings of being in an interfaith relationship and we offer classes on â€śthe December Dialogueâ€ť or â€śthe December Discussion.â€ť
We at InterfaithFamily also advocate for framing discussions about interfaith marriage not as how we can solve a problem, but rather as how we can view interfaith marriage as an opportunityâ€”an opportunity not simply to increase our numbers in the Jewish community, but also for the Jewish community to evolve in a rich and meaningful way, with people who did not grow up Jewish bringing new insights and perspectives as they choose to engage in Jewish life.
I ask the editors of the Jewish press and others in the Jewish community to join us in our effort to reconsider the language being used to discuss interfaith marriage. Please, whether you see interfaith marriage as an opportunity or not, stop calling it a problem. At the very least, why not just name it as what it is, and what itâ€™s sure to remain in the future: reality. Once we accept this reality, and stop referring to it as a problem to be solved, we can surely have a more productive conversation about how to best engage people in interfaith relationships in Jewish life in a way thatâ€™s meaningful for them and for the future of Judaism and the Jewish community.
Passover is coming, which means that Passover-themed parodies of pop songs are showing up on my Facebook news feed, and possibly yours too. I love watching these videosâ€”theyâ€™re a nice break from cleaning out the chametz (leavened products) from my kitchen and thinking about what Iâ€™m going to serve at my seder.
Last year, I wrote about my Top 7 Passover Song Parodies. This year, Iâ€™ve got another listâ€”with some new parodies as well as some that Iâ€™ve discovered since last year.
1.Â In the final paragraph of my blog post last year I wrote, â€śWith Passover less than a month away, Iâ€™m disappointed that I still havenâ€™t seen any good 2016 Passover pop song parodies. Maybe the Maccabeatsâ€¦will release a video before Passover. I can hopeâ€¦â€ť Well, my hope was fulfilled. The Maccabeats DID release a music video before Passover in 2016: A â€śJustin Bieber Passover Mashup,â€ť which was a parody mashup of Beiberâ€™s â€śLove Yourself,â€ť â€śSorryâ€ť and â€śWhat Do You Mean?â€ť
2. Another great parody that was released for Passover 2016 was by a group called the Y-Studs, an all-male a cappella group from Yeshiva University. The Y-Studsâ€™ â€śSeder â€“ Passoverâ€ť was based on Michael Jacksonâ€™s groundbreaking â€śThrillerâ€ť video. I, for one, canâ€™t resist anything based on the â€śThrillerâ€ť video.
3. Congregation B’nai Shalom and Friends also released a fun video in 2016, â€śNow We’ve Got Matzo,” a Passover-themed parody of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”
4.Â The catchiest Passover song parody of 2016? In my opinion, it was Six13â€™s â€śGod Split the Ocean (2016 Passover Jam),â€ť based on â€śCake by the Oceanâ€ť by DNCE. Warning: Be careful if you listen to this songâ€¦itâ€™s hard to get the catchy tune out of your head.
5.Â Just as Passover 2014 was all about parodies of â€śLet It Goâ€ť from the Disney movie Frozen (for example, see here, here and here), not surprisingly, in 2017, Disney’s MoanaÂ served as inspiration for a Passover parody. Congregation Bâ€™nai Shalom and Friendsâ€™ â€śWhy Seders Are Slowâ€ť is based on the movieâ€™s â€śHow Far Iâ€™ll Go.â€ť
6. If you’re a fan of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” you’re sure to love Six13â€™s â€śSeder Crew (2017 Passover Jam).â€ťÂ I’ve already listened to it countless times, and Passover is still several days away.
7.Â My favorite movie in 2016 wasÂ La La Land and my favorite Passover parody video of 2017 is definitely the Y-Stud’s “La La Passover,” which I can’t seem to get out of my head…and I don’t even mind!
Hang on:Â one last video. Itâ€™s not a parody, but itâ€™s a great video. Trust me, you donâ€™t want to miss it. Itâ€™s a creative multi-genre twist on the classic Passover seder song â€śDayenuâ€ť recorded by the Maccabeats in 2015.
Chag Sameach! Have a happy Passover! And let us know: Whatâ€™s your favorite Passover song parody?
For the past eight-and-a-half years, Iâ€™ve been the rabbi of Temple Menorah Keneseth Chai (TMKC). Itâ€™s a small community with a close-knit group of congregants.Â During our Friday night Shabbat service each week, we have Simcha Time:Â when people are invited to come up to the bimah and share about birthdays, anniversaries and other good news.
Dottie Bricker, a TMKC congregant, is an amazing woman with a very strong Jewish background and connection to Judaism and the Jewish people. Dottie grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home. As a young girl, Dottie spoke only Yiddish at home â€“ she didnâ€™t even learn English until she went to kindergarten. Dottie comes to services regularly and often comes to the bima to kvell about her four grandchildren.
Dottie is, in every way, the consummate Jewish grandmother. She bursts with love and pride when she speaks about each of her four grandchildren, all of whom call her â€śBubba.â€ť Though sheâ€™s a Jewish grandmother, not all four of Dottieâ€™s grandchildren are Jewish. Here, in her own words, are Dottieâ€™s thoughts about being a grandmother in an interfaith family.
My Journey that Started Twenty-Two Years Ago (by Dottie Bricker)
It was a few days before Hanukkah when my son Howard called and asked if he could bring someone to our party. I said, â€śOf course.â€ť And he said, â€śMom, sheâ€™s not Jewish.â€ť I asked, â€śIs she nice?â€ť And he answered, â€śVery.â€ť
Howard married Gail a year later. Two years later my Charlie was born, and when he was 3, my Rachel was born. Oh, happy day-Iâ€™m the mother of three boys, the grandmother of three boys and now I finally had my little girl!
After Rachel was born, my son called and said that Gail wanted to raise the kids in her Catholic faith. Then he asked me if I would be OK with this. My answer was, â€śAre you nuts?! I love them the same as the other grandkids. They are the air I breathe. They are my naches.â€ť
When Charlie and Rachel started school, I became very familiar with their school, Our Lady of Good Counsel. When they received awards, I was there at Mass to see them honored. My Charlieâ€™s third grade teacher, Mrs. Yerkes, asked if his Bubba would come to read the story of Hanukkah to his class. I said I would love to. I read the story and taught them to play dreidel. I bought them jelly doughnuts to eat and they had a great time. A few months later, Mrs. Yerkes asked if I would read the story of Passover, and I was happy to go back. I brought matzah for the students to try. They said they liked it, but they liked the jelly doughnuts better.
When Charlie was in fifth grade, he told his teacher about his dadâ€™s small Torah. The teacher asked if he could bring it to school. My Charlie called me and asked if Iâ€™d come to school and teach about the Torah. Once again, I said, â€śOf course.â€ť It was a wonderful experience for me.
My grandkids are now in high school and I have just been retired from my job at Our Lady of Good Counsel. Thereâ€™s a new â€śBubbieâ€ť in Mrs. Yerkesâ€™ class.
My grandkids know that if they need Bubba I will be there for them. I have chaperoned school trips, gone to Phillies games with Rachel and even taken Charlie to the Mother-and-Son Dance when Gail was called into work at the last minute.
I like to say that my family is a â€śblended family.â€ť We learn from each other. Itâ€™s special.
They are truly the air I breathe.
Some Jewish grandparents whose grandchildren are being brought up in a different religious tradition may understandably have a much harder time accepting that reality than Dottie. In my Â blog post about honoring grandmothers of Jewish kids who arenâ€™t themselves Jewish, I noted that, â€śUnlike their own sons and daughters, who fell in love with someone Jewish and made the choice to have a Jewish home and raise their children as Jews (whether or not they themselves became Jewish), these grandparents who arenâ€™t Jewish never had a choiceâ€”theyâ€™re bound by their childrenâ€™s decisions.â€ť Of course, the same is true for Jewish grandparents whose grandchildren are being raised in a different religious tradition. It can be difficult to accept your own childâ€™s decision to not raise your grandchild as a Jew.
Ultimately, itâ€™s a parentâ€™s decision how to raise their child. With mutual respect and lots of communication between grandparents and adult children, grandparents can hopefully find ways to share their Jewish traditions with their grandchildren without the parents feeling that the grandparent is â€śpushingâ€ť Judaism on their child. Â ThisÂ may be hard, and the grandparent may legitimately feel a sense of loss that their grandchild isnâ€™t Jewish (see my blog on acknowledging the loss of a parent who commits to raise children in a religious tradition other than the one they grew up with-this can be all the more difficult for grandparents who didnâ€™t have the choice to make.) But hopefully, like Dottie, the grandparent will love their grandchildren unconditionally, and describe them as nothing less than â€śthe air I breathe.â€ť
It was all over the news. â€śIvanka and Jared can ride in cars on inaugurationÂ Shabbatâ€ť proclaimed the New York PostÂ on Thursday, January 19. â€śIvanka Trump and Jared Kushner Get Rabbinic Pass to Ride in Car on Inauguration Shabbatâ€ť said a headline in The Forward. All of my friends were talking about this and posting about it on social media. How could Ivanka and Jared say that theyâ€™re modern Orthodox Jews, who observe the Sabbath, and yet theyâ€™d be traveling in a car following Donald Trumpâ€™s inauguration on Friday, after the beginning of Shabbat? Why were they granted special permission by a rabbi to use a vehicle on Shabbat out of safety? After all, my friends would point out, Ivanka and Jared didnâ€™t have to go to the inaugural balls and galas. Other friends were saying that they probably got the dispensation because theyâ€™re rich and powerful.
The more I heard people criticize Ivanka and Jared, the more uncomfortable I got. Whether or not I like or support them or the president is irrelevant; I donâ€™t think I have the right to criticize Ivanka and Jaredâ€™s Jewish observance.
I often hear people judge interfaith couples and families just as theyâ€™ve been judging Ivanka and Jared.
If the Jewish partner truly cared about Judaism, they say, then they wouldn’t have married someone who isn’t Jewish.Â (For my personal thoughts on this issue, see my postÂ ‘Marrying Out is not ‘Abandoning Judaism’.)
If they wanted to have a Jewish home, they wouldn’t have a Christmas tree.
Their children aren’t really Jewish because the mother is Christian and they never took the children to a mikveh (ritual bath) to convert them.
How could they have had both a rabbi and a priest at their wedding?
How can the Christian mom be raising Jewish kids if she herself goes to church?
Many years ago, Rabbi Israel Salanter said, â€śMost men worry about their own bellies and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls and other people’s bellies.â€ť What a beautiful teaching! Wouldnâ€™t it be great if all of us could spend less time focusing on and talking about the ways in which other people practice their religion, and more time trying to bring healing to our fractured world?
I spend a lot of time advocating for interfaith couples and families to be accepted by the Jewish community â€śas they areâ€ť and encouraging synagogues and Jewish institutions to welcome and embrace all those who want to walk through their doors, rather than judging them. I think that itâ€™s only fair that I speak out in favor of giving that same respect to Ivanka and Jared. Letâ€™s not obsess over the fact that they traveled in a car on Shabbat – itâ€™s not really news. Weâ€™d all be a lot better off, to paraphrase Rabbi Salanter, focusing on our own spiritual and religious lives and concerning ourselves with eliminating hunger and poverty. Now thatâ€™s something to talk about.
Two years ago, I was sitting at a table on a warm summer evening with five young couples. They were the newest cohort of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphiaâ€™s â€śLove and Religionâ€ť workshop for interfaith couples.Â None of the couples had ever met before, and everyone listened quietly as we went around the table and each couple introduced themselves, sharing how theyâ€™d met and what had originally attracted them to each other.
Then I asked each couple to share when the issue of religion first came up in their relationship. Sarah (all names have been changed) said: â€śIt was the first December. Weâ€™d just moved in together. He really wanted to have a Christmas tree and I made it very clear that I would never have a Christmas tree in my home.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m with you!â€ť said Joan, who was sitting across from Sarah. â€śIâ€™d never allow that!Â Itâ€™s just wrong for a Jewish person to have a Christmas tree in their home!â€ť And with that, Sarah and Joan high fiveâ€™d across the tableâ€¦ newly bonded by their refusal to let their significant others have Christmas trees.
Meanwhile, I watched another couple, Amy and Dan, squirm uncomfortably in their seats.Â It was Amy and Danâ€™s turn to share next and I happened to know that after much discussion Dan had agreed to Amyâ€™s request to have a Christmas tree in their home the prior December, even though it made Dan, whoâ€™s Jewish, uncomfortable. Realizing that I needed to jump in as facilitator, I reminded the couples of one of the â€śground rulesâ€ť of our group: That we werenâ€™t discussing what was â€śright or wrongâ€ť or judging each other, but creating a safe space for discussion for all of the couples to communicate openly and figure out what was best for them. Fortunately, we were able to move on, and the five couples bonded over the following weeks, sharing openly about the challenges and blessings of their interfaith relationships.
Iâ€™ve been thinking back to that summer evening a lot in recent weeksâ€”as the topic of Christmas trees has come up multiple times in my meetings with interfaith couplesâ€¦ even though itâ€™s July!
What is it about Christmas trees? Why are they so often such a big source of conflict for interfaith couples? Hereâ€™s some of what Iâ€™ve learned from working with many Christian/Jewish couples.
For the Christian partners:
-Some of their best childhood memories are of Christmas. Christmas trees remind them of family togetherness and warmth. They often want to have a Christmas tree not just for their own sake, but so that their children can experience the magical feeling that they had when they woke up on Christmas morning and found lots of presents under their tree. So many families have special traditions and rituals for decorating their trees, opening presents, etc. Parents who have wonderful memories of Christmas as a child often want to be able to re-create their experiences for their own children, even if their children are being raised as Jews.
-Many (though certainly not all) parents who grew up celebrating Christmas say that they donâ€™t think of a Christmas tree as â€śreligious.â€ť They canâ€™t understand why their Jewish partner is uncomfortable having something in their home that to them is all about family togetherness and fond memories, and doesnâ€™t have religious significance.
For the Jewish partners:
-They often see having a Christmas tree as â€śselling outâ€ť their Judaism;Â the final step to full assimilation into the majority Christian culture. No matter what Jewish practices they do or donâ€™t follow, they view having a Christmas tree in their own home as a boundary that theyâ€™re not comfortable crossing.
-Many Jews are concerned about what other Jews (often their own parents) will think or how theyâ€™ll feel coming into their home if it has a Christmas tree.
Recently, Sue and Mark, an interfaith couple, shared with me the frustration theyâ€™re both feeling as they discuss whether or not to have a Christmas tree in their home this December. Sue lamented: â€śItâ€™s July, and we find ourselves sitting on the beach arguing about Christmas.â€ť She said that every time they start to discuss whether or not theyâ€™ll have a Christmas tree, they both start talking over each other and just shut each other out. Mark looked at me and wondered: â€śWhat should we do? Whatâ€™s the right solution?â€ť
Of course only Sue and Mark can determine whatâ€™s right for them as a couple, and whatâ€™s right for them this December may not be whatâ€™s right for them next Decemberâ€”and it certainly may not be whatâ€™s right for a different couple.Â But thereâ€™s one thing I could tell them is right for sure: to take the time to truly listen to each other and to each try to understand the emotions behind what their partner is saying.
Whether or not theyâ€™ll have a Christmas tree may be something that they finally resolve and come to agree on over time, or perhaps the issue will be a source of conflict for years.Â But if they can each respect where the other is coming fromâ€”and discuss the issue from a place of love and respect rather than anger and intoleranceâ€”then their relationship will be much healthierâ€¦ in Julyâ€”and in December.
If you are an interfaith couple where one partner is Jewish and one is Christian, do you plan to have a Christmas tree? Has having/not having a tree been a source of conflict in your relationship?Â Do you have other reasons than the ones Iâ€™ve mentioned above for having/not having a Christmas tree?
Over the years Iâ€™ve enjoyedâ€”and benefited greatly fromâ€”the practice of mindfulness meditation. Studying and practicing mindfulness has helped me to be less judgmental (of myself and others), to be more present in the moments that make up my life and to better appreciate the simple beauty in the world around me.
Often, when thinking about a lesson Iâ€™ve learned in mindfulness Iâ€™ll say to myself, â€śJudaism teaches this!â€ť Iâ€™m struck by how so many of Judaismâ€™s rituals and teachings can help us to lead a more mindful life. Or, as I put it in another blog that I wrote, â€śmy mindfulness practice is fully interwoven with my Jewish spirituality.â€ť
What do I mean by this? Well, for example, when learning about â€śmindful eating,â€ť I was taught the importance of not just devouring food, but of thinking about where the food comes from and how it got to me, as well as what it looks and smells like and how it tastes when really focusing on it. I remember thinking, Judaism teaches us not to just eat our food mindlessly. We have blessings to recite before and after eating that make us stop and pause, to remind us of the sacred nature of eating and of how lucky we are to have our food. This mindfulness lesson is inherent in Judaism.
Â As I practiced mindfulness over a long period of time, I became especially grateful for the way in which it affected my parenting, enabling me to become more fully engaged with my children and more aware of special moments spent with them. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much Judaism has to offer when it comes to tools for mindful parenting. Judaism gives us the Shema, a beautiful prayer to say with our children before putting them to sleep, helping to calm their minds and make them feel a sense of connectedness. Judaism gives us Shabbat, a special day to focus on family and rest and to take a break from the hustle and hassles of the rest of the week. And Judaism gives us HaMotzi, a special blessing to recite as we stop and pause before eating.
The wisdom of Judaism in regard to mindful parenting is just one of the reasons that Iâ€™m thrilled that InterfaithFamily is offering a free email series called â€śRaising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family.â€ť This popular email series is for parents (and prospective parents) who want to explore bringing Jewish traditions into their family life. Participants receive eight emails over four weeks (emails are sent on Mondays and Thursdays) about how to bring spirituality and Jewish traditions and practices to their parenting in realistic and meaningful ways.
The emails share ideas, videos, question prompts to discuss with your partner, ideas for family projects and book suggestions around sleeping, eating, playing, praying and more. Essentially, the emails offer lots of ways for parents to bring mindfulness to theirÂ parenting, to their own lives and to the lives of their childrenâ€”itâ€™s mindful parenting through a Jewish lens.
The emails can be read on your own time, whenever works best for you. And thereâ€™s specific advice on how to address the topics covered in an interfaith family. Thereâ€™s no pressure to do things a certain way â€“just basic information and an opportunity for parents who didnâ€™t grown up Jewish (as well as those who did) to learn about Jewish traditions and practices.
While some parents just want to receive the emails and perhaps choose on their own aspects of Judaism to bring into their familyâ€™s life, for those who want to take it a step further, thereâ€™s an opportunity for interaction. Once someone starts receiving the emails, they’re invited to join our private Facebook Group for everyone in the “Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family” email series, as well as alumni. It’s a place where parents (and prospective parents) in interfaith families can ask questions, share resources, support one another, etc.Â In each email there are suggested questions for discussion with your partner and the opportunity to respond to me with your answers, or with anything else you may be thinking about. Iâ€™m happy to engage in discussion about any of the topics covered (or anything else that comes up in your interfaith family) or to share your thoughts or questions with others who are receiving the email series.
Registration for the email series is always openâ€¦ so if you click here and register now youâ€™ll start getting the emails in your inbox as soon as the next series begins. And before you know it, you can be raising your child with more Judaismâ€”and more mindfullyâ€”than perhaps youâ€™d ever imagined.