Tis the Season for Articles about Interfaith Families

It’s been hard to keep up with our Google feed, because during December nearly every publication wants to cover the story of interfaith families dealing with Christmas and Hanukkah. For example, Mindy Pollak-Fusi had a piece in the Boston Globe, Merry Happy, about how she and her husband and their children from previous marriages negotiate the various holidays. The Hartford Courant ran a story about Playing with a Dreidel Under the Christmas Tree, which featured a more syncretistic approach to the two holidays. Braiden Rex-Johnson took an even more blending approach in his Seattle Times piece, providing a special non-kosher menu of foods for a blended holiday. I mean, really, is it just my perspective as a Northeasterner that your Jewish relatives might be annoyed if you went out of your way to serve “Christmas kugel” with roast pork loin? Maybe.

My favorite piece so far was Paul Rudnick’s Holly or Challah? in the New Yorker. I find Paul Rudnick really funny. It’s a list of 12 tips; number 10 is:

10. Never refer to Hanukkah as “their Christmas,” “Merry Wannabe,” or “the Goldberg variation.”

Well, yeah, and that was the least potentially offensive one. I’m sure that I find this funny precisely because I’ve read so many of these articles!

Your favorite will probably be the piece on non-Jewish chefs in interfaith marriages in the New York Times because it has recipes. (True, they are recipes for things like latkes with beets in them, more evidence of the bewildering beet fad among foodies. But who knows? Real chefs created the recipes so they ought to taste good, and there’s no pork loin involved.)

Hanukkah is coming!

I have to admit in the past I have not been the biggest Hanukkah fan. I work two jobs and take care of my 2 ½ year old. My husband has an even busier schedule and the last thing I want to do is when I get home is add to an already busy evening routine with greasy food and Hanukkah blessings, songs and games. I do enjoy these activities, but eight days in a row!

This year is different. My son is learning about Hanukkah at his preschool and has spent the last week practicing putting the candles in the Menorah. It is really cute to watch and a great way to practice his hand-eye coordination. Also, I have decided to make my own latkes. (If anyone has a recipe which does not include grating potatoes, please send it my way.)

Plus, we have many holiday parties. Not only do we have two preschool parties, but this Sunday we are attending three Hanukkah celebrations. Our synagogue is having a party for children. Then the JCC of Greater Boston is planning a Fiesta with crafts and a concert for children. Then we will end the day with menorah lighting in our town square.
The following week we were invited to a holiday party at an Indian family’s house. Though this year the Indian festival of lights, Dilwali, does not coincide with Hannukah, we have promised a night of lights and celebration. After a week of Hanukkah I will appreciate the diversity this Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, New Year’s holiday party will offer!

Hanukkah Pancake Post

I am happy to report that I’ve upgraded my RSS reader to Google, so that I actually get all the blogs I’m trying to follow. I was really frustrated because my old RSS reader dropped and caused me to miss Aaron Kagan’s post about the food at his wedding on his blog Tea and Food. Remember how we ran his story about An Interfaith Engagement?  He got married! Mazel tov.

I first got to know Aaron because he blogged about his experiments with yeasted pancakes and I was compelled to write to give him advice. (That is true, by the way, and not my attempt to segue neatly from my goal of promoting our writers’ blogs to my goal of giving you Hanukkah resources–because as you know, pancakes are a fried food for Hanukkah and we all love to eat latkes, the potato pancakes of deliciousness.)

I guess that The Pancake Project isn’t really a Hanukkah resource, unless you were hoping to figure out how to make a pancake in the shape of a menorah, but you have to see it because it’s cool. I can’t believe all the things he makes out of pancakes! (Hat tip to my Twitter pal and fellow fan of cool things on the internet, Baya Clare.)

I am also friends on Twitter with Ashley Rozenberg, who graciously gave us some wonderful Dutch pancake recipes when a reader asked for Dutch Hanukkah food. I am really excited about the idea of the mashed potato-rye flour ones. (I have not made them yet!)

I should definitely link you to the latke recipe on Smitten Kitchen, because that’s my work colleagues’ favorite food blog. But it’s a little more work than the method in the following video from Feed Me Bubbe–the Bubbe knows all the labor-saving steps. (This way, however, you get one version with the potatoes grated on the large holes of the grater and one with them pulverized to mush–which way do you like better?)

So Much Funukah

For me the holiday season doesn’t start after Thanksgiving or when the black Friday sales are advertised or even when the Christmas tree is lit on our town common. No, for me the holiday season starts the first time I hear Adam Sandler’s Hanukah Song on the radio. That day was today!

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As a kid growing up Jewish, surrounded by many Jewish friends and family, I never had the feeling of being a minority or an outsider. It wasn’t until I went to college that I experienced what it was like to be one of the few rather than one of the many. Having had this experience, I realized I want my children to have that sense of community and belonging I had surrounded by others like me. Being the Jewish part of an interfaith family and raising Jewish children it’s important to me to pay more than lip service to their Judaism. It was important for me to find a temple that will welcome our interfaith family (which we did at Temple Etz Chaim in Franklin, Mass.) and to celebrate holidays and teach my children what it means to be Jewish.

This Sunday I will have my husband’s Roman Catholic family over for our annual Hanukkah party. We will eat latkes and jelly donuts, play dreidel, sing songs, give the kids gifts and tell the Hanukkah story. Sharing what it means to be Jewish, not only with my children but with my extended family, is a blessing for me. They are excited to learn about it and I’m happy to teach (at least as much as I know!)

I sat in my car this morning, driving to work belting out lines like “David Lee Roth lights the menorah. So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas, and the late Dinah Shore-ah,” (here are the rest of the lyrics) and got that warm feeling of being part of something. For that I say THANK YOU ADAM SANDLER.

Hanukkah is Gonna Be All Right

A lot of my blogging this December is going to fall into three categories: embedding gratuitously entertaining Hanukkah videos, linking you to Hanukkah resources, and promoting the blogs of our writers. This post does all three.

First, I think everyone should read Amy Meltzer’s blog Homeshuling (and that I should get more writing from her on our site!) Whether or not you are in an interfaith family, if you’re parenting Jewish children in a majority non-Jewish environment you will relate to her post Playing Christians. (Sometimes when I read these blogs I come down with blog envy–I wish people had written their posts for IFF instead. That happens to me a lot when I read Fifty Percenters, a new blog by people in interfaith couples and families.)

Aliza Hausman, one of my favorite IFF writers and author of the insightful Memoirs of a Jewminicana, asked on her Facebook page yesterday whether anyone had good songs for non-Jewish children to learn about Hanukkah. It turns out it’s for a friend of hers who is a pre-school teacher, but I thought it would be relevant to a lot of our readers.  I thought immediately of “I Had a Little Dreidel,” (MP3) the quintessential non-religious Hanukkah song in English. (The link is to a cool acapella group from Chicago, Listen Up! Acapella.)

In recent years, my favorite non-religious English song about Hanukkah has been Woody Guthrie’s Hanuka Dance. (The link there is to a Youtube video of a very earnest young man covering the song–it’s sweet!) Subsequent to my discovery of the Woody Guthrie recording of that song, one of my favorite bands of all time, The Klezmatics, covered Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah songs in an album, Happy Joyous Hanukkah. (I wrote this post yesterday and actually heard the title song being piped over the loudspeaker in my local supermarket! Now that’s weird.)

You’re going to think this is bizarre, but I’m embedding a video that makes me cry. The Leevees, a bunch of indie rock musicians who do Hanukkah music, sang “Latke Clan,” at a synagogue nursery school. It’s dark, it’s December, it looks cold and grey, all the parents are hugging their kids, and the band is singing, “everyone’s together tonight.” I don’t know, it’s a happy, silly song and everyone’s happy and making jokes. I’m just touched because this is really how it is–we like to all be together. Hope that’s how it is for you. (Next Hanukkah post–pancakes!)

Who is a Jew? (Do you want your government to answer that?)

Last week, a British Court of Appeals ruled that an individual’s Jewish beliefs, not birth or conversion, determines Jewishness, and that to deny a child admission to a Jewish school due to the circumstances of his birth is racism. This was in response to a British court case in which the parent of a child was denied admission to JFS (formerly known as the Jews Free School), a publicly-funded Jewish school, because his mother’s conversion to Judaism was through an independent progressive synagogue that the Orthodox United Synagogue didn’t recognize. This is the second time that the case has been heard. JFS has said that it will appeal the case to the House of Lords, which functions like the US Supreme Court in being Britain’s court of last appeal.

If the appeals court decision stands, the 97 Jewish schools in Britain, all of which are Orthodox, will have to create new criteria to determine who is eligible for admission into Jewish day schools. A spokesperson from the British Board of Deputies (the equivalent of the United Jewish Communities in the US) told Haaretz that Jewish schools could be compelled to use “faith tests” similar to those done by publically-funded church schools in Britain. These faith tests could include home visits and attendance checks at the local synagogue. I can envision it now, desecrate the Sabbath, get kicked out of school!

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An Exciting Israeli Supreme Court Decision? Not Really.

If you are a Jew by choice or a person who is married to a Jew who would like to become Jewish, it’s a pretty crazy time to live in Israel. On the one hand, Jews by choice, no matter who performed their conversions, are eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. The Law of Return also includes relatives of Jews or people with Jewish  ancestry.

If you want to get married in Israel, to use a Jewish cemetery to bury your relatives there, or to enroll your children in religious school, you have to be Jewish according to the Orthodox Israeli rabbinate, and this has nothing to do with the Law of Return. This has gotten a little more complicated in the last year or so. It was just a little over a year ago when the Israeli High Rabbinic Court ruled that Israel’s own (Orthodox) conversions were invalid. Specifically, they ruled that the head of the state conversion ministry did not preside over kosher conversions. Later, they also invalidated the Jewishness of the son of a famous Jewish theologian on the grounds that his Orthodox conversion at birth was invalidated by sloppiness in observance of Jewish law later in his life. Most believed this decision, like the previous one, was motivated by political animus toward other rabbis. Still, it threw into doubt the Jewish status of any person converted for adoption who might appear before the rabbinical court.

All of these cases throw into doubt the common assumption in the Jewish community that an Orthodox conversion is what’s required for acceptance into the Jewish community.

These strange cases might have had some impact on a recent Israeli Supreme Court decision that non-Orthodox religious movements should have equal government funding for conversion preparation programs to the funding Orthodox programs receive. The secular court ruled that there was no reason to prefer Orthodox conversion education programs. Continue reading

Upcoming and Good

I hope all our readers had a good and meaningful Rosh Hashanah. I have some good and meaningful links for you.

Lilith magazine sent us a preview of some articles that they are going to run in their next print issue called Switchbacks on the Road to Judaism. The three writers of the articles in the .pdf file are sensitive in their treatment of gender issues and interfaith families.

Another good and serious thing (appropriate for the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is Jewish Social Action Month. This year it will begin on October 30, in order to overlap with the month of Heshvan on the Hebrew calendar. It’s a great chance to take advantage of the end of the Jewish holiday season and reinfuse your Judaism with social meaning.

Late Bloomers

Julie Wiener at The Jewish Week has a nice column about non-Jewish women who convert many years after their intermarriage.

This phenomenon marks a change from the typical pattern 20 or more years ago, when women would often convert before marriage under pressure–either overt or subtle–from their partner’s families. Continue reading

Cynical New Israeli Religious Court Ruling On Converts

Through this post at Jewschool, I learned about this Israeli High Rabbinical Court ruling that invalidates all conversions done by the State of Israel’s own Conversion Authority under the current head of that government agency, former Knesset member Chaim Drukman. The High Rabbinical Court ruled this because they examined a woman who had converted 15 years ago on the occasion of her divorce, and decided that she was insufficiently observant of Jewish law. They put her, her children, and her ex-husband who was born Jewish, on a list of people who can’t get married in Israel. (What was the logic behind declaring the ex-husband not to be legally Jewish? You got me there.)

In the comments to the Jerusalem Post article, I found a link to this article from a far-right religious web publication, justifying the high court’s decision. The second article gives the impression that some Orthodox rabbis had chosen to invalidate Rabbi Drukman’s conversions because he worked with a Conservative-movement-trained rabbi in Warsaw.
I am flabbergasted that all of these people who converted to Judaism in good faith through the Israeli government’s Orthodox official religious courts are now going to be unable to marry in Israel, attending religious schools, be buried in Jewish cemeteries in Israel–all the things that Israel’s government religious courts control. All of this may stem from political ill-will between these rabbis and Rabbi Drukman.

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