When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?Go To Parenting
A question was asked on Ask a Rabbi, a project of JewishBoston.com. Quite simply put, “Is there anything in Jewish tradition about losing baby teeth? Prayers, folk stories or customs? My 6-year-old wanted to know if there is a Jewish tooth fairy.”
A good friend of mine was raised in a lapsed Christian home. Her family celebrated holidays, but mostly Christmas (Santa) and Easter (Mr. Bunny). Even as a kid, she knew that this wasn’t a religious approach; when asked her religion, she replied they were Commercialists. When we were housemates, and she was about to have her wisdom teeth removed, her mother called me to explain the inner workings of their family’s Tooth Fairy beliefs and practices. As her parents were not local, it would fall to me to supply the money ($20/molar!) and a note (dictated by her mother – er, the Tooth Fairy herself). Even as a 20something, my friend maintained her pretend belief in the Tooth Fairy, Santa and the Easter Bunny. (Don’t get me started on the treats I had to leave out for her the year we were traveling abroad during chol ha’moed Passover [the middle days of Passover] and Easter!) The three characters were a core of her family’s not-so-religious practice. As such, I’ve come to associate the Tooth Fairy as being Christian (even if a lapsed Christian).
Given my belief that a pretend character is not Jewish, I was rather impressed with the answer Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek gave:
While many cultures have different traditions about losing baby teeth, Judaism has not traditionally marked this childhood experience. However, that wouldn’t necessarily imply that there is no Jewish tooth fairy. If in fact multiple tooth fairies carry out this particular duty, it seems reasonable to assume that among the multitudes of tooth fairies visiting children around America, at least a few are Jewish!
Maybe my friend’s upbringing was more religious than I’d thought…
On the AVI CHAI Foundation Blog today, there’s a conversation about the benefits of a Jewish day school education.
The conversation is not just for Jewish parents, but intermarried couples too. How does a Jewish education, be it day school or supplemental/after-school/weekend Hebrew or religious School factor in? Why have the conversation? Their blog post continues:
I suspect the interfaith community has a lot to suggest here. Did you decide to send your kids to a Jewish school? Why or why not? What factors went into your decision? If you decided against a Jewish day school, what factors would change your decision? And, specific to our community, did you find day schools to be welcoming of your interfaith family? Was the non-Jewish parent welcomed into the school, when touring campus, while meeting faculty?
True story: A friend recently came home from visiting her boyfriend’s family and told us about this docu-reality show, Pregnant In Heels, that she’d watched with his mom. We all kind of laughed at the premise (Rosie Pope, a “maternity concierge, fashion designer, and pregnancy guru” coaches women through pregnancy in style). But we were assured that Rosie often makes fun of the women (and their partners) who are far-too-often completely clueless about what having a baby will mean. Next thing we knew, six of us were glued to the TV for the full hour, watching the show (which is now on the DVR recording list).
So I was pleased to hear that interfaith issues were tackled on this week’s episode, “Clueless” (which is still saved for me on my friend’s DVR). I was not impressed to hear that the couple was nearing their due date and had never discussed religion. One person on a message board summarized the couple’s stance succinctly with, “Neither one of us cares about our faith so we had a non-religious wedding ceremony but I’m going to flip [out] if you try to take MY daughter to temple/mass.”
We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: talk about religion well before your child appears in your lives! Figure out how you’re going to raise them, which role(s) each parent’s religion will play in the lives of your kids and in your home as a whole. And if you’re stuck? Ask us, we’d be happy to point out resources for you.
As we head into the New Year, I thought I would share Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s vision for the Jewish Community of 2025, as printed in the Jewish Week. It’s a reality which I know those of us who work with interfaith families are working towards. Rabbi Yanklowitz describes a post-denominational, social action-based, Torah-educated community which includes interfaith families (see #7 especially). Great!
The rest of this blog post is for the mothers of preschoolers out there looking for ways to spice up their good morning and good night rituals.
As a New Yorker, who has lived in the Midwest and now Boston, I have learned to appreciate a good bagel as part of my morning routine. In recent years, the routine has come to include breakfast and kids’ Jewish music in the car to daycare and work. Amy Meltzer, of the homeshuling blog, has just posted a bagel recipe that I may just have to try.
When night comes, calls for bedtime can be met with cries of “I’m not tired” or the like. A lullaby may prove to be the perfect segue into a nightly story. In our house, many of our books come from the PJ Library and we always recite the Shema. Learn more about reciting the Shema and other Jewish bedtime rituals in ourbooklet, “Goodnight, Sleep Tight.”
Kveller has come out with a top ten of Jewish lullabies.
I listened to a few and was pleased by the diversity of tradition offered including English, Yiddish and Ladino. They come from more than just the typical children’s CDs. Anyone can enjoy Mandy Patinkin’s rendition of Oyfn Pripetshik, a Yiddish folk song.
I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was by Brad Hirschfield’s piece in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, “Who Gets Religious Custody in an Interfaith Divorce?” Rabbi Hirschfield was writing about the Reyes divorce, the case of the Chicago couple whose public battle over their child’s religious upbringing made the news several times. He wrote, among other things,
So Ela Reyes will do what more and more people, including the children of multi-faith families, are learning to do—appreciate that they are part of multiple religious communities and figure out how to honor that reality. Some will “choose a side,” but one hopes without rancor toward the ones not picked. The ability to affiliate with one tradition while genuinely respecting those who follow others is one of the central issues in contemporary public culture….Some will claim multiple memberships, not unlike those who hold dual citizenship in two countries. Others will create new traditions by fusing the multiple faith traditions which inform their life. While these options may cause some discomfort, it’s worth remembering that they reflect genuinely positive realities that benefit us all, and which virtually none of us would give up.
I suppose I’m surprised because Hirschfield has Orthodox rabbinic ordination, and I therefore didn’t expect him to take such a relaxed attitude toward syncretism. Though he’s writing in a high register and maybe what he’s referring to is the kind of thing we often see in interfaith families: sharing of life cycle rituals and holidays with relatives from other faiths.
Hirschfield goes on to point out that the priest who agreed to baptize Ela Reyes without her mother’s permission was acting unethically, which was a very interesting insight.
I was very excited when I found Jennifer Thompson, a young academic who did an ethnographic study of interfaith families in Atlanta–I have an article she wrote just for IFF here in my hot little hand. Don’t miss the great op-ed piece she wrote for The Forward, Look Who’s Raising Jewish Children. She hits one of my favorite subjects:
The language we use to talk about non-Jews is an important way of signaling who and what they are to Jewish communities. Yet we still don’t have a way to succinctly and accurately describe non-Jewish family members other than calling them “non-Jews.” This designation creates the false impression that Jewish people’s non-Jewish family members are as distant from the Jewish people as any other non-Jew — an impression that is ultimately counterproductive.
As Thompson notes, rabbis and other Jewish professionals tried to come up with a name for these non-Jewish allies in our families and communities–several thought ger toshav, which means something like “resident alien” or “live-in guest” might work. When I first started at IFF, I wrote a piece about this with a reporter, Welcoming the Stranger, Or Just Welcoming, which was about why, though I liked it and many rabbis liked it, the term ger toshav never caught on:
If you aren’t part of this mindset that I apparently share with these rabbis, you might be wondering why we need a ceremony or a category for people who aren’t Jewish who are supportive of Jewish relatives or friends. The sad answer is that Judaism does not assume that non-Jews are friends to the Jewish people, because Jewish history doesn’t support such a premise. This accounts for our perceived need for some ritual way to distinguish between the non-Jews who scare us and the ones we trust and love.
Do we need a special way to talk about non-Jewish parents raising Jewish children? Leyna Krow, a Jewish journalist in Seattle, has one–how about “mom”? She writes, in Sometimes the best Jewish mothers aren’t Jewish at all:
It’s a funny story, but it’s also a sad story. My mom had never even met a Jewish person until she roomed with a Jewish girl at UCLA as a college freshman. The religion was still pretty much a mystery to her when she met my dad. But she learned the basics and agreed to be a full participant in the Jewish education of their kid. She took me to and from Hebrew and Religious school, attended synagogue, picked out Jewish books from the book store, made our home festive for the holidays, helped plan my
What do you think?
It’s Mother’s Day and I’m thinking about my job. A lot of what we do here is give advice, a lot of our readers are moms, and I have one child who is only 7. Many women my age have more children and have been moms longer. Sometimes I wonder how I have the chutzpah, the effrontery, to give advice, even about the Jewish educational pieces I know so well.
I’ll tell you how. I read a lot. I’m not kidding, even before I took this job, I spent a lot of time reading books and articles and websites about parenting. Because I trust books and I really, really do not want to make mistakes with this wonderful kid.
My favorite book about parenting, so far, is Becoming the Parent You Want to Be. It was the only book that used the same language I had in my head about values. Reading the authors’ Nine Principles for the Parenting Journey was a relief–no one else had combined the sense that parents need to impart their values, which seems a bit on the conservative, authoritarian end of the spectrum of parenting thinking, and also that parents should trust their children, which seems a bit on the liberal, earthy-crunchy side.
The third of the principles is, “Cultivating a spirit of optimism about your children: Believing in our children and enabling them to find their own answers are two of the greatest gifts we can give them.” A lot of my job here is balancing my need to worry (I don’t think that’s only a Jewish cultural thing!) with my ability to trust people to work things out.
I believe that if I impart my knowledge and deep love of Jewish religion and culture my son will be able to develop his own relationship to God and the Jewish people. If I tell my truth about the future I want for the world, he’ll be able to develop his own vision of the future and act to make it real. I also believe that most of the moms who read our site have children like mine–you know, the kind we’ll be very proud to claim as our kids when they are adults. Happy Mother’s Day.
Elizabeth Chang wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post last week, “Why Obama should not have checked ‘black’ on his census form,”
Although I knew Obama self-identifies as African American, I was disappointed when I read that that’s what he checked on his census form. The federal government, finally heeding the desires of multiracial people to be able to accurately define themselves, had changed the rules in 2000, so he could have also checked white. Or he could have checked “some other race.” Instead, Obama went with black alone.
I understand why Chang wrote this, and even though I’m mostly on the same page with her about a lot of this, I think she’s wrong.
Chang identifies as the mother of biracial children in an interfaith family, and as someone raising biracial Jewish children. The whole Jewish community is behind her in wanting her children to be able identify as more than one thing. Jewish and Chinese and Hawaiian? Beautiful, we are so on board with that.
But on the other hand, I think there is something to Chang’s phrase, “when it counts, he is black.” When it counts, stand up for the people who need you. Based on his experiences, Obama judged this was the time to count as an African American. I read the piece in Newsweek last September on the work ahead of parents who want to raise anti-racist children. Parenting “colorblind”–pretending that racism doesn’t exist and that people aren’t different– doesn’t make racism go away or make your children accept difference. In fact it demonstrably does the opposite.
In that Newsweek story, the authors present an anecdote about a class of first graders reacting to a classroom event featuring a black Santa Claus. For my Jewish child, a black Santa Claus in public school wouldn’t be a great thing. (Promoting inclusion and acceptance of difference through Santa Claus? Really?) But a black President of the United States? That’s a symbol that makes a difference!
I’m not biracial and this isn’t my personal struggle, but I definitely have a lot invested, as a Jewish woman and a mom, in a society in which people of mixed heritage can identify 100% with all parts of their heritage. When it counts, I want Elizabeth Chang’s daughters to have
You can’t list yourself as a Jew on the US Census–for many good reasons–and there might be reasons, in the future, for the Chang girls to list themselves as Asian-American on some document. They will still be Jewish. It’s not a rejection of the culture of the non-Jewish parent for a child of an interfaith marriage to call himself or herself a Jew, full stop, any more than President Obama has rejected his mother and grandparents in any way. The time to identify is when it counts–and I believe in the next generation enough to think they’ll figure out when that is.
It’s lovely to see sunny Tori Avey, who wrote a great piece on how to run a Passover seder for us, telling the story of her Journey From Shiksa to Shakshuka in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. She is one of my favorite finds of the last few months–like a younger, American apprentice to Claudia Roden. (I know, if Tori reads that she’ll faint–Claudia Roden is every foodie’s hero. She’s certainly mine.) But she does the same thing–the recipe collecting and preserving–that Roden does so well. Because it’s partly about collecting and transcribing, but it’s also about testing and having the taste buds to choose the best variation.
I also really like to eat shakshuka. I haven’t made it in a long time–a bed of sauteed onions, tomatoes and sometimes peppers with fried eggs on top.
My friend Rebecca Lesses, a professor of Judaic Studies at Ithaca College, mentioned on her blog Mystical Politics a new feature on the Anne Frank House website. You can now see a lot of the exhibits in the museum without traveling to Amsterdam.
I just came across an article from Chicago CBS 2′s website that speaks volumes for the importance of an interfaith family being in agreement about the religious upbringing of their family.
In Chicago, Joseph Reyes may be in violation or a court order for taking his 3 year old daughter to church. Joseph Reyes had his child baptized and sent a photograph to his soon-to-be-ex wife, Rebecca. She asked the court to bar her husband from taking their daughter to church and exposing her to any religion other than Judaism. The court agreed that such exposure would be detrimental to the young child. Then the father took his child to church again, arranging for a television reporter to write on the story.
Joseph Reyes converted to Judaism after his daughter’s birth. Even though Jewish law forbids coercion in conversion, Mr. Reyes told the local reporter that he had been pressured to convert. He said he wants to expose his daughter to Catholicism and let her choose her own religion, and further, he can’t see much difference between Judaism and Catholicism:
What jumped out at us at InterfaithFamily.com was the slanted way the reporter wrote the story, siding with the husband who had reversed agreements with his wife in the process of the divorce. There’s no recognition in the stories on the CBS 2 website of a Jewish viewpoint or even the idea that religion might be used in a divorce as a weapon. He didn’t quote any experts on interfaith families, nearly all of whom take the position that raising children in one faith is less confusing. Certainly, adult children of interfaith families have told us they found it confusing to be raised “both”.
People do change after divorce, but we always hope that parents will stay with the parenting decisions they made for their children before the divorce. We had one of our interfaith marriage experts record his advice on how to weather divorce–emphasizing how children benefit from consistency. We know that the Reyes’ story is not uncommon, and that many interfaith couples who divorce wind up in conflict over religion. Perhaps we’re all lucky that the local news media don’t choose to involve themselves in every case!