Providing quality experiences to enrich the lives of the community at large with award-winning preschool programs, summer camps and a wide array of enriching activities. JCC Chicago provides the opportunities to bring Jewish values to the lives of everyone from infants to adults.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
Yesterday my 8-year-old son came home and told my husband a troubling story about a comment another child made to him at his after school program.
Apparently, during a conversation with some other children, my son mentioned that he was Jewish. This other child said “Yeah, well, Jewish people are weird.” At this point in hearing the story, I think I began holding my breath. My initial reaction was, “Oh no, I’m not prepared to deal with this yet! What do I say? How do I help him deal with this?” Panic set in. I asked my husband what he had said to our son when he told him. My husband’s response was to acknowledge that the other child was ignorant and probably didn’t know any other Jewish people — and left it at that.
This morning I asked my son about the comment and how he reacted. He said he told the kid, “DUDE, that’s not nice! Saying that hurts my feelings.” WHOO HOO! I was so proud of him for standing up for himself and told him so. Then he told me he didn’t understand why the other child had said this. “Aren’t Jews exactly the same as Christians?”
Ignorance is a hard concept to explain to an 8-year-old. We talked a bit more about how there are people out there who sometimes don’t like you because you believe something different than they do. You should listen to what they have to say and, if it’s said because they don’t know any better, then you have to stand up for your beliefs like he did with this child.
If anyone has had any similar experiences, or has any advice on how to talk to children about these issues, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, I’m just proud of my son for standing up for himself!
I heard someone say, “I hate the xxxx people. They are so intolerant.” I thought this was a very hypocritical statement and it was very… well, intolerant. You can insert any extremist group for xxxx, but the person seemed to think that they were very progressive and open minded in their thinking. I thought otherwise. I have struggled with this concept for months: I don’t want to be intolerant of people who are themselves intolerant because then I would be a hypocrite.
I try to teach my children to set high standards in order to do their best. Somehow, the implication of trying to attain high standards implies that other people have low standards. Who hasn’t heard the argument, “Well Joey gets to watch TV all day,” followed by, “I‘m not Joey’s parent!” I don’t want to insult or second-guess the judgment of another parent. I try not to criticize other people because, for all I know, maybe Joey doesn’t watch TV all day or his parents are not home when Joey watches TV. In the heat of the moment, it is difficult not to imply that we think we are better than others. However, as a parent, it is important to instill respect and acceptance of others.
For example, during the most recent election, I tried to teach my kids how lucky we are that we can vote for our president without fear. I punctuated the conversation by saying that in some countries, women aren’t allowed to vote. The kids were surprised and asked which countries and why. We have friends of many nationalities and I dodged the question because I didn’t want to create any inadvertent prejudice. My son’s good friend is Muslim and I didn’t want to get into a discussion about religious influence on politics in some countries.
While I don’t want to be a hypocrite, there are times when striving to be the best that we can be may come across as a little condescending. The crux of it is, as long as we are aware of where the line of tolerance is, we are doing the best we can. None of us can be “politically correct” all of the time, but as long as we are trying to be sensitive, that’s a very good first step.
In the Jewish community, there is often scorn or lack of respect toward intermarried couples. We need to embrace the different choices people make (even if we would choose differently) and encourage intermarried Jews to keep a piece of their Jewish identity. As Jews, if we are welcoming to the person of a different faith, they will likely gain additional respect for their spouse’s Jewish identity. Jewish people should treat all individuals regardless of their religion or background with chesed — kindness. We will all sleep a bit better knowing that we have been kind and respectful to others.
Mitzvah is a Hebrew word that means commandment. The word mitzvah is in many Jewish blessings. The Friday night candle lighting blessing says, “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Who make us holy through commanding us to light the Sabbath lights.”
Because of the commanded language, some rabbis hesitate to permit those who aren’t Jewish, who have not formally through conversion taken on the commandments, to say the blessing and do the ritual. Thus, a mom who is not Jewish, who has raised Jewish children, may not be able to light the candles at the Friday night service before her child’s bat or bar mitzvah in some synagogues.
In the session on mitzvot (plural of mitzvah meaning commandments), we asked our class how the parents understood the concept of being commanded. Two interesting comments came up:
“I want to lead a spiritual and ethical life, and in that way there is a sense of commandment, but if someone were to ask me if I’m commanded by God to be ethical and spiritual, I don’t feel particularly comfortable thinking of it in these terms….”
“When I hear/read “commanded by God” what I feel is “connected to God.” Being mindful of performing mitzvot not only makes the world better (animals are being taken care of, kindness is extended and experienced) but also helps to keep me grounded. It’s easy to get caught up in my life, my own needs, wants, etc. I like the way the concept of connectedness helps me to remember others and my place in the world — as a contributor and vessel for good things beyond me.”
It seems that those connected to liberal Jewish families understand “mitzvah” in much broader terms than adhering to the actual ritual or ethical commandments of the Torah, as elucidated by the rabbis in the first centuries of the common era. This should be no surprise as Reform Judaism, in particular, can be fully expressed when lived within the spirit more than the letter of the law.
I would think that liberal rabbis would also understand “b’mitzvotav vitzivnu” — “with God’s commandments, God has commanded us” in a broader sense. There are moms and dads connected to Jewish families who understand the concept of “commanded” as guiding their lives in profound ways. To keep someone from saying blessings with commanded language because they are not technically commanded seems misguided in some circumstances, as the comments above beautifully prove.
Leo Baeck (1873-1956) was a German rabbi, teacher and writer who led the push for Progressive Judaism (which today encompasses Reform Judaism). He taught that God’s commandments can be understood by the individual as boiling down to the ultimate statement of “Thou shalt.” It is up to each of us to fill in that blank, “Thou shalt _______.” It’s clear that the parents in this class are harkening a call for ethical and moral living by filling in the commandments in a broad sense — and this is powerful.
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.”
Great question. When I think of the Tooth Fairy, I associate her/him/zir with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. Very firmly, to me they live in the realm of Things That Do Not Exist.
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!
From my own experience, I have learned that Jewish tooth fairies do not appreciate skepticism. My mother recently showed me an exchange of notes that I had with the Tooth Fairy when I was about eight years old. Apparently I had been heard to doubt the Tooth Fairy’s existence, the result being that no money was left under my pillow, in its place a note chastising me for my disbelief. I then had to write a note in response, professing my sincere conviction that the Tooth Fairy did indeed exist. Apparently that did the trick, as the exchange ended, and I got my quarter (and a complete set of adult teeth). From this I would surmise that it is entirely possible to engage — and perhaps even bargain with — the Jewish tooth fairy, and that, in good Jewish form, dialogue and debate are always encouraged.
If you are seeking a new Jewish ritual around losing baby teeth, I encourage you to visit Ritualwell.org, a wonderful source of contemporary rituals and resources for all manner of life cycle events. There you’ll find a few suggestions for blessings and related practices to make the moment of losing a tooth an opportunity to instill Jewish values.
Maybe my friend’s upbringing was more religious than I’d thought…
Among the many decisions involved in raising children, how to educate them is one of the crucial ones. It will influence their growth – intellectually as well as socially and morally. It will also orient them toward a certain set of values, identity, skills, and sense of community.
For Jewish parents, there is an additional layer of consideration in educational decisions: how to ensure your children grow up with a Jewish sense of values, identity, skills, and sense of community.
Jewish day schools of all types – Orthodox as well as Reform, Conservative, and community day schools – provide one answer to this conundrum of how to raise kids Jewishly. Non-Orthodox parents have a wide array of choices and factors in choosing schools for their children. They consider geography, finances, culture, math and science excellence, arts options, plus Hebrew School on top of a public 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:
[T]he AVI CHAI and Steinhardt foundations are wondering how to make day school an option that rises farther to the top for more non-Orthodox families.
What would convince more non-Orthodox parents to decide in favor of day school? Is it an issue of a need to boost the schools’ image to align it with what the parents are already searching for to instill their children with Jewish identity? Is it a problem of marketing and reaching the target audience most likely to sign up? What ways are there to take advantage of existing trends, social networks, or current day school constituencies in recruitment efforts? Are there incentives that would be meaningful?
This blog post kicks off an exciting thought experiment. We are asking you, our readers, and people across the social web, to answer the question: What would make day schools more attractive to non-Orthodox parents? More specifically, without changing the core educational program, what characteristics, features, selling points, functions, additional program offerings, or other ideas do you have that could make day school an attractive independent school choice for non-Orthodox parents?
Do you have ideas that could influence parents’ decisions on these questions – from your own experiences as a parent making them, as a child who was influenced by them, or as someone simply interested in issues of Jewish education? What strategies do you think will work? Please respond here on this blog, on your own blog, or in the AVI CHAI Facebook page.
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 pointoutresourcesforyou.
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.”
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.
The funny answer is that, of course we need a ceremony, because everything needs a ceremony, preferably with a certificate and a big table of baked goods afterwards.
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 Bat Mitzvah, etc. And for her efforts she gets to be rewarded with the knowledge that most of the Jewish world still does not believe she’s raised a Jewish child? That she was incapable of the task? Doesn’t seem right. I feel pretty Jewish. And I credit both my parents equally for that.
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.
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