This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
Romemu (roh·meh·moo) seeks to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice. This is a Judaism that will ignite your Spirit. We are a progressive, fully egalitarian community committed to tikkun olam, or social action, and to service that flows from an identification with the sacredness of all life.
“A Light Through the Ages” tells the meaning of Chanukah through story and song. With musicians from Zamir Chorale of Boston, Joshua Jacobson artistic director and original story by Rabbi Howard A. Berman of Central Reform Temple, this event concludes with a dramatic candle light ceremony. A festive reception follows.
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.
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 doâ€”appreciate that they are part of multiple religious communities and figure out how to honor that reality. Some will â€śchoose a side,â€ť 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, itâ€™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 donâ€™t have a way to succinctly and accurately describe non-Jewish family members other than calling them â€śnon-Jews.â€ť This designation creates the false impression that Jewish peopleâ€™s non-Jewish family members are as distant from the Jewish people as any other non-Jew â€” 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.
Itâ€™s a funny story, but itâ€™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 sheâ€™s raised a Jewish child? That she was incapable of the task? Doesnâ€™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.
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.
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 bat mitzvah ceremonies. When it counts, I want them to be part of the Jewish world where my son will live when he grows up.
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 Passoverseder 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:
I am taking her to hear the teachings of perhaps the most prominent Jewish Rabbi (Jesus) in the history of this great planet of ours. I can’t think of anything more Jewish than that.”
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!
Hey! It’s Jewish-American Heritage Month! Apparently President Obama declared it yesterday! I didn’t know that was coming, even though I follow the White House blog feed. The president called on all Americans to recognize Jewish American contributions to society.
And I’ve had to come back and edit myself here because–we have this every year! I trained as a historian and I didn’t even know that. In fact, according to the Library of Congress, the first president to declare Jewish American Heritage Week was Jimmy Carter in 1980. I was already bat mitzvah by then. I’m very surprised that we didn’t get any heads-up at the time, at Hebrew school.Â (Mom? Nu?) I got such a kick out of the announcement in Ha-Aretz that I’m kind of sorry I didn’t hear about it back when I was 14.
The Jewish Women’s Archive is celebrating–it’s a great place to learn more about Jewish women’s history. I’ll add more links as I find them. Feel free to comment with your favorite website, book or other resource for learning about American Jewish history and heritage.
I really enjoyed this week’s G-dcast. I blogged about this Jewish web resource when it first started publishing. It’s a way to learn about the Torah portion of the week. This week’s portion is Yitro, which is the Hebrew pronunciation of Jethro. The portion is named after Moses’ father-in-law, who was not Jewish. Leah Jones, who narrates the nice little cartoon of the portion, draws from the story a lesson about how to give constructive criticism. This is, you cultural Jews may be surprised, a big issue in Judaism. How do you let someone know they are doing something wrong without shaming them or causing them to rebel and not reform their behavior? You aren’t just supposed to come up and kvetch at the person…even though that’s what we often do. Continue reading →
I had a great phone conversation yesterday with Bruce Black, the editor of The Jewish Writing Project. Bruce is looking for people to write about what it means to them to be Jewish. Here’s how he described what he’s seeking:
We come to our writing without pre-conditions, seeking through words a path that will lead us to a deeper understanding of our connection to our heritage. When you participate in The Jewish Writing Project, it doesnâ€™t matter if youâ€™re born Jewish or if you converted to Judaism, if only one of your parents is Jewish or if neither parent is Jewish. All that matters is that you possess the desire to tell others about a particular experience that may have shaped your understanding of what it means to be a Jew, the willingness to explore a memory about being Jewish that holds a special place in your heart, or the wish to express your thoughts about how being Jewish has enriched your life (or made your life more difficult).
Â There is clearly some overlap between the people I’m seeking to write for InterfaithFamily.com and the people Bruce wants. I want people from interfaith families, whether they are Jewish or not, to write about what it’s like to negotiate the lifecycle events, holidays, family and community relationships they encounter.
I articulated something to Bruce that I haven’t said out loud before, about letting people define themselves as Jews. It’s very easy to get hung up on how to do things right. Judaism is a religious system of doing rather than one of believing. Even Jewish culture separate from our religion is about doing. (I’m sounding like Gertrude Stein in The Making of Americans, aren’t I?)
Working in the Jewish community with its narrow self-image and wide actual diversity often meansÂ that I have to get overÂ myself. I don’t get to tell people “What do you mean, you don’t like gefilte fish? It’s not Passover without gefilte fish!” or whatever other less silly example you can name. You can’t get allÂ worked upÂ about whether people are doing Judaism just like you are, or you’ll have apoplexy within a week, and all those nice people you want to welcome will back away slowly, hands outstretched, warding off the gefilte fish. You won’t save the Jewish people by being a jerk to individuals.
Listening to their stories and enjoying them is definitely the better way.
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