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.
Join the San Diego Jewish Film Festival and Jewish Family Service to explore the interfaith family experience, including a screening of the film Out of Faith followed by a facilitated discussion. Out of Faith is a feature-length documentary that follows three generations as they struggle with complex and emotionally-charged conflicts over intermarriage, familial duty, ethnic identity, and cultural continuity and survival.
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.
We here at IFF talk a lot about insider/outsider language and how those in Jewish life can be sensitive to language that not all who find themselves in the Jewish community may know. So, I thought I would take this chance to make sure you all know how the IFF website works.
InterfaithFamily is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to support interfaith couples and families exploring Judaism. IFF is based in the greater Boston area and has additional âYour Communityâ local offices in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. (If you think your city would like a full-time person whose job is devoted solely to engaging interfaith couples and families in Jewish life, contact us for more information). The IFF website is vast! There are articles on every subject related to experiencing Judaism, specifically written with modern interfaith life in mind. There are narratives, videos, ways to learn blessings, recipes, blogs, pop-culture and more.
Each IFF/Your Community has a page devoted to the work being done in that community. I want those in Chicagoland to know about events going on around town that might be of interest and have ways to connect to welcoming congregations and professionals. One category that we have on our Chicagoland page is âPeople.â Who are these people? Might you be one of them? They are people who have listed themselves as members of InterfaithFamily. When you become a member (for free) you can pick the subjects that are interesting to you and when a new piece of content is written, it will be suggested on your profile. You can list your zip code so that when events in your neck of the woods come up, you will know. We designed this membership system so that when people âjoinâ IFF as members, you can then connect to each other!
Do you ever wonder if other parents of toddlers give presents each night of Hanukkah? Do you wish your 10-year-old could experience a bar or bat mitzvah, but you are not members of a congregation? Do you want to be able to explain your religious decisions better to your in-laws? Did you grow up in a home with two religions/traditions and now have a lot of questions?
You can ask each other about these things on our discussion boards! You can learn from others in similar situations. Community means: a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals. We speak about âvirtual communitiesâ a lot. You can be a real virtual community for each other.
If you are already a member in Chicago and want to see your profile, just log in and click on âmy personal pageâ at the top right of the screen.
You can see other members in Chicago by going hereÂ and clicking on âPeople.â
If you have a question or comment and want others to reply, click on âdiscussionsâ and âadd a topic.â
I have been slowly but surely looking at member profiles and trying to reach out to see if you have specific areas you want to discuss with me. If you would like to connect, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
âShe had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.â
âÂ Shel Silverstein,Â Every Thing on It
We all know lots of people who wonât compromise. One friend spent so much time compromising that he didnât realize his partner wasnât compromising at all. Not only was there no balance in that relationship, there was no respect. Trying to find balance is a constant effort but crucial to the success of any relationship.
I remember when I was engaged and planning our wedding, my family had strong opinions about many things. It felt like we were arguing about everything. A friend gave me the best advice: Pick three things.
I have found that this advice can be applied to so many things. When making decisions with a partner, there are a variety of aspects to the decision. Take any hot topic and divide it into sections. The great thing about having a piece of a decision in your control is that you are in control of something. For many people, it is the lack of control that brings out frustration and even anger. And leaving pieces of the decision in other peopleâs hands means that you arenât acting like a âcontrol freakâ and that you are respecting the desires and needs of others.
For example, when you and your partner are looking to buy a house, instead of debating about a specific house, one of you can pick the general location and the other can pick the style of house. If the decision making process gets too contentious, you and your partner should switch priorities. You may find that when you switch roles, the stress disappears.
When searching to buy our home where would be raising our kids, my husband and I debated about schools and school districts. We realized that finding a synagogue to join with a religious school we liked was also a part of the equation. After a while when we still couldnât reach an agreement on where we wanted to live, we switched priorities. Quickly, we resolved the issue. As long each of us had control over some aspect of the decision process, we ultimately came up with a plan that made us both happy. We both felt that we had input and we were able to respect the otherâs wishes.Â And now for 8 years weâve been living in a house and an area that we love!
Do you have a technique that helps you negotiate lifeâs decisions? Tell us about it!
Thirty-two percent of Jews born after 1980âthe so-called millennial generationâidentify as Jews of no religion, compared to 19% of baby boomers and just 7% of Jews born before 1927. Overall, 22% of US Jews describe themselves as having no religion, meaning they are much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish.
The analytical side of my brain wanted to know what questions were asked, how they were asked and how the Pew Research Center defined the first layer of the question, âof Jews.â Thankfully, there was a sidebar defining who is a Jew.
This diagram is from PewForum.org
I appreciate their stance, to âcast the net widelyâ such that if anyone answered yes to any of three statements, then they were considered Jewish for purposes of participating in the rest of the survey:
(a) that their religion is Jewish, or
(b) that aside from religion they consider themselves to be Jewish or partially Jewish, or
(c) that they were raised Jewish or had at least one Jewish parent, even if they do not consider themselves Jewish today
With that information, I was not surprised by the results. Liberal Jewish congregational professionals have long been talking about the decline in religion and what that means for the sustainability of their congregation.
I feel it especially in California where I would say many people (Jewish and not) are ânot religious.â People connect with heritage, tradition and culture. This was especially true in our last Love and Religion workshop. It became very hard for spouses/partners who were raised in a faith tradition other than Judaism to understand their partnerâs Jewish identity, when that identity was void of religion.
Rather than looking at the results as Wertheimer describes, â[a] very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,â I prefer to look at it as an opportunity to embrace other aspects of Judaismâbeyond sitting in services and praying. I also feel this is an amazing opportunity for our interfaith families, in that there are so many ways they can connect with Judaism!
A few weeks ago, my son was reading Torah at a Saturday evening service. It is a very small service of 15-20 people and a nice opportunity for him to read without a large audience and to practice reading before his Bar Mitzvah next year. My in-laws who live a few towns over decided to attend. They were excited for him. The Rabbi saw them and asked if they wanted to have the aliyah for my sonâs torah reading. They both said no.
At first I thought they were uncomfortable because they were taking an honor from someone else. So I looked at them and said, âThere is no one here, go ahead.â They said no thanks again. I was perplexed. They are both Jewish and have participated in synagogue life elsewhere. They are completely comfortable in a synagogue and knew most of the people in the room.
An Aliyah is an honor within the Torah service. It allows the honoree(s) to stand beside the Torah reader (their grandson) and witness his reading. I also always think it is fascinating to be up close and personal with the Torah. (I always am amazed that this beautiful scroll is in every synagogue in the world and created by hand. When you factor in the longevity of the textâŠit is really cool.) I thought my in-laws would be thrilled to be up there with their oldest grandson and to watch him read from the Torah. Wouldnât they want this honor?
The concept of a Jewish person not wanting to accept an honor in a synagogue struck a chord. I recently wrote a blog about the beauty of the blessings given by someone who is not Jewish during a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. In many congregations, someone who is not Jewish cannot say a blessing for their child. My feeling is that the person who is not Jewish and blesses their child and the childâs Jewish learning is making a wonderful statement of support to the community. So why wouldnât my in-laws want to participate?
Then I remembered my days in high school choir when we were in churches singing our hearts out. Sometimes there would be communion after we sang. Being raised in a strict Jewish household, I would refuse to participate even though I was the only one from the choir that wouldnât go up to the altar. I had a friend who was also Jewish but she did go up for communion. We spoke of it once and she said she didnât feel comfortable sitting on the pew when everyone else was kneeling or taking communion. I always remember this conversation and that one personâs comfort is another personâs discomfort.
Now, as I often think about welcoming a person of a different faith inside a Jewish institution, I have to remember: Sometimes people want to participate, and sometimes they want to opt out. Either way, we should do all in our power to make them feel comfortable whatever their preference.
I have been thinking about my in-laws sinceâŠwe only do what we are comfortable doing. We all have different experiences and influences. Certainly no one should be forced to do something when they are uncomfortable. Religion is obviously a very personal decision and experience. My in-laws were not mentally prepared for an aliyah and this isnât a synagogue where they are members. I get itâit wasnât right for them. Still, I know they were very proud of their grandson and his ability and intent to carry on the traditions.
While many synagogues are re-evaluating the role of the family members from various religions during various ceremonies, we must realize that not every person who isnât Jewish will WANT to participate. Some people think that their synagogue doesnât need to offer options because, âWhy would a person who isnât Jewish want to participate?âÂ My response is: Let each individual decide what their comfort level is. We all have to remember that welcoming means offering options for inclusion. And, by simply offering the option for participation, the community sends the message of welcoming.
Jewish educators (including me) are constantly writing about interfaith familiesâhow to engage them, what their challenges are, what this means for the current state and future of Judaism. I thought an interesting way into the conversation would be to record quotes I have heard this week. These quotes are taken from different people and were said in different venuesâfrom adult education, to talking with parents and grandparents on the phone or in person, to capturing what my own child said during bedtime. These comments capture the range of the concerns people have. Some of them go to the heart of the work we do, and others bring up policy and programmatic challenges.
Rabbi Ari Moffic (left) leading a Jewish education discussion
What would your answers be to these questions or what would your follow-up questions be to these statements?
Things people have said to me this week:
âOne of the big issues grandparents face when grandchildren arenât being raised Jewish is our own guilt.â
âI donât want to have to pass a litmus test to get a Jewish education for my children.â
âIf God is in my heart, when does God come out? Does God sleep?â (From my four year old)
âWe are so busy during the week that we donât want to be away more from our child on Sunday mornings for drop-off religious school.â
âI want to drop off my child on Sundays and go get a coffee and read TheNew York Times.â
âThe only way our priest would marry us was if we also had a rabbi and if we promised to pass on Judaism.â
âI am very concerned about burial issues that will come up for all of these interfaith couples who arenât thinking about that yet.â
Twitter challenge for October: Tweet comments you hear other people say about life as an interfaith couple or family, things said at your Jewish programs or by your kids. Your words are the best conversation starters for us at InterfaithFamily!Follow us at @InterfaithFam and tag us in your comments with the hashtag #InterfaithQuotes.
The following is a guest blog post by Dina Mann, National Marketing and Outreach Coordinator forÂ Reboot, an organization thatÂ engages and inspires young, Jewishly-unconnected cultural creatives, innovators and thought-leaders who, through their candid and introspective conversations and creativity, generate projects that impact both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.
Traditionally, this is a day of celebration. Dancing, music and even some drinking is quite common. The question is: Whatâs everyone so happy about? Or a better question: How can we bring the spirit of creativity, excitement and joy from SimchatTorah and spread it throughout the year?
Enter Unscrolled. Itâs a reinterpretation, a reimagining, a creative celebration: 54 leading Jewish writers, artists, photographers and screenwriters, plus actors, an architect, a musician and others grapple with the Torah, giving new meaning to the 54 Torah portions.
What is Unscrolled? First and foremost, it is a book that sums up the weekly Torah portion and then goes even further by creating interpretations that no medieval rabbi would think possible. More than a book, Unscrolled is a project that seeks to create a conversation around the Torah. With Unscrolled, we hope to give people who have never read the Torah, people who read the Hebrew Torah portions every week and people who think itâs a whole lot of brisket an opportunity to engage with the text in a fun, entertaining and offbeat way.
Want to get in on the action?
Visit Unscrolled.org to see sample pages, sign up for emails with parasha prompts and upcoming Unscrolled events.
Follow UNSCROLLED on Facebook and Twitter. Join the conversation and share your interpretations.
Keep it Simple. Sum up the weekly Torah portion in 140 character or less. Share on Twitter with #Torahin140
Go Deep. Respond to weekly prompts that will have you bringing the Torah into the 21st century.
Create an event for your community and sign up to receive a DIY kit.
Get tickets for launch events in San Francisco (Oct 2)Â and Los Angeles (Oct 28).
Order UNSCROLLED and start looking at the Bible a little differently.
B’reishit (“In the beginning…”) is the first portion. Take some time to:
On Yom Kippur this year, I had the pleasure of listening to a personal, heartfelt and inspiring sermon by Rabbi Rachel Saphire of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA. The sermon got my family thinking and talking and I thought you might enjoy it too. Rabbi Saphire has been kind enough to allow us to share this excerpt of her sermon, which is approximately the first half. Enjoy.
Whether you see it or not, youâve made a choice to be here today.Â You may be thinking, âI donât have a choice whether or not to observe Yom Kippur.Â Itâs just what I do.Â Itâs what Iâve always done.âÂ You may observe in order to support your loved one or your family.Â Maybe youâre a teenager or child and your parents have simply told you, âYouâre coming.âÂ Either way: youâre here and thatâs a big deal.Â And even if you may not realize you have, youâve made that choice and THAT is a big deal, too.
Our Torah portion for Yom Kippur comes from Parashat Nitzavim from the Book of Deuteronomy.Â In just a few verses, God puts a big choice before us.
âYou stand this day, all of you, before God â[leaders], elders, all the men, women and children of Israel,Â and even the non-Israelite living among youâŠ to enter into the covenant of the Lord your GodâŠ
Surely, this Instruction that I command you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach.Â Â [This Instruction] is not âŠ beyond the sea – that you should say, âWho among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?âÂ No, the Intruction is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.
See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversityâŠ Choose life â that you and your offspring will liveâ
I find this text to be symbolic.Â It is not only about choosing life in the physical sense (preserving our health), but I actually think itâs about choosing TO LIVE JEWISHLY in a meaningful way.Â For, the commandment to choose life is given as an instruction to connect to that which is sacred.Â Â Perhaps whatâs most important is the fact that this strong charge does not explicitly say HOW we should choose to live Jewishly in a meaningful way.Â The text only states that this choice is not far out of reach âit is very close to you â in your mouth and in your heart.âÂ What I think this really means is that the choice is within each and every one of us.Â It is upon us to choose for ourselves, from within our own being, how it is that we want to express our Jewish identity or connect to the Jewish community.Â And if that is the case, the pathway to choosing Jewish life may be different for each one of us!Â The point is that we each actively have to make the choice.Â Making this choice is a big deal.
The Torah portion also mentions that all of us stand before God on this day – every single one of us, no matter who we are â men, women, and children.Â The text also mentions that even the ger, the one who is not from the Israelite community and is not Jewish stands among us.Â Â Today, a ger tzedek, also refers to one who makes the choice to convert or join the Jewish community.Â We affirmatively call him/her a âJew by Choice.âÂ I think the Torah is teaching us that WE SHOULD ALL BE JEWS BY CHOICE!Â What would it look like if each and every one of us consciously took hold of our choice to be Jewish?
Iâve thought about this question from a very young age.Â I grew up in an interfaith family.Â My mom is Jewish and my dad was raised as a Christian.Â My parents made the decision to raise my twin brother and me as Jews.Â My mother also wanted my father to feel comfortable observing his own customs.Â What did that mean?Â Â Culturally, we celebrated Christmas at home.Â I have fond memories of decorating the tree, hanging holiday lights, putting up a stocking, listening to and singing carols, laying out cookies for Santa Claus, sitting down for a Christmas Eve dinner, and waking up to open presents.
I also remember my mother sharing her strong Jewish identity with us and teaching us to take pride in being Jewish.Â We celebrated Passover and Chanukah at home with active rituals.Â A few times a year, we lit the Shabbat candles.Â In my hometown, being Jewish was also âsomething different.âÂ My brother and I were the only Jewish kids in our grade and my mom was our schoolâs âJewish mom.âÂ She would go from room to room to teach about Chanukah and sometimes she even invited the class to our house.
All of these practices brought me joy.Â I knew that I was Jewish, but I also knew my father and his family members were not.Â I also liked to fit in among my classmates.Â And so, I matter-of-factly and quite simply called myself and considered myself to be âhalf-Jewish.â
Then, something began to change my perspective midway through elementary school.Â A new kid came to town.Â He was in the same grade as me, his grandparents lived up the street, and HE was JEWISH!Â Besides my brother, I had made my first Jewish friend.Â I began to learn about his family and their deeply-rooted Jewish practices.Â With joy and excitement, their extended family gathered for holidays, including festivals I had never experienced.Â Their traditions and rituals spanned generations.Â They went to temple together.Â Being Jewish even informed the way they ate and the things they talked about.Â I was fascinated by this new-found meaning and beauty that I experienced by having a Jewish friend.
I began to explore my own identity.
âWho am I really and what is important to me?â
And then the deep Jewish questions came up, too.
âIf my friend is Jewish and he goes to temple, then why donât I?â
âCan I celebrate the ânewâ Jewish holidays that his family celebrates?â
And then a bit later as I began to visit religious school and temple functions with my friendâŠ
âMom, can I attend religious school, too?â
âCan you help me learn Hebrew?â
âCan we go to services?â
âHow about a field trip to the Jewish gift shop?â
And then things likeâŠ
âMom, why do we have a Christmas tree if weâre Jewish?â
âCan we have a youth group just like the Christian kids do?â
âCan I skip my soccer game on Yom Kippur?â
âCan I become Bat Mitzvah even if Iâm now 17?â
âCan I study with the rabbi more?â
And so I did â all of these things.Â My brother and I formed a youth group at our temple.Â And there we built our own sense of Jewish community.Â And I became Bat Mitzvah on my 17th birthday â With a new year of life came a new understanding of the depth and richness of Torah.Â And I decided that I would find my own sense of peace by attending Shabbat services every week if I could â that even meant skipping THE high school football game on Friday night.
These choices were my own, ones that I was proud to make and explore.Â Some choices were different than the ones my brother made and many were different than the ones my school friends made.Â But, they were mine -my own conscious and meaningful choices â ones that allowed me to explore my passions and the things that were important to ME.Â These choices brought me joy, connection, a sense of purpose and even the feeling of being known and loved.Â Even though I was born a Jew, it is for these reasons that I am a Jew by Choice.Â And it is because of my Jewish journey that I want each of you to have the same opportunity to make your own conscious Jewish choices today, every day, in the year ahead.
Instead of thinking of ourselves as the CHOSEN people (people for whom our destiny is chosen and dictated), we could become the CHOOSING people.Â We could choose to create a new Shabbat ritual for ourselves every week.Â We could choose to read more Jewish texts or books or explore the world of Jewish music.Â We could act in more concrete ways that heal our world.Â Or we could visit those who are lonely and in need.Â We could commit to teaching our children something of our own Jewish interest.Â We could share our own familyâs history.Â We could question and explore our faith.Â If we could choose to do any of these types of things (the choices are endless)âŠThen, we would not be passive inheritors of our tradition, but rather active participants, consciously acting upon our choice to live Jewishly.Â
I love the holiday of Sukkot! As a congregational rabbi, Sukkotâwhich comes just five days after Yom Kippurâoffers me a welcome break after the pressure of High Holy Day sermons.Â Plus, Sukkot is a lot of fun. I always have a great time putting up our Sukkah in our backyard in the days following Yom Kippur and then decorating it with my kids.
And I love inviting guests to our Sukkahâboth real guests as well as ushpizin. Ushpizin (Aramaic for âguestsâ) are Biblical guests that are symbolically âinvitedâ into a Sukkah, a different one each night of the festival. The traditional list of ushpizin includes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. (Other lists include the four matriarchsâSarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leahâand other Biblical heroines.) There is a ritual formula for âwelcomingâ the ushpizin and it is traditional to learn about and discuss the Biblical guest of the evening.
Many people expand on the custom of welcoming ushpizin and use Sukkot as a time to discuss who they would like to welcome as guests: people who have been part of their own lives or people they have never met, living or deceased.
This year as I prepare for Sukkot I have been thinking about who I would want to invite as ushpizinâthat is, who I would want to invite for dinner in my Sukkah. As the Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia, I have been thinking in particular about people in interfaith relationships and people with relatives in interfaith relationships (individuals from Biblical times as well as groups of people from modern times) that I would like to have as ushpizin. Here is my list:
1.Â Tziporah: Tziporah, who we read about in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, was a daughter of a Midianite priest. Tziporah married Moses and was the mother of his two sons. I would ask Tziporah what it was like, as a non-Israelite, being married to a man who went on to become the leader of the Israelites. When she first met Moses she thought he was Egyptian since he had come to Midian from Egypt, where he had been raised in the Pharaohâs palace as the adopted son of Pharaohâs daughter and from where he had fled when it was discovered that he had killed an Egyptian taskmaster. What did she think of this man, quite possibly the first person she had ever met who was not from her own people? Was she concerned when she married him that he was not a Midianite? What was it like in her day to be married to someone from a different culture and who worshipped a different god? Did they ever discuss their different backgrounds and beliefs?
2. Ruth: Ruth, whose story we read in the Biblical Book of Ruth, is often viewed as the first Jew-by-choice since she accepted the God of the Israelites as her God and the Israelite people as her people. In the Book of Ruth, Ruth said to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi: âWhere you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my Godâ (Ruth 1:16)
I would ask Ruth why she, a Moabite woman, married an Israelite man in the first place. Then, after her husband (Naomiâs son) had died, why did she choose to leave her homeland of Moab to go to Israel with Naomi? What did it feel like for Ruth to leave behind everything that was familiar to her and did she miss her family when she left? What was it like to give up the beliefs and ways of her people? What was it about the people of Israel and the God of Israel that drew her to them? When she raised the twin sons that she had with Boaz (a relative of her deceased husband, as was instructed by the laws of levirate marriage), even though they were Israelite, did she teach them anything about Moabite culture or tell them about her Moabite family?
3.Â Parents who did not grow up Jewish who are actively involved in raising Jewish children (whether or not they have chosen to become Jewish themselves): I know many parents who grew up practicing other religions (some of whom still practice them, others who do not) who are raising their children as Jews. If I had such a group in my Sukkah, I would ask them to discuss the sacrifices they have made by committing to raise their children in a faith tradition different from the one in which they grew up. How did they come to the conclusion that they wanted to raise their children as Jews? What are the challenges they have faced, as well as the rewards? I would thank them for their commitment to the future of Judaism.
4.Â Jewish parents whose children are in interfaith relationships: I would like these Jewish parents to be able to have an honest conversation about how they feel about their children being seriously involved with someone who is not Jewish. Surely some would feel disappointedâperhaps even hurt or rejectedâand their feelings should not be ignored. Hopefully, though, they would understand that it is their adult childâs choice who they are going to date and/or marry and they would respect their childâs decision. I would encourage all of them to accept their childrenâs partners and welcome them into their family.
5.Â Rabbis and cantors who officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies: I would ask each clergy person to share his or her own reasons for officiating at interfaith weddings. There are many clergy, like myself, who did not officiate at interfaith weddings immediately following ordination, but rather began to do so after some time for a variety of reasons. (Read why I now officiate at interfaith weddings.) I think it would be fascinating to hear about my colleaguesâ personal journeys and to hear from each of them the most rewarding, as well as the most challenging experiences they have had in working with interfaith couples.
6.Â Children growing up in interfaith households: I would love to invite a group of children of all different ages who are currently growing up in interfaith households. I would ask them what they find to be the most rewarding and what they find to be the most challenging about growing up as part of an interfaith family. In what ways, if any, do they find that having a parent who is not Jewish impacts their Jewish identity?
7. Dating, engaged and newly married interfaith couples: I would begin by asking them to share their experiences as interfaith couples. What are the rewards and what are the challenges? Have they discussed how they are going to raise children if they have them? How can they make Jewish choices while honoring the traditions of both partners? Can they discuss these issues with their parents?
Okay, Iâll admit it: While it is true that I would love to have a group of interfaith couples in my Sukkah, Iâm also plugging InterfaithFamily/Philadelphiaâs upcoming Love and Religion workshop that starts in October. If you and your partner or a couple you know may be interested in discussing questions such as these, then you should find out about Love and Religion here.
Chag Sameach(happy holiday)!Â May this Sukkot be one in which we can all be welcoming and one in which we all feel welcomed!
What about you? Who are your dream ushpizin? If you could spend an evening with any person or group of people (real or fictional, living or deceased), who would you choose? What would you want to talk about?
The âfall holidaysââRosh Hashanah, followed ten days later by Yom Kippur and then just four days later by the week-long festival of Sukkot, which concludes with SimchatTorah at the end of this weekâit feels like a marathon. In less than a month weâve packed in quite a bit. Happy, sad, reflective, apologetic, celebratory, history-based and forward thinking. Of all the holidays at this time of year, Simchat Torah is one of my favorites. As a child we would dance with the Torah scrolls and then the rabbi would have all the adults make a LARGE circle as we unrolled an entire scroll around the room.
âTurn it and turn it for everything is in it.â Ben Bag Bag shares these words of wisdom about Torah. As a child I laughed at his name, but as an adult I appreciate the depth of this rather simple statement. Ben Bag Bag referred to the Torah, the ancient scroll on which the first five books of Moses and the beginning of the Jewish bible are written. Each year Jews around the world read a segment of these stories until this week when they (finally) reach the endâŠonly to return to the beginning again with the word bâreishit (in the beginning).
Itâs such a natural cycle to turn and return. We cycle through the seasons, the yearly holidays and the cycle of life. Ben Bag Bag informs us that if we look deep into the words of the Torah we can find âeverything.â
Cain and Abel teach us that we are responsible for and cannot hide our own actions. Abraham shows us (and God) the importance of mercy when God wants to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah. Jacob and Esau demonstrate sibling rivalry while Joseph and his brothers take it one step further demonstrating the weakness of family relationships that can be restored by the strength of forgiveness. Moses teaches us that even with physical limitations, we can still do great things.
Throughout the Torah we are reminded to treat others with respect and dignity. We are also reminded to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger among us. Commentary on the Torah takes these guidelines even further and extrapolates how we treat those who work for us and our animals. For example, one must be paid for his/her work in a timely fashion, so as not to cause unnecessary strife on his/her life. We must also feed animals and pets before we feed ourselves.
The guidance one can glean from the Torah can apply to all people. Those who practice Judaism and those who do not. I think every person should strive to be a good person and I find stories from the Torah provide good examples of how to (and sometimes how not to) act.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Torah and/or Bible stories and start reading. Discuss what you read with your family and discuss what everyone thinks. How might you want to incorporate examples into your life? What stories will you choose to use as examples of what not to do?
A personal favorite is the JPS Illustrated Childrenâs Bible. The Bible stories included in this volume include fifty-three Bible stories (Torah and additional books), retold by Ellen Frankel. Each story is only a few short pages, so you can read one each night or each week. The full-color illustrations by Avi Katz help bring the stories to life!
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and insights! Please share what you think in the comment section below.
I recently had the honor of working with an interfaith family as their son, Jonah, prepared for his Bar Mitzvah. Here are his powerful words which describe what the study, process and ceremony meant to him. His family is part of a Jewish community that gathers for the holidays, and Jonah is excited to be able to read Torah again.
The ceremony began with his grandfather putting a tallit (a prayer shawl) on Jonahâs shoulders. His grandfather explained to him that this tallit had been bought in Israel by his great grandfather. This tallit had been worn by Jonahâs grandfather and father. Now Jonah, as a Bar Mitzvah, wore the tallit with pride. His grandfather said that his hope is that Jonah would give the tallit to his son one day. Continuity.
Here is what Jonah had to say:
âShabbat Shalom! Thank you for supporting me and being with me and my family as I take on the role of becoming a Bar Mitzvah. Bar Mitzvah means son of the commandments. A child becomes a Bar Mitzvah whenever he chooses as long as he is 13 or older.Â Part of this rite of passage means that I am honored with more responsibility within the Jewish religion and among the Jewish people.Â I can now wear a prayer shawl called a tallit.Â I can now say the blessings before and after the Torah.Â I can now be counted in a prayer group.Â I can now take on mitzvot.Â I should also be doing more ethical and moral deeds such as honoring my parents and the elderly, helping the weak and vulnerable, visiting the sick and doing acts to help the hungry and poor.
This is my Bar Mitzvah because it is the first time that I will have the opportunity to read aloud from the Torah.Â To do this, I had to learn to read Hebrew and even harder, learn to read without vowels and with the fancy Torah script.Â This took much time to study and practice.Â To me learning about my Jewish heritage is very important because it shows the other side of my religion that has not been so clear to me.Â Since I’m neither fully Jewish nor a full catholic, I declare myself a “cashew.”Â No, I’m not the nut cashew but the cashew that means I have grasped both of my religions and wish to continue both of them in the future. This is very important to me.
My Torah portion is from the book of Deuteronomy.Â It is part of the Torah that is also read on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the calendar, because this narrative is so powerful.Â It is about God saying to the people to never give up.Â Even if it is so far out of your reach you must never give up because one day you will reach it.Â Also, I will be reading a part of the book of Jonah, not me, the prophet.Â It is traditional on Shabbat morning to read from the Torah and from the Prophets. I picked Jonah for obvious reasons. He has a cool name! What I learned from the story of Jonah is to trust God no matter what the circumstances. For example, Jonah was sent to Nineveh by God, but chose to go somewhere else because Nineveh is so outrageously uncivilized.Â Jonah was then swallowed by a whale and then spit out after three days of prayer and regretting his decision to disobey God.Â He was spat out onto the land of Nineveh where he brought forth God’s warning to change or bare the wrath of annihilation. Jonah waited patiently for the annihilation of the people but it never came. The moral is that you should never lose trust in God and that God has forgiveness and caring.â
There is a debate in the Jewish world about whether families who want both religions in their lives can find a place within the organized community for learning and fellowship. I hope that by sharing this experience of a family who has sought out Jewish learning and living in real and meaningful ways, can help us think about how we might be able to open our gates a little more.
I wish you all a happy and healthy new year. May this be a year of getting to know the individuals who call us for information, or stop in for programming. It is through hearing each otherâs stories and intentions, struggles, questions and yearnings that assumptions can be dropped and judgment held so that sharing can ensue.