This colorful booklet lists all the ritual items needed for the Passover table. The history and significance of each item on the seder plate is explained, as are the customs that have been handed down through the generations.
JScreen provides convenient, at-home, saliva-based genetic carrier screening with the goal of preventing Jewish genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs disease and Canavan disease. JScreen is a national program and is headquartered at Emory University in Atlanta.
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.
Jewish American families have a pretty fantastic start for festivities this year since Hanukkah starts so early in the season‚ÄĒand in case you missed it‚ÄĒHanukkah begins Thanksgiving style. It is a fascinating calendar correlation, and as cute as Thanksgivukkah is, Thanksgiving ends in a day, and Hanukkah still goes on for a full eight days that the oil lasted instead of the expected single day.
The candles will still burn long after the turkey leftovers disappear, and the celebration will continue.
Fried foods, dreidel spinning and songs are wonderful, but next to lighting the candles and saying the blessings, the only other obligation is to ‚Äúpublicize the miracle.‚ÄĚ The miracle gets stronger every day and it is never too late to give thanks for the miracles and wonder all around us. How glorious to live in a country where we can celebrate our religious freedom. How fortunate to live in a time that is embracing interfaith relationships more and more every day.
Whether it is for Hanukkah or for Christmas, consider making at least one night extra special this month by creating a miracle for those less fortunate.
Acts of loving kindness and charity are timeless.
It is Jewish obligation to give consistently to others less fortunate throughout one‚Äôs life. We call this tradition tzedakah. It‚Äôs pretty well understood as charity, but technically it means ‚Äúrighteous giving.‚ÄĚ We give because God has blessed us and it is the right thing to do‚ÄĒto share the blessings with others. I love this part of Jewish tradition. Jews have been giving tzedakah for thousands of years. The ideal is to give 10 percent of your income to charity but do not get hung up on that, the most important thing is that everybody give something.
I encourage parents and grandparents and friends and family all around to support empowering tzedakah choices. There are around 1.5 million non-profits to choose from online (!) which can be pretty overwhelming, but here are some superb tzedakah choices for the holidays:
1. Go shopping as a family to a toy store and pick out a toy to donate to children less fortunate.Project Dreidel at CJP for Jewish Big Brothers and Sisters will deliver gift baskets to local kids in need.
2. You can look no further than the site you‚Äôre already on! Giving to InterfaithFamily is not only a wonderful and easy gift, but it helps us to continue creating resources and programs to support you. Donate here and we‚Äôll send a Hanukkah e-card to your friend or family member.
3. Buy charity gift cards from JChoice.org. Rather than limit the experience to one charity that the recipient might not connect to, you can send your honoree a charity gift card (electronically by email, which is instant or by mail) that empowers the next generation to choose from 250 causes that are meaningful to the giver.
Want more choices? Check out these great blogs for more great tzedakah suggestions:
I was asked the other day what challenges I anticipate as InterfaithFamily moves forward with our objectives. As the great baseball player Mike Lowell quoted his father saying, ‚ÄúThere are many injustices out there. It is what one does with that injustice that will shape a person into the character that he will become.‚ÄĚ
Our mission at IntefaithFamily is to ‚Äúsupport interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and making Jewish choices, and to encourage Jewish communities to welcome them.‚ÄĚ Sounds pretty good to me. So what could be the challenge?
Sticking with baseball shaping character, let us liken the game of baseball to religion. It is a joyous and meaningful game indeed, filled with thrills and sorrows, wins and losses, struggles to overcome, questionable calls (look out for obstructions) and blessings and prayers (and come to think of it, there is even a God Bless America thrown in sometimes toward the end). But let‚Äôs play out this metaphor. Where is the challenge that I anticipate?
If religion is the game of baseball and every team is a religion, who gets to play? Who wants to play? Who ‚Äúdeserves‚ÄĚ to play? Who ‚Äúneeds‚ÄĚ to play? Who watches the game and who is participating? Were you born to play or did you fall in love with the game?
I had the privilege of seeing the movie 42, The Jackie Robinson Story, a few months ago. If you haven‚Äôt seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It is hard to imagine that professional sports were segregated for so long and it wasn‚Äôt until 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke the ‚Äúcolored barrier.‚ÄĚ The movie does not hold back in depicting how many players, EVEN ON HIS SAME TEAM were unaccepting and prejudiced at first. Some resented Jackie for making a sport into ‚Äúa political situation.‚ÄĚ
One thing that becomes clear is that Jackie just wanted to play baseball. The world had things so very upside down back then. It was revolutionary at the time for an African American to play with whites on the same field. (And just as heartbreaking to see a world filled with segregated seating in the stands‚ÄĒbut it was one battle at a time back then). Jackie had courage and valor that we all admire, and the kind of determination one needs to overcome the prejudice of the old world. There was an unaccepting nature of how things were that constantly challenged him.
I am lucky, for interfaith work is not new at all. There are many great leaders before us that started this work and I am lucky to be part of the growing conversation. Boston itself is often at the forefront of innovation and acceptance of interfaith relationships and has offered great interfaith programming for years.
The majority of people do not like to ‚Äúmake waves.‚ÄĚ It takes courage to stand up for something that you believe in, even if it is unpopular at the time. Bringing it back to interfaith families, here is the kicker: There are more intermarried Jews than non-intermarried Jews. The obstacle is people who hold back and are so set in the ‚Äúold ways,‚ÄĚ that they fail to notice our own Jackie Robinson has joined our team.
It is intermarried couples who want to play ball. Jewish communities are enriched by diversity and a multitude of expressions and practices. Interfaith relationships are an opportunity not a threat to Jewish continuity. Collaboration with others is essential to the work that we do and open communication and education lead to understanding.
I hope that when times get tough and I meet those unwilling to see how Judaism is evolving and growing to be more inclusive and welcoming, that I will always remember good old number 42: Jackie Robinson, a hero to us all. The game has only gotten better and better and it is my prayer that everyone is ready to ‚Äúplay ball.‚ÄĚ
This¬†first blog for InterfaithFamily/Boston is about doors opening and lives filled with new beginnings because we welcome each other. There was a time not long ago when almost all doors were shut on intermarried couples. As you can see in this photo, there is a picture of a door. This is not just any door. It‚Äôs not a stock photo either, but the actual door to my actual office in Newton, MA. I wanted to begin my blog by showing you the door to my office. It‚Äôs open and I guarantee you that it will remain open 95 percent of the time. And on the rare occasion that it might be closed, it is still a glass door, where one can easily knock and see and be seen.
Of course you are probably not surprised that this is not a stock photo as it‚Äôs not a fancy picture and it‚Äôs not a fancy office for that matter (not that there is anything wrong with it. It‚Äôs a lovely office. I am very happy to be here). The reason I put this photo in is not so much for the door itself but rather for the sign that our COO Heather made for me, which greeted me on my first day as director of our newest Your Community, InterfaithFamily/Boston last week, ‚ÄúWelcome Josh.‚ÄĚ
I smiled when I arrived. This is exactly what the staff of IFF does: We welcome people. I‚Äôm lucky to be located within the InterfaithFamily Headquarters, and to be joining the national staff to bring InterfaithFamily/Boston to the community in which they have made their home. This organization has a very clear purpose and a very important mitzvah that has been role modeled since the days when father Abraham (really the first Jew by choice) ran to welcome three strangers (that turned out to be angels) and did all he could to help make his guests feel more comfortable. Abe washed their feet and ran around being the host with the most, checking in with Sarah, who was making dinner and getting in on the hospitable action. It was a family affair indeed. Everyone took part. It‚Äôs a big deal in Judaism (and many cultures) when guests come to your door.
And it‚Äôs funny, because not that much has changed when you think about what makes a good host (or a good guest for that matter). It is all about appreciation. Let me take it up a notch. We are actually acknowledging that there is a holiness in each other by wanting to help the other. For what is holiness when you get right down to it? Holiness is something special, something apart from the ordinary, something‚Ä¶sacred. You do not need to put on a robe or wave around an object or build an ark to get in touch with what is sacred. There is a beauty inside us that is the best of us, and it is in everyone. It is not even hard to find. You are important. You are loved. You count. You matter. And your family matters. Everyone should feel included. The alternative is to be well‚Ä¶left out, a stranger in a strange land. No, no, no‚Ä¶that will not do. We know what that is like. We remember. We have been taught for thousands of years to welcome people, to help people and be grateful for what we have and to share with others. It is what we do. It is the love of life that makes Judaism so special.
If you are from a religion or culture that has some clear differences of background and ritual from your significant other, that can cause some challenges. We know it and we see it. It‚Äôs not easy to be intermarried sometimes. I myself am intermarried and have been a Jewish educator for 13 years. There are questions to be answered and it can be overwhelming trying to please family members and adhere to the demands of a tribe that constantly asks, ‚ÄúWhat will the others think?‚ÄĚ Much more to come on that topic and how we deal with that question in future blog posts.
But in the meantime, if you live in the Boston area, and are exploring what it means to be in a family of interfaith, I invite you to come visit me or call me or send me an email.¬†In fact, part of my job includes leaving my office and meeting you wherever you are. (How cool is that!?) This is both metaphoric and for convenience. Where you are at, I will come to you. It‚Äôs my job so please don‚Äôt be shy. My door is open. I believe that there will come a day when many more doors will be open as will hearts and minds. And it all starts here. Welcome.
NEWTON, Mass. ‚ÄĒInterfaithFamily announced today that CEO Edmund Case and the Board of Directors selected Jodi Bromberg, Esq., to serve as the new President of InterfaithFamily, the premier resource for interfaith families exploring Jewish life.
Jodi was chosen following a rigorous search led by a group that included current and past board chairs, a professional human resources consultant, and staff. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre delighted that Jodi has joined InterfaithFamily,‚ÄĚ said Lynda Schwartz, Chair of the Board of Directors. ‚ÄúJodi is a very well-rounded candidate with strong professional skills and intellectual horsepower, a great communicator, and has demonstrated ability to help a small organization thrive in change and ambiguity.‚ÄĚ
Prior to joining InterfaithFamily, Jodi ran her own two-person law firm in the Philadelphia area, where she specialized in working with non-profit organizations, including creating and teaching the course ‚ÄúLaw for Non-profit Organizations‚ÄĚ at Temple University‚Äôs Fox School of Business. Previously, Jodi was an attorney at two large Philadelphia law firms, and before becoming a lawyer, Jodi had a successful career in the publishing industry, as the editorial director and executive editor of two national publishing companies. Jodi received her law degree from the Temple University Beasley School of Law and holds a B.A. in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania.
‚ÄúWe believe that Jodi‚Äôs presence will help us build on the progress we‚Äôve made in being recognized as the leading national resource for interfaith families, and professionals and lay leaders who want to reach this important part of the fabric of North American Jewry,‚ÄĚ said CEO Edmund Case. ‚ÄúShe represents the face of America‚Äôs growing number of interfaith families.‚ÄĚ
InterfaithFamily is the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities. We offer educational content at interfaithfamily.com; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative, providing coordinated comprehensive offerings in local communities, including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area.
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, you‚Äôve made a choice to be here today.¬† You may be thinking, ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt have a choice whether or not to observe Yom Kippur.¬† It‚Äôs just what I do.¬† It‚Äôs what I‚Äôve always done.‚ÄĚ¬† You may observe in order to support your loved one or your family.¬† Maybe you‚Äôre a teenager or child and your parents have simply told you, ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre coming.‚ÄĚ¬† Either way: you‚Äôre here and that‚Äôs a big deal.¬† And even if you may not realize you have, you‚Äôve 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.¬† In just a few verses, God puts a big choice before us.
‚ÄúYou stand this day, all of you, before God ‚ÄĒ[leaders], elders, all the men, women and children of Israel,¬†and even the non-Israelite living among you‚Ä¶ to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God‚Ä¶
Surely, this Instruction that I command you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach.¬†¬†[This Instruction] is not ‚Ä¶ beyond the sea – that you should say, ‚ÄėWho 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?‚Äô¬†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 adversity‚Ä¶ Choose life ‚ÄĒ that you and your offspring will live‚ÄĚ
I find this text to be symbolic.¬† It is not only about choosing life in the physical sense (preserving our health), but I actually think it‚Äôs about choosing TO LIVE JEWISHLY in a meaningful way.¬† For, the commandment to choose life is given as an instruction to connect to that which is sacred.¬†¬† Perhaps what‚Äôs most important is the fact that this strong charge does not explicitly say HOW we should choose to live Jewishly in a meaningful way.¬† The text only states that this choice is not far out of reach ‚Äúit is very close to you ‚Äď in your mouth and in your heart.‚ÄĚ¬† What I think this really means is that the choice is within each and every one of us.¬† 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.¬† And if that is the case, the pathway to choosing Jewish life may be different for each one of us!¬† The point is that we each actively have to make the choice.¬† 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 ‚Äď men, women, and children.¬† The text also mentions that even the ger, the one who is not from the Israelite community and is not Jewish stands among us.¬†¬†Today, a ger tzedek, also refers to one who makes the choice to convert or join the Jewish community.¬†We affirmatively call him/her a ‚ÄúJew by Choice.‚ÄĚ¬† I think the Torah is teaching us that WE SHOULD ALL BE JEWS BY CHOICE!¬† What would it look like if each and every one of us consciously took hold of our choice to be Jewish?
I‚Äôve thought about this question from a very young age.¬† I grew up in an interfaith family.¬† My mom is Jewish and my dad was raised as a Christian.¬† My parents made the decision to raise my twin brother and me as Jews.¬† My mother also wanted my father to feel comfortable observing his own customs.¬† What did that mean?¬†¬† Culturally, we celebrated Christmas at home.¬† 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.¬† We celebrated Passover and Chanukah at home with active rituals.¬† A few times a year, we lit the Shabbat candles.¬† In my hometown, being Jewish was also ‚Äėsomething different.‚Äô¬† My brother and I were the only Jewish kids in our grade and my mom was our school‚Äôs ‚ÄúJewish mom.‚ÄĚ¬† 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.¬† I knew that I was Jewish, but I also knew my father and his family members were not.¬† I also liked to fit in among my classmates.¬† And so, I matter-of-factly and quite simply called myself and considered myself to be ‚Äúhalf-Jewish.‚ÄĚ
Then, something began to change my perspective midway through elementary school.¬† A new kid came to town.¬† He was in the same grade as me, his grandparents lived up the street, and HE was JEWISH!¬† Besides my brother, I had made my first Jewish friend.¬† I began to learn about his family and their deeply-rooted Jewish practices.¬† With joy and excitement, their extended family gathered for holidays, including festivals I had never experienced.¬† Their traditions and rituals spanned generations.¬† They went to temple together.¬† Being Jewish even informed the way they ate and the things they talked about.¬† 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.
‚ÄúWho am I really and what is important to me?‚ÄĚ
And then the deep Jewish questions came up, too.
‚ÄúIf my friend is Jewish and he goes to temple, then why don‚Äôt I?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCan I celebrate the ‚Äėnew‚Äô Jewish holidays that his family celebrates?‚ÄĚ
And then a bit later as I began to visit religious school and temple functions with my friend‚Ä¶
‚ÄúMom, can I attend religious school, too?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCan you help me learn Hebrew?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCan we go to services?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúHow about a field trip to the Jewish gift shop?‚ÄĚ
And then things like‚Ä¶
‚ÄúMom, why do we have a Christmas tree if we‚Äôre Jewish?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCan we have a youth group just like the Christian kids do?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCan I skip my soccer game on Yom Kippur?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCan I become Bat Mitzvah even if I‚Äôm now 17?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCan I study with the rabbi more?‚ÄĚ
And so I did ‚Äď all of these things.¬† My brother and I formed a youth group at our temple.¬† And there we built our own sense of Jewish community.¬† And I became Bat Mitzvah on my 17th birthday ‚Äď With a new year of life came a new understanding of the depth and richness of Torah.¬† And I decided that I would find my own sense of peace by attending Shabbat services every week if I could ‚Äď 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.¬† Some choices were different than the ones my brother made and many were different than the ones my school friends made.¬† But, they were mine -my own conscious and meaningful choices ‚Äď ones that allowed me to explore my passions and the things that were important to ME.¬† These choices brought me joy, connection, a sense of purpose and even the feeling of being known and loved.¬† Even though I was born a Jew, it is for these reasons that I am a Jew by Choice.¬† 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.¬† We could choose to create a new Shabbat ritual for ourselves every week.¬† We could choose to read more Jewish texts or books or explore the world of Jewish music.¬† We could act in more concrete ways that heal our world.¬† Or we could visit those who are lonely and in need.¬† We could commit to teaching our children something of our own Jewish interest.¬† We could share our own family‚Äôs history.¬† We could question and explore our faith.¬† If we could choose to do any of these types of things (the choices are endless)‚Ä¶Then, we would not be passive inheritors of our tradition, but rather active participants, consciously acting upon our choice to live Jewishly.¬†
Straddling two worlds, feeling like an outsider, taking on the identity of your family but still retaining your own‚ÄĒthese are all difficult positions to be in, but familiar to many. In a recent blog post on Huffington Post, Rev. Eleanor Harrison Bregman talks about being a minister married to a Jew and raising Jewish children. She is often in the minority, but as she points out, she is just as uncomfortable when she is among other Christians, because of the lack respect for other religions she sometimes witnesses.
The author was recently at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York state. She found herself among many religious leaders, discussing topics of inclusiveness. There, post yoga-session, she found herself getting a very spiritual reminder of ‚Äúwhat is possible when we can be confidently rooted in our own traditions enough to reach out, embrace, and learn from ‚Äėthe other.‚Äô”
When I was asked to take the role of Board Chair for InterfaithFamily, the business executive in me weighed costs, benefits, risks and rewards. Ultimately, however, I gladly accepted, knowing that the work of InterfaithFamily is well worth an investment of time, energy and resources.
I‚Äôve known the InterfaithFamily organization almost from its inception, first as a user of its resources, later on its Advisory Board, and most recently, as a Board member and Treasurer. I‚Äôve long felt that Ed Case and the IFF management team are incredibly nimble, creative and committed. The team has a relentless focus on getting things done and an aggressive plan to broaden and deepen InterfaithFamily‚Äôs impact.
InterfaithFamily and its Board are deeply indebted to our immediate past Board Chair, Mamie Kanfer Stewart. Her five years of leadership have been a period of incredible growth, increasing organizational maturity and continued innovation. Mamie has always impressed me with her strategic thinking, her insightful approach and personal warmth.¬† Working with the Board and IFF‚Äôs management, she recently led us in developing a robust strategic plan that provides a clear road map for IFF‚Äôs future. I am conscious that she leaves a well-run organization, and very big shoes to fill.
After reflection, however, I realized that my investment in IFF is more personal.¬†I remember too well the teary times when my Jewish husband and I used to struggle to reconcile our personal goals and objectives in a way that honored our traditions and faiths.¬†When we married, I was not willing to convert to Judaism, but I was willing to learn, to study and to support my husband’s observance.
Now, I am helping our twins grow from bris and baby naming to b’nai mitzvah (this coming spring!) and hopefully, Jewish adulthood. Over time, my family and I have become fully engaged in our local synagogue community. I still have so much to learn, but I think our family is a joy and a “net positive” for the Jewish community.
Intermarriage is a reality in the Jewish world, affecting every community, and extending beyond federation, denomination or geographic boundaries. In the same way, IFF is reaching across boundaries to help interfaith families more fully engage in exploration of Judaism.
For me, the investment proposition is clear: I want all families like mine to have the resources, support and welcome that were such a help to mine. Each family walks its own path, and I am glad that IFF inspires families to greater engagement with Judaism and the Jewish community from wherever they start. It is work of immense value, and as its new Board Chair, I am pleased to have a chance to play a greater part.
My weekend was full of babies ‚Äď and beautiful ways to welcome them into the world.
Saturday started off with a baby naming ceremony for my cousin‚Äôs daughter. My cousin is in an interfaith marriage, and they are raising their children Jewish. When it was time for her aliyah(the honor of being called to say the blessing over the Torah reading), the rabbi invited the whole family up, even getting a chair for the new big brother to stand on so he could see the Torah and be part of what was going on. The whole congregation seemed to share in the joy as we welcomed this family and their adorable little girl into the community.
Later that afternoon, I attended a ‚Äúbaby blessing‚ÄĚ party for a friend of mine who is due in July. Neither she nor her husband is Jewish, but they invited all of the guests to share a blessing, poem or song in honor of the parents-to-be and their baby. The husband‚Äôs family is from India so they actually incorporated part of a traditional Indian baby blessing ceremony into the afternoon. The women were invited to paint my friend‚Äôs cheeks with sandalwood and her forehead with vermilion. We placed bracelets on her arms and the baby is supposed to be able to hear the clinking sound of the bracelets in the womb. We offered words or songs of blessing for the new parents and for a safe birth.
When I was trying to figure out what words I could offer, I looked at some of InterfaithFamily‚Äôs materials, including our Brit Bat booklet. There I found a familiar prayer‚ÄĒthe Shehekhiyanu‚ÄĒsaid whenever you experience something new or do something for the first time. This was the perfect blessing for me to say in honor of all the friends and family that were gathered for the ceremony and in honor of my friends‚Äô first born! I was glad to be able to offer something from my Jewish tradition that could resonate with everyone there.
The day was another reminder to me of the beauty of Judaism and the ways it can help us add meaning and joy to the special moments of our life.
This is a guest post by Jeremy Burton, executive director of Boston’s JCRC. After seeing his tweets about an undead, supernatural interfaith wedding on TV, I challenged him to blog about it. Luckily, he accepted. You can also follow him on twitter, @burtonjm.
After a tumultuous relationship, this week we witnessed one of the most unusual interfaith Jewish marriages, between two Boston werewolves on SyFy’s Being Human. This seems as good a time as any to reflect back on a three-season journey of identity and the story of one of TV’s more proudly Jewish character’s search for happiness (warning: spoiler alerts).
photo via Entertainment Weekly (image credit: BBC America)
Josh Levison began this series (a knockoff of a BBC original of the same title) as a recently turned werewolf who distances himself from his family amidst his struggle to reconcile his new reality with his former life. Filled with loathing over whether he deserves happiness or will only bring harm to those he loves, he has found friendship with a colonial era vampire, Aidan. Together they commit to help each other explore their lingering humanity. They make their home in Boston and Josh works as an orderly at a local hospital (Aidan is a nurse, which allows for easy access to an abundant blood supply).
Much to their surprise, the home they rent happens to have a newbie ghost in residence, Sally, a recently murdered bride-to-be of South Asian descent. Their home comes to serve as a kind of supernatural Moishe House with them as the facilitating in-residence guides to various visiting undead creatures: newbies learning to “live” with their conditions, old-timers engaging in long debates about evolving ethical challenges of traditional occult ways in a modern world (the ethics of live blood donors v. blood banks; are possessions acceptable and under what circumstances?), all while challenging each other to strive for more effort toward achieving an aspirational “normal” life.
Josh’s journey is played out in several relationships, including his on-again off-again rapprochement with his lesbian sister, and his relationship with Nora a doctor at the hospital. One constant throughout the series is that even as Josh struggles with honest relationships with himself and his loved ones, he is deeply connected to his Jewish identity, carefully protecting his Star of David necklace from damage every month before he turns. Plus there’s the occasional Jewish joke, usually in the kitchen.
Nora and Josh deal with pregnancy, miscarriage, breakups, and along the way the accidental turning of Nora who is now a werewolf too. As the relationship deepens, Josh persuades her to take him to meet her family. Nora’s greatest anxiety about this event is made evident when, to his astonishment, she hides his necklace under his clothing so that they don’t discover his Jewish identity. This concern for their judgment is made moot when it becomes clear there was abuse in Nora’s childhood and Josh determines to protect her from an environment that is still not a healthy space for her.
Somewhere along the line these four undead youth find a new family in each other, one filled with love, trust, and unimaginable acts of compassion for each other (when Sally is brought back to corporeal form as a Zombie, Aidan allows her to eat his healing flesh rather than leave her to chow down on humans).
After prolonged second guessing, Josh and Nora become engaged in truly romantic fashion. Initially wanting a well-planned wedding, they move up the date so as to marry before Sally dies a second time (hard to explain but trust me on this). Nora reaches out to Josh’s sister, Emily, who despite their difficulties plans his bachelor party at which, in a moment of life saving urgency, Josh and Aidan are outed as these magical creatures. Josh pleads with Nora for understanding, begging for the kind of acceptance he gave her when she came out, prompting her memorable line: “You’re comparing being a murderer to being gay?”
But when the wedding day arrives, Emily returns, determined to accept and embrace her brother for the totality of his identity, and also to ensure the wedding goes on as planned despite the minor distraction of a battle to the death with an oddly yiddishist survivor of the Andover, MA witch trials; because after all Emily rode the Boston T (subway) for 45 minutes to get to this wedding and how dare they postpone now?
And so we find ourselves in the living room, with a chuppah built by a very WASPy vampire (he was a Minuteman in the Revolution) who got himself an internet ordination for the ceremony, a ghost as maid-of-honor, and this interfaith werewolf couple saying their vows before select human friends and family. As Aidan and Josh appreciate this very normal moment they also recognize the completely unusual circumstances.
In the end (so far), Josh’s journey wasn’t about becoming human again (he tried that and failed). His was a search for his true family — alive and undead — who know his authentic self. In that moment, a wolf under a chuppah, surrounded by love, he is what we all aspire to be, unconditionally true to all aspects of himself and his choices and fully embraced for it by those who count.
There’s a great feature on JewishBoston.com called “Ask A Rabbi.” And you needn’t be in the Boston area to benefit from this column! Today’s seem particularly apt to cross-post to our blog, given that the question posed was:
My wife grew up Christian. For her family, Thanksgiving always starts with a prayer. I’ll be joining my in-laws for Thanksgiving this year, and they’ve asked if I’d like to share a Jewish prayer. I want to pick the right one; what should I say?
Great question and obviously a timely one for us all, since the majority of us have family members of other faiths and will likely break bread with them this Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is perhaps the perfect intersection of our two great religious traditions in Judaism and Christianity. Unlike Christmas vs. Chanukah or Easter vs. Passover, where there are clear theological conflicts and a myriad of real-life complications, Thanksgiving is conflict-free (unless you talk politics, in which case you’ll probably need more than prayers to navigate that terrain with grace and peace).
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, contains the best of what it means to be an American — gratitude for abundance, inclusivity in our society and around our table, open hands, open arms, open hearts. Thanksgiving is, in many ways, the summation of the heart of both Judaism and Christianity — faith, gratitude, peace and brotherly love.
Too easily, however, it turns into just another meal, another family gathering, another seemingly ordinary day. The religious mission, however, is to elevate the mundane into the sublime, to remind us that the ordinary can and should become the extraordinary. That is one of the reasons we might choose to bring religious readings to the table and something I applaud you for doing.
There are so many prayers in both of our traditions which bring to light these themes of gratitude and abundance, welcome and compassion. With that said, I think it’s important to choose some that bring you a sense of integrity. One should never speak words in prayer or in life which don’t reflect your beliefs, your integrity, your soul. One should also take into consideration both the nature of the day and the others around the table. In this case, with your in-laws being Christian, there are plenty of prayers to be drawn from our shared tradition of the Hebrew Bible, specifically the latter part of the Hebrew Bible, known as “the Writings” and “the Prophets.” I encourage you to peruse these sections of the Bible — but most likely you will end up within the Psalms.
The Psalms, attributed to King David, express a soul‚Äôs longing for God, gratitude for living, uncertainty about the future and the quest for faith, compassion and goodness. Here are some Psalms you might want to consider, though I’d encourage you to read through them all and choose what speaks to your soul the most. Also, there are many different versions of these, so Google until you find a translation that speaks to you.
Hope this helps. Enjoy your turkey. Watch your football. Stuff yourself with pie. Talk politics if you must. But above all else, remember that love and peace, and gratitude and celebration, are what this is all about. Thank you for reminding us that this holiday is an expression of the great Judeao-Christian ethic upon which this great country has been built. Eat, drink and be merry, and read some Psalms as well.
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