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I always laugh when people say âthe High Holy Days are early this yearâ or âRosh Hashanah is late this year.â The fact is that Rosh Hashanah occurs the same time every yearâon the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Itâs never really âearlyâ or âlateââitâs just where it should be! That being said, the first of Tishrei can be as early as September 5, or as late as October 5, on the Gregorian calendar. Which means that in 2014, when the first day of Rosh Hashanah is September 25(not the same week as Labor Day, as it was in 2013) many of us feel like we have more time to prepare for Rosh Hashanah than we did last year.
Here are seven suggestions for how your family can have fun getting in the mood for Rosh Hashanah:
1)Â Â Â Â Â Apples, apples and more apples: Itâs fun to dip apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah as we wish for a sweet new year. But why just go to a grocery store and buy apples? One of my favorite activities to do with my family before the Jewish New Year is to go apple picking. At the orchard we go to, we take a hay ride out to the apple trees and then we fill our boxes with different kinds of apples. Later we come home and make a yummy apple cake for our Rosh Hashanah dinner and drink apple cider.
Did you ever notice that if you cut an apple right down the middle you see a star? Thereâs a great Rosh Hashanah story about this thatâs fun for kids of all ages. I like the way Shira Kline tells the story on her website.
2)Â Â Â Â Â And donât forget the honey: At the orchard where we go apple picking, thereâs a really fun general store where they sell all kinds of fresh produce and delicious treats. They also sell those cool honey straws that come in all different flavors. Each year I let my kids buy a bunch of different flavored honey straws and we use them on Rosh Hashanah. Theyâre fun to give out to guests (or to take if we go to someone elseâs house for a holiday meal).
As you prepare for Rosh Hashanah and start to think about dipping your apples in honey, itâs a great time to talk to your kids about how bees make honey. To learn about this from a dad who did some research after he couldnât answer his daughterâs question about how bees make honey, check out Matt Shipmanâs article How Do Bees Make Honey? (Itâs Not Just Bee Barf). Or better yet, visit a beekeeper and learn about how honeyâs made from an expert!
You can have lots of fun making beeswax candles to light as you welcome the holiday. For instructions on how to make your own beeswax candles click here.
3)Â Â Â Â Â Try some new fruits, too: Thereâs a great custom on the second night of Rosh Hashanah of eating a new fruit of the season; one you havenât eaten yet this year. So you may want to pick another fruit as well if you can while youâre apple picking, or pick up a different fruit at a farmerâs market or the grocery store. Itâs traditional to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing before eating the new fruit.
4)Â Â Â Â Â Mark a round challah: What kid (or adult) doesnât love mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough and shaping it into a challah? While on Shabbat itâs traditional to have a braided challah, on Rosh Hashanah the challah should be round. Why round? Because it reminds us of the circle of life, as well as the cyclical nature of the passage of a year. For a YouTube video teaching three different ways to make a round challah, click hereÂ and get Rabbi Mychal Copelandâs recipe here.
5)Â Â Â Â Â Read Rosh Hashanah stories with your kids: Itâs always fun in the weeks leading up to any holiday, religious or secular, to read books with your kids about the holiday. One Jewish grandmother I know takes out all of her childrenâs books about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur a few weeks before the holidays and puts them in a big basket that she keeps in her family room. Whenever her grandchildren come over, they pick out books from the basket to read with her. She does this before Passover, Sukkot and Thanksgiving, too, so that the book basket is often out and filled with Jewish or secular holiday books to read. For a list of PJ Library Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur books for kids up to 8 yearsold click here.
6)Â Â Â Â Â Make New Years cards: In todayâs world where we do so much of our communicating by text and email, itâs especially fun to get a card in the mailbox. And itâs even more fun to make cards! Get out lots of craft materials (or even just crayons and paper) and let your kids make New Years cards that they can mail to family members and friends. And they donât have to make the cards just for Jewish family members. Cards for family member who arenât Jewish, letting them know that theyâre being thought of and that theyâre loved, will surely be appreciated any time of year.
7)Â Â Â Â Â Buy a Shofar and learn to blow it: Kids are always fascinated by the Shofar. Many synagogue gift shops sell Shofars, as do Judaica stores. You can also purchase them online. Once you have a Shofar, you can learn about the notes that are blown on Rosh Hashanah. For video instructions on how to blow the shofar, including the three traditional ritual blasts for the High Holy Days: tekiyah, shevarim and truah, click here.
Shana Tova UâMetukah. Have a happy and a sweet new year!
Is there something new youâre planning to do with your family in preparation for Rosh Hashanah this year? Are there activities youâve done in the past that were fun? Please share your ideas below so that others can learn from what youâve done.
Where are you from? It seems an innocent enough question.Â But as our families become more and more diverse, the answer can get wonderfully complicated. Recently at a âSaturdays Unpluggedâ event at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco, I asked attendees about their ancestry and invited them to place pins in a world map marking their familiesâ journeys.
The map shows that a sampling of Jewish San Francisco families come from Argentina, Cyprus, Lithuania and China to name a few countries of origin. As kids turned to their parents and grandparents asking, âWhere am I from?â I started to think about how complicated this question is.
So I asked one of my own kids: âDo you know where youâre from?â He started breaking it down into âsidesâ immediately. âMama, your side is from Poland and Russia, right? Mommyâs side is from Germany, Scotland, FinlandâŚâ I was glad he added her ancestry without hesitation even though I gave birth to him and he isnât biologically related to her. Clearly, where someone is from is not as easy as a DNA test. As he continued rattling off the countries where he felt he had a connection, I realized that I also hoped he would list his sperm donorâs ancestry. After all, he wouldnât be here without him. So we added those to the mix. This child who was birthed by me, an American Jew with only Eastern European ancestry, can now identify himself with a good portion of Europe.
What about my other child? He was birthed by my partner, a mix of Northern European ancestry who converted to Judaism long before his birth. Along with those regions of the world, does this little boy also claim an Ashkenazi heritage? He certainly claims a Jewish one and our Jewish practice is largely AshkenaziâŚbut is he âfromâ Eastern Europe as my ancestors were?
Jews have long disagreed about what exactly Judaism is: a matter of biology, peoplehood, civilization, religion or ethnicity. Even early on in Jewish history, there were at least two strands of thought: Being Jewish was in some instances about claiming a certain lineage, and at other times about observance of a spiritual tradition. The first line of reasoning made it very difficult to join, for example, while the latter made it much easier to choose to identify as a Jew even if one wasnât born one.
One scholar notes that tension ensued due to these âtwo distinct definitional standardsâŚthe religious and the ethnic.â [Porton, Gary. The Stranger Within Your Gates] We still struggle with those definitions, but today, with more and more conversion, intermarriage, adoption, donor insemination and surrogacy, we are moving away from a genetic definition (in my eyes a welcome shift) to a Judaism defined more as an affinity with a unique worldview. A lineup of kids at a typical Bay Area synagogue classroom is quite different than it would have looked 40 years ago when I was a kid.
A few years back, I worked with college students to create a photo exhibit of their peers who claim multiple ancestries. It was called, âJews Untitledâ and they challenged visitors to the exhibit to rethink the way they defined âJewishâ and allowed Jews to create their own self definitions. With the diversification of Jewish families, we asked one another how we can best teach children about their mix of rich backgrounds. How can we help Jews claim and take pride in their multitude of heritages? And how can we make sure that the entire Jewish community is engaging in this conversation as well?
I imagine us having an infinite capacity to claim a variety of stories as our own. I was recently at an author event for the book Just Parenting about creative family making. One participant with an adopted child told the group that she tossed out a baby book she had been given because on the first page there was a picture of a family tree to fill in. She was so overwhelmed by the challenge of fitting her childâs family story into a neatly defined map with two âsidesâ that she decided it needed to go.
For many of us, two âsidesâ doesnât tell the full story of our origins and our affiliations. An Ashkenazi Jewish friend of mine adopted a child from China with her Filipino husband. The child says of herself at age 7, âIâm half Chinese, half Filipino, half American, and half Jewish.âÂ She has four sides! But, really, who doesnât? We all have more complicated stories than âtwo sidesâ allows. Sheâs a model of how we can comfortably hold many identities within us.
Parenting Through a Jewish Lens is a program offered through Hebrew College in over a dozen locations in the Greater Boston areaÂ (many providing free child care in the daytime!). I recently participated in the program, and it was an incredible experience. The curriculum itself has been continuously updated and modified for several years now (the class used to be called Ikkarim) and has been well supported by CJP since its inception 10 years ago.
PTJL has assembled some of the best educators around. And the content of the materials are worth their weight in gold. This is one notebook you will want to keep in your library, as the lessons really help parents to open up and share ideas and real experiences, which are universal to all parents, yet center around the particular beauty of building oneâs Jewish identity inside a growing family.
There are ten lessons in this brilliant yet very accessible curriculum. The lessons are grouped into four domains: Outward Bound (the interpersonal domain), Inward Bound (the domain of personal meaning), Upward Bound (the transcendent domain) and finally Homeward Bound (the domain of identity).
The program is a great way to meet other parents who are going through similar struggles in parenting in the modern age. Rather than throw our arms into the air in total bewilderment of twenty-first century parenting, it turns out that there are some very relevant concepts in parenting within Jewish education as old as the Torah itself. Delving into these texts with a diverse group of parents and fantastic teachers, all one needs is a love of learning and a curiosity about what Judaism has to offer.
I took the class myself this past semester and have relished every moment. I was one of the âeldersâ as my kids are 6 and 9 and most of the group had 0-3-year-olds. Either way, parenting is parenting, and there is no need to feel any sense of isolation with such a loving and caring Jewish community that we are blessed with in Boston. This non-denominational water is niceâso jump in!
Additionally, InterfaithFamily is helping to promote a PTJL class that specifically focuses on intermarried parents, which will be wonderful as well. Any chance you have to take this class, I highly recommend it. Who couldnât be a better parent?Â This is precisely the kind of family education that will deepen your lives with elevated meaning and purpose, and you might even make a new friend or two. I canât say enough about this class. Sign Up!
PTJL offers three types of classes that support parents with children in all stages of development:
Participants come from all backgrounds and include interfaith couples, LGBTQ parents, single parents and those raised in other faiths. This fall, PTJL is holding a class specifically for interfaith families! It will take place on Thursdays, 7:30-9:00pm in Newton starting November 6, 2014. The early bird registration rate ends on June 30, so sign up soon!
Have you taken this class? Let us know what you thought in the comments!
The first commandment in the Torah is to be fruitful and multiply. Judaism takes that very seriously. One blog sums it up this way: âJewish mothers like to bug their kids about âhurrying up and getting married and giving me some grandchildren already before I die because Iâm not going to be around forever you know my health isnât what it used to be.ââ Judaism is so concerned about the next generation that in some families, anything and everything is forgiven as soon as there are children involved.
We come by this emphasis on children honestly. Judaism is a small minority and there is profound panic that a people with a deep history, wisdom and beauty will die out if we donât procreate like crazy. For a tiny tribe to grow to survival, and then withstand the many historical trials we have endured, reproducing ourselves at a rapid rate has truly seemed a necessary component of our survival. Now, more than ever, the pressure is mounting. More of us who do want kids are delaying until later in life, facing more difficulties getting pregnant and having fewer of them. Some Jewish leaders have made it their mission to encourage people to marry younger and start bringing in the babies. So I know Iâm going against the grain of thousands of years of Jewish thinking, and contradicting scores of contemporary Jewish thought leaders. But I have some serious fears about our procreation-obsession.
Here are my top 4 reasons we should ease up on the pressure:
1) Â Many people donât want children. And who would want a person who doesnât want kids to actually become a parent? Childrearing is tough enough even if you really wanted them.
2) Â Some want themâŚbut not yet. By pushing women to find mates earlier and start reproducing, we are reversing decades of feminist progress that afforded women a wider array of choices about childbearing.
3) Â There are so many who cannot have kids, due to fertility challenges, societal, economic or other personal issues. Within the LGBT community, although it is far easier than it once was, having kids can still be challenging.
4) Â Finally, I believe the emphasis on children has great implications for interfaith couples. When a couple from different backgrounds is pondering questions about religion in their home, often the first thing we ask is, âWill your children be Jewish?â How we ask this question is crucial. I am a huge proponent of couples exploring this question long before there are children. I have seen countless families struggle because they avoided these tough conversations when it was still hypothetical. But more often, the tone of this question is one of urgency: All is not lost if we can make sure the kids are Jewish.
The results of this pressure are manifold. People who choose not to or cannot have children are left to struggle with their sense of purpose Jewishly. Not having children can be a source of pain and even a feeling of rejection from Judaism.Â Some who do have kids donât know why they should raise them Jewishly because they donât know for themselves why Judaism is important.Â This can even affect those who do raise their kids in the Jewish tradition. I remember a feisty and resistant
My overarching fear is that Judaism appears more concerned with our survival than perpetuating something worth keeping alive. We pay an inordinate amount of attention to âpediatric Judaism,â the overemphasis of the childâs experience of Judaism. Donât get me wrongâI strive mightily to make Jewish holidays, rituals and values engaging for my own kids and in my teaching in the Jewish community. It is crucial to introduce children to an active, relevant and joyful Judaism that will carry them through a lifetime of meaningful Jewish connection. This is a central piece of my work, and I love and value it. But I fear that while we are fretting about the kids, we sometimes forsake adultsâ spiritual journeys.
If Judaism is to survive, it is often times because an adult discovers that it is centering to light Shabbat candles after a long day at work on Friday night as she takes in the warmth of the fire. It is because an adult who loses a parent finds that the Jewish shiva rituals give him the time and space he needs to mourn. It is because an adult finds a community with which to celebrate, learn and argue. This is not to say that kids cannot also discover those experiences for themselves, but the vast majority of the time, itâs the adults who will feel compelled to pass on Judaism because it is a frame for the values they are trying to live and instill in their kids if they have them. Those kids will see their parents engaged and fulfilled by Jewish ritual, activism or conversation. What they will preserve is a meaningful tradition that enables them to live life with more depth, inquiry, and intention.
You matter. You, the adult reading this blog, matter. Your spiritual journey is important and of immense value. Your questions, brilliant insights and challenges are part of the continuous unfolding of the Jewish story, whether or not you were raised in this tradition. Itâs not only about the kids.
My childhood synagogue, Temple Or Rishon, was a hodgepodge of Jews and interfaith families, all of whom were happy to find a Jewish home in an otherwise Christian and Seventh Day Adventist area. Despite the Jewish community in Sacramento being very small, I feel blessed that I grew up in an incredibly eclectic and inclusive Reform synagogue in Orangevale, California.
I wish that more people could have such an affirming Jewish religious and/or community experience in their childhoodâand adulthood as well. But synagogue-based religious life and education isnât a good fit for everyone, for a variety of reasons.
While I am the Jew and leader that I am today in large part because of the synagogue in which I grew up, I recognize that day schools and synagogues donât work for all Jews. There are other models where families can find Jewish learning and community. So where can Jews in the Greater Boston area send their children for formal Jewish education?
Enter BJEP, the Boston-Area Jewish Education Program.
BJEP provides an excellent alternative to traditional synagogue-based Hebrew school. The Boston-Area Jewish Education Program is a welcoming, independent and unaffiliated Sunday school located on the Brandeis campus in Waltham, MA. Brandeis University undergrad and grad students apply their knowledge and passion by teaching BJEPâs first through seventh grade students. The program embraces Greater Boston families from all backgrounds (interfaith, interracial, LGBT, varying Jewish denominations) interested in learning Hebrew and exploring Jewish traditions, values and culture.
Experiential learning and Jewish arts and culture are central to their program. They offer extended day options so students can learn modern Hebrew, Jewish dance and Jewish theater. BJEP also offers adult learning and family education, runs High Holiday services and provides bar and
This past weekend, Hebrew College ordained a new graduating class of talented and committed rabbinical and cantorial studentsâmazel tov! Among them is Ari Lev Fornari, the newly-hired BJEP Director. He comes to BJEP with a dynamic and ambitious vision.
âBJEP is a vibrant community of learners and teachers, including multi-faith, multi-racial and LGBTQ families. We share a desire to create and transmit a Judaism that is relevant and meaningful. A Judaism that celebrates the many constellations of family. BJEP is a place where young people learn to value difference, curiosity and critical thinking. It is a place of imagination, creativity and play.
I was drawn to BJEP because of its out-of-the-box approach to Jewish education and its commitment to making Judaism real and meaningful. Traditionally there were different models for how to organize Jewish communal life. One of them was prayer, which grew into the synagogue model. Another was learning, known as the Heder. I see BJEP reinventing a model of Jewish community built around learning. It is my hope that as we grow the program, it will increasingly become a place of intergenerational learning, where we can support families on their Jewish and spiritual journeys.â
Iâm thrilled that InterfaithFamily/Boston will have the privilege of working with Ari Lev to support BJEPâs interfaith families in the coming school year!
Many people want to be welcoming but donât necessarily know exactly how to provide the welcoming learning environment for interfaith families and kids. In this essay, Iâll provide some tips on how to engage kids from interfaith homes in classrooms and how to handle potentially awkward situations.
1. Respect the family. Keep your own opinion out of the conversation. The children need to feel validated, not uncomfortable. Be prepared for anything. Families come in all shapes and sizes and have all kinds of dynamics. Some families may be raising their children in âbothâ religions or incorporate varying degrees of each religion. Grandparents may not be supportive. Students may believe in Santa Claus. Relatives may celebrate Kwanza. There are infinite ways to be a family.
2. Respect the other parentâs religion.Â If a child refers to another holiday celebration with relatives who are not Jewish:
a. Listen. A key element of listening is eye contact. Pay attention to what the student is telling you about a religious experience. If you can relate their story to something Jewish, great. If not, just listen attentively. If you donât have time to talk because class is starting, say that you would love to talk in greater detail after class and then make sure to offer to talk to them after class.
b. Ask questions. âDid you enjoy going to church?â If you end the conversation abruptly because you are uncomfortable or in a rush, the student may think that he said something wrong. Asking questions (within time constraints of the class) shows that you are interested.
c. Support. Your response of support will enable the student to be happy about their experience. Students should never feel bad if they participated in a family event that wasnât Jewish. Responses like: âThat is great that you had fun with your cousins. You are lucky to be exposed to so many different types of religion.â
d. Pay attention to all of the students. The whole class is potentially listening to your conversation about interfaith issues. The students will take their cues from you and it is key to set an example of support. If you hear another student give a negative response (or make a face) be sure to provide a supportive environment to all of the students. The student that provides a negative response should get the cue that in this classroom, we donât judge other people but accept one another.Â It is a mitzvah to support your whole family.
3. Truth. What if a child says: âMy cousins told me that the Jews killed Jesusâbut I told them, I didnât.â This is simply not true but it is a long stated myth. This is a good opportunity to set the record straight by saying. 1) Thatâs not true. 2) The Romans killed Jesus. 3) That was a long time ago and Romans are predominantly Christian now. Please remember that what you teach the students now is what they will remember their entire life. This opportunity to teach not only this student, but the whole class, will be important for defending against anti-Semitic comments in the future.
4. Unconditional support. Families and children need encouragement. Religious school for many families is not a requirement like a high school diploma so a negative interaction can be catastrophic. Families frequently switch to another synagogue if they have a bad experience in Hebrew school. In some cases, families will leave Jewish life completely. The burden is on you (not easy, is it?!). Make it fun, be welcoming, be supportive and teach the students as much as you can.
5. Adaptation. Whenever you can, point out ways in which interfaith families have been important to the Jewish culture. The story of Ruth (an ancestress of King David), a Midianite woman who married a Jewish man and identified with the Jewish people and God, that we read on Shavuot is a great example. The story of Esther, who married a King who wasnât Jewish and saved the Jews, which read on Purim, is another example.
6. Instill pride. Jessica is part Jewish, Cherokee, Irish and Italian. She is special and unlike any other human being. She should finish her year in your class feeling happy that she has learned some stories, some songs, some traditions, some Hebrew, some of the commandments, and wants to come back next year! Jessica should be proud to be Jessica. Interfaith kids should NEVER be made to feel like anything less than ALL JEWISH when they are in your classroom.Â All students should be proud of their differences and proud of their Judaism.Â People will participate in a culture where they feel like they are part of the âhome team.âÂ You should never call a child âhalf-Jewishâ or their parent a âgoyâ and should try to stay away from saying ânon-Jewâ as well. If a child is attending religious school, then that child is Jewish.
7. Turn it around. There will be many awkward situations throughout your career. Take the opportunity to turn the situation into a âteachable moment.âÂ Many families may not be enlightened about how to be welcoming. You will set the example for the kids about how to be proud and accepting of peopleâs differences, not only regarding religion but other differences as well.
You are an educator and your role in the development of your students is meaningful and powerful.Â On behalf of Jewish families in America, thank you for your efforts.
Passover is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays and many Jewish families have some type of Passover seder, but preparing to host a seder can be intimidating. This is true whether or not you grew up Jewishâand, as I can personally attest, even if youâre a rabbi!
Seder means âorderâ in Hebrew, and there is a set order for how the seder is to proceed, set forth in the haggadah. As an avid haggadah collector, I can tell you that there are LOTS of different haggadot to choose fromâor you may put one together yourself. But even once youâve selected a haggadah, if you have kids coming to your seder thereâs the added pressure of wanting them to be engaged throughout the evening.
Here are some things that have worked for me in the past:
MAD LIBS, COLORING PAGES, ETC.: One year, when the kids arrived at my seder, I gave them a Passover Mad Libs game.Â Playing Mad Libs is a great way to keep kids busy before the seder starts (especially if you donât want them running all over your house!) or after they have eaten their mealâwhich we all know takes kids a lot less time than it takes adults. If there are kids who are too young for Mad Libs, you can give them Passover coloring pages and crayons to keep them occupiedÂ (Google âPassover Coloring Pagesâ and youâll find lots of pages you can print for free)Â or if you happen to be using a digital haggadah, like this one from JewishBoston.com, the younger set can enjoy this fun onlineÂ seder matching game. Coloring in their own Passover placemats (which you can buy in many grocery stores, Judaica shops or onlineâor make your own) kept my kids happy and quiet during seders when they were little, as did kidsâ haggadot that they could color in.
PASSOVER GRANOLA: Several years ago, I attended a pre-Passover workshop led by Noam Zion, one of the authors of A Different Night, The Family Participation Haggadah. Zion suggested that when the seder begins, the host should give each guest a bag of granola, which they can nosh on so they wonât be hungry and anxious for the meal, and thus will be more engaged during the pre-meal part of the seder, which is the majority of the haggadah. So when we all sat down, I gave everyone, adults as well as children, a bag filled with raisins, nuts, and Kosher for Passover chocolate chips and marshmallows. I explained that just as our Israelite ancestors went on a long journey after leaving Egypt, we too would have a âjourneyâ before we began our meal, and the bag was filled with some food to keep us nourished along the way. (I also promised my guests that our journey would be a lot shorter than 40 years!). Another fun thing about the Passover granola was that my daughter, who was four at the time, had a great time preparing all of the bags with me before our guests arrived.
BINGO: One of the biggest hits was when I used a website to make a Passover Bingo game for my younger guests. The squares on the Bingo game had phrases such as: âI recited the four questions,â âI drank the second cup of wine/juice,â âI asked a questionâ and âI tasted maror.â I gave each kid a small cup of raisins, and told them to put a raisin on a square once they had done what was written in the square. This kept the kids engaged throughout the eveningânobody wanted to miss doing something and not be able to fill in that square on their card. I recently found a similar Passover Bingo game online here.
QUESTIONS! QUESTIONS! AND MORE QUESTIONS!: Any good seder involves a lot more than just the Four Questions in the haggadah. Originally, the items on the seder plate and many of the Passover rituals were meant to spark questions. Your seder wonât be nearly as rewarding if you just read through the haggadah without taking time for questions and discussion. Here are some fun ways to incorporate questions into your seder:
Ask lots of questions: Before the seder, go to a Dollar Store or party store and buy a bunch of cheap little toys to use as prizes. Throughout the seder, stop to ask questions about the story and celebration of Passover. Whoever answers the question correctly gets a prize. Youâll probably find that the adults like to play along and show off their knowledge as much as the kids do. Or better yetâŚ
Have your guests ask the questions: Encourage questioning by giving out a prize every time someone asks a question. Then let someone else answer the questionâand they can get a prize too.
Put questions under everyone’s plates: One year I put an index card with a Passover-related question on it under each plate before everyone arrived at my seder. Some of the questions were serious (e.g., âIf you could invite anyone to a seder, who would it be and why?â) while others were more light-hearted (e.g., âIf you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, would you rather it be matzah or bitter herbs?â). At different points throughout the seder, I would randomly pick a person and ask them to take the index card out from under their plate (no peeking at the card until youâre called on!), read their question and answer it.
Advanced planning is key to a successful seder. But that being said, once your planning is finished and your guests arrive, do your best to relax and enjoy!
Are there things youâve done at a seder in the past that have been fun for kids and kept them engaged? What are you planning for this year?Â
In the recent article in The Forward, a Rabbi in Los Angeles explains that he will officiate for an interfaith couple at their wedding if they commit to a Jewish future, Jewish education for their children and a Jewish home.Â A Conservative Rabbi who left his rabbinical union over being able to officiate at interfaith weddings quotes Israeli President Shimon Peres saying: âItâs not important if your grandparents are Jewish. What is important is if your grandchildren are.â The only condition he has is that an interfaith couple getting married âshould commit to running a Jewish household, raising Jewish children and to learn with me what that means.â
Some rabbis may make all couples (whether they are both Jewish or only one is Jewish) promise to raise Jewish children in order to marry them, but many only speak about this test for interfaith couples. It makes sense for rabbis to speak about how the couple will raise their children. Couples often sit with the rabbi who will perform their wedding for several meetings which gives them ample time to plan the ceremony and usually also time to discuss where they are with religion, extended family issues and what they are thinking their home will look like in the years to come. If a couple wants a rabbi at their wedding, they care about Judaism in some ways. Certainly a conversation can be had about how they plan to live Jewishly and raise their children.
However, I think that too much focus, as is clear from this Forward article, is placed on having a premarital couple talk about Judaism only in terms of how it will affect their children. I for one care more about what the adults who will stand under the chuppah with me think about their own Judaism.
Do they know anything about the religion that they think they donât want in their lives? Do they know what Judaism says about the major questions of life such as the meaning of sin or suffering or ideas about afterlife and heaven? Do they understand who is Israeli (and for that matter when, why and how Israel exists)? Do they search for calm, anecdotes to stress, balance, order, meaning, peace, love and purpose? Judaism addresses these areas of our lives.
Did they once attend religious school at a congregation and even celebrate becoming a bar or
Are there congregations where one can experience Judaism like this? There are. Are there study groups, trips, volunteer opportunities and cultural events that have this kind of Jewish vibe? There are.
If we ignore the Jewish life of adults and simultaneously try to get them to follow the patterns of their parents in joining congregations so that children can have a bar or bat mitzvah, that experiment is over. We canât infuse guilt or a sense of responsibility or obligation as the vehicle to promulgate Judaism to the next generation. People getting married arenât swayed by that. Instead, we need to ask these adults getting married to give Judaism a second chance for the sake of their own souls.
I love when my kids come home from school with inspirational materials. This week, with MLK day on everyoneâs mind, it was to honor the great Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Found inside my 1st grader Eliâs backpack was a scholastic news weekly reader called âBefore and After Dr. King,â emphasizing how MLK had helped change unfair laws in his lifetime. This little flyer highlighted three topics featuring before and after photos: Buses, schools and water fountains which clearly and visually showed the inequality and horrific level of prejudice in daily life in the south in the â50s and â60s.
So we had a kitchen table discussion, and I found myself getting teary-eyed, as I often do at the thought of being separated and judged for who you are by the color of your skin or boxed into feelings of shame for what you were born into. My kids are blown away that people were treated so unfairly. Eli found it fascinating that I was born in 1969, âway back then only one year after Martin Luther King died.â We talked about how hard it is to believe that people couldnât sit together or learn together or share the same water fountain; things I did not have to witness in person, thank God, being way up north and born after the civil rights movement had a chance to flourish.
âJews were treated unfairly too back then,â I explained to Eli.
âWhy does it always have to go back to the Jews?â my wife bemoaned, âCanât we just stick with MLK?â (Itâs got to be tough to be married to a Jewish educator with every topic coming back to Judaism at his kitchen table.)
âIâm just saying,â pointing to the picture with the separate seating on the buses, âthere were also signs back then that said, âNo Jews Allowed.â Of course, it was nothing compared to the horrors that faced the Southern black community at the time, but there are similarities. Deb gave me that âLets not bring this back to the Holocaustâ look, knowing all too well where it was heading. I got the message. âYou will learn more details about this every year as you get older.â I tried to conclude my digression before Shalom Bayit had been compromisedâagain.
Mavis Staples, created one of the best civil rights songs of all time (and albums for that matter titled Weâll Never Turn Back in 2007), called âEyes on the Prize,â telling us to âhold on,â and to keep our âeyes on the prizeâ of freedom.
We have come a long, long way as a more inclusive society (thank God) and prejudice needs to be fought wherever it strikes. There are many issues to hold on to as we keep our eyes on the prize. Kingâs vision to change the world began with color (or rather I should say a dream of not judging people by the color of their skin) and continues to grab our hearts and attention on opening our minds to all people who suffer and have been marginalized by society, âstill vastly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.â (MLK, I Have A Dream speech, April 28th, 1963)
As of this writing, 17 states have legalized same sex marriage (starting with my home state of Massachusetts in 2004). And intermarriage is a fascinating because it is not an issue of legality from state legislation, but rather in issue of relational acceptance by denominations or complex family dynamics.
Going through the list of rabbis who are willing to officiate marriages on this website, I am struck by their level of heroism to stand up for change and inclusiveness, despite the slowness of many congregations and some of their peers.
Things are evolving and getting better, no doubt. It is wonderful to see same sex marriages continuing to be recognized and officiated by rabbis in synagogues. But somehow, interfaith marriage has a bigger hurdle to overcome in acceptance on the institutional level. For example, the Conservative movement has a doctrine to not allow their rabbis to even attend an interfaith marriage, let alone officiate one.
You have probably heard about the small, but still existent, ultra-Orthodox factions that are pushing for separate buses for men and women. Oh Dr. King, how did some of us get so far off? It is deeply embarrassing to see people miss the mark in respecting othersâ differences.
In the meantime, this year I will be watching for more synagogues to be more inclusive and welcoming to more intermarried couples. I want my children to grow up witnessing synagogues and Jewish institutions working to make a stronger community of unity and respect.
I often feel that life is a series of days unless we pause occasionally to celebrate. There are definitely highs and lows of each day and some events stay with us for days or weeks, but generally days and weeks come and go. This is why entering a period of pause each week, called Shabbat is so crucial. This is why holidays and life cycle events are so important. They mark our time with meaning.
This past weekend, two events occurred in our house which felt they changed our lives. Although the two events were not monumental to most, they felt dramatic to me.
The first event was that my six-year-old had her first spelling test. First grade is very different from âhalf-dayâ kindergarten. In first grade, she gets on the bus at 8:30 and comes off the bus at 3:30 and has had all kinds of experiences that she navigates herself. Most of her day is at schoolânot at home now. However, this first spelling test brought me nearly to tears of joy. She had reached a new place in her young life. Now, she was being tested and judged based on what she studied and how she performed. Now, we as parents, had a new responsibility on our shoulders: to help her study.
The second event that occurred was that our daughter went on her first sleep-over at a friendâs house around the corner from where we live.Â We were proud and filled with nachas (a Yiddish word meaning pride from a loved oneâs accomplishment). She had to make her needs known. She had to perform her own self-care.
I got into bed the night she was not home and felt Godâs presence as I have not felt in a long time. Perhaps because I have been moved by the stories my colleaguesâfellow rabbi-rabbi parents have shared about their own sonâs brave fight of childhood cancer and about the thousands like himâI cherish even more keenly and with a different perspective our childrenâs lives.
When I say I felt Godâs presence, what I felt was the support of thousands of other parents over generations who have had the joy of seeing their children accomplish new feats. I felt excitement at what was to come. I felt in awe of how life moves along and how obstacles are overcome.
I love the shehecheyanu prayer (the Jewish Kodak moment blessing). It is said at new and joyous occasions and it thanks God for sustaining us and enabling us to reach this new place. The word âchaiâ (life) is in the middle of this hard-to-pronounce word, shehecheyanu. Judaism is obsessed with life. With living the best life we can. Harold Kushner wrote a whole book called, To Life. Think Fiddler on the Roof, âTo life, to life, lâchayim.â
Of course I said shehecheyanu. I say it at every wedding. I said it when a first tooth was lost. (I think I was too sleep deprived to say it when that tooth grew in at three or four months old!) I said it when it snowed for the first time this season a few days ago in Chicago. But, I wanted a different, more specific prayer for this occasion of watching my daughter grow up.
Those who were raised with Judaism can be skittish about spontaneous, personal prayer. We like scripted prayers that start, âBaruch Atah AdonaiâŚâ I wrote my rabbinic thesis on spontaneous Jewish prayer because I am terrified of it. But, I prayed to God from my heart in my bed that night.
Over Thanksgiving dinner or the first nights of Hanukkah, maybe give yourself the freedom to add your own words, your own sentiments to our scripted prayers. Or fill the words from the sheets you read or which flow from your mouth out of memory with kavannah, special intention.
Judaism is all about turning the mundane into the sacred. A spelling test? A sleep-over? Yesâthese were sacred moments to mark.