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.
Yesterday my husband asked for my advice about how to help a friend of his. His friend wanted to know how he could motivate his wife to attend services and other Jewish events at our synagogue. They are empty nesters and he wants to grow their Jewish practice. My husband turned to me because I am the family psychologist, a.k.a., the in-house armchair analyst. While I am sympathetic to our friendâ€™s situation, my answer may not have been the one he was looking for: â€śHe canâ€™t.â€ť
For most of my life, I engaged with Judaism to please my family, not because it was something that I wanted or because it was my idea. It was easier for me to participate than it would have been to explain why I did not â€śfeel it.â€ť I always experienced a strong attachment to the music, the food and to Israel but these are not religious motivations, they are cultural. Sometimes I wonder where the line is between culture and religion.
Spirituality is personal. I am not sure how the flame gets going. Some have it from birth, others find it as a result of a life changing experience, and for me it appeared during my first visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem a few years ago. My internal flame was lit near midnight on a warm summer evening in Jerusalem.
When I returned home from Israel, I went looking for a Jewish community to join and I found one in San Francisco. From that first Shabbat morning, I always felt welcome and never self-conscious about showing up alone. There were always plenty of other people who came alone, just like me. Some were single, some with partners who chose not to go or who stayed home with their children or aging parents. We sat together at services and saved seats at the table for each other at events. Not once did I ever feel the awkward loneliness that can creep into oneâ€™s consciousness while going solo in a group setting. The positive experience I had the first time motivated me to try it a second, and then a third, and so on, until I joined the community as an official member.
Since then, I have married and my husband and I go to synagogue together. I no longer go alone but I know that I can, any time I want or need to. A while ago I heard a fellow congregant speak at a panel discussion about how, as a divorced parent, she has found her village in our community. She no longer feels awkward about attending as a single parent and comes to temple events a lot now. She even comes alone when her children are with their father. I have another friend who is always at Shabbat morning services and is rarely accompanied by his partner who works too hard and desperately needs the â€śDay of Restâ€ť for actual horizontal rest.
I suggested to my husband that his friend could try joining us once or twice without his wife to see how he feels about walking in alone. Once he is inside, he will be joined by friends, swept away by the gorgeous opening song, and carried through the morning by Rabbiâ€™s calm guidance of our prayers. Our friend may find out that his inner flame of spirituality can be nurtured through the warm and uplifting embrace of our community in San Francisco. He may also discover that the impression he walks away with is contagious.
The last week of November was Celebration Central for my husband and me. We flew to Paris for a cousin’s 80th birthday, celebrated one day before a personal trio: Thanksgiving, the second night of Hanukkah and my husband’s birthday.
For Shabbat-Hanukkah (the Sabbath that occurs during Hanukkah), we made the 3/4 hour trek via Paris Metro to a suburban neighborhood to visit the cityâ€™s only liberal synagogue, Kehilat Gesher, the â€śAmerican synagogue of Paris.â€ť We found many jewels hidden away in this unmarked Jewish haven on Rue Leon Cogniet.
It can be uncomfortable to attend services in an unfamiliar house of worship, regardless of oneâ€™s religious upbringing, affiliation, or knowledge base. I am especially tentative in these situations, yet my desire to celebrate Shabbat Hanukkah in Paris and my curiosity moved me to make the effort to join the community for one evening.
The Kehilat Gesher congregation is a highly diverse group of regulars and visitors, all gathered together to experience liberal Judaism in Paris. Rabbi Tom Cohen conducts a trilingual Shabbat service that is inclusive, warm and rich with the joy of the occasion. His enthusiasm for welcoming Shabbat into our hearts was overflowing and we effortlessly settled in for the experience of a lifetime.
The Kehilat Gesher Siddur (prayer book) is quadrilingual. Each page has the prayers written in Hebrew, French, English, and the most fascinating transliteration using French accents! Rabbi Cohen has been leading services there since 1993 and is a master at making sure that the service is accessible to all. We took turns doing the readings in the language of our choice. We heard myriad accents in multiple languages: Hebrew with French, English with Russian, French with Hebrew, and some that I did not recognize.
After the service, we gathered for the blessings over the wine and bread and shared a special treat of traditional Hanukkah sufganiyot (fried foods) in the form of yummy jelly doughnuts. We had many warm and welcoming conversations with members and Rabbi Cohen made an extra effort to introduce himself and to genuinely engage with us about who we are and why we decided to attend services at Kehilat Gesher.
What made the experience so memorable was the recognition thatÂ even far away from home I can find a friendly connection at a liberal synagogue. As I sat in that small uncomfortable seat, listening to the opening song, a slightly non-traditional rendition of â€śShabbat Shalom,â€ť I truly understood that I was part of something unique and special. The amazing part was that nobody seemed to care if we were Jewish, or intermarried or, in our case, intra-faith (Reform and Orthodox).
At Kehilat Gesher Paris they say Shabbat Shalom with an international accent!
A recent blog has stirred up some disapproving comments on our Facebook page. This couple split their holiday card in half with the husband on the Christmas side and the wife on the Hanukkah side. The wife says, â€śWe do it ALL.â€ť They â€śbakeâ€ť latkes. This is interesting considering the â€śtraditionalâ€ť way to make latkes is to fry them in oil to remember the miracle of the oil narrative. However, so many families today eat latkes with all kind of variations (baking is certainly healthier).Â She also says that she hopes her children will gravitate toward Judaism but that she is not â€śpushingâ€ť it.
It would be easy to read this and say, â€śGoodbye liberal American Judaismâ€”itâ€™s been nice knowing you.â€ťÂ This kind of flippant observation of Judaism and commercializing the minor holiday of Hanukkah to become like Christmas marks doomsday for an authentic Judaism to survive. However, I read this and think, â€śWowâ€¦many people are living and creating a new Jewish expression.â€ť This is â€śminhag Americaâ€ť (American tradition). I am referring to Isaac Mayer Wiseâ€™s first American Jewish prayer book when I use that expression.
It is possible that they teach their children to be mensches (and perhaps use the word), that they give tzedakah and care about social justice because of and based in their Jewish identity. It is possible that they turn to Jewish expression at important life cycle events like weddings, birth and death (and want their children turning 13 to mark that occasion Jewishly as well).
Is this good enough? Is this Jewish enough? Will this lead to future generations of Jews? Do we want these families in our synagogues or not? What would get a family like this to join a synagogue? What is the litmus test for when a family crosses a boundary that makes them not â€śreallyâ€ť Jewish?
I say, letâ€™s build communities where we are not judgmental of whether the children are doing it ALL. A community that says that everyone in the family can participate in a totally open, accessible Judaism. A community where we celebrate the holidays with great food, timeless narratives of eternal truths, and live kindness and giving with audacity. A community that says that the Jewish way of wrestling with God and arguing for the sake of heaven nourishes our souls and is good for our spirits.
My children are too at home at our synagogue. Their dad is the rabbi there and they feel that his office is their play place. They know every inch of the building, including where to find snacks that arenâ€™t theirs to take. They know the staff. They feel comfortable expressing themselves during services. I have been thinking about how many other places we frequent and what this says about our lifestyle.
We know the supermarket well. Other parents think Iâ€™m crazy for schlepping (Yiddish for dragging) my 4- and 6-year-olds to go grocery shopping, but we basically enjoy the weekly trip. One or both of them ride in the cart and we eat as we shop. We follow the same path each week and we take the same items. Sometimes a new product appears and we examine it which can be fun and guess at whether we will like it (especially if it is in the gluten free section as our 6-year-old has celiac disease). We have our favorite check-out cashier and my kids love to say â€śhiâ€ť to Miss Sandra and pretend that they are shy.
The preschool and elementary school are also like extensions of our home. My kids are proud to show me around when Iâ€™m there. They point out artwork on the wall, we schmooze (Yiddish for small talk) with the school staff, and they reminisce about what happened in the gym that day or on the playground.
Food shopping is an activity
Then there are other peopleâ€™s homes. We are lucky to have cousins who live nearby: Aunt Stacie and Uncle Billâ€™s house is a comforting, familiar place to visit. The kids know how it works there as well. They take off their shoes in the right spot, they know what they can and canâ€™t touch, etc. They look forward to the different toys and activities that they encounter there.Â And of course, the people in the home seal the deal for loving this stop.
Two last places we frequent a lot (Iâ€™m embarrassed to admit on a weekly basis) are both Target and Party City.Â They know the aisles there perfectly. They know which stops they want to make first and they always have a treasure in mind that they have been dreaming about.
I wonder about how many â€śnormalâ€ť (non Rabbi-Rabbi families) think of a synagogue as a home away from home? Do you walk in and know where to go? Do you know the staff and do they know you? Do you know where to hang your coat, where the bathrooms are and when the building is even open? Would you ever think of stopping in at a time other than for services or Sunday School or Hebrew School?
You could come to read a book in-between meetings or appointments. You could come sit on a couch and do homework in a quiet and cozy spot with a child between afterschool activities. Dare I say, you could stop in to say hi to the educator and clergy! You could check out the flyers you may have missed, see what upcoming events are happening and read the Jewish magazines that are typically on display.
Synagogues are usually open during regular business hours. Stop in! Stay awhile. Say â€śShalom.â€ť Bring your kids. Feeling comfortable and familiar in a spot breeds connectedness and warmth.
Jewish American families have a pretty fantastic start for festivities this year since Hanukkah starts so early in the seasonâ€”and in case you missed itâ€”Hanukkah 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 â€śpublicize the miracle.â€ť 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 oneâ€™s life. We call this tradition tzedakah. Itâ€™s pretty well understood as charity, but technically it means â€śrighteous giving.â€ť We give because God has blessed us and it is the right thing to doâ€”to 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 youâ€™re 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 weâ€™ll 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:
Thanksgivukkah has highlighted the endless possibilities in combining two holidays that give a great amount of civic pride to Jews in America. But now that the table is set with the dynamic duoâ€™s crimson and blue settings, how will your family do something a little different to not only capture the wonderful foods but also the spirit of both holidays?
I propose bringing Bubbie into the conversation. Beyond Bubbie, that is.
Beyond Bubbie is a website that shares photos, recipes and stories from the people who made us who we are. Every Bubbie has a recipe and every recipe tells a story. Thanksgivukkah is the perfect time to share those stories and recipes at your table. Better yet, why not cook and bake the classic treats.
At a time in life when it is so hard for extended families to get together, make this Thanksgivukkah meaningful. Instead of simply going around the table asking, â€śWhat are you grateful for this year?â€ť ask everyone what their favorite food memory is from your family. Pre-Thanksgivukkah, ask loved ones to share their recipes on Beyond Bubbie, tag your family name and have a place where your whole family can log-on for that cranberry brisket recipe or that Hanukkah lasagna.
At the Beyond Bubbie Knish-Off in San Francisco
Looking for an activity for kids while the turkey is being basted? Grab Bubby Ruthâ€™s Sugar Cookies and have a bake-off. Pre-bake the cookies. Display an array of various frostings and sprinkles and have kids go to town creating dynamic cookies and memories. Have the elders in your family judge the competition.
Not into football? Ask everyone to bring an old family photo and set up a quasi-gallery in your living room. Give grandchildren the opportunity to digitize these memories by taking photos with your smart phone. Photos and stories can then be shared on Beyond Bubbie.
There is no time like the present to give the present of culinary memories. Making the foods that warm your stomach is one thing, but making food that pulls at your heart strings elevates this once in a universe occasion to a whole new level.
Dina Mann is the National Marketing and Outreach Coordinator for Reboot. Please email Dina@Rebooters.net with any questions about Beyond Bubbie and ways to bring it to your community.
Many synagogues are holding their programs for Interfaith Family Shabbat this week and weekend. It is exciting to see the variety of programs that synagogues have created for this event. Some synagogues are having special movie screenings, others are hosting beginnersâ€™ services. One local synagogue, Main Line Reform Temple, was very creative and hosted a program entitled â€śInterfaith Family Shabbat Honoring our non-Jewish Spouses, Partners & Family Members: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Services (or anything Jewish) but Did Not Know Who or When to Ask.â€ť This program invited all participants to email the Rabbi with any question prior to the service in which he would do his best to answer them. It was inspiring to see how many synagogues took advantage of the opportunity that Interfaith Family Shabbat provides to create a special program to re-energize their welcoming culture.
Conversely, a few synagogues said that Interfaith Family Shabbat doesnâ€™t apply to their community because they are always welcoming. Without question, it is great to be committed to being welcoming throughout the year, but this is similar to celebrating Motherâ€™s Day. We should always appreciate mothers but it is meaningful to moms everywhere to have one day when they are recognized. For an interfaith couple, a blessing or recognition of interfaith couples and their commitment to Judaism is inspiring to many who have chosen to support their spouse in Judaism.
In a society where we define ourselves with labels, welcoming of various groups will be critical. Some consider themselves â€śJewsâ€ť while others are â€śProtestant,â€ť â€śCatholic,â€ť â€śHindu,â€ť â€śMuslim,â€ť etc. Â As long as we use labels, the need for constant and frequent welcoming will exist. After all, we are talking about walking into a synagogue, considered a haven for Jewsâ€”it makes sense that when a person walks into a house of worship that isnâ€™t familiar, they will feel slightly uncomfortable. Even Jewish people may feel awkward in an unfamiliar synagogue and certainly in any other house of worship.
Hosts should let people know where to sit, what page the Rabbi is on, explain Hebrew references, etc. Guests may not know when it is ok to take a bathroom break or when to stand, so a helpful host could guide them in this. Hopefully, after multiple visits, a visitor will feel comfortable. But those first few visits are always slightly awkward. We hope that there will always be visitors, thus there will always be a need for welcoming!
I attended one of the Interfaith Family Shabbat events. One of the speakers said that he and his wife were greatly hurt when the Rabbi from his childhood Reform synagogue refused to marry them. He said that this interaction was so painful that he now refuses to go to that synagogue. Ten years later, he is still quite emotional about this rejection. I know that this synagogue considers itself welcoming but obviously, this person is scarred from the rejection.
After the service, many people remarked that â€śthis community has always been a welcoming community.â€ť Yet, there were many congregants who seemed to be enlightened when the Rabbi said â€śJust because someone marries someone of a different faith, they are not rejecting their parents. They are not rejecting their childhood. They simply fell in love.â€ť There were congregants who really began to see the other side for the first time and understand interfaith marriage from a more loving perspective. It seemed that during this service, we learned that we should be more than understandingâ€”we should welcome all people into the synagogue with open arms. Welcoming is a constant effort.
Did you attend a program for Interfaith Family Shabbat? Tell us about it in the comments section below!
Learn more about Interfaith Family Shabbat in Philadelphia here, and in other communities here.
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, â€śThere 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.â€ť
Our mission at IntefaithFamily is to â€śsupport interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and making Jewish choices, and to encourage Jewish communities to welcome them.â€ť 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 letâ€™s 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 â€śdeservesâ€ť to play? Who â€śneedsâ€ť 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 havenâ€™t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It is hard to imagine that professional sports were segregated for so long and it wasnâ€™t until 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke the â€ścolored barrier.â€ť 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 â€śa political situation.â€ť
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 standsâ€”but 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 â€śmake waves.â€ť 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 â€śold ways,â€ť 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 â€śplay ball.â€ť
Contact: Jodi Bromberg, President of InterfaithFamily
(Boston, MA) â€“ Interfaith families raising their children Jewish are continuing at high and stable levels to participate in secular Christmas activities, to keep their Hanukkah and Christmas holiday celebrations separate, and to believe that their participation in Christmas celebrations does not compromise their childrenâ€™s Jewish identity. These trends were confirmed in the tenth annual December Holidays Survey conducted by InterfaithFamily, an independent non-profit with headquarters in Newton, Mass.
InterfaithFamily has surveyed how interfaith couples raising their children deal with the â€śDecember dilemma,â€ť the confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas, annually for the past ten years. Some observers of intermarriage have cast a skeptical eye on interfaith families raising Jewish children participating in Christmas activities, arguing that interfaith families canâ€™t impart a strong Jewish identity to their children and celebrate Christmas. The results of InterfaithFamilyâ€™s surveys suggest that they in fact are doing so.
This year the percentage of interfaith families raising Jewish children who participate in Christmas celebrations was 86%, up slightly from 83% year. These families still make clear distinctions between the holidays and are giving clear priority to Hanukkah over Christmas, as both a family celebration and a religious holiday. The overwhelming majority (99%) celebrates Hanukkah at home, while a little more than half (59%) celebrate Christmas at home.
Hanukkah is much more of a religious holiday for this population than is Christmas. Only 13% attend Christmas religious services and only 4.7% tell the Christmas story in their own home. While slightly more families will give Christmas gifts in their own homes this year (67%) compared to last year (63%), and slightly more (56.5%) will put up a Christmas tree in their own homes than last year (49%), 88% view their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature, the same as last year.
Many families (73%) celebrate Christmas at the home of relatives, suggesting that Christmas is largely centered around the extended family.
Eighty-three percent of interfaith couples who participate in Christmas celebrations keep them separate from their Hanukkah celebrations, and 73% think that their Christmas celebrations do not affect their childrenâ€™s Jewish identity.
“Interfaith couples raising Jewish children and participating in Christmas continues to be common,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily. “These families see their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature and not confusing to their childrenâ€™s Jewish identity.â€ť
The Pew study released this year, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, reported that 71% of interfaith families (where one partner was Jewish and one was not) had a Christmas tree in their home in the prior year. Likewise, in past years, some local Jewish community studies (Boston in 2005, New York in 2011) have reported on the frequency of interfaith families having Christmas trees, but acknowledged that the data does not indicate what having a Christmas tree means to interfaith families. The respondents to InterfaithFamilyâ€™s survey made hundreds of comments in response to open-ended questions that shed light on precisely that question:
Christmas does not have religious significance for many interfaith families who are raising their children as Jews.
They primarily are honoring the traditions of their parent and relatives who are not Jewish.
Children can understand clear explanations from their parents, such as that Christmas is not their holiday.
Interfaith families continue to grapple with the challenges of celebrating the holidays of two faiths in their families, and what it means for their, and their childrenâ€™s Jewish identities.
Participating in Christmas celebrations can strengthen childrenâ€™s Jewish identity by not letting them take it for granted.
Interfaith families raising Jewish children still experience Jews being uncomfortable with their celebrating Christmas and do not appreciate being questioned, censured or shamed.
For more information, read the attached report â€śWhat We Learned from the Tenth Annual December Holidays Survey.â€ť It also can be found online here.
InterfaithFamily is the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities. We offer educational content at www.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.
EDITORâ€™S NOTE: InterfaithFamily has developed a resource page for interfaith families around Christmas and Hanukkah that includes a Thanksgivukkah Guide, and numerous articles that help interfaith families have a more enjoyable and meaningful holiday season which you can visit here.
The following post is by guest blogger Jodi Rosenfeld from the Philadelphia area.
I sometimes feel like I am one of many circus performers juggling a variety of hats while the audience watches to see if I drop oneâ€”but the circus is my synagogue and the audience is my fellow congregants. My goal is not to make anyone laugh or watch in awe but simply to maintain the peace while moving the show forward in preparation for the next act.
At my small, century-old, Conservative synagogue in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, I was the facilitator of the Interfaith Work Group, a group that met for many months for the purpose of clarifying and then codifying our synagogueâ€™s policy on membership for interfaith couples and families. This means I had to wear and juggle my many hats at once. And for that, I had to learn about balance.
The Interfaith Work Group was born of a conflict. The conflict began when several interfaith families were preparing for their childrenâ€™s Bâ€™nai Mitzvah and the parent who was not Jewish realized that, according to Conservative tradition, he or she was not welcome to stand on the bimah. Even the father who was not Jewish but whoâ€™d served on several committees, was an active part of the community and had studied Hebrew alongside his son, could not stand at the Torah with his wife when she said the blessings before and after the Torah reading.
And then the backlash began. Some of the elders and more traditional long-time members of the congregation felt slighted at best, rejected and insulted at worst. For decades, they had poured themselves into â€śthe way weâ€™ve always done things.â€ť They felt that these changes were a watering-down of Judaism. Some got angry. Some left.
The Interfaith Work Group was a small cross-section of all of the above constituents that came together to get the facts straight (from the Rabbi about issues of ritual inclusion and Halacha; and from the Board about issues of governance), and then to clearly articulate these policies through the synagogueâ€™s website.
Was I the â€śrightâ€ť person, with all those hats in the air, to lead this group? I am a psychologist, which means I am trained to observe everyoneâ€™s feelings, even those with whom I may disagree. I am a Reform Jew by upbringing, which means I am accustomed to inclusion. I am the granddaughter of an observant, Conservative Jewish man, whose tallis and tefillin I wear each week, which means he is with me, in my synagogue, even today. I am a Jew married to a Jew, which means Iâ€™m one of them. And Iâ€™m an activist who fights discrimination in all forms, which means Iâ€™m one of them. I am a proponent of change yet one who wants to preserve the past.
My learning about balance came from my utter failure at facilitating the Work Group. The facilitator needed to be impartial, to lead the group without taking sides. Despite my many hats, I wanted to forge ahead with change. I wanted both Jews and those who are not Jewish but who are part of Jewish families to feel fully included in all aspects of our community. I wanted all of the young, prospective interfaith families in Chester County to flock to us, to think, â€śNow this is the kind of Conservative synagogue I want to be a part of.â€ť I wasnâ€™t particularly balanced.
What Iâ€™ve learned is that if we want to evolve as a community, we all need to be empathic toward one another. Interfaith families want more inclusion of family members who are not Jewish not because they want to water down tradition, but because they want to be more fully a part of our rich Jewish heritage. Long-timers donâ€™t resist these changes because they want interfaith families to leave, but because they have worked so hard to help the Jewish people thrive and they are afraid that change means loss. Change always means loss. But it also means gain.
Only by listening to one another and allowing ourselves to wear one anotherâ€™s hats for a moment can we truly appreciate that this change is a process of growth for us all. The reality is that we all need to be jugglersâ€”we need to understand one anotherâ€™s many motivations, question the familiar and approach one another with kindness in order to truly facilitate the evolution of our Jewish population.