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I have a confession to make: For a while now, Iâ€™ve been pretty anti-Jewish prayer. I know that may sound startling coming from a rabbi. But Iâ€™ve kind of been dreading Friday night services lately. All that rote Hebrew that many people arenâ€™t following and donâ€™t understand what theyâ€™re saying. Now that Iâ€™ve been working with interfaith families, I am especially aware of the barrier that Hebrew creates and have wondered about all different ways to get over that wall. Many in the Jewish world think that some of our prayers (especially ones that have the words â€śvâ€™tzivanu,â€ť like the Shabbat candle blessings) can only be said by Jews and this poses other problems for those in our families who want to join in and are not sure where they fit.
Friday night services can have highs and music definitely helps get into the mood of the often universal and timeless themes in the liturgy. Sometimes itâ€™s nice to just be with others and feel a sense of camaraderie, joint mission and shared purpose. Itâ€™s good to put my phone away for an hour and move at a different pace. Taking a deep breath, being in a beautiful space and hearing words from our tradition can be good for the soul. But, actual liturgy or communal prayer has been my nemesis for a while. Â
In fact, I was wondering if we could start a congregation with no prayer. There would be no Friday night or Saturday morning â€śservices.â€ť We would come together when we were up for it and looking forward to it for experiences of meaning. A bar or bat mitzvah service could involve a few major words of our faith tradition like the Shema or our Kaddish because a couple of prayers are transcendent. Their sound and their words are wholly evocative and needed. But, the core of the life cycle event would be to read from the sacred Torah scroll, to interpret the ancient text, to share who this child is at this moment and to celebrate a coming of age. To say words that feel compelling, engaging, inspiring and relevant. This is what has been going on in my heart and mind lately.
And then I was invited by A Wider Bridge to help lead Friday night worship at the Creating Change Conference in Chicago. I was invited because InterfaithFamily/Chicago works for inclusion and our mission aligns with the mission of this massive conference. I was invited because I am a proud ally for LGBTQ people within the Jewish world and non-profits in this realm.Â I was honored to help plan a service with Rabbi Shoshana Conover from Temple Sholom and Judith Golden from Congregation Or Chadash. But all did not go smoothly, and you can read multiple news stories about the drama and trauma that happened that night at the conference. I am still not sure what to do when you find that you agree with a group on so many grounds but have a major schism of belief in an area that is fundamental to your world view. But, the political pieces aside, I have to report that something happened to me in that service.
There was no guitar. Judith sang with emotion and feeling and it was participatory. I. Was. Moved. I felt it. I think other people in the room felt it (and maybe thatâ€™s why we, the prayer leaders, felt it). We sang for purpose. We sang for freedom. We prayed for help from the Source above. We were in the moment. We werenâ€™t thinking about what we need at the grocery store. We were there together. A new group. People from all over the world and from all different backgrounds. Pluralistic. Egalitarian. The beat was contagious. Clapping and moving, smiles and swaying. Maybe because each of the prayer leaders desperately, and with all of our hearts and souls, wanted every person in that room to feel supported and part of it and included and lovedâ€”the vibe went out and it reverberated back.
I got my prayer mojo back. Now, how to keep it?
I had a few takeaways from this experience, and hereâ€™s what I suggest might make prayer more meaningful for me and possibly others:
Thank you Creating Change for reminding me that I love to pray with other people.Â I’m sorry there was so much tumult. I’m sorry there was so much pain. I pray we will all know peace.
I just saw the play Marjorie Prime written by Jordan Harrison and directed by Kimberly Senior at Writerâ€™s Theatre in Glencoe, IL. The premise of the play is that it’s the age of artificial intelligence, but 86-year-old Marjorie is worried that her memory may be fading. That is until the appearance of Walter, a mysterious and charming young visitor programmed to help Marjorie uncover the intricacies of her own past. As Walter’s true nature is revealed, new levels of complexity emerge, leading to profound questions about the limits of technology and whether memory might be a purely human invention. Walter is a Primeâ€”a robot of sorts who can act like Siri times a million. He is sort of like a person and the lines between robot and human are blurred.
Certainly writers and thinkers from Kurt Vonnegut to present day Martine Rothblatt have been wondering about these same questions. I recently heard a report on NPR which details how cars are going to become â€śsmarter and smarter.â€ť In the years to come, our refrigerators will be able to sense when we need milk and that will alert the grocery delivery service to bring it over. The lines between thinking and computing will be hazy. Much of our lives will be able to be automated. Ordering food, house cleaning and driving cars could all be automatic. They will not involve us having to think, plan work or do.
So, where does this leave religion? Being a rabbi is one job that I donâ€™t think can be automated. When I sit with a couple to talk about their families, how they were raised and whatâ€™s important to them, we need to see each other and sense each other. Emails, Facetime and following each other on Facebook definitely fills in gaps and builds rapport quicker than before these technologies were used. It helps me get to know couples and get a sense for their vibe and their style, but nothing replaces one-on-one time together.
Marking lifecycle moments from the promises and hopes two committed adults share in front of their family and friends to the arrival of a baby, to honoring someoneâ€™s life at the time of their death, or studying with someone and helping them to ritually announce that they want to identify and live as a Jew: These are times that we need to be in person. With that said, there have been dozens of times during these events when someone has set up an iPad with Skype so that an elderly grandparent or a friend far away can â€śbeâ€ť there with us.
There is a power in gatherings. Joining your voice with others, knowing that those standing with you share something important is the precious part of community. Judaism is about the senses: itâ€™s about holding, seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling and tasting. You can get an app for sounding the shofar or lighting a virtual menorah but there is nothing like seeing the flickering flame in a window with the dark night behind it. There is no other noise like the alarm of the ramâ€™s horn during the long blast marking the end of an epic day of prayer.
So, while I cannot wait to see what phones, cars and refrigerators will be like in the next five or so years, I donâ€™t think weâ€™ll ever be able to replace the moments of humanity when we need one another to be close. I don’t think a Prime or any version of Siri will replace humans coming together to try to organize, mark, find meaning in and celebrate life…do you?
It was just over a year ago that my partner, Mercy, and I were dreaming and praying as we co-created a vision board for the year 2015. Vision boards are one of my favorite ways to create sacred art; a display of what I want to manifest in my life in the coming year. After journaling and sharing our wishes with each other, Mercy and I glued pictures, colors, words and shapes that represented our hopes and dreams for the coming year onto a big white board. This process allowed me to surrender my wants over to the universe and open myself to the organic unfolding of my life.
My job and her schooling were coming to a close, and I was getting anxious about what would happen next. At the time, I was working as the interim Hillel Director at Vassar College and Mercy was completing her graduate program; we were gearing up for our next adventure together. There were so many unknownsâ€”where would we get work? Could we both find jobs in the same city? What if only one of us found a job? Would we be able to find fulfilling work that paid a decent salary? How do we know if we should apply for jobs that we find to be less exciting? It was a very stressful time for both of us.
The combined images on our board served as a constant reminder of our dreaming process and kept us focused on our hopes for our next jobs. We wanted to live in a warm climate, walking distance to nature, with farmerâ€™s markets and bike paths. We wanted jobs that were spiritually fulfilling, close to home and that offered good health insurance. Affordable housing was important, and a progressive queer community was a must.
After months of searching, interviewing, traveling, rejection letters, job offers, tears and a ton of prayers, our visions finally came to life!
We moved into a tiny apartment in Virginia Highland, GA, this summer, just a block and a half from the entrance to the Beltline and a short walk to Piedmont Park. We have found spiritually nourishing communities, beautiful hiking trails and delight in the Tiny Doors Project.
And, most important, I found the job of my dreams!! I love the work that I do at IFF. Itâ€™s one of those jobs where it doesnâ€™t feel like work, and every day is full of exciting adventures and creative opportunities.
I am blessed to serve as a resource and guide for folks in interfaith families and relationships as the Director of IFF/Atlanta. I am honored to support and empower them as they make Jewish choices, meeting them where they are at in their lives and decision-making processes. Officiating at lifecycle events has been truly life affirming. As I work with Jewish organizations to become more welcoming and inclusive, I have found some incredibly supportive community partners!
And, I am thrilled to announce that we have just signed the lease to our new office space in Ponce City Market!! What a gift to have found a space that is a 10-minute walk from my home in the center of town.
While our office itself is quite small, just large enough for four comfy chairs and an end table, it is perfect for intimate conversations with couples, meetings with my fabulous project manager, Laurel Snyder, and catching up on emails. But, the best part is that we have access to so many incredibly funky spaces and conference rooms. Thereâ€™s a meditation room, complete with pillow rocks (yes, big pillows that look like rocks) and a cozy space for intimate yoga classes and grounding meditation sessions. We are also looking forward to taking advantage of the indoor picnic table areaâ€”a perfect spot for catered meals, book groups and conversations. Lastly, we are already planning Love and Religion workshops and movie nights in the hidden party lounge.Â With a big, long couch, silky pillows and a popcorn machine, it feels like the inside of Jeannieâ€™s bottle!!
To celebrate, we are hosting a fabulous Hannukat Habayit: a festive Housewarming Party, on Sunday, January 10, from 2-4pm. The entire community is invited (get more info here) to help us bless and toast our new home at Ponce City Market, and hang our mezuzah from Modern Tribe!Â We will be enjoying live music by the Pussy Willows, provided by the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, and will serve refreshments from the award-winning chefs of the Ponce City Market.
Working as the director for InterfaithFamily/Atlanta has been beyond my wildest dreams. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in a dynamic and diverse city. Living and exploring in Atlanta has been a true gift.
As 2015 draws to a close, Mercy and I are preparing to create our 2016 vision board. In preparation, we created a blessings jarâ€”a spiritual â€śthank youâ€ť container, acknowledging the Divine for the many gifts we have received. On colorful slips of paper, we are reflecting upon 2015 and sharing our deep gratitude for: our adorable apartment, our incredibly awesome jobs, our spiritual teachers, health insurance, bike paths, healthy colons, colorful dreidel spandex, etc.
Next week, during the winter solstice, we will, once again, journal and share our wishes with each other and then glue pictures, colors, words and shapes that represent our hopes and dreams for the coming year onto a big white board. Iâ€™m curious to see what 2016 brings.
When I think back to where I first experienced my love of Judaism, I remember instantly my many summers at Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, Indiana. Camp was my first experience of celebrating Shabbat with friends (I can still smell the fried chicken and the Shabbat candles), of singing songs in Hebrew at the top of my lungs at song session, and of guitar strings gently strumming during Debbie Friedmanâ€™s version of the Vâ€™ahatva prayer at evening services.
Iâ€™ll admit it, I was bit of a nerd: I loved our daily Jewish educational programs, our evening and Shabbat services written by the campers, and the fact that every building and every item on our daily schedule was called by its Hebrew name. In college, my co-counselors and I were responsible for coming up with creative ways to teach Judaism to our campers. Thanks to that preparation, whenever I am asked to teach now, I try to think about what would make the session engaging and interactive for participants.
As a rabbi and Jewish educator, when I think back to what made camp so influential for me, it was the notion that Judaism and Jewish practice could and should be something meaningfulâ€”Jewish learning could and should be accessible and fun. It seems simple, but it is really quite profound. And to this day, I credit my experience of camp for instilling in me these values and the charge to make Judaism creative, meaningful and accessible for all I teach.
When people ask me what kind of rabbi I am, I almost always say Iâ€™m a community rabbi. I was ordained at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, a transdenominational program in Newton, MA (right near the InterfaithFamily headquarters!). And when people ask me what transdenominational means, I tell people about my own family (and I find this resonates for many other families as well): Weâ€™ve got a very wide range of Jewish involvement from secular, Orthodox, American, Israeli, Humanistic, Conservative and Reform members of the family. Weâ€™ve got family members who have converted and some who have not, and many of my family members are intermarried or are in interfaith relationships.
When I realized that my diverse family was a microcosm of the Jewish community, I began to see the reality of the Jewish community as a beautiful, multifaceted, sometimes challenging whole, and I wanted to be in a position that would allow me serve as much of the community as possible.
I am thrilled to have stepped into the role of director to launch InterfaithFamily/DC this summer. I am grateful to be serving the DC, MD and VA communities where I have the opportunity to work with community partners, be a resource to other clergy and can help connect interfaith couples and families with the Jewish community. I look forward to meeting you, working together and building community here in the Greater DC area.
Please be in touch with me via email, the IFF/DC Facebook group (coming soon!) or at one of our upcoming events over Rosh Hashanah! Join me and the Jewish Food Experience at a Sephardic Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner at the Heights on Sunday September 13 or come and help us decorate the InterfaithFamily/DC sukkah at the SukkahVillage at the JCC of Greater Washington on Sunday September 27.
Warmest wishes to you and your family for a Shanah Tova uâ€™Metukahâ€”a happy healthy and sweet new year!
-Rabbi Sarah Tasman
My Grandma Harriet died a few weeks ago, at the age of 95. She was beautiful, creative and could expertly apply her lipstick without a mirror. She was my favorite hug. She cooked up the yummiest tuna noodle casseroles and the tastiest matzah ball soup. She lived a long life full of family simchas (celebrations), fancy dinners out with my grandfather and travelling around the world. When I got the call that she passed away, I was sad, but grateful that she lived a long, rich life.
A week later, I found out that my colleagueâ€™s wife was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 37.Â N was vibrant, involved in the wider Jewish community and the mother of three kids. She was passionate about education and inclusivity. My heart broke when I read the news of her unexpected passing.
Death confounds me. After these losses, my theology was shaken up, once again. Why was my grandmother blessed with a sweet long life when people like N are tragically taken away from us so suddenly? How is it determined: Who shall live and who shall die?
We are moving into the High Holiday season in the Jewish calendar. The Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are a time of contemplation, reflection and spiritual awakening. The Shofar is sounded to pull us out of our sleepy routines and open our hearts. It is a time to deeply connect with ourselves. And it is a time to face our own mortality. In the “U-netaneh Tokef” prayer, it is sung, “Who shall live on and who shall die.”
As a kid, I was taught that on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), we are either written in the book of Life or the Book of Death. And on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), our fates are sealed. Like many children, I pictured Gd as an old man in the sky, who looked exactly like Moses with a long white beard and a cane. My personified Gd lived above the clouds and wrote two lists each year: those who would live and those who would die. And I worked hard to be my best self so that I wouldnâ€™t be added to that dreaded death list.
I have outgrown my childhood theology. It doesnâ€™t serve me anymore. This simplistic theology that only the good are rewarded with long life contradicts with my understanding of the world.
I don’t know why people die when we do. I don’t understand why my grandmother got to live a long healthy life while N was taken from us too soon. I continue to grapple with death. The answers to this are bigger than me and beyond my comprehension.
What I do know is that the Gd of my understanding provides me comfort in the midst of uncertainty. I can lean on The-Abundant-One when I feel scared, lost and sad. When my grandmother passed away, I felt held by a nurturing presence. I experience Gd working through my community as they surround me and my family with love. When I learned of Nâ€™s death, I cried out to the Mystery. It felt unfair and unjust! My heart cracked open and I felt a deep pain. And yet, I experienced a sense of awe at the outpouring of support and strength from the wider community. The way in which she has been memorialized in countless stories is breathtaking. To me, that is Gd.
Today, I understand the “U-netaneh Tokef” prayer to be about surrender. We are not in control. These words are a reminder of the cycle of life and death. How can I honor the ways in which death is always present? What legacies will live on? What old habits will die? This year, as I sing the line, “Who shall live and who shall die,” I will be reminded of my own mortality and how I choose to live my life this year.
By the IFF/Philadelphia Team: Robyn, Wendy and Robin
Challah is the yummy braided bread with which many Jews begin Shabbat dinner. For those who grew up Jewish, the smell and taste of challah often invokes fond memories of family meals.Â For those who didnâ€™t grow up Jewish (along with those who did), including challah with your Friday night dinner can be a fun and easy way to bring Judaism into your home.
In the Greater Philadelphia area, there are many grocery stores and bakeries where you can buy a delicious challah. But the best challot (plural for challah) are those that you make yourselfâ€”the ones you can smell baking in the oven and taste while theyâ€™re still warm. Theyâ€™re the ones that may not be braided perfectly, but are made with lots of love.
Our staff in the Philadelphia office of InterfaithFamily heard from a lot of people that they wanted to learn how to make challah. And when our people ask for something, we want to deliver (or should we say â€śriseâ€ť to the occasion)!Â First, we arranged for â€śChallah and Conversationâ€ť to meet at Robyn Frischâ€™s house on a Thursday evening (so that everyone could have their challah for dinner the following evening). Next, we needed to decide what challah recipe to use.Â So, one morning the three of us got together for a little bake-off. We tried out a few recipes, and ended up deciding on a recipe that was a combination of different ones we had used.
Then Wendy went shoppingâ€¦ and after buying 30 bowls, 30 measuring spoons, eight packages of bread flour, yeast, salt, sugar, eggs and vegetable oil to make the challot (along with wine, cheese and snacks for the â€śConversationâ€ť part of the evening)â€¦ we were ready!
â€śChallah and Conversationâ€ť was a great success. Everyone learned how to proof their yeast, knead their dough and then punch it down before they braided it. In between the kneading and the punchingâ€”while the dough was having its â€śfirst riseâ€ťâ€”we had time to learn about Friday night Shabbat rituals in general, and challah in particular.Â For example, have you ever wondered why challah is braided? Why itâ€™s traditional to use two challot on Friday evening? Or why the challah is covered with a cloth? The â€śChallah and Conversationâ€ť attendees now know the answers to these questions and many more!
Many people have told us that they want to make their own challah but theyâ€™ve never baked bread before and theyâ€™re afraid theyâ€™ll mess up. Theyâ€™re scared of words like â€śproofing,â€ť â€śkneadingâ€ť and â€śpunchingâ€ť when it comes to baking.Â We promise you that once you make challah with us, you wonâ€™t be scared. The result will be delicious, and your family and friends will be impressed!Â So keep an eye out for our upcoming â€śChallah and Conversationâ€ť programs and come join us for one of them.
And by the way, you donâ€™t have to worry if you have challah left over after your Shabbat meal.Â It makes delicious French toast!
Read on for Ruth Schapira, IFF/Philadelphia Advisory Council Memberâ€™s account of the evening, and then get our not-so-secret recipe!
Scoop, beat, pour, and mixâ€”then knead, fold, knead, fold. It’s the methodical way that you’d make a dough for challah, and the process itself seems quite mechanical, if you were doing it alone in your own kitchen.
But making challah with 20 people in someone’s home is quite a different experience, and creating challah with people who are doing it for the first time is exhilarating. The program, sponsored by IFF/Philadelphia and held in the Director’s home, attracted a demographic that would be the envy of any Jewish outreach movement. Four young millennial-aged couples attended, with a smattering of some young singles, older folks and a mom with her two kidsâ€”their common interest was in â€śdoing Jewish.â€ť That was the foundation upon which connections were built among those who shared Shabbat stories along with flour and measuring cups that were set aside at stations, like in some amazing challah bake-off on a Jewish Food Network show.
The event was called â€śChallah and Conversationâ€ť and by the end of the night, there was plenty of both. The environment was open, accepting and casual which allowed participants to feel comfortable asking about the many beautiful and significant rituals surrounding Shabbat. There was curiosity about egg-checking (for kashrut), traditions for candle-lighting, the custom some choose to follow for â€śtaking challah,â€ť and questions like: Why do some people tear the challah and not slice it with a knife? Why is salt sprinkled on it? Why is the challah covered? What is the â€śParent’s Prayerâ€ť?
The most outstanding experience from the evening was not the beautifully braided specimens in personal aluminum baking dishes, ready to be baked that everyone was taking home. Nor was it that everyone would get to savor the experience all over again when that unmistakable luscious challah smell filled their homes the next night before the Sabbath. What was undeniably special was that people came together in the true spirit of learning and community, and shared an experience that brought them that much closer to Judaism, and that much closer to one another.
Here is the challah recipe we ended up using:
1. Dissolve package of yeast in Â˝ cup lukewarm water and let sit for 5 minutes.Â (This is how you â€śproofâ€ť the dough.)
2. Measure the flour into the bowl. Make a well.
3. Pour the yeast mixture into the well and let stand 5 minutes.
4. Blend in the salt and sugar.
5. Combine two eggs, oil and remaining ÂĽ cup water and mix together.
6. Add the liquid mixture to the flour and stir until flour is moistened.
7. Turn out onto a well-floured board using flour to dust the board and your hands.Â Use up to another cup of flour to handle the dough. Knead by hand until smooth. Let rise on the boardÂ (you can cover with dish towel) about 1Â˝ hours or until doubled in bulk.
8. Punch dough down and divide into three sections and braid.
9. Cover and let rise at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while the dough is rising.
10. Brush with beaten egg mixed with a few drops of water and, if you want, sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds or cinnamon.
11. Bake on middle rack of oven at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes (ovens heat differentlyâ€”bake until light brown).
In Marc Maronâ€™s recent podcast â€śWTF,â€ť he interviews Jason Segel (of How I Met Your Mother fame) at length and touches on his interfaith upbringing early on. (The interview itself begins at 14 minutes in, and the conversation turns to religion at about 15 Â˝ minutes.)
Segelâ€™s father is Christian and his mother is Jewish, and he tells Maron, â€śNeither of them are religious. So they made this decision that they were going to let me decide, which is like the dumbest thing you can do for a kid. Because you donâ€™t really care [at that age].â€ť
He goes on to say, â€śAt Christian school youâ€™re the JewishÂ kid and at HebrewÂ school youâ€™re the ChristianÂ kid. I think thatâ€™s the nature of groups.â€ť
Itâ€™s not surprising that Haaretz picked up on the message that being a â€śhalf-Jewâ€ť (their words, not oursâ€”we do not promote this term) equaled â€śoutsiderâ€ť for Segel. Being brought up with two religions does not work for everyone, and perhaps having parents who Segel did not consider religious themselves, he didn’t haveÂ the necessary context for religion at home that is necessary to form a religious identity.
Susan Katz Miller takes issue with Haartezâ€™s framing of the interview: â€śClearly, by leading with this idea [of interfaith equals outsider], the intent was to use Segelâ€™s story as a cautionary tale, warning parents away from dual-faith education, or from interfaith marriage in general.â€ť
The argument that raising children in an interfaith family can lead to them not identifying as Jewish is nothing new. AndÂ Katz Miller makes some good points in response to this assertion, including:
â€śYes, it is essential for interfaith children to have support for integrating two (or more) cultures in their families, rather than bouncing back and forth between two separate religious worlds.”
Katz Miller touches on the danger in simply being dropped into two different religious institutions without enough context at home or awareness withinÂ the religious institutions themselves about interfaith families. We donâ€™t know exactly what Segelâ€™s religious life was like at home, but it sounds like there might not have been much reinforcement of what he was learning outside the home. At InterfaithFamily, we try to educate parents and offer many ways to boost their knowledge of Judaism and how to do Jewish at home, so that a child has a framework for what they are learning and why itâ€™s important to their family. And we work to help Jewish organizations create a welcoming environment where kids will feel they belong–regardless of their background.
I am the outlier in my family. The youngest of five, the only musician, the one who loved Sunday school and the only one to marry a Jewish partner. Growing up my mother said she wanted me to marry a â€śnice Jewish manâ€ť so that I could have a â€śnice Jewish last nameâ€ťâ€”apparently my maiden name, Cummings, didnâ€™t sound Jewish enough to my mother, Froma. I know she was joking (mostly) and that having the last name â€śSteinâ€ť is secondary to the man I married and the relationship weâ€™ve built. What neither of us knew was that because Jason was not raised as a liberal Jew like I was, a large part of our relationship deals with navigating our different Jewish backgrounds as we build a Jewish home with our children.
My mother was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household and my father had converted to Judaism when he married his late (first) wife years before I was born. Though we were steeped in Judaism, by the time I was born, my familyâ€™s Jewish observance had changed significantly. I have vivid memories of singing â€śapples and honey for a sweet new yearâ€ť at Rosh Hashanah dinner in our living room and Passover seders at my cousinsâ€™ house, but very few memories of attending services or programs at synagogue. It was a moment in synagogue, however, that left a deep impact on my life and ultimately led me to pursue the rabbinate.
I was 6 or 7 years old and my mother took me on a trip for work. When we arrived back in town we happened to be near the synagogue and decided to go in for Friday night Shabbat services. Dressed in jeans, I was embarrassed that we would stand out and people would shame us. We went in anyway, and about halfway through the service I fell asleep on her lap. When I awoke at the end of the service, the rabbiâ€™s tallit was draped around me like a blanket and I quickly realized that Rabbi Herring had taken it off his own back and offered it to me. I understand this gesture even more deeply now that I am a rabbi and know the significance of my own tallit, and the meaning it brings me when I use it to bless couples at their weddings, and babies and families at birth ceremonies.
We entered that room embarrassed and anxious that we would be turned away, but instead we were welcomed with open arms and kindness. This is how I view the Jewish community today: inviting, engaging, kind and open.
I attended Willamette University, a small liberal arts college in Oregon with roots in the Methodist Church. As one of only of seven Jewish students in the entire undergraduate student body, I was often the first Jewish person most people there had met. I was asked several times if I had horns. I was proselytized. I thought about transferring to a university with more Jewish students. After a lot of consideration I chose to stay at Willamette and to seek out a larger Jewish community for support. I learned that the people around me who were not Jewish strengthened my own Jewish life. By having to reflect on my own understanding of Judaism, I learned why certain things about being Jewish matter to me.
In college, I was the Jewish representative whether I liked it or not, and this experience is what led me to become a Jewish professional. I love thinking deeply about what Judaism means for people and how it is represented in our lives and in the world. I love being a resource, a reference and a trusted advisor to my friends, family and community.
Two of my sisters are married to men who are not Jewish and each of them has two children. I understand that religion is not a cut and dry issue for their families and I love being able to help them navigate religious life for their children. It brings me joy to answer questions like, â€śDoes an English muffin count as bread on Passover?â€ť and â€śWere Moses and Jesus friends?â€ť
I came to L.A. in 2010 to attend rabbinical school at the Hebrew Union College and Iâ€™ve worked all over townâ€”at UCLA Hospital in Westwood, at St. Johnâ€™s hospital in Santa Monica, at OUR House Center for Grief Support at the 405 and Sawtelle, and at various synagogues in the Valley. There were days that I spent three hours driving through town commuting to work and back home in Pasadena. I love that each neighborhood in L.A. has its own personality and its own needs. I know that there are areas with concentrated Orthodox Jewish population around L.A., but there are not areas with concentrated liberal, secular, and interfaith Jewish families. This makes finding community that much more difficult, and my work important and challenging. I hope that we can gather people together in community for fun, inclusive events. I hope you will join me in celebrating Jewish holidays at CiclaVia, learning about the issues facing Jewish families at a local hangout, playing with our babies at the park, and playing with our friends at the Hollywood Bowl.
I look forward to working with IFF to continue this important work of engaging people in community and helping people experience Judaism without the pain of closed doors, but rather with the kindness of a welcoming Jewish community.
I wasnâ€™t always into Judaism and my journey to become a rabbi was not typical. While I grew up steeped in Jewish tradition and community, I spent my twenties rejecting the religion of my childhood.Â I grew up in the Conservative Jewish movement in Schenectady, New York and to me, Judaism felt homophobic, misogynistic and exclusive. The traditional teachings and practices didnâ€™t seem relevant to me. I was out as a lesbian, I was a feminist and my partner at the time was Christian. I did not feel welcome.
It was while praying, singing and dancing at ecstatic prayer services in Berkeley, California, that I experienced a passionate connection with a Higher Power and felt the spiritual calling to become a rabbi. I knew then that I wanted to share the beauty, traditions and deep spirituality of Judaism and help others to connect with the Holy.
Some of my friends did not feel welcome, either. I was pained every time my Jewish friends married their partners of other faiths. NOT because they were committing to their sweeties who were not Jewish, but rather because they felt rejected by so many Jewish clergy. It was disheartening to watch them struggle as they tried to find someone willing to officiate at their interfaith weddings. Many times this rejection was coupled with the fact that members of their own families were judgmental of their choice of partners.
Through my discovery of inclusive, queer and spiritual Jewish communities in the Bay Area, I reconnected with my Jewish heritage. While working as an educator for over a decade, my relationship with the God of my understanding deepened. I practiced yoga, meditated daily and eventually joined a welcoming synagogue. After several years, I felt compelled to immerse myself in Jewish studies and to join the tradition of God wrestling as a Morat Haderech (spiritual guide).
Today, inclusion is at the heart of my rabbinate. My passion is creating inspiring and relevant rituals and ceremonies and invigorating Jewish practices. As I teach, I empower people to make choices that feel authentic and meaningful to them. I am honored to officiate at interfaith weddings and to guide couples as they navigate their journeys together.
I am thrilled to serve as the new director of InterfaithFamily/Atlanta!!Â After living in Virginia Highland for only a few weeks, I am already fully enjoying all that Atlanta has to offer including the beltline, Piedmont Park, weekly festivals and that sweet southern hospitality!Â I am looking forward to partnering with local organizations, connecting with people in interfaith families and relationships, and now that all marriage is legal, I canâ€™t wait to officiate at legal local weddings!
Please be in touch!! I am always available by email to answer questions or discuss anything interfaith. Also, we have a local Facebook group and are in the planning stages for lots of workshops and resources for different life stages and events. Let me know if you would like more info or have any ideas about how we can make InterfaithFamily/Atlanta thrive.
Iâ€™m looking forward to meeting you.
I went to a small Episcopalian school in the heart of the South. It was a very homogeneous Protestant community (but not without some Jews as well) with a distinguished Southern heritage that included some families that even had family crests. The graduating class had 65 kids. Fifteen of us were Jewish.
I recently attended my 30th reunion and connected with people whom I hadnâ€™t spoken to (or even thought of) in years. In a school that small, we were all pretty good friends and it was a lot more fun than I anticipated. It warmed my heart to know that people who I have barely kept in touch with are doing well in their lives and it was fun to catch up. Several people asked where I worked and I mentioned that I worked for an organization that assists interfaith couples and families where one of the partners is Jewishâ€”what a conversation starter!
My friend Robert was first. He mentioned that his wife was Jewish. He told me that when they got engaged, she asked if he was surprised that he was marrying a Jewish girl. His response was â€śNo. I knew a lot of Jewish kids and so I am very comfortable around Jewish people. What really surprises me is that I am a Southern boy marrying a girl from New Jersey!â€ť
My friend Jason was next. Jason and I reconnected a few years back. Our conversation was a bit different. He casually mentioned that his daughter was named Aviva (a name that is typically Jewish or Israeli), and since he is not Jewish, that was my first clue. We were chatting and he said he was a bit disappointed that he was missing the vote for his synagogueâ€™s new rabbi. I said â€śOh, are you not allowed to vote on synagogue issues?â€ť His response: â€śNope, I canâ€™t vote because I am out of town and the vote is tomorrow morning!â€ť
Then there was Ashley. Ashley lives in New York. We spoke for a few minutes before she mentioned that she had converted. I said â€śconverted to what?â€ť She laughed, â€śto Judaism!â€ť It took me a few seconds to process that the Jewish population from my Southern school was increasing! Then she mentioned that most people are really nice about welcoming her into the Jewish community. But just last week, she was at a gathering and an 8-year-old relative of her husbandâ€™s asked if she was Jewish. The parents and family members were mortified but everyone quickly responded with a resounding â€śof course!â€ť
It is mind-blowing to think that some of my Christian friends from my high school class are raising Jewish kids. I wonder if our group of Jewish kids were ambassadors in some way but didnâ€™t realize it. We introduced the Christian members of our class to Judaism and fun bar mitzvah parties. Still, I wouldâ€™ve never guessed how our 30th reunion would pan out.
Though I have to say, I am not so surprised that one of my Southern Christian friends from my class married someone from New Jersey!