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Over the three years since InterfaithFamily/Chicago began, many brides and grooms have asked me to connect them with another couple in a similar religious situation to see how they have successfully navigated their relationship. Many times a Catholic woman marrying a Jewish man has wanted to speak to someone else who can understand how her mother and grandmother feel about the faith, upbringing and baptism, specifically, of a theoretical baby one day.
No matter what wisdom I can share from how other couples have worked out interfaith issues, there is nothing like speaking one-on-one with someone who has actually been there. We have done our best to connect couples over the years and have heard back about how helpful those matches have been.
Because we have seen what an organic need this is, we are thrilled that we received a JUF Breakthrough Fund grant to launch a comprehensive and supported new, innovative Mentoring Program for interfaith couples and families.
We are just beginning the program. If you are an interfaith couple seriously dating, engaged or married or an interfaith family with young children who would like to be paired with another couple or family who shares a similar religious story and lives near you, we would be so happy to make a match for you.
The mentors will be available to you through email, phone and in-person to talk through how they handle holidays and extended family, how they made religious decisions, how their kids have felt about their familyâ€™s decisions and all the other questions that can come up for interfaith families. The mentors will also invite their mentees to their home between December and May. You may be able to get together in-person (depending on your schedules) for certain holidays or at least to see how the other couple observes a Sabbath and brings peace, time for reflection and revitalization to their lives.
We will stay in touch with everybody and make sure the matches have been successful and that participants are benefitting from their new relationships.Â This is really a shehecheyanu moment for us at InterfaithFamily (the prayer of joy and gratitude that is said upon doing something for the first time).Â In the middle of this hard-to-pronounce Hebrew word is the word â€śchaiâ€ť (life). This is a prayer about celebrating the joys of life. We have wanted to pair couples with one another in an organized program for some time and we are so proud and happy that the time has come.
InterfaithFamily/Chicago just offered a book talk on David Wolpeâ€™s book Teaching Your Children about God. In the book, Wolpe makes a couple of observations. He writes that we often sense God or something bigger than ourselves in beginnings. This is why when something new starts, we sometimes feel an urge to mark that with prayer or a ritual. He also explains that it is through Godâ€™s presence that we can truly see each other. I pray that as we start this new program that it draws people closer to one another and to sacred purpose, hope and inspiration.
If you would like to be paired with a mentor couple or you would like to serve as a mentor couple, please email Judy Jury at email@example.com. Judy is the Jewish educator who will be directing this new program. The mentors will participate in a training program on Sunday, November 9 at the Weinger Northbrook JCC to consciously articulate and think about their religious journeys and how they can best support a couple just starting out. At that meeting, the mentors will receive the contact information for who they will be working with. Mentees can be expected to be contacted by their mentors soon after that date.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Itâ€™s official: The Bachelorette, Andi Dorfman, is in an interfaith relationship. But we already knew thatâ€”the frontrunners in her quest for love were not Jewish, and Andi is (she famously acknowledged her religion when she was a contestant on The Bachelor). Interestingly, the man she chose and whose proposal she accepted, Josh Murray, was raised Christian but comes from an interfaith family. While the Jewish Week was quick to call this a Jewish match, the fact is, itâ€™s a combining of faiths, as so many relationships are. Joshâ€™s mother is Jewish and his father is not, but the family practices Christianity.
It seems faith is important in both Andi and Joshâ€™s families. Joshâ€™s younger brother, apparently, has a tattoo of a cross and a tattoo of the Star of David. Josh, 29, is from Tampa, FL, and now lives in Atlantaâ€”conveniently where Andi herself, a 27-year-old district attorney is based. From the interviews theyâ€™ve already done since last nightâ€™s season finale, we get the gist that theyâ€™re planning to wed next year, and that they plan to have a few kids. What will their wedding look like? Christian? Jewish? Neither? Because religion is important to both families, weâ€™re putting our money on an interfaith ceremony.
Last Friday night, I watched as my kids lit Shabbat candles and said the prayers at our table with my in-laws standing by. My partnerâ€™s parents are not Jewish, and I felt a deep appreciation for them in this moment. When we all met, none of us could have imagined this scene. Nearly two decades ago, I stayed at their home for the first time. My partner and I were graduate students on the East Coast and we headed west to see her folks at their ranch in central Oregon over break. Like many people, Jewish or not, they really arenâ€™t into religion at all. Here we were, a rabbinical student and a PhD candidate in religious studies. We pretty much ate, drank and breathed religion.
I wanted to be careful not to overwhelm them with Jewish talk or Jewish practice. That was tough because I was starting to observe Shabbat and other rituals for the first time. I chose carefully which ones I absolutely had to do. One of my new, favorite Shabbat rituals was baking challah. As Friday morning rolled around, it felt strange not to make it. I started to get the ingredients out, and the implications ran through my mind:
1) This kitchen is going to be really, really messy.
2) Â It would feel weird to me if we ate challah on Friday night without saying the prayer over it.Â But saying it will feel really weird too.
3) Oh noâ€¦it will feel weird to do the prayer over the bread without doing all three Shabbat blessings.Â Now itâ€™s a full ceremony and itâ€™s going to be awkward.
In the end, I did it anyway. The result? Wow, these people love challah. I know most people like it. Whatâ€™s not to like? My recipe includes eggs, flour and tons of sugar and butter which make it more like a Shabbat dessert. Itâ€™s always a crowd pleaser. But I have never seen anyone so overtaken by it. Seeing how excited her parents were and knowing how worried I was about engaging in Jewish ritual in their house, my partner made sure they knew that getting to the challah meant that there would be Jewish prayers at their table. For people who really disagree with religion as a whole, donâ€™t believe in the God we are thanking in these prayers and have no context for the foreign language being spoken at their table, this could have been a huge deal.
Itâ€™s been almost two decades, and Iâ€™m still making challah for my in-laws. Now when we visit, our kids help bake and decorate. We do the entire Shabbat ceremony consisting of all three prayers: lighting candles, saying kiddush over wine and grape juice and the motsi over the challah, my partnerâ€™s parents stand by, knowing that challah is coming.
I am greatly appreciative that my in-laws have been able to witness our familyâ€™s rituals and other religious choices. Clearly, some of these rituals have been easier to stomach than others. My mother-in-law enjoys the challah far more than she did the bris (then again, Iâ€™m with her on that one). Itâ€™s not easy when your kids choose a lifestyle so different from your own. In one sense, I credit the challah. It was one of the first moments when we came together around a Jewish custom, and unlike lots of other Jewish foods that are acquired tastes, challah was the one that could allow them to see into a completely new religious framework and even allow for it to happen at their family table. In a way, itâ€™s just bread. But â€śbreaking breadâ€ť together is also the way people from many cultures have traditionally and symbolically expressed that they can cross a difficult boundary. So maybe itâ€™s no accident that this openness was instigated by a couple of loaves of home-baked bread. But at a deeper level, I credit my in-laws for demonstrating incredible openness to new ideas and most of all, for embracing us. That, and helping me clean the kitchen.
Sweet Egg Bread (Challah)Â
5-6 cups of flour
A few weeks ago, InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia hosted our first gathering for young adults from interfaith homes and those who are in interfaith relationships: Love, Religion & Cockatils. We were fortunate enough to work with The Jewish Collaborative, a local organization that works with people in their 20s and 30s. In addition, our programming committee was terrific in coming up with the right type of program and the appropriate language for the marketing materials. Lots of organizations have mixers or programs, but this event was a little bit of both. It was an amazing night!
Drinks and appetizers: Everyone was given two drink tickets and there was a table with appetizers so that everyone could snack and mingle. We wanted everyone to have a chance to engage in casual conversation before we broke up into two groups. We served the â€śLove & Religionâ€ť as our signature cocktail. Weâ€™re pretty sure our participants enjoyed our special concoction.
A unique format: We wanted people to talk casually about their experiences and to connect with one another. The programming committee thought that the best way to achieve this would be to ask lighthearted questions such as, â€śWhat is your favorite holiday movie and why?â€ť We hoped participants would explain their points of view as to why they liked certain movies, thus sparking conversation about issues such as how childhood memories inform our identity. We know that for many people, there is a lot of passion about their religion that has to do with memories. We asked other fun questions such as â€śIf you described your family as a food, what would it be?â€ť We heard, â€śa pizza bagel,â€ť â€śa potato latke.â€ť The answers were fun and touched upon the backgrounds of each person. One person talked about feelings associated with a Christmas tree. Another person talked about family meals and holidays.
During our conversations, we heard the most fascinating stories. One woman who grew up in America went to Israel and is now engaged to a Muslim from Sudan. Another woman told us about growing up in a Jewish/Puerto Rican household. One of the couples talked about how the rabbi at their wedding was so wonderful and welcoming that the partner who did not grow up Jewish is now considering converting.
A measure of success: we handed out short evaluations and all data indicated that everyone seemed quite happy with the program. The real measure of success in my mind was that people stayed for an hour after the event ended to talk to one another and our staff. Obviously, there is a real need for a forum for folks to connect and share their stories. Iâ€™m proud that IFF/Philadelphia offered that space for them and Iâ€™m pleased to be part of an organization that offers a safe space for people to share and communicate online and in person.
Would you like to attend Love, Religion and Cocktails in the future in Philadelphia or elsewhere? Share your comments and ideas below.
Iâ€™ve always been a bit of an overachieverâ€”someone who takes on one too many things. In college it was double-majoring, studying abroad and captaining the crew team. In my professional life, in addition to my job, I publish articles and stories in my free time, read non-stop and blog about the books, fiercely dedicate an hour on most days of the week to the gym and cook as many of my own meals as possible. Not to mention making time for friends and family.
But this year is different. As we near the very early High Holy Days, just a mere three weeks away, I find myself already reflecting on the year behind me and the year to come. That’s because itâ€™s been a special yearâ€”one in which I fell in love with a very special person who has interrupted my â€śplow throughâ€ť model of living and captured not only my attention, but my time.
I donâ€™t know about you, but time is probably the number one thing that stresses me out. There are only so many hours in a day, and I plan on sleeping for at least eight of them. So when youâ€™re already feeling like you canâ€™t do it all, how do open up your life to fit someone else in?
You want to, so you just do it; thatâ€™s how. And in doing so, I have found myself spending a greater percentage of my time on things like cooking dinner (my boyfriend is a great cook, but that means we spend more time preparing delicious meals together than I would alone), taking weekend road trips without my laptop, making plans with twice as many friends and family members (his and mine) and generally spending more time enjoying life.
I also find myself reflecting on our time together. Being in the moment. Feeling gratitude. Sharing it with those around me. As long as Iâ€™m still doing the things that are important to my daily wellbeing (cooking healthy food, going to Pilates), I find that the other, more stressful items on my professional to-do list still get done, but with less energy spent worrying over them.
I donâ€™t believe many of us are meant to multi-task (or at least thatâ€™s what my neurologist father tells me). I believe I get more done when Iâ€™m busy, but I also find I have more creative space in my mind when I break up my schedule every now and then with a day at the beach, a day at home, an evening with friends or family.
My resolution for next year is to continue on my journey toward the appreciation of time. I hope to accept it, rather than fighting it. (Guess who will win?) I resolve to enjoy my glass of wine or my company and not think about the blog I could be writing or the looming article deadline. Call that long-distance friend who I donâ€™t see nearly enough. Try not to look at the clock during a class at the gym, thinking about all the things I need to do before tomorrow; but get the most out of what Iâ€™m doing at that moment for my mind and body.
This holiday season, I will be surrounded by my boyfriendâ€™s family membersâ€”some Iâ€™ll be meeting for the first time. And heâ€™ll be surrounded by mine. Iâ€™m thankful for the new people in our lives who will be sharing their time with us now and in the year ahead.
What are you thankful for this year?
Looking for helpful High Holiday how-to’s? Try our booklet.Â
As the new managing editor at InterfaithFamily, I want our blog to be a place where our readers can find out about the â€śinterfaith conversationâ€ť thatâ€™s happening when it happens in the Jewish and secular media. Yesterday, 21-year-old Rachel Cohen wrote an informed piece on The Daily Beast, â€śWhy Jews Should Stop Worrying About Intermarriage,â€ť challenging Jewish communal leaders to essentially, be less offensive. She speaks to the inclusion we at IFF are working toward much more succinctly than I could, and she speaks directly for her generation:
Cohen is getting clear messages from the Jewish community. But theyâ€™re not the ones she wants to hear: We support you, as long as you marry another Jew.
Interfaith marriage is not the problem, as Cohen sees it. Alienating Americaâ€™s Jewish youth from Jewish communal life is.
Read her whole essay here.