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.
âBen Zoma asks, âWho is worthy of honor?
The one who treats others with honor.ââ Pirkei Avot (4:1)
My wife and I are always reminding our children that there is nothing more important than being kind. Hearing the âmean talkâ of childrenâs taunts or playground mishapsâwhich of course happens everywhereâmakes our ears perk up. Mess up on your homework, that can be resolved pretty quickly, but if you treat another person with disrespect, the consequences can be devastating.
The Hebrew word for respect is kavod. It is also translated as honor, dignity, and even glory. KavodÂ is a cherished word in Judaism. The Hebrew root of the word, (KVD) likens itself to weight, importance and abundance. Simply stated, kavodÂ is not something to be taken lightly. It is all about how one treats their fellow person. This is ascribed an indisputable holiness that is essential in Jewish philosophy. Right in the heart of the Torah, we are instructed to âlove your neighbor as yourselfâ (Leviticus 19:18).
A psychologist studying the aftermath of a Golden Gate Bridge jumper in 2003 said, âI went to this guyâs apartment afterward with the assistant medical examiner. The guy was in his thirties, lived alone, pretty bare apartment. Heâd written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, âIâm going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.ââ (New Yorker, 2003)
Apparently no one smiled at him and the rest is a tragic moment in the history of the Golden Gate Bridge, and suicide in general. Of course, there was a deep psychological imbalance in his life that led to such a horrific decision. Yet, the fact that people continue to regularly disregard each other is troubling. Admittedly, no one passing by this tortured soul could have known the level of despair he was in, but perhaps back then and even now, people could make an effort to show a stranger in our midst a little pre-emptive kavod. Surely all of us have felt uplifted by the gift of anotherâs smile in passing. How much the more so for people we know!
So what are you doing to show honor and respect to the ones you love? How do you express dignity and kindness to the people you meet? The littlest gesture can make such a difference.
Interfaith relationships offer an incredible opportunity to contribute to Judaismâs enduring strength and diversity. All people should be welcomed and included in Jewish rituals that are such an incredible source of value and meaning to all who participate in them. Perhaps the question when planning life cycle events should not be what are you going to get out of this moment or the person involved in the ritual, but rather, what can you give to the relationship? How can you help break down the barriers and include others?
I invite you to think about this as you peruse our interfaith forums and dialogues here at InterfaithFamily. Letâs open our hearts and minds, for kavodÂ is all around us and it all starts by recognizing the holiness inside you.
The following is a guest post by Gina Hagler, reprinted from her blog, Musings of Ruth
Iâve been part of the interfaith community for many years. Iâve felt comfortable, uncomfortable, welcome, tolerated, and most points between on the spectrum. I can tell you which things left me feeling more or less comfortable. I can even give you a definition-in-progress of what I would consider a welcoming congregation. What I hadnât thought of before last night, is how many aspects of welcome are universal.
Why are we making it so complicated when we sit together as Jews to assess how welcoming our congregations are? Why are we trying to look at ourselves through the eyes of others â especially others who are coming to us from a world view we have not experienced firsthand? Why are we making this such a Herculean task?
Perhaps we should first think about what has made us feel welcome in new experiences. Weâve all been the fish out of water at one point or another. What made it less painful? What eased our introduction? What made us feel we could return? What made us want to return? Why isnât this our simple first step to understanding how to put âstrangersâ at ease.
While I was still shaky in my Jewish identity, I took my kids up to New York several years in a row for winter break. I wanted to take them to services but I certainly didnât know any synagogues in NYC. I wasnât that confident that I would know exactly what to do once I got into the synagogue, but I wanted my kids to see that the services they participated in at our temple had elements in common with services at all synagogues. I did a search on synagogues in Manhattan and foundÂ Central Synagogue.
From the moment the site opened, I knew this was where we would go. The tone of the site, the readily available information, the pride the synagogue had in its history â all lent itself to the implicit expectation that of course we would want to visit and of course we were welcome. We went and sat in the way back â clearly newcomers and clearly not your standard Jews since 2/3 of the kids were Asian. People turned around to smile at us. Someone approached us to ask if we needed a Siddur as he held one up for us to see. He told us we were welcome to join them downstairs after the service for an Oneg made up of simple food.
Within five minutes of entering the building, we had been informally welcomed, given what we needed to participate if we chose to in a way that did not assume we were familiar with the object, and invited to something we may not have known about in a way that explained all we needed to know to feel bold enough to check it out. My kids felt right at home. They were delighted to hear prayers they knew and to be able to join in. They were thrilled to hear tropes that were familiar. There was no way they were leaving without the Oneg. They met some other kids. Several adults made it clear I was welcome to join in their conversations. Ever since, we make it a point to attend services there whenever we are in New York.
This synagogue was not specifically trying to attract interfaith families, or even families from ambiguous or undecided Jewish backgrounds. They were trying to attract those interested in a Jewish life, without making a distinction between faith backgrounds. As strange as it may seem, I felt more immediately welcome at that temple than I have at any other temple Iâve visited. Iâm convinced it is because they were genuinely proud of what they had to offer and genuinely happy to have us.
Maybe when weâre trying to decide how to make someone comfortable at our temple, we should start by thinking about what makes us comfortable and ask ourselves if our congregation is welcoming anyone â Jewish or not â in such a way. Maybe the first step in making people feel welcome is to be welcoming.
âIt is not good for man to be aloneâŠâ (Genesis 1:18).
The glass on my old iPhone was quite smashed up, or should I say it had cracked up. One drop too many after its two-year obligation was fulfilled, my smartphone soon became victim of a childlike fascination in how busted up it could become (it still works by the way). A few more (albeit unintentional) drops without a case, and it looked like the terminator was at the end of its days, still generating light and information through its busted exterior despite all the odds that it really should have died by now.
But this blog post is not about the terminator or hardware and itâs not meant to be a commercial for Apple either. Itâs about software. Well sort of. Itâs about the family unit in the hands of marketing geniuses that send people into increasing isolation for commercial gains. If you can liken your physical body to hardware, than itâs an easy leap to compare software to the soul. Here is what happened.
I bought a new iPhone (now I didnât say that I was immune to marketing efforts for cool gadgets) and soon downloaded the new operating software that Apple recommend for their phones: ios7, which is designed (among several other âconvenientâ features) to wirelessly synch all of your devices with the iCloud. I updated the iPad that my family uses around the house with the new software as well. The next night, on the way out for an event, a text that was meant for me came to the family iPad. For all of this hype about âthe Cloud,â and its promise of sharing devices, one would think that the message would also be on my phone. But somehow it (the message) chose one device as its communications destiny.
But this blog isnât about texting either. Itâs about sharing. My wife was puzzled why the message came to the iPad she often uses. Then it occurred to me that the technology that we are increasingly relying on every day wants everyone to have his or her own phones and pads and devices tailored for its owner, or should I say user. Apple wants me to have my own iTunes account with my own password for everything. What happened to the âfamily computerâ that we share? Sharing is not encouraged and âthe Cloudâ is something that I really have a hard time trusting with music and photographs. Can I really delete the photos that I love of my family and friends? Will it be there later when I finally get around to printing something from our 30,000 digital photos? Of course all of that is âfleetingâ as Ecclesiastes would say anyway.
But if you can center yourself enough to not be worried about the future and not in regret for something in your past, perhaps you would have the increasingly rare opportunity to be present and in the moment. You would just be with your family and friends. Can you even turn off your device? If so, how long would you last without checking your messages? How many computers and devices do we need to buy until we realize that we are under a spell of being technology junkies?
So is this the new world we have created? All silos doing our own thing with our own messages, gazing down, glum and hunched over with the physiology of a depressed person? Is there any wonder that antidepressants have increased 400 percent in the last two decades? It is a depressing tale that we are weaving no doubt. So put away your devices, turn them off for a little while. Go spend time with your partner and family and friends. You will find the real world easily if you just listen to your spiritual software: Your soul. No GPS even necessary. Our master story, The Torah, teaches that God looks at Adam alone in his Garden of Eden and says quite succinctly, âIt is not good for man to be aloneâŠâ (Genesis 1:18).
Most American Jews step foot into a synagogue at some point in their lives. Are they passing through inside their silos or are they building community?Â It is not the place so much that is important as the people that are passing you by if you donât take a moment to look up from your device and take part to something much bigger than your self. We can share so much together in endless ways, but in the end, it will not be from the spell of shared devices in a solo, it will be a concert in the key of community. And the song is love when your family is right there with you linked up in a community that grows together.
I was recently giving a presentation about being sensitive to interfaith families and we talked about how Judaism has changed. I compared Judaismâs motivations to “the carrot or the stick.” Many of us were taught that we must follow the commandments or elseâŠ(the stick). I felt like scare tactics were part of the education. How many people hated their Hebrew school? And now, how many people really want to put their children through a rite of passage that they despised?
But now, in a society where we can do anything with just a few clicks, there needs to be an alternate approach showing the positive side of Judaism. Judaism teaches us a structure to lifeâhow to celebrate, how to mourn, how to be healthy. There are also so many wonderful aspects about Judaismâthe joy of decorating a sukkah, the peace of a beautiful Shabbat dinner, the joy of singing and cheering for a couple after their wedding.
One of my favorite childrenâs books is The Runaway Bunny. In this story, the bunny talks about running away from his mother and the mother replies each time that she will be there for him no matter where he goes. At the end, he gives up. The motherâs response is âHave a carrot.â âHave a carrotâ is a wonderful metaphor for Judaism. No matter where we go, our ancestors have provided us with the sustenance to go forward. It may not be super sweet but it will be nourishing. Indeed, the positive carrot (rather than the stick) will sustain us and give us energy and nourishment for the future. Negative motivations may work in the short term but are unlikely to work for future generations.
I want my kids to enjoy Hebrew school and learning about Judaism. I am proud to say that through Jewish camp, and a lot of active parents in the religious school, the kids are having a good time.Â My husband and I also incorporate fun stuff relating to Judaism into our lives whenever possible. My kids enjoy learning when itâs fun. I hope that all children who are getting a Jewish education are enjoying it on a regular basis; perhaps through fun songs, Jewish cooking, a quiz bowl or a Hanukah party. If not, it is our responsibility to insist that their education be pleasant and not torture. Surely, religious education (in any religion) isnât all joy and play but it should provide us sustenance for our future as human beings.
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.
As our booklet on baby girl naming ceremonies explains, names are the beginning of identity formation. Choosing your babyâs name helps to shape the kind of person you are hoping the baby will become. By selecting a Hebrew name, you connect your child to the generations that precede him or her, a community and a system of values. The Ashkenazi (Jews descended from Eastern Europe) have a tradition of naming a baby after a parent or grandparent who has died. This custom dates back to the 6th century B.C.E and naming children after their familiesâ ancestors remains the custom today.
Sephardic Jews (descendants of Spain and Portugal) often name their children after relatives that are alive. Because most American Jews are descendants of Ashkenazi Jews, parents often name their children after a family member who has died. Stories about the remembered relative bring a powerful emotional connection to the past and link to your hope for the future.
Some couples choose to have their sons circumcised in the hospital and opt for a Hebrew name ceremony later. Others choose to have a bris (brit milah: ritual circumcision) at eight days old during which the baby will be given his Hebrew name (even if the mother is not Jewish, if a couple wants to keep this ancient Jewish tradition and intends for their to child to be raised with Judaism, Reform mohelimâdoctors with special training to perform a brisâwill come to the home to perform the circumcision). Others choose not to circumcise and to have a naming ceremony later. For girls, parents often want to hold a ceremony to give her a Hebrew name.
Sometimes couples go back to the rabbi who married them to create a naming ceremony with them. Sometimes couples have found a synagogue and want the naming to take place in this community. However couples decide to publically âgiveâ their child their Hebrew name, this can be a very special time for the family. For interfaith couples, it can be a time when the parents talk about the religious decisions they have made and to celebrate the arrival of their child and the sacred task of parenting.
Even though many couples have the naming ceremony when their baby is young, others hold the ceremony at the first birthday or another time. It is never too late to meet with Jewish clergy (a rabbi or cantor) to select a Hebrew name for a child.
Ari, right, with the Vickermans
Here are Nora Vickermanâs words which she spoke at the recent naming ceremony we had for her daughter, Chloe. What joy it was for me to have stood with this couple under the chuppah at their wedding and then to be able to bless their baby.
Chloe was born of parents who have a deep love for one another, a joy in our traditions and a commitment to Chloe, our daughter, to share and blend together as a family the beauty of both of our traditions. It is with this shared sense of commitment to all that is good and to all that is beautiful in our religions that we are here today to celebrate with our friends and with our family the first of many of our family traditions.
The naming of a Jewish child is a most profound spiritual moment. The sages said that naming a baby is a statementÂ of her character, her specialness, and her path in life. For at the beginning of life, we give our child a name, and at the end of life, a âgood nameâ is all we take with us. It is also the Jewish custom to name your child after a relative who has passed away. It is a great honor, keeping the name and memory of a deceased lovedÂ oneÂ forever alive, and in a metaphysical way, forms theÂ bond between the soul of the baby and the relatives that she will be namedÂ for. My JewishÂ tradition calls for the naming of a baby with an English name as well asÂ aÂ Hebrew name, or names. Matt and I want our daughter to share inÂ the richness ofÂ herÂ heritage.
Chloe RoseÂ shares a connection toÂ her greatÂ grandfather Charles and hence her first name Chloe. Matt and I immediately knew that this would be her first name. My great grandfather came to this country from Russia.Â HeÂ brought with him theÂ drive to succeed in a new land as well as aÂ commitment to his Jewish religion and his love for tradition. He is honored in a book that described the History of the Jewish people in Beckley, West Virginia. HeÂ helped to establishÂ the first Reform synagogueÂ inÂ the city.Â His courage, strength, andÂ commitment toÂ tradition and family are the traits that we wish for our Chloe.Â Her second English name is Rose.Â We also loved that name. She was given the name Rose to honor my great Aunt Roselyn, myÂ great grandmothersâ oldest sister.Â She was a kind, intelligent, and beautiful lady who believed in the goodness ofÂ giving of oneself and toÂ charity.Â The name Roselyn meansÂ a beautiful rose befitting our beautiful daughter.
Matt and I choseÂ ChloeâsÂ first HebrewÂ nameÂ to express our love for two familyÂ members whoÂ are no longerÂ with us.Â We choseÂ the Hebrew nameÂ Shira,Â when translatedÂ means song and light.Â How appropriate for our Chloe. She discovered the joy of song very early and has sungÂ her sweetÂ songs ever since the age of three months.Â And as you all may know ChloeÂ isÂ the light of our life.Â The SÂ letterÂ inÂ ShiraÂ honorsÂ MattâsÂ grandfather Samuel, and the HebrewÂ letterÂ ShinÂ inÂ ShiraÂ honorsÂ my motherâs motherÂ Shirley, mayÂ their memories shine forever. May our beautifulÂ daughter Chloe know that she will forever be connected in love to them as well asÂ connected by familyÂ tradition.Â Chloeâs second Hebrew name isÂ Yehudeet- aÂ womanÂ of great strength and fortitude (or in English, Judith). Yehudeet was given after my fatherâs father,Â Jacques.Â Our hope for Chloe is that as she grows she willÂ always have the strength andÂ convictionÂ to do what is just andÂ what isÂ right throughout her life.
First, the good news for intermarried Bostonians who want to raise their kids Jewish: According to this study, 60 percent of intermarried families in the Greater Boston area are raising their kids as Jews. This is good news compared to the more recent Pew study that found the national average in the rest of the country around 25 percent. If 2005âs survey was any indication (and I know this is a rough comparison of two different studies), Boston is faring stronger for raising Jewish children than the rest of the country. Why is Boston doing so much better? Well that is a whole other blog to write about.
But hereâs an interesting part of the CJP analysis that I want to get to: If the mom is Jewish, so the survey says, there is an 80 percent likelihood that the children will be raised as Jews. If it is the father thatâs Jewish, only a 32 percent chance (p.19).
Why is this? Dads see themselves as lacking the time? The passion? Are we lazy on Sundays? Whatâs the deal?
I am proud of our long and storied history of the classic, strong Jewish mom who runs the household, but why are so many of our âclassic dadsâ so complacent? The world is changing fast and our children are growing even faster. I must confess that the reason why my daughter makes it on time to Hebrew School on Sundays is because of my wifeâthe not Jewish counterpart of my interfaith relationship. So I must be the exception, more than the rule. I lucked out that my wife understands commitment and once we made up our mind to raise our kids Jewish, she is exceptionally committed.
But if she were not so on the ball, I can see how easy it is to fall behind the eight ball. Many of us didnât love our Hebrew School experiences, and are indifferent. Our parents followed their role models of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, who were anxious to lose their authentic ethnic backgrounds and fit in. To be fair to my assimilated ancestors, there was horrible anti-Semitism back then that I did not have to suffer through as they did. Although anti-Semitism is not gone by any means and has a deep decoy of anti-Zionism (thatâs another blog too), it is safer to be “publicly Jewish” now.
But there still comes a time in everyoneâs life when they need to stand up for what they believe in. Everyone is so very busy these days and our children are as over-programmed as the adults. I get it. It can feel like a real schlep to get to Hebrew School on the weekends, but if we engage in some Jewish education ourselves, it need not be such an effort. It can be downright joyful. So as we enter a new year, ask yourself, âAm I a lazy dad?â or better yet, âWhat do I really care about?â Judaism has so many answersÂ and there are tons of amazing opportunities to learn in Boston.Â Why walk away from the most amazing education you can give your family. Just try it out. Start the year our right and get involved.
Getting back to that old joke about the speaking part. There are many plays that could use a re-write, and there is no reason to continue putting all of the pressure on one spouse to do everything. Get involved and speak up, Dads. Your future is counting on you and if you get involved just even a tad more, a whole world of beauty and wonder from Judaism will open before you.
As a rabbi, itâs not unusual for me to get a call from a Jewish parent whose child is engaged to someone who isnât Jewish. The parent usually asks if we can get together to talkâsometimes they want to talk because theyâre having a hard time accepting the fact that their child is going to be in an interfaith marriage and other times they want to discuss a particular issue that has come up. Here is some advice that I often give to such parents (which is really just a variation on advice that I give to parents of adult children in general):
1. Your childâs marrying someone who isnât Jewish isnât necessarily a rejection of JudaismâŠor of you. As I wrote in my recent blog âMarrying Outâ Is Not âAbandoning Judaismâjust because a person falls in love with someone of another religion (or no religion) it doesnât mean that they donât value their Judaism. Many people today donât see loving someone of a different faith and having a strong Jewish identity as being mutually exclusive. Your child can love their partner and they can love being Jewishâand they can love you too!
2. Give your child the time and space to make his/her own decisions. You probably have lots of questions: Will they have a Jewish wedding? Are they going to have a Jewish home? How are they going to raise their children? While you may want to know the answers to all of your questions NOW (if not yesterdayâŠ), your child and his/her partner may not have all of the answers yet, and even if they do, they may not be ready to share them with you. Let them know (through your words, and even more important, your actions) that you respect their right to make decisions on their own time frame and to share them with you when they are ready.
3. Accept that these are your childâs and his/her partnerâs decisions to make. Notice that I didnât say that you have to agree withâor even likeâall of their decisions. It may be very upsetting to you that your daughter has decided not to be married by your rabbi or that she is going to have a Christmas tree in her home. But she is an adult and these are decisions for her and her partner to make, not for you to make. Odds are that she already knows how you feel about these things and if you critique everything she tells you then she may not want to keep sharing with you.
7. Talk to other parents whose children have intermarried. As in many situations, itâs often nice to feel like youâre not alone. It can be helpful to speak with someone who has had a similar experience who can understand how you are feeling and who can provide you with advice and support. If youâre in the Philadelphia area, join our Facebook group and get in the conversation.
What advice would you offer to a parent whose child is intermarrying? If your child is married to someone of a different religion, were you given any advice that you found helpful? Is there advice you found not to be helpful?
This is it. That time of year that many intermarried Jews dread: Christmas tree time. Especially if you go as far as getting a tree and stringing it up on the roof of your car and driving to your house as quickly as possible (maybe even ducking as you drive by your shul, so the rabbi doesnât see). It used to feel so wrong, so shameful: âWhat will the others think?â
Where do our values come from? How do these questioning voices appear in oneâs head? Often our values are shaped by our parents and our teachers and our peers. My elementary school upbringing consisted of attending an Orthodox Hebrew Day School and the message growing up was clear: If a Jew has a Christmas tree in his house, he has gone âtoo far.â If you bring a tree into your house, you might as well put a swastika on top for you have betrayed the Jewish people.
My mother would mourn for the Jewish people if she saw it, and fear I would have lost focus on my roots. Oy, assimilation-1, Jews-0. My environmentalist friends would moan the betrayal of the earth, to drag a tree into oneâs house for one week of the year. How horrifying! Donât get me started on the gifts. The commercialism of Christmas is horrendous and the wrapping paper and packaging is tantamount criminal. The spoiling of kids with gift after gift. The plastic. The cookies. The elevated levels of acidity in oneâs blood sugar as one holiday party bleeds into another. The drinks. The decadence.
But of course, I went to Hebrew School. My brother and sister and I would watch all of the holiday Christmas specials and feel like outsiders. We loved the cartoons and the stories of spreading cheer and goodness and charity. Charity and community service that we were taught to do regularly were emphasized on one special day for the majority of Americans, and we were on the fringe and couldnât (or didn’t know how to) really participate at all.
And there I was 30 years later, a grown adult making decisions of my own. Itâs true, if both people in a relationship are of the same religion, these kinds of things are rarely a problem. The best we could hope for would be to go out for Chinese food and play cards, which was the running joke of many of our childhoods, the thing that all American Jews do on that holiday.
But things have changed. These are different times. Would I choose to get a tree for my family like my friends from Baltimore? No. Not in a thousand years. Is it a ritual that I embrace and make my own filled with meaning? No, not that either. So what changed? For me, it is about respecting my wifeâs background. Deb pointed it out like this: We have a very Jewish household. We light Shabbat candles, do Kiddush and blessings, make challah, send our kids to Hebrew school, sing Hebrew songs, have mezuzot on our doorways, give Tzedakah regularly, celebrate all the holidays, engage in Chevurah groups, the list goes on and onâŠ But there is just one thingâjust one thingâfrom her past tradition that she wants to keep and it shouldnât be too much to ask.
She never converted, and to her, Christmas had nothing to do with religion (I know, I know, that one is really tough for me), but was about hot chocolate and sleigh rides and getting cozy and thankful and making snowmen and caroling and decorations and parties with friends and family and creating magic for the children. Time to relax as a family.
Well when you put it that way, it shouldnât be too much to ask. So I go along for the sake of Shalom Bayit (peace in the house). I assure you that itâs not easy. And I still have a hard time with it since I am a committed Jewish educator (who is coming out of the closet with the confession to having a tree over the years). But relationships are about giving to the other and not ruling with an iron fist. Would I recommend that Jews have Christmas trees in their houses? Do I buy into the commercialization and environmental waste associated with Christmas? Not at all on either count.
But do I love my wife? Yes! Is this tradition really important to her and her family? Yes! If I grin and bear it for one week of the year, will my kids continue to go to Hebrew School and have bar and bat mitzvahs and identify as Jews throughout their lives? Yes! So all that was stopping me was closing my mind to honoring what my life partner wants. And that was no longer acceptable to me.
I am not the only Jew who struggles with this. So I wrote this blog to allow people to open up and share with their partners what they care about. There is more than enough evidence that children who grow up in committed Jewish households survive the Christmas Tree thing just fine and live their lives as committed Jews.
RabbiSimchah Green, a veteran Modern Orthodox rabbi and graduate of Yeshiva University sees intermarriage as an opportunity for the Jewish people. He recently wrote for InterfaithFamily: âNow is not the time for us to bury our heads in the sand. Now is not the time for us to bemoan the situation. Now is not the time to sound off against this phenomenon.â
âAnd without question I shall not consider that an intermarriage represents the END OF THE LINE, BUT RATHER THE BEGINNING OF A JOURNEY.â (See his full essay here.) Rabbi Green is right! Intermarriage is not the end of the Jewish people. Intermarriage is not a time for us to hem and haw or say âwoe is meâ about the future. We must look at intermarriage as an opportunity. An opportunity to embrace those around us who are interested in learning more about Judaism and participating in Jewish life with those they care about.
Carol, my sisterâs mother-in-law, demonstrates this fully and completely. She recently asked me, âWhere can we go to learn more about Judaism?â She explained that she (who was not raised Jewishly) wanted to be fully involved in helping to raise my newborn niece with a Jewish identity. Carol is amazing! Even before her granddaughter was born, she reached out to learn more, to become more educated about Judaism, the holidays and the values.
I was excited to help educate Carol. I first led her to the free booklets from InterfaithFamily, formatted for online reading and printing: interfaithfamily.com/booklets. I also suggested that she may be interested in signing up for an upcoming Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family class. And, as I would offer to everyone in the community, staff at InterfaithFamily/Bay Area are always available to answer your questions.
I hope that all grandparents, parents and partners are welcomed by those around them. Let us all help each other explore Jewish life in a way that feels comfortable and may that exploration be supported by those we love as well as the leaders of the Jewish community.
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