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Iâ€™ve been out and about lately (Diversity Shabbat at Temple Chai in Long Grove and the PJ Library Conference in Baltimore) hearing some things that are making me think. I am a philosophizing kind of gal, so I love to hear new nuggets that stop me and give me pause.
These are random comments I have heard which I share with you. I look forward to your thoughts about them.
It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for…Chelsea Clinton is pregnant! When Chelsea and Marc Mezvinsky tied the knot in 2010, we reported on their widely talked about co-officiated wedding.Â InterfaithFamily’s CEO Ed Case summarized the Jewish media response to their nuptials, which was not quite as congratulatory as ours and ultimately hoped that their wedding would serve to inspire other interfaith couples to incorporate Jewish practices into their weddings as Chelsea and Marc did.
Now that Chelsea and Marc are expecting, we’re excited for the opportunity to share with ALL expecting parents our helpful baby naming resources. From this guide, “What to do when the baby arrives: Tips for inclusive naming ceremonies” to our booklet, “Brit Bat: birth ceremonies for girls” and our other booklet, “To Circumcise or Not: That is The Question” we are here to help new interfaith families along the way. If you’re planning for a family (or if you want to offer Chelsea some tips), you can also check out this guide to birth ceremonies for interfaith families which includes lots of resources and sample naming ceremonies. We look forward to supporting Chelsea and all expecting interfaith families along their journey, and we’ll be watching to see if and how they raise their child with Judaism.
We have been through 20 Passovers together. My wife does pretty well with the eating restrictions but somewhere around the middle of the holiday, there she is eating cereal in the garage. Thatâ€™s where I store the chametz, the bread products that are off-limits during Passover, to make the rest of the house ready for the holiday. I â€śsellâ€ť it to a friend or neighbor who isnâ€™t Jewish but is intrigued enough to play along. (That ensures that I donâ€™t technically own it and it can stay there as long as itâ€™s undisturbed.) But there it sits, calling out to Kirsti all week. Each bite of matzah brie and cardboard flavored Passover cereal increases her longing for the good stuff she knows is only steps away. Do I care? No, I have never cared. I have always drawn a line between my own, personal practice and hers. I need to clean the house of bread. I need to bring out the glass plates. But Kirsti didnâ€™t grow up Jewish, and while many Jewish practices are meaningful to her, this one is not.
Now enter two kids. None of these differences in our practices made an impact on our home life until we had children. While she can practice however she likes, I do want to maintain a Jewish household for our kids. In similar cases, we tend to face our differences head on, explaining to our children where our beliefs or practices may differ from one another.
Many parents who come from different backgrounds will only tell one parentâ€™s side of things until kids get older and can better handle the paradoxes. I see the value in that approach, but itâ€™s not for us. We have always told the truth about where we differ religiouslyâ€¦for better or for worse. We have different ideas about theology and share with our boys that people generallyâ€”and even Jewsâ€”donâ€™t all believe the same thing. We have different needs in terms of attending synagogue, and I am happy to be the regular Shabbat service goer with them, explaining that while sheâ€™ll go sometimes, itâ€™s more of a regular practice for me.
But Passover is tough because itâ€™s centered in the house. Do I want them to learn that itâ€™s OK to run to the garage when they have a craving? I donâ€™t need my partner to keep to it, but I want them to learn the discipline early on as a meaningful part of the Passover celebration. I want them to internalize their history as slaves being freed as they stop themselves instead of reaching for some bread. I hope they will share the excitement with me when the kitchen gets turned upside down to get ready for the holiday. But I also donâ€™t want to denigrate my partnerâ€™s practices by making them lesser. I respect her and her relationship to Judaism. How do I hold both realities?
In truth, Iâ€™ve never lived in a house where we were all practicing Judaism in the same way.Â I grew up in a home with two Jewish parents for whom Jewish eating practices held no meaning. We always laughed that it wasnâ€™t Passover if there wasnâ€™t a honey-baked ham on the table. OK, we never went that far, but ham and seafood were staples in our home. My mother would proudly say, â€śI donâ€™t practice my religion through my stomach.â€ť But even as a kid, I was drawn to the idea that refraining from bread made the week of my favorite holiday feel special, and I worked around my familyâ€™s need for their cupboards to remain untouched.
So we talked to our kids this Passover about the realities of different kinds of Jewish practice. They were informed that their Mommy sneaks some chametz (not surprising since they already knew that although she has tried valiantly to give them up over the years, she has a soft spot for cheeseburgers). But we didnâ€™t dwell on the food-talk. What we did spend time discussing were the values we hope they took away from the holiday. Standing up for those who are oppressed. Using your own story of pain and difference to inspire you to rescue others. That freedom is possible. And for my partner, we know that her freedom is saying farewell to matzah for another year.
…if your child tells you they are dating someone from another religion (race, culture or same gender).
By Wendy Armon andÂ Joycellen Young Auritt Ph.D.
1. Breathe and smile. Your child has just told you that they are seeing someone seriously. Your child is happy and is hoping for your approval of their happiness.
2. Be happy that your child is happy. Think about the joy in your childâ€™s face. Does your child seem happy for the right reasons? Does this person make your child feel confident? We want our children to have happy and stable relationships where they can evolve into the best versions of themselves. If you think that the person is a bad fit for your child, proceed cautiously with concrete examples of your concerns. The fact that their partner wasnâ€™t brought up the way you had hoped becomes a lesser priority if you feel that their partner is not kind, accommodating or considerate of your child. Such concerns can and should be expressed in a careful and thoughtful way.
3. Think before you talk. You may have told your child that you hoped they would marry someone of the same religion, race or culture. Do you still feel the same way? Think about what you are afraid might happen if this person is your childâ€™s partner for life. Are you worried that your child will reject their upbringing? If you say something negative, realize that your child may fulfill your fear of rejection of their upbringingâ€”this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. With positive reinforcement, you are likely to encourage your child and/or their partner to have good feelings about their upbringing.
The best way to express your concerns is through general, positive and thoughtful questions. Your concerns could be valid, but your child may not realize it so donâ€™t expect an immediate revelation. For example, if you feel that your child has a dramatically different background and value system, a conversation might begin with this type of statement: â€śThat is terrific that you and your partner are able to work out the differences from your backgrounds. Iâ€™m glad that you two are so thoughtful that you can work out such dramatic variables. I donâ€™t think I could do that. I am very impressed.â€ť
4. Encourage compatibility. It is OK to remind your children (throughout their childhood) that it is important to consider compatibility qualities in their future partners. Similar values in financial management, politics, education, family and discipline are all important in a long term relationship. Many clergy encourage couples to complete a survey to analyze and discuss these similarities and differences. Compatibility is very important and it is an OK topic to ask your child about delicately and privately.
5. If you are upset, think about why. Do you feel rejected? Your child didnâ€™t reject you, he/she simply fell in love. (See Rabbi Robyn Frischâ€™s blog â€śMarrying Out is Not Abandoning Judaismâ€ť) Do you feel like you did a poor job raising your child? Think about whether your child is a kind person who is leaving a positive impact on societyâ€”if you can say yes, you did a great job as a parent. If you are upset that friends and relatives may be upset, you should relax. Any friends are likely to be supportive and to have experienced similar situations. Judgment from family members is an unacceptable reason to reject your child and their relationship. People who love your child and you will adapt and support their happiness if you set a positive example.
6. Be welcoming. If you are worried that your future grandchildren wonâ€™t be raised in the manner that you had hoped you should understand that you are not going to have control over how your grandchildren will be raised. Accept this lack of control. Then, embrace the couple and their future offspring. Only good can come from welcoming. Encourage them to participate in your holidays and culture. Positive behavior can lead to positive results. Negativity usually causes a backlash down the road.
What not to do?
1. Donâ€™t be angry. Your child probably isnâ€™t trying to make you angry. Even if your child is trying to be spiteful, reacting in a negative way will simply fulfill your childâ€™s goal. Being angry serves no benefit. Your response to your child when your child tells you that he or she is serious with a potential life partner will be remembered.
2. Donâ€™t threaten or reject your child. Your child needs to know that you will be there no matter what. This feeling of security that you will continue to love your child will provide satisfaction in the future. You will likely want your child to feel comfortable and unjudged if there are problems in the future. We all want have a safe place to go with our joys and our sadness. The arms of our parents should always provide us with that loving safety net.
Divinity school is an unlikely place for a rabbi to meet her spouse. In my first week of graduate school, I became friends with a Coptic nun from Egypt, a Southern Baptist minister, a Jewish Buddhist and a young scholar of Early Christianity. The last would one day become my wife. I was one of a handful of Jewish students and I relished the opportunity to study religion more broadly within this diverse community before making the final decision to become a rabbi. It became increasingly clear to me that I wanted to pursue a career like my classmates who were studying to become ministers and priests. They were community builders, teachers, healers in a fractured world. Apparently, I needed future ministers to help me decide that I wanted to become a rabbi.
For the first time in my life, I was dating a Jewish man. Since I was seriously considering becoming a rabbi by this time, I believed I had to marry someone Jewish, and he met all the criteria of a perfect spouse for me. He was not only Jewish; we had been counselors together at a Jewish camp, he spoke fluent Hebrew, had spent time in Israel and studied Judaism in college. But he simply wasnâ€™t the right person for me.
My life took a major turn when I met Kirsti. She had grown up in a non-religious household with parents who had rejected Christianity. So, of course, she became fascinated by religion: religious people, religious texts, religious language. Like me, she was pursuing her masters at Harvard Divinity School. She would go on to earn a PhD in Early Christianity as I embarked on rabbinical school. We shared a love of religious mysticism and stayed up nights talking about Jewish and Christian mystical texts, and struggling with belief. In those early days, we also had to process the reality that dating a woman was new to both of us which, frankly, overpowered any worry about coming from different religious backgrounds.
Although she did convert many years into our relationship, Kirsti and I still question religion together and bring our knowledge, ideas and queries to the dinner table. We address our childrenâ€™s musings with honesty and depth rather than supplying overly clear-cut answers we think they should be hearing. We hope our kids will be inspired to treat all people and ideas with respect and inquiry while being grounded in a rich, Jewish tradition. My Jewish life has been profoundly shaped by traveling this path with Kirsti for the past 20 years. She has led me to challenge pieces of our tradition that I blindly followed, and has deepened my connection to certain parts of our liturgy and rituals by seeing them in a new light.
I am delighted that as the new Director of InterfaithFamily/Bay Area, I have the opportunity to help families from mixed backgrounds navigate Judaism like we have. I will also strive to help Jewish communities become more welcoming to all types of people who donâ€™t fit the long-gone model of a traditional, Jewish family. We are most enriched as a community when we offer space for people to bring their whole selves and their full narratives to Jewish life.
Maybe a rabbi meeting her spouse at divinity school is a rarity, but each familyâ€™s story is unique, with its own twists and turns. Who we love and choose to share our lives with cannot be reduced to a checklist of criteria to be met. Our stories are far more interesting than that.
I have visceral memories of Passover as a child. It was a time, not a meal. My mother who worked more than full time was home.
We would rush to the kosher butcher for a huge slab of brisket. I loved going (this was the only time we went to the butcher during the year) because I felt part of something. There were so many other women there shopping for their Passover food. We spoke the same language, we were sharing the same busy-ness. It didn’t matter who was Orthodox and who Reform. We were one extended family. We brought a list to the supermarket for our food and other items (something that signified major cooking). We bought Manishevitz at the liquor store. I felt that everyone knew we were celebrating Passover. I felt that each stop was one step on the journey of doing Passover. We bought flowers for the table at the florist.
There was adrenaline and joy in my young soul. I was with the women of my family. We did Passover the same way each year. The familiarity of our preparations was warm to me, and precious. We set a beautiful, fancy table. I loved setting the table as a child. I had a job. It was a real job. People admired my work.
My beloved grandparents were at my house. I dressed up and so did everyone else. My Papa, of blessed memory, sang Chad Gadya in one breath. We dipped fingers in wine for the plagues. I proudly sang the Four Questions, showing off. We looked for the afikomen and claimed our dollar prize from a man at the tableâ€”tradition?
Fresh, bright, spring, freedom.
I loved eating matzah with cinnamon and sugar. I don’t think I can replicate this heaven. My family is scattered geographically. My child doesn’t sit still. I don’t cook like my mom did. I am a rabbi married to a rabbi. You could have predicted my profession from my love of Jewish holidays.
Now I have two lenses by which I view Passover. I think about the seder in terms of my kids. I think about the seder in terms of interfaith families. How does someone who didnâ€™t grow up with Passover experience it in a loved oneâ€™s house with their family? When does one become part of the family? How does the message of going from slavery to freedom translate? How can someone with no memories of a holiday come to make it their own as an adult?
But the truth is, only my family has the memories I have. It draws us close and it is fun to reminisce. Those years are forever a part of me. What memories will stay with my children about Passover?
Who will they remember?
What foods will they long for?
What traditions will they hold in their hearts?
Passover is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays and many Jewish families have some type of Passover seder, but preparing to host a seder can be intimidating. This is true whether or not you grew up Jewishâ€”and, as I can personally attest, even if youâ€™re a rabbi!
Seder means â€śorderâ€ť in Hebrew, and there is a set order for how the seder is to proceed, set forth in the haggadah. As an avid haggadah collector, I can tell you that there are LOTS of different haggadot to choose fromâ€”or you may put one together yourself. But even once youâ€™ve selected a haggadah, if you have kids coming to your seder thereâ€™s the added pressure of wanting them to be engaged throughout the evening.
Here are some things that have worked for me in the past:
MAD LIBS, COLORING PAGES, ETC.: One year, when the kids arrived at my seder, I gave them a Passover Mad Libs game.Â Playing Mad Libs is a great way to keep kids busy before the seder starts (especially if you donâ€™t want them running all over your house!) or after they have eaten their mealâ€”which we all know takes kids a lot less time than it takes adults. If there are kids who are too young for Mad Libs, you can give them Passover coloring pages and crayons to keep them occupiedÂ (Google â€śPassover Coloring Pagesâ€ť and youâ€™ll find lots of pages you can print for free)Â or if you happen to be using a digital haggadah, like this one from JewishBoston.com, the younger set can enjoy this fun onlineÂ seder matching game. Coloring in their own Passover placemats (which you can buy in many grocery stores, Judaica shops or onlineâ€”or make your own) kept my kids happy and quiet during seders when they were little, as did kidsâ€™ haggadot that they could color in.
PASSOVER GRANOLA: Several years ago, I attended a pre-Passover workshop led by Noam Zion, one of the authors of A Different Night, The Family Participation Haggadah. Zion suggested that when the seder begins, the host should give each guest a bag of granola, which they can nosh on so they wonâ€™t be hungry and anxious for the meal, and thus will be more engaged during the pre-meal part of the seder, which is the majority of the haggadah. So when we all sat down, I gave everyone, adults as well as children, a bag filled with raisins, nuts, and Kosher for Passover chocolate chips and marshmallows. I explained that just as our Israelite ancestors went on a long journey after leaving Egypt, we too would have a â€śjourneyâ€ť before we began our meal, and the bag was filled with some food to keep us nourished along the way. (I also promised my guests that our journey would be a lot shorter than 40 years!). Another fun thing about the Passover granola was that my daughter, who was four at the time, had a great time preparing all of the bags with me before our guests arrived.
BINGO: One of the biggest hits was when I used a website to make a Passover Bingo game for my younger guests. The squares on the Bingo game had phrases such as: â€śI recited the four questions,â€ť â€śI drank the second cup of wine/juice,â€ť â€śI asked a questionâ€ť and â€śI tasted maror.â€ť I gave each kid a small cup of raisins, and told them to put a raisin on a square once they had done what was written in the square. This kept the kids engaged throughout the eveningâ€”nobody wanted to miss doing something and not be able to fill in that square on their card. I recently found a similar Passover Bingo game online here.
QUESTIONS! QUESTIONS! AND MORE QUESTIONS!: Any good seder involves a lot more than just the Four Questions in the haggadah. Originally, the items on the seder plate and many of the Passover rituals were meant to spark questions. Your seder wonâ€™t be nearly as rewarding if you just read through the haggadah without taking time for questions and discussion. Here are some fun ways to incorporate questions into your seder:
Ask lots of questions: Before the seder, go to a Dollar Store or party store and buy a bunch of cheap little toys to use as prizes. Throughout the seder, stop to ask questions about the story and celebration of Passover. Whoever answers the question correctly gets a prize. Youâ€™ll probably find that the adults like to play along and show off their knowledge as much as the kids do. Or better yetâ€¦
Have your guests ask the questions: Encourage questioning by giving out a prize every time someone asks a question. Then let someone else answer the questionâ€”and they can get a prize too.
Put questions under everyone’s plates: One year I put an index card with a Passover-related question on it under each plate before everyone arrived at my seder. Some of the questions were serious (e.g., â€śIf you could invite anyone to a seder, who would it be and why?â€ť) while others were more light-hearted (e.g., â€śIf you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, would you rather it be matzah or bitter herbs?â€ť). At different points throughout the seder, I would randomly pick a person and ask them to take the index card out from under their plate (no peeking at the card until youâ€™re called on!), read their question and answer it.
Advanced planning is key to a successful seder. But that being said, once your planning is finished and your guests arrive, do your best to relax and enjoy!
Are there things youâ€™ve done at a seder in the past that have been fun for kids and kept them engaged? What are you planning for this year?Â
â€¦that you are involved with someone of another religion (race, culture or gender)
By Wendy Armon and Joycellen Young Auritt Ph.D.
You have met someone very special and are involved in a relationshipâ€¦. You want to share your excitement with your family but you are afraid that they wonâ€™t approve of the person you are dating.Â How do you tell your parents? Here are a few suggestions of what to do and what not to do.
Suggestions of what you should doâ€¦
1)Â Â Â Â Â Tell them you are happy. Most parents really want to make sure that their adult child is happy and on a path where someone will love them unconditionally. Reassure your parents that you have thought about your choice and you are happy about your decisions.
2)Â Â Â Â Â Acknowledge your fears about your parentsâ€™ reaction out loud. Sometimes when kids are little, parents may say, â€śI want you to marry someone who is XYZ.â€ť Your parents may no longer feel that way about who you marry and may be able to assuage your anxiety early in the conversation. We all change our minds and evolveâ€”maybe your parents did too.
3)Â Â Â Â Â Make clear to your parents where you are in the relationship. If you and your partner are talking marriage, let your parents know. Living together? Dating seriously? If you are in love, tell them. This is a time for you to tell your parents all of the fabulous qualities about your partner. If there are similarities between your partner and one of your parents, point that out.
4)Â Â Â Â Â If your parents are concerned about your choice of partner, gently remind them that your choice is not a rejection of themâ€”you just fell in love! Remind your parents that you love them and appreciate all that they have done. Many parents take the decision that you have chosen someone from a different religion as a rejection of their religion or even a rejection of them. Let them know how much you appreciate various aspects of your upbringing.
5)Â Â Â Â Â Be sensitive. Parents may be a little shocked that you are falling in love with someone and moving forward in your life. Now that you are an adult, they may feel shocked that your life is moving quickly. Sometimes that shock may manifest itself in a focus on religious differences. For some parents the prospect of a wedding or a new generation may make a parent aware of their mortality and the future of aging. Even though you feel a little vulnerable, remember your parents have feelings too.
Suggestions of what not to doâ€¦
1)Â Â Â Â Â Donâ€™t trap your parents. If your parents meet your special person but you donâ€™t tell them how important the person is in your life, there is a chance that your parents may make insensitive comments about the person like: â€śSheâ€™d be great if only she wereâ€¦â€ť Let your parents know your feelings and who is important to you. This is not the time to be deceptive or coy.
2)Â Â Â Â Â Donâ€™t ask a question if you are not prepared to accept an honest answer. If you ask for their input but donâ€™t really want to hear anything negative, donâ€™t ask. Everyone will remember any negative comments for a long time. Questions like, â€śdo you think he is too selfish?â€ť might get the answer you donâ€™t want to hear.
3)Â Â Â Â Â Donâ€™t Rush. If your parents are having a hard time adjusting to your announcement, slow down a little in your discussions with your parents. It is wise to give your parents a chance to digest your news.
Adjusting to the future may take time. Many people have a vision for the future and a vision that their children will make certain choices. If the future looks different than they anticipated, they will likely need an adjustment period to consider what is going on and then hopefully accept your choices. Parents may envision all kinds of things about where their kids will live, what they will do with their grandchildren, how the holidays will be celebratedâ€¦ We all need to adjust when life isnâ€™t how we imagined. Be patient.
Reality Check. Not all parents can accept whom you have chosen. Sometimes, your parents may have realistic concerns. Your parents may have legitimate views regarding compatibility issues that truly matter in the long run. It may take some time for your parents to become comfortable with the new reality.
The staff at InterfaithFamily is feeling grateful, humbled and inspired by the recent grant we received from BBYO. At their International Convention in February, BBYO teens were given the option to participate in a Shabbat learning session hosted by the Slingshot Fund. In this session, they experienced an expedited (but real!) 90 minuteÂ grant giving process.
They were first given the Slingshot Guide, which includes 50 innovative up-and-coming Jewish organizations and 17 â€śstandard bearerâ€ť organizations, of which InterfaithFamily is one. The Guide states: â€śInterfaithFamily leads the conversation and demands a place for interfaith families in Jewish communal life.â€ť
BBYOers were then split into groups and each group was assigned a handful of organizations from the Guide to research. After taking all 67 organizations in the Guide into consideration, each group got to pick their favorite and pitch it to the other groups. What a great exercise in philanthropy!
One of these groups chose InterfaithFamily as their grantee. The group membersâ€”one in particular who is in an interfaith familyâ€”found the work we do to be meaningful to them. When they pitched InterfaithFamily to the larger group, many other kids felt connected to our cause as well. Out of all of the organizations that they could have chosen to fund, the BBYOers chose one: InterfaithFamily!
Here at InterfaithFamily, we spend a lot of time working with parents and couples. We spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the children of intermarried parents, as does the greater Jewish community. But the minority voice in the equation is that of the children themselves. To know that our mission is important to them is extremely validating and adds a sense of responsibility to our daily work.
Going forward, look out for more essays and resources devoted to the children of interfaith families, because I plan to make sure we rise to the challenge of using the BBYO grant to help these kids feel welcomed and supported in the Jewish community.
InterfaithFamily/Chicago welcomes a new staff member to our office which is located on the second floor of the Weinger Northbrook JCC. Susie Field has a child at the JCC preschool and both of her children attend JCC camps. She is herself in an interfaith family and personally interested in our mission of supporting interfaith families open to exploring Jewish life. If you are ever at the JCC and wander upstairs, you will be glad to connect with Susie. She has a warm smile, a great laugh, a wonderful outlook on life and can share lots of ideas about everything from talking with extended family about religion to the day to day task of bringing spirituality and connectedness to our parenting. This is her first blog post with InterfaithFamily in which she shares the real things her son has said as he begins to process what he hears and learns about the religion and culture of Judaism.
My 5-year-old son attends a JCC Pre-Kindergarten Program.Â My husband is Jewish and I am not. Even the Jewish side of our family is learning as he learns.Â And, itâ€™s lots of fun to watch and listen as his imagination runs wild. Here are some of the things heâ€™s said lately that have made me smile:
As a mom in an interfaith family, I was worried my kids wouldnâ€™t know where they belonged or how to communicate about their beliefs.Â Instead, I am fascinated by each new spiritual discovery as it develops into value and faith. As my husband and I shepherd them through their journey, we explore our own beliefs. We are re-introduced to Jewish heritage; albeit, sometimes with a superhero twist.