And Baby Makes More

[float=left][/float]I’ve been waiting for this! Susan Goldberg, who has written some beautiful and moving pieces for IFF, edited a book, with Chlo√ę Brushwood Rose, called And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families.  The book has been available in Canada for some months now, and is finally being released in the US. If you live in New York and this is an issue dear to your heart, you should go to the book release party, Tuesday June 8 at 7PM at Bluestockings.

I read the excerpt on the publisher’s website–the introduction and first chapter–and it is great! 

One Way to Get It Right and a signal boost

How great to see another model of Jewish-Catholic intermarriage in a Chicago newspaper. Alexa Aguilar’s piece, Two Faiths Can Join To Make a Happy Family in the Chicago Tribune today, provides a welcome contrast to the debacle of the Reyes case, in which a divorcing couple fought over their child’s religious practice. Aguilar writes:

My husband is Jewish. I was raised Catholic. He went to Hebrew school, I went to Catholic school. He was a bar mitzvah, I received all my sacraments.

But we are two people who believe there are many paths to God, and who recognize that much of our faith is intertwined with our warm memories of childhood. When we decided to marry, we were intent on being a couple who would be open-minded and respectful of each other’s traditions.

I really liked the subtitle at the top of the webpage: “Interfaith marriage: One way to get it right.” Because there is more than one way to get it right, just as there are so many ways to get it wrong.

Aguilar’s family goes to Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors, the congregation where our frequent contributor Rachel Baruch Yackley has had a leadership role. (It’s more of a havurah than a synagogue so there isn’t just one leader.) That was kind of nice to see, too.

I also want to boost the signal for Hila Ratzabi‘s project, an anthology of pieces by women in Jewish interfaith relationships. She has a blog post up about it on The Forward‘s The Sisterhood blog–a nifty Jewish web resource I should mention in any case.  (I find the internet slang “boost the signal” oddly amusing, don’t you? It sounds so technical.)

Freedom

Julia Gutman wrote two articles about her intercultural relationship for InterfaithFamily.com, Does OK Really Mean OK? and Momo and Matzoh: Our Tibetan-Jewish Marriage. She sent me a press release that begins:

FREE TIBET WORLD TOUR: MAN PLUS BIKE TO SAVE TIBET IN 8 MONTHS
A Tibetan American Goes Solo, Leaves Job, Family, to Alert World of his People’s Plight
At 40, Lhakpa has never been to Tibet. As he brushes his teeth, photos of escaped prisoners, their flesh rotten, race through his mind. Despite protests over human rights, China was awarded the honor of hosting the Olympics. It is sports, many said, not politics. Remind you of 1936 Olympics in Germany, anyone? So he left his job and family to ride his motorcycle from the UN in New York on March 10, around the world on a shoestring, modern nomad style to talk about Tibet, hoping pressure changes China’s behavior. He plans to return by 2011.

I spoke with Julia on the phone. First she explained: Lhakpa is her husband! She said she was surprised at how supportive her Russian Jewish relatives were of his quest to publicize the plight of Tibetans. They saw a parallel between his people’s situation and what had happened to their families in the Second World War.

This is a good interfaith story for Passover, when Jews celebrate emerging from slavery to freedom. In this case, the 40 years in the desert are going to be eight months on a motorcycle.

If you would like to follow Lhakpa’s ride around the world, you can read his blog, freetibetworldtour.com, or follow him on Twitter, Youtube, or Facebook.

Challah Day

I baked challah last night. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo–I did some cool braiding. I made the first recipe in the wonderful A Blessing of Bread, by Maggie Glezer. Glezer collected recipes, mainly from Jewish grandmothers, for holiday and festival breads. I’ve learned a lot since I started baking from it. I wanted to bake again to try to use up the rest of the flour in our house. I also made cake, and I’m planning to make pasta. The carb-a-thon is due to my need to clean out my cupboards of non-Passover food before cleaning the house for Passover.

I was thinking about how I would like to have more guests just this morning, as I was mulling over the resource guide to Jewish spirituality that I’m writing for IFF. I wanted to make the case that Jewish spirituality was mundane, something in which everyone could participate, Jewish or not. I thought of the mitzvah of hospitality in Judaism. I hadn’t known until I looked it up that it trumps prayer or study–it’s one of the most important mitzvot of all. Great for interfaith families, too, because there are lots of hospitable people who don’t realize that they are doing something spiritual. I have a great impression of the people who read and write for our site–they love to cook and invite people. When we do that, we’re in imitation of God, of whom we say in Psalms 145:16, “You open your hand and satisfy all the living.” That’s how we should be, too.

That’s why I am planning to spring Global Hunger Shabbat on my havurah this Shabbat, when I lead services on Saturday morning. (Now I’ll find out who is reading my blog posts, eh?) I’m going to use some of their educational materials–I also have some selections from Psalms in mind to sing. The Global Hunger Shabbat is part of a project from the American Jewish World Service. I also want to give a shout out to Project Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger, which makes grants to local hunger-relief agencies. In my area we have the Greater Boston Food Bank. We also have organizations that give to Jews in need–Passover food is extra expensive–like Jewish Family and Children’s Service Family Table.

Before Passover is a great time to think about people who are hungry, as we gear up for the seder when we say, “All who are hungry, let them come and eat.”

No More Rubber Cement!

This is amazing. I knew something like this was going to be invented, but I’m still blown away. IFF’s partner and friend, BBYO (the organization formerly known as Prince –no, sorry  Bnai Brith Youth Organization) sent out a press release about their new resource, buildaprayer.org. It’s a website where people can put together their own Jewish services out of the traditional liturgy, meeting the needs of the people who will be there.

I started making a sample service on the site, just so I would know how it works. (I didn’t print out, because the last thing I need is to have to find a respectful way to dispose of paper with the divine name printed on it.) Right now they have four choices: Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday evening services and Grace after Meals. As you may know, there are set prayers in Hebrew for different occasions–these are the ones that youth group members need the most frequently. You can choose a traditional service or only components of it to build your own custom service–Hebrew prayers, with translation or transliteration, with two choices of layout of the components and places to insert other introductory or inspirational texts.

If, like me, you used to participate in Reform youth group services back in the dark ages before personal computers were common, you know that we did, in fact, use actual scissors and rubber cement to lay out services with these components.

Now, it’s true that this site doesn’t give you the opportunity to change the Hebrew liturgy. You can’t paste a text from the Talmud into the Psalms, as we sometimes do at my Havurah. But for knowledgeable Jews in interfaith families who are planning a bar or bat mitzvah or a wedding and want to make sure that their non-Jewish relatives and friends understand the service? This is a fantastic tool. There are also impressive resources on the site for learning more about the history and meaning of Jewish liturgy.

We already love BBYO around here. Check out this great article, Teenagers In Love which shows how enthusiastic teens from interfaith families feel about the youth movement. This buildaprayer.org site is such a nifty resource that I would be excited about it even if we didn’t already think BBYO was awesome–go look! 

The Real World Without the Communal Showers

Did you see the New York Times piece about Moishe House, “The Four Bedroom Kibbutz”? It made us at InterfaithFamily.com pretty happy, since we’re friends, as an organization, with Moishe House, as an organization. (Which is not the same thing as being friends on Facebook, or anything like that. No, it just means that our CEOs had a beer together last Purim.)

It’s also great to see the acknowledgment of Jewish diversity and of the role of children of interfaith marriage as leaders in the Jewish community.

Hanukkah is Gonna Be All Right

A lot of my blogging this December is going to fall into three categories: embedding gratuitously entertaining Hanukkah videos, linking you to Hanukkah resources, and promoting the blogs of our writers. This post does all three.

First, I think everyone should read Amy Meltzer’s blog Homeshuling (and that I should get more writing from her on our site!) Whether or not you are in an interfaith family, if you’re parenting Jewish children in a majority non-Jewish environment you will relate to her post Playing Christians. (Sometimes when I read these blogs I come down with blog envy–I wish people had written their posts for IFF instead. That happens to me a lot when I read Fifty Percenters, a new blog by people in interfaith couples and families.)

Aliza Hausman, one of my favorite IFF writers and author of the insightful Memoirs of a Jewminicana, asked on her Facebook page yesterday whether anyone had good songs for non-Jewish children to learn about Hanukkah. It turns out it’s for a friend of hers who is a pre-school teacher, but I thought it would be relevant to a lot of our readers.  I thought immediately of “I Had a Little Dreidel,” (MP3) the quintessential non-religious Hanukkah song in English. (The link is to a cool acapella group from Chicago, Listen Up! Acapella.)

In recent years, my favorite non-religious English song about Hanukkah has been Woody Guthrie’s Hanuka Dance. (The link there is to a Youtube video of a very earnest young man covering the song–it’s sweet!) Subsequent to my discovery of the Woody Guthrie recording of that song, one of my favorite bands of all time, The Klezmatics, covered Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah songs in an album, Happy Joyous Hanukkah. (I wrote this post yesterday and actually heard the title song being piped over the loudspeaker in my local supermarket! Now that’s weird.)

You’re going to think this is bizarre, but I’m embedding a video that makes me cry. The Leevees, a bunch of indie rock musicians who do Hanukkah music, sang “Latke Clan,” at a synagogue nursery school. It’s dark, it’s December, it looks cold and grey, all the parents are hugging their kids, and the band is singing, “everyone’s together tonight.” I don’t know, it’s a happy, silly song and everyone’s happy and making jokes. I’m just touched because this is really how it is–we like to all be together. Hope that’s how it is for you. (Next Hanukkah post–pancakes!)

My Cleveland Talk on Youtube

I gave a talk at Cleveland’s Siegal College on November 2, and they took video, which they’ve posted to Youtube. I made a playlist so you can watch the whole thing–gesticulations and all. It was a general talk on the state of interfaith families in the Jewish community, and most of the time was devoted to questions and answers.

Enjoy.

Movie Review: Leap of Faith

We ran a review today of A Serious Man, and I wanted to also be sure to give you a chance to see the review I wrote for the Boston Jewish Film Festival booklet of one of the movies they are screening, Leap of Faith. (We also had a feature story about another film in the festival, Killing Kastner. The Boston Jewish Film Festival is still going on.

In general I think of Jewish film festivals as a great way for people in interfaith families to engage with Jewish culture. I’m not so sure whether these three movies are necessarily the ones I would recommend to interfaith families specifically, especially since the one they asked me to review was about conversion. Anyway, here’s my mini-review:

As the editor of InterfaithFamily.com, I read a lot of memoirs from Jews by choice. They often make me cry. I understand why people choose Judaism on an intellectual level – our religion has a lot to offer – but it touches me on a visceral level that they choose to become part of our people.  Watching Leap of Faith reminded me again of what is so intense about the stories of Jews by choice. I can’t speak for everyone who was raised Jewish, but Jewishness is so close to my identity that every story about someone choosing Judaism feels like someone is choosing to join my family–even if the Judaism in their community doesn’t look exactly like the Judaism in mine.

The documentary follows several people who want to become Jews and are seeking conversion to Orthodox Judaism. Most of them come from devout Christian backgrounds and have come to believe that Judaism is a stronger expression of their beliefs, not only about God and monotheism, but about family, community and the good life. They have disrupted their previous lives to move into the heart of an observant Jewish community, because it’s nearly impossible to live a full Jewish life alone. The Orthodox conversion process requires living in the community for at least a year before one can come in front of the rabbinical court.

Any time someone wants to join a Jewish community, they must conform to that community’s norms. Jewish communities, whether they are Orthodox or more liberal, value close families. Not all Jewish families fit that cultural expectation, but we still build our culture and religion around it.

For the people in this documentary, families are a paradox. Without having the support of at least their nuclear families, they won’t succeed in making the transformation they seek. But when devout Christian families want what’s best for their family members, they want them to believe in Jesus, because only in that belief can they find salvation. How does one perform the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents while leaving their religion?

At the end of the film, one of the rabbinical authorities on conversion is asked whether he would want one of his children to marry a convert. The rabbi cannot answer the question. He’s stuck. He knows what he should say, but he can’t say it. It’s a very important moment in the film – will these people who have worked so hard to be Jewish ever really belong? Perhaps this rabbi’s paralysis is an extreme case; most Jews aren’t in communities that hold such contradictory views on Jews by choice. Still, it says something about our fear of difference as a community that we still find converts exotic, that we can’t forget they converted – perhaps because we can’t believe that they picked us.

Interfaith Family Issues Hit the Big Time

Well, we like to think we’re the big time here at InterfaithFamily.com, but you’ll probably agree that the Washington Post is a bigger venue for discussions of issues that affect interfaith families. The introductory article has a link to an interview with Cokie and Steve Roberts, two well-known journalists in a Catholic-Jewish interfaith marriage. I watched the interview last night.

It did seem a little weird to me that Steve Roberts says that his mom is “very Jewish” but that she had never been to a Passover seder until her Catholic daughter-in-law coordinated one. I guess it shows what “very Jewish” means–it’s a cultural marker, something that says more about language and habits than religious practice. Sometimes when people use Jewish as an adjective I’m not totally sure where they are going with it, what it means to them. It’s an interesting interview overall and I’d love to hear what you thought about it.

I’m excited that Marion Usher, who is an old friend of IFF and an outreach professional, is going to be featured in a WaPo video on the work she does with interfaith families. I’ll try to stay on top of that and link it here. It will also be interesting for me to see interfaith family issues that affect families where neither partner is Jewish.