Q&A with IFF/Chicago’s Intern

  

By Jacob Weis

Jacob WeissA new college student just began his summer internship at InterfaithFamily/Chicago. Curious what he’ll be writing about? I’m here to introduce you to the blogging that you’ll see from him this summer.

 “OMG there is a new intern at InterfaithFamily. I wonder what he’s like…”

That’s right, and my name is Jake Weis. I am an incoming junior at the University of Iowa and I am also a resident of Deerfield, IL. My two majors are English and Communication Studies and I was raised in an interfaith family. I hope to bring my unique religious experience and my (green) skills as a writer together in order to provide helpful insight, information and advice on all things InterfaithFamily related.

“Does this mean every blog from here on out is going to be written by some kid?”

I wish I could write them all, but you probably don’t. Expect to see other authors writing on a variety of topics just as before. I will mainly be writing about the experience of growing up in an interfaith family.

“I don’t even know this person. Why would I listen to the intern when I could hear it from the Rabbi? Millennials these days!”

I was too busy snapchatting and texting to read the whole question but I think you asked if you could get to know me. I am 20 years old, soon to be 21. (Is Manischewitz good by the way?) My older sister’s name is Sarah and she is 26. My older brother’s name is Ben, and he is 23. I have two loving parents by the names of Hope and Dan. One of them is Jewish. The other is Catholic.

“Which one is Jewish?”

Thanks for asking. Sorry everyone, but I don’t feel too comfortable answering such a loaded question. If my mother is Jewish then some Jewish readers will consider me a true Jew. But if my mother is Catholic, then I am not a true Jew to some people who do not accept patrilineal descent. I will tell you this much though, both religions claim me as part of their group in many cases, and both shun me in many other cases.

“OK sassypants, what else can we expect from you?”

Whatever my bosses tell me to write about I will write about. I am not a good liar so expect the wholehearted truth in everything I write. If you disagree with what I write feel free to comment, but remember to be nice. Think of what I say as more of a suggestion and if you don’t like it, toss it. But don’t hurt my feelings: You wouldn’t want to make the new intern cry on his first day, would you?

Why We’re Tuning in to Kosher Soul

  

Kosher Soul

Here at InterfaithFamily HQ, we have heard some fascinating personal stories about balancing interfaith lives, many of which are hilarious. Clearly, Lifetime Television agrees that interfaith lives have great stories to tell as they prepare to launch their all-new docu-sitcom Kosher Soul (#KosherSoul).

Premiering Wednesday, February 25, at 10p ET/PT, we hope you will join us in tuning in to the story of outrageous and sure-to-be entertaining Miriam and O’Neal as they bring their own interfaith story to life. I will live tweet the event over on our @interfaithfam twitter account (using the #KosherSoul hashtag) and hope you will join us in some lively conversation about this premier!

 

Kosher SoulDespite doubts and concerns from their loved ones, recently engaged Miriam and O’Neal are preparing to marry and begin their lives in a Jewish home. Madly in love, O’Neal is ready to prove his dedication to Miriam by converting to Judaism in order to be accepted by her mother, Nancy, who wants her future grandchildren to be raised Jewish. At the same time, Miriam is trying to blend O’Neal’s southern upbringing and traditions into her life. What results is a hilarious and touching peek into the love and affection between two soul mates whose deep and emotional connection overcomes cultural barriers.

Don’t worry guys! We have plenty of resources to help you through your journey. According to the trailer… you might need this!

Don’t forget to check out my live tweets during the first episode. See you there!

Seth Meyers is Jew-ish

  

Seth Meyers reveals that…he’s not Jewish! Despite what “every single Jewish person thinks,” he is not Jewish (though he does have a Jewish grandfather).

In this clip from Late Night with Seth Meyers, he talks about getting married to his now wife Alexi, who is Jewish, under a chuppah, and about his in-laws who consider him “Jewish enough.” Meyers may have thought he was merely being funny, but little did he know he was becoming the poster celebrity for InterfaithFamily!

Kids Say the Darndest Things…

  

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.

Susie's SonMy 5-year-old son attends a JCC Pre-Kindergarten Program. My husband is Jewish and I am not. Even the Jewish side of our family is learning as he learns. And, it’s lots of fun to watch and listen as his imagination runs wild. Here are some of the things he’s said lately that have made me smile:

  • To his Jewish Grandma and Grandpa, “We have to have a Shabbat candle to light. It’s Shabbat!” They rummage around in kitchen drawers and finally settle on a tiny birthday candle. “Now say the prayer!” They reach for their smartphones for assistance from the web. Candle lit, prayer said, he asks “Okay now, are we supposed to sing Happy Birthday?”
  • “I am God!… But, Mom, I can’t buckle myself in, can you help?” I guess even God needs a little help now and then.
  • “If I were God, I would bring people back to life.” Hmmm, wouldn’t that be nice.
  • “Hey Mom, I think Aquaman helped Moses part the Red Sea. God created Aquaman too…it’s true.”
  • As star of the week, his number one interest: creationism versus Big Bang. “Mom, maybe God created the big bang.”
  • While having his forehead stitched-up following a recent misadventure, he announced, “I will get my stitches out on Shabbat!” He was right; it was scheduled for Friday night.
  • “Wait, wait, we have to say the prayer before snack!” I reach for my smartphone…
  • “I haven’t decided whether I am Jewish, but I definitely want a bar mitzvah!”

 

As a mom in an interfaith family, I was worried my kids wouldn’t know where they belonged or how to communicate about their beliefs. 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.

A Jewish Tooth Fairy?

  

A question was asked on Ask a Rabbi, a project of JewishBoston.com. Quite simply put, “Is there anything in Jewish tradition about losing baby teeth? Prayers, folk stories or customs? My 6-year-old wanted to know if there is a Jewish tooth fairy.”
Great question. When I think of the Tooth Fairy, I associate her/him/zir with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. Very firmly, to me they live in the realm of Things That Do Not Exist.

A good friend of mine was raised in a lapsed Christian home. Her family celebrated holidays, but mostly Christmas (Santa) and Easter (Mr. Bunny). Even as a kid, she knew that this wasn’t a religious approach; when asked her religion, she replied they were Commercialists. When we were housemates, and she was about to have her wisdom teeth removed, her mother called me to explain the inner workings of their family’s Tooth Fairy beliefs and practices. As her parents were not local, it would fall to me to supply the money ($20/molar!) and a note (dictated by her mother – er, the Tooth Fairy herself). Even as a 20something, my friend maintained her pretend belief in the Tooth Fairy, Santa and the Easter Bunny. (Don’t get me started on the treats I had to leave out for her the year we were traveling abroad during chol ha’moed Passover [the middle days of Passover] and Easter!) The three characters were a core of her family’s not-so-religious practice. As such, I’ve come to associate the Tooth Fairy as being Christian (even if a lapsed Christian).

Given my belief that a pretend character is not Jewish, I was rather impressed with the answer Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek gave:

While many cultures have different traditions about losing baby teeth, Judaism has not traditionally marked this childhood experience. However, that wouldn’t necessarily imply that there is no Jewish tooth fairy. If in fact multiple tooth fairies carry out this particular duty, it seems reasonable to assume that among the multitudes of tooth fairies visiting children around America, at least a few are Jewish!

From my own experience, I have learned that Jewish tooth fairies do not appreciate skepticism. My mother recently showed me an exchange of notes that I had with the Tooth Fairy when I was about eight years old. Apparently I had been heard to doubt the Tooth Fairy’s existence, the result being that no money was left under my pillow, in its place a note chastising me for my disbelief. I then had to write a note in response, professing my sincere conviction that the Tooth Fairy did indeed exist. Apparently that did the trick, as the exchange ended, and I got my quarter (and a complete set of adult teeth). From this I would surmise that it is entirely possible to engage — and perhaps even bargain with — the Jewish tooth fairy, and that, in good Jewish form, dialogue and debate are always encouraged.

If you are seeking a new Jewish ritual around losing baby teeth, I encourage you to visit Ritualwell.org, a wonderful source of contemporary rituals and resources for all manner of life cycle events. There you’ll find a few suggestions for blessings and related practices to make the moment of losing a tooth an opportunity to instill Jewish values.

Maybe my friend’s upbringing was more religious than I’d thought…

Drew and Will’s Wedding

  

Mazal tov to Drew Barrymore and Will Kopelman! They’ve made their wedding date (June 2) public.

E! Online suggests the rushed wedding date is because she’s pregnant (they refer to the upcoming wedding as “bumptastic”), but I have  a different theory.

Traditionally, the time between Passover and Shavuot is a period of semi-mourning. The period is known as the Omer. But what’s an “Omer”? It was a unit of measurement used for counting barley sheaves brought as an offering to the Temple in ancient Israel. The 49 days from Passover to Shavuot were each marked with a sacrifice of barley; today we count the days (“counting the Omer”) instead.

The rabbis of the 2nd century saw the period of counting the Omer as a “semi-mourning” period. As a result, some Jews refrain from having weddings or parties, dancing, listening to music or getting haircuts — all of which are customarily avoided during shiva (first week of mourning) — during the Omer.

There’s one escape from these restrictions: a minor holiday called Lag BaOmer (or “Lag b’Omer”) that falls on May 10 this year, 33 days after the start of Passover. The name literally translates to “33rd (day) of the Omer.” On Lag BaOmer, the restrictions are lifted for the day. (Check out how one Californian handles the restrictions in this humorous video.)

But back to Drew and Will.

E! Online reports that the wedding will be small and intimate, taking place at Drew’s home (er, “estate”). And, “keeping in line with the traditional values of Kopelman’s close-knit family, his family rabbi is expected to conduct the service.”

Since we’re currently counting the Omer, and since Will’s family (and, presumably, rabbi) are “traditional,” maybe they’re not wanting to be married during the Omer. Which would mean the first chance to be wed would be May 10, a Thursday. Most Americans choose to marry on the weekend so that family and friends can travel to and from the event. Not so easy to do in the middle of the work week. So the next option would be waiting until a weekend after Shavuot. Shavuot starts the evening of May 26 and ends the night of May 27 (for some communities, including many Reform congregations) or the night of May 28 (for the rest of the Jewish communities). The next weekend after that? Yup, June 2.

You heard it here first: Drew Barrymore and her fiancé, Will Kopelman, are following the laws of the Omer.

Key Seder Elements

  

A few interesting articles crossed my desk this morning, all about Passover.

The Four Questions

The Four Questions hold a central spot in the Passover seder. Why is this night different from other nights? Reform Judaism, the magazine for the named denomination, asks in its spring issue, “What’s your favorite language for reciting the first question?” They include 20 examples of that first question asked in different languages, from Phoenician to Thai to Klingon.

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Spanish
¿Por qué es diferente esta noche de todas las otras noches?

Klingon
Qatlh pimlaw’ ramvan rammey latlh je?

I’ve signed the Four Questions before (both in ASL and LSQ) and recited them in French. Which languages does your family ask them in? Have you tried having each person at the table ask one of the questions in a language that they know? It’s an interesting way to make the questions both universal and accessible in new ways.

The Ten Plagues

In discussions at your Passover table, how do your friends and relatives view the plagues? Inside Magazine, of Philadelphia, offers a review of the Ten Plagues, another central component of the Passover seder. In “Decimation and Emancipation: Understanding the impact of the 10 plagues,” competing opinions are presented on the importance of the plagues, their historical accuracy, their relevance, and more.

One view is that the plagues are “political allegory that is part of Exodus, the Israelites’ ‘birth of a nation’ story.” But that there weren’t ten, they didn’t happen in that order; there wasn’t this unnamed Pharaoh. Instead, the plagues represent the “systematic dismantling of the Egyptian socio-economic system, which was based on agriculture and the Nile.” In other words, they were formed so that the story is, “Our God brought Pharaoh of Egypt to its knees. That’s why we Israelites have the right to live independently.”

The opposing view could be summarized as more faithful. “Having not found proof of the plagues doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. It means the proof has not yet been found.”

“Are there acts of nature that can account for some of the plagues? Yes,” Rabbi Albert Gabbis, who lived in Egypt, says. “For example, the plague of blood in the Nile. We know that sometimes, the Nile turns red. When I was a child, I saw it with my own eyes. The rain brings the red clay from the mountains of Ethiopia into the Nile. But I would say this: In either case, the hand of God is there.”

Dinner!

Of course, food is super important to the seder! Jamie Geller recommends three Passover recipes that won’t “taste” like Passover. (Score!)

Then there’s the confusing matter of kitniyot (legumes, corn, rice, soy/tofu, etc.). Last year, we offered a concise guide to Passover food guidelines via our pals at JewishBoston.com. This year, the Jewish Journal (greater Boston area) expands on that guide with Corn, Rice? Yes, No? – and some often contradictory answers:

Rabbi Baruch HaLevi of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott has advocated for the consumption of kitniyot on Passover for those who are comfortable with it.

“I believe in making Judaism more, not less accessible, and it makes Passover a heck of a lot easier if we can have corn products,” HaLevi said.

The important thing is that people understand the difference between a Jewish law and a custom. Chametz, like bread, is forbidden by Jewish law. Corn products depend on your custom, he said. Each year, he gets questions as people try to sort out the differences.

Rabbi Deborah Zuker of Temple Ner Tamid also receives questions, especially from people who visit Israel during Passover. She follows the Ashkenazic tradition of not consuming kitniyot.

“In Israel, you can find products marked ‘kosher for Pesach’ for people who eat kitniyot, but here we can’t know if the kitniyot have been mixed with wheat,” Zuker said.

She believes the Ashkenazic practices are old enough to be considered law in some communities, but added that different communities have different practices.

Dessert: the Afikomen

Not every seder is lucky enough to host Jake Gyllenhaal (sorry!), but you can enjoy his company for a few moments:

As far as “new thoughts” goes, this one might be a stretch. But come on – who doesn’t love Jake?

Hopefully some of these thoughts will help liven the discussions at your Passover seders this year!

Gefilte Fish

  

We recently asked readers for their gefilte fish stories. We didn’t really say more than that, hoping for as broad a response as possible. Because, really, if there’s one odd part of the Passover seder to pick out, one bizarre element to explain to your friends and relatives who’ve never experienced a seder before, gefilte fish is as likely a target as any. Most other elements of the seder have direct explanations: they stem from the elements of the Haggadah, the story read at the seder that retells slavery in Egypt, the Exodus.

But gefilte fish? Stretching for a plausible answer, I once heard a desperate Hebrew school teacher explain that gefilte fish honored the fish of the Red Sea, which Moses parted allowing the Jews to cross, escaping the Egyptians. I’m not so sure of that one…

About ten years ago, debating a career change, a friend suggested I start a Jewish cooking show on television. And, in his words, he would be my ever helpful “gentile sidekick, asking such important questions as, ‘why is the fish gefilted?'”

Deb M. of Massachusetts sent us this in response to our request:

Still trying to figure out exactly what it is… No stories for me. Sorry, just yuck for now!

So what is gefilte fish?

A patty made of ground up varieties of fish, matzo meal and spices, boiled in fish broth. Typical main ingredients include fresh water fish like pike, carp, and, most commonly, whitefish. Gefilte fish gets its name from the Yiddish for “stuffed fish” and is commonplace to have on festivals and Shabbos. Some say that gefilte fish became popular due to how it’s made: the deboning meant some Jews who don’t want to break the rules of the things you shouldn’t do on Shabbos would feel more comfortable having the fish, because they weren’t “choosing” not to have the bones. Also, the addition of breadcrumbs or matzo meal meant they could make the fish last longer.

Whatever the reason, many of us will be seated at Passover seders next week enjoying gefilte fish (often served with a side of horseradish – to help (or hide) the flavor).

To help get you ready for this culinary adventure, we received some interesting tales, often humorous, involving this Passover seder staple. Share yours in the comments!

Julie G. of Montreal, QC:

Back in 1990, my brother was 6 years old and a very picky eater. My parents had tried almost everything to get him to eat a variety of foods, to no effect. But what my brother wanted, more than anything else, was a Nintendo. So one night, in a fit of despair, my father made a deal with my brother: “If you finish the gefilte fish on your plate, I’ll buy you a Nintendo!” He knew that this ploy would fail, as so many of his ploys had failed in the past.

Wouldn’t you know it, in less than 30 seconds my brother’s plate had been wiped clean, and he stared up at my father with the excited, hopeful eyes that only exist in small children who know they’re just about to get everything they ever wanted.

My father bought him the Nintendo. My brother still loves gefilte fish.

Rebekah M of Philadelphia, PA:

My last semester of college, I made friends with a bunch of freshman that joined the fencing club. We were hanging out and some of my new friends, who were Jewish, were saying that they missed home and Jewish food. So I promised to make them lots of food. Between the 3 of them, they decided they wanted matzah ball soup, brisket, latkes, challah and gefilte fish. My friend David was quite insistent that there be gefilte fish.

The following Friday I went out and bought all I needed, including a jar of gefilte fish. I had everything set out when everyone got there, but I couldn’t open the jar of gefilte fish, nor could my dorm neighbors. When David arrived, I told him that I had bought the gefilte fish but he’d have to open it if he wanted any. He was also unsuccessful. People arrived sporadically over the next few hours; everyone that came in was told that they had to try and open the jar of gefilte fish. No one could. As the night went on, we forgot to tell people to open it. Every once in a while David would remember and loudly lament the fact that no one could open the jar of gefilte fish. Four hours later, it was still unopened and I made him take it with him back to his dorm.

I don’t actually know if he ever got the jar open and ate the gefilte fish.

@MarjorieMoon on Twitter:

Grandma would buy fresh pike & keep it in the tub till ready. I thought every grandma did this! Homemade and super yummy.

Karen K of San Francisco, CA:

My assignment for the seder was to bring the gefilte fish. Which meant going to the store and buying two jars, which I did. Of course I then had the task of placing the fish on individual plates to be distributed to each the guests. I was a young mother who enjoyed cooking and brought a chocolate sponge cake for dessert but never even entertained the thought of cooking the gefilte fish, I wasn’t even going to eat it!

So there I was in the kitchen of the host family, finishing the first jar and opening the second when a second layer of scent enveloped me. I peered into the open jar and saw a short brown something. The smell reminded me of my grandfather — not surprising since he led the seders of my childhood. But this scent wasn’t a seder memory. It reminded me of the nights when he invited his cronies over for pinochle. I was swept away by a vivid memory of those sweet old men gathered around the table, laughing and smoking their cigars!

Oh boy, it was a cigar in the top of the jar! My mind flashed to an overworked man on the assembly line in the Manischewitz factory angrily putting out his cigar in the tub of fish. There was little appetite for jarred gefilte fish that night, but there was a new discussion on the additional workload of the laborers who made all the kosher for Passover food for us.

David D.:

I won’t do the story exactly, but a cousin’s friend’s father, Jim, was touring Israel. He was on a boat on the Sea of Galilee with other tourists including a Christian bible study group from the American Midwest.

A middle-aged women was discussing all the fishermen they saw and said to her friends, “I wonder what they catch here?”

Jim, ever helpful, volunteered, “Gefilte fish.”
“Oh”, she said, “I’ve heard of those. What do they use for bait?”
Jim explained, “Little pieces of cooked carrot.”
“Oh, how odd…”

New Haggadah on The Colbert Report

  

Stephen Colbert is getting ready for Passover.

Colbert introduced the segment – an interview with author Jonathan Safran Foer – with a joke that the only Jew in the audience chuckled at (a reference to the four questions).

But the interview itself was fun and included some good questions for the author of the New American Haggadah. Watch for yourself as they talk about the tradition of retelling the Exodus story each Passover, and what Safran Foer hopes people will experience with his new haggadah (hint: he hopes it makes you “feel” not just “read”).

Of course, Colbert being, well, Colbert, he couldn’t resist a jab or two: “You think you can improve on Moses?” He continued, “You got some matzah balls, buddy.”

December Compromise Song

  

This video was sent to me by its creators, Janelle and Matthew, an interfaith couple. It’s a song about compromise during the December holidays.

I liked it, thought it was cute and sweet. But the use of the word “proselytize,” with translation, made me squirm a little.

What do you think?