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Who should receive a Hebrew name? What requirements should be met? Should a Hebrew name only come with a stated commitment from the childâ€™s parents to raise their child Jewishly? What if one of the parents is not Jewish? What if the child might not be raised as a Jew?
I have thought deeply about these questions in recent weeks as opportunities to officiate at baby-namings for interfaith families presented themselves.
I spoke with rabbis, friends and family members, and heard a variety of passionate points of view. In the process, I became passionate about what the answers are for me. Iâ€™m curious to know what you think.
The spirit of the naming ceremony is to bring a child into the covenant of the Jewish people. It includes a commitment from parents to raise their child as a Jew. For most people, this is an unbendable requirement. I understand, and respect, that point of view, but I have come to disagree.
A baby-naming ceremony is an opportunity for a family to connect with Judaism during a powerful moment in that familyâ€™s life. It is a chance for us, as a Jewish community, to be an open, welcoming door. The family may only want to put their babyâ€™s toe through the door for now, but that is enough to keep the door open. This is a defining moment, and it will set the tone for their interest in future engagement.
After the ceremony, the name will forever belong to the child. It may never be thought of again, or it might possess the power to open the door to Judaism further. It could be a catalyst for curiosity. The name may, one day, whisper in the childâ€™s ear, â€śGo find out more about these people you are a part of.â€ť
To me, a Hebrew name is a good seed planted.
What do you think?
One of the most difficult aspects of pregnancy for meâ€”especially right now in week 36â€”is the prospect of leaving my other baby: InterfaithFamily. Itâ€™s only temporary, I know, but the idea of dropping everything for several weeks has required more than a bit of office nesting (is that a thing?) over the last several months.
Iâ€™m not paving new ground here. Mothers- and fathers-to-be go through this process every day. While stepping away from a job where there is no backupâ€”no other person who does the same job you do and can simply fill in for youâ€”makes it all the more difficult, I have something that very few other people have. The IFF family.
Iâ€™ve already learned so much from all of our strong, wise parenting writers, especially the new ones, Anna and Anne, who are first-time moms to adorable babies. While my experience will not be from the perspective of an interfaith couple, there are so many big and small decisions to make and questions to work out for all parents before and after having a child. Seeing how our wedding and parenting bloggers approach overwhelming and sometimes incredibly challenging moments with respect, communication and grace is inspiring.
Iâ€™m also blessed to work with some of the most compassionate people I know. It doesnâ€™t hurt that many of them are parents (and grandparents!). One lesson Iâ€™ve already learned is that everything is easier when you surround yourself with a supportive community. My co-workers have been a constant source of insight and understanding throughout this journey. They have been there to kvell (rejoice) with me and to listen to me vent. From giving me their maternity clothes to decorating onesies to sharing their childrenâ€™s favorite books, this family has buoyed me for the last nine months.
I have no doubt that the walls of the editorial department will not crumble in my absence, thanks to the several people who are stepping up to help while Iâ€™m gone. I hope to return a wiser person with new perspectives to bring to the work we do at IFF, albeit a wee bit less rested. If you have a question while Iâ€™m gone? Not to fear: Iâ€™ll get back to you in December (wink, wink).
While Iâ€™m having a hard time letting go of my work baby, my husband and I are filled with awe and anticipation at meeting and getting to know the baby inside me. Thank you to the extended IFF family, and of course my own friends and family, who share in our simcha (joy). We couldnâ€™t do it without you.
Well, I went to the water one day to pray.
As a Jewish woman who feels deeply rooted in her African- and Native-American familyâ€™s heritage, the famous Negro spiritual â€śWade in the Waterâ€ť holds multiple and profound layers of visceral meaning for me. It was a central component of an alternative Rosh Hashanah ritual I created and observed in Washington, DCâ€™s Rock Creek Park a couple years ago. And a couple years before that, â€śWade in the Waterâ€ť was bittersweetly at the heart of a soft-spoken, yet powerful conversation between Alana, a dear friend of mine from college, her Hungarian-Jewish grandmother and me in her grandmotherâ€™s home in Mayen, Germany.
The classic spiritual was originally among a number of songs used as vocal instructions sung in the cotton fields to help fugitive slaves navigate the treacherous, but ultimately liberating path of the Underground Railroad.
One night during a five-day layover in Germany in 2009, Alana shared with me that the â€śWade in the Waterâ€ť segment of Alvin Aileyâ€™s famed â€śRevelationsâ€ť dance sequence was once playing on her grandmotherâ€™s television. She explained to her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, how enslaved African-Americans used the song to escape from slavery. After a few moments of silence, her grandmother began crying as she asked Alana, in German, â€śWhy didnâ€™t we think to do that?â€ť With Alanaâ€™s permission, I gently broached the subject with her bubbe a couple days later. What ensued was one of the most meaningful conversations of my life.
Black people, my people, literally found their way to freedom through song. Similar to making aliyah or immersing oneself in the mikveh, song is a spiritual vehicle that guides and elevates both individuals and communities to higher ground. The Jewish people, also my people, are well-versed in spiritual elevation, as well as immersion. It is embedded in the mundane to mystical elements of our religion.
One of the nicest ways that spiritual immersion is still alive and thriving in the Boston area is found at Mayyim Hayyim. Now in its 10th year of existence, the Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Mikveh and Paula Brody & Family Education Center is a community mikveh that has stayed true to its mission of reclaiming and reinventing one of Judaism’s most ancient ritualsâ€”immersion in the mikveh. Mayyim Hayyim has brought this sacred tradition to life by encouraging its traditional, as well as creative contemporary spiritual use. Each year the center teaches thousands of interested visitors. And on a daily basis, it models how to make the mikveh a sacred space that is open and accessible to all Jews and those who are becoming Jews. This was the vision of Mayyim Hayyim founder and acclaimed author Anita Diamant.
As Mayyim Hayyimâ€™s founding executive director Aliza Kline once stated, â€śThe explicit mission of Mayyim Hayyim is to provide a space that is warm and welcoming of the broadest sense of the Jewish community.â€ť In a world where not enough Jewish communal spaces fully embrace interfaith families, let alone the rest of the Jewish communityâ€™s expansive diversity, the Newton-based non-profit stands in a distinctive category of its own. It has become a destination for interfaith families and Jews across the spectrum of observance and affiliation. Mayyim Hayyim actively welcomes interfaith, multiracial and LGBTQ members and families.
â€śWade in the Water,â€ť along with many other songs and poetry from Jewish and other spiritual traditions are resources Mayyim Hayyim has available for visitors of their mikvehs to use as they feel inspired.
Whether you are undergoing conversion, a life cycle event or a personal journey of healing or transformation, I recommend you schedule a visit to Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Mikveh.