New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
For the past eight-and-a-half years, Iâ€™ve been the rabbi of Temple Menorah Keneseth Chai (TMKC). Itâ€™s a small community with a close-knit group of congregants.Â During our Friday night Shabbat service each week, we have Simcha Time:Â when people are invited to come up to the bimah and share about birthdays, anniversaries and other good news.
Dottie Bricker, a TMKC congregant, is an amazing woman with a very strong Jewish background and connection to Judaism and the Jewish people. Dottie grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home. As a young girl, Dottie spoke only Yiddish at home â€“ she didnâ€™t even learn English until she went to kindergarten. Dottie comes to services regularly and often comes to the bima to kvell about her four grandchildren.
Dottie is, in every way, the consummate Jewish grandmother. She bursts with love and pride when she speaks about each of her four grandchildren, all of whom call her â€śBubba.â€ť Though sheâ€™s a Jewish grandmother, not all four of Dottieâ€™s grandchildren are Jewish. Here, in her own words, are Dottieâ€™s thoughts about being a grandmother in an interfaith family.
My Journey that Started Twenty-Two Years Ago (by Dottie Bricker)
It was a few days before Hanukkah when my son Howard called and asked if he could bring someone to our party. I said, â€śOf course.â€ť And he said, â€śMom, sheâ€™s not Jewish.â€ť I asked, â€śIs she nice?â€ť And he answered, â€śVery.â€ť
Howard married Gail a year later. Two years later my Charlie was born, and when he was 3, my Rachel was born. Oh, happy day-Iâ€™m the mother of three boys, the grandmother of three boys and now I finally had my little girl!
After Rachel was born, my son called and said that Gail wanted to raise the kids in her Catholic faith. Then he asked me if I would be OK with this. My answer was, â€śAre you nuts?! I love them the same as the other grandkids. They are the air I breathe. They are my naches.â€ť
When Charlie and Rachel started school, I became very familiar with their school, Our Lady of Good Counsel. When they received awards, I was there at Mass to see them honored. My Charlieâ€™s third grade teacher, Mrs. Yerkes, asked if his Bubba would come to read the story of Hanukkah to his class. I said I would love to. I read the story and taught them to play dreidel. I bought them jelly doughnuts to eat and they had a great time. A few months later, Mrs. Yerkes asked if I would read the story of Passover, and I was happy to go back. I brought matzah for the students to try. They said they liked it, but they liked the jelly doughnuts better.
When Charlie was in fifth grade, he told his teacher about his dadâ€™s small Torah. The teacher asked if he could bring it to school. My Charlie called me and asked if Iâ€™d come to school and teach about the Torah. Once again, I said, â€śOf course.â€ť It was a wonderful experience for me.
My grandkids are now in high school and I have just been retired from my job at Our Lady of Good Counsel. Thereâ€™s a new â€śBubbieâ€ť in Mrs. Yerkesâ€™ class.
My grandkids know that if they need Bubba I will be there for them. I have chaperoned school trips, gone to Phillies games with Rachel and even taken Charlie to the Mother-and-Son Dance when Gail was called into work at the last minute.
I like to say that my family is a â€śblended family.â€ť We learn from each other. Itâ€™s special.
They are truly the air I breathe.
Some Jewish grandparents whose grandchildren are being brought up in a different religious tradition may understandably have a much harder time accepting that reality than Dottie. In my Â blog post about honoring grandmothers of Jewish kids who arenâ€™t themselves Jewish, I noted that, â€śUnlike their own sons and daughters, who fell in love with someone Jewish and made the choice to have a Jewish home and raise their children as Jews (whether or not they themselves became Jewish), these grandparents who arenâ€™t Jewish never had a choiceâ€”theyâ€™re bound by their childrenâ€™s decisions.â€ť Of course, the same is true for Jewish grandparents whose grandchildren are being raised in a different religious tradition. It can be difficult to accept your own childâ€™s decision to not raise your grandchild as a Jew.
Ultimately, itâ€™s a parentâ€™s decision how to raise their child. With mutual respect and lots of communication between grandparents and adult children, grandparents can hopefully find ways to share their Jewish traditions with their grandchildren without the parents feeling that the grandparent is â€śpushingâ€ť Judaism on their child. Â ThisÂ may be hard, and the grandparent may legitimately feel a sense of loss that their grandchild isnâ€™t Jewish (see my blog on acknowledging the loss of a parent who commits to raise children in a religious tradition other than the one they grew up with-this can be all the more difficult for grandparents who didnâ€™t have the choice to make.) But hopefully, like Dottie, the grandparent will love their grandchildren unconditionally, and describe them as nothing less than â€śthe air I breathe.â€ť
Of course there is no such thing as the â€śbest partner,â€ť but you want your loved one to feel that you are their best partner, right? Whether youâ€™re dating, married or seriously committed, the best gift you can give your loved one is to be supportiveâ€”even on those rare (or not so rare) occasions when you donâ€™t see eye to eye.
1. Speak your mind: Speaking up is just as important as listening. If your partner doesnâ€™t know how you feel, they canâ€™t be sensitive to your feelings. If Passoverâ€™s coming up and youâ€™d really like a hand preparing to host the holiday, donâ€™t wait for them to offerâ€”ask! So many relationship struggles come from lack of communication. If youâ€™re visiting your significant otherâ€™s parents and youâ€™re anxious about not being familiar with certain religious rituals that might come up during a holiday of a religion you donâ€™t practice, ask for a primer (better yet, if itâ€™s Jewish information you seek, find one here!). Youâ€™ll feel more comfortable and your loved one will appreciate your interest in their religion.
2. Go halfsies: My husband and I annoyingly like to tease each other that â€śwhatâ€™s yours is mineâ€ť when it comes to that ice cream sundae or a winning scratch ticket. But it goes both ways. When I see him eyeing the last of my homemade Hanukkah cookies: â€śWhatâ€™s mine is yours.â€ť When that wine bottle is almost empty: â€śWhatâ€™s mine is yours.â€ť When you’re both generous with the little things, you might find youâ€™re in a better mindset to compromise on the big stuff too.
3. Get creative: Feel like most of the time youâ€™re on autopilot? Work, grocery store, gym, errands, pick up the kids (if you have kids), etc. Thatâ€™s because we all are. So when you actually get a free minute to spare with your sweetheart, it can be hard to figure out what to do with itâ€”besides a Netflix binge. But there are so many great events going on every week in the Jewish community, plus workshops from InterfaithFamily for couples and new parents. #ChooseLove by taking advantage of that precious free time in a more enriching way and learn something new together. Even if itâ€™s just once in a while, youâ€™ll be glad you got off the couch.
4. Take your time: Figuring out your religious identity as a couple or family takes time. You might want to feel like you have a plan for celebrating holidays and family gatherings thatâ€™s just rightâ€”from the get-go. Let yourself off the hook! Be OK with not being the perfect Passover host this year. Your what-went-wrongs will inform next year. And some unexpected moments worth repeating will almost certainly happen organically. As you see what works for youâ€”hosting versus visiting, keeping the kids in school versus bringing them to a holiday observance, etc.â€”youâ€™ll start to create your own traditions.
5. Let it go: I’m not saying you should avoid communication and let hurt feelings fester (especially about big issues), but this is about not â€śsweating the small stuff.â€ť If your partnerâ€™s complaining about visiting your in-laws for Easter again, but you know sheâ€™s had a terrible, no good, very bad day, maybe let this one slide. Or if youâ€™ve already made your opinion known that your grandmother has the best chicken soup recipe on the planet, and it would be a travesty not to serve it to your guests, put it in perspective: If itâ€™s really important for your partner to connect with their grandma through an old passed-down recipe, perhaps itâ€™s not worth ruining your holiday over soup. Often we expect a lot from our loved ones, but sometimes we lose sight of whatâ€™s worth getting worked up over. And more important: whatâ€™s not.
I had a dream last night that I was officiating a wedding of an interfaith couple. It wasnâ€™t a particularly strange situation: A lovely couple stood in front of their family and friends. The bride was in a gorgeous white gown, the groom in a nice black tuxedo. The three of us stood there, under the chuppah about to consecrate their marriage and begin their life as a married couple. And a priest showed up to officiate alongside me. I didnâ€™t know him but the groom seemed to be expecting him and the ceremony proceeded. A little while later the groom shared that heâ€™d like to read a poem that was important to him, I again wasnâ€™t expecting this but he was standing there, under the chuppah, with a piece of paper in his hands ready to read. Once he started I realized it was a series of bible verses from the New Testament asking that all attendees pray in Jesusâ€™ name as their marriage was blessed in the church. I looked over at the bride and saw that she was as shocked as I was, never having discussed this with her groom, I saw the questioning and blindsided look in her eyes.
I call this a dream, although as a rabbi I would more likely call this a nightmare. The couple had clearly never talked to one another about their religious preferences, and had not communicated their wishes with meâ€”their rabbi and wedding officiant. This nightmare is unlikely to occur to this extreme, but in real life it has me thinking a lot about the issues couples have in planning weddings and marriages. The flowers and catering and dress seem like tangible, albeit not necessarily easy, decisions to make when planning a wedding. Even talking about how to plan for finances and a wedding budget are expected parts of forging ahead in a marriage. But how does talking about religion and beliefs factor into the planning process?
My husband and I went on our first date on a Friday night to Shabbat services at a Reform synagogue. I knew he was raised attending Chabad and other Orthodox synagogues, and he knew I was studying to be a rabbi. We both tried to impress each other by suggesting Shabbat for our first date.Â In a lot of ways this was the best way to start our relationship, and in a lot of ways it was a hysterical failure.
I could tell that he was really uncomfortable in this liberal religious setting, and I was worried that he would never want to see me again! After services we went for sushi and beers and had our first conversation about religion. Iâ€™m sure religion isnâ€™t on the Cosmopolitan â€śthings to talk about on a first dateâ€ť list, but we broke that rule. It was clear that religion was an important part of both of our stories, and it was essential that we talked about it right away. Our case may be extreme when compared with other relationships, but talking about religion and/or personal beliefs is important in all relationships BEFORE planning for marriage or children.
Why is it important? Imagine this scenario: You or your partner encounters a difficult situation and one says to the other, â€śGod meant for this to happen because youâ€™re being tested.â€ťÂ Or, â€śThere is no God so itâ€™s not like any higher power can help you through this.â€ť Does what your partner said help you, or raise even more questions for you while offending you? Would your partner be better equipped to support you if he or she knew something about your beliefs in order to be more sensitive?
Imagine another scenario: You are engaged, youâ€™ve chosen a date for your wedding, the deposit has been paid, the florist and caterer already have their plans and itâ€™s time to choose the officiant. You want a rabbi, your partner wants a priest. What do you do?
Itâ€™s important to talk about it, but HOW do you talk about it? Do you say while youâ€™re out shopping, â€śOh I really like the fabric on this sofa, and do you believe in God?â€ť Thatâ€™s probably not the most productive way, although if the fabric makes you think of it and your partner is open to it, by all means take a seat in Pier One and talk about God!
There are so many resources to help you have this conversation: InterfaithFamily has articles and discussion guides, and in some InterfaithFamily/Your Communities, including LA, we offer a workshop for interfaith couples to talk about religious issues in their relationships.
Here’s a quick primer:
Watch a movie or read a book that might bring up the question for you. My personal favorites are Keeping the Faith and The Frisco Kid but there are so many others. Most recently the movie This is Where I Leave You addresses so many interfaith and Jewish questions in a funny and heartwarming way.
Play a game of what do you think aboutâ€¦.? For example, use this prompt to start an open and non-judgmental conversation about beliefs. Ask your partner, â€śWhat do you think about going to church/synagogue?â€ť; â€śWhat do you think about the afterlife?â€ť; â€śWhat do you think about how weâ€™ll do holidays once weâ€™re married?â€ť; â€śWhat do you think about God or a higher power?â€ť
Donâ€™t get intimidated by the tough religious questionsâ€”you can also ask things like â€śWhat are your top five guiding values?â€ť Or, â€śWhat should we do together as a couple or family that is meaningful?â€ť
The specific questions you ask arenâ€™t as important as the fact that you are talking about it.Â More communication is great for relationship building, and it helps your wedding officiant create with you the most beautiful and meaningful wedding.Â Not to mention, your marriage will be so much stronger for it.
A few weeks ago, InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia hosted our first gathering for young adults from interfaith homes and those who are in interfaith relationships: Love, Religion & Cockatils. We were fortunate enough to work with The Jewish Collaborative, a local organization that works with people in their 20s and 30s. In addition, our programming committee was terrific in coming up with the right type of program and the appropriate language for the marketing materials. Lots of organizations have mixers or programs, but this event was a little bit of both. It was an amazing night!
Drinks and appetizers: Everyone was given two drink tickets and there was a table with appetizers so that everyone could snack and mingle. We wanted everyone to have a chance to engage in casual conversation before we broke up into two groups. We served the â€śLove & Religionâ€ť as our signature cocktail. Weâ€™re pretty sure our participants enjoyed our special concoction.
A unique format: We wanted people to talk casually about their experiences and to connect with one another. The programming committee thought that the best way to achieve this would be to ask lighthearted questions such as, â€śWhat is your favorite holiday movie and why?â€ť We hoped participants would explain their points of view as to why they liked certain movies, thus sparking conversation about issues such as how childhood memories inform our identity. We know that for many people, there is a lot of passion about their religion that has to do with memories. We asked other fun questions such as â€śIf you described your family as a food, what would it be?â€ť We heard, â€śa pizza bagel,â€ť â€śa potato latke.â€ť The answers were fun and touched upon the backgrounds of each person. One person talked about feelings associated with a Christmas tree. Another person talked about family meals and holidays.
During our conversations, we heard the most fascinating stories. One woman who grew up in America went to Israel and is now engaged to a Muslim from Sudan. Another woman told us about growing up in a Jewish/Puerto Rican household. One of the couples talked about how the rabbi at their wedding was so wonderful and welcoming that the partner who did not grow up Jewish is now considering converting.
A measure of success: we handed out short evaluations and all data indicated that everyone seemed quite happy with the program. The real measure of success in my mind was that people stayed for an hour after the event ended to talk to one another and our staff. Obviously, there is a real need for a forum for folks to connect and share their stories. Iâ€™m proud that IFF/Philadelphia offered that space for them and Iâ€™m pleased to be part of an organization that offers a safe space for people to share and communicate online and in person.
Would you like to attend Love, Religion and Cocktails in the future in Philadelphia or elsewhere? Share your comments and ideas below.