New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
I remember standing with a few friends after my oldest son was born. We were talking, as new mothers do, about how hard parenting can be, how scary. We were comparing neurotic-helicopter-mom moments, laughing at ourselves.
I shared a story about taking my son to the doctor when he seemed to have a fever. âHis temperature is high!â Iâd cried to the pediatrician, who only chuckled knowingly and said, âWell, maybe you want to unwrap some of these blankets when heâs indoors.â Of course my son was fine, just overheated.
I blushed telling this story. My friends grinned. They had the same stories, of course.Â About cutting food up (choking hazards!) into tiny bits too small for the kids to actually pick up. About perceived rare (thanks, WebMD!) skin conditions that turned out to only be heat rash.
But I remember, in the middle of all the laughter that day, someone said, âWell, who can blame us? Itâs the âJewish Mother Thing.â Weâre supposed to be anxious and neurotic!Â Itâs in our DNA!â The laughter continued, and then we probably all had some coffee, or wine.
As the years have passed (10 of them), Iâve gone back to that moment a lot. Because it turns out that as a parent, Iâm not especially neurotic. Iâm the mom who often shows up with junky snacks, when other people have baked gluten-free, organic muffins. Iâm the mom whose kids shower once a week. My boys walk around the neighborhood unattended, own pocketknives and occasionally we forget to eat dinner.
Do these things mean Iâm not a Jewish mother? Of course stereotypes are flawed, inexact, problematic. But when I joined a Jewish Mom group on Facebook and saw the effort other Jewish parents put into the details of summer camp selection, perfect birthday cupcakes and finding the best specialists, I found myself wondering, and feeling a littleâŚ different. Outside the norm.
It never occurred to me until I saw so many Jewish Mothers all in one place that I might not be one, in the traditional sense. But of course this is absolutely logical, because I never had a Jewish Mother. My own overworked mom, raised Catholic in Californiaâregularly left me at the library until after the doors were locked (it was fine, I sat and read on the steps). She didnât make kugel and she didnât speak in Yiddishisms. I rode public buses and did my homework (or didnât) without anyone ever looking at it. I survived, and learned, I guess, how to parent a little haphazardly, with spit and tape. I learned how fine things usually are, in the end. I learned to avoid stress whenever possible.
But does this mode of parenting make me somehow less Jewish?
Hereâs the thingâI am a Jewish mother. I know I am. Because Iâm raising Jewish sons. And maybe what the rising intermarriage rates suggest is that weâre going to see a shift in the âJewish Mother Thingâ in the near future. Maybe the next generation of Jewish mothers, raised themselves by women from a more diverse array of religions, regions and cultures, will be less similar, less careful, a little less neurotic. Because they donât have this âJewish Motherâ stereotype in their heads.
Or maybe not! Maybe all mothers are anxious sometimes and the âJewish Mother Thingâ is a fiction, a narrative weâve crafted as a culture, a way of embracing and forgiving ourselves for our neurotic maternal impulses; a myth we perpetuate.
In any case, I want to take a moment today to honor us all.. This week, for Mothersâ Day, I want to say to ALL the Jewish Mothers of the world, Yasher Koach! Good job on your perfectionism, or your relaxed attitude. Good job on the homemade cupcakes, or the Ho-Ho you stuck a candle in at the last minute. Good job on remembering the dental appointment, or forgetting and rescheduling it because you took the kids for a hike that day instead. Good job on raising a diverse world of wonderful Jewish kids who will strengthen and alter and carry on our tradition. Iâm proud of us all.
Between the announcement that Chelsea Clinton and Marc MezvinskyÂ are expecting a baby and an interfaith xoJane article about a Catholic mother choosing to raise her sons Jewish, mothers who arenât Jewish but are raising Jewish children have been receiving positive press and gaining visibility in recent weeksâitâs about time! And well-timed too, considering we celebrated Mother’s Day earlier this month. (There are, of course, fathers who arenât Jewish raising Jewish children as well. My âJew-ishâ father having been one.)
Rabbi David Regenspan wrote a piece for InterfaithFamily that beautifully described non-Jews he aptly calls sojourners:
âThey are models for the rabbi’s sermon about how to lead a good Jewish life. They light Sabbath candles and send their children to Hebrew school. They attend adult education classes on Jewish subjects. They sing boisterously at Jewish services and know the Hebrew words of every prayer. They serve on synagogue committees; they even become synagogue officers. âŚAnd they are not Jews.â
There are many non-Jews who fit this description, yet amidst the panicked communal conversation about the âshrinking Jewish population,â these dedicated individuals and parents are often overlooked, not only in the communal conversation, but also in day-to-day religious life in synagogues all over the country.
Iâm heartened by the many interfaith outreach initiatives in the Greater Boston area. In particular, the efforts made by Dorshei Tzedek, a growing Reconstructionist congregation in West Newton. The measures theyâve taken to be an inclusive community embodies their name, which means âseekers of justiceâ in Hebrew. âWe seek to engage all of our members, whether Jewish or not, in our activities and the life of the congregation,â Dorshei Tzedek Rabbi Toba Spitzer shared with me.
A few years ago, the congregation committed to a year-long study and discussion process around inclusion. One of the results was a brochure the congregation gives out to new families that is posted on their website. It states: âSome of the values that inform our approach to welcoming our non-Jewish members [are]: inclusivity, diversity, commitment both to shared values and to Jewish tradition. While there are non-Jewish partners of our Jewish members who choose not to become involved in the congregation, there are also many non-Jewish members who participate actively and meaningfully in the life of the community. The purpose of this guide is to help clarify what it means to be a non-Jewish member of a caring and inclusive congregation that is dedicated to Jewish practice and learning.â
Interfaith families are also represented in other areas of Dorshei Tzedekâs website, including this wonderful set ofÂ Shabbat videos.
What makes Dorshei Tzedek such a model for inclusion is not only their interfaith brochure and website, but the communal process that produced them, which goes well beyond simply providing lip-service. Theyâre making it happen. Inclusion and sensitivity, like all values, only serve their purpose when practiced and tailored to address the needs of the people we seek to include.