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There are more and more projects sprouting up around the country to encourage people to have Sabbath meals or Shabbat experiences with others. In the non-Orthodox world, many people who grew up with Judaism or are exploring it as adults do not have a Shabbat practice and so it takes programs to support this new practice people are willing to take on. In fact, as we make spiritual promises and resolutions for our new Jewish year, one of my personal goals is to make more frequent and regular my own familyâ€™s Shabbat practice.
Why so much emphasis on â€śdoing Shabbat?â€ť Itâ€™s funny because Shabbat is thought to be a cessation of work and adding Shabbat to your routine does take a little planning and organization. However, whatever input is needed, I think the results will feel worthwhile.
Here are my top 5 reasons for why itâ€™s so important to have Shabbat in our lives:
1. Rest: Shabbat is a Hebrew word that comes from the words for rest, sit and pause. This is an ancient nugget of wisdom which is timeless. If we never get off the merry-go-round we get dizzier and dizzier. Itâ€™s fun for awhile when weâ€™re whirling and twirling and building speed and laughing and getting things done, but eventually we need to slow it down and gain equilibrium and perspective. Pausing on Friday evening or marking a time apart on Saturday can do this for us.
2. Beauty: We need beauty and poetry in our lives. Sometimes the school/work week seems to make us as efficient, robotic, programmed and structured as possible. These qualities are needed to keep schedules intact and to get everything done, like homework and people to where they are supposed to be. Hopefully, the school day or work day does have moments of creativity, new experiences, closeness, nuance, fun, learning and more which is beautiful, but the week as a whole can feel bland and monotonous. Shabbat is beautiful. The glow of the candles is mesmerizing. Communal prayer can be uplifting. The adorned ritual items like a Kiddush cup or challah cover bring art to the table.
3. Perspective: Itâ€™s one thing to say that we should not sweat the small stuff but when so many small things pile up it can feel overwhelming and exhausting. When the car breaks down and you forgot to pack your childâ€™s lunch and your child is having problems with friends at school and you are not seeing eye-to-eye with your co-worker and you need to make the second trip to the pediatrician that week because the first child got strep and now the next oneâ€™s ear hurts and you are sleep deprived, and, and, and, (and sometimes there are big, chronic things we are dealing with) itâ€™s easier said than done to keep perspective.
Shabbat doesnâ€™t take away our troubles. Shabbat doesnâ€™t make the woes of our week go away. But it provides us a respite. Even if your respite is only thirty minutes on Friday evening over dinner when the mood feels different and the rituals and prayers usher in a connection to the Sacred, it helps. This time, however brief, takes you out of your own little bubble and brings you a taste of paradise, of perfection. And if we can store up this feeling, this mood, these images, it sweetens the difficulties we endure. And the messages about creation that are woven through a Jewish Sabbath remind us to help create the world we want to live in.
4. Gateway: There is an idea in Judaism that one mitzvah (commandment: often thought of as ethical and ritual living) leads to another. One mitzvah may encourage us or inspire us to learn about and try out another. The more one observes, the more connected one can be to Judaism, to the People, history and culture. I donâ€™t think more is â€śbetterâ€ť and that there is an ideal way to practice oneâ€™s Judaism. However, I do feel that observing Shabbat reminds us of the rubric Judaism provides throughout the whole week to add order, purpose, social justice and awareness to our lives. If we love taking time to observe a Sabbath, then we may also be inclined to wake up each morning listening to Modeh Ani, a prayer exclaiming oneâ€™s gratitude for the new day. If we live by the rhythm of the Jewish week and usher in some time of observing Shabbat, we may be inclined to observe Jewish holidays and to see how the sonar-lunar calendar connects us with nature and with history and narratives in powerful ways.
5. Intimacy: Maybe itâ€™s because we are tied to our phones, but many of us crave a time when it feels safe to put the phone away for a minute. We use our phones as distractions, as entertainment, as sources of information, as ways to stay connected and as a safety net for knowing what is happening all the time. I for one like to be able to be reached almost all the time. But, I also love having a moment when I donâ€™t need to hold my phone. For me, that moment is Friday night Shabbat.
The way our Friday nights shake down is that our Sabbath consists of the three main prayersâ€”it doesnâ€™t, incidentally, involve dinner most weeks. This is because my kids usually eat early and my husband is a congregational rabbi. He is often preparing for his services and may grab dinner somewhere before he comes home. Also, we are not foodies. I am not a good cook and I donâ€™t enjoy it. I am working all day on Friday and itâ€™s hard for me to get the family dinner piece together with our schedules. See, I sometimes feel a bit defensive about not basing our Sabbath on the Friday night family/friend dinner.
What we do is we light candles, we say Kiddush (Hebrew word meaning holy referring to the prayer over the fruit of the vine; often wine or grape juice), we eat challah and my favorite part is when we bless our children and each other. I take my kidâ€™s head in my hands and I whisper to them my prayer for them. It is specific and spontaneous. I also say Aaronâ€™s blessing to them. The traditional prayer said to sons and daughters is too gender-binary for my family (this is the topic of another blog).Â I look at my partner and we soak each other in, what we have, what we hope for; we breathe. We kiss. We hug each other. It is intimate. When we have friends over, we bless one another with our words and we feel each otherâ€™s actual presence. When you are alone on Shabbat, this last piece especially, may feel sad or distant. It is not good to be alone on Shabbat. This is why Jewish organizations are working hard and putting resources into creating opportunities for people to find one another over Shabbat.
There are many more reasons to do something to mark the Sabbath each week. Among your Jewish New Yearâ€™s resolutions, will adding or creating a Shabbat ritual be among them? If you are not Jewish but you love someone who is Jewish, how does this all feel for you? Let us know what you are thinking about doing or what you already do. When we hear from one another, we get ideas for what we might want to try. Hereâ€™s to opening this ancient gift and making it come alive in ways that work for you.
â€śMom, Dad, I want to go to Hebrew School.â€ť This was the simple phrase of 7-year-old me that changed the course of my life and the religious life of my family.
When I was in second grade my best friend, Julie invited me to come with her to Hebrew School after school one day. Being the kind of kid who loved school and learning, it didnâ€™t take much convincing and a week or so later, I sat with Julie in her Hebrew School classroom, totally enthralled. When I came home that evening and announced to my parents with the innocent certainty belonging only to 7-year-olds that I wanted to continue attending Hebrew School, I can only imagine the sort of parental conversation that ensued after I went to sleep that evening.
You see, my mother was raised Catholic on the North Shore of Massachusetts and my father was raised a conservative Jew in New Jersey, although neither had much affinity for any sort of religion. They met at Northeastern University in the late 60s. They were hippies, they attended anti-war rallies and Woodstock and were married in a hotel in Boston by a justice of the peace. They didnâ€™t give much or any thought to religion even after I was born ten years later.
When I was growing up, we celebrated a variety of holidays in very secular ways; cultural celebrations marked by food or family gatherings. I donâ€™t remember really talking about religion at all until I decided that I wanted to attend Hebrew School and my parents had to make decisions that they perhaps did not want to make. Once I began Hebrew school and we had to join a synagogue, my whole family was welcomed into a warm and friendly community. Both of my parents served on various committees and my sister and I attended religious school and participated in youth group through the end of high school.
While I didnâ€™t really understand it at the time, I know now how amazing my parents are to have allowed and encouraged me to follow my Jewish path, despite their own personal reservations. Perhaps it should have been no surprise to them or me, after essentially choosing Judaism for my whole family, that I would choose Judaism over and over again and choose to make Judaism my lifeâ€™s work by becoming a rabbi.
And now I find myself happily in my momâ€™s home state, as the new Director of InterfaithFamily/Boston, hoping to meet all kinds of people and families as you navigate your religious life and look to find ways to connect.
My story may be unique, but then, so is yours and I look forward to hearing all of them (contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org). I truly believe that the great strength of Judaism is its continued evolution and the growing diversity of our population will only add to the color, richness and relevance of Judaism for generations to come.
Where are you from? It seems an innocent enough question.Â But as our families become more and more diverse, the answer can get wonderfully complicated. Recently at a â€śSaturdays Unpluggedâ€ť event at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco, I asked attendees about their ancestry and invited them to place pins in a world map marking their familiesâ€™ journeys.
The map shows that a sampling of Jewish San Francisco families come from Argentina, Cyprus, Lithuania and China to name a few countries of origin. As kids turned to their parents and grandparents asking, â€śWhere am I from?â€ť I started to think about how complicated this question is.
So I asked one of my own kids: â€śDo you know where youâ€™re from?â€ť He started breaking it down into â€śsidesâ€ť immediately. â€śMama, your side is from Poland and Russia, right? Mommyâ€™s side is from Germany, Scotland, Finlandâ€¦â€ť I was glad he added her ancestry without hesitation even though I gave birth to him and he isnâ€™t biologically related to her. Clearly, where someone is from is not as easy as a DNA test. As he continued rattling off the countries where he felt he had a connection, I realized that I also hoped he would list his sperm donorâ€™s ancestry. After all, he wouldnâ€™t be here without him. So we added those to the mix. This child who was birthed by me, an American Jew with only Eastern European ancestry, can now identify himself with a good portion of Europe.
What about my other child? He was birthed by my partner, a mix of Northern European ancestry who converted to Judaism long before his birth. Along with those regions of the world, does this little boy also claim an Ashkenazi heritage? He certainly claims a Jewish one and our Jewish practice is largely Ashkenaziâ€¦but is he â€śfromâ€ť Eastern Europe as my ancestors were?
Jews have long disagreed about what exactly Judaism is: a matter of biology, peoplehood, civilization, religion or ethnicity. Even early on in Jewish history, there were at least two strands of thought: Being Jewish was in some instances about claiming a certain lineage, and at other times about observance of a spiritual tradition. The first line of reasoning made it very difficult to join, for example, while the latter made it much easier to choose to identify as a Jew even if one wasnâ€™t born one.
One scholar notes that tension ensued due to these â€śtwo distinct definitional standardsâ€¦the religious and the ethnic.â€ť [Porton, Gary. The Stranger Within Your Gates] We still struggle with those definitions, but today, with more and more conversion, intermarriage, adoption, donor insemination and surrogacy, we are moving away from a genetic definition (in my eyes a welcome shift) to a Judaism defined more as an affinity with a unique worldview. A lineup of kids at a typical Bay Area synagogue classroom is quite different than it would have looked 40 years ago when I was a kid.
A few years back, I worked with college students to create a photo exhibit of their peers who claim multiple ancestries. It was called, â€śJews Untitledâ€ť and they challenged visitors to the exhibit to rethink the way they defined â€śJewishâ€ť and allowed Jews to create their own self definitions. With the diversification of Jewish families, we asked one another how we can best teach children about their mix of rich backgrounds. How can we help Jews claim and take pride in their multitude of heritages? And how can we make sure that the entire Jewish community is engaging in this conversation as well?
I imagine us having an infinite capacity to claim a variety of stories as our own. I was recently at an author event for the book Just Parenting about creative family making. One participant with an adopted child told the group that she tossed out a baby book she had been given because on the first page there was a picture of a family tree to fill in. She was so overwhelmed by the challenge of fitting her childâ€™s family story into a neatly defined map with two â€śsidesâ€ť that she decided it needed to go.
For many of us, two â€śsidesâ€ť doesnâ€™t tell the full story of our origins and our affiliations. An Ashkenazi Jewish friend of mine adopted a child from China with her Filipino husband. The child says of herself at age 7, â€śIâ€™m half Chinese, half Filipino, half American, and half Jewish.â€ťÂ She has four sides! But, really, who doesnâ€™t? We all have more complicated stories than â€śtwo sidesâ€ť allows. Sheâ€™s a model of how we can comfortably hold many identities within us.
Thanks to various Jewish ad campaigns and informational events, I know the big, scary Jewish genetics statistic: One in four Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier for at least one of the 19 preventable genetic diseases. But when Dr. Jodi Hoffman of Tufts Medical Center informed me that, â€śa big misconception is that interfaith couples are not at risk for having children affected with Jewish genetic diseases and therefore do not need to get screened before starting a family,â€ť it was news to me. Unlike my colleague Wendy Armon who wrote an informative article on the subject last year, I had no idea, nor did many of my friends.
Who knew interfaith and interracial couples are not exempt from the need to test for Jewish genetic diseases? (Besides Wendy and Dr. Hoffman, that is.)
Particularly in light of this pervasive ignorance, renowned geneticist and pediatrician Dr. Hoffman has dedicated years to doing outreach to Jewish and interfaith families, working to dispel misconceptions like the one I had. Nationally recognized for her expertise in screening for Jewish genetic diseases, she is currently the Director of the Victor Outreach and Screening Program for Ashkenazi Jews at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. One of U.S. News & World Reportâ€™s “Top Doctors” in 2012, Dr. Hoffman is determined to reach as many people as she possibly can.
Shortly after I connected with Dr. Hoffman, Elizabeth Freid Vocke, one of our regular contributors on InterfaithFamily, wrote about the scare her interfaith family endured prior to the birth of their daughter Mirabelle. I asked Dr. Hoffman for her thoughts on Vockeâ€™s article.
In light of common misinformation about proper genetic testing, is the article accurate? Is there anything you believe is particularly important to highlight?
Yes, it is definitely relevant. I think the key points to emphasize are:
What recommendations would you give to interfaith couples?
Get screened and update your screening. A simple blood test will tell you if you are a carrier. There are 3 ways to get screened:Â 1) Contact your physician or OB/GYN. 2) Schedule an appointment at the Victor Outreach and Screening Program Clinic at Tufts Medical Center. CallÂ (617) 636-7721Â to make an appointment. 3) Attend a Victor Center community screening. You can find an upcoming screening and more information atÂ www.victorcenters.org/screening.
Last Friday night, I watched as my kids lit Shabbat candles and said the prayers at our table with my in-laws standing by. My partnerâ€™s parents are not Jewish, and I felt a deep appreciation for them in this moment. When we all met, none of us could have imagined this scene. Nearly two decades ago, I stayed at their home for the first time. My partner and I were graduate students on the East Coast and we headed west to see her folks at their ranch in central Oregon over break. Like many people, Jewish or not, they really arenâ€™t into religion at all. Here we were, a rabbinical student and a PhD candidate in religious studies. We pretty much ate, drank and breathed religion.
I wanted to be careful not to overwhelm them with Jewish talk or Jewish practice. That was tough because I was starting to observe Shabbat and other rituals for the first time. I chose carefully which ones I absolutely had to do. One of my new, favorite Shabbat rituals was baking challah. As Friday morning rolled around, it felt strange not to make it. I started to get the ingredients out, and the implications ran through my mind:
1) This kitchen is going to be really, really messy.
2) Â It would feel weird to me if we ate challah on Friday night without saying the prayer over it.Â But saying it will feel really weird too.
3) Oh noâ€¦it will feel weird to do the prayer over the bread without doing all three Shabbat blessings.Â Now itâ€™s a full ceremony and itâ€™s going to be awkward.
In the end, I did it anyway. The result? Wow, these people love challah. I know most people like it. Whatâ€™s not to like? My recipe includes eggs, flour and tons of sugar and butter which make it more like a Shabbat dessert. Itâ€™s always a crowd pleaser. But I have never seen anyone so overtaken by it. Seeing how excited her parents were and knowing how worried I was about engaging in Jewish ritual in their house, my partner made sure they knew that getting to the challah meant that there would be Jewish prayers at their table. For people who really disagree with religion as a whole, donâ€™t believe in the God we are thanking in these prayers and have no context for the foreign language being spoken at their table, this could have been a huge deal.
Itâ€™s been almost two decades, and Iâ€™m still making challah for my in-laws. Now when we visit, our kids help bake and decorate. We do the entire Shabbat ceremony consisting of all three prayers: lighting candles, saying kiddush over wine and grape juice and the motsi over the challah, my partnerâ€™s parents stand by, knowing that challah is coming.
I am greatly appreciative that my in-laws have been able to witness our familyâ€™s rituals and other religious choices. Clearly, some of these rituals have been easier to stomach than others. My mother-in-law enjoys the challah far more than she did the bris (then again, Iâ€™m with her on that one). Itâ€™s not easy when your kids choose a lifestyle so different from your own. In one sense, I credit the challah. It was one of the first moments when we came together around a Jewish custom, and unlike lots of other Jewish foods that are acquired tastes, challah was the one that could allow them to see into a completely new religious framework and even allow for it to happen at their family table. In a way, itâ€™s just bread. But â€śbreaking breadâ€ť together is also the way people from many cultures have traditionally and symbolically expressed that they can cross a difficult boundary. So maybe itâ€™s no accident that this openness was instigated by a couple of loaves of home-baked bread. But at a deeper level, I credit my in-laws for demonstrating incredible openness to new ideas and most of all, for embracing us. That, and helping me clean the kitchen.
Sweet Egg Bread (Challah)Â
5-6 cups of flour
I spent last week at Californiaâ€™s Camp Tawonga as the rabbi on staff for their â€śTaste of Campâ€ť (a six-day introduction to the camp experience for kids who arenâ€™t ready for a longer session yet). I overheard two 8- or 9-year-olds getting to know each otherâ€™s backgrounds on the way back to the cabin.
Excitedly, one girl told the other, â€śMy Mom is Jewish and my Dad is Christian. But we are mostly Jewish.â€ť
The other smiled and piped in, â€śIn our house, we are also mixed! We eat some Hebrew food, and some Mexican food.â€ť
This comment cracked me up and reminded me of being a little kid and having other kids ask me, â€śAre you Hanukkah or Christmas?â€ť The conversation went on, comparing which holidays they each celebrate that are â€śHebrewâ€ť and delighting in finding much commonality between their families.
What impressed me most about the conversation was their comfort and ease with the subject. Tawonga is a camp unaffiliated with any particular Jewish denomination, and many kids come from interfaith households. It seemed the perfect place for two kids to explore how they view their backgrounds and make sense of who they are becoming.
I donâ€™t know the full picture of these kidsâ€™ family lives, but I would venture to say that they have been given a great gift: clarity. There is much worry that children with parents from different backgrounds will be confused, especially if the parent who is not Jewish continues to be connected to her or his religious heritage. From my experience working with interfaith families, some children are confused, and othersâ€”not in the least bit. And a lot of that is dependent on how intentional, clear and forthcoming parents are about what their â€śreligious planâ€ť is for the family. When they know how they are planning on affiliating with religions, communicate that effectively to their children and follow through on it, the kids are more likely to feel secure in who they are religiously as wellâ€”regardless of what the plan actually is.
What is the â€śreligious planâ€ť for the little girl who says she is â€śmostly Jewishâ€ť? I donâ€™t know. But I imagine that she is comfortable saying her family is â€śmostly Jewishâ€ť and talking freely about it because they have an idea of how they are living spiritually and have communicated that to her. Perhaps she is being raised Jewishly and being sent to a Jewish camp. But she is also keenly aware that there is more to the story and honors her parent who is not Jewish as a contributor to her emerging identity.
Weâ€™ve all heard about â€śhalf Jews.â€ť And people who say they are â€śpart Jewish,â€ť or â€śa quarter Jewish.â€ť I think these kids just came up with a new category. Mostly Jewish. And proud of it.
By Shannon Naomi Zaid
My name is Shannon and I was brought up in a secular Jewish and secular Unitarian setting. I identify as Jewish, but deeply love and respect my Unitarian roots. In my experience, Iâ€™ve come to believe that one of the most important, and difficult parts of being a child raised under two different faiths is acknowledging the presences of each religionâ€™s essence, and finding a way for them to coexist in the heart and mind.
As of last week I started an eight-week internship at InterfaithFamily/Chicago in NorthbrookÂ (as part of the JUF Lewis Summer Intern program). I was drawn to this position since I also come from an interfaith family background. When my supervisor, Rabbi Ari Moffic, came to me with the opportunity to blog about my experiences growing up in an interfaith setting, I was (and still am) so excited to be given the chance to share my story with others. By doing this, I hope to address any concerns, and uncertainties you may have about raising a child when parents come fromÂ twoÂ differentÂ faiths.
Itâ€™s not an easy task finding a common ground when beliefs butt heads, but itâ€™s not impossible. Itâ€™s important to remember that everyone handles this struggle differently. Some people pick one religion andÂ do not practice any aspects of the other religion. Some partake in syncretism (e.g. Jewbu, Hinjew, etc.). Some become secular and or identify themselves as not practicing. Some may even go against organized religions entirely.Â Anything is possible.
Iâ€™ve switched my stance on religion multiple times. For a large portion of my life, I refused to identify with either of my parentsâ€™ religions. I didnâ€™t want to have to choose between the two, and it left me in an awkward situation. So, at the time, I decided to go against organized religion. I refused to learn anything about either religion and held this stance until sophomore year of high school. My parents accepted my views, which I thank them for because it allowed me to find my own spiritual path.
During my high school career many events took place that pushed me toward the Jewish life I lead today. One of the major factors in my decision was pride. I have two moms, and at school it pained me to see my Christian peers speak out against them. Â That year I also experienced my first taste of anti-Semitism, and although I didnâ€™t consider myself Jewish, I still fell victim to cruel jokes and bitter comments. I always took pride in the fact that I had two moms. I took pride in being different. The reason I sided with Judaism was because it was also different, and I felt a powerful need in my heart to defend it, more so than I ever felt with Unitarianism.
Sophomore year I started identifying as Jewish, and during that time IÂ leftÂ Christianity out of my life. I did this until my freshman year in college, when I took several religious studies courses that focused on historical relationships between different religious faiths. It was in one of these classes that I asked myself the question: Why couldnâ€™t theÂ religions of my parentsÂ coexistÂ for me in some way?
And why couldnâ€™t they?
I now identify as a secular Jew. I relate to the Jewish culture. I feel a strong connection to Israel and I believe in the Jewish people. But I respect Unitarianism, and as a Jew, I feel I can relate to the constant struggle Unitarians have to face from other Christian denominations.
Here are some things Iâ€™ve figured out along the way about growing up in an interfaith home. I hope you find my experience helpful.
My younger sister feels no connection to Judaism and is Unitarian. We have agreed to avoid talking to each other about religion. We do talk about up coming holidays and such, but we try and avoid getting into any religious debates. Good communication is crucial in family relationships. Together we decided to set up boundaries so we could coexist in an atmosphere in which we all felt respected.
Relatives are always hard to deal with. They donâ€™t understand that our family has split beliefs, and they might say or do something that isnâ€™t completely respectful toward the other faith. When this happens Iâ€™ve found it important to pull that person to the side, and remind them or explain to them that they need to be considerate of different values and beliefs.
When Iâ€™m able, I like going to church and learning about Unitarianism. Despite being Jewish, I think itâ€™s important to be knowledgeable about both faiths. I also celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter. By doing these things I feel itâ€™s my way of showing respect for the other religion, even if it doesnâ€™t resonate with me. My sister does the same by lighting the menorah at Hanukkah, participating during Purim and reading the questions with me at Seder during Passover.
This past weekend, our 5-month-old son was formally welcomed into our synagogue community when our family was honored with an aliyah (being called to the honor of Torah). Our rabbi offered blessings, everyone sang â€śSiman tov uâ€™mazel tovâ€ť and we talked about how Sammy got his name. He is named in honor of both of his grandfathers and we described the qualities we hope he will inherit from each: creativity, curiosity, intellect, humor and a big heart.
It was wonderful for us to celebrate the birth of our son together with our synagogue community and receive their congratulations. Every new parent needs all the support they can get!
But it also made me think about a comment my husband, who is not Jewish, made to me a few months ago. He said that now that he is raising a Jewish son, he feels like he is connected to and belongs to the Jewish people in a stronger way.
This comment surprised me a little because I thought he already felt like he belonged. After all, weâ€™ve been celebrating Jewish holidays together since we started dating, we regularly attend neighborhood Shabbat dinner potlucks, and say Hamotzi (the blessing over bread) before dinner each night. Even when I was pregnant and not fasting, my husband decided to keep the fast during Yom Kippur anyway!
But then I thought about it. Being married to a Jewish woman is one thing. Committing yourself to raising a Jewish child is another. It is an awesome responsibility, and I hope, an opportunity. How wonderful that fulfilling that role has brought my husband closer to Judaism!
I hope that as we move through our life together and reach various Jewish milestones of Sammyâ€™sâ€”starting Hebrew school, having a
From our experience so far in our synagogue, I have faith that there will be a place for both of us as Sammyâ€™s parents. Even during the aliyah, there was an alternate blessing for my husband to recite that acknowledges his different and special relationship to Torah while I recited the traditional blessings. I hope that continues to be the case for us, and I hope that all interfaith families have the opportunity to feel like they â€śbelongâ€ť to the Jewish people.
I am trying to raise my kids to think more about the world than their next playdate, TV show or snack. Recently a friend decided to host her 40th birthday party at a food distribution warehouse for the hungry. My first thought was, Iâ€™d rather take my friend out for a drink to toast her birthday, but I knew this was a nice thing to do. I thought about bringing a gift for her but I will do that another time. Little did I realize, I was the one to receive the real gift.
It was a Sunday morning on a beautiful day. My kids wanted to swim, sleep, watch TVâ€¦ anything but go to the food warehouse.Â Through some serious and exhausting negotiation, I was able to encourage my oldest child to go with me.
In the warehouse, there are lots of smiling volunteers handing out cans and boxes of food to other volunteers holding boxes. Once the boxes are filled, they are closed and given to volunteers to distribute locally. I heard the requests over the loudspeaker to come and sign up for a route to deliver boxes to the elderly. My son and I hadnâ€™t planned on delivering boxes. The boxes are a little heavy and, well, heâ€™d rather be swimming. Frankly, so would I. But we decided that these boxes needed to be delivered and so we stepped up to get our list and directions to the address building where we would be delivering food.
When we arrived, we saw lots of people in the apartment building going out for the day and receiving Sunday visitors. What surprised me was that I drive by this building a few times a week. I never knew that there were hungry people living there. But there are. And the people in the building look just like my parents, aunts and uncles. Retired, happy. But some of them donâ€™t have enough food to eat. I realized that one day that person without enough food to eat could be me. Or it could be you.
I dutifully delivered the boxes and suddenly wished I could do more. I thought about how lucky I am that I donâ€™t worry at the grocery store about whether there will be enough money to pay for the food. It certainly puts life in perspective. And last night, I slept better than I would have, had I just gone swimming all day. Once again, by giving, I ended up receiving so much more through an increased level of appreciation for all that I have.
In Judaism, there is a concept of tikkun olamâ€”repair the world. It happens that the organization that coordinated the food distribution is the Jewish Relief Agency based in Philadelphia. The organization distributes food once a month throughout the Philadelphia area. Many of the hungry folks are immigrants but some are not. Many are Jewish but some are not. (Click here to learn about upcoming dates to volunteer with JRA.)
In this crazy time of graduations, camp and vacations, repairing the world is important to remember. It also helps us repair a little of ourselves!
Parenting Through a Jewish Lens is a program offered through Hebrew College in over a dozen locations in the Greater Boston areaÂ (many providing free child care in the daytime!). I recently participated in the program, and it was an incredible experience. The curriculum itself has been continuously updated and modified for several years now (the class used to be called Ikkarim) and has been well supported by CJP since its inception 10 years ago.
PTJL has assembled some of the best educators around. And the content of the materials are worth their weight in gold. This is one notebook you will want to keep in your library, as the lessons really help parents to open up and share ideas and real experiences, which are universal to all parents, yet center around the particular beauty of building oneâ€™s Jewish identity inside a growing family.
There are ten lessons in this brilliant yet very accessible curriculum. The lessons are grouped into four domains: Outward Bound (the interpersonal domain), Inward Bound (the domain of personal meaning), Upward Bound (the transcendent domain) and finally Homeward Bound (the domain of identity).
The program is a great way to meet other parents who are going through similar struggles in parenting in the modern age. Rather than throw our arms into the air in total bewilderment of twenty-first century parenting, it turns out that there are some very relevant concepts in parenting within Jewish education as old as the Torah itself. Delving into these texts with a diverse group of parents and fantastic teachers, all one needs is a love of learning and a curiosity about what Judaism has to offer.
I took the class myself this past semester and have relished every moment. I was one of the â€śeldersâ€ť as my kids are 6 and 9 and most of the group had 0-3-year-olds. Either way, parenting is parenting, and there is no need to feel any sense of isolation with such a loving and caring Jewish community that we are blessed with in Boston. This non-denominational water is niceâ€”so jump in!
Additionally, InterfaithFamily is helping to promote a PTJL class that specifically focuses on intermarried parents, which will be wonderful as well. Any chance you have to take this class, I highly recommend it. Who couldnâ€™t be a better parent?Â This is precisely the kind of family education that will deepen your lives with elevated meaning and purpose, and you might even make a new friend or two. I canâ€™t say enough about this class. Sign Up!
PTJL offers three types of classes that support parents with children in all stages of development:
Participants come from all backgrounds and include interfaith couples, LGBTQ parents, single parents and those raised in other faiths. This fall, PTJL is holding a class specifically for interfaith families! It will take place on Thursdays, 7:30-9:00pm in Newton starting November 6, 2014. The early bird registration rate ends on June 30, so sign up soon!
Have you taken this class? Let us know what you thought in the comments!