New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
Does the huge conversation about Rachel Dolezal, who resigned as president of the Spokane, WA, chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People after it was revealed that she identified as African-American while her parents are White, have any relevance to efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life and community?
Iâm not commenting on Dolezalâs conduct or its implications on race and race relations; Samuel Freedman addresses those issues and describes her as âclearly disturbedâ in the Forwardâs âHow Rachel Dolezal Crossed the Line from Solidarity to Slumming.â Dolezalâs claim to be transracial has also been criticized as demeaning to people who are transgender, which I certainly donât mean to be.
In âWhat My Black Jewish Son Teaches Me About Rachel Dolezal,â (also in the Forward) Alina Adams, a Jewish woman married to an African-American man, who has written six wonderful articles for us over the years, says that her three children âare being raised Jewish, and they identify as 100 percent Jewish, not âhalfâ,â while her husband âdidnât convert, and he doesnât self-identify as Jewish. But he does identify with the Jewish people via his children.â
Then, about her husband, she says:
So Alina Adams doesnât âself-identify as blackâ but she âsort ofâ âfeels blackâ while her husband sometimes includes himself when talking about Jews, and his wife and their childrenâs Jewishness has become a part of him.
It sounds like Alina would not describe herself as âtransracial.â Does it make any sense or serve any purpose to describe Alinaâs husband as âtransJewish?â
I donât think so. I donât think coming up with categories or labels for people like Alinaâs husband is helpful. Over the years, some people have suggested calling a supportive partner from another faith tradition a âger toshav,â a Biblical category that literally means âstranger in the camp.â But the motivation is usually to allow people who fall into the category to participate in more Jewish ritual than those who donât, and I think thatâs a bad idea.
I know that some people would say that it doesn’t make sense to talk about âtransJewishâ because a person who comes to identify as Jewish can convert. But as of now thereâs no civil or cultural conversion, only religious conversion, and in any event there are many people who feel sort of or partly Jewish who for many reasons arenât interested in converting.
But the notion of a person who is born with and/or raised with one identity, who feels an affinity with and eventually adopts in some fashion a different identityâthatâs what strikes close to home. There are many people who were not born or raised Jewish, who are married or partnered with Jews, who feel an affinity with Jews and Jewish traditions and who in some fashion adopt a Jewish identity, the way Alina Adamsâ husband has. The increasing understanding that that kind of identity shifting happens is the positive implication of the Dolezal incident for those interested in engaging interfaith families Jewishly.
I agree with Alinaâs conclusion:
Postscript June 23, 2015
In the Sunday New York Times on June 21, 2015, there is a letter to the editor from Ron Brown of Brooklyn, who describes himself as a Christian married toÂ Jewish woman for 30 years, with adult children who identify as Jewish.
He writes, âOver time, I have grown to âfeelâ Jewish myself. I even feel a bit insulted and left out when I am singled out as the only one in the family who is Christian. I can understand feeling so identified with a certain group that you wish you were born into that group, so identified that even a reminder that you are separate from that group hurts. I can understand Rachel Dolezal. But I would never consider lying about it. I wish Ms. Dolezal hadnât either. Thereâs no doubt in my mind that she would have been welcomed into the African-American community just the way she was.â
In March 2015, InterfaithFamily conducted its 11th annual Passover/Easter Survey to determine the attitudes and behaviors of people in interfaith relationships during Passover and Easter. The survey attracted 1,136 responsesâan increase of about 21% over 2014. Of those 1,136 respondents, 730 said they were in interfaith relationships. Of those, 501 have children and of those, 444 (89%) are raising their children with some Judaism, though not necessarily exclusively.
To simplify our findings, here are the top 10 things we learned from just those 444 respondents. (Of course, this does not reflect the behaviors of interfaith couples in general, or the behaviors of all interfaith couples with children, and the figures should not be reported as representative of all interfaith families.)
1. Passover matters. The overwhelming majority of respondentsâmore than 92 percentâcelebrate Passover, and for most, it had some religious significance. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being âdeeply religious,â 67% rated Passover a 3, 4 or 5. Only 7% said it was entirely secular. For those who were having or attending a sederâ420 respondentsâmost said it would include a seder plate (94%), reading from a Haggadah or telling the Passover story (92%), food rituals like dipping parsley in salt water, making a matzah sandwich, etc. (93%), hiding the afikoman (85%) or discussing the meaning of Passover (76%). And going to a seder wasnât newâ99% had been to or hosted one before.
2. Itâs about the kids. When asked why they celebrate Passover, the vast majority of respondentsâmore than 86%âsaid âto share the holiday with my children,â and âsharing the holiday with my kidsâ was also respondentsâ favorite part of Passover. Almost 70% said they were looking for âways to make the seder fun for kids.â
3. And food. 86% of respondents said they would be eating matzah as one of their Passover activities, with 49% following dietary restrictions for most or all days of Passover. And the resource people wanted most, next to ways to make the seder fun for kids? Recipes.
4. If youâre going to buy a Haggadah, Maxwell House is still the haggadah you count on. More than half who responded said they use a store-bought haggadah (54%), and of those, 25% were planning to use the Maxwell House Haggadah this yearâmore than any other haggadah mentioned, which we found surprising considering how many new haggadahs are on the market these days. However, of those who planned to use a store-bought haggadah, 36% were not sure/couldnât remember which one and 26% said âOtherâ to the haggadah options we providedâusing everything from Sammy Spiderâs Haggadah to congregational haggadahs. More than 8% planned to use the 30 Minute Seder and 7% said A Different Night, The Family Participation Haggadah.
5. Interfaith families look for resources to meet their specific challenges. 41% of respondents were looking for resources to make the seder comfortable and meaningful for relatives and friends who arenât Jewish, while 38% wanted help navigating the Easter/Passover overlap. 88% would be or might be interested in a haggadah specifically for interfaith familiesâweâll have one ready next year!
6. Many interfaith families raising their kids with Judaism also celebrate EasterâŚ About half of respondents (49%) said they would be participating in Easter celebrations this year, and another 16 percent said that they âmaybeâ would.
7. âŚ But itâs a secular holiday for most. 59% said it was an âentirely secularâ celebration. Most celebrations centered around Easter egg hunts or basketsâ56% said they would be participating in an Easter egg hunt, and 51% said they would be decorating eggs, while 47% said they would give Easter baskets to kids or extended family. Another 55% would be attending an Easter meal at the home of family or extended family, while 15% would host an Easter meal (vs. the 47% who host a Passover seder).
8. Easter is not seen as a threat to Jewish identity. Likewise, 62% donât think celebrating Easter will affect their childrenâs connection to Judaism. (27% said not applicable, which may mean that Easter is not celebrated.) Said one, âItâs a secular celebration thatâs basically just having food with family. I was raised Jewish and I still ate Easter candy, decorated eggs, etc.â
9. Most do not struggle or expect to struggle with observing Passover and/or Easter, but of those who do…Â Of the 444 respondents, 261 responded to this write-in question asking what they struggle with, and many of those simply said these holidays weren’tÂ a struggle for their family. Responses included:
âMy in-laws are extremely open and welcome my Passover traditions at their Easter mealâthey regularly put out matzah, without a request from me, and make desserts that are flourless for my benefit.â
âNone. Weâve been doing this long enough, we have it down,â another said, while a third remarked:
âI expect the same challenges that I experience in other areas of my married life with a partner [who is not Jewish]. There are many areas of negotiation with this part of our identities; we practice good communication in order to resolve and acknowledge differences. There [are] always going to be challenges of understanding, of belief and of acceptance.â
Of those who answered with a specific struggle, some cited in-laws and extended families, or balancing the needs of both partners or holidays. Said one, âWe have wondered whether to let our son eat Easter candy that contains corn syrup during Passover,â while another struggled with âRestrictions on my children eating chametz or bread during Easter.â Some cited in-laws and extended families as a concern, or simply that the extended family wants their children to observe holidays differently than how they are being raised. Several people expressed frustration with these family members not understanding or appreciating the Jewish holiday or trying to balance everyoneâs needs during the two holidays.
One respondent said âMy Catholic Motherâshe is trying very hard to be supportive, but struggles to find a way to feel connected to her grandchildren during holidays,â while a spouse said: âI love Easter merchandise: the colors, the bunnies, the eggs. I find all of it so cute but I don’t buy my daughters any of it because we’re raising them fully Jewish. It can be hard for me.â
10. Passover is a âlot of workâ holiday.Â We were interested to hear why people think that surveys often indicate fewer interfaith couples participate in Passover seders than couples where both partners are Jewish. The overwhelming response was that Passover is a holiday celebrated at home and takes a lot of work; that it can be intimidating if it is not a holiday you grew up celebrating and the rituals are unfamiliar. As one person explained, âPassover is pretty involved. It’s a lot more than just showing up for a one hour service at a church. It takes a big commitment.â
Another said, âTry[ing] not to hurt anyone’s feelings, not having all the resources, not knowing where to start,â while a third responded, âIt takes a serious time/travel commitment to attend one or both seders, especially if they’re during the work week. We typically return to my parentsâa four-hour drive awayâso if one member of the couple doesn’t take that commitment seriously, it’s hard to do.â
Rabbi Ari is the Director of InterfaithFamily/Chicago. She also has children who will not eat matzah ball soup or a bagel and lox and is continually surprised and dismayed at their culinary preferences. She was inspired by this story because of how culturally astute the grandparents were to how their grandchildren were being raised and how quickly they made a bridge between the familiar to the new and exotic (the world of the matzah ball!). Â
A woman recently told me the story of her grandchildren who live out of state and arenât being raised Jewish.* They come to visit for a week each summer. This past summer they went right from the airport to the deli. Not that there isnât Jewish deli where these kids live, but the grandparents wanted the experience of eating Jewish foods with their grandchildren at one of their favorite spots. This is one way they share their love of Jewish culture with their grandchildren.
These grandchildren have been raised on sushi and other international cuisine. When the youngest grandson looked at his bowl of matzah ball soup, he did not want to eat it. He said that he is used to more ânormalâ food (like sushi!). The grandparent telling the story said that her husband turned to the grandchild without missing a beat and said, âItâs just like miso soupâŚâ and the child dove in. Once that broth touched his lips, he was sold! He even liked the matzah ball.
We at InterfaithFamily/Chicago are partners with the JUF (our Federation) and Grandparents for Social Action on a new program for grandparents called GIFTS: Grandparents, Inspiration, Family, Tzedakah, Sharing. We are offering a five-session class at 15 congregations and Jewish organizations around Chicagoland taking place now through the spring (to find a class, go to www.juf.org/gifts).
The classes consist of interactive lessons about how grandparents can pass on their values and deepen their engagement with their grandchildren. The fifth session is specifically geared toward talking about grandchildren raised in interfaith homes as well as any family situation that you might not have planned for or anticipated. The session is called âChanging our Narrativeâ and it is a hopeful session about what continuity means to us.
We just had a meeting for grandparents who are alumni of the classes that were offered this past year to talk about how to improve the program and to help plan an exciting city-wide Grandparent Conference to take place this spring (more information to come). One of the grandparents shared that fantastic story with me.
Our kids and grandkids have different cultural references than we have. They are growing up on different foods, their ânormalâ is nothing like what our life was like at their age and we have to constantly translate for ourselves and them as we bond and communicate. Is eating matzah ball soup with Jewish grandparents going to make these children Jewish? Thatâs not the point or the goal here. Feeling closeness, sharing our soul food, hearing the names of the foods in Yiddish, making connections, expanding oneâs repertoire and experiences and creating memories of things only done with oneâs grandparents is meaningful, impactful and important. Who these kids will be will happen over time. The closeness they feel with loving, open-minded, insightful, aware grandparents who know what their lives are like and who are willing to translate and help them relate to new things is priceless.
*We often hear this phrase. It means different things to different people who say it. For some it means that the family isnât a member of a synagogue. For others it means that the parents do not articulate that the children are being raised with a Jewish identityâthe parents want to raise them without specific religious references. Some say it means that the children are being raised ânothing.â This is one I particularly dislike as many children who are not raised with Jewish holidays or going to synagogue are raised with lotsânot nothingâwhen it comes to values, for example. âNothingâ portrays such an empty, void and negative image.
Surprisingly, many children whose parents did not participate in Judaism and Jewish living affirm their Jewish identity as adults and seek avenues for engagement then because of relationships with grandparents, and other connections made along the way. Just knowing the cultural and religious heritage they inherited, even if it has been latent for some time, may mean something to oneâs identity.
So, when you read or hear that children arenât being raised Jewish, it is often an overly simplistic statement that may not capture a whole picture. As well, it hints at but doesnât fully capture where the parents may be with their own religiosity, spirituality or communal ties. The parentsâ own background and Jewish baggage may be coming in to play here and it may be complicated and messy in terms of how to raise children. Or, it may be that the parents are just not religiously, culturally or communally inclined even in the most open senses of Jewish expression. Itâs not their thing, but itâs in their family and so a confrontation (whether warm and inviting or stressful) with Judaism occurs every now and then for their family.
1. Language matters. God created the world with words, âLet there be lightâŚand there wasâŚâ The rabbis said that to embarrass someone is to kill their soulâto bring blood to their face. The same word in Hebrew for âword,ââdâvarâis also the word for âthing.â Words create reality. The old adage âsticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt meâ is not Jewish. Thus, when we say, ânon-Jewâ for example, we are saying that someone is a ânon-entityâ or different from, and that isolates and estranges the very people we seek to endear and hold close. Thus, I say, ânot Jewishâ because I believe this difference is more than semantics.
2. Owning It. Many people who grew up with Judaism and are getting married describe themselves as âculturally Jewish.â I have started pushing people to define what this means. Which culture? Ashkenazkic Jewish? If you go to your parentâs for the holidays and your mother makes kugel and brisket, she is a cultural Jew. Can you claim this as an authentic identity as an adult vicariously? Is there a cut-off age for this when you have to own it yourself? Are people cultural Jews because they grew up culturally Jewish: going to Jewish camp (or camp with lots of Jews), having Jewish friends, getting together with family for break-fast and Passover?
As adults, we identify as Jewish, but maybe this hasnât been actualized since the Bar/Bat Mitzvah circuit or since a Jewish sorority or fraternity or a birthright trip. When people say they are culturally Jewish, they may be describing their upbringing more than anything. They may also be saying what they are not. They are not members of a synagogue (neither are their parents, often) and they do not think about Judaism on a regular basis. But lifecycle moments often must be Jewish. There is no other way for them to imagine getting married or welcoming a baby than to have a rabbi present and to look to Jewish tradition. Is this empty or lacking? Not to me. This is real. This is a basis upon which new learning and experiences can take place. This is roots. This is connectedness and family closeness. If we dismiss this, we will lose another generation of people who grew up with Judaism and need to be sold on its value as a way of life.
3. Re-branding Judaism. Selling Judaism. I find myself cheerleading for Judaism. I hear story after story about not having loved religious school; leaving the synagogue after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah; finding services boring, hard to follow, irrelevant; being disappointed by rabbis for whatever reasons; etc. I try to re-sell an open-minded, loving, vibrant, relevant Judaism in which people will find moral grounding, inspiration, other young people, accessible clergy, and rituals open to anybody who loves a Jew and is comfortable being part of everythingâwhether or not they formally convert. Does this Judaism exist? Should it exist? I tell people that this Judaism exists because I have experienced it in many places here in Chicago and in many different ways.
4. Inclusion. Can Judaism be an inclusive religion? Inclusion is a recent American ideal. For instance, we aim to create neuro-diverse classrooms because we believe that inclusion of different kinds of learners benefits everyone. But, can it be a Jewish ideal? We have been an insular, tight knit, ethnically bound people and this has kept us going. We are a religion of boundaries: day and night, holy and profane, Shabbat and the rest of the week, before 13 and after 13, kosher or treif. Can we have a Judaism that is totally open and includes everybody? This will change our Judaism. Is this OK? What will it look and feel like? Will there be a reason to formally convert anymore? (Anecdotally, I have found that when those come to experience Judaism they want more and more and do end up wanting a formal conversion, quite oftenâŚ)
Beyond being welcoming, the real question is how and to what extent can Judaism be an inclusive religion?
5. Both religions. Each of these observations I have gleaned from working with interfaith familiesâ present challenges and opportunities in the Jewish world. But, this last point is perhaps the most tricky. This one really gets our hearts racing and leads to arguments among Jewish leaders. What about families who want both religions of the parents to be part of their lives? What does it mean anymore to raise Jewish children? Is there a litmus test to this? Can one raise Jewish children and not belong to a synagogue (pretty hard to do in America, I personally think). Can one raise Jewish children if those children attend church with one parent or grandparent or cousins and take part in Christian holidays? Only if those holidays are celebrated âculturallyâ and not âreligiouslyâ? Can one raise Jewish children if Shabbat is not part of their lives, if they do not give tzedakah and if Judaism may not come up in the course of a day or week?
Many, many couples I meet with think they will want some aspects of both religions in their lives. They donât believe this will confuse children. They feel that if the parents are on the same page, the children will be too. If there is love, tolerance, respect, empathy, a willingness to learn and experience and a depth of compromise, it will enrich the family to become literate in both faiths and to celebrate aspects of both faiths. Whatever we think about this, we are going to have to confront this reality. How can and should the liberal Jewish world respond? What will our religious schools look like if we have more and more children exposed to both religions who feel âhalf and halfâ and say it with wholeness and pride? Will this dilute Judaism? Will this expand Judaism? Will all children raised within liberal Judaism today come to love the idiosyncrasies of our way in to the big questions of life: kindness, social justice, the meaning of sin, how to talk about God, what it means to have lived a good life?
If you are an interfaith couple, do these observations resonate? What are your answers? What are your questions? Have I captured some of this? We want to know the top things you are thinking about so that we can think this stuff through with you. Judaism needs your voices and your presence.
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 partnerâs 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 arenât 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 noâŚit will feel weird to do the prayer over the bread without doing all three Shabbat blessings.Â Now itâs a full ceremony and itâs going to be awkward.
In the end, I did it anyway. The result? Wow, these people love challah. I know most people like it. Whatâs not to like? My recipe includes eggs, flour and tons of sugar and butter which make it more like a Shabbat dessert. Itâs 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, donât 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.
Itâs been almost two decades, and Iâm 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 partnerâs parents stand by, knowing that challah is coming.
I am greatly appreciative that my in-laws have been able to witness our familyâs 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, Iâm with her on that one). Itâs 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, itâs just bread. But âbreaking breadâ together is also the way people from many cultures have traditionally and symbolically expressed that they can cross a difficult boundary. So maybe itâs 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
âŚthat you are involved with someone of another religion (race, culture or gender)
By Wendy Armon and Joycellen Young Auritt Ph.D.
You have met someone very special and are involved in a relationshipâŚ. You want to share your excitement with your family but you are afraid that they wonât approve of the person you are dating.Â How do you tell your parents? Here are a few suggestions of what to do and what not to do.
Suggestions of what you should doâŚ
1)Â Â Â Â Â Tell them you are happy. Most parents really want to make sure that their adult child is happy and on a path where someone will love them unconditionally. Reassure your parents that you have thought about your choice and you are happy about your decisions.
2)Â Â Â Â Â Acknowledge your fears about your parentsâ reaction out loud. Sometimes when kids are little, parents may say, âI want you to marry someone who is XYZ.â Your parents may no longer feel that way about who you marry and may be able to assuage your anxiety early in the conversation. We all change our minds and evolveâmaybe your parents did too.
3)Â Â Â Â Â Make clear to your parents where you are in the relationship. If you and your partner are talking marriage, let your parents know. Living together? Dating seriously? If you are in love, tell them. This is a time for you to tell your parents all of the fabulous qualities about your partner. If there are similarities between your partner and one of your parents, point that out.
4)Â Â Â Â Â If your parents are concerned about your choice of partner, gently remind them that your choice is not a rejection of themâyou just fell in love! Remind your parents that you love them and appreciate all that they have done. Many parents take the decision that you have chosen someone from a different religion as a rejection of their religion or even a rejection of them. Let them know how much you appreciate various aspects of your upbringing.
5)Â Â Â Â Â Be sensitive. Parents may be a little shocked that you are falling in love with someone and moving forward in your life. Now that you are an adult, they may feel shocked that your life is moving quickly. Sometimes that shock may manifest itself in a focus on religious differences. For some parents the prospect of a wedding or a new generation may make a parent aware of their mortality and the future of aging. Even though you feel a little vulnerable, remember your parents have feelings too.
Suggestions of what not to doâŚ
1)Â Â Â Â Â Donât trap your parents. If your parents meet your special person but you donât tell them how important the person is in your life, there is a chance that your parents may make insensitive comments about the person like: âSheâd be great if only she wereâŚâ Let your parents know your feelings and who is important to you. This is not the time to be deceptive or coy.
2)Â Â Â Â Â Donât ask a question if you are not prepared to accept an honest answer. If you ask for their input but donât really want to hear anything negative, donât ask. Everyone will remember any negative comments for a long time. Questions like, âdo you think he is too selfish?â might get the answer you donât want to hear.
3)Â Â Â Â Â Donât Rush. If your parents are having a hard time adjusting to your announcement, slow down a little in your discussions with your parents. It is wise to give your parents a chance to digest your news.
Adjusting to the future may take time. Many people have a vision for the future and a vision that their children will make certain choices. If the future looks different than they anticipated, they will likely need an adjustment period to consider what is going on and then hopefully accept your choices. Parents may envision all kinds of things about where their kids will live, what they will do with their grandchildren, how the holidays will be celebratedâŚ We all need to adjust when life isnât how we imagined. Be patient.
Reality Check. Not all parents can accept whom you have chosen. Sometimes, your parents may have realistic concerns. Your parents may have legitimate views regarding compatibility issues that truly matter in the long run. It may take some time for your parents to become comfortable with the new reality.
I joined the team at InterfaithFamily just 9 weeks ago and am excited to share the resources of this fantastic organization with the San Francisco Bay Area community. There are so many aspects of my work that I find valuable for me individually, in my extended family, and in my professional life.
As I reflect on the resources of InterfaithFamily and share examples of the work that we do with friends and strangers on the street, I often site one of the sessions of our class, Raising a Child with Judaism.
Attending graduate school for a Master of Arts Degree in Jewish Education taught me that routine in the classroom (and in life) is important. Working with children for the past 20 years, I know from experience that setting the tone for what comes next can make all the difference in the success (or failure) of the next activity.
I have an 18-month-old niece and have been in awe of my brother and sister-in-law for over a year. Why? Because from about the age of 5 months, at precisely 7:00pm every night, they carry my niece to her crib, put her down and walk away. That’s it. She’s down for the night. They make it look so easy!
I know it’s not easy. Over the summer on an extended visit, I learned there was more to it than the magic hour of 7:00pm. I witnessed their evenings and learned the secret to their success: routine and expectation. For my niece, dinner followed by playtime, then a bath followed by quiet time leads to successful bedtime at 7:00pm, sharp.
What does this have to do with InterfaithFamily? I encourage parents raising young children to take our online class, Raising a Child with Judaism. The class is designed to help parents explore Jewish traditions that may fit into their existing lives. We don’t have answers to all of life’s secrets; but we can help you find connections that are meaningful to you.
I hope that one day in the future InterfaithFamily/Your Community will expand into Southern California and that my brother and sister-in-law will take the class. If they do, they will learn more about Jewish bedtime rituals like saying the Shema and Hashkiveinu. They may try on the ritual as part of their bedtime routine. It may even “fit” and next time I visit perhaps I’ll say the Shema with my niece. It may not “fit” and I accept that. I look forward to sharing other Jewish experiences with them throughout her life.
I encourage everyone to learn a little more, explore Jewish life, and try on something new. Happy 2013!
I couldn’t stop thinking about Connecticut, the 26 people killed, 20 of whom were children. My children are in elementary school. I was scared to tell them because I was afraid they’d never want to go to school, but with media everywhere and emotions so raw, they found out about the tragedy. I struggle with what to tell them. I struggle with letting them leave the house. I want them to go out into the world without fear. I worry that they won’t want to go to school and that they won’t want to go to sleep.
Several years ago, my second son, Sam, was scared and having trouble sleeping. When Sam used to fear monsters, I could calm his fear with helping him control his imagination. But this time the fear was real. My older son, Rob, had nearly been hit by a car while his brother was two steps away. Rob walked into the street as a car came around the corner and he walked into the side of a moving car and bounced back onto the sidewalk. Fortunately, Rob was fine physically, but emotionally, we were all affected. Sam saw it happen and became anxious all the time. The school noticed the problem too. I spoke with the school psychologist and she suggested prayer. My inner agnostic didn’t take her seriously at first, but I quickly realized that this idea had some merit. My kids already knew the Jewish bedtime prayer, the Shema. Religious Jews say it several times a day but at night, it seems to have special meaning. The translation is “Hear o Israel, The Lord our G-d, the Lord is one.” I explained to my kids that we should say this prayer together every night. It is our way of letting go of the fear and stress we have and having some faith that G-d will take care of us. As a parent, I noticed that the kids immediately relaxed and were able to get some sleep.
After the incident in Connecticut, I began to think more about prayer. I thought about the concept of saying a prayer before we eat — Hamotzi. We eat all the time, why should we take a second to say thanks? Today I realized that the act of prayer makes us realize that we can’t take the simple things for granted â like our kids will be safe when they are at school. We should say thank you for what we have. The agnostic voice in my head says that if there is a supreme being, he doesn’t have time to listen to my prayer for the food that we eat. I now realize that prayer isn’t just for G-d. Prayer is for us; to save our sanity in an insane world, to give us a moment of calm and appreciation of the good things. I feel that if we have the balance of appreciation, we can ride out the tougher things like a bad day or a human tragedy with a little more strength. Prayer gives us calm, focus, and a little bit of inner peace. Oprah Winfrey used to recommend keeping a journal of appreciation — write down the good things in your life every day and it will help you avoid depression. I now realize that religion is way ahead on this concept — appreciate what you have and it will save your soul today, tomorrow and in the future. It can get you through a bad day and help you sleep at night.
In a few months, InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia will be offering a class called “Raising a Child With Judaism in Your Interfaith Family.” These online classes (with two in-person sessions) teach about various Jewish rituals such as the Shema and Hamotzi. As a parent, I realize how meaningful these small prayers are toward helping us all function and appreciate the life we have. As we share more details about the class, including how to register, in the coming weeks, I hope you will spread the word about this class and encourage even the most cynical to look into it. When we watch tragedy take place in the world, I find prayer to be one of the more powerful weapons in our parental arsenal. In the meantime, I say a prayer for the families in Connecticut. I am so sorry for your loss.