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Who should receive a Hebrew name? What requirements should be met? Should a Hebrew name only come with a stated commitment from the childâs parents to raise their child Jewishly? What if one of the parents is not Jewish? What if the child might not be raised as a Jew?
I have thought deeply about these questions in recent weeks as opportunities to officiate at baby-namings for interfaith families presented themselves.
I spoke with rabbis, friends and family members, and heard a variety of passionate points of view. In the process, I became passionate about what the answers are for me. Iâm curious to know what you think.
The spirit of the naming ceremony is to bring a child into the covenant of the Jewish people. It includes a commitment from parents to raise their child as a Jew. For most people, this is an unbendable requirement. I understand, and respect, that point of view, but I have come to disagree.
A baby-naming ceremony is an opportunity for a family to connect with Judaism during a powerful moment in that familyâs life. It is a chance for us, as a Jewish community, to be an open, welcoming door. The family may only want to put their babyâs toe through the door for now, but that is enough to keep the door open. This is a defining moment, and it will set the tone for their interest in future engagement.
After the ceremony, the name will forever belong to the child. It may never be thought of again, or it might possess the power to open the door to Judaism further. It could be a catalyst for curiosity. The name may, one day, whisper in the childâs ear, âGo find out more about these people you are a part of.â
To me, a Hebrew name is a good seed planted.
What do you think?
By Jodi Bromberg and Ed Case
A significant upcoming convening may lay the groundwork for something missing from the liberal Jewish community for the past twenty-five years: concerted action by funders and community leaders to engage more interfaith families in Jewish life and community.
InterfaithFamily, in partnership with the Jewish Funders Network and the Jewish Federations of North America, is sponsoring theÂ Interfaith Opportunity Summit: Embracing the New Jewish Reality, on Wednesday October 26, 2016 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.
The goal of the Summit is to explore â with funders, federations, leaders of Jewish organizations and interfaith family engagement practitioners â the issues that need to be addressed to have more interfaith families engage in Jewish life and community, and begin to build consensus for increased efforts towards that end.
Jewish leaders have repeatedly expressed concern since high intermarriage rates were announced in the early 1990âs. In most fields â day schools, camps, teen engagement, Israel trips, social justice â funders and professionals have joined together to plan, support and execute major programmatic activities to strengthen organizations and expand recruitment.
The field of engaging interfaith families, however, is different, distinguished by the lack of concerted action by funders and professionals. Individual organizations â notably the Reform movement, Big Tent Judaism, and InterfaithFamily â have developed and offered successful programmatic efforts, and generous foundations, federations and individuals have made those efforts possible with financial support. But there has never been concerted action like that in other fields, apart from a proposal for joint action by several foundations in 2008-2009 that failed because of losses dues to Madoff and the economic downturn.
It is interesting to speculate on the reasons why arguably the single most important issue for the liberal Jewish community has not attracted concerted action. It may be that intermarriage is still viewed so negatively by so many that funders and professionals are discouraged from supporting any related efforts that are not designed to discourage or prevent it. Or, that there is simply too wide a chasm between those who wish to prevent or discourage intermarriage and those that seek to embrace and welcome interfaith couples and families â and therefore, no shared understanding of the way forward.
Recent signs, however, indicate a growing shift in attitudes that could support significant concerted action to engage interfaith families â most notably, the award of the Genesis Prize to Michael Douglas in order to highlight the importance of welcoming intermarried families, followed by the Jewish Funders Network/Genesis Prize matching grant initiative to attract increased financial support for those welcoming efforts. In addition, there has been increased attention from organizations like Hillel, and the Union for Reform Judaismâs âAudacious Hospitalityâ work.
The Interfaith Opportunity Summit will now bring together everyone interested or potentially interested in engaging interfaith families Jewishly â foundations, federations, Jewish organizations and interfaith family engagement practitioners. The initial response to the Summit is another sign of shifting attitudes; in addition to partnering with the JFN and the JFNA, participants in theÂ Summit programÂ include:
Because of the importance of understanding the lived experiences of interfaith families, Summit participants will also hear from millennial children of intermarriage, young interfaith couples, and interfaith families with young children. The grantees of the JFN/Genesis Prize matching grant initiative, and other interfaith family engagement programs, have all been invited to participate and discuss their programs with interested attendees at tables over an extended lunchtime.
The Summit will provide a rich discussion of the issues that need to be addressed to have more interfaith families engage in Jewish life and community. How can Jews and their partners from different faith traditions experience the value of Jewish wisdom, express their spirituality in Jewish settings, and feel included in âthe Jewish people?â How can we effectively reach the spectrum of interfaith couples, from those who are seeking to those who are not, through messaging and marketing to interfaith families, and relationship building/community organizing approaches to them? What services and programs are effective entry points and ways to facilitate progress into more engagement, and what promising trends are emerging? How can we address difficult attitude and boundary issues surrounding intermarriage: privileging in-marriage, wedding officiation, ritual participation, and conversion? Can those who say they are âdoing bothâ be included in Jewish life and communities?
The concluding plenary will tie together the preceding sessions and address what a local Jewish community needs to offer to engage interfaith families, and the appropriate roles of general programs aimed at and marketed for everyone, and programs targeted at people in interfaith relationships.
By bringing together funders and organization leaders â people in a position to make things happen âÂ with practitioners in the field, we hope to build consensus on what increased efforts need to be taken to engage interfaith families and to facilitate the possibility of concerted large-scale action towards that goal. We hope that youâll be there to join the conversation.
Jodi Bromberg is the CEO ofÂ InterfaithFamily. Ed Case, the founder of InterfaithFamily, is an independentÂ writer, speaker and consultant. More information about the Interfaith Opportunity Summit program is availableÂ here, and registration is availableÂ here.
Two years ago, I was sitting at a table on a warm summer evening with five young couples. They were the newest cohort of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphiaâs âLove and Religionâ workshop for interfaith couples.Â None of the couples had ever met before, and everyone listened quietly as we went around the table and each couple introduced themselves, sharing how theyâd met and what had originally attracted them to each other.
Then I asked each couple to share when the issue of religion first came up in their relationship. Sarah (all names have been changed) said: âIt was the first December. Weâd just moved in together. He really wanted to have a Christmas tree and I made it very clear that I would never have a Christmas tree in my home.â
âIâm with you!â said Joan, who was sitting across from Sarah. âIâd never allow that!Â Itâs just wrong for a Jewish person to have a Christmas tree in their home!â And with that, Sarah and Joan high fiveâd across the tableâŚ newly bonded by their refusal to let their significant others have Christmas trees.
Meanwhile, I watched another couple, Amy and Dan, squirm uncomfortably in their seats.Â It was Amy and Danâs turn to share next and I happened to know that after much discussion Dan had agreed to Amyâs request to have a Christmas tree in their home the prior December, even though it made Dan, whoâs Jewish, uncomfortable. Realizing that I needed to jump in as facilitator, I reminded the couples of one of the âground rulesâ of our group: That we werenât discussing what was âright or wrongâ or judging each other, but creating a safe space for discussion for all of the couples to communicate openly and figure out what was best for them. Fortunately, we were able to move on, and the five couples bonded over the following weeks, sharing openly about the challenges and blessings of their interfaith relationships.
Iâve been thinking back to that summer evening a lot in recent weeksâas the topic of Christmas trees has come up multiple times in my meetings with interfaith couplesâŚ even though itâs July!
What is it about Christmas trees? Why are they so often such a big source of conflict for interfaith couples? Hereâs some of what Iâve learned from working with many Christian/Jewish couples.
For the Christian partners:
-Some of their best childhood memories are of Christmas. Christmas trees remind them of family togetherness and warmth. They often want to have a Christmas tree not just for their own sake, but so that their children can experience the magical feeling that they had when they woke up on Christmas morning and found lots of presents under their tree. So many families have special traditions and rituals for decorating their trees, opening presents, etc. Parents who have wonderful memories of Christmas as a child often want to be able to re-create their experiences for their own children, even if their children are being raised as Jews.
-Many (though certainly not all) parents who grew up celebrating Christmas say that they donât think of a Christmas tree as âreligious.â They canât understand why their Jewish partner is uncomfortable having something in their home that to them is all about family togetherness and fond memories, and doesnât have religious significance.
For the Jewish partners:
-They often see having a Christmas tree as âselling outâ their Judaism;Â the final step to full assimilation into the majority Christian culture. No matter what Jewish practices they do or donât follow, they view having a Christmas tree in their own home as a boundary that theyâre not comfortable crossing.
-Many Jews are concerned about what other Jews (often their own parents) will think or how theyâll feel coming into their home if it has a Christmas tree.
Recently, Sue and Mark, an interfaith couple, shared with me the frustration theyâre both feeling as they discuss whether or not to have a Christmas tree in their home this December. Sue lamented: âItâs July, and we find ourselves sitting on the beach arguing about Christmas.â She said that every time they start to discuss whether or not theyâll have a Christmas tree, they both start talking over each other and just shut each other out. Mark looked at me and wondered: âWhat should we do? Whatâs the right solution?â
Of course only Sue and Mark can determine whatâs right for them as a couple, and whatâs right for them this December may not be whatâs right for them next Decemberâand it certainly may not be whatâs right for a different couple.Â But thereâs one thing I could tell them is right for sure: to take the time to truly listen to each other and to each try to understand the emotions behind what their partner is saying.
Whether or not theyâll have a Christmas tree may be something that they finally resolve and come to agree on over time, or perhaps the issue will be a source of conflict for years.Â But if they can each respect where the other is coming fromâand discuss the issue from a place of love and respect rather than anger and intoleranceâthen their relationship will be much healthierâŚ in Julyâand in December.
If you are an interfaith couple where one partner is Jewish and one is Christian, do you plan to have a Christmas tree? Has having/not having a tree been a source of conflict in your relationship?Â Do you have other reasons than the ones Iâve mentioned above for having/not having a Christmas tree?
Over the years Iâve enjoyedâand benefited greatly fromâthe practice of mindfulness meditation. Studying and practicing mindfulness has helped me to be less judgmental (of myself and others), to be more present in the moments that make up my life and to better appreciate the simple beauty in the world around me.
Often, when thinking about a lesson Iâve learned in mindfulness Iâll say to myself, âJudaism teaches this!â Iâm struck by how so many of Judaismâs rituals and teachings can help us to lead a more mindful life. Or, as I put it in another blog that I wrote, âmy mindfulness practice is fully interwoven with my Jewish spirituality.â
What do I mean by this? Well, for example, when learning about âmindful eating,â I was taught the importance of not just devouring food, but of thinking about where the food comes from and how it got to me, as well as what it looks and smells like and how it tastes when really focusing on it. I remember thinking, Judaism teaches us not to just eat our food mindlessly. We have blessings to recite before and after eating that make us stop and pause, to remind us of the sacred nature of eating and of how lucky we are to have our food. This mindfulness lesson is inherent in Judaism.
Â As I practiced mindfulness over a long period of time, I became especially grateful for the way in which it affected my parenting, enabling me to become more fully engaged with my children and more aware of special moments spent with them. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much Judaism has to offer when it comes to tools for mindful parenting. Judaism gives us the Shema, a beautiful prayer to say with our children before putting them to sleep, helping to calm their minds and make them feel a sense of connectedness. Judaism gives us Shabbat, a special day to focus on family and rest and to take a break from the hustle and hassles of the rest of the week. And Judaism gives us HaMotzi, a special blessing to recite as we stop and pause before eating.
The wisdom of Judaism in regard to mindful parenting is just one of the reasons that Iâm thrilled that InterfaithFamily is offering a free email series called âRaising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family.â This popular email series is for parents (and prospective parents) who want to explore bringing Jewish traditions into their family life. Participants receive eight emails over four weeks (emails are sent on Mondays and Thursdays) about how to bring spirituality and Jewish traditions and practices to their parenting in realistic and meaningful ways.
The emails share ideas, videos, question prompts to discuss with your partner, ideas for family projects and book suggestions around sleeping, eating, playing, praying and more. Essentially, the emails offer lots of ways for parents to bring mindfulness to theirÂ parenting, to their own lives and to the lives of their childrenâitâs mindful parenting through a Jewish lens.
The emails can be read on your own time, whenever works best for you. And thereâs specific advice on how to address the topics covered in an interfaith family. Thereâs no pressure to do things a certain way âjust basic information and an opportunity for parents who didnât grown up Jewish (as well as those who did) to learn about Jewish traditions and practices.
While some parents just want to receive the emails and perhaps choose on their own aspects of Judaism to bring into their familyâs life, for those who want to take it a step further, thereâs an opportunity for interaction. Once someone starts receiving the emails, they’re invited to join our private Facebook Group for everyone in the “Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family” email series, as well as alumni. It’s a place where parents (and prospective parents) in interfaith families can ask questions, share resources, support one another, etc.Â In each email there are suggested questions for discussion with your partner and the opportunity to respond to me with your answers, or with anything else you may be thinking about. Iâm happy to engage in discussion about any of the topics covered (or anything else that comes up in your interfaith family) or to share your thoughts or questions with others who are receiving the email series.
Registration for the email series is always openâŚ so if you click here and register now youâll start getting the emails in your inbox as soon as the next series begins. And before you know it, you can be raising your child with more Judaismâand more mindfullyâthan perhaps youâd ever imagined.
Hereâs what my âTo Doâ List on a recent day looked like:
And that was only about the first third of the list. I like having to âTo Doâ lists. They give order to my day, and ensure that I (usually) donât forget to do what I need to get done on a given day. Plus, thereâs that little rush I get when I cross something off the list. Even if itâs a simple task that Iâve completed, I have at least a momentary sense of accomplishment and the thrill of seeing the number of things that have to get done lessened âŚ at least until a few minutes later when I think of something new to add to the list.
I always have lots to âdoââand Iâm really good at getting things âdone.â But often, at the end of the day, itâs not a sense of accomplishment that I feel, but a sense of exhaustion. I may have crossed many items off my âTo Doâ list that day, but I already have a whole new list for the next day. And then there are those thingsâreally important thingsâthat too often havenât gotten the time and attention that they deserve; things like: hanging out with my kids (not in the car on the way to some activity or errand, but just on the couch); eating a relaxed meal; having an uninterrupted conversation with my husband; relaxing and reading a book; or meditating. These are things that arenât about âdoingâ but simply about âbeing,â and on most days I donât get to all, or sometimes any, of them.
And even worse, sometimes Iâm so busy âdoingâ the things on my oh-so-important listâusually something like writing a text or email, or looking something up on my computer, something that involves being âconnectedââthat when one of my kids is talking to me, sensing that Iâm not fully present for them, theyâll say: âAre you listening?â
Iâll respond half-heartedly: âOf course I am,â as I go about my typing.
And then, theyâll call me on it: âWhat did I say?â
âUm, I donât know exactly,â comes my lame response, as my kidâs eyes drop and they walk away.
Sometimes Iâm so busy doing âŚ and so âconnectedâ âŚ that I become âdisconnectedâ from the people that matter the most.
Fortunately in Judaism we have a built-in mechanism that encourages us to âdisconnectâ from our phones and other devices so that we can âconnectâ with the people that matter to us âŚ and to our own selves. Itâs Shabbat. Shabbat reminds us of what we truly are: not âhuman DOINGSâ but âhuman BEINGS.â (For more on the idea that we are âhuman beingsâ and not âhuman doings,â you can read my blog on The Spirituality of Mindfulness Meditation.)
Observing Shabbat in a traditional manner involves lots of things that one canât âdo.â For example, if youâre Shomer Shabbat (i.e, if you âkeep Shabbatâ according to the rules of traditional Jewish law) you donât drive on Shabbat, or use electricity or make phone calls. Often, I hear people who, like myself, arenât Shomer Shabbat, say that observing Shabbat in a traditional sense sounds too difficult, perhaps even unpleasant. Most of all, they canât imagine being âunpluggedâ for an entire day.
But honestly, I long for a day of being totally unplugged âŚ totally âdisconnected.â And thatâs why Iâm going to participate in the National Day of Unplugging on March 4-5, 2016.
Why am I so excited about unplugging from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown? Because if I canât âdoâ things like check my email, texts and voice messages, itâll force me to put a lot more focus on âbeing.â After returning home from Shabbat morning services and lunch at my synagogue on Saturday, Iâll be able to: spend time hanging out with my husband and kids; read a book; play with my dog; or maybe just take a well-needed nap, not worrying that the sound of my phone ringing will wake me up.
I know it wonât be easy to spend an entire day totally unplugged âŚ Iâll miss that rush of dopamine that I get when I see a new text or email come in. But I also know of the benefits that can come if I resist the cravings to connect to technology for a whole day. And if Iâm lucky, really lucky, I may just be able to sense what the rabbis meant when they spoke of Shabbat as âa taste of the World to Come.â
Rather than making a âTo Doâ list for the National Day of Unplugging, Iâve made a âTo Beâ list, and hereâs what it says:
Will you join me in unplugging on March 4-5, 2016? Here are some ideas of ways to unplug with your family.
Following are brief descriptions of wedding ceremonies of interfaith couples I know (all names have been changed) who were married in recent months:
[* Note that either a rabbi or cantor can officiate a Jewish or interfaith wedding ceremony. InterfaithFamilyâs Jewish clergy referral service refers both rabbis and cantors.]
All of these ceremonies were âinterfaith weddings,â yet they were all very different. And each rabbi and cantor has different comfort levels and boundaries as to what they will do as part of an interfaith wedding.
One rabbi said to me recently: âI officiate at weddings where one partner isnât Jewish, but theyâre really âJewish weddings.â Essentially I do everything the same as I would do for two Jewish partners, with a few minor changes. I never let clergy or relatives from other faith traditions have any role in the ceremony, and I would never include a New Testament reading or any kind or any reference to or ritual from the other partnerâs religious tradition.â
At the other end of the spectrum, another rabbi I was speaking with not long ago said: âI think itâs really important to honor the religious heritages of both partners. I always ask the partner who isnât Jewish if they have a clergy person or other representative from their religion that they want to invite to take part in the ceremony. If not, I encourage them to think about including readings or rituals from their religious tradition that they find meaningful.â
Clearly, these two rabbis are on two ends of the spectrum as to how they understand their roles in officiating interfaith weddingsâand most Jewish clergy fall somewhere in between. Neither of these rabbis is ârightâ or âwrongââbut it can be frustrating and uncomfortable for a couple to meet with a rabbi or cantor who falls toward one end of the spectrum when theyâre really looking for someone who falls toward the other end. Needless to say, this can be uncomfortable for the clergy as well.
So what should a couple do when theyâre searching to find a rabbi or cantor who is the right âfitâ to officiate their wedding?
1. Â First of all, before even reaching out to clergy, the couple needs to have an honest conversation (or, likely, several conversations) about whatâs important to them in their wedding ceremony. How does each partner feel about having Jewish clergy? Assuming that they want to have a Jewish officiant, they should decide: Do we want clergy of another faith to participate as well, and if so in what way? Are there rituals from the religious tradition of the partner who isnât Jewish that they want to include? Are there elements of Judaism (e.g., use of Hebrew, mention of God) that they are not comfortable with? Do they want their ceremony to take place before sundown on a Saturday? (Rabbi Keara Steinâs blog How To Avoid This Wedding Nightmare offers couples good advice on how to have some important conversations.)
2. Â Once the couple has had these conversations, they should begin looking for clergy as soon as possible. If a couple doesnât already have a relationship with a rabbi or cantor, they can go to interfaithfamily.com/findarabbi and fill out a brief form with some basic information, and we will email them a list of rabbis and cantors in their area who officiate at interfaith weddings. Among other questions, the online form asks if the couple plans to have clergy of another faith participate in the serviceâif they do, they will be sent a list including only those Jewish clergy who are comfortable co-officiating weddings.
3. Â Once they have a list of rabbis and cantors, itâs time for the couple to reach out and talk to them. The couple and the rabbi or cantor need to be very clear up front about what their expectations and comfort levels are when deciding if they are going to work together. As I often say when I met with couples (whether both partners are Jewish or theyâre an interfaith couple): âThis is going to be one of the holiest, most special moments of your life. We should ALL be comfortable with the ceremony. If Iâm not OK with something thatâs important to you, I want to help you find a rabbi or cantor that is totally comfortable with what you want. And if you donât feel like Iâm the right âfitâ for you, it doesnât mean that Iâm not a good rabbi or you should feel badly not working with me, but you should find someone who feels right for you.â
The couple should be very clear with the rabbi or cantor about what theyâre expecting their wedding ceremony to look like. They should also feel free to ask any questions (after all, for most people this is their first time having a wedding, so they shouldnât feel like they need to be an âexpertâ), and to be honest if there are some things theyâre not yet sure about. Similarly, the rabbi or cantor should be clear about what they are and are not comfortable with.
Hopefully, when all is said and done, the couple will be very excited about the person they choose to officiate their wedding. Ideally, it will be just the beginning of a relationship that continues not only through the wedding, but for many years into the future.
Hanukkah is a holiday full of fun and meaningful traditions, like eating foods made with oil such as latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts); playing the dreidel game; and of course lighting the hanukkiah (the nine branched candelabrum, commonly called a âMenorahâ in English). And of course there are the traditional songs â like Maâoz Tsur (“Rock of Ages”), âI Have a Little Dreidelâ and âHanukkah, O Hanukkah.â
In modern times, there have been some great Hanukkah songs, some for children (though still loved by adults), such as Debbie Friedmanâs âThe Latke Songâ and others for a wider audience, like Matisyahuâs âMiracles.”
Hanukkah music rose to a whole new â and much funnier â level on December 3, 1994, when Adam Sandler performed “The Chanukah Song” on Saturday Night Liveâ‘âs Weekend Update. The original song was followed up by âPart IIâ (1999),Â âPart 3â (2002) and a new updated version this year. In all four songs, Sandler sings about celebrities who he claims (often, though not always correctly) are âJewish,â ânot Jewish,â or âhalf-Jewish.â To learn more about all four of Sandlerâs songs check out the Wikipedia entry on âThe Chanukah Songâ which includes a listing of the celebrities mentioned in the songs, the truth about whether they are or arenât Jewish and links to covers and spoofs. Here’s the latest version.
Starting around 2010, a new kind of Hanukkah song became popular: The Pop Song Haunkkah Parody. Even though it’s been aÂ few years after the first really popular parodies started circulating around the internet, I still remember most of the words to each of the parody songs – though I couldnât even remember who sang the song originally, let alone the words to the original song. So, in keeping with the number eight for the eight nights of Hanukkah, here are my eight favorite Hanukkah Pop Song Parodies (in chronological order):
1. Â The Fountainheadâs âI Gotta Feeling Hanukkah,âÂ the 2010 parody of The Black Eyed Peasâ âI Gotta Feeling.â The Fountainheads are a group of young Israeli singers, dancers and musicians who are all graduates and students of the Ein Prat Academy for Leadership.
2. Â The one that really brought Hanukkah song parodies into the big leagues was âCandlelight,âÂ a 2012 parody of Taio Cruzâs âDynamiteâ by The Maccabeats, Yeshiva Universityâs all-male a capella group.
3. Â âEight Nights â Hanukkah Mashup,âÂ a 2012 Hanukkah parody/mashup of three songs: âSome Nightsâ by Fun, âDie Youngâ by Ke$ha and âLive While Weâre Youngâ by One Direction. StandFour is another all-male a capella group, composed of four former members of The Maccabeats.
4. Â The B-Boyz â(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Dreidel),âÂ a 2012 parody of The Beastie Boysâ â(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)â by three young brothers – Ben, Jake and Max Borenstein.
5. The Maccabeats again with âBurnâ – their 2013 version of Ellie Gouldingâs song. They didnât change the words, but they made it into a Hanukkah video.
6. Â âChanukah Lights,âÂ The Jabberwocks of Brown Universityâs 2014 song, which is a play on Kanye Westâs âAll of the Lights.â The Jabberwocks are Brownâs oldest, all-male a capella group.
7. Â Six13âs 2014 âChanukah (Shake It Off)â parodying Taylor Swiftâs âShake It Off.â Six13 is an all-male Jewish a capella group from New York.
8. Â And the Maccabeats yet again, with 2014âs âAll About that Neis,âÂ a parody of Meghan Trainorâs âAll About the Bass.â
I canât wait to hear and watch what these groups and others have in store for Hanukkah 2015. And I hope to see more women (of the six groups whose parodies I listed above only one, The Fountainheads, included women) and girls coming out with some awesome parodies.
Whatâs your favorite Hanukkah song or song parody? Please share a link so we can all enjoy.
By the IFF/Philadelphia Team: Robyn, Wendy and Robin
Challah is the yummy braided bread with which many Jews begin Shabbat dinner. For those who grew up Jewish, the smell and taste of challah often invokes fond memories of family meals.Â For those who didnât grow up Jewish (along with those who did), including challah with your Friday night dinner can be a fun and easy way to bring Judaism into your home.
In the Greater Philadelphia area, there are many grocery stores and bakeries where you can buy a delicious challah. But the best challot (plural for challah) are those that you make yourselfâthe ones you can smell baking in the oven and taste while theyâre still warm. Theyâre the ones that may not be braided perfectly, but are made with lots of love.
Our staff in the Philadelphia office of InterfaithFamily heard from a lot of people that they wanted to learn how to make challah. And when our people ask for something, we want to deliver (or should we say âriseâ to the occasion)!Â First, we arranged for âChallah and Conversationâ to meet at Robyn Frischâs house on a Thursday evening (so that everyone could have their challah for dinner the following evening). Next, we needed to decide what challah recipe to use.Â So, one morning the three of us got together for a little bake-off. We tried out a few recipes, and ended up deciding on a recipe that was a combination of different ones we had used.
Then Wendy went shoppingâŚ and after buying 30 bowls, 30 measuring spoons, eight packages of bread flour, yeast, salt, sugar, eggs and vegetable oil to make the challot (along with wine, cheese and snacks for the âConversationâ part of the evening)âŚ we were ready!
âChallah and Conversationâ was a great success. Everyone learned how to proof their yeast, knead their dough and then punch it down before they braided it. In between the kneading and the punchingâwhile the dough was having its âfirst riseââwe had time to learn about Friday night Shabbat rituals in general, and challah in particular.Â For example, have you ever wondered why challah is braided? Why itâs traditional to use two challot on Friday evening? Or why the challah is covered with a cloth? The âChallah and Conversationâ attendees now know the answers to these questions and many more!
Many people have told us that they want to make their own challah but theyâve never baked bread before and theyâre afraid theyâll mess up. Theyâre scared of words like âproofing,â âkneadingâ and âpunchingâ when it comes to baking.Â We promise you that once you make challah with us, you wonât be scared. The result will be delicious, and your family and friends will be impressed!Â So keep an eye out for our upcoming âChallah and Conversationâ programs and come join us for one of them.
And by the way, you donât have to worry if you have challah left over after your Shabbat meal.Â It makes delicious French toast!
Read on for Ruth Schapira, IFF/Philadelphia Advisory Council Memberâs account of the evening, and then get our not-so-secret recipe!
Scoop, beat, pour, and mixâthen knead, fold, knead, fold. It’s the methodical way that you’d make a dough for challah, and the process itself seems quite mechanical, if you were doing it alone in your own kitchen.
But making challah with 20 people in someone’s home is quite a different experience, and creating challah with people who are doing it for the first time is exhilarating. The program, sponsored by IFF/Philadelphia and held in the Director’s home, attracted a demographic that would be the envy of any Jewish outreach movement. Four young millennial-aged couples attended, with a smattering of some young singles, older folks and a mom with her two kidsâtheir common interest was in âdoing Jewish.â That was the foundation upon which connections were built among those who shared Shabbat stories along with flour and measuring cups that were set aside at stations, like in some amazing challah bake-off on a Jewish Food Network show.
The event was called âChallah and Conversationâ and by the end of the night, there was plenty of both. The environment was open, accepting and casual which allowed participants to feel comfortable asking about the many beautiful and significant rituals surrounding Shabbat. There was curiosity about egg-checking (for kashrut), traditions for candle-lighting, the custom some choose to follow for âtaking challah,â and questions like: Why do some people tear the challah and not slice it with a knife? Why is salt sprinkled on it? Why is the challah covered? What is the âParent’s Prayerâ?
The most outstanding experience from the evening was not the beautifully braided specimens in personal aluminum baking dishes, ready to be baked that everyone was taking home. Nor was it that everyone would get to savor the experience all over again when that unmistakable luscious challah smell filled their homes the next night before the Sabbath. What was undeniably special was that people came together in the true spirit of learning and community, and shared an experience that brought them that much closer to Judaism, and that much closer to one another.
Here is the challah recipe we ended up using:
1. Dissolve package of yeast in Â˝ cup lukewarm water and let sit for 5 minutes.Â (This is how you âproofâ the dough.)
2. Measure the flour into the bowl. Make a well.
3. Pour the yeast mixture into the well and let stand 5 minutes.
4. Blend in the salt and sugar.
5. Combine two eggs, oil and remaining Âź cup water and mix together.
6. Add the liquid mixture to the flour and stir until flour is moistened.
7. Turn out onto a well-floured board using flour to dust the board and your hands.Â Use up to another cup of flour to handle the dough. Knead by hand until smooth. Let rise on the boardÂ (you can cover with dish towel) about 1Â˝ hours or until doubled in bulk.
8. Punch dough down and divide into three sections and braid.
9. Cover and let rise at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while the dough is rising.
10. Brush with beaten egg mixed with a few drops of water and, if you want, sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds or cinnamon.
11. Bake on middle rack of oven at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes (ovens heat differentlyâbake until light brown).
The late great comedian Joan Rivers had many famous lines, but she was probably better known for these three words than for any others. For many of us, we just have to hear this phrase and Joan comes to mind.
Yet perhaps ironically, when Joan Rivers uttered the phrase âCan we talk?â it wasnât that she really wanted to engage with her audience in discussion. She didnât want to talk WITH us. She wanted to talk TO us. What she wanted wasnât for us to RESPOND, but for us to LISTEN. She had something to sayâŚand she wanted our undivided attention.
Many of us like to talk. We have something to say â perhaps a point to make or a feeling or opinion to express. We think of talking as activeâŚit involves doing something.
We tend to think of listening, in contrast, as passiveâŚas if we donât have to do anything to listen. But in fact, truly listening isnât always easy and itâs certainly not passive. As any therapist, chaplain, social worker or member of the clergy will tell you, active listening is a crucial skillâevery bit as important to a conversation as speaking, and often more so. Itâs incredibly powerful for a person to know that theyâre being listened toâthat theyâre being âheardâ (and this often involves much more than just words)âby someone else whoâs taking in what they say without any agenda other than to be present for them.
In Judaism, our central prayer is the Shema. And what does the Hebrew word Shema mean? It means âHear.â Hearing/listening is at the very heart of Judaism.
When I was growing up, there was a wonderful poem in the Friday night prayer book my synagogue usedâit was read before reciting the Shema. The prayer, written by Rabbis Jack Riemer and Harold Kushner, was called âListen.â It began as follows:
Judaism begins with the commandment: Hear, O Israel!
But what does it really mean to hear?
The person who attends a concert with a mind on business,
Hearsâbut does not really hear.
The person who walks amid the songs of the birds
And thinks only of what will be served for dinner, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The one who listens to the words of a friend, or spouse, or child, and does not catch the note of urgency: “Notice me, help me, care about me,” hearsâbut does not really hearâŚ.
I loved this poem (and still do) because it emphasizes the importance of being truly present in the moment âŚ of hearing/listening to what is happening around you, or what another person is saying to you.
Iâm not a poet, but I often wish that I could add some verses to Rabbi Reimer and Rabbi Kushnerâs poem âListenâ and share them with the people I work with (interfaith couples as well as Jewish professionals) in my role as Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia. The verses Iâd add would be:
The person in an interfaith relationship who talks with her partner about religion but cares only about her own religious heritage, and not her partnerâs, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The parent of a child in an interfaith relationship who worries about what other people in his community will say about his child âintermarryingâ as his daughter tells him how much she loves her fiancĂŠ, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The parent whose child tells her about his partner of another faith and she thinks only that she would prefer that the partner be of the same faith, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The rabbi who sits with a couple in an interfaith relationship and thinks about how it would be better if Jews only dated other Jews, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The rabbi who talks to a Christian parent of a bat mitzvah student and is convinced that all parents raising Jewish children should themselves convert to Judaism, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The synagogue staff person or lay leader who insists that their synagogue is âwelcomingâ of interfaith families but isnât comfortable with those who arenât Jewish participating in the life of the synagogue, hearsâbut does not really hear.
When it comes to interfaith relationships, many peopleâthose in the relationship, their parents and other family members, clergy and othersâmay have concerns that are legitimate, and that should perhaps be expressed. But just as each person involved might feel like they need time to TALK, each person should also be sure to take time to LISTEN. Listening can be a tremendous gift to others and to yourself as well. If you are able to actively listen to and hear someone else, it just may make it easier for them to hear you.
There are usually two types of Jewish blogs written in connection with Motherâs Day:
1. Those that focus on the commandment to honor your parents and note that in Judaism EVERY day should be Motherâs Day. These blogs almost always make one of two arguments:Â either that Motherâs Day isnât necessary since we should be honoring our mothers every day; or that Motherâs Day is valuable in that itâs a time to re-focus on the importance of honoring our mothers, and to recommit to honoring them throughout the year.
2. Those that focus on the importance of the Jewish community honoring and supporting mothers who arenât themselves Jewish, but are raising their children as Jews.
While I think both of these focuses are very important, as Motherâs Day approaches this year, I want to focus on other mothersâa group of mothers we donât always talk about in the Jewish community: the grandmothers of other faiths âŚ that is, those mothers whose daughters and sons marry someone Jewish and decide to raise their children as Jews. These are the Catholic grandmothers who never have the chance to see their grandchildren christened or to attend a first communion; the Hindu grandmothers who come to their grandchildrenâs Bânai Mitzvah and feel uncomfortable and out of place at synagogueâall those grandmothers of other religions who donât get to watch their grandchildren grow up in their own faith traditions and who may feel like âoutsidersâ at their own grandchildrenâs lifecycle celebrations.
Unlike 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 grandmothers never had a choiceâtheyâre bound by their childrenâs decisions.
We in the Jewish community should acknowledge these grandmothers (and the grandfathers) who arenât Jewish. Here are some ways we can do this:
Of course, booklets shouldnât be a substitute for conversation. Ideally, the booklet should be accompanied by an explanation by the grandparentâs own child who is raising Jewish kids, and/or the child-in-law who grew up Jewish. Depending on the age of the grandchild, perhaps the child can be involved in the conversation as well. For example, before a Bat Mitzvah, the granddaughter could talk to her grandparents and explain what will be happening in the service and answer any questions.
The list above is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to get the conversation started. If you have other ideas of how Jewish families and the Jewish community can respect and honor grandparents who arenât Jewish, please share them below.