New Parenting Resource in Time for Shavuot

This Thursday evening is the beginning of Shavuot, the Jewish holiday when we celebrate the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is actually quite a fun holiday. One tradition for the holiday is to stay up all night studying Torah at a community event called the Tikkun Leil Shavuot. There is also a custom to eat dairy food on this holiday. One reason I’ve heard for this custom is that prior to the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people did not know the kosher laws. Once they learned them, they realized that they weren’t eating meat properly, so they had to eat meatless meals. Perhaps that’s why we eat dairy meals today.

This year I am struggling with how to make this holiday meaningful for my family. I do not have the energy to stay up all night and I certainly don’t want to give my two year old son any such idea! So far, I am planning to retell him the story of Ruth and Naomi, which is chanted on Shavuot morning at the synagogue. We will make a lasagna and chocolate milk together. We are also going to our neighbors for a dairy dinner. Other great ideas for Shavuot with children are available on Jewish Everyday website.

I was recently introduced to Jewish Everyday and its creator, the Bible Belt Balabusta. I am much impressed with its multi-denominational approach and the way it offers ideas from different bloggers and Jewish organizations — including ours — on how to introduce Jewish living to your children not only on Shabbat and holidays, but every day. I have already book marked it.

It Was a Great Purim After All

I didn’t mean to let the entire Purim holiday go by without a greeting on our blog! Today I was the designated parent at home with my son, who has the bug that is going around. I think I’ve caught it too. I feel achy and chilled.

It’s not a hangover, though it feels like one. It’s traditional to get wasted on Purim but that’s one tradition I didn’t think fit my lifestyle this year. Nope, I didn’t have anything alcoholic to drink at the megillah reading last night. (The megillah, newbie Judaism fans, is the biblical Book of Esther, written on a scroll and traditionally chanted in Hebrew. Some people call it “the whole megillah.”)

Purim is a great holiday if you like to party and act silly. This is the first year in about 20 that I haven’t contributed writing to a purimspiel, a play that parallels the plot of the Book of Esther and features contemporary satire. It’s performed at the megillah reading. I did appear in other people’s sketches in the one we performed last night. (I got to wear a black cape!) It was fun, but I was sad that my son couldn’t be there. He’s been gearing up for Purim for a couple of weeks at Hebrew school. He was excited to dress up and be in a play. He was too sick and my husband decided to stay home with him.

This morning, there we were with a pile of articles that need to be edited for IFF, a stir-crazy child and a huge box of sugary treats. My mom sent a special new noisemaker for the kid to use during the megillah reading, and he was making head-splittingly awful noise with it.

I remembered one year when I was little that my parents read us the Book of Esther in English translation instead of taking us to synagogue to hear it read in Hebrew. I decided we could do that.  Continue reading

Purim is Coming

Purim comes but once a year and when it comes you know it’s here–because people get really silly. I am not sure whether this article about Christian salt is for real. Yes, OK, maybe there is someone out there who doesn’t understand that Jews use kosher salt for removing the blood from meat and feels weirded out by salt with a Jewish star on it. But this part of the article made me think this could be a put-on:

If the salt takes off, Godlewski plans an entire line of Christian-branded foods, including rye bread, bagels and pickles.

Oh come on, people! This has to be a Purim joke!

On the other hand, that Christmas decoration that looked in the photo like someone is burning a cross on your lawn that was all over the web last December turned out to be a real product from a real organization, so who knows.

Matthew Scott, who wrote a nice article for InterfaithFamily.com about being in an interfaith relationship and learning to cook and eat Jewish food, was one of several people to bring the Christian salt story to my attention. He was also the first person in my network to find the new 92nd Street Y Purim video, Meshugene Men–though I’d read about it on jbooks.com, in a fun interview with comedy writer Rob Kutner, who made the video. I’ve embedded it below the cut. Continue reading

We’ve Got the Shabbat Spirit!

It has been awhile since I blogged about my adventures with my almost 2-year-old son, Ariel. I am happy to report that Ariel and I have been taking a Friday morning class together. We are taking Shabbat in a Box, a class sponsored by the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston’s (JCCGB) PJ Library. The premise of the class is simple. Each week we meet for the Shabbat blessings and Shabbat themed songs, stories and crafts. The PJ Library is this wonderful program where every Jewish child is sent a Jewish themed book once a month for free or a very reasonable cost.

My son’s favorite song is “We’ve got the Shabbat Spirit.” I think he likes the little dance we do as we sing about how the Shabbat Spirit is inside of different parts of our bodies and within our inner-self. Every week we do a craft, which goes in our special Shabbat box. So far we have made candle sticks and candle holders. Next class is “Things that Cover: challah covers and yarmulkes.”

The class is wonderful. Ariel understands the content and now we sing and dance about Shabbat every week. When it is time to light candles, he covers his eyes and then he loves to hold his kiddush cup up high above his head. Every week Ariel is able to participate in more of our Shabbat routine.

I hope the JCCGB’s PJ library continues to offer programming which interests and educates him, preferably on Friday mornings. Most of the parents in the class are there because, like me, they do not work on Fridays.

Another Shabbat in the Box class is starting up in Ashland, Mass. under the sponsorship of the Jewish Family Network. The first session is on March 6.

If you know of any innovative programs that we should be listing on InterfaithFamily’s calendar, please send me an email at robins@interfaithfamily.com.

Hanukkah Comes Up From the Minors

I wrote a Guide to Hanukkah for Interfaith Families. Originally, I mentioned in the opening line of the guide that Hanukkah is a minor holiday. Our publisher told me, “To our readers, it’s not minor.”

I think that I have joined the ranks of the people for whom Hanukkah is not minor. Why? Because I am the parent of a school-age child now.

My son, super kindergarten kid, goes to public school, which ends long before my workday here at IFF. After school, he participates in two different afterschool programs: one at his public school for three days a week, and a nifty Hebrew afterschool program for two days. It’s like Hebrew school, only mellow and relaxed, which is good because he’s just a little guy.

All the children at the Hebrew program are excited about Hanukkah. It’s their favorite. Some come from households with two Jewish parents, some from households with one Jewish parent. So?

They are learning to sing some of the songs we sing here at home: “Maoz Tzur,” which I first learned in English as “Rock of Ages,” and Ner Li Ner Li. (“I have a little candle.”) The Israeli teachers got all the children singing “Banu Hoshekh L’Garesh,” We Have Come to Banish the Darkness, an old Israeli song about cooperative action. “Each one of us is a little light and together we are a great light.” I can get behind that! Continue reading

House Fire and Warm Memories

This has been a crazy week for me.  My parents’ house had a huge fire.  Do not worry, they made it out in plenty of time and no one was hurt. 

My dad just called while he was standing in what used to be our family home wanting to know what he could take for me.  Everything was under mud and insulation; the house is no longer structurally sound.  The first thing I thought of was Zayde’s siddur–my great-grandfather’s prayerbook.  Clothing can be replaced and homes can be rebuilt, but what I can’t recreate is the worn pages of this book or the times that prayerbook saw him through.

I think everyone has objects they relate to family tradition.  I hope as we move into the Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, Chinese New Year holiday season,  everyone can  create memorable traditions for our diverse families which transcend our differences and celebrate our spirit. We at InterfaithFamily.com are proud of our role in helping people create new holiday traditions.

As we look forward to Thanksgiving dinner, which is always a great experience in my family, I am full of gratitude. Even though my parents’ house is gone, I have memories of family events and late night chats in the kitchen.  This year I am thankful for those memories, and so much more for the new ones my family will create.

Ron Klain, Rahm Emanuel and the Christmas Madness

A story in IsraelNationalNews.com commenting on the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as President-Elect Obama’s chief of staff, and of Ron Klain as Vice President-Elect Biden’s chief of staff, leads with:

“Both appointees are Jewish, but while Emanuel is an observant Jew, Klain intermarried more than 20 years ago and his family observes Christmas.”

Ron KlainThis is the kind of careless comment, typical of Israeli journalists, that buys into the mistaken notion that a Jew who intermarries and whose family participates in Christmas celebrations is lost to Jewish life.

The author, Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, could have said: “Both appointees are Jewish. Emanuel is a traditionally observant Jew. Klain intermarried more than 20 years ago and his family observes Christmas, but he and his wife raised their children as Jews.”

The author knows this, because buried at the end of the article, he cites a New York Times article which states: “He is married to a non-Jew with an agreement that they celebrate Christmas but raise their children as Jews.”

For all we know, Klain and his family belong to a synagogue and send their children to Hebrew school. Their children may already have become, or plan to become, bar or bat mitzvah.Rahm Emanuel Reuters

There are thousands and thousands of intermarried parents like that — who participate in Christmas celebrations and who are raising their children as Jews. Many of them belong to synagogues, send their children to Hebrew school, and have bar and bat mitzvahs, at rates comparable to Reform in-married parents, as Boston’s most recent demographic study reports.

At InterfaithFamily.com we are completing our fifth annual December holidays survey. Thousands of respondents over the years have told us that their Christmas celebration has no religious meaning for them, that it is a way of respecting the tradition of the non-Jewish parent without compromising the Jewish identity of their children. Jewish people celebrate Christmas with Christian friends and relatives as a gesture of connection, not denial of Jewish identity.

The Jewish community ought to be just as proud of the appointment of Klain as it is of Emanuel, and not create artificial distance between Klain and the community because of his marriage.

Dreidel? Dreydel? Dreyidel?

Dreidel boyMy sister-in-law called me last night and as I answered the phone she said “How do you spell dreidel?” I was taken aback for a second. Not only could I not think of any reason my non-Jewish Irish Catholic sister-in-law was asking for the spelling of dreidel — I didn’t actually know how to answer her. It seems that transliterated spelling of any Hebrew word can be spelled a dozen plus different ways. I quickly googled the word while I was on the phone with her and suggested she spell it d-r-e-i-d-e-l. Then I asked, “Why?”

It turns out my nephew’s pre-school asked parents to tell them how their kids spend the holidays. In our family, my husband is Roman Catholic and we are raising my two sons Jewish, we throw a family Hanukkah party each year. It started about four years ago when I invited my sister, her husband and my husband’s family (two brothers, his parents, grandmother, kids and spouses) over for Hanukkah. His family was so excited to learn the songs, light the candles, hear the story of Hanukkah, eat homemade latkes (the first and last time I actually made them from scratch) and jelly doughnuts and learn how to spin the dreidel.

Since then my sister has moved away, but we still have the annual Hanukkah party at our house with my husband’s family. This was why my sister-in-law needed to know how to spell dreidel, so she can tell my nephew’s preschool how he celebrated Hanukkah. Now, let’s hope she doesn’t need to know how to spell sufganiot.

InterfaithCandy.com and Werewolf Bar Mitzvah

On the main site, we are running two opinion pieces, one in favor and one opposed to doing Halloween as a Jew.

I admit it. I’ve never been that interested in Halloween. I went through a phase of feeling guilty that Halloween was a watered-down version of this major Celtic pagan holiday Samhain. Then several pagan and Wiccan friends of mine told me that I shouldn’t feel guilty. Well, all right. I can go feel guilty about something else, and go trick-or-treating with my kid if he wants. He wants.

jukeboxMy son thinks Halloween is the bomb. He went through a totally different sort of phase of wanting to borrow books about Halloween out of the library. He’s not a big candy eater, but he does like to get candy to give away to others and to eat in small amounts over such a long period that we throw out the last of it at Passover. He also likes the whole costume-magical-cutting up pumpkins element of things, because it indulges his mistaken notion that I am crafty. He told us last night that he wants to be a jukebox for Halloween, but luckily he’s figured out how to make the costume himself without me buying a sewing machine. (“Like Anna’s mom.”)

In the meantime, some wonderful person left a bowl of these amazing chocolate covered stuffed dates in the kitchen of the offices we share with many other Jewish organizations. So I had the insight that, because the dates are from Saudi Arabia, we could be interfaithCANDY.com. Ha ha, thank you, thank you, I’m here all week folks.

I’ll just embed my Jewish-themed Halloween video now, shall I? It’s below the cut. Continue reading

Grandmothers

I miss my grandmother lately, and apparently I’m not the only one. Perhaps it is the season of the year, one in which Jews commemorate dead relatives and friends at memorial (Yizkor) services on Yom Kippur and on Shemini Atzeret at the end of Sukkot. Perhaps it is because of the economic downturn–we wish we could have a voice of wisdom.

dolphinsOne of my favorite bloggers, Vegan Lunchbox posted a link to this 92-year-old grandmother, Clara, who is showing people how to do Depression Cooking on Youtube. Check her out.

Clara might be competition for my favorite youtube grandma on Feed Me Bubbe. The 89-year-old Bubbe is nothing like my grandmother. For one thing, my grandmother did not grow up speaking Yiddish, and I called her Grandma. My son really loves this bubbe though. I like the way she sells the food to you while she cooks it.

My colleague circulated a link to the blog Margaret and Helen. I don’t know. This doesn’t sound a lot like any of the grandmothers I know. She’s very political and her language is kind of salty. Whether Helen Philpot is for real or not, she fills a need. We want to hear from grandmothers.

I always thought that being into our grandparents was a Jewish cultural value. After all, we have the expression, “and you will see your children’s children and peace will be on Israel.” If so, then probably everyone is Jewish. Elephants are Jewish, because they have grandmothers, and dolphins are Jewish, and a whole lot more people are Jewish than we thought.  Well, if loving your grandma makes you Jewish, I mean. You might as well say that it’s uniquely Jewish to like chocolate, or hugging. Or blintzes. Bubbe will show you how to make them from scratch below the cut. Continue reading