Celebrity news from Hollywood including an interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal, and an update on Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo.Go To Pop Culture
I recently went to B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp to conduct a Sensitivity Training on being respectful of kids from interfaith homes with Rabbi Robyn Frisch for the B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO) Kallah program. It was exciting to meet teenagers from all over the world attending this program where they can study about Judaism and learn how to work with groups of their peers. These teens are the future leaders of colleges, of non-profits and of businesses.
We began our training with a discussion of whether the teens participating ever felt âdifferentâ in their community. The conversation then moved to the topic of different ways to handle potentially awkward situations regarding interfaith families. The teens had great ideas about respecting one another and not criticizing others even if they saw someone criticizing another peer. We were very impressed when one of the teens talked about creating a program to alleviate some of the ignorance that was occurring around them.
We then discussed how even if you don’t know all the answers, asking questions can educate you and empower someone who might feel awkward or not included. The process of asking questions can make someone go from feeling vulnerable to proud of their situation. We all agreed that an awkward situation can become a learning opportunity if people use non-judgmental questions to deflate the tension.
The teens were so incredibly respectful to us and one another. They were very welcoming regarding interfaith and diversity issues. We discussed awkward situations that might happen in school or with new members of BBYO. We all agreed that respecting others and even respecting the person who may be less educated/more judgmental is vital.
I clearly remember being a participant at this program many years ago and have many fond memories. I remember being exposed to many new concepts and finding my voice as a Jewish teen. The BBYO Kallah program is a unique leadership opportunity for all teens looking to explore their Jewish heritage. I hope that InterfaithFamily helped these teens find their voice regarding interfaith issues.
I donât normally read books written for middle schoolers, but I was in the childrenâs section of my local library picking up a book for my daughter the other day when I noticed a book with a bright yellow cover with a pretty Indian girl entitled My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, written by Paula J. Freedman, on display. I opened the book and started to read the summary on the inside cover:Â âFor Tara Feinstein, life with her Jewish-Indian-American family is like a bowl of spicy matzoh ball soup. Itâs a mix of cultures that is sometimes delicious, and sometimes confusing…â
I was hooked, and I immediately checked out the book. As someone who devotes my days to working with interfaith couples and families and advocating for a welcoming Jewish community, I couldnât wait to start reading.
And I wasnât disappointed. It was a lot of fun to read the story of Taraâs desi mispachaâa term that Tara describes in the book as a âHindi + Yiddish made up term meaning a family thatâs a little bit Indian and a little bit Jewish. Nicer than âHin-JewââŚâ I appreciated how the author depicted Taraâs struggles as she prepares to become a
Taraâs Indian mother converted to Judaism years earlier, before marrying her father, but Tara still feels a deep connection to her Indian family and her Indian heritage. She deeply loved her mothersâ parents who lived in India and died several years earlier. She feels a special bond to her Nanaji (her motherâs father) and wants to be sure that celebrating her Bat Mitzvah wonât make her forget him. She adores Indian food, and though her mother doesnât cook, her fatherâwho grew up Jewish in Americaâmakes great Indian food. Tara loves to watch and act out scenes from Bollywood movies. And for good luck, she rubs the statue of Ganesha that sits on her dresser.
One particular scene in the book really struck me. When Tara realizes that a friend of hers has stolen a bracelet, Tara grabs the bracelet and goes to the store to return it. As sheâs reaching to put the bracelet back on the jewelry counter, sheâs stopped by a security guard, who thinks that Taraâs involved in the shoplifting. When she tells the security guard that her name is âTara Feinstein,â he looks at her skeptically and says to her: âNo, really.â
Thatâs what itâs constantly like for TaraâŚpeople making assumptions about her, and her Jewishness, based on how she looks, and on her motherâs (and thus her) background. And this is what itâs like for so many children from interfaith, inter-racial and/or inter-cultural homes. Fortunately for Tara, she comes to realize that connecting to her Judaism on a deeper level doesnât mean that she has to distance herself from her Indian heritage. As she says in her Bat Mitzvah speech: ââŚnow I know that inspiration can come from many different sources, and that having multicultural experiences can actually make you stronger and more accepting of different points of view.â She comes to see that âNanaji would really have liked my Bat Mitzvah…he was a very spiritual personâŚhe would have approved, as long as I did it with an open heart.â
When my children write book reports for school, they always have to tell whether they would recommend the book, and why or why not. Well, I can say that I would highly recommend My Basmati Bat Mitzvah. It was refreshing to read about a young woman coming of age and dealing with the multiple aspects of her identity, and realizing that she could be fully Jewish AND still honor her Indian cultural heritage (as she did by wearing a treasured sari from her motherâs family which was made into a dress for her Bat Mitzvah).
The book shows in a touching way not just the challenges, but also the blessings, of growing up in an interfaith, inter-cultural family. Itâs always said that kids need to see themselves reflected in the dolls they play with, the television and movies they watch, and the stories they read.Â Iâd imagine that a middle schooler, especially a girl, growing up in an interfaith, inter-racial or intercultural home would at least find some aspects of herself reflected in Tara.
If youâre a mom or dad in an interfaith home and you have a child in middle school, I suggest that you get My Basmati Bat Mitzvah for your child. Better yet, read it with your kid! Itâll give you a great opening to discuss complex issues of belonging and identity. If youâre raising your child as a Jew, you can discuss with them how they can still be one hundred percent Jewish even if one parent did not grow up (and may still not be) Jewish. And you can talk about how being Jewish and proudly celebrating your Jewish identity doesnât mean that you canât love and honor family members who arenât Jewish with a full heart or that you canât embrace aspects of what you inherited from your parent who did not grow up Jewish.
I have to return My Basmati Bat Mitzvah to the library soon, before itâs overdue. And when I get there, I may just go back to the childrenâs section to see what other great books I can find for myself.
The staff at InterfaithFamily is feeling grateful, humbled and inspired by the recent grant we received from BBYO. At their International Convention in February, BBYO teens were given the option to participate in a Shabbat learning session hosted by the Slingshot Fund. In this session, they experienced an expedited (but real!) 90 minuteÂ grant giving process.
They were first given the Slingshot Guide, which includes 50 innovative up-and-coming Jewish organizations and 17 âstandard bearerâ organizations, of which InterfaithFamily is one. The Guide states: âInterfaithFamily leads the conversation and demands a place for interfaith families in Jewish communal life.â
BBYOers were then split into groups and each group was assigned a handful of organizations from the Guide to research. After taking all 67 organizations in the Guide into consideration, each group got to pick their favorite and pitch it to the other groups. What a great exercise in philanthropy!
One of these groups chose InterfaithFamily as their grantee. The group membersâone in particular who is in an interfaith familyâfound the work we do to be meaningful to them. When they pitched InterfaithFamily to the larger group, many other kids felt connected to our cause as well. Out of all of the organizations that they could have chosen to fund, the BBYOers chose one: InterfaithFamily!
Here at InterfaithFamily, we spend a lot of time working with parents and couples. We spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the children of intermarried parents, as does the greater Jewish community. But the minority voice in the equation is that of the children themselves. To know that our mission is important to them is extremely validating and adds a sense of responsibility to our daily work.
Going forward, look out for more essays and resources devoted to the children of interfaith families, because I plan to make sure we rise to the challenge of using the BBYO grant to help these kids feel welcomed and supported in the Jewish community.