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When I set out to write my book From Generation to Generation: A Story of Intermarriage and Jewish Continuity, I wanted to demonstrate through the telling of my familyâs story that intermarriage has not been as bad for the Jews as many in the Jewish community would have us believe. I wanted to show that the reality of the religious lives of mixed faith families is more nuanced and richly Jewish, than is often portrayed through surveys, statistics, and snapshot anecdotes.
For years, the Jewish communityâs belief that intermarriage is a significant factor in the decline of the Jewish population has been reinforced by how it collects its data. Jewish demographic surveys mostly look at rates of intermarriage and Jewish childrearing by intermarrieds. There have been few studies that Iâve come across that dig deeper into this issue through qualitative and quantitative research; few researchers, academics, or community leaders interested in understanding the hows and the whys of Jews who are intermarried.
This focus on calculating the percentage of Jews that intermarry and raise singularly Jewish children has failed to move the debate about how to best address intermarriage and its effect on Jewish continuity forward in a meaningful way. Instead, it continuously creates communal hysteria and vitriol with the release of each new study.
One of the problems with the data on intermarriage is that it captures the religious choices of families at a single point in time. This method assumes that interfaith family life is static. However, an intermarried family’s relationship to faith can be as dynamic as an inmarried family’s.
For example, some not Jewish partners choose to convert after many years of living a Jewish life. Previously uncommitted couples decide to engage Jewishly when a child is born or starts preschool. Interfaith families who identify as Jews of no religion become more involved after a significant life event. Families who start out as dual-faith later make the decision to have singularly Jewish homes. Children of intermarriage choose to identify as Jews in some way when they reach adulthood.
Until recently, most demographic studies have failed to measure the Jewish identification, engagement, and experience of interfaith families in a way that captures scenarios such as the ones highlighted above. However, after the publication of the Pew report, Theodore Sasson, a senior research scientist at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies asked the Pew research team to look at the rate at which young adult children of intermarriage identified as Jews.
He found that over the years, âthe proportion of adult children of intermarriage identifying as Jewish has steadily increased, reaching 59%â for children born after 1980. The result was almost evenly split between those identifying as Jews by religion and those identifying as Jews of no religion.
In discussing his findings, Sasson states in the Spring 2014 issue of Contact, âthe higher-than-expected rate of Jewish identification among the adult children of intermarriage isâŚa significant milestone. The rate at which young adult children of intermarriage identify as Jewish exceeds the rate at which their parents claimed to be raising them as Jewish in the NJPS 2000-01 survey.â
Sasson’s data captures people like my cousin, the child of a Jewish father and not Jewish mother raised in a home with no religion. During his first year of college, he met other kids like him. Some of his friends had heard of Birthright and suggested that they all look into it.
The idea of exploring his Jewish heritage interested my cousin enough that he announced at his family’s secular Christmas dinner that he was planning to apply to go on the Israel trip with his friends. My Jew of no religion uncle, who had been turned-off by the faith after his
By collecting data on intermarriage and the child-rearing choices of intermarried Jews in the way that we do, we do not allow for the possibility that being Jewish or engaging in Judaism can become important or of interest to interfaith families and children of intermarriage over time. Dr. Sasson’s findings will hopefully get the Jewish research community to consider additional ways to study intermarriage’s effect on Jewish identity.
I hope to see more qualitative research being done too in order to better understand why intermarrieds are or are not choosing Judaism, and how they are engaging in Judaism if they are associating themselves with the Jewish people in some way. But, until communal leaders start asking these questions, it is up to intermarrieds who are actively choosing Judaism to make our voices heard.
By sharing my family’s interfaith and Jewish journey in From Generation to Generation, I hope others will be encouraged to share their story. Our narratives can help answer questions such as why, how, and when are intermarrieds making Jewish choices.
The Jewish community needs to learn from and leverage the experiences of interfaith families living Jewishly in order to draw more intermarrieds into American Jewish life. If it does not, the predictions of the communal pessimists will eventually become reality.
Sasson suggests that the Jewish community support efforts to maximize the percentage of intermarrieds raising Jewish children and welcome young adults not raised as Jews to explore their Jewish heritage. He seems to recognize what many Jewishly engaged intermarrieds already know; Jewish spouses will not sustain us, but Jewish engagement will.
From Generation to Generation: A Story of Intermarriage and Jewish Continuity is available at Amazon.com and other retail outlets.
Theodore Sasson, âInvesting in the Children of Intermarriage,â Contact: The Journal of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, Spring 2014, Volume 16, no. 1, 8-9. http://www.steinhardtfoundation.org/wp-install/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/spring_2014.pdf
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This week, our faithful, energetic, tremendously creative, and incredibly smart editor, Lindsey Silken, is getting married. We know this is the parenting blog, and not the wedding blog, but as two experienced married folks, we thought weâd take this special opportunity to offer some advice to Lindsey and her betrothed. Â Following are a few things we, InterfaithFamily parenting bloggers Jessie Boatright and Jane Larkin, have picked up in our collective 21 years of marriage.
Our Wedding Advice Greatest Hits
We thought weâd start off with a few of our favorite tips about the big day. Â So here they are, in no particular order:
1) Stand up straight! Â Itâs a small thing, but a little good posture goes a long way, especially given that there will probably be more pictures taken of you on your wedding day than just about any other day of your life.
2) Donât forget to eat. Â Better yet, assign someone to remind you to eat. Â Youâve likely spent hours picking out menus and cakes. Â It is easy to get so overwhelmed with all of your guests and the joy of the day that youâll forget to try anything you so painstakingly selected. Â So take a break to have a few bites or, better yet, sit down and enjoy a whole meal.
3) Once the big day arrives, there will be only one to-do item remaining on your list: have a great time! Â Let the event coordinators worry about the details, enjoy your day.
Getting Serious – A Few Thoughts about Making the Most of Marriage
1) If interfaith couples have anything to teach inmarried couples, it is the importance of not making any assumptions about religion or traditions. Â Since Jewish tradition is wide and varied, donât assume that anything is a given. Â Talk, talk and then talk some more. Â Or, in Jewish tradition, wrestle, dialogue, disagree, and then figure out the path that works for your family.
2) Pick something you really like doing as a couple, and remember to keep on doing it. Â Whether it is dancing into the wee hours of the morning or a shut-in board game night, it is important to keep coming back to a space that is uniquely yours throughout your marriage.
3) There is never a âperfect timeâ for anything. Â There is no perfect time to go back to school, or to have children, or to buy a home. Â You will always be able to find an excuse to delay big (and small) decisions. Â Sometimes you and partner will know when the time is right; other times youâll need to âJust Do It.â
4) Bring Shabbat into your lives. Â Starting a Shabbat tradition is a way for sacred encounter to enter into your relationship. Â It is also a tangible way for you to start to build your Jewish home together.
5) Itâs okay to go to bed mad. Â Itâs hard to look at an issue clearly when tempers and emotions are high. Â Even a bad nightâs sleep can help you see a situation from a different perspective or deal with a problem in a calmer fashion. Â Another trick: count to 10 before responding to a temperature-raising comment from your spouse, in-laws, or parents.
6) Your spouse may have some habits that you think you will be able to change after marriage. Â Most likely that wonât happen, so learn to live with them and laugh about them. Â When you find these lovable behaviors nagging at you, recite to yourself American theologian Reinhold Niebuhrâs Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.
7) Have your families read Jessieâs âA Charge to the Families.â There are some lessons in it that will help them support your partnership.
Lastly, remember that marriage is a journey, not a destination. Â There will be many peaks and an equal amount of valleys. Â If you remember that you and your spouse are a team that is at its best when it works together, you will have an easier time navigating the smooth surfaces, as well as the bumps in the road. Â Marriageâs treasures are not revealed all at once, but rather all along the way.
Best wishes for a life together that is filled with joy, happiness, strength, support, teamwork, and love. Â Mazel Tov!
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Happy Labor Day weekend! Â Every year, I anticipate Labor Day weekend with both a smile and a bittersweet taste in my mouth. Â It always brings some kind of fun celebration, but in so doing it marks the end of summer (a particularly big deal for those of us who live in New England). Â Unlike last year, when the Jewish New Year collided with the start of the school year, we still have a few weeks to go before Rosh Hashanah. Â But for parents of school-aged children, Labor Day marks a transition into another kind of new year. Â A new year of earlier school day wake-ups, school uniforms to keep clean, and new groups of teachers, parents and children to get to know.
We have had a lot of fun this summer. Â It was Ruthieâs first summer at real âbig kidâ day camp, and a huge developmental period for Chaya. Â We had a great vacation in Maine, and a lot of weekend adventures. Â We made wonderful memories with family and friends.
As I prepare to for this last summer weekend, I thought Iâd take a moment to count some of the blessings of the summer, and think about how I might carry them into the next three seasons. Â Here are some things Iâll remember:
Those are a few of the gifts from our summer. Â What are yours?
The night before I left for my family vacation, I paid a shiva call to a friend who had just lost her sister. Â In the middle of my visit, a rabbi friend-of-the-family led those present through the first nightâs shiva minyan. Â Before we began the Mournerâs Kaddish, the rabbi explained that this night was a very special Shabbat. Â It was Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation. Â After the somber observance of Tisha BâAv, Shabbat Nachamu begins seven weeks of consolation, of shifting from mourning to comfort as we clear our minds and prepare for the New Year. Â It was a beautiful frame to put around this heartbreaking time, and gave those of us present a sense of purpose in being with my friendâs family in that moment. Â It also fortified me as I prepared for my annual trip to the Maine lakes, a trip that my Mom organized for 29 years, including 2012, the year she, like my friendâs sister, lost her life to cancer.
When I arrived at the lake, I sensed so many things that were missing, so many things to mourn. Â The plastic bins she packed neatly with games and crafts were missing, replaced by a mish-mash of last-minute items I had thrown into canvas bags. Â There was an empty seat around the campfire, and no easel set up on the dock, waiting for a sunset to paint. Â When I think of my mom in Maine, I see her smiling in the oversized neon green and blue plaid shirt she inherited from an old high school friend of mine, and her laughter echoes off of the lake. Â There are so many ways in which she is not there, and I mourn them all each year that I go up without her.
But this year I carried the rabbiâs words about Shabbat Nachamu with me, and tried not to look back quite so much. Â There were consolations and small comforts all around me if I opened my eyes to the present. Â The beauty and tranquility of the lake are gifts that live on. Â My Dad, siblings, and our kids and partners are still a family: a family that treks hours through weekend summer traffic to be together, to cook hot dogs on an open flame and then to find a new stone to overturn – a new farm to visit, or a new craft project to undertake. Â I can see a paintable sunset and relish it, even if I canât paint it like my mom could. Â My nephew, whose entire life began after my Mom died, is making his way fiercely in the world and reminding me of how much of life remains for all of us to discover.
And then I found another new joy that surprised me. My girls are becoming friends. Â Not in the way itâs been, where I can get Ruthie to distract Chaya with a book while I change my shirt, or where the girls sit beside each other at the table but interact on separate mental planes. A real friendship is blossoming between them, one which is uniquely theirs, and in which I am only a supporting character. Â While we were on vacation, they created their own games together, skipping rocks in the pond side-by-side and enlisting my sister and me for hours of âbeauty salonâ activities. Â They sought each other out to try new jokes and held hands in the backseat of the car. Â And there was nothing as consoling as this friendship, which has to be one of parenthoodâs greatest gifts.
One of my favorite Jewish notions is that of sacred continuity – that we must remember our past in order to best be in the present and plan for a better future. Â Shabbat Nachamu is a bridge from a recollection of loss to an appreciation of what is around us. During my week on the lake, I made a small pilgrimage over that bridge. And with the New Year approaching, I will carry the clarity I found in Maine and continue to seek out consolation and joy.
I have a talkative family. Mostly, our everyday conversations are about routine topics such as schedules, work, food, sports, and updates on family and friends, but there are moments when we have rich conversations about meatier subjects such as ethics, history, faith and fate.
These thoughtful discussions are never planned, they happen organically. But while the timing of them is unpredictable, I have noticed that they tend to take place in three locations: in the car, around the Shabbat table, and in nature.
Maybe these conversations happen in these spots because we are relaxed, our minds are cleared of to-do lists, and our hands and eyes are freed from electronics. Or maybe the settings put us in a contemplative mood. Whatever the cause, I cherish these opportunities to connect with my family, and especially my son Sammy who is about to enter his preteen years officially.
In these magical moments, my husband and I get to hear our sonâs thoughts about life, values, God, and spirituality, and our son hears the same from us. Depending on the themes weâre discussing, we weave in details about history, Judaism, books, science and other relevant topics. Because our son is present and engaged in these conversations, he absorbs and is more receptive to the information being presented.
On a walk in the Vermont woods during our recent summer vacation, the subjects of life and death came-up. I pointed out a nurse log on the side of the path. A nurse log is a decomposing tree trunk that provides the moisture and nutrients necessary for the growth of new plants. We learned about them last summer during a hike in Alaska.
As we looked at the log, Sammy said that all living things, including people, are like nurse logs. He explained his theory of what happens when people die and are buried. He said that as the bodies decay, nutrients are added to the soil, the enriched soil nourishes the growth of new life in the form of plants.
I thought his idea was quite logical, in line with Sammyâs often scientifically oriented thinking. Then he said, âBut the question is, do people live on in some way. What happens to a personâs soul?â
I explained that many Jews believe we live on through the legacy that we leave behind â our family, reputation, work and good deeds. Sammy acknowledged that this was one wayâa tangible wayâto think about living on, but that wasnât what he was talking about. His thoughts were metaphysical in nature.
He said he believed that when the body decays part of its soul moves into the plant that grows from the soil that has been nourished during decomposition. When an animal eats the plant, it absorbs the soul. In this way, the soul moves up the food chain eventually reaching another person.
My husband and I listened intently while Sammy shared his ideas. We were fascinated by how he easily his mind moved between rational and mystical thinking, and how he interwove concrete and abstract concepts.
I shared with him that the idea that the soul moves through different realms after death is present in Judaism. âReally?â He said.
âReally. Some Jews believe that when they recite the Kaddish for a loved one who has died, it lifts the soul of the deceased from one spiritual world to another moving it ever higher each year that the Mournerâs Prayer is said.”
âWow. Thatâs pretty cool,â Sammy replied. He then added, âDonât you love when we have these kinds of conversations? I mean we were talking about a nurse log and now weâre talking about the soul.â
My husband and I do love these conversations as much as Sammy. They are unlike our everyday parent-child interactions. There is no nagging, admonishing, reminding or repeating. We appreciate these small opportunities to build connection and family intimacy because, in our hyperscheduled, too-busy-for-downtime lives these moments arenât always easy to find.
The following is a guest post by Marsha S.
*Names have been changed
My husband Charlie is a non-practicing Catholic and I am Jewish. From the get-go, we agreed to raise our children Jewish, which left the onus on me to further their religious identity and education.Â At my urging, Charlie agreed to travel to Israel this summer for our eldest son’s
Boring turned out not to be an issue. Shortly before our departure, tensions were rising between Israel and Hamas. There were localized riots and violence, but at the time, we had no idea how quickly it would all escalate to a full-scale war.
After much planning, we arrived in Israel, and spent the first couple of days unwinding in Tel Aviv. We then spent another day or two getting to see more of the country, while gaining a better understanding of the mindset of the Israeli people. Up until this point, the increasing violence hadn’t touched us directly.
Then we arrived in Jerusalem. That evening, while leisurely strolling through Mamilla Mall, an air raid siren went off. We had no idea what that meant, or what to do. We saw civilians and soldiers all running in one direction. We were herded into a bomb shelter, still having no idea what was going on. It was terrifying, to say the least. Eventually, the “all clear” was given, and life resumed. It wasn’t until afterward, when we were able to connect with friends and get online that we learned Hamas’ rockets had reached Jerusalem, but were intercepted by Israel’s blessed Iron Dome.
Two days later, we were at the Western Wall when another air raid siren went off. Once the alert is sounded, you have between 15 and 90 seconds to seek shelter.Â More people running; this time in all different directions. A large group of soldiers appeared out of nowhere, and were running as well. This time, we huddled under a doorway as we heard explosions all around us. As it turned out, some of the explosions we heard were rockets being intercepted above us, but some were firecrackers being shot up simultaneously. My guess is that someone was just trying to scare everyone even more.
Two days later, rockets were again fired in our direction, and everyone gathered in the stairwell of our hotel until the all-clear was given. At that point, I was very concerned about our safety, and mentioned to my husband that I thought we should discuss the possibility of heading back to the States early.
I was surprised and moved by his response.Â He said, “We CAN’T leave now. We need to see this through. If Jews ran away every time someone tried to hurt them or persecute them, there wouldn’t be any of you left. I wouldn’t have a family! It’s important that we stand in solidarity with the Israelis right now.” I was inspired. We had only experienced a few days of this kind of fear, but there are too many Israelis who live this nightmare continuously.
During the following week in Jerusalem, we met several locals who expressed their gratitude for our presence as tourists during this tumultuous time, and collected a few friends along the way. A highlight was spontaneously singing and dancing with soldiers at The Wall on Shabbat. That spoke volumes to me about the people of Israel’s passion and determination to keep “living” despite their pain.
The final day of our trip arrived: the day of our sonâs Bar Mitzvah. It wasÂ a beautiful and intimate ceremony atop Masada; just magical.Â For the grand finale, Charlie gathered our small group together with our arms around each other, and told us all how moved he was by our adventures during the past two weeks. He said that he never understood how special Israel was until he came to know the country and her people firsthand.Â He said how proud he was, not only of our son the Bar Mitzvah, for all of his hard work and preparation, but of all of us for seeing the journey through, and celebrating life despite so much ugliness around us.
I am ever grateful to Charlie for recognizing how powerful a trip like ours would be to his Jewish wife and children, and as an added bonus, he ended up being just as moved as we were by the whole experience! On the flip side, I found that traveling with my Catholic husband made me appreciate the Christian holy sites in a whole new way.
I highly recommend an interfaith all-family trip to Israel.Â Regardless of one’s religion, any traveler can sense how sacred the space truly is.Â I feel even closer to Charlie after experiencing such high highs and scary lows together in our mutual Holy Land.Â Oh, and if you go, don’t miss out on hummus and shwarma from a street vendor.Â THAT experience is close to holy in its own right!
My 9-year-old son, Sammy, was bursting to tell me something after his robotics class the other day. I assumed it was about his class activities, so I was surprised when the first thing he told me was this:
âI was working with my partner to design something in a computer program and I made a mistake. I said, âOh, jeezâ because I was annoyed that I needed to redo my work. My partner says, âDonât speak The Boyâs name in vain!â I looked at him like he was crazy. All I said was âjeez.â I didnât say Jesus or Jesus Christ, but thatâs what he thought I meant. I also didnât understand why he used âThe Boyâ to refer to Jesus.â
I have to admit, I was as dumbstruck as Sammy, and I rolled my eyes at this only-in-the-Bible-Belt moment. When I shared the story with my husband, who was raised in a Christian home, his reaction was the same. Neither of us had ever heard anyone take offense to the word âjeezâ or use âThe Boyâ to describe Jesus. Our Christian family and friends have always used âjeezâ in the same way that Sammy didâto express surprise or annoyance.
I never imagined that we might have to censor a word that we felt was simply an innocent expression of shock or frustration. I could think of many other four-letter words that Sammy could use to express the same emotions that I’d never want to come out of his mouth.
But Iâm also a Jew. I know that words can have negative and hurtful meanings. I reconsidered my give-me-a-break response.
Maybe Sammy did say something offensive. Maybe âThe Boyâ is a common way to describe Jesus. I decided that since we live in the Bible Belt, I had better find out. I headed for the dictionary and computer to see what I could learn in hopes of preventing us all from making any more offensive remarks.
Various dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster defined âjeezâ as an interjection used as a mild oath or introductory expletive used to express surprise, astonishment, disappointment, etc. All of the entries noted that it was a euphemism for Jesus first used in the 1920s. I understood why Sammyâs partner thought using the term was taking the Lordâs name in vain.
I also found a discussion on LDS.net, a site affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ about whether or not to chastise a person for saying “jeez.â Some commenters believed they should because Mormons are taught to avoid the use of any sensitive words or similar sounding substitutes in speech including gosh, dang, shoot, jeez, etc. Others felt that they should only admonish people when the words are said with intent to offend.
One person said if the speaker does not consider the word âto be a shortened form of taking the name of the Lord in vain, but insteadâ considers it a nonsense âexclamation then there isâ no reason to chastise.
But someone else pointed out that all substitute words are offensive including gee whiz, geez, goodness, and jeepers because they are based on the offensive word. After reading the debate, all I could say was, âOy vey.â
Regarding the use of âThe Boyâ to refer to Jesus, I found nothing. There was a religious school lesson plan on the LDS website called âJesus Christ was a Child like Me.â The purpose of it was âto strengthen childrenâs desire to be like Jesus Christ by increasing their knowledge of Jesusâ childhood.â Maybe thatâs where the term came from. Or maybe it came from the idea that Jesus is the Son of God. In Trinitarian Christianity, God is referred to as âThe Father.â Since âboyâ can mean âson,â it follows that âThe Boyâ could mean Jesus.
After spending a good portion of the day trying to understand the reaction of Sammyâs partner, I decided that you could go crazy trying to scrub your speech so that no group is offended. Since that is nearly impossible to do, especially for a child, it made me ask: Where do we draw the line? How do we, with our limited knowledge of every religious, ethnic, and cultural group, know what is and is not disrespectful? How do we, in a hypersensitive environment, prevent ourselves from being forced into silence by our fear that we might offend someone?
I donât know the answers. But I do know that I donât want my child to be afraid to speak.
Iâm not going to tell Sammy never to use the word “jeezâ given the context in which he used it. But I am going to reinforce what weâve taught him about offensive speech: donât use stereotypes, donât use speech that attacks an individual or group on the basis of a trait or characteristic, donât use language to disparage or intimidate, apologize if you unintentionally offend someone and learn from the incident.
In the meantime, I told Sammy that the next time he gets annoyed or frustrated in class, just say, âOy vey!â
My little Chaya turned two this month. Â Two is a lot of fun. She is developing language at lightening speed, and even though I feel that Eric and I already know her better than anyone else (except, I must admit, her sister Ruthie), it feels as if I get to meet her anew every time she throws another new sentence together. She is just learning how to make a joke, and she loves figuring out how to make us laugh. She is firmly committed to figuring out her place in the world, which sometimes means she shows a glimmer of a âterrible twoâsâ tantrum, and can be a bit bossy, but overall is just a fascinating study in human development. And on that note, in honor of her birthday, I wanted to share a little story of a deliciously 2-year-old thing she did at Shabbat this month.
A few weeks ago, we were stuck in the throes of a typical Friday night. The girls were both exhausted, and attempting to eat their way through the kitchen cabinets in a race against my ability to get a balanced dinner on the table. Eric was home just a few minutes past his planned arrival time, which was hardly a disaster but meant the dog still needed to go out and the table wasnât really set. I could hear the sound of chaos in our dining room, and was trying to figure out how to transition us into a peaceful welcoming of our Friday night.
I decided to try something different. Instead of attempting to commandeer everyone into their seats at a nicely set table, I waited until everyone was in the general vicinity of the dining room, made my Shabbat-commencing-confirming eye contact with Eric, and lit the match for the candles. Aha. I had everyoneâs attention. I lit the candles, covered my eyes, and began to say the blessing.
Just as the blessing came out of my mouth, Chaya started to dance. I gave up on peeking and just uncovered my eyes. We all looked over at our smallest family member, who was watching the candles with a huge grin on her face, dancing to the melody of the blessing.
It may be a little trite, but this two-year-old was trying to tell us that Shabbat is something about which we should be dancing. More than that, it felt like a bit of a parenting victory. I often feel like when I start a ritual I never know how long it will take to stick, or even if it will stick. This goes across the board, from something as big as Shabbat or as small as teaching the girls to put their clothes in the hamper when theyâre dirty. When Chaya danced, it felt like I wasnât teaching her about Shabbat – she got it, and in her own way, even better than what I tried to teach her.
I doubt Chaya is going to dance every week, or even that I can transition our house from chaos to commonality every Friday like I did that week. But I am thankful for a two-year old who teaches me to see things in new ways, and whose gifts to me will always outnumber what I give to her.
As I left the gym early this morning, I walked past a TV showing an MSNBC interview with the Israeli Counsel General in New York. I paused to read the closed captions at the bottom of the screen and then made my way to my car.
While Israel has been on my mind for weeks, I have kept my thoughts about what is going on at a distance, and focused more on the pictures of my son enjoying his last weeks of overnight camp. But by late afternoon yesterday, I could no longer push away Israel. Two things drew me in:
A friend, in Israel for her sonâs
Reading this post made me think about one of our 16-year-old babysitters who is in Israel on an NFTY trip. I immediately sent a text to his mom, who happens also to be a friend. I needed to know, what she had heard. She said the kids were safe and enjoying the trip. Todayâs plan was for a hike up Masada and a float in the Dead Sea. She said she was staying abreast of the situation, but she was calm, hoping her son would be able to complete his journey in peace and safety. She said that other parents were concerned and wanted to bring their children home before the tripâs scheduled end.
These two situations got me more engaged because they touched people I know. But they also moved me to verbalize my support. I stand with Israel.
I stand with Israel, not out of blind obedience to my people, or because I believe all Israelâs actions to be just. I stand with Israel, as I stand with the United Statesâsometimes with a critical eye, always with a loving heart.
How I feel about Israel mirrors how I feel about this country. I am proud of her accomplishments yet disappointed by some of her policies; frustrated by her politics but unwilling to disengage from the discussion of the issues; angry at the rhetoric of some government officials or the behavior of some of her citizens, but reluctant to give up my allegiance.
Israel is not perfect, nor is any country. Like all human societies, she fights to balance moral excellence and self-defense. As Paul Johnson writes in the epilogue to his 1987 bestselling book A History of the Jews (read it, if you havenât already), Israel was âfounded to realize a humanitarian ideal,â and discovered âin practice that it must be ruthless simply to survive in a hostile world.â
Combining moral authority with, as Johnson says, âthe practical demands of a state capable of defending itself,â is not an easy task, especially when the eyes of the world are watchingâclosely, very closely. Israel is threatened by rockets, and as Ed Case, states on the IFF Network blog, âby negative opinion and vilification around the world.â It is important to support her and efforts to resolve this crisis peacefully.
So here is why I stand with Israel:
I stand with Israel because of the good she does and the hope she embodies. I stand with Israel because of the ideals she represents and the safe haven she provides. I stand with Israel because I dare to hope for a better, more peaceful tomorrow.
I love a good wedding, which almost all of them are, in my experience. Last weekend I had the privilege of being a guest at a really powerful wedding, with a ceremony that was not only joyous but also left me with strong food for thought about the power of marriage, partnership, love, family, and community. I especially loved the way the ceremony charged family and friends to play a role in the coupleâs marriage, so much so that I thought I’d share it with you.
Keeana and Marcâs wedding was special because they are a lovely couple – they are both remarkable people who are head-over-heels for each other in an infectious way. They are connected to and with their faith and their clergy in way that made it impossible to not feel spiritually connected to their ceremony. And the fact that five of their friends came together to form a choir just for their ceremony, or that Keeanaâs mother, a reverend herself, led the final step of the ceremony, only sweetened the pot.
But what I really loved were the three âChargesâ of the ceremony.
As I understand it, the Charge is the officiantâs chance to tell the couple about the responsibilities they are taking on as a married couple. In a Jewish wedding, I think these charges tend to be a bit more understated. Â In Keeana and Marcâs Christian wedding, the Charge was not only explicit, but it was said three times in three different ways. First to the congregation, then to the families, and finally to the couple themselves.
In the first charge, the pastors from Bostonâs Bethel AME Church (who happen to be married to one another), told the congregation that the coupleâs goal for their ceremony was to celebrate their love, to encourage unmarried guests to think about getting married, and to remind married guests about the power of marriage. This is such a lovely way to attend any wedding – to remember not only to notice the wedding dress and to listen to the couple, but also to reflect on your own relationships as you participate.
The second charge was the one that really stood out to me. Â I can never do it justice verbatim, but following are the Cliff Notes. The reverends took pause from the flow of the ceremony to speak directly to the brideâs and groomâs families. They reminded them that Keeana and Marc were standing before them and before G-d to enter into a holy partnership, and that moving forward their primary relationships would be with each other and with G-d. Because of the sacred nature of the commitment they were making to each other, the officiants implored the families that the best way to support these two individuals going forward would be to support them as a couple. Â This included supporting their ability to (and perhaps need to) forge their own path as a unit, sometimes stepping aside to let them stumble together. The reverends promised that if the families supported the coupleâs partnership, they were gaining a respective son and daughter, and that respecting the partnership was the way to be close to the adult child who they raised themselves.
This was not striking because it was a revelation to me – Eric and I have always felt great support for our marriage from our parents. As a parent myself, now, I feel like I am one step closer to understanding the potential challenge of this charge (although not nearly close enough to really get it!). After nine years of marriage, I am unmeasurably appreciative of the ways in which our families have supported our marriage journey, even when weâve made choices that have been very different from those our parents made (or might have made for us!). The way Keeana and Marcâs pastors laid out the charge reminded me that this is never something to be taken lightly, that it is work, and that it is sacred work. And while this post may read as more about marriage than parenting, the truth is that all of this only becomes more important when children are in the mix, and the dynamics present and decisions to be made feel even more complex than before.
So it reminded me, especially on the eve of our anniversary this week, to say:
Thank you to Mom and Dad and Mom and Dad!!!
(and the rest of our families, too, of course), and to remember that the successful union of two people is all the richer when we have our friends and family holding up that union.
The final charge, to the couple, was a lovely statement about love and commitment. And all of the wedding guests will remember the way that two pastors emboldened them to maintain a passionate marital bed, but that is for another kind of post for another kind of day.
So Mazel Tov to Keeana and Marc. Mission accomplished in helping me reflect on the power of love and marriage. Thanks to you two, too.