Answering the Why? One Parent’s Perspective

I just read Teaching the Why? by Rabbi Ari Moffic, which appears on the Networking Blog here at InterfaithFamily.com, an intriguing piece posing some very interesting questions. Is it possible to teach culture and meaning? As we teach the “what”—make challah, make latkes, create the most beautiful tzedekah boxes—when does the “why,” the deep-rooted meaning come in? Do we take for granted that it is there? Do we take for granted that personal connections are being made?

I want my children to make those personal connections and integrate what they do Jewishly with who they are as people. As their mother, I take responsibility for making the connections possible and supporting their success. I do not believe this can be outsourced by sending William and Sarah to Hebrew school and Jewish day camp and other Jewish activities. I do send them to Hebrew school and Jewish day camp as wonderful supplements for Jewish infusion, but I don’t rely solely on them to make them feel Jewish. My children feel Jewish because of the home we have created. Mezuzahs don our doors. The Sabbath bride is a welcome guest in our home each week. We sing songs and pray together at religious services in our synagogue each week. In other words, we live Jewish lives.

When I made the commitment to raise our children in the Jewish tradition, I realized that I would be making a commitment to live a Jewish life. Not knowing exactly how that would play out at the time, it was a pretty big leap of faith. One that meant I would look pretty Jewish for a long time. I do this to support Jewish fluency in my children, as Rabbi Moffic talks about in her piece.

I think about the mitzvah in Judaism that commands you to teach your child to swim. On a practical level, it is a good skill to have. But I think its deeper meaning calls parents to do everything they can to make sure their children can swim on their own and lead responsible, productive lives. Ensuring our children are well-equipped to go out on their own takes a great deal of personal commitment over many years. We don’t just throw them in the deep end and hope for the best. Learning anything—riding a bike, playing the piano—requires dedication and practice, lots of practice. Supporting my children’s spiritual development goes hand in hand with teaching them how to take care of themselves and others.

My job is to provide the context for the content. Sometimes I am a student. I read a lot. I have taken classes in Judaism and attend seminars and workshops. Sometimes I am an educator. I have taught two challah-making events at our synagogue. (The irony of a Catholic teaching Jewish people how to bake their special bread is lost on no one.) Something that I always do at my challah-making events while the dough is resting is to give a talk about the wonderful gift of Shabbat and how leading a Jewish life translates into leading a balanced life. I always tell the story of the book. Jewish people are sometimes referred to as the People of the Book. How many sides does a book have? You may say six—a front, back, top, bottom, and two sides. But there is one more side, the inside, where the important information for the book lives. We spend all week being busy, living our lives on the outside of the book. On Shabbat, we are called to go inside.

When I started my Jewish journey, I felt it was important. Growing up Catholic, I was taught that the Jewish people have a special covenant with God that will never be broken. I was impressed that my husband is part of this historic tradition. Abraham was the first Jewish person, and here is my husband 5,000+ years later keeping that tradition alive. Wow. It is amazing to think about. But it doesn’t mean I think less of the tradition I was raised in. So why did I make that leap of faith? Because I was raised by a mother who dedicated her life to make sure her children had a developed spiritual maturity as adults. She knew we would be swimming on our own one day and making our own choices. She gave me the skills to learn another language.

Wild Pesach

Our Passover Seders are typically enjoyed at the home of one of Hubby’s Aunts and Uncles. They always do an incredible job, and are some of the few people we know who are equipped to handle 20+ people for dinner (and make it look pretty darn easy, even though I KNOW it’s not). Last year, I have to admit, I was dreading the Passover Seder. Baby boy was almost 1, he was mobile, and I just KNEW he was going to be a handful. I was pleasantly surprised at pesach/">how well it all went.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I WASN’T worried about this Passover… on the contrary. Baby boy is now almost 2, and all that goes along with that. His big brothers, while typically well-behaved, have a penchant for egging him on (mainly because he’s so darn cute, but also because, well, they’re big brothers). Add to that the fact that I realized about half an hour before we needed to leave that I never procured a travel high chair. I had no way of strapping him down ensuring he could sit safely at the table.

Again, my fears were *mostly* unfounded this year. As he climbed the front steps, Baby boy excitedly called out “Aunt Su-san house! See. Aunt Su-San!” (Try to read that in your best squeaky-toddler voice.) Baby boy was pretty good, if somewhat restless. He mostly sat in my lap, until he realized that Zayde was at the next table, and then he’d sort of roam between Mommy, Daddy, and “Zalie’s” lap. He didn’t eat much dinner (not that I expected otherwise; he’s definitely in the “picky” stage of toddler eating), though he did ask for more and more “apple-cinn-mon” (charoses). He wore his kippah, (he kept calling it his “hehmet” because anything that goes on one’s head right now MUST be a baseball helmet) except for when he shared it with me or Daddy. (Even showing him that his big brothers were quietly and calmly wearing their “hehmets” didn’t persuade him to keep his on.)

There were a couple “extra” (i.e., not related to us) kiddos at this year’s Seder, which made the hunt for the Afikomen even more exciting! Bear found it this year, and after some pretty intense negotiations for its ransom, we had to have a little “lesson” with Bear about the ransom’s fair division between his co-searchers. All the kids did GREAT on their reading (and considering the youngest reader is only in kindergarten, I’m SO, SO impressed), and they all (with the exception of Baby boy) behaved very well at the table. It was a late night, as usual, and maybe a little wilder than in years past, but I’d still say it was a very successful Seder. Maybe one year Hubs and I will be brave enough to have our own family little Seder.

A few Passover stories

I was never able to come up with a cohesive post about Passover, but below find a few of my musings.

Did a little last minute Passover shopping today, and, for the first time in almost 20 years, I found a lamb shank bone in the meat section.  I was so over-come, that I considered buying all of them so that they would have them next year.  Usually we have to order them from the butcher many, many, many moons in advance.  I am not that organized.  I generally live in a state of Passover denial, until the very last minute I don’t do anything and then it is a mad rush to get it all done.

I decided to just buy one, surmising that I couldn’t possibly be the only last minute shopper and I didn’t want to deny another last minute Jew the excitement of finding a lamb shank in the meat department.  How thrilling would that be?

I texted a few friends about my amazing find.  I call my husband.  This year, sweetie, we are having a REAL lamb shank bone, I gleefully tell him.  No plastic one.  No marrow bone pretending to be a lamb shank.  No pictures of one from the internet.  This year we get the real thing.


A friend of mine posted on Facebook that her car was chomtez free.  It got me thinking, it NEVER in a million years occurred to me that I should clean my car of leavened products.  I mean, face it, my van is a trash can on wheels.  While we generally do not eat in the car, the reality is that food is consumed in my car periodically.  When we go on long road trips the kids have snacks in the car.  So, there are crumbs and what not on the floor.  I remember my husband joking about people who light their houses on fire as they try to burn the last crumbs of bread in their cabinets.  Could you imagine what would happen if I tried that in my car?  It wouldn’t end well.  My response back was, the only way that could happen with my car would be if I got a new car.


The great tortilla debate is about to fire up.  I already see research being conducted.  A brief look at our browser history shows a few google searches on tortillas during Passover.  The argument is, if a tortilla is made from flour and water, just like matzoh, why are they forbidden?  Of course, why is corn not ok, if Sephardic Jews allow corn, rice and lentils?  The debate rages every year.  The Talmud is quoted, interpreted, articles are referenced.  It has become part of our tradition.  Of course, no one has ever really come up the answer to how a cat can eat a kid.

Happy Passover!

Where Do We Fit In?

Being a somewhat Shomer Shabbos Jew married to a non-Jew, I often feel a little at odds with my Jewish identity.  Where, exactly, does my family fit in?

Jewish spirituality is definitely made up of categories: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, cultural, secular – just to name a few. 

A friend’s daughter asked me “Are you Orthodox?”

She cowered after she asked, because she felt she had asked too personal a question.  I reassured her that it was a perfectly acceptable question.  I wondered that myself, who am I spiritually?

I eat Kosher food.  I observe Shabbat and the holidays (as in no electricity, driving, writing, etc.).  I dress modestly.  I am a member of a Modern Orthodox synagogue

We are raising our son with Jewish values. 

I struggle with the notion that I will be teaching my son different values than the ones I grew up with, the same ones that led me to marry a non-Jew.  How would I teach him to make different choices than mine?  Would I be a Jewish hypocrite? 

Is there a place for our Jewishly observant family with a non-Jewish parent within a typically Orthodox paradigm?

The answer to that question depends on who you ask.  My husband, for the moment, is not interested in converting.  We would have to be accepted as we are: a Jewish parent, a non-Jewish parent and one Jewish little boy. 

Throughout my spiritual journey, I have constantly asked myself, Who am I, What am I doing and What is my potential?  Essentially I want to understand where my Jewish spirituality is headed.  The answer to those questions will not only impact my own life, but will influence my marriage and our parenting decisions.