Giving Thanks

Tonight was the first time my family – my husband, me and my two boys – said the Hamotzi  (blessing over the bread) at home – outside a Jewish holiday. It’s not that I am opposed to giving thanks before my meals – I know how many blessings I have and am thankful for them daily – I just don’t express my thanks to G-d on a daily basis. But maybe I should. 

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, my father-in-law, who’s Episcopalian, always leads the Grace before dinner. This year our very chatty two-year-old thought that Grace was the greatest thing ever – getting to hold everyone’s hands before dinner. And his way of saying Grace was by saying “I love my family” – what could be better than that. My father-in-law’s version of Grace is also very universal – thanking G-d for our many blessings, for the meal we are about to enjoy, thankful to the family we are gathered with and also thankful for those who are not able to be with there. Then it’s chow time.

Tonight however, my in-laws were not having dinner with us, it wasn’t a special meal or holiday. It was just a regular Monday night. Just after we all sat down, our seven-year-old asks, “Can we say the blessing?” And I respond that there are different ways – Grace is what Christian people say, the Hamotzi is what Jewish people say and then our younger son’s version – I love my family.  He immediately picked the Hamotzi, as if that was what he was trying to think of on his own, which we then all sang together.   Even his little brother joined in – he has lots of practice from weekly Shabbat celebrations at the JCC pre-school.

Just a little story about how a regular Monday night turned into a really sweet moment for our family who might consider saying some form of thanks on a nightly basis.

Hamotzi lechem min haaretz,
We give thanks to God for bread.
Our voices rise in song together as our joyful prayer is said,
Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, hamotzi lechem min haaretz. Amen.”

Purim is not a Jewish Halloween

I am sure there must be several blog posts with that title.  When people ask about Purim, it’s a simple answer. It’s kind of Halloween.  The only thing similar to Halloween is the dressing up.  Otherwise there is nothing similar to Halloween (stepping off soap box). 

Purim is about giving.  We give to charity so that others can enjoy a festive meal.  We give food to friends to let them know we care.  Purim is about remembering – remembering how with the help of G-d, Queen Esther saved the Jewish people.  It’s about stepping up – Esther was quiet in the castle.  She didn’t want to be noticed.  But when the time came, she had to come out of her shell and do what was needed. 

And the dressing up – to show that nothing is as it appears.  G-d is not mentioned in the story of Esther, not once – but He is there – behind the scenes.  What appears to be a simple series of coincidences is actually G-d doing what He does best. 

And like most Jewish holidays, Purim is about eating – enjoying the festive meal. 

I pray that one day I can convey the wonder of Purim to my son so that he can enjoy and cherish the holiday.

We don’t have any traditions yet, except the Mishloach Manot.  We do two sets, one through a local organization and then we do a few of our own.  We don’t do anything fancy (tight budget and all).  I haven’t had time to bake, but I am hoping to include some Hamentaschen in the future with our little boy. 

Of course, I am dressing up my little one.  I mean a baby in costume – how cute is that?  I hope by starting some things young, I can get my son into the spirit (and my husband too). 

And hopefully one day, my son won’t feel like he is missing out by not celebrating Halloween and loves his Purim celebrations. 

What do you do?  Do you celebrate Halloween and Purim?  How do you distinguish between the two?

Is Raising a Mensch Possible?

I was set to write a post about how Baby Boy is turning 2 in just a couple months, and how that meant Hubby and I needed to revisit the discussion of a possible conversion for him. But something happened at work this week that has taken over my thoughts. I won’t go into details out of professional courtesy, but suffice it to say that at the root of the situation is intolerance. Intolerance, possibly bigotry thinly veiled as religious sensibilities. And of course, there’s the sting of this all happening with people I’ve known and worked with for nearly 11 years. Now, to be clear, this situation wasn’t aimed at me or my interfaith family. This situation actually doesn’t have anything to do with Judaism. So why blog about it here?

Because I’m so disheartened. Selfishly, I wonder how the people in question would react if they realized that I am raising a Jewish son. On a larger scale, I wonder how I’m supposed to raise caring, tolerant, inclusive boys when it feels like intolerance surrounds us.

I want my boys to have their own convictions and identities – religious and non-religious – but I don’t want them to feel the need to force those convictions onto anyone they deem as less than them. Scratch that – I don’t want them to see anyone as “less than” them. I want them to have a voice, and to use it when they need to, but I don’t want them to use it to silence other voices.

But how do you teach those values when it feels like home is one of the few places that behavior is modeled? How do you teach those values when we’re daily bombarded with stories of the loud, radical or extremely intolerant voices drowning out the reasonable, more tolerant voices? How do you teach the right balance of taking the high road whenever possible, but not just always “taking it”? Is it possible?

I want to raise Mensches. I do. And right now I think we’re on the right track with that. But the influences on the boys are increasingly wider than just what Dad and I (and other family) show them at home. And right now, I feel so beaten down by those influences that I’m not sure it’s possible to overcome them. Please, if you’ve struggled with this, I’d love suggestions on ways to do it right. It’s about so much more than just me or my family; doesn’t this really affect us all, as humans?

Have a Little Faith

Sometimes I think what will be written on my headstone when I die is She had a lot of faith. As Roman Catholic raising Jewish children, I spend a lot of my time in houses of worship—three hours in the synagogue on Saturdays and an hour at Mass on Sundays—preparing for and celebrating holidays, and talking about God and religion with my friends and family.

The truth is I love it. I love being Catholic and I love that my family is Jewish. I am by no means a religious expert or theologian. I have studied Judaism for the past twelve years since I met my husband and as much as I have learned, I do feel like I have barely scratched the surface. Once when I was talking with a (Jewish) friend, trying to understand the differences between the Jewish denominations, he finally said the different denominations are about five minutes old in the span of Judaism, and I should not worry about the difference between a Conservative Jew and a Reconstructionist Jew. He told me to study the Jewish holidays, interpret them for my family, and all will be well.

I am sure some would take exception to that advice, but it has worked for me all these years. I cannot expound on all facets of Jewish religion, tradition, and customs, but I have found my way living a Jewish life with my family. I am grateful for all of my teachers along the way, my children’s preschool, their Jewish summer camp, our synagogue, great friends, and resources on Interfaithfamily.com. And I cannot forget the secretary at my church who recommended the mohel we used for my son’s brit milah (circumcision).

My son is eight years old and my daughter is six. I am happy to share that they are thriving in all aspects of their humanity, they are healthy, they are socially agreeable, and self-identify as Jews. They know I am not Jewish and love me anyway. Last year when William was seven and Sarah was five, we took them to our local mikveh to be officially converted. Of course some lines of Judaism recognize patrilineal descent, but it was important to us to have them officially converted for their Jewish legitimacy to be recognized by most modern denominations.

On the appointed day, William and Sarah went through the ritual immersion for Jewish conversion at the Community Mikveh in Wilmette, Illinois. One at a time, they entered the small holy pool and immersed their whole bodies under the water three times. After each immersion, a prayer was said by the beit din (rabbinic court officiating the ritual) blessing them into the Jewish religion.

William and Sarah loved the experience. My husband and I prepared them for it in advance. The mikveh is a special place. The water is the most special water you will ever feel on your skin. You will be sealed with God’s grace in a very special way. Enjoy it; savor it because it will be a long time before you can go into a mikveh again.

Enjoy it they did. Sarah went first and made us promise she can come back again one day. William dunked himself at least six times. He treaded water. He swam around. He stayed in as long as he could.
The following day was Friday. At our Shabbat dinner, we all made toasts to how wonderful it is to be Jewish and what a remarkable week it had been. Our Shabbat Shaloms , l’chaims and special Shabbat blessings felt extra special and authentic. It was then when I realized that I really am the only non-Jew in our house. I also realized my work to raise Jewish children was not over. It had just begun.

Merging the Jewish with the Non

I was discussing my son’s Brit Milah (Bris, circumcusion) with my spiritual advisor/mentor.  I was recalling my best friend asking about whether my in-laws, my son’s non-Jewish grandfather, aunts and uncles, would be coming to the ceremony.  She asked whether they understood the importance of the ceremony.  The answers to both questions were “no.” 

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure if I wanted them to come.  I didn’t think they would understand.  I wondered if they considered it mutilation.  I wondered if it would start an argument. 

My husband was changing our son’s diaper one morning when my father-in-law came to visit.  It was probably the first time my father in-law saw a circumcised boy.  He asked in his Italian accent, “Are you sure they didn’t take off too much?” 

The question seems funny enough, but already it seems obvious: my son doesn’t look normal in his eyes. 

My husband, who isn’t circumcised, defended our son valiantly.  “No Dad, he’s perfect and the circumcision was done properly.” 

Modeh Ani


Image from http://pathways.aish.com/pathways/graph … eh-ani.gif

The first prayer of each and every day is a statement of gratitude.  Thank G-d I am still alive.  It is a little bit an answer to “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the L-rd my soul to keep…”

The blessing is so simple, and in fact written quite eloquently, without the mention of G-d’s name.  Why?  So that you can recite as soon as you open your eyes before you do even get out of bed.

When I pick up my son from his crib, as he gazes up at me with his beautiful bright eyes, I sing to him, Modeh Ani.  I am grateful, not only for my soul, but also for his.  I am grateful that G-d has granted me another day of parenting, of trying to figure it out. 

I could have had a rough night, my son could have woken up every hour, but in the light of the new day, I still sing to him Modeh Ani. 

The Saturday Dilemma

Shabbat meals are ready.  The house is far from clean.  I have pretty much given up on preparing the whole house for Shabbat now that we have a baby.  Once a month, we have budgeted in for a cleaning lady.  I will have to wait one more week until the entire house will feel sparking and beautiful for the Shabbat Queen. 

My husband has learned to enjoy the holiness of Shabbat.  He comes home from work, and the Shabbat candles are lit, there is a beautiful meal ready to be served, and his wife seems a bit more relaxed than other days. 

In recent years I have increased my level of Shabbat observance.  I don’t drive, I don’t answer the phone or use electricity.  I want the same thing for my son.  My husband, who is not Jewish, isn’t required to keep the laws of Shabbat.  I know he isn’t really interested in fully observing anyway.  I worry sometimes, though, how that will affect my son. 

Before I go on, I want to say my husband is 100% supportive of my Jewish spirituality.  There are just certain things he can’t or won’t do himself though.  I get it. 

I know my husband likes his Saturdays for his man-cave time.  He tinkers on whatever needs to be worked on.  For him, Saturday is catch up day.  Or a day to run off with the boys for a mountain bike ride or a ski.

I have discussed with him on many occasions that right now, while our son is still young and mostly unaware, he can do what he wants.  But soon, probably way too soon, our son will be more in tune with what is going on in his house.  No doubt, he will want to be with Daddy, do what Daddy does.  Why would he want to stay home with Mommy and go to shul if Daddy is running off doing something fun like biking? 

I think about these kinds of things a lot.  I want my son to appreciate and enjoy his Jewish spirituality.  I wonder how to balance all of this.  Let my husband keep his cave time while educating our son. 

What do you think?

Bring a Friend to School Day

As a parent, you never know the unintended benefits of signing your kids up for extra-curricular activities like sports, dance, gymnastics, etc.  In our case, we sign our boys up for things we think they will like, things that fit into our budget and our schedule.  My 7-year-old who is a sports fanatic – thanks in part to me and my husband – usually likes to do things that are sports related.  This fall we signed him up for a floor hockey class at the JCC.  He loves ice hockey and follows the Bruins obsessively – we DVR the games for him at night and then he watches them when he wakes up in the morning – he is a very early riser.  The floor hockey class fit our budget and it was at the JCC on one of the days he goes there for the after-school program.  The unintended benefit of this hockey class is that he met three adorable Jewish boys who all go to Jewish day school.  Three more Jewish friends to have playdates with and to identify Jewishly with.

On Martin Luther King Day, he was invited by these three boys to “bring a friend to school day” at their Jewish day school.  It is a great marketing tool for the school because all the public schools are closed and families who might be thinking about sending their kids to the school get a day to see what it’s all about.  It was also great for me because I didn’t have to arrange for childcare or take the day off from work! 

All kidding aside, I went to Jewish day school from 4 – 6th grade.  Jewish day schools typically do half the day in Hebrew (prayer, Hebrew, Torah study, holidays, etc.) and half the day in English (math, science, language arts, social studies, etc.).  To this day, any prayer that I sing in services or any blessing that I know by heart and certainly any Hebrew that I can read, are all due to my days at Jewish day school.  I don’t think my husband and I ever considered it for our kids for a few reasons: cost is one and another is that the public schools in our area happen to be pretty good.  Additionally, since my husband isn’t Jewish I didn’t think he would be comfortable with that kind of school – although I know that many intermarried couples choose Jewish day school in part to educate their kids as well as themselves. 

There were many positive takeaways of “bring a friend to school day.”  Our son tried something totally new, with new friends, in a new environment, with not a lot of advanced knowledge about what to expect that day.  My husband and I were so proud of him for trying all of these new things and he was also very proud of himself – the best unintended benefit by far.

What about the grandkids?

I just learned yesterday that if you text a member of the opposite sex the word “Heyy” with two “y’s” you are in a relationship.  Three “y’s” means you are married, one is only friends.  I guess my husband and I are only friends because he only gets one “y.”  While there was a certain amount of awkward joking about the subject, what I was learning was that my oldest son (in middle school) was starting to think that girls didn’t have cooties and that he might want a girlfriend, at some point, not now he quickly reassured me.

The girl he has a crush on is cute and she seems nice enough.  I am pretty sure she is not smart enough for him, but she has enough spunk to put him in his place.  I like her sense of humor and her unique style.  BUT, you know there had to be a but, she is not Jewish.  Talk about talking out of both sides of your mouth, but I don’t want my baby to date a non-Jew.  I think it is so strange that I, of all people, am upset that he might want to marry a non-Jew.  I actually sort of have this vehement need to demand that he does not marry a non-Jew.  There might be a little foot stamping and room sending as well.  Guess I have more in common with my Jewish elders that I thought.

I asked Mac about how he felt about dating a non-Jew.  His response was that he was not likely to marry this girl.  True.  That there are not a lot of Jewish girls running around here in the epicenter of Christianity.  True.  That his father didn’t think it was important enough to marry a Jewish girl and their kids have turned out alright.  True.  That said, I feel like all the hard work and sacrifice I have made is really for nothing if it does not go further than my own kids.  These kids need to create more Jewish kids.  (This raises a whole issue of what sort of Grandma I will be, but I am too young and sassy to address that.)

We talked a bit more about whom he might want to marry.  He said that he didn’t really care what religion she was, but he did want the kids to be raised as Jews.  While this was marginally comforting, it did drive home the point that we do need to be extra vigilant in making sure that being Jewish is something important enough that our kids want to pass it on to their kids.  This conversation is not over.  Mac is just starting to think about girls and he is still really young.   I am sure that we will have lots of opportunity to talk about the girls he likes and does not like.  I hope that he makes good choices.

I am not sure what we need to do exactly about this, but I continue to try and create as Jewish a household as I can.  We celebrate Shabbat weekly, we go to temple on a regular basis and the kids view themselves as Jews.  I realize that I cannot make them “love being Jewish,” but I hope that they do.  Cuz this non-Jewish mom wants some Jewish grandkids, or else you can just march yourself up to your room.

Bedtime Routines

Baby’s bedtime routine is pretty typical: bath every other night, pjs, possibly a little playtime (depending on how organized we are that night), some cuddle/wind-down time with Mommy and/or Daddy on the couch, then upstairs. If Mommy’s putting to bed that night (Mommy’s and Daddy’s put-down routines differ slightly), we go upstairs, read one or two books, sing songs, and then it’s night-night.

Lately, I’ve been letting him pick out what books we’re going to read. (He’s got a veritable library to choose from – that’s what happens with an English-major-nerd-type of a Mommy and Grandma.) For quite some time it was Dr. Seuss’ The Foot Book or a Mother Goose compilation followed by Goodnight Moon. For Christmas, my Aunt Lyn (or, as Baby learned to call her, “Gate At Leee”) gave him On the Night You Were Born and Llama Llama Red Pajama, which quickly became favorites, even ousting Goodnight Moon. (Truthfully, Mommy was a little sad at that, because I love Goodnight Moon.)

But you know what he’s picked, almost exclusively, for the last week (which, let’s face it, in toddler-time is basically a lifetime)? My Shabbat, a soft shapes book by David Brooks. At first I thought Baby just liked it because the shapes come out, so it’s like getting to do a puzzle during bedtime stories. And I’m sure that’s one of the reasons he likes it. But I’ve noticed the last couple of nights that once he gets the removable shape out (or in, depending on whether we started with the pieces in or out of the book), he sits very still as I stumble read through the blessings (full disclosure here – I use the transliterations; I’ve not mastered Hebrew in my “spare” time). Now, I know he doesn’t understand yet, and that he probably really is reacting to the rhythmic sounds of the blessings, but I have to admit that I like it (and remember, I’m the non-Jewish parent). I also like that he now asks for his two night-night songs – the Sh’ma (which he calls “Sam-ah”) and “La La Lu” (also known as the lullaby from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp”). I hope that these routines are, in some small way, a step toward incorporating more Jewish traditions in his daily life.

What do your children’s nighttime routines look like? Do you try to incorporate Jewish prayers/thoughts/traditions into those routines, or at other times of the day?