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My mother lives three blocks away from me. Her house is filled with artwork. There is a statue of Moses and the Ten commandments on her piano, she has a ceramic dreidel collection in the living room and her Sabbath candlesticks sit on a high shelf in her dining room. Naturally, this December I decided it would be a good idea to bring my newborn to my mothers house and spread some interfaith cheer by attempting to make Christmas cookies while my mother was in New York at the theatre. My plan was simple: I would leave a plate for her when she got home. I was making Christmas tree, reindeer and candy cane shaped sugar cookies.
Why didnât I bake them at my own house? Well, my mother has more space, more bowls, more dishes and I thought it would be a nice adventure for my newborn daughter. âWeâre going to Grandmaâs house to bake Christmas cookies!â I told the baby who promptly drooled and went to sleep.
Mistake #1: My mother does not have a crib in her house but she does have a playpen, which I thought would have been sufficient to put the baby in for a nap. Newborns sleep a lot and so I thought I would just put a sheet on the bottom of the playpen and my sweet little girl could nap and I could make my dough and have a cup of tea and maybe read a book. Hahahaha, WRONG!
Hereâs a play by play of what REALLY happens when you try to make cookie dough with a newborn: The babyâs diaper is dirty and she needs a change. Once thatâs done sheâs hungry. Feeding takes about 10 minutes. Then (miraculously) she doesnât want to sleep so she coos and plays for almost an hour. Then she is over stimulated and starts to cry. I walk the baby around in my arms for 10 minutes and she starts to fall asleep. Finally I put the baby down in the playpen. She startles, cries, but then she somehow manages to fall asleep.
I run at top speed to the kitchen and start throwing flour, sugar, eggs, baking soda, butter and vanilla into a bowl. The second I start kneading the dough the baby starts crying. My hands are covered in dough. I canât turn the water on to wash. The baby is screaming. I try to get my elbows to the faucet to turn the water on and the front of my shirt falls in the sink and gets drenched in a bowl of milk that was left in there from earlier that day. Now I have dough on my hands, milk on my shirt and a screaming baby who hates the playpen idea.
When I finally get cleaned up and refrigerate my cookie dough I run to the baby. Another diaper change! Also, the baby is looking at me like I must have been insane to put her in such an uncomfortable contraption. After the diaper change she falls asleep on me for two hours. I have to sit still so she can sleep and all I can think about is how Iâm going to roll the dough when itâs ready. She wakes up and yet another diaper change, then another feeding.
Mistake #2: Christmas cookies usually take about 40 minutes and as a new mother I thought that it would be a simple task. WRONG! Forty minutes in new mommy time translates to six to eight hours.
I decide to hold the baby while making the cookies. I face the baby forward in my left arm so she can see everything Iâm doing. I also decide maybe I should put some bowls in the dishwasher so I have more room on the counter to roll the dough. While attempting to move the bag of flour it slips from my hand, rips open and covers the baby and me in white powder. My daughter looks like a mini Charlie Chaplin without the mustache. I just look crazy.
Mistake #3: If you think you are going to make exact Christmas shapes in the dough while holding your newborn, think again. Rolling the dough with one hand is hard enough but putting the cookie cutters in the dough and then trying to lift out the shapes is near impossible. The reindeer come out looking like pugs with mohawks. The candy cane shapes look like sad broken worms and the Christmas trees look like women wearing housecoats. In other words, I have basically made my Christmas trees look like me and all the other Jewish women in my neighborhood.
My newborn tires of my cookie cut outs quickly. She cries and I hear myself say âJust one more batch of disfigured reindeer! Just one more!â She cries louder. She needs another diaper change, or sheâs hungry, or sheâs tired or she just wants to go home.
By the time we get cleaned up and ready to go I leave a plate of cookies for my mother. We get back to our house and wait for Adrian a.k.a. Papi to get home! When he arrives he asks why Iâm covered in flour. I had a chance to change the baby but was too tired to change myself. I tell him it was a long day. He takes the baby. At midnight he tells me he thinks the baby has a rash on her stomach. I panic. I lift up her onesie to have a look. Right next to her belly button I see the rash. But, itâs not a rash at all; right there on her little belly is a sandy crystal smear of white DominoÂ sugar.
I may have been the only one who knew what those Christmas cookies were supposed to look like but Adrian was so happy that I put in the effort. We even put a plate out on Christmas day when all of his brothers came over to celebrate with us and the baby. Upon seeing the cracked and somewhat disheveled cookies, his brothers reached politely for a taste and Adrian said with a smile, “Anna made them for us!” Next year I’ll make sure to bake in our own home and find a time when Adrian is home to hold the baby while I bake.
With not quite 12 days between Hanukkah and Christmas this year (depending on just how you count), I thought I would dedicate this post to that persistently ambitious Christmas carol (which also has more than one Hanukkah-themed version). In no particular order, here are some memorable moments from this Decemberâs interfaith holiday season:
1. Â Learning and sharing holiday baking traditions always crowns my list, from my spouseâs excellent latkes to Christmas cookies to the gingerbread people my spouseâs family favored at this time of year, and chuckling at his always-remarkable excitement over indulging in my familyâs Christmas morning tradition of having pigs-in-blankets for breakfast.
2. Â Learning and re-learning with my children the story of Hanukkah, from the Maccabees to the hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah), from dreidel to gelt, and learning and re-learning, how to share the stories of Christmas with them as well.
3. Â Making a list, or two or three, and checking them at least twice, to make sure we have a good balance of gifts to spread across eight nights and one festive morning.
4. Â Making sure that list of gifts includes opportunities to remind our children that the holiday season is as much about giving as getting (and this year, giving each daughter a tzedakah box as an opportunity to think about giving).
5. Â Baking “just one more batch” of cookies after we’ve already made four, this time chocolate peppermint buttons, because I am a compulsive holiday baker who likes nothing more than giving away platefuls of cookies.
6. Â Answering the persistent queries from my childrenâs great-grandparents about what to send their great-grandchildren, and do they have to send gifts for Hanukkah, or is it all right to give them a Christmas gift, too, since they know weâre raising our kids Jewish? (Answer: gifts are always welcome, and we love you no matter how you figure this one out).
7. Â Soothing my 6-year-old daughterâs tears as she mourns the eighth-night end of Hanukkah, by reminding her of all of the many holidays and festive days that weâll enjoy between now and next December.
8. Â Worrying that hegemonic Christmas is overtaking Hanukkah in our homeâs holiday decorations, as this year we brought Christmas-themed dishes onto our holiday table, and asking my Jewish spouse for what feels like the 50th time if he is sure he is OK with the Christmas-themed dinnerware, and all of the other Christmas-y things that have festooned our house, like the bough of pretend holly which now winds up our staircase, and gives great joy to our daughter who shares the plantâs name?
9. Â Smiling as he reassures me that he really likes the new dishes, because the bowls have holly on them and the plates have a cute little village that reminds us of a favorite place where we once lived.
10. Â Laughing with my spouse as I tell him that I think it would be fun to have special Passover plates too, not because I want us to be particularly frum, but because I enjoy holiday dishes, and wouldnât it be fun to mark Passover with special dishes too (and throw a bit of kashrut into the mix without even meaning to)?
11. Continuing to read Hanukkah books to my daughters many nights after all nine candles have long since burned down to their holders, and smiling at my spouse over our elder daughterâs head as she insists on singing the song âHanukkah O Hanukkahâ all by herself.
12. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as Christmas Eve approaches, and realizing that somehow, again, Iâll have made it through another festive and yet frenetic holiday season.
Wishing all of you a happy, festive and joyful holiday season!
I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. My parents were liberals who met in the theatre where they had been professional actors. My father was a Brooklyn boy, born and raised in Crown Heights. My mother, a Baltimore native who said she always wanted to marry a Brooklyn boy, and so she did. They moved to Midwood, a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. They wanted to be close to my Grandmother and to buy a house and to teach their children my brother and I the importance of our Jewish heritage. My father wanted us to always remember where we came from.
My parents were not religious but we celebrated every High Holy day. Every year it is a tradition to walk with my mother one mile to the Orthodox synagogue that is around the corner from where my Grandmother used to live. The walk to synagogue has always been part of my tradition with my mother. Our synagogue separates men on one side and women on the other. I never saw myself as less than anyone else, although I know there is much debate about a womanâs role in Judaism. I always knew I was a Jew. I knew inside my heart what that meant and I spent a lot of my childhood defending my differences to those from more devout households.
We were not a religious household by any means. My father drove on Saturdays; my mother got her hair done on Friday nights. We were traditional Jews who knew all the stories from the Torah, but I wore jeans and my brother played electric guitar and learned every AC/DC song by heart to play on his Gibson SG (the same guitar Angus Young had). My friends would often invite me over on Shabbat so that I could turn on their electronic appliances for them, something they were not permitted to do on the Sabbath.
Fast-forward to today, and my life partner, Adrian, is Catholic. He was born in a small village in Mexico and left his home to work at 13. He came to the United States at 15, and when he left his village, his mother tied a scapular around his neck that had been blessed by the local priest for guidance, safety and luck. He has never taken it off.
When times are difficult Adrian directs his prayers to the spiritual mother of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe. She is well known for having appeared to a poor village man named Juan Diego. No one would believe Juan Diego when he said the Virgin appeared to him but Guadalupe urged him to go back and convince the village people. When he returned to the village, and a crowd formed around him, he opened his cloak and 100 red roses fell out. There, on the inside of the cloak was an apparition of Guadalupe. The great Basilica in Mexico City was built where the Virgin is said to have revealed herself.
As a Jew and a deep believer in Kabbalah and all things mystical, the stories of the Torah and the stories from the Bible are the lessons I would like to pass down to the next generation. It is the message of each of these stories that make the traditions of both religions so rich. On the 12th of December Catholics from Mexico celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupeâs birthday. Here in Brooklyn we light Hanukkah candles. Both traditions celebrate life.
AdrianÂ and I recently had our first child, a baby girl. She already hears the coos of Spanish, English and Hebrew echoed throughout our household. At two months old she has already witnessed her mother burn Christmas cookies, light the menorah in the wrong direction and forget to buy half the ingredients to make tamales on a trip back from the grocery store. But, in all the chaos she is witnessing traditions new and old. Our baby is named after my two Grandmothers and we recently had a baby naming ceremony for her at the East Midwood Jewish Center. It was an incredible day because my family was meeting my partnerâs family for the first time. We were all there together from different cultures and religions celebrating this new and precious life.
I have always wanted children and I was always worried about it never being the âright time.â It was never the perfect situation, there was never enough money or the right job or the Jewish boy I was âsupposedâ to marry. Finally one day after having been with Adrian for three years I stopped waiting for the âright momentâ to have a child. We just decided to have one. We talked about our different cultures and religions. We talked about what our child would grow up learning about and believing in. One night we said, âshe will learn from both of us and the biggest lesson she will learn is love and respect.â Those are the two basic themes of any religion.
Delivering a baby was the most spiritual journey of my life so far. Both Adrian and my mother were in the delivery room and when the baby came out we all burst into tears. Adrian ran around the table to hug my mother, the baby was on my chest for skin-to-skin and in that moment I thought of a quote I had heard as a girl in Yeshiva. It was a quote from the Talmud: âEvery blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers âgrow, grow.â Thatâs what we were put on earth to do. Iâd like my daughter to grow to ask questions and not always do something because itâs the way itâs been done for centuries.
Iâd like her to respect and love and admire where both her parents come from so that she can respect, love and admire herself. So that she can know that there is never just one faith – but to have faith in something, in anything will catapult her toward her dreams and whomever she wants to be.
Eight nights of wax have hardened on the little menorah that has traveled with meÂ for more 25 years of Hanukkah celebrations. It looks as if the last scrap of wrapping paper is finally in the recycling bin, and for what feels like the first time in eight days, I have found a moment of stillness. As I remember this yearâs celebration of miracles, I am thinking about some of the modern miracles and gifts we have enjoyed since we recited our first blessings nine days ago. Here are just a few things I am thankful for this yearâŚ
1. Â I am thankful for the miracle of 8 mornings. So much about life feels especially precious and fragile these last few weeks, and I am so grateful for the days I have had to wake up with my family and discover what the day holds.
2. Â I am thankful that even though we are not fully unpacked from this summerâs move, we found two menorahs to put in the window of our new home to light each night.
3. Â I am thankful for two little girls that have adopted those menorahs as their own, one for each, and for the miracle of hearing centuries-old blessings pouring out in their sweet voices.
4. Â I am thankful that my husband has spent the last 16 years perfecting his latke-making skills, and for the gift of the perfect homemade latke (crisp on the outside, warm and gooey inside) from his griddle on my plate.
5. Â I am thankful for the gift of my familyâs annual Hanukkah party, and not only for the good fortune we have to exchange gifts with one another, but for the miracle of the warmth and love I feel in their company.
6. Â I am thankful for the friends and family, new and old, who helped make every day of this yearâs celebration a special occasion.
7. Â I am thankful the blessings that my family who is not Jewish calls to wish us a Happy Hanukkah, and that they will share a Christmas greeting call with my Jewish father in 11 days.
8. Â I am thankful that through the miracle of air travel and the gift of a vacation, we can celebrate Christmas with Ericâs family next weekâŚ.and
9. Â I sure am thankful for the gift of 11 days to recover from Hanukkah and rebuild my energy to share in some Christmas cheer.
Happiest, happy holidays!
I was supposed to celebrate my birthday, which fell on the seventh night of Hanukkah with my husband Cameron and son Sammy. We were going to light the hanukkiah, exchange gifts and go out for a sushi dinner. The plan sounded ideal to meâI love Hanukkah, sushi and spending time with my guys.
But the celebration did not turn out as planned. The night before, as we were getting ready to leave to go to Sammyâs string concert at school, we got a message from the dad of one of Sammyâs friends with a last minute request. Could Sammy come to his older sonâs bar mitzvah tomorrow night?
Apparently, cousins with children the same age as Sammy’s friend just cancelled, and Sammy’s friend was not going to have anyone his age to hang out with at the reception. He would love Sammy to be his running mate for the evening.
It would have been easy for me to call back and say, “I’m sorry, Sammy can’t make it. We have plans,” or “It’s my birthday tomorrow and we are celebrating as a family.” As a parent, I could have made an executive decision. But I did not. I shared the invitation with Sammy and let him decide. I knew we needed to start to loosen the strings that tied Sammy to us and empower him to make decisions for himself.
Sammyâs reaction to the invite was excitement followed by a blank stare. âItâs your birthday tomorrow,â he said. I could tell he was worried that the decision he wanted to make would upset me.
I said, “There will be many more birthdays and Hanukkahs to celebrate together. If you want to go to the bar mitzvah, you should go.”
I realized that now that we were in the tweenage years there would be many more of these types of requestsârequests that came with choices. I also knew that as commitments go, a quiet Hanukkah and birthday celebration were small. There would be times when the answer had to be âno.â Call it a good parenting day, but intuitively I knew that saying âyesâ now was like putting money in the bank. It would make the necessary ânoâsâ easier to take.
Sammy said he wanted to go. I called the friend’s dad and told him that Sammy would love to celebrate with their family.
As we drove to the strings concert, I told Sammy that I would be happy to go with him to the bar mitzvah service and then he could go on the bus to the party with the other kids. âNo thanks,â he said. âYou donât need to.â My little boy was now an independent 11-year-old.
Saturday night, Cameron dropped off Sammy and another friend who was invited at the bar mitzvah service. He walked them into our synagogue, got them seats and left. They were now responsible for navigating the evening themselves.
Later, as Cameron and I celebrated my birthday over dinner, we talked about how this was Sammyâs first ânight on the townâ without us. And the various parenting questions that arose when you entered this stageâshould you send them with a phone and if so, what are the appropriate usage guidelines; in the absence of anything illegal or dangerous, when do you rescue your child from a situation and when do you make them stick it outâdominated our dinner conversation.
We knew we were entering rookie territory. As we toasted the occasion and I reflected on the year ahead, I realized that it would be a year of learning, learning to parent to a way more suited to Sammy’s new stage of life, and learning to let go.
I have always loved the holiday season, and celebrating Hanukkah as an interfaith family brings with it an extra dose of joy. When I was a child, my mother insisted that we wait until after my birthday, which falls in the first week of December, before any celebration of Christmas could commence. She wanted to make sure we didnât detract from the first December holiday, my birthday, before moving onto the one with far greater hoopla.
My motherÂ mastered the art of see-no-holiday and hear-no-holiday. If we chanced to seeÂ a Christmas tree on a carâs rooftop during the weekend after Thanksgiving, my mom would gleefully declare, âI donât see anything!â When we heard the first Christmas carols on radios or loudspeakers, sheâd call out, âI canât hear anything, can you?â My mother always meant well with this gesture, even if it flew in the face of my own very real excitement about the coming Christmas season.
Only after my birthday, a few days into December, could we get out our own decorations, choose our tree, or play Christmas music on the stereo at home. My family continued this tradition well into my adulthood, such that even this year, my brother (who has been married for several years) apologized to me during our usual Thanksgiving phone call: âI think weâre going to get out the holiday decorations before your birthday this year.â I laughed, thinkingÂ itÂ sounded like fun.
The first Hanukkah I celebrated with my Husband (then-boyfriend) began November 29, the day after Thanksgiving. We lit a small travel menorah in a hotel in Chicago, where weâd come to celebrate both holidays with his family. For once, I didnât have to wait to celebrate a December holiday! I didnât even have to avoid, as usual, Black Friday shopping, since I needed to finish buying gifts for my boyfriend well in advance of the busiest shopping day.
Now that I have celebrated over a decade and more Hanukkahs with Ben, I am used to the ebb and flow of the Hanukkah calendar. This year, Hanukkah starts on a great day, the evening of December 6, far enough into December to allow a few more days to shop and prepare, but not so late that we light the lights of both holidays at the same time. I skipped Black Friday shopping this year, but on Saturday I remembered that with Hanukkah starting in a week, perhaps I really should have joined the throng on the busiest shopping day of the year.
When we celebrate two holidays in my interfaith family, we hang white lights and blue lights and multi-colored lights all across the doorways in our home, and along the tops of bookshelves and curtain rods. Christmas-colored lights line the shelf on which we place our menorahs. We break out Jewish-star emblazoned Hanukkah place mats with matching blue napkins, and join them with green-and-red place mats and napkins. We bake paper-thin butter cookies in shapes appropriate for both holidays, and we make sour milk sugar cookies with colored icing. When I was a child, we called these red-and-green cookies “Santa Clauses and Christmas trees,” but now weâve added blue-and-white menorahs, dreidels and six-pointed stars to the mix as well.
Giving the cookies the awkward name of “Santas and dreidels and menorahs and trees” is the closest we come to a December holiday mashup.Â Despite the holidays fallingÂ in such close proximity, we donât hang dreidels on our tree, or call it a Hanukkah bush. We give Â each holidayÂ its own separate identityÂ as best we can, although this might seem difficult when the holiday books stack together and theÂ red-and-green towels on our oven door hang right next to blue-and-white ones. Two holidays make for twice the festivities.
This year Hanukkah starts early, and my daughtersÂ reap the benefits of being in an interfaith family. Theyâll compress a monthâs worth of anticipation into a weekâs worth of waiting. As we wait, weâll tell the stories of Hanukkah as best we can, giving this holiday its own weight and emphasis. After Hanukkah ends, our daughters will still have more than a week of renewed anticipation as they wait for Christmas Day. Theyâll dream and wonder about Santa Claus, and weâll talk, too, about the birth of the historical Jesus, as best we can.
We unpacked our holiday boxes the weekend after Thanksgiving. I wish I could show you my mother’s face from our Skype call when we told her we were unpacking the boxes. Her expression relaxed, I’m glad to say, when I explained thatÂ Hanukkah started next weekend.
Before we unpacked our two holidaysâ decorations, Ben wanted to know if I felt sure I was OK with it: After all, my birthday isnât until later in the week.
âIâm sure,â I said. âThe kids are excited, and truth be told, Hanukkah starts in a week, and Iâm excited too!â
Do you prefer an early or late Hanukkah? How does your holiday season double the festive feeling?Â
Over the years, Hanukkah, a minor celebration that isn’t even in the Torah, has become the unofficial national holiday of the American Jewish community. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was promoted as the Jewish alternative to Christmas. Since then, many individuals and communal leaders have fought against the âmake Hanukkah bigâ movement and urged Jewish families to refrain from embracing the idea of Hanukkah as the Jewish Christmas.
But the reminders of Hanukkahâs lesser holiday status have not stopped its growth. What once was an eight-day festival has evolved into a six-week season. And many Jewish families are using the holiday to reafďŹrm their Jewishness in a big way. Instead of small electric menorahs in windows, theyâre putting a Jewish twist on non-Jewish holiday decorations and traditions, declaring in a loud and proud way, âIâm Jewish!â For interfaith families, this increase in Hanukkah festiveness allows parents from other backgrounds to indulge their love of all-things-holiday while honoring their commitment to building a Jewish home.
As we move into the holiday season, here are some ideas for boldly sharing the light of Hanukkah. Share the creative ways you make the Festival of Lights special in the comments section.
Hang Hanukkah on the Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gates: Wreaths and door decorations are not just for Christmas. Pinterest, Etsy, and eBay have many Hanukkah wreath styles and ideas for making your own. From rustic Jewish stars with lights to evergreen wreaths with Hanukkah garland and dreidels, there are many pre-made and make-your-own options. My neighbor hangs a Hanukkah banner on her front door and highlights it by placing an evergreen garland mixed with Stars of David on the surrounding doorframe.
Shine Some Light on Your Jewish Identity: Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, yet holiday lights have always been associated with Christmas. But in recent years, some Jewish families have decided to make holiday lights their own. A Christian friend, who is raising Jewish children with her husband, and loves holiday lights, decorates the outside of her house with blue and white LEDS. For those that like lawn ornaments, there are lighted Hanukkah characters and symbols including pre-lit Jewish dogs and dreidels, and 8-foot lighted inflatable menorahs.
Wear Your Jewishness on Your Sleeve (or Pants or Chest): Represent the Jewish tradition and stand out from the red, white and green crowd in cozy Hanukkah PJs, leggings, t-shirts, and underwear. Have some real holiday fun in an ugly Hanukkah sweater and menorah hat. Spin around your office Christmas party in dreidel socks.
Rock it Like a Maccabee: While you may not find any local radio stations that play only Hanukkah songs for six-plus weeks, there is plenty of great holiday music to get you in the Festival-of-Lights-spirit. Tune into Jewish Rock Radio on your computer or mobile device. Check out the Jewish A Cappella group the Maccabeats singing âCandlelight,â the Hanukkah version of âDynamite,â and âAll About That Neis.â Listen to âMiracleâ by Jewish reggae rapper Matisyahu. Explore the music of Jewish rockers Dan Nichols, Rick Recht and Josh Nelson, and the Kosher Gospel of Joshua Nelson.
Deck Your Halls With Stars and Dreidels: Dress your mantel with silver tinsel and modern star garland. Hang Star of David paper lanterns. Add some festiveness to your home by dangling Hanukkah ornaments throughout. Add a Jewish twist to an advent with Hanukkah countdown bags that hang over the fireplace. Use Hanukkah tablecloths, napkins and dishes for the entire holiday. Get more ideas online.
Eat Like A Champ: Hanukkah follows the traditional Jewish story of âThey tried to kill us. We won. Letâs eat.â So, eat like a champion. Expand your holiday menu beyond latkes and donuts. Make different kinds of Hanukkah cookies and share with family, friends and coworkers. Enjoy a holiday breakfast with dreidel muffins and dreidel-shaped pancakes, or use your Hanukkah cookie cutters to make holiday-themed challah French toast. Bake Star of David cupcakes for a yummy dessert. Get creative with your traditional foods. Try squash or root vegetable latkes. Think outside the brisket and chicken box.
This week, Ruthie came home from Sunday School with Shabbat. Â In a box. Â With a combination of resources from Bostonâs Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the creativity of her religious school principal, the box was filled with Shabbat crafts, ritual items, and ideas for making Shabbat a crafty family affair.
I imagined a calm and civilized Shabbat craft session after school next Friday before Shabbat begins. Â However, as I watched Ruthie and Chaya exuberantly dive into the box before I even got a chance to take my coat off, I decided to let them take control of both timing and crafting. Â They made quick work of decorating challah covers, painting a decorative kiddush cup, and rolling beeswax candles. Â Ruthie raided the spice drawer and returned from the kitchen with a sweet smelling Havdalah spice bag. Â Impressed by their efforts but a little disappointed by the lack of available teaching moments in their artistic frenzy, I crossed my fingers that their Shabbat enthusiasm would last the whole six days between Sunday morning and Friday dinner time.
So far, so good. Â Every time a new visitor has come to our house, Ruthie has sprinted into the dining room, returning with a pile of challah covers to show off to our guest. Â I have caught Chaya singing âBim Bamâ quietly in the regular litany of songs she sings when no one else appears to be listening. Â They are excited for Shabbat.
I also have a new hope for the items from the box. Â The craft projects engaged the girls in thinking about Shabbat – What are the ritual items? Â Do the kinds of candles we use need to be special in some way? Â What is different about Shabbat dinner and Havdalah? Â In this way, the box accomplished what it was supposed to, I think, teaching more about Shabbat through age appropriate activities.
The results of the activities mean something more. Â Now, when we set the Shabbat table, the girls will physically own the space. Â The dishes may be ones Eric and I acquired long before they were born, and we may assign drinking glasses based on breakability and appetite. Â But the challah cover they see, hopefully covering the challah they have baked, will be theirs. Â The candles we light together were rolled between their own fingers. Â In these very concrete ways, often the ones most obvious for children their age to grasp, the holiday requires, and engages, something from everyone around the table. Â Because of this, I canât wait to set it this Friday!
This week, InterfaithFamily is celebrating its important work and the leadership provided by InterfaithFamily Founder Ed Case and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston President Barry Shrage in making it possible for more of us to #ChooseLove without needing to decide between love and a Jewish life. Leading up to Thursdayâs celebration, I hope you have had a chance to read IFFâs own Liz Polay-Wettengelâs âAn Open Letter to Judaism from an Interfaith Familyâ on Medium this week, as well as Molly Tolskyâs great response on Kveller. In her essay, Liz Polay-Wettengel speaks some honest and difficult truths about her familyâs path to, with, and outside of Judaism as an Interfaith family. Molly Tolsky underscores the importance of Lizâs piece, and shares her own experience, one that rings true to so many of us, of how often Interfaith couples are whole-heartedly raising their famililes Jewishly, even while there are those in our community who still decry âthe problemâ of their couplehood.
I am lucky that my familyâs story is not filled with the denials, closed doors or simple noâs described in these two pieces. A huge reason for this is based in a single exchange I had with InterfaithFamily, with Ed Case specifically, eleven years ago.
When Eric and I were engaged in Los Angeles in 2004, we knew we wanted to be married by a rabbi. We also knew we wanted opportunities for members of both of our families to be involved and engaged in the wedding ceremony. We had taken an Introduction to Judaism class together and had shul-shopped a bit, but we didnât have one rabbi we knew we wanted to marry us. My parents lived in Newton, where IFFâs founding and national office is located, and they knew a little about Ed Case and IFF. They encouraged us to check out the IFF website, and I was happy when I first poked around to find a link about âSeeking a Rabbi.â
I emailed the IFF general email with a request for some ideas about rabbis in Los Angeles who would be open to marrying us. Ed Case quickly wrote back with a list of potential clergy, at least a dozen long. We started working our way through the list, setting up interviews, and eventually found a perfect fit – a wonderful rabbi named Allen Freehling with whom we both easily connected.
A list of names in an email might not sound like much, but when I compare it to the stories my peers shared this week, I am reminded of our great fortune. Wedding planning is a huge endeavor, and the process lays a foundation for your identity as a couple. If the very first step in this process is to encounter a set of ânoâs,â it can derail both your planning and your spirit. Because IFF had actively engaged in assembling lists just like the one Ed Case emailed to me, we had a long list of Yeses to send us down a path that encouraged both our pursuit of Judaism and our identity as an Interfaith family.
This week, I am thankful that IFF was available to Eric and me to support our establishment as a family. Every week, I am grateful for the resources of this organization and the communities it creates to continue this support. I hope you find it helpful to you in some small or large way, too. If you are anywhere near Boston on Thursday, Iâll look out for you at IFFâs #ChooseLove celebration.
Or at least, this is what my six-year-old daughter Laurel would have me believe. This week, I opened up her teacherâs monthly newsletter, scanning, as usual, for mentions of my own child. The final page usually includes what Laurel calls âjokes,â except theyâre actually wordsÂ âout of the mouths of babesâ which sound funny to adult ears, but often meanÂ more than they say.
This particular snippet of conversation went as follows:
Classmate: âI speak English, Chinese and Spanish.â
Laurel:Â âI speak English and Chinese and Spanish and Christian. And I speak Jewish too.â
I laughed, of course, when I read it, and Laurel chuckled, too. She meantÂ âHebrew,â of course, and âChristianâ isnât really a language. Yet even as the children in her class oppose English to their lessons in Spanish and Chinese, Laurel knows as an interfaith child that Jewish can be contrasted with Christian, and Judaism has a language which is not English.
Out of the mouths of babes, indeed. Religious studies scholar Susan Friend Harding, for example, argues in her bookÂ The Book of Jerry Falwell, that the way words are used in fundamentalist Christian culture is key to understanding that culture itself. Or, to put it another way, culture functions like a language, and finding oneâs way through an unfamiliar culture is much like learning to speak, write, or understand a new language.
As she gets a little bit older each month, I find it fascinating to see how Laurel learns her way around patterns of tradition and observance. She does indeed âspeak Jewish.â I hear her speaking Hebrew when we say blessings for Shabbat. I hear her adorable mispronunciations and as she follows her parentsâ guidance through the words of the Shema, revealing her growing familiarity with the language of Judaism. Even her younger sister Holly, at almost 28 months, tries to say the prayers, which usually results in some very cute utterances.
Sheâs learning, too â I think â that churches and synagogues refer to similar types of places, but are not quite the same. One belongs to the âlanguageâ of Judaism, and the other to the âlanguageâ of Christianity. We, her parents, still dance nervously around the linguistic content of some of these religions: Ben remains as uncomfortable telling the stories of yet another Jewish holiday that exists because of some long-ago military triumph as I am answering her questions about Jesus âÂ or even Santa Claus. In both cases, we try to treat the topics historically, and to say why Jews or Christians view these things as important. These conversations form one part of our daughtersâ cultural knowledge and understanding, and one part of the âlanguagesâ theyâre learning.
When I first wrote for this blog, Laurel at 5 was only beginning to understand what religion or holidays meant, much less that they could come from different backgrounds: Jewish, Christian, national, or secular, or something else entirely. What a difference a year makes, and as little Holly gets older, too, sheâll grow in her understanding of the âlanguagesâ present in our family.
Just last night, Laurel came into Hollyâs room as I was putting her to bed. âI want to sing the Shema to my sister,â Laurel said, and she did, beautifully, her sister listening as the language of Judaism washed over her. This morning, the Shema is stuck in Laurelâs mind. She sang it repeatedly, joyfully throughout breakfast, and I have no doubt sheâll bring the language of Judaism with her to school today.
Â What âlanguagesâ do your children speak? With what traditions, knowledges, and practices must they become familiar, in order to speak, think or act in the traditions of your family?