Michelle Chamuel is rocking The Voice. Plus what former child star Mara Wilson has to say about Amanda Bynes (and other child stars who run into trouble).Go To Pop Culture
I’m working on a book (actually, I’m more working on the book proposal and gathering data for the book). Essentially, the book is about my own conversion story, but also about my own struggle to raise a Jewish family that also embraces and celebrates a non-Jewish heritage. I’ve got a questionnaire so I can get others’ stories to interweave with my own. Here’s a brief overview of the topic, and I’ve attached a copy of the questionnaire.
It’s estimated that nearly half of all Jewish marriages are ones in which one member of the couple is not Jewish. While this raises all sorts of questions about the future survival of the Jewish people, what interested me most are the questions that were more personal in nature. What does a marriage between people of different backgrounds look like? If the decision is made to raise your children in one faith, or one tradition, who compromises what? Converting to Jewish explores those questions and offers some much needed guidance on what happens after the conversion, and what raising a family with someone of a dramatically different culture and tradition is really like.
This book will serve as a inspirational guide to anyone in a relationship that deals with interfaith or intercultural differences. For those of us who convert because our spouse is Jewish, and we don’t want our family to be something we aren’t. This is the book I wish I had had when I started, an honest look at what it takes to be in an interfaith or intercultural relationship, how to navigate the trickiest aspects, and how to respect, celebrate and embrace the differences, even as you focus on what brings you together as a family.
If you’d like to fill out the questionnaire (a Word document), I’d love it. Ideally, what I’d like is to be able to weave in others’ stories along with my own. All responses will be anonymous. Please let me know if you have any questions or thoughts; my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my website is melissaannecohen.com.
On twitter and instagram, @imabima has made a list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of the month of Nissan. I have decided to do my best and try to write something for each theme (each day). Day 1 is Believing.
I believe that G-d loves me and you. I believe that G-d makes things happen when the time is right. I believe that G-d sends hints our way to let us know, He’s there and listening, just be patient (a character trait I admit to be lacking). I believe everything happens for a reason, we just don’t always understand the reason.
I came to believe because when I arrived at my “now what?” moment a few years ago, G-d answered. It started with a simple invitation to Shabbat that I was unable to accept. It opened doors. In fact it opened up my soul.
What do you believe?
My grandmother, Bless her Soul, made the most amazing dishes. Sadly, all the recipes disappeared when she passed away because she would never reveal any of her secrets. She was born and raised in Egypt and emigrated with the Exodus of the 1950′s.
One dish I remember LOVING as a child was her charoset, a staple of the Passover Seder. I used to steal the walnuts with some of the sweet dip during the Seder.
My grandmother lived (with my father’s family) in Italy for a while and from my research, I think her charoset recipe is a blend of a traditional Egyptian charoset and a traditional Italian charoset.
It seems fitting since my husband’s parents were both born in Italy.
I don’t have amounts, so these are approximate and then you can adjust based on taste.
Put the raisins and the dates into a saucepan with some of the wine (or grape juice) and some water and simmer gently until everything is softened and the liquid is gone. Add all the ingredients together and blend. Enjoy!
What charoset recipe do you use? Was it a traditional recipe in your family (or country)?
One of the themes of Purim has to do with the hidden becoming revealed. Esther hid her identity as a Jew within Achashverosh’s castle. When the time was right not only did she reveal her true self, but she revealed Haman’s evil plot to destroy the Jews. All the coincidences within the story of Esther all come together in the end and reveal a rich and interesting story. G-d’s name is not mentioned at all in the Megillah (Scroll) of Esther, but is hidden within Esther’s name itself, which means Hidden.
My husband and I celebrated Purim with a local Jewish organization. I dressed up as Time Flies (I had wings and clocks) and my husband dressed up as Father Time. Father Time was a priest with clock picture on his chest. We felt this was funny on a few levels, since my husband isn’t Jewish. I think he appreciated being dressed up as a character that is distinctly not Jewish. He could be his non-Jewish self openly when all through the year he feels like he has to downplay and maybe hide the fact he isn’t Jewish.
We had agreed that our son would be raised in an entirely Jewish environment and my husband isn’t/wasn’t very religious so it didn’t seem like a big deal. It does mean though that he gets submerged and swallowed with Jewishness. Kosher food, Shabbat meals, Jewish holidays… he’s surrounded all the time.
We celebrate Purim by hiding behind masks and pretending to be what we aren’t (or briefly live a fantasy of who we would like to be), just as Esther pretended she wasn’t Jewish. My husband got to enjoy the party being openly non-Jewish.
My first exposure to Purim came when my husband and I brought our then two year old daughter to the synagogue he attended through his childhood. I had her dressed as a fairy, and she was so stinking cute, waving her little wand and clutching her tiara. The rabbi jumped out from behind something and roared at her – he was dressed in a giant gorilla costume. He was delighted and happy, everyone laughed. My toddler was distinctly not amused, she was terrified. I was even less amused – I was just furious.
Fast forward a few years, and Purim didn’t really get any better. When my second child was born, Purim was a disaster. He wasn’t a fan of crowds anyway, and taking him to the Megillah reading, with all the noisemakers – he screamed louder than any of them. I’d pull him out of the service, but we could still hear the loud noisemakers and every time Haman’s name was read, not only would his name be drowned out, the noise of the noisemakers was drowned out as well, by the hysterical sobbing of a terrified boy.
The more I read about the Purim story, the less impressed I was. Queen Esther seems to be held up as a pinnacle of bravery. But she really didn’t do much more than be pretty and do as she was told. On the upside, discussion of it did inspire a lot of conversation around here about the role of women and generations of learned Torah scholars interpreting the story to highlight the qualities that were most conducive to keeping women in a submissive position in society. Esther was the king’s wife, not because she was smart or brave, but because she was beautiful. And she saved the Jewish people not because she knew it had to be done, not because she independently made the decision to risk her own safety by appearing before the king without being summoned, but because she listened to the male head of her family and did as she was told.
And I don’t like hamentaschen. Prune filled cookies are confusing to me, I’d much rather a nice chocolate chip cookie
I live in the Mid-West. I live in a place where it snows. It is a fact of life that when it snows, there will be ice. Ice can sneak up on you. Sometimes you think the ground is clear and it isn’t and in a blink you can find yourself on the ground. That is what happened to me today. I was walking out of Best Buy after purchasing a replacement television for our basement. I wasn’t going too fast. I just hit the ice right and bam, there I was on my butt. I lay there on the ground for a minute composing myself and doing a quick mental inventory of my parts. Other than my ankle, it seemed like all systems were go. So I gingerly pushed myself up into an upright position and hobbled to my car.
I was not at my car before two worker bees were outside sprinkling salt on the ground. This is great because the next unsuspecting soul will not meet my same demise. I pulled my car up, got out and asked why no one came out to see if I was ok? No one asked me if I was injured or offered me a hand up. The response was, “We didn’t know it was icy out.” Well duh you didn’t know it was icy out, but that wasn’t what I asked. They loaded my television in my car and I drove away. Not one inquiry about my physical well-being.
This irritated me. I called the manager. I told the receptionist what happened; she apologized, but didn’t ask me if I was alright. I told the manager the story; he did not ask me if I was ok, until I pointed it out to him.
It got me thinking: have we really reached a state of such disrespect or perhaps fear of law suits that we can no longer take a minute to offer our hand to help up another person? If someone slips on the ice, can’t we ask them if they are ok? Or take that minute that was spent getting salt to scurry out and offer me a hand up?
I shared this story with my kids, and my oldest explained to me the concept of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. He said that part of the concept is that G-d made the world broken; it is why bad things happen to good people. I had never really thought about it in those terms, I always had thought about it as doing good deeds.
Today’s experience really drove home the message for me. The world is broken if a reasonable adult cannot take a minute to ask another adult if they are injured after a fall on the ice. I think that we have become so disconnected and afraid that we no longer take a minute to see if anyone is ok. I’m not sure what has driven us to be this way. But, my challenge for everyone is to think, what you can do to make the world a better place. I for one will stop and help someone who has fallen on the ice. But, maybe it is also holding the door for the person behind you, or saying hi or complimenting a stranger.
Habits are formed over 20 some odd days. February is a short month. This month I am going to try and do one kind thing for another person every day. Maybe I will develop the habit of making the world a better place. Want to join me?
My kids attend a Jewish daycare/preschool program full-time, and they’ve blossomed under the Jewish instruction. Also, I’ve come to appreciate the support it gives me as a parent trying to raise Jewish children. There are Shabbat songs and Israeli folk dances and Shavuot art projects that are unknown to me because I converted as an adult. I like that my kids have something to add to our observance; when we sing songs for Friday night dinner, I love that they teach me about a shabbat dinosaur knocking on the door.
Since Eli will begin Kindergarten in the fall, our local Hebrew day school has started its sell on why our son would be a great fit for their school. In many ways, he is a perfect fit. But we won’t be sending him to the Hebrew day school, and instead he will attend a secular private day school. One that doesn’t teach about Shabbat dinosaurs knocking on the door.
I hadn’t really thought about how public our decision would be, until friends, day school staff, and congregants began to call us on the phone or cornered us in hallways and asked us to consider the Hebrew day school. Suddenly I’ve felt defensive about my decision, and I didn’t know how to respond without it sounding like I was saying, “My child is too good for this school.”
So my husband and I put our heads together and formulated a response that focuses on Eli’s best interests and stays far away from discussing why the Hebrew day school is NOT in his best interests. Hopefully people won’t believe that this is an indictment of the Hebrew day school. I don’t know if it will work. People are sensitive to these issues.
We are not turning our backs on Judaism or our local community, nor do we discount all we have learned from the past 3 years at a Jewish daycare. Still… I know it feels like a betrayal to some people, even though our decision was never meant to be.
I get weekly emails from my synagogue, and, a few weeks ago, I noticed that there was a little paragraph tucked in between notices from the Sisterhood and requests for coat donations. A bar/
And the more I thought about it, the more emotional I got. Which isn’t surprising, I cry at pretty much every milestone. Dance recitals, preschool graduations, her first real report card. But a bat mitzvah seems like it’s so important. Not only because she’s the first in my husband’s family, of her generation, to read from the Torah. Not only because my family will come, of course they’ll come, but won’t have the foggiest idea what we’ll be doing. But also because the bat mitzvah has so much meaning attached to it. It’s coming right when I’m starting to realize that this baby girl, this tiny little baby of mine isn’t always going to be mine. She’s her own person – and that’s terrifying and wonderful and, yeah, I’m welling up with tears as I’m writing. I’m going to be in so much trouble with this…
That’s what the bat mitzvah is – it’s a public acknowledgement that we’re Jewish, and that Jessica is Jewish. That she’s responsible for herself now, that she’s going to take ownership of her own religious identity in a way that I’ve been worrying about since before she was born. What will her religious identity be? She’s Jewish, yes, but not only Jewish. She’s inherited a rich family tradition dating back thousands of years. She’s also the product of my side of the family, a family filled with people who have no strong tie to any organized religion but a very strong and heartfelt connection to God.
She’s all intellectual questioning rules and ritual on the one hand, and on the other, she’s got a sincere and absolute relationship with God that, as far as I can see, she’s never doubted. She blends both of us, the Jewish side from her father, and the spiritual intensity from me. She’s got an extra dash of drama and wonder and intensity that’s all her own. And it makes me cry. I’m not sure if I’m crying because I’m grieving the loss of the little girl who’s growing up so fast, or if I’m crying because I’m so incredibly proud of the woman she’ll be.
When she was born, my husband picked out her Hebrew name. It means “beautiful celebration.” That’s what she’s always been for us, a celebration of love and life and so much joy. And on her bat mitzvah, she’ll stand in front of our friends and family, and she’ll read from the Torah. She’ll be exactly who she is. And that’s amazing to me.
When our second child, a boy, was born, my (Jewish) husband was adamant that he be circumcised. Everyone has their own baggage, and I’m far from exempt from that. I grew up without a dad; I was dead certain that I wanted my children to have an active, involved and dedicated father. I didn’t want them to have just one parent, so it was vital to me to respect him as a parent. This was his son as much as he was mine, and it was that absolute for him. He would be circumcised.
It’s one thing to blithely agree to something and then realize how incredibly hard it’s going to be. Like daycare – of course, my kids would go to daycare and I’d work full time, right up until I actually HAD a child and the thought of leaving them for eight to nine hours a day was devastating. It was the same situation with the circumcision. Yeah, sure, we can do that, right up until I’ve got this tiny little boy – AND YOU WANT TO CUT OFF HIS LITTLE PENIS?!?! And if I was struggling with the concept, explaining it to my non-Jewish family was even harder. The whole idea of having a party where we’d cut off the tip of his penis and then have bagels was beyond their comprehension.
But cut it off we did. I reminded myself over and over again that this was my husband’s child as much as mine. That I had to respect Marc’s traditions and his right to make decisions for our child if I truly wanted him to be an equal parent with me.
First let me back up. My son was a challenging baby. To this day, six years later, I know of no other child who was as miserable as my little baby was for the first several months. Colic and reflux were a part of it, but part of it was just who he was, he doesn’t like change – and the whole concept of starting his life here just made him furious. He cried all the livelong day, unless he was nursing. Or in the swing – he loved his swing. But mostly he cried and nursed. He only slept when I held him, and only stopped crying when he nursed. He was horrified if anyone other than me tried to hold him, screamed unmercifully if people looked at him for too long, and being the center of attention made him nuts.
So I was a wreck on the day he was going to be circumcised. To put it mildly. I was an experienced mom, he was my second baby, and I’d had literally decades of childcare behind me – but I was worn out, sleep deprived, and out of mind with confusion and frustration and this overwhelming love for this boy child. Voluntarily hurting him (and that’s the only way I could see this) was so hard. So incredibly hard. My mother, sister, stepfather and cousin had all come early to our house. We lived in a second floor apartment, and it was literally the hottest day of the summer so far that year. We had no air conditioner, and the apartment was wall to wall people. I couldn’t stop crying. The baby couldn’t stop crying (because the mohel didn’t want me to nurse for the two hours before the ceremony, and he was furious at the thought of a pacifier).
All of my husband’s female relatives assured me that I shouldn’t be there, the mothers never watch. But I couldn’t NOT be there. This was my child. This was my baby, and if I was going to allow this to happen to him, I couldn’t let him do it without me there to support him. So I sat in the room just off of the dining room, where everyone had gathered. My father-in-law held the baby, and my poor confused stepfather gave him little bits of a sweet wine and it was over super fast. They handed him back to me immediately, and he stopped crying the instant I touched him. He nursed gratefully and went immediately back to sleep.
The man who performed the circumcision passed away a few months ago. It wasn’t that I knew him well, I had never met him before and only saw him a few times since then. But he was there, on one of the most challenging and painful and ultimately rewarding days of my life. You know how sometimes you bond to your baby the first time you meet them, and sometimes it takes a bit? I loved my baby from the beginning, but on the day that he was circumcised, I knew absolutely and without question that I was his mother and he was my son, and that when he hurt, I felt it more than I could have imagined. It was the beginnings of a relationship that, to this day, continues to shock and amaze me, to teach me and stretch me and astound me. Rest in Peace, Stuart Jaffee, and thank you for your part in my son’s life.
That being said – when we found out that our next baby was a girl, the first thing I thought in the ultrasound room was thank God we don’t have to have her circumcised.
So tomorrow is Christmas Eve, or as I like to call it, my daughter Kaitlyn’s birthday (what better day to have a child of an interfaith family, right?). We always have Christmas Eve at our house so that my Jewish family and Alex’s Catholic family can see Kaitlyn for her birthday. I think this is a great idea in theory but a pain logistically. I wanted to make Cornish hens for dinner as that seemed neutral and I knew my mother-in-law was making meat for Christmas Day. My husband, however, decided to take over and we are now having chicken parmesan, sausage, meatballs, manicotti and other sides. My husband points out that my mother and sister can eat the pasta so we don’t have to worry about the pork or the mixing of meat and dairy. He doesn’t seem to get the “not quite respectful” feeling I think this shows (my Jewish brother-in-law will eat all of it and quite happily). What was wrong with Cornish hens? Everyone eats chicken and no one would have been secretly offended. I don’t think my sister will really care at all but my mother will be quietly thinking “If my son-in-law was Jewish this never would have happened.”
I should have been more forceful, I know, but I feel like since it’s “his” holiday that I have to just smile and be quiet, even though it is also Kaitlyn’s birthday. Next year is what I am telling myself. I think I will announce that it is going to be our tradition to serve chicken Christmas Eve so that going forward there will be no more problems. I am also planning to suggest that some chicken be cheese free to make everyone happy.
I feel like the Jewish Scrooge of my household and it just sucks <sigh>. What are you eating tomorrow night?