Celebrity news from Hollywood including an interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal, and an update on Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo.Go To Pop Culture
My family is one of the many families who benefits from the amazing PJ Library, an extraordinary program that mails free Jewish books and music to 125,000 homes throughout the country. Ruthie enjoyed the program for three years, and last year Chaya got her very own subscription. It is a real gift to have colorful, modern media to use to talk to the girls about different aspects of Jewish life. This week Iâd like to talk about Chayaâs current favorite, Tikkun Olam Ted, and how reading it has reminded me how to boil big ideas down into bite size pieces for my young kids.
The book, by Vivian Newman, is about a little boy named Ted, who âis small. But spends his days doing very big things.â Ted got his nickname because of his interest in helping to âfix the world and make it a kinder, better place.â For each day of the week, Ted takes on a different task. What is brilliant about the book, aside from the adorable, colorful illustrations by Steve Mack, is how Tedâs big things are completely age-appropriate for a preschooler. Ted does not heal the world by going to a soup kitchen, running a blood drive, or spending a day with Habitat for Humanity. He does things that any kid could easily do in the course of their daily life â he recycles, he does yard work, he feeds the birds and he remembers to turn off the lights.
Reading this book, I am reminded of my own eagerness as a parent to teach my girls big lessons, and to endow them with a sophisticated toolkit of ideas and approaches to having a full and successful life.Â I dream of raising them to know how to make good choices, to be resilient, to pursue their passions, and to try to fix the world because doing so is meaningful for them.Â Before I had kids, and throughout my first pregnancy, I often schemed about how I would engender these traits in them, but I spent more time thinking about a
But it is a long time before those Bat Mitzvahs, and that toolkit will be even stronger if I can start now. Reading Tikkun Olam Ted aloud to my girls reminds me of the significance of the things that they can do independently now, and that those are probably as important as that adolescent reading list. Sure, Iâll keep bringing them to political events with me, and telling them of the bigger things Eric and I do to fix the world in our adult way.Â But I will also remind them how turning off the faucet really matters, or how re-using yesterdayâs sandwich bag actually has a ripple effect on the health of our planet. Judging by how frequently Chaya hands Newmanâs book to me, I think sheâs already starting to grasp the connections.
Note: All comments on InterfaithFamily are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed.
Thinking of sending your kids to Jewish summer camp (this year or in the future)? Not sure where to start or what you might want to keep in mind about the experience of your child, a child of interfaith parents?Â Itâs possible you havenât considered any of these questions yet, but a camp that may seem warm and fuzzy may not be the most schooled in how to project an open and welcoming atmosphere to interfaith families.
Hereâs what Jane Larkin, InterfaithFamily parenting blogger, Jodi Bromberg, IFF President and Lindsey Silken, Editorial Director, suggest asking the camp director. (Of course, youâll want to adapt these questions as appropriate for your family.) And once you’re ready to start searching for a welcoming camp, our resource pageÂ can help.
1. Do you welcome children of interfaith families at your camp?
2. Does the camp require that the child is being raised Jewish?
3. Can dual-faith or secular interfaith children qualify? What about children who are in the process of converting to Judaism? Does it matter which parent is Jewish?
4. Do you have a definition of who is considered Jewish by the camp and who is not? How is that communicated to staff and campers?
5. Whatâs the percentage of interfaith campers and counselors at your camp?
6. What training or education do administrative staff get on working with interfaith families?
7. What training or education do counselors or CITs get on working with interfaith families?
8. What programming is specifically done regarding Jewish education, ritual or practice? (Ask yourself: How âJewishâ do you want your childâs experience to be? There is a wide range of options.)
[Related questions to consider: Is the camp kosher or kosher-style? Is there Jewish education? Israel education? How frequent is it? Do the children pray? When? What about Shabbat? Is the camp aligned with a Jewish denomination or movement? Are Jewish clergy on staff? Are they welcoming and accepting of interfaith families?]
9. Will I receive information on what my kids are doing each week, including any Hebrew words that they are learning (or any other Jewish education), so that I can understand and participate?
10. Do you do specific outreach to children of interfaith families, or anything specific to ensure that they are welcome at your camp? And what will you do to ensure that my children are welcome at camp?
11. What philosophy does the camp emphasize? For example, Janeâs son Sammyâs camp places a strong emphasis on personal growth and positive self-image. They accept Jewish kids of every race and ethnicity, from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds including many who are from interfaith homes, with learning differences, etc. The campâs philosophy indicates that a significant amount of energy goes into making a broad spectrum of Jewish kids feel comfortable.
A few suggestions for parents:
1. Visit the camp. Go the summer before you are ready to send your child to see the camp in action. Take your child with you. Ask if the camp offers a family retreat weekend during the school year that your entire family can attend. The whole family can get a taste of the camp experience: see if they are comfortable with the Jewish aspect of the camp and meet other prospective camp families. Many families do this and friends their child makes during the weekend often plan to attend camp together or request to be in the same bunk during the summer.
2. Let your child experience overnight camp before they go to overnight camp for the summer. Many of the campsâespecially those affiliated with a denomination or movementâoffer weekend youth retreats for children, usually in third to fifth grade. These are kid-only experiences with camp staff. They are not billed as âcheck-out campâ but rather youth retreats so they are a mix of experienced campers and kids going for the first time. These outings are opportunities for children to âliveâ camp for 48 hours. If a child comes home excited about the experience, it is a good indication that they are ready to go to camp, and that the camp is a good fit.
3. Camp can be expensive. Determine what you can afford. If you need additional help, there are scholarships available for first time campers and some camps offer assistance for interfaith families. We recommend learning about Foundation for Jewish Campâs programs: BunkConnect (matches eligible families with affordable camps) and One Happy Camper (need blind grants of up to $1,000 for first-time campers).
4. Does your child have a specific passion? Jewish summer camps have become hip to specialization. There are now Jewish sports, art and sci-tech focused camps. Today kids can have an interest-specific and Jewish camp experience at the same place.
If you have questions we didnât cover, please comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to answer them, or find the answers for you from a camp expert.Â
Note: All comments on InterfaithFamily are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed.
Yesterday, as we were putting the final touches on our seder menu, a violent and horrible tragedy occurred at not one but two centers of the Jewish community in Kansas City. Today is a mournful day for those lost, and not necessarily a day of answers or political rhetoric. Â But it is the day of our first Seder, and it is impossible not to think about how this impacts our celebration of freedom. Â So here is my humble attempt to acknowledge the weight of this crime on this most important of days.
The most important thing to say is that I mourn for the three innocent victims of this senseless shooting. Â My heart goes out to their loved ones as they try to face this new and bitter day. Â I grieve for all of the people in Kansas City who witnessed this evil; especially the parents whose children have now witnessed the worst of human behavior firsthand, and who I imagine have been forever changed. Â I quiver a little bit more knowing that the place where these events took place is very similar to the place where I work, as the randomness and horror feel that much closer to me. Â I am deeply saddened, saddened as I am by every senseless act of violence, and saddened as a Jew, an American, and a human being.
It is premature to try to make meaning out of something so unthinkable, but I also feel like yesterday’s events cannot go unrecognized at my Seder table. Â They bring a wave of solemnity, as I will be thinking about the people in Kansas City and elsewhere who have family members missing from their own tables because of violent and unexplainable crimes. They also demand a recognition of of good fortune, that we have one more day to celebrate life with those we love the most. Â While we may be thinking of those we have lost, we must celebrate the joy of the present moment. Â They remind us of the need to constantly strive for a better world, that the work is not over, and it will never be completed by a single generation. Â On Passover, I am reminded that we are all members of the community of the human race, and that the price of our freedom is the responsibility of looking out for one another. Â For today, that means sending a little bit of extra love to Kansas City, and a challenge to think even harder about what we might do tomorrow to repair the world.
Note: All comments on InterfaithFamily are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed.
The other day, I received an email from an organization that supports unaffiliated and intermarried Jews encouraging me to recognize the âfifth childâ at my seder. Curious about who the âfifth childâ was I opened the note.
The message highlighted how Passover has long been a holiday that pushes Jews to acknowledge critical Jewish and non-Jewish issues of the day. Using the haggadah story about the four children â the wise, wicked, simple, and silent, as a foundation, the email suggested that seder facilitators explore the questions and challenges faced by a fifth child â a child of intermarriage.
A discussion guide was included, but before I opened it, I felt myself grimace â something about the child from an interfaith home being labeled the âfifth childâ made me uncomfortable, but I wasnât sure what it was. I knew that the material was developed with the intention of making Judaism more welcoming and I assumed that the language was scrutinized to ensure that it wasn’t offensive or exclusionary. So, why was I bothered by it? What rubbed me the wrong way?
As I considered the language of the email, I realized that a part of my discomfort stemmed from the use of the term “fifth child.â It called to mind, the negative connotations sometimes associated with âstep-child.â It felt that children like my son, who come from interfaith homes, were being labeled as âother,â outsiders, not part of the larger Jewish family.
But, I didnât want to dismiss the material based on my initial reaction, so I put aside my feelings and continued reading. After an overview of the number of Jewish children being raised in interfaith homes, the guide suggested that leaders ask seder participants, âWhat does the child of intermarriage ask?â The child of intermarriage asks, âWhat is my place in all this?â
I thought, Sammy and the other children of intermarriage in my circle would never ask this question.
I knew that they wouldn’t ask it because they already believed that the Passover story was their story. They didnât question their place among the Jewish people. They were all raised, from birth, in single-faith Jewish homes, in a supportive temple community. They all attended Jewish preschool, and now participate in religious education and youth activities. They were sure of their Jewish identity in part because of the commitment to creating a Jewish family made by their not Jewish mom or dad.
Suggesting to these children, who come from Jewishly engaged interfaith families, that they might not have been a part of one of the defining moments in Jewish history, would be inappropriate and confusing. It would cause them to question what they see as their place among the Jewish people.
As I read further, I saw that one of the goals of the piece was to reassure children of intermarriage who were uncertain of or insecure about their Jewishness, that they, like all Jews regardless of age, background, upbringing, or parentage, had a place in the Exodus. When I realized this, I understood that this discussion was not intended for children like my son, who feel wholly Jewish and have strong Jewish identities.
Still, what I didnât like about the content was that it reminded me that many Jews still considered a child like mine to be outside of the Jewish community. The supplement touched a sore spot that I assumed, because of our high level of Jewish engagement, no longer hurt. I thought that after a dozen years of living an interfaith and Jewish life, that I had developed a callus. Apparently, my religious skin is not as thick as I thought.
But, after considering the information some more, I found the supplementâs value. I saw how it could encourage thoughtful and constructive dialogue about interfaith relationships, and how it could start a conversation about the Jewish communityâs response to intermarriage in communal forums such as committee meetings and outreach workshops, and at holiday tables with participants from diverse Jewish backgrounds, affiliations, and observance levels. I saw how, if used in the right setting, it could produce robust discourse.
One of the things that helped to change my feelings was an article I found on Chabad.org explaining the four children. Included in the essay, was the concept of a fifth child. It quoted the denominationâs former leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who said 37 years ago, that there was âanother kind of a Jewish child,â one who was absent from the seder, not interested or not aware of the Exodus or Torah. Schneerson went on to state that this child presented the biggest challenge to the Jewish community but that regardless of how difficult it was, every effort should be made to bring the absentee child to the seder table because âno Jewish child should be forgottenâ or âgiven upâ on.
The Rebbe, as he was known to his followers, makes a valid point, one that may be even more valid today given the number of unaffiliated, âJust Jewish,â or non-traditional â interfaith, LGBTQ, multicultural â Jews. Yet, sadly, there are some who want to forget or give-up on Jewishly different children, especially those from interfaith homes.
What the fifth child is really about is welcoming the stranger (see Jessie Boatrightâs recent blog), and making a place for part-Jewish, sort-of-Jewish, or Jewishly unengaged interfaith children at seder tables in order to encourage them and their families to explore Judaism or live a more Jewish life. That is a message I can embrace. The haggadah supplement isn’t the right fit for my Passover guests, but I’m no longer bothered by it.
My son Sammy and I have a tradition â we read a novel together on the weeknights during dinner. Usually, the book has themes or ideas that are targeted to a child several years older than Sammy, making it helpful to have an adult with whom to discuss the book. Over the years, we have read the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Hobbit to name a few.
The other night, we were nearing the end of The Return of the King, the last book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. We had reached the part when the primary protagonist, the hobbit Frodo Baggins, returns to his homeland, the Shire, after succeeding in his quest to destroy the One Ring of power. He finds that the area has been taken over by the evil wizard Saruman who was defeated during the War of the Ring by Frodoâs companions.
In an act of revenge, Saruman enslaves and oppresses the hobbits and moves to destroy the natural beauty of the countryside. When Frodo discovers what he has done, he confronts him and orders him to leave the shire forever. But the other hobbits want Saruman to be killed for the murderous and villainous acts he has committed. Frodo will not allow it, saying, âI will not have him slain. It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing. Go, Saruman, by the speediest way.â
As Saruman leaves, he passes Frodo and stabs him with a knife. Frodo is wearing an armored coat, so the knife breaks. Even though Frodo is unharmed, a group of hobbits lurches forward trying to kill Saruman, but Frodo stops them. âDo not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood. He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.â
As I read this section, Sammy interrupted. “I can’t believe he didnât kill Saruman!â
âDo you think he should have killed him?â I asked.
âWell,â he said, and paused to think about his answer.
âConsider the situation in the context of Passover, which weâre about to celebrate,â I said. âDo you think drowning the Egyptians in the Red Sea changed Pharaohâs evil ways?â
âProbably not,â Sammy said. âKilling all of the firstborns didnât either and it also punished innocent Egyptians.â
âYouâre right. As we think about the plagues and fate of the Egyptians at the sea, we have to ask, does one crime justify another? Frodo doesnât think so, he says itâs useless and doesnât heal anything. His language suggests that he believes it just perpetuates anger and hate.â
âI think Frodo was right to show mercy to Saruman because I think if the hobbits killed him, then Saruman would have been allowed to escape from his crimes,” Sammy said. “By letting him go he has to live without the power he once had and with the knowledge of what he has done. This is, in a way, a punishment too.â
âI agree, and I think Frodo and Saruman recognize this also.â
âHow so?â Sammy asked.
In answer to his question, I read the next section.
Saruman rose to his feet, and stared at Frodo. There was a strange look in his eyes of mingled wonder and respect and hatred. âYou have grown, Halfling,â he said. âYes, you have grown very much. You are wise, and cruel. You have robbed my revenge of sweetness, and now I must go hence in bitterness, in debt to your mercy. I hate it and you!â
“Saruman is like Pharaoh in that his heart is so hardened that he has lost all ability to change, and, therefore, any chance at ever really being free. Sometimes making someone carry the burden of their wrongful actions is the harshest punishment,â I said.
After dinner, I could tell that Sammy was still considering our discussion, and I suspect that he will continue to think about it over the next few weeks as we celebrate the holiday. The convergence of epic high fantasy and Torah has made the issues and questions raised in the Passover story more relevant to his 9-year-old world. That is a good thing. Because the more he sees how his everyday secular life intersects with his Jewish life, the more salient Judaism and his connection to it will be.
I did not plan to link the fictional narrative created by Tolkien to Passover or Judaism. It just happened. The key to making these kinds of Jewish connections is in recognizing and being open to these opportunities, and then seizing them when they present themselves.
As the calendar begins to hint at the end of a very long winter, a lot of people are thinking about having more time in the sun and packing their winter coats into storage.Â Iâm excited about those things, too, but I also have a little case of Passover fever. I love Passover for many more reasons than Iâll write about today. Today I want to talk about the guest list. As I plan my big April dinner party, I am not only thinking about the menu and the order of the seder. I am also thinking about the strangers, the people who come not knowing what the seder means to me, and the opportunity Passover grants to share that meaning.
Passover is my favorite holiday. My birthday falls right around the beginning of Passover, and as much as I complained as a kid about putting candles into Passover brownies instead of ârealâ cake, Iâve always loved that there is a big gathering of people I love right around my birthday. Â In cold years like this one, especially, I appreciate that we have a day on the calendar where, rain or shine, we can announce our readiness for spring and rebirth.
As an adult and often the seder planner and leader, I have also come to appreciate Passover for the way that it lends itself to sharing my own Jewish beliefs with friends and family, Jewish and not Jewish. On Passover, rather than inviting someone to a synagogue or a text study to learn what Judaism means to us, we invite them into our homes, to a great meal with plentiful wine and lots of good conversation.
During the seder we are commanded to invite the stranger into our home. We could debate the meaning of this phrase for days, but to me the first step of observing that is to think about who might be alone that night, and give them a call. My next step is often to consider who is a stranger to Judaism who might want to know a little bit more about both the religion and what it means to our family.
The seder encapsulates so much of what is most important to me about my Jewish practice. It demands thoughtful engagement, asks us to wrestle with difficult ideas, and spurs countless conversations. With storytelling as the primary tool, the seder reminds us to look to our past to inform our present and instruct us about the future. It includes a call to action and tikkun olam, to continue to work to make the world a better place. The seder also provides space to celebrate what we have, to sing and laugh and play games together. And, of course, thereâs all of that food and the wine I talked about before.
Some people who are not Jewish probably identify some of those elements as the good parts of their own culture or faith as well. On top of that, the seder is chock full of universal themes. The story of enslavement and redemption is one common across many groups. The reliance on faith for hope and wisdom about how to be better people is something that draws countless parallels. A structure for welcoming and celebrating spring is something in which we all can participate. As parents, the seder reminds us of our dual responsibility to be both models and teachers, a practice that extends into the entirety of the job of raising children.
For me, the seder is one of the best parties Iâll have all year. The kitchen is a mess, the table overflowing with food, and the china makes its annual appearance. What better time to open up my home to our interfaith circle of family and friends, and to invite those who are strangers to Judaism to pull up a chair and join in the party.
We have a mezuzah on the front door to our house. It is a lovely silver object that my mother gave to me and Cameron when we lived in New York. It has journeyed with us from the Big Apple to the doorposts of our homes in Connecticut, Ohio, and Texas. After more than a dozen years, it has accumulated the worn and tarnished look of a family heirloom.
I donât think about or notice the mezuzah that much because we live in a house with an attached garage. We park our cars inside and enter our home through a door that connects the garage to our laundry room and kitchen. We mostly use the front door to let in visitors. Because of this, the mezuzah is more a sign to others that we are Jewish, than a reminder to us of our connection to Judaism or our responsibility to follow Godâs commandments.
In preschool, Sammy even asked why we didnât have a mezuzah. I said, âWe have one,â and I took him to the front of the house, opened the door and pointed to the mezuzah.
âI didnât know we had one,â he said, âbecause we never use the front door to come into the house! I think we should get a second one to put on the door near the garage because that is the way we come in. Then we can touch it. You know that you are suppose to touch it when you pass it, right?â
âYes, I know that.â
Touching a mezuzah upon entering or leaving a room is a Jewish custom rather than a commandment. Many people place a hand on it when passing; others kiss the hand after touching it because they believe the holiness of the mezuzah transfers to the hand.
The tradition first appears in the Talmud in a story about a Roman convert to Judaism, who tells Roman soldiers that God protects the departure and arrival of his servants. The custom is also a reminder of love for God, the sanctity of the home, and Godâs mitzvot.
I was glad Sammy was learning about Jewish traditions. I was also happy to add a mezuzah to the door from the garage into the house. I took Sammy to our synagogueâs gift shop and let him select one. He chose a wood mezuzah painted in vibrant colors.
I asked a rabbi friend to help us hang it. He came over with his family and together we held a Chanukat HaBayit, the ceremony for hanging a mezuzah. We affixed it to the entry from the laundry room to our kitchen at a level that Sammy, then four-years-old, could reach. (The ceremony name sounds like Hanukkah and comes from the same root. Both mean dedication. Chanukat HaBayit is Dedication of the Home.)
Once the mezuzah was up, Sammy touched it when he passed. But after awhile, I stopped noticing if he continued to do so. I paid as much attention to this mezuzah as I did to the one on the front door. Usually, I was busy thinking about other things as I entered the house.
But then, a few weeks ago, a spring on our electric garage door broke. Cameron could not get the part to fix it, so we needed to park on the street in front of our house until the door was repaired. As soon as we began using the front door, I saw that when Sammy entered the house he tapped the mezuzah as he passed through the entryway. I didnât say anything; I just assumed it was something that he did at his day school and that sometimes he remembered to do it at home.
But then I noticed that he touched it every time he entered the house. The consistency of his mezuzah “high-five” made me conscious of touching it myself.
One afternoon after school, Sammy asked if I knew why he was touching the mezuzah when he entered the house. âBecause itâs Jewish tradition?â I asked.
âWell, yes, but thatâs not why Iâm doing it,â he said.
I expected a typical Sammy response, one that would offer some profound nine-year-old insight into this old Jewish custom. I was wrong.
âIâm doing it because weâre having a âwho can touch every mezuzah that they pass contestâ at school.â
âOh,â I said, a little disappointed in the mundaneness of his explanation. I guess these are the games kids at day school play. I asked, âDo you think anyone will know if you touch the mezuzah at home?â
âNo, but I donât want to stop because then I might forget when Iâm at school and lose the game.â
The more I thought about Sammyâs rationale for touching the mezuzah, the more I realized that he was forming a habit. A habit can be defined as an acquired behavior that becomes nearly, or completely involuntary. While we often take habitual actions for granted, they are the things that provide comfort to us in the midst of the uncertainties of life.
The Jewish habit that Sammy was forming through the game might not be deeply meaningful or important now, but one day, it might take on a more significant meaning. During high and low points in his life, touching the mezuzah might remind him that heâs not alone, that heâs part of the larger Jewish community; or that his home is sacred, a refuge, a sanctuary; or that something bigger than us exists in the universe.
Observing the consistency of Sammyâs mezuzah tapping made me consider in a conscious way my own Jewish behaviors; how they sustain me and provide a measure of predictability in the craziness of daily life. Watching Sammy caused me to be more mindful of my habits. I guess that was the hidden blessing of the broken garage door.
Three weeks ago, I read Jodi S. Rosenfeldâs post about peeking through her fingers at her kids during candle lighting instead of focusing on her own prayerful moment with a twinge of envy.Â Rosenfeld’s urge to peek is certainly one I’ve had, too. And recently, itâs the kind of challenge Iâve longed for in contrast to whatâs been going on at our Shabbat table. For weeks, Ruthie refused to participate in our blessings, sometimes trying to sing (or yell) over our prayers. The only way to welcome Shabbat to our table without protest was to allow her to retreat to her room during prayer time, which broke my heart a little bit. Getting her back to the table required that I stop trying to model the rituals exactly how Eric and I defined them, but instead adapt them so that she felt like a full participant.
Shabbat has always been a special time for our family. It adds a transition into our lives from week to weekend, it reminds us of how nice a family dinner can be, and it creates âan eventâ even when the agenda is staying in for the night. Ruthie has always enjoyed the singing and the candles and the food, and her little sister Chaya lights up when I strike the match to begin our celebration.
But in spite of all of the loveliness of Shabbat, Friday nights are hard, and they have become harder since Ruthie started a (wonderful) all-day elementary school program. She is exhausted from a full week of school. Her sister is starving (Chaya is usually ravenous, but it always feels a little worse on Fridays). Often we are running around because Eric or I stayed a little too late at work, trying to wrap things up for the weekend. Our house is usually at its most tired, too, so we are sometimes washing dishes to set the table or moving piles of papers around to clear off our dining space.
In this environment of exhaustion, a couple of months ago Ruthie decided she didnât want to do Shabbat. When I asked her why, I didnât get very far at first. âBecause it’s stupid.â âBecause I donât like the prayers.â âBecause I am hungry.â
And then, finally, an answer I could work with:
âI donât want to be Jewish, Mommy.â
Ouch. That hurt. But I didnât want to let on just yet.
âBecause I donât understand the prayers. We donât say them in English, and I donât know what weâre saying.â
âCould we try doing Shabbat again if we said the prayers in English?â
âSure,â she agreed.
I remembered that last Passover InterfaithFamily had turned me onto Gateways, a fantastic organization that provides resources for children with special educational needs to engage in Jewish Learning. Turns out, their resources are great for people of all abilities and ages. Their blessing sheets, complete with visual supports, are exactly what we needed to meet Ruthieâs request.
Two weeks ago, I printed out copies of the Gateways blessings for us to use during prayers. With these, we started a new ritual, where Ruthie reads the blessings in English before we chant the prayers in Hebrew. Her enthusiasm has grown, as she leads the blessings with great pride. For now, the protests are over, and I can focus on trying not to peek again.
Over the past month, the intermarriage debate has once again flared. On one side are the longtime advocates of in-marriage who convened a group of Jewish leaders to discuss the future of American Jewry and sound the alarm about the impact of assimilation and intermarriage on the community. On the other side are the proponents of outreach who have called for âaudacious hospitalityâ towards intermarrieds and other groups on the fringes of Judaism in order to grow our ranks.
As I have read the back-and-forth between the pro-endogamy and pro-outreach camps, I have found myself wondering, what would Esther think?
Who is Esther and why should we care what she thinks? I am referring to Queen Esther, the brave, beautiful, and intermarried heroine of Purim who rescues the Jews from genocide and ensures the survival of the Jewish faith (at least until the next lunatic tries to destroy us).
The story of her daring actions is told in the Book of Esther, the only book in the Bible in which God is never mentioned. It is an ancient tale that addresses contemporary issues such as bullying, bystander intervention, and anti-Semitism. It speaks to us about courage, standing up for justice and personal responsibility, and because God is absent, it reminds us that heroes can come from anywhere â even interfaith homes.
Estherâs Jewishness and marriage tend to be glossed over in the Purim speils that retell her story, but she was like 44% of Jews today â assimilated and intermarried. She might have even defined herself as a Jew of no religion. She was a classic Jew of the Diaspora, exiled from Israel, cosmopolitan, a Jew of the city. (Note: Interpretation of the Book of Esther varies from one Jewish tradition to another). Her husband, King Ahasuerus, had no idea that she was Jewish, and she was content to keep it that way.
But then her uncle Mordecai, who was one of the kingâs ministers, refused to bow to Haman, another of the kingâs advisors with whom he had a workplace dispute. Because of the refusal, Haman convinces the king to kill all the Jews of Persia. Now, the saliency of Estherâs Jewish identity was to be tested.
When she learns of the decree, Esther is faced with a choice: remain silent and maintain her highly acculturated lifestyle or reveal her faith and risk losing everything, even her life. She makes the courageous choice and tells her husband that she is a Jew. Her action saves the Jewish people.
Like many Jews in interfaith relationships, Esther becomes more conscious of her Jewishness only after she intermarries and her Jewish identity is challenged. In the end, she embraces her Jewish-self, but she also stays married to her not Jewish husband.
Esther is hailed as a Jewish hero, regardless of what kind of Jew she is (you can bet she didnât keep kosher). She is called brave and beautiful, not intermarried. We do not judge her choices; we do not say she did the right thing but. We remember her for her righteous action, not her interfaith relationship. We find in Estherâs story something good even though we do not define her marriage or choices as ideal.
Esther reminds us of the on-going struggle to balance worldliness and righteousness, and that there are ways for Judaism and intermarriage to co-exist. I think that, if she were alive today, she would write an op-ed piece in the Jewish press making the case for the inclusion and engagement of intermarrieds in Jewish life.
She would ask us to consider the consequences of her marriage being prevented because of a religious norm. She would point out that her story teaches that everyone has the potential to be a hero including interfaith couples.
She might even suggest that intermarrieds who create a Jewish home are modern day Esthers. After all, they are investing in a Jewish future by raising Jewish children. This may not be as spectacular an action as saving an entire people from extinction, but it is no less heroic. When it comes to preserving Jewish continuity, interfaith families can be Jewish heroes too.
The other day I felt good about how I handled Sammy’s challenging political questions about the Sochi games. We discussed Jonathan Pollard when Edward Snowden came up again in conversation. We talked about the parallels between Russia’s anti-gay policies and Hitler’s ideas of racial supremacy during a discussion about the price paid at an auction last year for Jesse Owenâs gold medal. In fact, I was feeling so good about having managed the Winter Gamesâ teachable moments that I began to think that it was time for some parental high-fives.
Then three tanned and topless females wearing only thong bikini bottoms and big smiles appeared in my mailbox. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue had arrived. I knew that many men anticipated the arrival of this once-a-year celebration of women frolicking in the sand and surf, but as the mother of a 9-and-a-half-year-old boy, I was neither filled with anticipation for what was inside this magazine nor was I celebrating it.
But the arrival of these women on my doorstep was my fault. I was the one who during Sammyâs school magazine fundraiser said it was okay for him to get the “regular” edition of Sports Illustrated (S.I.), in addition to S.I. for Kids. I thought reading about sports would be better than surfing the Internet for sports news. I forgot that the swimsuit issue was part of the subscription package.
I cancelled my subscription to S.I. 26 years ago, before heading to college. See, I too was a sports-crazy kid. I would read my weekly sports bible lying on my bedroom floor. I studied the swimsuit issue with a mix of amazement (women really looked like that!) and curiosity (was it possible to visit the exotic locations in the pictures?). I had a good idea what was inside the 50th anniversary edition.
But on this day, I did not look at the magazine with amazement or curiosity. I looked at it with a motherâs eye, a Jewish motherâs eye, and thought, thereâs no way my kid is looking at this. I try not to be a helicopter parent, and I work to embrace the blessing of the skinned knee, but Iâm still a mom that wants to shelter her son from some things for as long as possible â like barely clothed women with long legs and big breasts.
At the risk of sounding like my parents, kids grow-up so fast. I want to preserve Sammyâs innocence for as long as possible. Iâm glad he still thinks kissing in movies is gross â he covers his eyes when Aragorn smooches Arwen in The Lord of the Rings, and like that he has âgirls who are friendsâ instead of girlfriends.
With this in mind and because Sammy was at school and had not yet seen that S.I. arrived, I hid the magazine in my office under legal pads and file folders and anything else I could find. Iâm not proud that I took his mail or that I wasn’t truthful when Sammy said, “I wonder why I didn’t get Sports Illustrated this week.” As a Jewish parent, I know I should be working a little harder than I am to model walking in God’s ways.
But, come on, I think a little wiggle room should be granted on the eighth and ninth commandments for moms and dads who need to bend the rules in the name of responsible parenting. I mean sometimes a mom has to do what a mom has to do.
I fudged the commandments to protect my child, and to prevent him from breaking the tenth commandment â thou shall not covet. I knew the photos in the magazine might lead to lots of coveting of swimsuit beauties, including Israeli model Bar Refaeli who was featured in the former cover girl section. As I looked at the picture of her, I imagined Sammy using the line, âBut sheâs Jewish,â to convince me to let him hang her poster in his room. As if somehow being Jewish would negate the fact that she wasnât wearing much clothing.
The arrival of this magazine really sent me into a tizzy in a way that questions about Putin, terrorism and gay rights in Russia did not. Why? Iâm not naĂŻve. I know that some day soon Sammy will be thinking and looking at girls as more than just friends. I know that, in a few years, he will be a teenager with raging hormones.
I was reminded of all these things that as a parent, I wished to put off, when the Bar and
At the same time that Sammy is called to the Torah to accept his obligation to fulfill Jewish laws and be counted in a minyan (prayer quorum), he will be becoming more interested in bodies and sexuality – things that I find more difficult to discuss than politics. But I canât stop the turning towards adulthood. It is coming, in many ways and sooner than I want.
I know this, but I still want to prolong Sammyâs innocence as long as I can. Which is why, I deposited the magazine in the recycling bin. Iâm not yet ready to address the challenging topics raised by the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. But I know I need to do it. I just need some additional time to think about what to say.