Jewish Camp is a valuable way for interfaith families to learn and share in the joy of Judaism in a comfortable, fun and meaningful environment. See which camps identify as welcoming to interfaith families.
Connecting Interfaith Families to Jewish Life in Greater Cleveland by providing programs and opportunities for interfaith families to experience Judaism in a variety of venues, meet other interfaith families, and to connect to other Jewish organizations that may serve their needs.
This is an interactive, fun, and low-key workshop for couples who are dating, engaged or recently married. The sessions will give you a chance to ask questions about faith, to think about where you are as an adult with your own spirituality and to talk through what's important to you and your partner.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
This post originally appeared on PJ LibraryÂ and is reprinted with permission.
Chances are, your preschooler isnât an expert onÂ Rosh HashanahÂ celebrations (theyâve only been alive for a few of them so far). You may not be an expert on Rosh Hashanah either, and if the holiday is new to you, youâre likely learning alongside your little one. Thereâs no time like the present for you both to learn about the traditions that make Rosh Hashanah so special!
Between learning the colors and practicing how to write their own names, preschoolersâ days are filled with learning â and that learning wonât stop during Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year itself has a lot of traditions for you to learn about together, such as why you dip apples in honey, blow theÂ shofar and bake round challah.
Get acquainted with Rosh Hashanah as a family using these amazing books, all of which are perfect for the preschool age!
With simple text, this book explains symbols and customs of Rosh Hashanah by comparing a child’s birthday celebration with the rituals of the Jewish New Year. A birthday cake or honey-dipped apples and a shofar or party horns are just two of the comparisons.
Beni loves getting together with family on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year — if only it werenât for his mischievous cousin, Max. Max is making trouble for everyone! But Grandpa has a few words of wisdom about starting off the New Year right.
With Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, just around the corner, Little Red Rosie wants to make a round challah to celebrate the holiday. Who will help her make the challahâand then eat it? You might be surprised!
Hearing the shofar is an exciting experience for children. After beginning with this important holiday tradition, the author then introduces dipping apples in honey, making greeting cards and baking round challah.
If there is one thing Iâm passionate about, itâs expanding Judaismâs tent. After years of living as a Jewishly engaged interfaith family, I got tired of hearing Jewish professionals, academics, and community leaders blame families like mine for the demise of Judaism. So, for six years, I shared my familyâs story in forums such as InterfaithFamily.com, the Forward, and Tablet to paint a different picture of intermarriage and interfaith family life. I even wrote a book From Generation to Generation: A Story of Intermarriage and Jewish Continuity.
Now, Iâm excited to be embarking on a new phase in my Jewish journey as I begin work as a Jewish professional at my synagogue. As the new assistant director of engagement, I oversee my congregationâs efforts to connect more interfaith and LGBT families, 20- and 30-somthings, and people interested in conversion to Jewish life. Itâs work that I have been doing as a volunteer lay leader, writer, and speaker for years. I’m thrilled that now I get to interact on a more personal level with those wanting to âdo Jewish.â
One of my favorite parts of my new job is meeting with interfaith couples and families new to Dallas or about to get married. I spend many hours over coffee listening to the joys and challenges they are experiencing as intermarrieds or soon-to-be intermarrieds. I offer advice on navigating issues and relationships with extended family members culled from personal experience. I hope to convince them that there is a place for them in Judaism and that they are wanted and will be embraced by our Jewish community. Each day, I feel that Iâm doing sacred work.
As I talk to parents and young couples, I often find myself scribbling on napkins and scraps of paper the names of books that I find to be helpful for building a Jewish home or raising Jewish children. I thought InterfaithFamily.com readers might also be interested in these materials.
So here are some of my favorite Jewish and interfaith books. They are resources that I find myself reading and referring to often. It is by no means a comprehensive list and I hope youâll share your favorites in the comment section below.
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson and Miriyam Glazer, The Bedside Torah: Wisdom, Visions, and Dreams: Learned, engaging and provocative, this book offers three commentaries on each Torah portion. A great resource for discussing the weekâs parsha during Shabbat dinner, it weaves together the insights of ancient rabbis and sages, medieval commentators and philosophers, and modern scholars and religious leaders.
Thomas Cahill, The Gift of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels: A light-handed account of ancient Jewish culture, the culture of the Bible. The book is written from a modern point of view, yet it encourages us to see the Old Testament through ancient eyes.
Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews: A national bestseller, this brilliant 4,000-year survey covers not only Jewish history but the impact of Jewish genius and imagination on the world. Johnson’s work begins with the Bible and ends with the establishment of the State of Israel.
James Keen, Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family: Written by a Christian father who is helping his Jewish wife raise Jewish children. Keen provides practical advice on how to give children a clear Jewish identity while maintaining a comfort level for both parents and includes perspectives from professionals who work with interfaith families.
Milton Steinberg,Basic Judaism: A classic work for the Jewish and the not Jewish reader. A concise and readable introduction to Judaism that makes complex theological and philosophical concepts easy to understand, and contrasts various Jewish perspectives.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin,Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, its People, and its History: An indispensable reference on Jewish life, culture, tradition, and religion. It covers every essential aspect of the Jewish people and Judaism.
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem: Renowned chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi exploreÂ the vibrant cuisine of their home cityâwith its diverse Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. This stunning cookbook offers recipes from their unique cross-cultural perspective, from inventive vegetable dishes to sweet, rich desserts.
Sharon G. Forman,Honest Answers to Your Childâs Jewish Questions: A Rabbiâs Insights: A helpful resource that provides successful responses to many Jewish questions children ask, and summarizes Jewish thought in an easy-to-understand, readable format.
Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner,The Faith Club: The story of three women, their three religions, and their quest to understand one another.
Meredith L. Jacobs,Modern Jewish Momâs Guide to Shabbat: Connect and CelebrateâBring Your Family Together with the Friday Night Meal: An easy-to-read book that shows how the Friday night Shabbat meal can bring a family together and help them connect, even as children grow older. It includes recipes, art projects, and summaries of the weekly Torah portion.
Wendy Mogul, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children: A guide for raising self-reliant children. Mogel takes stories of everyday parenting problems and examines them through the lens of the Torah, the Talmud, and other important Jewish teachings.
Ronnie Friedland and Edmund Case, The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An InterfaithFamily.com Handbook: Practical ideas for creating strong interfaith relationships from those in interfaith partnerships and those who work with mixed faith couples.
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 Bat Mitzvah-age service project, or the feminist literature I might sprinkle into a 16-year-oldâs Hanukkah gifts, than what the building blocks might be for a two-year old.
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.
In 2003 (five years before I had kids), I read about a project that drew me in for the ways it combined my love of storytelling, my nostalgia for the toys of my youth, and my general admiration for out-of-the-box creativity. Â A guy named Brendan Powell Smith had started a website, and then a series of books, called The Brick Testament, where he re-created biblical stories from with Legos. Â Eric and I were excited to find a big stack of Brick Testament books two years later at the MIT Press Booksale, and we gathered them up, a set for ourselves and a bunch more to give as gifts.
A sampling of The Brick Testament
The project is impressive – Smith has amassed tons of Lego sets and re-assembled them into unique collections for each tale. Â As you read it you can see the pieces of a farm set climbing into Noahâs ark, or perhaps the body of Obie-Wan with a new head to look like a biblical farmer, walking across Lego tableaus of the Garden of Eden or the Pharoahâs palace. Â Smith does not use an official translation to tell his stories – heâs made his own based on a compilation of sources – but the stories are very recognizable to those that I have learned over time.
About a year ago, Ruthie discovered these books on one of my bookcases. Â She saw the Legos – toys – and claimed the books for her own. Â I figured there couldnât be much harm in reading them to her – we frequently talk about the stories behind the holidays, what it means to be Jewish, and conversations about G-d are not foreign to our repertoire. Â But as I leaf through them with her, I am both verbally and graphically reminded that The Bible isnât all sunshine and roses. Â There are some pretty tough parts – violent parts, sad parts – that I donât feel completely ready to delve into explaining to a five-year old.
Some kids love the scary, but Ruthie doesnât, largely because, I am sure, her apple fell pretty close to her horror-movie-hating momâs tree. Â And the challenges of getting the scary out did not start with the nights we read The Brick Testament. Â Even though the Disney stories all end in a happily-ever-after, they also almost all contain a terrifying witch, an evil sorcerer, or my least favorite villain, a stepmother out to destroy her husbandâs children. Â And thereâs bad stuff in these stories because thereâs bad stuff in real life, stuff that Ruthie is getting closer understanding with each passing year.
Intellectually, one of my primary goals as a parent is to make my kids resilient people. Â I know that no matter how hard I try, I cannot prevent them from everything that is scary, I canât keep them from knowing hardship firsthand. Â But if I can give them tools to know that scary things donât need to make all of life scary, and that the bad things that happen do not need to define them, I will feel like I have done a good job. Â When push comes to shove, however, and the picture on the page is of biblical bloodshed, my maternal instinct tells me to skip that page – to gather the girls up in my arms and protect them from even knowing that people kill other people. Â If resiliency is the goal, it means that someday, and I am sure a day sooner than I am ready for it, weâll need to not only read about Cain killing Abel in full, but weâll also need to talk about it for a while. Â And in the end, The Bible, which is reinforced with thousands of years of commentary about why things happened the way they did, is one of my best tools to open the discussion about why evil happens and how to understand it.
In a great article on this website about introducing Torah to your kids, Kathy Bloomfield notes that âThere are times when the Torah portion is just not something you want to discuss with the children. Explaining animal sacrifices, what âbegatâ means or why there seems to be so much bloodshed can get very tiresome.â There is also a great animated video series on this site presented by Torahlog, which presents the year’s worth of Torah portions with commentary.
Ideally, I want my girls to start out understanding the richness and the wonder of the stories upon which our faith is built, and gain a comfort level that will make them open to the more complex parts as they are developmentally more ready. Â But for now, Â I am going to purchase a few of the books Bloomfield suggests, along with Brendan Powell Smithâs newer bible stories for kids, and start preparing for the days when all four of us are ready for that complexity.
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. Â 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.Â 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.Â 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?Â Converting to JewishÂ 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.Â 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 email@example.com and my website is melissaannecohen.com.
Saturday morning my family and I were at a children’s Shabbat service. Halfway through the service, our youth director asked the children to think of something they were excited to experience in the coming week. My son Oliver perked up and shot me an excited look, then reached his arm high into the air. I knew what was coming. We were going to cut down our Christmas tree the next day, and Oliver had been talking about it incessantly all week long. He is a child who hides his face and refuses to talk in Shabbat services, but Christmas trees could bring him out of his shell. I began sinking farther down in my seat and wishing this wasn’t happening.
Sure enough, the youth director called on Oliver first. “I’m excited to get our Christmas tree tomorrow!” he practically shouted. To the youth director’s credit, and probably in recognition of the number of interfaith families who are members of our synagogue, she asked Oliver whether or not we were going to cut the tree ourselves or buy it pre-cut. Oliver had no idea, but that didn’t stop him from saying we would buy it pre-cut. Then she said, “Sounds fun!” and moved on to the next child, who expressed his excitement for Hanukkah starting in a week. Which got Oliver excited, too. Hanukkah AND Christmas were so close? Amazing!
It was a nice moment, because she didn’t shoot him down or ignore his excitement. She did what a good youth director does and engaged him in conversation. Oliver was pleased that he participated. And I felt relieved and thankful for a youth director who understands interfaith families and excited little kids.
The episode reminded me of a Hanukkah/Christmas book called, “Light the Lights” by Margaret Moorman. I like it because it explores how both holidays use light during the darkest time of the year, and many of the sweetest interactions are about talking to your neighbors and observing your community as it prepares for the holidays. I especially like that you can’t tell which parent is the “Jewish” parent and which one is the “Christian” parent. Instead, both parents are equally participating and enjoying the holidays. It’s available at Amazon.com for under $10, and is part of the growing canon of books exploring both holidays.
In early May, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the JCCâs of North America Biennial Conference in New Orleans. Most of the conference sessions I attended were about leadership, community and the future of the JCC movement â all very interesting and meaningful to me as a JCC professional. However, the best workshop I attended was the one presented by David Ackerman of the JCC Association and Karina Zilberman, creator of Shababa at the 92nd Street Y in New York City focused on celebrating Shabbat at JCCs. If you live in Manhattan and you have small children, my advice is to RUN, not walk, to the 92nd Street Y for Shababa Fridays and Saturdays. If your kids like music and you like to feel inspired, this is the place. In a room full of 40 adults, Karina was able to create an atmosphere of joy that I havenât experienced really since summer camp many moons ago. Her spirit, creativity and unique enthusiasm had a way of making everyone feel good, and in essence, make everyone feel good about being Jewish. Thatâs a pretty big and important task.
This experience really got me thinking about joy and Judaism â are my husband and I making Judaism joyful for our boys? We try to make it fun by bringing them to the JCC and synagogue Purim carnivals, by taking them to see Mama Doni concerts and by celebrating Passover with their cousins. We try to make it part of our lives by going to religious school on Sundays and participating in the family service each week. We try to make it social by setting up playdates with Jewish friends. But do we make it joyful? How do we really do that?
I think I can see and hear joy when our boys are singing Jewish songs in the car and reading books from the PJ library â but how can we take it to the next level? Overnight camp is one way for sure â Friday night services outside with all of your friends, singing the Birkat Hamazon (blessing after the meal) with all of the âcampyâ traditions â but until they (and we) are ready for that, what can we do now? How can we ensure that they feel great about being Jewish and that they feel joy when they are doing Jewish things?
When I go to the library at the Jewish Community Centre, I tend to browse and just grab whatever book catches my fancy. A few weeks ago, I couldn't find anything, so I asked the librarian if she had any recommendations. I was in the mood for a memoir or something historical. She recommended Harry Bernstein's memoir The Invisible Wall.
Mr. Bernstein wrote his memoirs (a series of 3 books) in his late nineties after his wife had passe away. He paints an amazing picture of England in the early twentieth century. He lived on a small street where the Jews lived on one side and the Christians on the other side. Antisemitic remarks were commonplace and something they lived with constantly.
I hadn't realized that the book would actually include the issue of intermarriage. The eldest sister Lily, married a non Jew, a boy who lived across the street. They had a secret romance and eventually "eloped" to the country side where they were married. Mother Bernstein was heartbroken. They mourned her "death" and sat shivah. Lily even came to the house to show she was very much alive, but her family ignored her.
Eventually they accepted the marriage, when a grandchild was born. In fact the street became united to celebrate the birth of the child of intermarriage.
I could certainly relate to what Lily went through. After I started dating my first non Jewish boy, my parents were disappointed and our relationship was severed for a long time. After the birth of our son, my parents have come around themselves, accepting my husband. I know it can't be easy for them to put aside their own upbringing and ingrained beliefs, but they are doing it and showing amazing love and grace to my husband.
Historically, Jews who intermarried were trying to shed their Jewish spirituality. They felt that religion and spirituality were the cause of antisemitism, and by being "like everyone else" they would be more accepted. This was the case for Lily and her husband.
Today, people have many reasons for marrying "out"; religion may not be as important, or it can be as simple as they fell in love with that person, who happens to not be Jewish (the latter is what applies to me). More importantly, many intermarried couples still want their children to have some kind of Jewish upbringing.
Lily didn't even want her son to be circumcised. I felt a bit sad that she could not see anything beautiful about her Jewish spirituality, only the ugliness of the antisemitism.
I thought that as a society, we have moved forward and intermarriage would be more accepted, but from my experience of forming a parenting group, I am hearing otherwise. Intermarriage rates may be high, but it does not necessarily imply that Jewish communities are welcoming.
I love reading to my son. One day soon, he’ll actually understand the words but for now it is still special bonding time over the pages. As much as I love Dr. Seuss, I am starting a collection of Jewish holiday children’s books. For Passover, I bought the book P is for Passover by Tanya Lee Stone at the first ever Passover fair at our Shul.
Since my son is only 6 months old, he tends to respond more to books that has a good rhyme to it (which this book does well). I love how he sits up and pays attention when the words have a rhythm.
When I first opened the book I wondered if the author would skip letters or just stop somewhere in the middle of the alphabet. I was impressed (and pleasantly surprised) that there is indeed a Passover “something” for each letter (ok, the X was in Exodus, but still).
The artwork isn’t anything terribly fancy, but the colours are bright and there is much to look at on each page.
Do you have a special Passover book you read with your kids (other than the Haggadah)?
Babyâs bedtime routine is pretty typical: bath every other night, pjs, possibly a little playtime (depending on how organized we are that night), some cuddle/wind-down time with Mommy and/or Daddy on the couch, then upstairs. If Mommyâs putting to bed that night (Mommyâs and Daddyâs put-down routines differ slightly), we go upstairs, read one or two books, sing songs, and then itâs night-night.
Lately, Iâve been letting him pick out what books weâre going to read. (Heâs got a veritable library to choose from â thatâs what happens with an English-major-nerd-type of a Mommy and Grandma.) For quite some time it was Dr. Seussâ The Foot Book or a Mother Goose compilation followed by Goodnight Moon. For Christmas, my Aunt Lyn (or, as Baby learned to call her, âGate At Leeeâ) gave him On the Night You Were Born and Llama Llama Red Pajama, which quickly became favorites, even ousting Goodnight Moon. (Truthfully, Mommy was a little sad at that, because I love Goodnight Moon.)
But you know what heâs picked, almost exclusively, for the last week (which, letâs face it, in toddler-time is basically a lifetime)? My Shabbat, a soft shapes book by David Brooks. At first I thought Baby just liked it because the shapes come out, so itâs like getting to do a puzzle during bedtime stories. And Iâm sure thatâs one of the reasons he likes it. But Iâve noticed the last couple of nights that once he gets the removable shape out (or in, depending on whether we started with the pieces in or out of the book), he sits very still as I stumble read through the blessings (full disclosure here â I use the transliterations; Iâve not mastered Hebrew in my âspareâ time). Now, I know he doesnât understand yet, and that he probably really is reacting to the rhythmic sounds of the blessings, but I have to admit that I like it (and remember, Iâm the non-Jewish parent). I also like that he now asks for his two night-night songs â the Shâma (which he calls âSam-ahâ) and âLa La Luâ (also known as the lullaby from Disneyâs âLady and the Trampâ). I hope that these routines are, in some small way, a step toward incorporating more Jewish traditions in his daily life.
What do your childrenâs nighttime routines look like? Do you try to incorporate Jewish prayers/thoughts/traditions into those routines, or at other times of the day?