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We live in a world filled with hate. It seems as each new day dawns, we are reminded of this very concept. Charlottesville, Paris, London, France, Spain, the list continues to grow. Even my beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University, a college with a diverse student population of nearly 60,000 is not immune. Can it really be that we have ushered in a new era where it has not only become popular but acceptable to preach hate and bigotry while encouraging violence at targeted groups? This seeminglyÂ commonplace behavior has captivated headlines on a daily basis and often includes attacks on various groups including women, LGBT, minorities and Jews.
America is the land of opportunity. A great country founded on the basic principal of speaking out and rebelling against tyrants forcing their ideologies. Each of us is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People love to hide behind the First Amendment as a reason to spout vulgar insults and racial epithets. It has been uplifting to see many Americans coming together to rally against hate. But itâ€™s important to remember that freedom OF speech is not freedom FROM speech. Do I support or encourage the Ku Klux KlanÂ and its supporters gathering in arms, bearing torches and shouting references to Hitler along with chants echoing through the night, “Jews will not replace us!”? Of course not, but while we, as equal rights supporters stand unified against hate, we donâ€™t encourage violence to solve violence. The hateful actions of these people are deplorable and do not embody the principles this nation was founded on.
As relatively new parents, this is continuously a topic of discussion in our house. Today, we live in a community only a few miles from where I experienced first-hand that hate is not limited to racially divided cities or foreign countries calling for war against the West. I was maybe onlyÂ 10 years old when our baseball team traveled out to a wealthy suburb on the east side of Cleveland. (For those who don’t know me, I grew up in a predominately Jewish community that was well known for its religious concentration.) I was raised in a Reform Jewish household and became a bar mitzvah. I have been blessed to be married to the most wonderful, kind and loving Catholic woman in the world (although not very religious herself). My life experiences both as a Jew and being in an interfaith marriageÂ have allowed me to view this anecdote differently as I got older.
We arrived for the game on a sunny afternoon and began to warm up. It didnâ€™t take long before we could hear the undertones and whispers coming from the home team dugout. â€śF-ing (expletive) Jews. Why donâ€™t you go home back where you came from?â€ť These were phrases that, while familiar with, I had not experienced them directly, especially as a young boy. I was raised in an environment to be conscious of the fact that the world did not always like Jews and anti-Semitism was a very real thing. Now to experience it first hand was a little jarring. As the game went on there were similar remarks being made under their breathe. Later in the game, on a close play, I slid into second base and was involved in a little scuffle while colliding with the other player trying to tag me out. The play ended and through the cloud of settling dirt, I heard, â€śGo home you stupid k___ (derogatory word for Jews that sounds like â€śkiteâ€ť).â€ť
These awful words still ring in my ears more than 25 years later. My perspective on the world has evolved over the yearsâ€”from a young Jewish man to a husband and father, raising my own family, in an interfaith marriage. The world is a cruel place; people are cruel; children are cruel. The events of the recent past can be avoided, but it has to start now. Hate is a learned behaviorâ€”it is taught to our youth at a very tender and impressionable age. We breed hate as we pass on our distaste for one culture, religion or ethnic group. Information is so readily available today and can be accessed, at our fingertips, within a momentâ€™s notice. Hate groups are using this to unify and unite their cause with propaganda and recruit new soldiers to fight in the battle.
Today does not feel like the world I grew up in. It is fueled by violence and hate, almost as if we have taken a step back in our progression as a society. This is not the world I want my daughter to grow up in. Not a place where she has to be afraid or embarrassed that her last name is known as a common Jewish name. Not a place where she is afraid to walk into a synagogue. Not a place where she cannot be proud of who she is and the heritage she carries with her. We have to do our part, speak out when you see an injustice being committed. I believe that good can and will prevail over evil. However, it starts with us as individuals. The words we use in our homes, the way we speak to colleagues, the way we greet strangers. We CAN make a difference and chart a new course.
Motherâ€™s Day is coming, in case you havenâ€™t stepped foot in a commercial district recently. With it comes a whole host of emotions. You can hear them in casual conversations and read about them all over the blogosphere. Today, I want to put a stake in the ground in favor. In three strokes, let me try to convince you that Motherâ€™s Day is worthwhile.
Reason # 1: It’s a freebie for most Interfaith couples (or maybe couples of any stripe). Â
One reason you likelyÂ came to this websiteÂ is because you are questioning how to make it â€śworkâ€ť as an interfaith family. For all the joy of our religious holidays, building any kind of tradition different than the ones you grew up with can bring anxieties, bumps and challenges. Hereâ€™s a holiday that doesnâ€™t belong to any religion, at least not in its observance today. It is a bunch of Americans getting together with families or friends and celebrating the mothers in our lives. For most of us, it will be a holiday both you and your partner grew up with, even if you grew up in different corners of the country with entirely dissimilar faith perspectives. So take this gift of a holiday that you hopefully can celebrate equally with all of your families.
Reason # 2: Itâ€™s not all about Hallmark. Â
I get the sentiment that we shouldnâ€™t orient ourselves (or our spending) to something created by a corporation. Or, I should say, I sort of get it. First, if you donâ€™t like the Hallmark stuff, celebrate the amazing true stories of the women who gave Hallmark the ideaâ€”activistsÂ Ann Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe. Second, perhaps less inspirationally, I ask you to consider this from my personal history. My mother took advantage of the opportunityÂ to celebrate almost every holiday she could get her hands on. Having grown up that way, well, it’s not all that bad. For those of us who are lucky enough to have the means to afford the basics, is there really a better way to spend your spare change than on a small gesture for someone about whom you care? Is there any danger in heeding the calendar as a reminder to spend time with the person or people whose mothering means a lot in your life? Â Maybe Hallmark popularized this holiday, but I hold them harmless. Sometimes we need reminders to do the most basic but important things.
Reason # 3: It takes a village to raise a mother.
Four years ago, my mother passed away just before Motherâ€™s Day. There are no words for the awful of that week. I suspect that the confluence of these two dates will always bring me a little pain. I appreciate there are people who feel all kinds of loss on Motherâ€™s Day. I understand some of it wellâ€”anger atÂ losing a cherished relationship and frustration for the things you never had time to share. I also know there are some kinds of loss I canâ€™t entirelyÂ understandâ€”lossÂ for unsatisfying relationships with mothers who are alive but arenâ€™t in our lives, bereavement for mothers we never got to know, deep grief for children we didnâ€™t get to parent. I grant all of those grievers license to feel through their Motherâ€™s Days however they need.
But for those of you still open to my treatise, I offer this. My success with my girls is in part due to how I have been mothered through my parenting journey. I cannot celebrate my mother how I wish I could. But I can celebrate mothers I hold most dear. My own list of people to celebrate includes my grandma, the glue of generosity and love that holds my family together; my mother-in-law, who has taken me even closer under her wing since I lost my mom; my motherâ€™s dear friends, who have tried to lessen the pain of not having her around; and my aunt, who upon my insistence can be the grown-up when I fumble through a skinned knee. I applaud my sisters who are mothers, who are both just plain amazing people and are always teaching me new ways to approach motherhood.
There are a lot of other people I want to list, but you get the idea. Motherâ€™s Day is a chance to recognize the hard work of mothering and give a high five to the people whose motherhood you applaud. However it works for you, I hope you have a wonderful Sunday.
When we were studying Judaism together as a young couple, it made sense to buy into an â€śall inâ€ť model for a Jewish household. For our future childrenâ€™s sake, if we were choosing to raise them with a religion, we would stick to just one. Â It would be less confusing, and they could be engaged in a specific spiritual community where they could experience a sense of belonging. This would be better for their development, and would empower them to make well-grounded decisions about their spirituality as adults.
It also made sense that we would respect the religious beliefs of family members who were not Jewish by sharing in their celebrations and participating as guests. Guests who were also loving relatives. We would speak openly about their holidays and lovingly about Ericâ€™s personal history celebrating those holidays.
This relatively black and white idea seemed clear when our children were theoretical creatures. Seven-and-a-half years into our very real parenting journey, what I have found is that stepping thoughtfully into the gray area of this proposition not only strengthens our connections to our extended family, but also strengthens our nuclear family connectivity.
The â€śall inâ€ť model assumed we did not let Christian holidays into our home life, but we did celebrate them in our familiesâ€™ homes. This simple idea is complicated by the 2,000 miles between our home and Ericâ€™s parentsâ€™ and sisterâ€™s homes. Â
On days like Easter Sunday, we can get our heads around the Easter Bunny not coming to our house, and around the impossibility of teleporting to Colorado. But both Eric and I have trouble getting our heads around not doing something to mark a day so important to our heritage and celebrated by our closest family members.
So hereâ€™s where we are right now, as of Easter 2016. We donâ€™t celebrate Easter with a visit to church or the corresponding new Easter dresses. We do cherish the Easter eggs we get from Ericâ€™s parents, and the celebrations we share with friends who celebrate the holiday. And as a foursome, we celebrate that it is a day to think about and be with family, and to do something out of the ordinary that celebrates our lives together. Â
For us, this year, it was a fancier-than-usual breakfast with all the bells and whistles. Considering this breakfast, I canâ€™t help but think two things. First, I have witnessed as a parent how much children benefit from whatever black and white explanations we can provide for things as complicated as religion. On the other hand, if the gray area between celebrating something â€śall inâ€ť and not doing anything is finding an extra reason to celebrate love and family, there canâ€™t possibly be anything negative about spending quality time in the gray.
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 Thursdayâ€™s celebration, I hope you have had a chance to read IFFâ€™s own Liz Polay-Wettengelâ€™s â€śAn Open Letter to Judaism from an Interfaith Familyâ€ť on Medium this week, as well as Molly Tolskyâ€™s great response on Kveller. In her essay, Liz Polay-Wettengel speaks some honest and difficult truths about her familyâ€™s path to, with, and outside of Judaism as an Interfaith family. Molly Tolsky underscores the importance of Lizâ€™s 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 â€śthe problemâ€ť of their couplehood.
I am lucky that my familyâ€™s story is not filled with the denials, closed doors or simple noâ€™s 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 didnâ€™t have one rabbi we knew we wanted to marry us. My parents lived in Newton, where IFFâ€™s 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 â€śSeeking a Rabbi.â€ť
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 â€śnoâ€™s,â€ť 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, Iâ€™ll look out for you at IFFâ€™s #ChooseLove celebration.
In mid-April, I joined an army of Instagramers around the world on a journey called The 100 Day Project. The project was a â€ścelebration of process that encourages everyone to participate in 100 days of making.â€ť To participate, you simply committed to do one thing every day for 100 days, and then to post a picture of that thing on social media. Â After learning about the project from a college classmate (#100spotsforsitting), I launched #100TrueSleepers, a photo journal of what sleep really looks like in my house.
My project, inspired by my interest in one of the biggest themes from my parenting life, uncovered some deeper revelations about how big 100 days can really be. This week, most of us will transition from the long days of summer into the excitement of September and the introspective spirit of the High Holidays. At this important moment, I wanted to share some reflections from my project to encourage us all (myself included) to pay attention to at least one small thing everyday, as a reminder of how our children, and we as parents, grow every single day, whether we notice it or not.
Two things about sleep have intrigued me ever since I became a mother. First, I love to watch my girls sleep. It is not that I prefer it to when they are awake, it is just that I love seeing the peace of a day well lived on their faces. The second is a dialogue Iâ€™ve always wanted to explore in a more public fashion – that bedtime parenting can be really tough. My kids have never been easy sleepers, and I sometimes wonder if the popularity of sleep training and related techniques makes us less inclined to be honest about what really happens in our homes on the path from dinnertime to dreamland. I launched #100TrueSleepers as the intersection of these two ideas.
During the course of 100 days, my photos narrated drawn out bedtimes, moments of frustration, and how much of a superhero Eric is for saving the bedtime hour most nights. I also got to share some great shots of my girls holding hands asleep, looking completely peaceful, and entirely beautiful.
During the process of showing up every day to take my pictures, I discovered a third and powerful thing. As I captured my girlsâ€™ sleeping moments, I also paid closer attention to the space of each day. I often heard a certain line in my head as I posted the pictures, a psalm I came to understand from Barbara Myerhoffâ€™s Number Our Days, a fantastic book I studied in college:
â€śSo teach the number of our days, so that we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.â€ť
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Psalms Chapter 90, Verse 12
This idea,Â that wisdom is gained in the counting of individual days, gained more and more resonance as my 100 days accumulated.
Often, the way I track time is driven by milestones and deadlines, and not by individual days. The theme of a week or a month is a project deadline, a new school year, our weekend away – major events that we plan for, and build up to. By picking a way to significantly note each day, I began to understand how much all of those milestones can be attributed to one 24 hour period, or three, or even 100. Taking that moment to catalog each photo, I also could take note of the magic of that day, and even in what had changed from one, or two, or 10 days ago.
Some amazing but smaller things happened in those 100 days – the girls changed how they liked to sleep, where they slept, and which lovies were theÂ best sleeping companions. I was able to count the number of nights I missed entire evenings with my family (8), the nights we all slept away from home (22) and the night the girls put themselves to sleep all by themselves (Night #100).
Some big milestones happened for each girl – Ruthie lost her first two teeth and learned how to read her sister bedtime stories on her own. Chaya grew out of her nap AND her pacifier. And some big and unexpected things happened, too. Ericâ€™s Nana passed away, a huge loss. And we moved out of our condo, the first place both girls called home, and into a new house, something we never would have predicted on Day One.
I finished my 100 Day Project about a month ago, and I decided to take a break from the every day of it. The project was a lot of fun, and has given me pause – to look more closely at how the days add up into the story of our journey as a family. It is a wonderful reminder to take into the new year.
My parents and extended family have always supported myÂ own interfaith family. There are many ways they haveÂ said or shown this to me.Â When I think about when I knew it would be OK for me to bring home a partner who wasn’t Jewish, I always remember one specific conversation. I canâ€™t remember exactly when this happened, but if I had to guess I would say it was during my Hebrew school confirmation year. The class curriculum, about understanding our Jewish identity as emerging adults, would have been an easy opener to summon up the courage to ask how my parents felt about me dating people who werenâ€™t Jewish.
My mom knew her answer right away.
â€śI wantÂ youÂ to find someone you love,â€ť she said, â€śand if you really love each other, then you can figure out the rest.â€ť
My mom was a clinical psychologist. Outside of her practice, she was a great friend, an excellent advice giver, and shared the role (with my dad) of #1 life advisor to our extended family. In other words, she had the inside track on a lot of relationships.
Wearing her many hats, my mom had seen successful marriages of all stripes, and she had witnessed the pain of marriages that ended in separation and divorce. She had seen same-faith and interfaith couples who thrived, and couples who had struggled to make their relationships work, regardless of religion.
My mom wanted her three children to find love, the kind that sustains lifeâ€™s ebbs and flows and would encircle her future grandchildren (who were always in her plans, I suspect) with love and stability. She wanted to be sure that no matter who we ended up with, she and my dad would be aÂ closely connected part of our lives. And more than anything in her life, she wanted to protect her children from pain.
She wasnâ€™t saying â€śBeing Jewish doesnâ€™t matter,â€ť nor was she saying â€śYour partnerâ€™s religion, and their familyâ€™s religion, donâ€™t matter.â€ť What she was saying was that she wanted us to learn how to love, and how to be loved. When she said weâ€™d figure out the rest, she really did expect that. My parents always modeled a kind of loving partnership where being married meant you worked through things, not around them. When we had partners, we would need to figure â€śitâ€ť out, whatever it was.
Ultimately, my parents wanted us to be happy. I believe my mom was concerned that if she put limitations on our choice of partners, we might not endeavor on a truly full exploration of what we wanted in a partner. It was most important to her that we learn how to both love and â€śfigure things out,â€ť with either a Jewish person or a person who was not Jewish. My mom understood that religion was important, but not necessarily the magic key to a successful marriage.
I am thankful that my parents opened the door for me to find my right match, and gave me confidence that they would support my relationship based on its merits. This week would have been my momâ€™s 67th birthday. As my dad, sister, brother and I celebrate her and remember how much we miss her, I am lucky to have my husband and his family watch over me and hold my hand. On her birthday, I will pause and thank my mom for the ways she embraced my husband, and for not missing a beat in telling me to #ChooseLove first, with faith that the rest would follow.
There are many ways we all #ChooseLove in our lives. See the gallery and share your story!
Before I had daughters, I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted to raise them. Â I had been raised with what I considered exceptional feminist ideals, and I planned to do a knock-out job of solidifying my future daughtersâ€™ self-image as strong, powerful human beings who could do anything they wanted, for whom gender would be an afterthought.
Of course, as many women more prolific and eloquent than I have written, this is unfortunately still very difficult work and, as I have now found, a lot easier in premeditation than in implementation with actual living daughters. Still, I am trying my very best to both be a model for my girls and to intercept the stimuli coming at them to help them interpret it toward positive self-image development.
I share this as a context for my thinking about this yearâ€™s spring holidays. Our family had a very fun Purim. It can be a wonderful holiday, full of jubilant storytelling, costuming and fun. After all, it is a holiday in which we are instructed to party. It celebrates a great triumph – the salvation of our people – with a strong female hero.
But the Purim story is also complicated, and this year I felt these complications as I dwelled on how my girls will learn the story as they grow. Â There is so much for them to learn from Esther about her great courage, her strategic thinking and her triumph. Simultaneously, there are some real doozies in the story. Esther wins her place by the kingâ€™s side not through a respectful, loving courtship, but through a beauty contest. To varying degrees, King Ahasuerus, Haman and Vashti are all sizably complex and challenging for children and adults alike.
I couldnâ€™t take it all on this year, but I tried to start with Vashti. When I was growing up, Vashti was portrayed as a villain, but her primary villainous act was refusing to entertain her husbandâ€™s guests on demand. Regardless of what more dynamic layers were beneath the surface in their relationship, on its face this is a pretty bad precedent for my girlsâ€™ future empowerment. So how was Ruthie learning about Vashti, and how could I help her reinterpret the traditional storyline?
Ruthieâ€™s class spent three weeks studying Purim. I asked her what she thought about Vashti. She said she thought she was OK. She just didnâ€™t want to dance for the king, which wasnâ€™t a big deal to Ruthie. She told me that King Ahasuerus and Vashti didnâ€™t agree, so they decided to live in different places. Thatâ€™s pretty good for a start. Later in life, we can talk about how if Ruthie and a future partner have a disagreement, they should try to talk about it and work it out together. But as a baseline, we got a chance to explore together that a woman never needs to do something just because her partner tells her she has to, and that it is OK to leave if you donâ€™t feel safe.
Purim is not unique in its depth of complexities. The ability to interpret, reinterpret and struggle with these stories is part of what makes Judaism so rich. This yearâ€™s processing of the Purim story has emboldened me as I approach Passover, the ultimate story-telling holiday. The Passover story orbits around Moses and Aaron, but there are some very dynamic and important women in the story. I am looking forward to sharing Miriamâ€™s story with Ruthie, for having Chaya be the one to put the orange on our seder plate, and for trying to get to know Pharoahâ€™s daughter a little better this year.
I plan to have a lot of years to explore these stories with my daughters, both for the parts which we will carry with us and which we will leave in the Biblical past. Iâ€™m looking forward to our next stop, sitting around the seder table together.
Itâ€™s Tu Bishvat. The Birthday of the Trees. Hooray trees?!?
It is wonderful and important to honor this special milestone for the harvest and for the earth. It is great to have a joyous holiday with yummy foods (like this or this). But as I look out my window, and the snow continues to pummel the New England landscape, causing Ruthieâ€™s fifth snow day in less than two weeks, it is a little hard to say thank you sometimes.
It is lovely to close my eyes and imagine a grove of almond trees in Israel, budding anew under a desert sun. Unfortunately, this feels so far away from the slush on my commute and the hours indoors trying to come up with a new way to entertain the girls.
But Tu Bishvat comes anyway, and this week I have found a small way to celebrate the earth and what it provides. When evening sets in, and the kids and the wind are both settling down, I meet my dog at the top of the stairs. When the storm brought all of the white stuff, we both wrinkled our noses. Me because of the cancellations (and rescheduling), the shoveling and plowing out, and the challenge of keeping my extremities warm. She because she is a nervous pup, and she hates the way the wind makes the old windows shake, the unsettling changes in human routine, and the roar and bright lights of the snowplows.
We meet at the top of the stairs, and I greet her with her bright red leash. I zip up my coat, and we walk out into the quiet night. Of all of our outdoor adventures, I love these nighttime snow-filled walks the best. As much as she cowers inside at the storm outside our windows, she loves being out in it. She finds the biggest mound of snow she can find and jumps in, her tail up in the air. She walks on sidewalks that spook her without snow cover, and sniffs to her heartâ€™s content.
Her amazement is infectious, and I find a peace that I lose during our stormiest New England winter-iest days. In the snow, my neighborhood glows. A street that is dark and mysterious on a normal winterâ€™s night is bright and enchanting in the snow. A windy day that ends in a cool calm is like no other, for the quiet feels hard-earned and deserved.
On these walks, I am reminded that nature is more powerful than the city created by man-made sidewalks and buildings, and of how quickly the sky can transform the ground. The snowbanks in my neighborhood are a far cry from the warmth of a desert sky, a warmth I long for for much of my day. But if I can get out at just the right moment, I can achieve a special wonder about the cycle of the year, the cycle of life and the power of the earth.
Tu Bishvat starts on Tuesday night. It is a really beautiful holiday; a new year for the trees. It is a time to think about the earth, and to celebrate the many ways it nourishes us. It is also a good time to think about Israel, a place where it might actually be reasonable to plant a tree right now (as opposed to my snow-covered backyard). Tu Bishvat has become a time to think about conservation and, I need to be honest, as a parent of a toddler it is pretty difficult to feel like I am hitting my marks in that department.
A little more than a year ago, I wrote a blog post about trying to teach Ruthie conservation, and the importance of saving water. I am happy to report that a year later, Ruthie has developmentally hit a place where when we tell her to turn off the tap because she is wasting water, she seems to understand, and will usually oblige. But just as Ruthie has turned this corner, Chaya has entered the age of â€śI do it.â€ť While I have one daughter on board with conservation, I have another entering the era of the uphill battle to conserve.
In my unscientific observation of children Chayaâ€™s age (2.5), they are fascinated by running water. Turning the faucet gives them a power to create, at a time in their lives when they are both dependent on bigger people to do most things for them and also discovering their own power to interact with the world. A light switch provides a similar fascination, especially as an activity where you make the lights go on and off for minutes on end. And paper goods, the kinds that as an adult I try to use thoughtfully, sparingly when possible, provide endless possibilities for creativity and creation.
There are reasons for using these things that I want to encourage as a parent. It is flu season, for goodness sake, and it is great if Chaya can learn how to make hand-washing a part of her routine. I would like to engender a habit where Chaya is turning on lights when they are needed, and turning them off when she is done. And while I donâ€™t want the whole roll of toilet paper on the floor, I sure do want her to use it in moderation when she needs it.
If taking care of the world werenâ€™t a huge concern of mine (which it is) and these commodities were in endless supply, I would have a different take on all of this. I want Chaya to feel comfortable exploring her independence and to learn to do a few things for herself. I understand that sometimes you need to experiment, to use a little more or a little less of what you need in order to figure out the best way to do something. But because there are limits to the commodities that we take from the earth, I cringe when I see Chaya trying to perform this experimentation with a running faucet. This can be confusing for both of us, since often times, just a minute before I may have complimented her about using the same amount of time and thought to experiment with how to put on a pair of pants by herself or complete a puzzle.
I think the answer is to give her a chance at a conserving behavior, and then take over and redirect her when it is clear she is not going to make an earth-friendly choice. But I also know that toddlers like the safety of reliable rules, and so even though I may do that, I feel a little badly about sending a complex message about when experimentation is OK. So I donâ€™t have an answer, only a lot of mixed feelings. And a hope that she will learn this lesson by watching rather than doing, so that the earth can be in better shape for the generation that proceeds hers.
The other day, Ruthie and I were talking about one of her favorite topicsâ€”her cousins. She ticked off each oneâ€™s name, and talked about something special about them, or what they did the last time they were together.Â Then she started talking about some friends who are like familyâ€”she often brings up this topic of what to call her friends who are like family but who arenâ€™t blood relatives. In speaking about two sisters in particular from a family that we often celebrate Jewish holidays with, she changed the subject a little bit.
â€śSo,â€ť she asked me, â€śwhich one of their parents wasnâ€™t Jewish when they met, the mom or the dad?â€ť
â€śActually,â€ť I told her, â€śthey both were Jewish when they met.â€ť
â€śOh,â€ť she said, and kept talking.
This was not a monumental question to her, but it gave me pause.Â Neither good nor bad, but it gave me pause.Â To her, the question was completely logical.Â First of all, there was no judgment in it. It wasnâ€™t good or bad if they were or werenâ€™t Jewish, it was just a normal question to her about families.
In Ruthieâ€™s Jewish family (my side), most of the pairings in my generation are interfaith. In fact, of my three siblings and six first cousins, only one person has married someone from a Jewish background. This does not stand in the way of our lighting Hanukkah candles together or sharing the Passover seder. Whatâ€™s more, an openness to mixed faith couplings has brought seven fantastic people into our family, seven more adults who nurture and support our foursome.
Because of this, Ruthie really hasnâ€™t been exposed to the idea that being Jewish necessitates having two Jewish parents. It is just not part of how she understands her identity.Â While I spend time every month blogging about navigating a somewhat new path in embracing multiple forms of Jewish identity, Ruthie thinks our family is completely ordinary within our religious community.
When she asked the question, my mind started embracing the 21st century outlook for interfaith families. I went to an exciting place: That maybe because ofÂ the work of community leaders, generous rabbis, individual families who choose love and acceptance and, of course, InterfaithFamily, our girls wonâ€™t ever know to feel different.Â They will know that we are Jewish through our actions.Â As they grow up they will understand that they have a choice about spirituality and connection to a religious community.Â If we are successful, the girls will understand that our goal as parents was to show them our choice, in the hopes that theyâ€™ll love it, but also in the hopes that they understand the benefits of choosing to make space for these connections in their adult lives.
Another interpretation might be that Ruthie is 6. I wasnâ€™t raised in an interfaith family myself, so for all I know every 6-year-old thinks that all families must be like their own, religiously or otherwise.Â Perhaps 6-year-olds with interfaith parents have been asking this question for generations; I have just never encountered their stories.
So, earth shattering or not, I have a new inspiration.Â To hold onto the kernel of celebration that I felt in that moment. To hold onto the idea that I can raise my girls in an environment where their Jewish identity is about our actions, and not about a rule that would prohibit the loving home Eric and I have created as a couple.Â To create a place where they can relish the heritage they carry on through the multiple traditions from both sides of their families, but also firmly choose a path of spirituality and connection that is personally fulfilling to them.Â And, ideally, to imagine a time that feels not that far off when being interfaith will be an important part of how we understand, respect and love our extended family, but wonâ€™t be a significant facet of our Jewishness.