This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
Romemu (roh·meh·moo) seeks to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice. This is a Judaism that will ignite your Spirit. We are a progressive, fully egalitarian community committed to tikkun olam, or social action, and to service that flows from an identification with the sacredness of all life.
“A Light Through the Ages” tells the meaning of Chanukah through story and song. With musicians from Zamir Chorale of Boston, Joshua Jacobson artistic director and original story by Rabbi Howard A. Berman of Central Reform Temple, this event concludes with a dramatic candle light ceremony. A festive reception follows.
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.
Sammy and I with my 96-year-old grandfather in October. We had a special visit.
About a month ago, I visited my 96-year-old grandfather at his skilled nursing facility in New Jersey while in the area for a family event. It was Shabbat morning, my favorite time to go see him.
My grandfather and I have always been very close. As the oldest grandchild and the only girl, we share a special bond that is different from the one he has with my brother and male cousins. I make it a point to spend time with him whenever I go east to see my family, and I always bring Sammy.
It is important to me to visit with him, even though I am not certain that he knows me or that Sammy is his great-grandson. My grandfather has dementia. On some visits, he does not seem to connect our smiling faces to any name or person that he can recall, but is just happy to have some visitors. On others, I can see that he recognizes me when I walk over.
But even with the uncertainty of his response, I still go and I still bring Sammy. I do not do this out of obligation, or because Jews are commanded to visit the sick. The mitzvah Bikur Cholim, a concept I learned from my grandfather when I was a young child, and he took me to visit his infirmed and elderly parents, tells us to be with someone who is ill because the presence of a loving and kind person is a gift that can lighten the burden of illness.
No, I do not perform this mitzvah because I am told to. I go to visit him because I love him, and I have a deep desire for him to know Sammy as best he can and for Sammy to know him, even though the man he will know is not the vibrant grandparent I remember. But I want Sammy to have some connection to the person he hears about in stories and sees in pictures.
I also go with Sammy because I want my grandfather to hear about my sonâ€™s life and our home, our Jewish home. See, I made a promise to my grandfather 12 years ago when Cameron and I became engaged that my children would be raised as Jews, even though Cameron was not one. I remember the conversation.
â€śJaney, will your children be raised Jewish?â€ť my grandfather asked.
â€śYes,â€ť I said. â€śCameron and I have agreed to have a Jewish home and raise our children as Jews.â€ť
â€śOh, okay. Is he going to convert?â€ť
â€śNo, I didnâ€™t ask him to.â€ť
â€śOkay. Well maybe one day heâ€™ll decide to,â€ť my grandfather said.
I understood my grandfatherâ€™s questions and his hopes. He was the oldest son of observant Jewish immigrants from Hungary. His father was a chazzan, a cantor, who grew-up at the Great Synagogue, also known as the Dohany Street Synagogue, in Budapest on the Pest side of the Danube. Judaism was a central part of his upbringing and identity, and Jewish continuity was important to him, especially given that intermarriage was widespread in my family.
He watched his son, my uncle; marry a woman who was not Jewish; as well as several of his brothersâ€™ children. With my engagement, another generation was continuing the pattern. While some of my intermarried relatives raised children within Judaism, others had no connection to Jewish practice or community, or any other religion either.
As someone who was a young adult during World War II and the Holocaust, my grandfather understood that every Jewish child was precious to the community, and he did not want our familyâ€™s connection to the faith to disappear. He wanted some assurance that someone would pass on our tradition.
I know that he was glad to hear that Cameron and I would have a Jewish home, but I think that while he hoped for the best, he believed, like others in my family that our promise was empty and that little action would be taken to fulfill our commitment. Unfortunately, shortly after Cameron and I were married, my grandfatherâ€™s mental health began to decline. By the time Sammy was born, he had been moved from assisted living to the nursing facilityâ€™s memory unit.
He has never been able to experience or appreciate the central role Judaism has in our home. Yet, regardless of my grandfatherâ€™s mental state, I still want him to know that Cameron and I have kept our promise.
When we visit with him, I talk about the many things he and I have done together, and about my synagogue involvement and holiday rituals. I share with him Cameronâ€™s commitment to and engagement in our Jewish home.
Sammy sings him Jewish holiday songs in Hebrew and tells him about his Jewish day school. He talks to him about his Jewish summer camp and his kippah collection that his not Jewish grandmother has crocheted for him. And because Sammy loves sports as much as my grandfather once did, especially tennis, he talks sports too.
I do not know if any of this means anything to my grandfather, but it is important to me that I demonstrate that I have honored the commitment I made to him, and show him, in whatever way possible, that his hope for a Jewish future is being realized through Sammy. So we will keep visiting, I will keep talking, and Sammy will keep singing Jewish songs.
The other day, as the Halloween candy was being eaten and costumes were being put away, I saw a house decorated in Christmas cheer. It had a large wreath with balls covering one side of the home, and the frame was lined with bright red and white lights. I sighed and thought, â€śIs it really that time again?â€ť
It seems that each year the holiday season starts earlier. What used to happen after Thanksgiving â€“ holiday decorations in neighborhoods and stores, and merchandise on retailersâ€™ shelves â€“ now appears before Halloween, drawing out the seasonal cheer in a way that leaves many of us feeling exhausted before the holidays even arrive.
For Jewish families, the elongated season and ever increasing intensity with which Christmas is celebrated in the public sphere can leave us feeling more than a little Grinch-like. What to people who are not Jewish are non-religious symbols and accessories (trees, garland, lights, dancing Santas), are reminders to Jews that we are different. For interfaith families raising Jewish children, the commercialization of the winter holidays can make them feel particularly stressful and drag us into a competition between traditions that we all want to avoid.
In my house, we try to take the holidays in stride and treat them like any other celebration. We work to make our observance about family and tradition. But it is hard not to be lured in by the razzle-dazzle of Christmas, and every now and then, I find myself longing for a credible Jewish alternative to elves, and reindeer, and snowmen and Santa in order to add a little more sparkle to the Festival of Lights.
My friend Abra can relate. Abra, describes herself as a nice Jewish girl who, as a child, loved latkes, delighted in dreidel and coveted Christmas bling. At age 6, she started secretly decorating her closet with homemade boughs of holly and began purchasing Christmas ornaments. She says it was never about not wanting to be Jewish, it was just that she wished that Hanukkah came with more tinsel.
Now, as an intermarried adult raising two Jewish children she wanted to make being Jewish fun and the Jewish holidays enticing, while instilling in her kids a deep love of Judaism. Not an easy task at a time of year when the merry and cheer of Christmas abounds.
So, Abra created The Maccabee on the Mantel so that her children, and all Jewish children, could have something to call their own during this season of Frosty, Rudolph, and Old St. Nick. The Maccabee on the Mantel is a childrenâ€™s book and snuggly toy solider doll that connects kids to the rich history and traditions of Judaism.
Mac, as we like to call him in our house, is not a Jewish Elf of the Shelf. He is historical rather than mythological. He does not possess magical powers. He does not report to a large man in a red suit. And he is not related to Hanukkah Harry.
Our dog Brady loves spending time with Mac too.
Mac is a reminder that Judaism is full of human heroes who have achieved great things through courage, bravery, and sacrifice. He encourages us to retell our stories, and explore who we are and where we come from.
Mac does not twinkle and he does not make our mantels shine. But he does provide a more lasting radiance by reminding us to believe in miracles. To me, that is real sparkle and that is the kind of holiday tinsel I want my son to embrace.
A warning to you, kind reader: You have read this story before. Itâ€™s about unplugging from technology and reconnecting with your family. Itâ€™s not a new idea, in fact I know Iâ€™m late to jump on the train. But itâ€™s also about resolutions, and Shabbat, so hopefully I can bring in a little something new to the conversation. And if not, please indulge my unplugging declaration, and a Sweet and Happy New Year to you.
So hereâ€™s my story:
I am not a big believer in New Yearâ€™s Resolutions. Itâ€™s not that I doubt peopleâ€™s ability to change â€“ quite the opposite, as my resume reflects a career in pursuit of change. Â Itâ€™s just that when it comes to resolutions, I think people have a tendency to set their sights too high, to pick a goal for a 12-month period that is rarely sustainable for more than a few weeks. Â Change is an iterative process, and if weâ€™ve never done something very well before, it is rare that we can go from not doing something to doing it well every day. By setting ourselves up like that, by saying â€śI am never going to lose my temper with my kids,â€ť instead of saying â€śIâ€™m going to remember to breath more deeply when little Frankie gets me frustrated,â€ť we fail to set up enough small victories to keep fuel in our tanks. In measured steps, I think anything is possible, but in huge bounds, as least for me, the hit rate is not always as good.
This year, thereâ€™s a change I really want to make. Technology, especially in the form of Ericâ€™s and my pretty little iPhones, is getting in the way. It all started out rather innocently â€“ when Ruthie was a baby, I started taking my phone out more and more to snap pictures of her â€“ she was so phenomenally, well, phenomenal, and I loved being able to take a snapshot and immediately send it off to her grandparents or her dad. When Chaya was born, it seemed harmless to hand the iPhone over to Ruthie to play a shape-sorting game so I could buy five minutes and finish nursing in peace. And when we try to track down two or three friends at the hectic gate at the zoo, its great to have the tool of texting to save five minutes of searching with two hot kids hanging around my neck.
But despite its innocent beginnings, it is still getting in the way. Too often I catch myself taking the phone out to snap a photo of the girls and accidentally being caught up in an email that really could wait until nap time for a response. Or I complain about not having time to talk with Eric, and then get distracted by a news alert on the phone during our ten minutes of quiet together before bedtime. So how can I blame Ruthie for asking for a video more than I think she should, or begrudge Chayaâ€™s fascination with the lit-up screen of the phone when the alarm sounds in the morning?
It’s not that the touchscreen has no place in my girlsâ€™ development – I believe that their comfort with technology will play a role in their future academic and professional success. And in my own childhood memories, anything that parents forbid became an obsession, so I think parenting around technology should be about limit setting rather than prohibitions. Truthfully, though, after reading lots of blogs and articles about unplugging (see introductory note), I donâ€™t know what those limits should be.
So hereâ€™s our resolution, or perhaps experiment: This year, we are unplugging on Shabbat. Eric and I started talking a couple of months ago about the technology issue, but unplugging every day sounds like a bound to me, something so grand that weâ€™d quickly fall short and taste progress-deterring failure. I started to ponder a middle ground – a set of small steps – and as the High Holidays approached, I realized that that small step is handed to me by Jewish tradition. Shabbat is not just a day of rest – it is a chance to practice a different way of living, and a different way of being as a family. So committing to do something differently 1/7 of our year is a natural thing to do as a Jew, and a great way to try on this no-technology thing.
I am not a dummy, and I know that tons of Jews have been doing this forever – that many believe we are not fulfilling the commandment by using electricity at all on Shabbat. But we are not becoming Shomer Shabbos â€“ thatâ€™s not where we are as family, or as Jews. So rather than saying to my kids â€śCell phones and computers off because we donâ€™t use any electricity on Shabbat,â€ť I am going to try this on: â€śCell phones and computers off because we are going to be together as a family on Shabbat,â€ť to sing our own songs, tell each other our own stories, play games that require sharing a game board or using our bodies.
I see this experiment as twofold. First, I hope it lets us see how we like life without technology, and to inform what the best limits are for our family. As I said before, I donâ€™t anticipate our final rule will forbid technology, but I hope that living without it for a controlled period every week will help us figure out how much weâ€™d like to live without it over the course of a whole week. And second, I hope it will teach us some new things about how we want to be on Shabbat. Maybe weâ€™ll hate it and decide we want to be on our phones all of Shabbat…or maybe weâ€™ll love it and next year will decide to turn something else off for 24 hours.
The initial rules are no cell phones, no Internet, no TV â€“ landline is OK. Â Weâ€™ll see how it goes, and hopefully Iâ€™ll let you know on this blog.
What do you think? Have you tried this, or do you have a different resolution? How do you make Shabbat a different day than the other six?
My name is Jessie and I am very excited to have my very own blog on InterfaithFamily. My bio will tell you some of the following: I live in Boston with my charming husband and my two (fascinating, and almost always charming) daughters. I was raised in a Reform Jewish home, and my husband was raised Protestant. We are raising our children Jewish.
I look forward to sharing some thoughts about our life as a family for two reasons. One is because we are always retooling, reassessing and renewing our path, and I hope to explore that with others who might be doing the same. Second, I think that the fact that we were raised in two faiths has strengthened our relationship and spirituality, and is generally a plus â€“ an often-unsung bonus of being â€śinterfaithâ€ť (more on that in future posts, which I hope will be helpful to you).
Today, though, I wanted to start out by reflecting on this concept of being an interfaith family, something that I have been pondering for a few years now. Because of the two reasons I just described, I love the idea of blogging here. But I almost didnâ€™t answer IFFâ€™s call for bloggers, because after 8 years of marriage, interfaith doesnâ€™t fit right for me.
In common definition, I guess â€śinterfaithâ€ť is a category we inhabit, but it doesnâ€™t feel like it tells our story. Eric and I agreed early on that as parents that it was our responsibility to choose one religion, and to partner in weaving that tradition into our family life (something I also hope to talk about with you). So we are Jewish, but of course nothing is straightforward.
I think the best explanation of my family is that we are a Jewish home in a loving multi-faith family. I am lucky that my husband and I have come from two great families with strong values and dedication to being families, and maintaining those connections has always been at the forefront of our decision-making. Our extended family includes a multitude of spiritual practices, both within Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox), and Christianity (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Christian). We have family members who donâ€™t practice any religion. And we have some family members who practice more than one faith in their home. So the bottom line is that we deal with lots of questionsÂ that are often categorized as “interfaith,” but I don’t use that term for my nuclear family.
Because our story is multi-layered (whose isnâ€™t?), so is my goal for my children. I hope that they will grow up as Jews with a deep respect and curiosity about the faiths of our family members, an ability to help grandparents and cousins and friends celebrate religious holidays with joy, and an understanding that all people of faith are struggling with the same questions â€“ what it means to be a good person, how to find purpose in life, and how to connect with others.Â Iâ€™m looking forward to reflecting on that with you.
My maternal great-grandparents standing outside of their Conservative synagogue with my grandmother and great-uncle.
My name is Jane Larkin and Iâ€™m excited to be one of the new writers for InterfaithFamilyâ€™s parenting blog. Iâ€™m the Jewish half of an interfaith couple creating a Jewish home. I live in Dallas, TX with my husband Cameron and eight-year-old son Sammy. Cameron lives Jewishly and is actively involved in raising Sammy within Judaism. But this isnâ€™t my whole story.
As a Jewish young adult, I always assumed I would marry a Jew and I did. But after two years the marriage ended in divorce. The relationship failed because I married for religion, not love. I wanted to prove to my family that I could in-marry, which is not the best criteria for choosing a mate.
The fact that in-marriage was important to my family was ironic since I came from a family in which intermarriage and Jewish continuity had co-existed for generations. My subsequent intermarriage was just following in my familyâ€™s footsteps.
My maternal great-grandmother was not Jewish when she married my great-grandfather in the 1920s. She never converted, but lived her life as a Jew within Conservative Judaism and raised Jewish children â€“ one being my maternal grandmother.
My grandmother was married to the son of an Orthodox cantor by a prominent Conservative rabbi in the 1940s when no denomination recognized patrilineal descent. My grandmotherâ€™s religious lineage was kept secret since it was known that neither she nor her future children would be accepted as Jews. Still, my grandfatherâ€™s Orthodox parents accepted the match recognizing that inclusiveness was a good investment in a Jewish future.
My father also came from an interfaith home. His mother was not Jewish, but she too created a Jewish home and supported Jewish family life. My dad became a bar mitzvah in the 1950s at a Conservative synagogue that his father helped to build.
What all of this interfaith family history means is that technically, my family is not Jewish even though we have practiced and identified as Jews for generations. I often wonder how many other Jews have interfaith DNA in their genealogical closet. I suspect that there are others that choose to keep their religious lineage a secret even though families like mine are now recognized as Jewish by the Reform and Reconstructionist movements.
So this is my family’s interfaith and Jewish story. I hope that by sharing it that you will be encouraged to share yours too.
A family member of my husbandâ€™s, whom Iâ€™ll call Devorah, recently told me that although I may have converted,Â ”you will never think like a Jew.” At the time I didnâ€™t say anything. This woman is an elder and I respect her opinion. But later I kept running that sentence through my head, and I realized it struck a nerve. Is she right? As an adult convert, will I never â€śthinkâ€ť like a Jew? And by extension, will my children never think like Jews, either?
After ruminating for days, I decided to ask my husband about Devorah’s comment.Â He explained that Devorah believed that I converted out of a sense of duty to him, rather than on my own terms. I thought back to my conversion process and it struck me: I had kept the process intensely private, and I sat before the beit din (rabbinic court) and had my mikveh (ritual bath) only one week before my son was born. In Devorahâ€™s mind, I was Jewish for the sake of my children.
Rather than being upset with an elderly relative with whom I had never explained my conversion process, I realized that I needed to work on becoming comfortable discussing my beliefs and my very real reasons for converting. And I needed to be discussing it with both my non-Jewish relatives and my husbandâ€™s Jewish ones. This will be difficult for me. I came from a family where we didnâ€™t discuss faith or religion, and we certainly didnâ€™t discuss individual belief in the context of religious doctrine. My discomfort with discussing faith is rooted in not having any prior experience talking about it, and I have to explore how to do that. Additionally, I need to learn to share my beliefs with my children and teach them to verbalize what they believe. Not because I want them to fit into any particular doctrine, but because I never want a comment like â€śyou donâ€™t think like a Jewâ€ť to silence them.
I get weekly emails from my synagogue, and, a few weeks ago, I noticed that there was a little paragraph tucked in between notices from the Sisterhood and requests for coat donations.Â A bar/bat mitzvah meeting for parents of kids fourth thru sixth grade. It took me a minute, but I realized quickly that it meant me. Â My daughter is in fourth grade. Â It’s that time already? Â Really? Â Wasn’t it a week ago that I was pregnant with her and couldn’t fathom how she’d be able to have any kind of clear religious identity with a Jewish father and me? Â Â Wasn’t it just the other day that I realized that while she was self identifying as Jewish the way she considered herself Irish but because I hadn’t converted, according to our synagogue, technically, she wasn’t Jewish? I didn’t think she’d really remember the mikveh, she was only five or six, but I remember it so vividly. Â And suddenly – we’re there already. Â A bat mitzvah.
And the more I thought about it, the more emotional I got. Â Which isn’t surprising, I cry at pretty much every milestone. Â Dance recitals, preschool graduations, her first real report card. Â But a bat mitzvah seems like it’s so important. Â Not only because she’s the first in my husband’s family, of her generation, to read from the Torah. Â Not only because my family will come, of course they’ll come, but won’t have the foggiest idea what we’ll be doing. Â But also because the bat mitzvah has so much meaning attached to it. Â It’s coming right when I’m starting to realize that this baby girl, this tiny little baby of mine isn’t always going to be mine. Â She’s her own person – and that’s terrifying and wonderful and, yeah, I’m welling up with tears as I’m writing. Â I’m going to be in so much trouble with this…
That’s what the bat mitzvah is – it’s a public acknowledgement that we’re Jewish, and that Jessica is Jewish. Â That she’s responsible for herself now, that she’s going to take ownership of her own religious identity in a way that I’ve been worrying about since before she was born. Â What will her religious identity be? Â She’s Jewish, yes, but not only Jewish. Â She’s inherited a rich family tradition dating back thousands of years. Â She’s also the product of my side of the family, a family filled with people who have no strong tie to any organized religion but a very strong and heartfelt connection to God.
She’s all intellectual questioning rules and ritual on the one hand, and on the other, she’s got a sincere and absolute relationship with God that, as far as I can see, she’s never doubted. Â She blends both of us, the Jewish side from her father, and the spiritual intensity from me. Â She’s got an extra dash of drama and wonder and intensity that’s all her own. Â And it makes me cry. Â I’m not sure if I’m crying because I’m grieving the loss of the little girl who’s growing up so fast, or if I’m crying because I’m so incredibly proud of the woman she’ll be.
When she was born, my husband picked out her Hebrew name. Â It means “beautiful celebration.” Â That’s what she’s always been for us, a celebration of love and life and so much joy. Â And on her bat mitzvah, she’ll stand in front of our friends and family, and she’ll read from the Torah. Â She’ll be exactly who she is. Â And that’s amazing to me.
So Iâ€™m at Thanksgiving last night with my husbandâ€™s family and religion somehow came up (does it come up as much with families that are all one religion, or do I just notice it more being from an interfaith family?).Â I was discussing how my daughters actually like going to temple (have no idea what Iâ€™m doing right there) and my husbandâ€™s uncle mentioned that they are half-Jewish.Â That got the hairs on the back of my neck to rise like a disturbed cat.Â I donâ€™t know about you, but my kids arenâ€™t â€śhalfâ€ť anything.Â They have a Jewish mother and a Catholic father but they arenâ€™t half Catholic; they are 100% Jewish.Â I didnâ€™t even know how to respond without offending him (and more importantly my mother-in-law) and to top it off my mother was sitting right there too but thankfully it either went over her head, she didnâ€™t hear it, or the filter between her brain and mouth was working (it doesnâ€™t always work) and she kept quiet.Â If she did hear I canâ€™t wait to see if she comments next time we are together without my husband around, that’ll be a hoot.
It bothers me that I didnâ€™t know how to respond.Â I am so grateful that my mother-in-law is cool (or at least an academy award winning actress) about my girls being brought up Jewish and no one else from my husbandâ€™s family has ever said anything negative about it, but the 50-50 comments bother me.Â Is there a way to address it or do I just let it go, knowing that my girls view everything correctly and that it will all get sorted out as they get older?
So I just read the post from Benjamin Maron about â€śWhen is a Christmas Tree Just a Christmas Tree?â€ť I can say that I totally relate to this. My daughters are being raised Jewish and their father/my husband, Alex, is Catholic and yes, we do have the Christmas tree and stockings and decorations. We donâ€™t go to Christmas Mass though (or any mass really except if itâ€™s for a family event on Alexâ€™s side) and we donâ€™t tell the Christmas story. We do have Christmas dinner with my husbandâ€™s family and there have been times my Jewish family has joined in as my daughter Kaitlynâ€™s birthday is Christmas Eve and my family rightfully wants to see her. We also do Chanukah, visit with my family, have latkes, play dreidel, watch the Maccabeats on You Tube (and we are seeing them in concert during Chanukah this year, how cool is that?) and listen to Adam Sandlerâ€™s Chanukah songs(although the first version is the best!).
My daughters identify as Jewish and respecting their dadâ€™s and his familyâ€™s religion is not going to make them any less Jewish. My older daughter last December actually announced it in the middle of class. Her teacher had given out a work sheet to play a game to fill in the missing letters of Christmas carols and my daughter got up and said â€śMr. Galvin, I donâ€™t know this because I am JEWISH.â€ť She then had me come in to her class that spring and do a lesson on Passover so her friends would understand her holidays. Celebrating another religionâ€™s holiday doesnâ€™t make you less; it makes you bigger than the sum of your parts. I am so proud of my girls and how they understand that what they are is not necessarily the same as everyone else and that thatâ€™s ok.
Do your children understand the differences and how do you explain it to them? I am still working on my five year old Megan understanding that men and women can be Jewish since she thinks that because her dad is Catholic all men must be Catholic and since mom is Jewish that all women must be Jewish.
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