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If youâ€™re a parent, thereâ€™s always those questions you know your kids are going to ask you at various ages and stages that you mostly want to avoid. Things like â€śwhere do babies come from?â€ť â€śWhatâ€™s sex?â€ť and â€śHave you ever tried drugs?â€ť I think over the years Iâ€™ve done a pretty good job at either changing the subject or placating them with a vague answer and offering up real facts when necessary. But as they get older, the questions become less about physical body functions and more about real subjects that I honestly donâ€™t know HOW to answer. And a recent conversation with the kids proved more challenging than I thought.
It started innocently enough as the 6 & 8 year old were getting dressed to go to Friday night family services at our synagogue.
Kids: â€śHey Mommy? Does Matt go to church?â€ť
Me: â€śUm, no, not really.â€ť
Kids: â€śBut isnâ€™t he supposed to go to church? Isnâ€™t that like the opposite of temple? Like people who arenâ€™t Jewish who are Christmas go to church, right?â€ť (Yeah, my kids still donâ€™t get the concepts of the names of other religions. Either a mom fail or they havenâ€™t paid attention to half of what I say to them. Or both. Letâ€™s be real though, trying to explain to them the difference between Catholicism and Episcopalians is pretty much next to impossible at this stage. I know my limits.)
Me: â€śWell yeah. I guess heâ€™s *supposed* to go to church. If youâ€™re part of a religion a lot of times you go to services. But not everybody belongs to a church the way we belong to the temple. Matt doesnâ€™t belong to a church and he doesnâ€™t go. We donâ€™t go to Shabbat services every week either, so thatâ€™s OK, right?â€ť
Kids: â€śYeah itâ€™s OK, but did he EVER go to church?â€ť
Clearly they werenâ€™t letting this go. My brain was spinning trying to figure out how to explain that my Irish Catholic boyfriend grew up with a serious religious education, went to Catholic school, was the head altar boy, represented the church at community functions like funerals and actually hung out with his clergy because it was fun. Mattâ€™s connection to religion growing up very much shaped him, much like how my involvement in my synagogue shaped me. But as an adult? Times change. Views change. Beliefs change. New traditions get formed.
We had a good talk, but the questions kept coming.
Kids: â€śDoes Matt pray to Jesus? Or does he pray to God?â€ť
Oh. Dear. Now they want to talk about prayer?!? Itâ€™s a subject that Iâ€™m not entirely comfortable with because *I* wrestle with it.
Me: â€śUhhhhhh, kind of? I mean, he believes in God. Itâ€™s really hard to explain guys.â€ť
Kids: â€śWell remember that time we went to church for that wedding and everybody kneeled and said prayers to Jesus and then ate those cracker things? Jesus was Jewish. Did you know that mommy? Does Matt know that? Did he do that stuff at church?â€ť
This is seriously so hard to talk about. So the conversation continues, which at times has inspired our own adult conversations about what we each believe, various experiences we had in our lives and how we live now. I recently shared with Matt that one of the things I love about being a Reform Jew is being able to interpret prayer and beliefs to create personal meaning. I never expect him to one day tell me heâ€™s converting, but the longer weâ€™re together, the more he seems to get and appreciate my connection AND the more I understand his own connections â€“ yes, even if he no longer goes to church, sorry kids.
I think with lifeâ€™s experiences we turn to what we know in looking for answers, healing, serenity and more. My kids are starting to figure this out as they ask me those tough questions and Iâ€™m proud of them for wanting to understand and decide things for themselves. As parents we provide these types of tools for our kids; my family and Mattâ€™s family gave us amazing foundations to start with. We may not have grown up attending the same type of services, what we both believe in now might not always mesh up, but the values we both learned along the way match perfectly. So keep the hard questions coming as we all learn more about ourselves in the process.
Tashlich, the Jewish New Year practice of symbolically casting our sins off into the water, was not something I knew much about growing up. Â It is a practice I have come to enjoy as an adult, however. There is something both powerful and relieving about the physical opportunity to throw away your digressions, even in the form of breadcrumbs. Â It is also a nice tradition to embark on as a family; to take a walk around a river or lake; to be in nature together and enjoy the early fall weather as we observe the holiday with an activity that everyone can participate in in some way. Â This yearâ€™s journey to the Charles River has me thinking a lot about the act of practice and how a new focus on that concept can be a guide to successful resolutions and growth in the new year.
After Rosh Hashanah services this year, I rallied my girls and my extended family to take a walk to the river for Tashlich. Â We stood by the water and lined up, bits of crackers in each of our hands.
I was glad to have something for Chaya to do that would be marginally spiritual but mostly just a chance to be with family and throw some things – always a winner for my three year old. Â But for Ruthie I had high hopes. Â She had this monumental first year of sunday school and four weeks into first grade, she is making mental leaps and bounds of which I am in daily awe. Â I got ahead of myself imagining how sheâ€™d talk about being a better listener; a nicer friend; a more caring big sister. Â I even went so far as to think about how cute those things would sound right here in my blog.
â€śThrow a piece of cracker in the water, sweetie, and say something you want to do better next year,â€ť I encouraged her.
â€śI want to be a better reader!â€ť she said, throwing her first crumbs.
Not quite what I had in mind, so I tried again.
â€śSomething you donâ€™t do so well now, that you are hoping to change,â€ť I suggested.
â€śI want to ride my bike without training wheels!â€ť Another crumb in the water.
I smiled at her aspirations, and I thought about stopping her. Â Going deeper than I had planned into the concept of sin, or even suggesting to her something I thought she could improve.
Then I remembered the old adage about parenting being a marathon, and not a sprint and that really doing something from the heart takes practice. Â This year, when I talked about doing things better, Ruthie thought about her skills. Â Next year, she may interpret my instructions differently. Â Or she may not – at least not yet. Â We donâ€™t do our traditions, we practice them. Â She has to practice Tashlich, and my hope is sheâ€™ll have the chance to practice it for a long time. Â
On Rosh Hashanah afternoon, I stopped myself from getting in my own, and I let her name a few more skill building hopes. Â Then I took my turn alongside and threw in crumbs for less screen time during family time, for being a more patient parent, for appreciating the people I love more and a few more things.
Since that day, though, I have been pondering the idea of practice. Â Because it doesnâ€™t just apply to Rosh Hashanah, or to our spiritual beliefs. Â We canâ€™t change overnight, and luckily we usually get more than one chance to try to do things better. Â So whether it is Tashlich or how I manage my low energy reserve at bedtime, I am going to try to remember that learning something different takes practice. Â If the universe allows it, I will get another year at the river.Â In the interim, I am not going to be better, I am going to practice being better – right alongside Ruthie as she sheds those training wheels, too.
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.
Recently, my family and I attended a â€śSunday in the Park with Bagelsâ€ť event sponsored by Big Tent Judaism, which appeared to be a consortium of Reconstructionist and Reform Jewish organizations, includingÂ InterfaithFamily.
I didnâ€™t research the event beforehand and didn’t know what to really expect. Bagels were a great selling point, of course! But I thought it would just be few families camped out on blankets, eating bagels. I learned about the event from the IFF/Chicago’s Facebook group, and knowing how my family feels about bagels at any time of day, I knew it would be something weâ€™d enjoy, particularly in a park on a nice sunny morning. I had no idea that weâ€™d be a part of a very well-attended and well-thought-out morning of Jewish education and, yes, bagels.
When we arrived, we found more than a dozen tents, each hosted by a local Jewish organization and featuring a food and a craft activity based on a moment in the Jewish liturgical year.
The first table we visited was Rosh Hashanah, and Laurel jumped at the chance to decorate an apple with stickers and crayons, as well as stringing beads on it to make a necklace. We didnâ€™t follow a regular order from table-to-table, as Laurel spent considerable time decorating her apple, and 2-year-old Holly preferred to wander much more speedily from table-to-table in search of games and, preferably, food.
Both children eagerly rolled blue paper around two toilet paper rolls, topped with silver tin-foil points, to make their own tiny Torahs. We found the promised bagels at the Shavuot table, where Rabbi Ari wore a paper crown with green leaves. She helpfully explained that the leaves were a reference to the idea that Mount Sinai had actually been a desert oasis. Both kids ate the bagels with relief and delight! Laurel made a crown, while Holly determinedly stuffed bean bags directly into the goal point of the bean-bag-toss game.
Nearby, we saw representatives wearing gold paper crowns on their heads, and guessed correctly that weâ€™d found Purim. Holly focused on the hamantaschen at the table, while Laurel skillfully decorated the front and back of an appropriately abrasively noisy wooden gregor. We somehow avoided Sukkot, which offered falling-down sukkahs made of graham crackers and melting green icing (in a summery and sugary rendition of a Jewish gingerbread house).
By the time we worked our meandering way to the Shabbat table, I found myself fully in the arts-and-crafts mode, too. At the Shabbat table, the craft consisted of using permanent markers to decorate a challah cover, and I wanted to help little Holly not get permanent marker all over the wrong places (such as her clothes). I grabbed a cut-out of a challah, placed it on the center of the cover, and traced it. Holly scribbled big black lines along the bottom. I grabbed a candlestick and placed it just above and to the left of the challah, and traced it. I was about to trace a Jewish star when I decided it would be really strange not to add the second customary Shabbat candlestick to my challah cover, so I traced a second candlestick as well, and drew a couple of free-hand flames on each. Holly scribbled gleeful blue lines all over the orange challah in the center. When we finished, we all enjoyed a slice of challah to cap the experience.
Working side-by-side with my children, I found an open and accessible entry point into the Jewish childhood I never had, but which my children are clearly enjoying. This version of Judaism centered on food and crafts rather than Torah, Talmud and ritual observance. Certainly, the emphasis came in part from the types of Jewish organizations sponsoring the event, but the end result emphasized Judaism as something accessible and fun for the whole family, even for family members of a different faith. Some of the crafts my kids made, like the challah cover or the gregor, will likely serve a ritual purpose in our home. The crafts allowed even the youngest of children a way to enjoy the Jewish environment.
Even more so, food is the great equalizer. By eating together, people cement their shared allegiance. That morning, it wasnâ€™t the food of kosher laws that brought people together, but the simple act of eating foods in a Jewish contextâ€”from the menorah dripped with too much icing and sprinkles to the off-season hamentaschen (Purim cookie). Food transcended both age and artistic ability: Everyone, of whatever age or background could enjoy a slice of challah or an icing-dipped graham cracker. No wonder the tote bag said â€śWe ‘heart’ Jewish food!â€ť
This is a post about the High Holidays. I know, youâ€™re not ready for them. Neither am I. Itâ€™d be way better if I just left you alone for two months and let you soak up every moment of summer. Good news, then: This is about that, too.
Two years ago, I wrote a post declaring my resolution to unplug on Shabbat for the Year 5774. Two months after that, I wrote and fessed up that I was not doing a very good job at unplugging. It didnâ€™t get much better. Entirely unplugging can be challenging – in my experience, when I really tried to do it, I was surprised to learn how many things I â€śplug inâ€ť to do that I hadnâ€™t fully considered up front.
Limiting screen use and unplugging all together seem like such important goals, ones that I am sure will be on many peopleâ€™s lists as they spend the Days of Awe considering how to be better individuals, and parents, in 5776. While I frame my pitch around High Holiday resolutions, hopefully this concept works across the spectrum of observance, parental status and whatever else makes your situation just a little different.
So I say, get ahead of the ball this summer. Summer is not without its unique screen time challenges. More leisure time for kids can mean more time spent asking for the screen. The lure of an air-conditioned media room can be very seductive when the temperature and humidity climb. And travel can lead to lots more excuses to pull your phone out of your pocket. But on the flip side, consider this tale from my very own July vacation.
Eric and I were very lucky to spend four glorious days in Northern New Mexico celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. While we were in New Mexico, Ericâ€™s family generously looked after our girls, and took them on a fantastic camping adventure high in the Colorado mountains. A kind of wonderful thing occurred in both locations – we had very poor cell service. Forget the challenge (and sometimes stress) of disciplining yourself to use less media – on the whole, our screens didnâ€™t work.Â Not having the optionÂ to plug in was so nice that I used a trick to spendÂ my vacation focused on, well, vacation. When a signal popped up, I put my phone in Airplane Mode. It simulated not having the option of technology (while still letting me snap a few pictures!) and helped me to focus on the task at hand – vacationing, taking in the beauty of my surroundings, and connecting with Eric.
Rocket science, I am sure, but a tip I plan to use again on a campground on Cape Cod, and in the woods of Maine. So I challenge you – take yourself to someplace without a signal, or, if that isnâ€™t your speed, put yourself in Airplane Mode. It wonâ€™t radically change your use of technology, but it is a great way to experiment. And thankfully there are still tons of wonderful places where plugging in is off the table. Where will you go?
This past week, my family stumbled late into the pizza dinner before one of our local congregationâ€™s childrenâ€™s Shabbats. It was a rainy, surprisingly chilly Friday in June, and after a week of no school and being relatively cooped up at home, both children felt more than ready to get out of the house and go to services.
When we arrived, we saw three cars in the parking lot, and immediately wondered if weâ€™d come on the wrong date. Ben pulled out his phone and confirmed that a “Pizza Dinner and Childrenâ€™s Shabbat” was, in fact, listed on the calendar. Inside, a grandfatherly gentleman greeted us in the community hall where at least five tables were set up with silverware, candles, pitchers of water and simple flower arrangements.
But there were no other families! Weâ€™ve been to a couple of other dinners at this synagogue, and weâ€™re usually surrounded by noise and chatter. This time, though, our grandfatherly host quickly informed us that most of the younger part of the congregation was away at camp, hence the empty tables.
Empty tables: Iâ€™m used to this in the summer time, when Protestant congregations empty out for the summer. Sunday schools close for the long break and families find themselves busier than ever with travel, enjoying outdoor markets or early morning bike rides and are otherwise disengaging from organized religion during the warmer months. Some congregations I have known switch from two Sunday services to one, and many ministers might take extended time off during the summer, filling the pulpit with lay or other guest preachers. Although this picture is by no means true for all congregations, in many of the more liberal pews Iâ€™ve sat in, itâ€™s a common scenario.
Iâ€™m still learning to what extent this pattern repeats itself in Jewish congregations as well. When I asked Ben a few years ago if synagogues also closed shop for the summer, comparatively speaking, he surprised me by saying â€śno, they didnâ€™t.â€ť Historically, this pattern makes sense. The majority of Americaâ€™s Jews have always been city dwellers, rather than farmers or rural folk (and farming characterized the majority of the American populace until remarkably recently). The need to help out at the farm meant that American schools closed over the summer, which in turn affected Sunday schools and the calendar of events in Americaâ€™s churches, as well.
In terms of the liturgical calendar, of course, nothing in either the Jewish or Christian traditions suggests that congregations should become quieter over the summer. My daughters would tend to agree. However much they might appreciate summer as a time of expanded freedom, they still crave the comfort and familiarity of a weekly routine.
Although we donâ€™t attend services every week at this point in our lives, both girls sense the familiarity that can be found in a mostly-regular routine or ritual. As outgoing, social kids, they enjoy the company of other children and even of the adults they see when we go.Â Shabbat on Friday nights gives them that comfort,Â no matter whether the sun is up long past their bedtimes, or down long before.
Does your synagogue scale down in the summertime? What do you think about this phenomenon?
Recently, my older daughter Laurel was pretending that her father and I were guests at her house, and we were helping to take care of her while her parents were out at a meeting. She showed me the kitchen, and suggested I might want to make mac nâ€™ cheese for her and her baby sister. Over dinner, she decided to talk about her family.
â€śI am Jewish, and my daddy is Jewish, so we just celebrated Passover,â€ť she said.
â€śOh, that must have been fun,â€ť I replied.
â€śYeah, it was tons of fun!â€ť
â€śWhat other holidays do you celebrate?â€ť I asked, curious to hear how she might answer.
â€śWe also celebrate Hanukkah, of course,â€ť she continued, â€śbut we have Christmas too,â€ť she said, â€śbecause my mommy is Christian.â€ť
â€śOh, really?â€ť I replied. â€śThatâ€™s interesting. I think your mommy told me once that she actually is more of a Unitarian Universalist,â€ť I clarified, thinking fast. Well, UUs historically were Christian, but today, many UUs wouldnâ€™t call themselves Christian, for a variety of reasons, not least because they can’t quite accept some of the central tenets of Christianity. Oh, ack,Â what do I say! Iâ€™m much more of a cultural Christian, I suppose, since I was raised in the Episcopalian church, but, but, butâ€¦ how do I explain this in one sentence, to a 5-year-old!Â
I continued to play along with theÂ conversation. â€śI suppose your mommy is sort of Christian. Sheâ€™s a very, very liberal Christian,â€ť I added. â€śAnd she celebrates Christmas, yes.â€ť Perhaps it would be best to save explanations of nineteenth-century doctrinal changes for a few years, I thought.
When my husband Ben and I first started dating, one of our first outings as a couple was to hear Harvey Cox speak on his book about raising a Jewish child, Common Prayers: Faith, Family, and a Christianâ€™s Journey Through the Jewish Year. Weâ€™d only been dating for a fewÂ weeks, so attending this event seemed kind of significant, and definitely nerve-wracking. What I learned, though, was that Cox and his wife, who is Jewish, decided to raise their son Jewish because of matrilineal descent. When it came to Christmas and other Christian holidays, they would simply tell him that those were his fatherâ€™s holidays.
This sounded like simple enough advice, and something to think more about.
I now know that this suggestion is hardly quite so simple, and that questions of identity will look different for different children as they age.
When Ben and I started to discuss marriage, it also seemed simple to decide that our children, if we were blessed with any, would be Jewish. Or at least thatâ€™s how I remember the conversation going. Weâ€™d just gotten engaged a couple of days earlier, and were sitting on the old green futon that functioned as our first couch back in the grad-school days. I told Ben, â€śIâ€™ve been thinking about this, and since Judaism has an ethnic component to it, as well as a religious one, I think our kids should be raised Jewish.â€ť
I remember the surprise, and the happiness, that I saw in his eyes. â€śReally? Youâ€™d do that? Because Reform Judaism accepts patrilineal descent,â€ť he told me, â€śmeaning that Judaism can pass through the father as well as the mother. Iâ€™m so glad youâ€™re open to this!â€ť
Our ketubah, which we wrote ourselves almost a year after getting engaged, seems to imply a different intention. Iâ€™ve just looked at it hanging there in our living room now, and it clearly expresses our desire to create a home that honors our Jewish and Unitarian Universalist heritages, one that, should we be blessed with children, would â€śhonor justice, respect diversity, love the holy, and make whole the world.â€ť This phrase rather nicely sums up what Ben and I hold most dear, theologically speaking, but nowhere does it say weâ€™re going to raise our children as solely Jewish!
Thatâ€™s funny, I find myself thinking. I thought weâ€™d agreed to raise our kids Jewish? Didnâ€™t I tell Ben that I agreed that we should raise Jewish children?
Or did I mean that I wanted to be sure they had a Jewish identity, even if that identity is only one of the labels a child might choose? After all, we have two Christmas-celebrating Jewish children, childrenÂ who receive Easter cards each spring from still-confused relatives, childrenÂ who this year participated gleefully in their first Easter-egg hunt.
At least, it sounds confusing to me. Iâ€™m not sure itâ€™s confusing to our older daughter. Itâ€™s simply who she is. Just a couple of weeks ago, she was proud to share a box of matzah with her class at school, and on the way home that day, she told me, â€śIâ€™m the only Jewish kid in my school.â€ť Iâ€™m not sure thatâ€™s quite numerically true of the school, even if it is of her classroom. However, what rings more true than a statistic is the extent to which, at this point, Laurel clearly considers herself to be Jewishâ€”and whether sheâ€™d say it this way or not, she knows, too, that itâ€™s not quite that simple.
This week was my Bat Mitzvah Anniversary. Â I always feel a little lighter on my feet on my Bat Mitzvah Anniversary, like it is a mini-birthday that only I celebrate. Iâ€™ve never really talked to anyone about their Bat Mitzvah Anniversary, to find out if other people walk around reflecting on their day when it rolls around each year. There would be something religiously poetic about talking about this coming from a sense of my anniversary being some kind of a spiritual birthday, that I take time on March 25 to re-read my Torah portion, or to go to minyan. But thatâ€™s not really why I feel so light. It’s about a lot of other things; things about family and friends and a shift in how I perceived myself as an individual, Jewish or not.
I may be wrong, but Iâ€™d imagine that for many people who grew up Jewishly, whether you practice Judaism or not as an adult, your anniversary, or at least the memory of your Bar or Bat Mitzvah would carry a little of that. In my estimation, the main difference between having had a Bar Mitzvah and not is not whether or not you ever became an adult, or people ever talked to you about “becoming an adult.” Itâ€™s that if you had a Bar Mitzvah, there was a moment in time that stood out in marking that progression (even if it was years before adulthood set in), rather than the multitude of smaller events that mark the passage from child to teen to adulthood over time for all of us.
So what is my Bat Mitzvah Anniversary about for me? As much as we can recognize that in todayâ€™s society, a child is hardly an adult, or near that, at 13, there are some big things that happen when you become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. First, of course, you are called to the bimah to read from the Torah – the first time you are fully able to do all of the things adults do during religious observance. Through Torah and Dâ€™var Torah (the speech), you make a commitment to begin engaging with your community as an adult – to try out being a grown-up. But the other stuff? Here are a few things:
So perhaps my Bat Mitzvah Anniversary is a mini birthday for my individuality and independence, or perhaps it is just a day to remember how lucky I have been to have lots of great people around me in my life. If you were raised Jewishly, perhaps some of this resonates for you. If you werenâ€™t raised Jewishly, and you have a Jewish partner, or a child who has become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, give them a mazel tov on their anniversary this year.
Over winter break, an inmarried Jewish friend told me that her son was no longer dating the nice Jewish girl from his summer camp. He was now dating a not Jewish girl from his high school. I could tell my friend wasnâ€™t enthusiastic about the relationship.
The following week, I received a message from another inmarried friend with two teenage sons. She had just read about the decision by the USY board to drop its policy prohibiting teen board members from interdating. She asked if I could write about the topic since dating was an extension of the intermarriage conversation.
I sensed that both of my friends were a little anxious about the subject even though they were Reform Jews with open minds, open hearts, and intermarried friends that live Jewishly. I also sensed that they werenâ€™t sure how to talk about interdating, and no one was discussing it with them either. My friends were looking for information and some guidance.
This post is for them and other parents who are navigating teenage interdating. Dealing with adolescent romance is not easy, and the issues of Jewish continuity and intermarriage can add a layer of stress. Here are few things for parents to keep in mind.
Few high school couples marry. Estimates suggest that high school sweethearts comprise only 2% of new marriages, and a 2006 Harris Interactive survey found that only 14% of respondents age 18-27 met their partner in either high school or college. With dating abuse receiving much attention of late, it is more important that your child is in a healthy, positive adolescent relationship than a relationship with someone of the same faith. Talk to your teens; teach them how to date, how to respect themselves and others, and how to protect themselves from abusive behavior.
Critical Jewish experiences are better predictors of future Jewish engagement than the faith of a romantic partner. I note in From Generation to Generation that the level of Jewish activism in a homeâ€“ritual observance, Jewish education and social networksâ€“is a stronger predictor of Jewish continuity than the faith of a love interest or marriage partner. Do you regularly celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish holidays in your home? Do your teens participate in Jewish education post-b’nei mitzvah? Are they involved in Jewish youth organizations and activities? Do they attend Jewish camp? Has your family or teenagers traveled to Israel? Do they have Jewish friends? Answer “yes” to some or all of these questions and it’s likely that your children have a solid Jewish identity and will choose to make a Jewish home, regardless of the religious identity of their mate.
Telling your children â€śdonâ€™tâ€ť wonâ€™t ensure Jewish continuity. In From Generation to Generation, I quote an Orthodox father of five who says, â€śGuaranteeing Jewish identity is the sum of everything you do when you raise your children. Itâ€™s not just telling them donâ€™t.” Simply prohibiting interdating won’t make Judaism important to your children and unless you plan to arrange your childâ€™s dates, you have little control over the identity of his or her romantic partners. But you do have influence. According to Sylvia Barack Fishman, author of The Way into the Varieties of Jewishness, parents have the biggest impact on their children’s Jewishness when they are involved in and show a strong commitment to Jewish activities and regularly explain in an honest manner why they engage in Judaism. Talk to your teen about why Judaism and its continuation is important to you. Share your hope that he or she will want to have a Jewish home and raise Jewish children irrespective of the faith of their partner. Donâ€™t just do this once; make it an on-going conversation. Show them that you mean what you say by engaging in Jewish life in your home and community.
Welcome the stranger. Make an effort to get to know your childâ€™s not Jewish boyfriend or girlfriend and create opportunities for him or her to learn about your family and your childâ€™s upbringing. Invite them to join you for Shabbat dinner, a Passover Seder or High Holiday meal. Ask them to participate in your Hanukkah celebration. Use these occasions to expose your childâ€™s beau to Jewish life, show them that Judaism is important to your family and give them insight into a different tradition. These experiences are an opportunity to break down stereotypes and build understanding and acceptance.
Interdating during the teen years is part of teenage social experimentation, but it can be difficult for parents. Preventing interdating is unrealistic and fearing the future you have little control over is unproductive. Focus your energy on influencing your teen’s connection to Judaism by planting Jewish seeds, nurturing them often and talking about the importance of Judaism in your lives. Not only will this help strengthen your familyâ€™s ties to the Jewish faith today, but it will increase the chances that Judaism will continue to blossom through your children tomorrow.
Last year, Hanukkah came early (remember that once in every 77,000 years Thanksgivukkah Celebration?). Back then, I blogged about how the early Hanukkah was a special gift for interfaith families, allowing those of us who are a union of Christian and Jewish traditions to more easily separate the December holidays and focus on each individually.
This year is a bit more typical, with Hanukkah starting on December 16 and ending on Christmas Eve. With six weeks to go before we dust off the Hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah), I think we have just enough time to keep December from being a dilemma. Like many things in parenting, and life, your best chance to make this happen is to start planning now.
The December holidays are a wonderful time. The lights, be they candles in our windows or lights around our trees, are beautiful. The music is joyful, and the food is both plentiful and sweet. Families and friends are together in celebration, filling homes, street corners and hearts with love and togetherness. The themes of our holidays remind us about some of religionâ€™s most important lessons – faith, hope and the potential for miracles.
The December holidays can also be challenging. Expectations are high, and as parents we are often harried in our attempts to make magic for our children. Feelings of loss sting a bit more strongly for those of us missing a loved one, or out-of-touch with someone with whom weâ€™d like to be in touch. With Christmas movies at the box office and schoolyard chatter a flurry with talk of gifts to be received, there can be a special tension for those of us whose families try to integrate multiple traditions.
I imagine that even if you and your spouse grew up next door to one another, going to the same house of worship and marrying after a long high school courtship, you can find yourselves mismatched in your expectations for December. For interfaith couples of any stripe, these mismatched expectations can be amplified. And for parents for whom being of different faiths doesnâ€™t feel like a big deal from January to November, December puts their different backgrounds front and center. Even if you stand firmly grounded in your personal choices about religion, your kids are bound to throw you off base with a question about why you do or donâ€™t do the same thing as another family they know.
Today, I would like to advocate that you make a plan. It does not need to take up all of November, but better an hour of planning in November than four hours of frustration in December. Here is what I propose.
Buy a bottle of wine. Or better yet, call a sitter. Carve out an hour of time with your partner to talk about what your Hanukkah through Boxing Day calendar will look like, and what youâ€™d like it to be. If youâ€™re not sure, look around your community or online for articles, classes or friends who can help you plan to make the time a period of fun, giving, relaxation and maybe even a little learning.
Some questions that I have seen come up for our family and others during this time, in case you donâ€™t know where to start:
Do that, and then call your own parents. Talk to them about what they hope for, and share what your own hopes are. If you canâ€™t do that, at least share your feelings with whomever will help make the holiday spirit bright for your family.
And then have fun. Eradicate the dilemma from your December, and bring on the holiday cheer. And let me know how it all works out.