Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
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I’ve been trying to figure out how to narrow down the eleventy-seven questions that run through my head this time of year. (Couple that with my work barely coming out of busy season in time for the added holiday stress, and I’m often a real joy to be around this time of year.) I know my household isn’t alone in facing the December Dilemma, and I know we all have unique circumstances in our dilemmas. So, to keep the confusion in my head from just spilling out all over the page here, I’ll try to limit today’s post to just a couple issues.
We live in the Bible belt where, to put it nicely, people just assume you’re Christian. There are no Jewish day schools or daycares near where I live, so Baby goes to “school” at a wonderful daycare near our home. This school uses the A Beka curriculum, which is a Christian-based curriculum. We knew this when we chose the daycare, and we decided it was still the best place for Baby to go while we both work during the day. He’s happy there. His best friend (not coincidentally, the child of one of my best friends) is in his class. The teachers love him, the directors love him, and we’re quite pleased with the care he gets.
The school is warm and caring, and they decorate for all the seasons and holidays. Christmas is no exception. Yes, you read that right. Christmas is no exception. There are no menorahs or other Hanukkah decorations. There are no Kwanzaa decorations. It’s all snowflakes and Santa and stockings and trees. (At least it’s all “secular” Christmas decorations, even though many of you – my husband included – will tell me there’s no such thing as “secular” Christmas decorations. I hope we can agree to disagree on that for just this minute.) It’s festive and fun, and Baby LOVES the snowflakes and blue ball ornaments hanging from the ceiling all down the hall. As the Christian parent in the family, this actually doesn’t bother me…except…Baby is Jewish. Should it bother me? Should I request that the adorable Santa face outside the classroom that has Baby’s name on it be replaced with a Star of David or a menorah? We’ve not been overt about Baby’s religion, nor do we feel we need to be…should we be? Would it make things awkward at school? Should it matter to me if it does?
Bottom line, I know that the quality of care Baby gets at his school is the most important thing, and that he’s happy there. And I know that one day – or even one “season” (in the sense of the Christmas season) – won’t make him any less Jewish, if his Daddy and I do our jobs right as interfaith-parents-raising-a-Jewish-child. But still, these types of questions nag at the back of my mind. I’d love to hear thoughts from others in similar situations out there.
As everyone who is reading this already knows, December is probably the most stressful/crazy/anxiety-ridden time of the year. Or at least that’s what everyone wants you to feel. Especially if you are intermarried or if you grew up in an interfaith family. The questions – What are you doing for the holidays? Do you have a tree? Do your kids believe in Santa? Do your kids get presents for both holidays? Maybe it’s because I have been intermarried for 10 years and have had kids for the last 7, but thankfully I do not have a dilemma in December. This is due to my amazing husband, in-laws and extended family and because we really did and continue to do the work to secure this non-dilemma situation during this crazy time of the year. We celebrate Chanukah in our house and Christmas at my in-laws and extended family. We each have our own menorah and bring it with us when the holidays overlap. We have a great time and so do our kids. While my in-laws celebrate Christmas as a truly religious one, we celebrate it as a truly fun day or two to spend with family – exchange gifts – and eat cinnamon buns.
The first year we were married, and I didn’t observe my family’s Jewish Christmas tradition of going to the movies and going out for Chinese food – unique, I know – I was completely overwhelmed by the gifts. My in-laws are completely non-materialistic people so that made me even more taken aback. Chanukah in my family was one nice gift and a bunch of little things for the rest of the seven nights. Thankfully after we had kids, the bulk of the presents went to them – rightfully so – but I still haven’t been able to make my own peace with all of the presents. Even today, I went to Macy’s in our local mall for a Chanukah Family Fest and was simply in shock at how many people were at the mall and all of the shopping bags they were walking out with. Not that I am anti-gifts – my kids would never forgive me for that. In fact, I am done with my shopping and I bought almost all of the gifts at non-commercial places like independent toy stores and book stores – crowds make me a little crazy plus I am a bad decision-maker so smaller stores with fewer options work out better for me.
The first couple of years with our kids at Christmas, I was slightly adamant about their gifts being wrapped in non-Christmas paper: something wintery was fine – snowflakes or snowmen – and I definitely didn’t want any gifts from Santa – only from Grammy & Poppy. I am beyond grateful that my in-laws respected my wishes – and humored me. I also feel that my husband and I have done our job as parents for the other 364 days out of the year so one day is not going to make a lasting impact in their identity.
Now our 7 year old is the one asking questions – Why aren’t stores decorated for Chanukah? Why do only people who celebrate Christmas put up lights in their yard? Why do more people celebrate Christmas than Chanukah? Is Santa real? My husband and I try to answer these questions with simple yet truthful answers and in a way to let him know that we know these things can be hard to understand. The Santa one is the hardest because it is such an honest question and one that we don’t want him to ruin for his friends – kind of like the tooth fairy. It’s a tough one – what do you tell your kids?
It’s been a crazy few weeks since my last post where I described my 7 year old’s 10 day sickness. About a week after he finally recovered, I got the flu and a horrible cough – not normal since I usually get sick once every 5 years. Then the weekend of Halloween, the Northeast, and Connecticut in particular, got hit with a crazy and very unexpected Fall snowstorm that left a foot of snow on the ground and us and most of our friends without power for 10 – 12 days. School was cancelled for 7 full days – not normal. The JCC, where I work, was closed for 10 days so I had no work and my 2 year old son had no day care – not normal. Halloween was cancelled in our town and many others close-by due to downed trees, branches and power lines – not normal. And we moved in with my in-laws for 8 days – definitely not normal! Don’t get me wrong – I love my in-laws – but to be in someone else’s home, with no schedule, strange sleeping arrangements and no routine was tough on all of us. Many of my friends and co-workers left town to stay with friends or relatives in other states and those who did stay or had generators had multiple families over to shower, eat hot meals, charge their phones and computers and simply warm up on a daily basis. Things that we all had planned to enjoy in these 10 days were cancelled – my son’s Consecration ceremony where he and all of his first grade classmates receive their own Torahs, soccer games, family get-togethers and birthday parties. Finally when power was restored to our home, places of work and to our schools – things were FINALLY back to normal. I had never wanted to go to work that badly in my entire life!
I also had a chance to reflect on the word “normal” at a training I attended in Boston last week for Jewish educators who work with intermarried couples and families. The training started off with a panel of four intermarried couples who were all raising their children as Jews and had all found synagogues that they consider “home”. They seemed to all feel normal as intermarried families in these synagogues because these synagogues and clergy were warm, welcoming, caring and respectful of them as an intermarried family – like any other family who is a member at that synagogue.
This got me thinking about how I feel like a perfectly normal family in my synagogue and in the Jewish community at large. Our synagogue has many intermarried families as does the JCC pre-school where my younger son attends. I get asked all the time by JCC members that I have just met “Are you Jewish?” because of my last name – MacGilpin. When my husband and I got married I knew that I wanted to take his name because I felt like one day if we had kids, I wanted us all to have the same last name. At that time, about 10 years ago, Soledad O’Brien was the news anchor on the TODAY Show and I thought, if she could have a Spanish and Irish name then I could have a Hebrew and Scottish name. Completely normal, right?
Since moving back to Atlanta, my husband and I have been running around like madmen buying furniture, reconnecting with old friends, traveling to see family, settling into our jobs and new house and preparing for the kid-to-be.
Hectic is the theme of our life right now. Between CPR classes, baby showers, doctor appointments and pediatrician interviews, this tiny little baby in my belly has already squarely established himself as center of our attention. But we’re okay with that… he’s just so darn cute.
This morning was no different as it was our first meeting with a rabbi of a local synagogue to discuss joining the temple and his views on intermarriage and conversion. We’ve attended services at this synagogue a few times and both felt very comfortable, not an easy task for a family quite like ours.
After the usual formalities, our discussions varied from homosexuality and Hebrew school philosophies to Israeli politics and what makes someone Jewish. It was not exactly what I expected, but I enjoyed the conversation immensely. He shared personal stories of his own interfaith family (he is married to a Jew-by-choice) and inquired about our experience. His views on intermarriage and conversion meshed well with our own and his questions for us even made us stop and think about issues we’ve never considered… Again, not an easy task when it comes to two people who have had nearly 10 years to discuss everything under the sun (and believe me we both are known to be quite the talkers).
The rabbi, of course, asked me why I haven’t considered conversion and listened without judgment or interruption as I explained my personal decision not to convert. Yes, my conversion would make everything easier and on the practical level makes complete sense. I mean, I already live in a Jewish household, keep kosher, celebrate Jewish holidays, attend synagogue, know Hebrew and even lived in Israel for a year. Come on, it is all right there!
But I’m not looking for easy. I’m not looking for practicality when it comes to my spiritual needs. I’m looking for a relationship with G-d. My own faith fulfills that need and until it doesn’t and until I find I am fulfilled by Judaism, I have no plans to convert. He accepted my reasoning under the caveat that the discussion, not only for conversion purposes, but for the overall role of religion and spirituality in our lives between us as a couple, our families, our community and internally never be over. As a true believer in the art of good communication and continued personally growth, I fully agreed. I don’t expect us to know the answers to every hurdle we may face as a family and I want someone in our religious community I can trust to help us navigate the path ahead.
I hope we have found a home temple where we both feel comfortable, where my husband and our children can grow in their Judaism, where we can find a community of acceptance and support and leaders who guide us to better ourselves as a family.
Having a baby has flipped our world upside down in hundreds of ways already and I can’t wait to see what this little guy has in store for us next. He is making us better and opening our eyes to our greater potential every single day.
Before leaving us with a firm handshake, another date to discuss a mohel, a few booklets and a membership packet, the rabbi said he hoped he’d see us in services very soon. I think he just may.
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – no – not Christmas and not back to school – but back to Hebrew School. Remember that amazing Staples commercial from a few years back with the dad dancing through the store while tossing school supplies into the cart with the song playing in the background? Well that’s how I feel now that it’s back to Hebrew School for my almost 7-year-old first grader. My family joined a wonderful Reform synagogue in our area last year, just before my son started Kindergarten. He had been at the JCC for daycare and preschool since he was 10 months old, so on a weekly and daily basis he got all of the loveliness of being at a Jewish school – Shabbat, challah, Jewish holidays, songs, crafts, PJ library books, Shabbat box, etc. I also work at that JCC so we got plenty of opportunities to participate in Jewish activities. So when he wasn’t going to be getting that from school we felt we needed to step up to the plate and choose a synagogue and choose to send him to Hebrew School on Sunday mornings.
I don’t have particularly strong or happy feelings about my own Hebrew school days and my husband is Episcopalian so his Sunday school was completely different – although probably similar in many ways – holidays, bible stories, music, prayers. We both wanted our son to enjoy his time at Hebrew School but wasn’t sure that was going to happen based on our own experiences. Many people I know have said, “Well, I went to Hebrew School, so now my son/daughter is going to go – whether they like it or not”. In our case, I think the “liking it” factor has definitely gone beyond my son – I actually like it.
I like it because he gets to spend time with other Jewish kids on a weekly basis – solely for the purpose that they are all Jewish and that their families think it’s important to have a Jewish education. I like it because he gets to learn more about the holidays, prayers and Hebrew than I am able teach him. I like it because it gives my husband and me another Jewish community to belong to. I like it because the families there are all Jewish, yet all different in their own way – whether the parents are both Jewish, intermarried, gay, single parents or adoptive parents. I also like it because our temple invites the parents to join the service every Sunday at 11 am. I am able to see my son listening to the rabbi, going up on the bimah to lead songs and see his Jewish education in action.
The best part for me is that I really enjoy the service myself – and I am not one to go to temple on a weekly basis on my own – no regular temple go-er here. I love the songs and the sign language that the rabbi and cantor teach the kids. I love connecting to Judaism through music and the absolute best part is the last song of the service. It’s Tefilat Haderech by Debbie Friedman z”l and the rabbi asks everyone to “hold someone close to you” – and simultaneously all the kids put their arms around their friend’s shoulders and join in singing. It brings me to tears – almost every time – to see this and to see my son grab his friends swaying in song. It brings me back to my days at Jewish sleep away camp – which hold a special place in my heart. It also brings to mind my dad, who passed away 2 years ago, and how proud he would be of me and my husband for choosing this kind of education and Jewish path for our family.
I also have to be honest and say that I also like having two hours to clean the house, go to Trader Joe’s and Target, go to the gym or spend quality time with our 2-year-old son. I’m not going to lie – its pretty great. But I mostly look forward to the 11:00 hour when I can be in the sanctuary and be an active participant in the Hebrew school service.
HI! Welcome to the Interfaith Parenting blog. Since we are starting with introductions, I will take a moment to introduce myself and my brood. I am the non-Jewish partner in an interfaith family. When my husband and I got married, we were told: It will never last, you will get divorced, it is doomed, interfaith marriages never work out, don’t get married unless you convert. Having just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, I want to say pppbbbttt to all the nay-sayers! We are still going strong and I would be very surprised if we divorced because he is Jewish and I am not.
I am still not Jewish. I really don’t plan to become Jewish. It isn’t part of what I want to do for me. It isn’t part of my reality. That does not mean that I don’t drive the kids to Religious School every week, make challah for Shabbat, take them to temple… alone, and do what a “real” Jewish mother would do. My relationship with G-d is mine, and it isn’t Jewish.
We have three wonderful, Jewish children, two boys (11 and 8) and a girl (5, almost 6 (she wanted me to say that)). They are more than Jewish, but living in what seems to be the epicenter of Christianity, I find that describing them as Jewish happens more often than not. Oh the looks I get when I tell people that our babysitter is going to Israel for a semester and wants to be a rabbi.
As a family we struggle to educate people that Christmas is a Christian holiday, that Santa Claus does not go to shul and that Easter is not for everyone. One of my biggest surprises was going into my son’s kindergarten class and asking how many of them had heard of Hanukkah. It was shocking how many really didn’t know anything about it. Our challenge is to teach people about tolerance, and we believe that education is the route to that.
We are also embarking on many life cycle events: our oldest started middle school and is preparing for a
Hope you take some time to put us in your RSS reader and keep coming back. It is a great group of bloggers.
I am another one of the fab parenting bloggers. I am actually a parent in waiting… due in 3 days! (Will baby be on time? That’s a different story.)
I am Jewish and grew up mostly culturally Jewish. We had three sets of dishes in the house, milk, meat and treif. We went to my grandparents’ for Shabbos (by car) and the synagogue was reserved for High Holidays.
My husband is not Jewish. He grew up… well, kind of non-denominational. Technically Catholic, his parents forced Sunday school on him in his early years but then they weren’t committed to any religion.
After much research and discussion, my husband and I have decided to raise our little guy as a Jew. Add to this journey, that I have been growing more observant, in that I have been actually keeping Shabbat (no driving, no electricity). My husband has agreed to follow suit once the little one is here (to avoid confusion).
How will this all work out? Don’t know. But I do have a lot of questions!
P.S. You can read some of my articles describing my spiritual journey on InterfaithFamily.com
Well, hello! I wanted to take a couple quick minutes to introduce myself as one of the Parenting bloggers. First, I suppose, I should cover the basics. I’m a non-Jew (Christian, United Methodist) married to a Jewish man (Bryan). We actually blogged here together on the Weddings blog a few years ago. We have three boys; for now I’ll call them Bubba, Bear, and Baby. (English major nerd alert; I like alliteration.)
Here’s where it gets complicated… Baby is Jewish, Bubba and Bear are not. How is this, you ask? Well, Bubba and Bear are my stepsons. (Believe me, I’d love to claim them fully as my own because they are truly that wonderful!) Their mother is not Jewish, and she and Bryan decided that they would expose the boys to both religions and let them decide when they were old enough. How we came to the decision (okay, really, how I came to the decision, and yes, it really was my decision) for Baby to be Jewish really could be a post by itself; in fact, I think it will be!
To make our lives even more fun, we have a large extended family. My side is Christian: United Methodist and Catholic. Bryan’s parents are divorced and both remarried. His dad’s side is Jewish (his step-mom converted from United Methodist before she and my FIL married). His mom converted to Judaism before marrying my FIL, but was then re-baptized before she married Bryan’s step-dad. Did you follow all that? And that’s the “simplified” version.
So, you can see I have LOTS of interfaith learning experiences coming my way. In fact, I imagine I’ll gain more wisdom from my Parenting co-bloggers (is that a word?) and our readers than I impart. I hope to at least make it an even trade. So, with that, what’s on your mind?