Connecting Interfaith Families to Jewish Life in Greater Cleveland by providing programs and opportunities for interfaith families to experience Judaism in a variety of venues, meet other interfaith families, and to connect to other Jewish organizations that may serve their needs.
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.
As I pulled into the parking lot at the temple, I was amused by the fact that my van, which is being held together by duct tape, string, paper clips and prayer, was parked next to a new Porsche. The juxtaposition of the two vehicles seemed to represent how I felt about going into my son’s Bar Mitzvah meeting. I was a little nervous and didn’t feel like I fit in.
I walked in, saw familiar faces, said some hellos, got my folder, sat down and whipped out my knitting. I knit when I am nervous. The meeting started right on time (odd, I know). The Rabbi asked us to introduce ourselves and tell a story about our experience with Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. I have no story. The only story I have is the one I am telling you all right now. Knit, knit, knit. I messed up the introduction. Knit, knit, knit.
The Rabbi begins to go over everything. He talks about how each ceremony is structured to fit the needs of each child and their family. I am still knitting, but it is slowing. I am starting to feel calmer, or maybe the magnitude of the whole event is just so overwhelming that I am in shock, hard to tell. More talking. Eventually, there is a need for some paper shuffling and I put my knitting away. I am starting to think this is doable. Planning is something I am good at.
Just as the calm is beginning to settle in, the dates are handed out. I am not sure what I expected, but what was printed on that green index card was a shocker for me. I think I expected that the Bar Mitzvah date would be within a few weeks of my son’s birthday, not almost three months later. I am sure that the fact that an actual date makes all of this real also contributed. I was shell-shocked by the information on the card.
I could have requested a date. I didn’t do that. I just figured they would give us the right date. It is two years from now, so really, I don’t have anything scheduled. When I got the date, all the days that would have been bad flooded my mind. The anniversary of my father’s death is in the same month as Mac’s bar mitzvah, but it never occurred to me to request it to not be on that date, it was so far away from Mac’s birthday.
While driving home I called a friend and freaked out a bit. She listened to me go on, and then calmly reminded me that this is G-d’s party and that what will be will be. The people that are important will be there. That this is about more than just dates and the potential for blizzards to cause havoc with travel plans. That in the end, it will be ok, Mac will do great, and everyone who needs to be there will be there. The people that love him will come.
I asked her to remind me of this over the next two years when I am having some sort of cosmic meltdown. I also am laying in a goodly supply of yarn, just in case.
When my husband and I told our kids last weekend that we were going to attend a wedding, they were mildly interested. “Whose?” asked our 12-year-old, barely looking up from the book she was reading. But when we answered with two men’s names, she perked up. “Really? That’s so cool!” Yep, we said, it IS really cool. It was super cool for us, because it was a Jewish wedding in a synagogue close to our home and filled with neighbors, friends and various members of the community.
More than two hundred people gathered to celebrate the marriage of two men who have been devoted to each other for 21 years. They walked down the aisle together, they stood beneath the chuppah together, and best of all, they each broke a glass together! The rabbi did a wonderful job of honoring their relationship and talking about their commitment to each other as a model that any couple–gay or straight–could aspire to.
I have to say it was one of the most joyful events I have ever attended. At one point almost every single person was on the floor dancing while an amazing band played away. There was a couple next to us who appeared to be in their 70s, and my friend and I just jumped gleefully up and down. “This is so fun!” I shouted over the thump of the music. But it was not only fun, it felt liberating, because we all recognized that we were participating in an important event. My favorite moment came when both men danced with their mothers while a friend crooned Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
A sister of one of the grooms delivered the best line of the evening in her toast: “Here’s to the day when we won’t be celebrating a gay wedding, we’ll just be celebrating a wedding.”
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.
According to the Talmud, when the Israelites lived in the wilderness the miracle of manna (bread) was given every morning at dawn and every morning a dew rose and encased the manna, protecting it until it could be harvested. Without this protection the Israelites would have starved.
I always assumed that miracles were large, cinematic and powerful – creation, falling Pharaohs, splitting seas and the like. But the thought that miracles must be nurtured immediately resonated with me. It reminded me of adoption.
Adoption is all about nurturing hope, protecting it even when it seems entirely unreasonable. Sometimes adoption feels like waiting in a train station where occasionally there is a shout “all aboard the baby train, platform 3!” Gathering my heart and a stomach full of butterflies (the best and only appropriate luggage for this type of journey), I run to meet my destiny but every time, thus far, only emptiness waits at the top of the stairs when I arrive.
In my last blog post I said I had just finished my home study which is true but not accurate. This is my second home study. The first adoption, an international program, is “on-hold” as the adoption agency would term it – I call it closed because I don’t believe it will ever bring me a child. After a year, I accepted the inevitable, cried my tears, and moved on.
So I started over with a domestic adoption program and today….they called me. I was between meetings at the time and so had to speak in hushed tones in a hallway but it was THE CALL. I will soon meet two boys, brothers, available for adoption. Maybe as soon as this week-end.
Talking to the amazingly calm social worker (I was anything but calm!), I realized how much has gone into protecting the miracle of this moment: all the ordinary days, making yet another call to the agency, reading one more book on adoption, buying a crib, storing sippy cups in a drawer and just continuing to imagine a child calling me “Mommy.” But today… at least for today… I can see the miracle
From Tel Aviv to Atlanta: After our goodbyes were said, a few tears, a 12 hour flight and 16 hour unexpected roadtrip down the Eastern seaboard, my husband, baby and I are officially ex-expats. The move from Israel back to the United States was a little tougher on me physically than I expected. Sometimes I do forget I have to slow down a bit more than usual as I have hit my final trimester, but we are finally settling in nicely. With cars purchased, house rented and boxes unpacked, we are now focusing on everything we have to do to prepare for our son.
Besides the usual, like the bi-monthly prenatal appointments, showers, birthing classes and decorating the nursery, we are beginning to research mohels to perform the circumsicion, a rabbi to perform the conversion and local synagogues to find the perfect fit for our growing interfaith family (in the middle of the High Holidays mind you!). There is a lot to do in the next three months, but I think we’re up for the challenge.
I have already noticed little differences with being pregnant in the States than in Israel. Because the birth rate in Israel is higher than in the U.S., I would see pregnant women everywhere and now I feel as if I rarely see another pregnant woman on any given day. In Israel, my OB was very dependent on technology and genetic testing to track the progress of my pregnancy. I had an ultrasound and a blood or genetic test at nearly every appointment while in Israel, while my new OB in the States will only perform one ultrasound and will rely primarily on tracking my symptoms, weight and growth for the rest of my pregnancy.
Oh and of course, Americans are far more aware of personal space than Israelis so the belly rubbing and uninvited advice from strangers has slowed quite a bit since moving back. I have to tell you, I actually kind of miss it!
A home study is required for all adoptions. Last week, the social worker did the final walk through of my apartment (mind you, this is after a 4 hour interview) to make sure I had enough room for a child (check), indoor plumbing (check) and there are no obvious safety hazards in my home like a wood-chipper in the living room (check). Then the social worker said something incredible: “go forth and buy furniture.”
Until now the baby room has stood completely empty. I thought it would be easier to look at all that open space instead of an empty crib every day. I’m overjoyed to be this close to having a child in my home but….how exactly do I create a Jewish nursery? As someone who chose Judaism as an adult, I’ve never seen one.
I do have a few ideas:
– a framed picture of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walking with Dr. Martin Luthuer King, Jr. - it’s never too early to start teaching about tzedukah (justice)
– the aleph bet – the sooner he/she starts learning those squiggly letters the better
– lots of Jewish books – obviously
– a large Barney with a kippah (skullcap) – what…no?
Clearly, I need some help so I’m turning to you. (Yes, you who are reading this right now.) What belongs in a Jewish nursery? What should a Jewish child see every morning upon opening her/his eyes?
Please give (comment) generously. All advice accepted and appreciated!
When Bryan and I started talking long-term, I blurted out carefully and tactfully broached the subject of whether he’d want to raise any children we might have as Jews. And, since I’m not Jewish and currently have no plans to convert (nor have I been asked or pressured to), I’m sure my question threw Bryan for a loop. He thought for a minute and said, “Well, I never really thought I’d have that option, especially since Bubba and Bear aren’t.” That was the beginning of our faith discussions.
Never having expected an interfaith relationship to become the love of my life, I had never really thought about what religion I’d raise my children. I took it for granted that they’d be raised the same way I was, in the Christian faith. Now, I needed to think about it, seriously, carefully, prayerfully. I realized that it was important to me to raise a child with one religion. But which one? How do you make that call? If you’re going to raise a child in one faith when there are two faiths in the home, the parents have to agree on which faith to instill. I knew Bryan wouldn’t feel comfortable raising a child in only the Christian faith. However, he was quite comfortable raising Baby the same way that Bubba and Bear are being raised (exposed to both Judaism and Christianity). So, it was on me to decide what I was really comfortable with, and what was truly important to me.
After some initial study and lots of talking together, I told Bryan that I thought I wanted to raise our kids Jewish. He was floored. He insisted that I take more time – MUCH more time – to think about it, study more, and really be sure I knew what I was getting into. We found a synagogue and rabbi with whom we felt comfortable (Congregation Beth Israel). We took an Intro to Judaism course at that synagogue. We found InterfaithFamily.com. We read. A LOT. We got engaged and started premarital counseling with both our rabbi and a minister. We studied some more.
Bryan gave me plenty of time for an “out.” I took several more months to study, learn more, and make my decision. As I learned more about Judaism, I realized that the basics of the two faiths were very similar. (Yes, I know that oversimplifies it, but work with me here; this is a blog post, not a thesis… hopefully.) And it came down to this: I feel very comfortable with the Jewish faith. It’s the basis for my own religion, and the major tenets of being a good person and doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing are the same values I was raised with. Yes, there is the major difference of whether Jesus was or was not the Messiah, but for me, that argument has become less important than the emphasis that both religions place on doing the right thing, acting in the right way, and just in general being a good person.
There really was so much more that went into my thoughts and decisions, but like I said, this is a blog post, and I fear I’ve gone on too long already. I’m happy to answer any specific questions anyone might have (yes, Baby had a Brit Milah ceremony on his 8th day). But, what I hope you’ve gotten from this feeble attempt at explanation is that my decision was entered into willingly, with lots of thought, study, and prayer behind it. I didn’t come to my decision to be any kind of martyr or “give a gift” to the Jewish side of the family, or to disregard my own past or heritage. I simply felt in my heart that it was the right decision for me, for our family, and now, for Baby. It’s not always easy for me or my non-Jewish family (that’s another post altogether), but it’s the right decision for us.
Someday, when I finally adopt, my child will be converted to Judaism. This is, of course, necessary and halakhic (according to Jewish law) and even joyful but somewhere, beyond the bounds of reason, there is a corner of my heart that rebels against it. The other day I figured out why.
Adoptive parents have already warned me: wherever I am, Wal-Mart or shul (synagogue), with the child by my side or not, and especially if we are a transracial family, people will ask, “is he/she adopted?” And then some will question “what happened to his real mother?” or “didn’t her real family want her?” (As incredible as this sounds, I’ve never talked to any adoptive parent that has not had this type of experience.) Whether this is callousness or simple ignorance, adoptive parents face a struggle to become real, recognized as legitimate parents, attached to their children with a bond every bit as unbreakable as biology.
So I imagine that moment at the mikvah, my child and I entering the water and blessings and Jewishness, and my heart fractures between joy and resentment. I think “but I’m the Jewish Mommy so isn’t my child Jewish too? And if I am why do I need a ritual to confirm this?” Am I not the real mother? Am I not the real Jewish mother?
This is when being a Jew by Choice (JBC) makes things easier. I converted 2 ½ years ago so most of my life has been lived as a non-Jew. Our sages taught that that a convert should never be pointed out in public as a convert, but there are times when it’s right to do so. When Passover rolls around my Jewish friends know I don’t have a family to celebrate with so they invited me to their seders. Several of my friends also serve as simultaneous Yiddish translators at Torah study because they know that I didn’t learn mama loshen (the mother tongue; Yiddish) at my grandmother’s knee. This is a great hesed (act of loving kindness) that speaks to both being a member of the community and being a convert.
The other day, these two threads of thought, my child’s conversion and my experience as a JBC, crossed and that unwilling, hurting corner of my heart healed. By converting my child I am acknowledge that child’s whole life: a non-Jewish origin and her/his Jewish beginning, as my child and as adopted. Going to the mikvah does not submerge any part of his/her identity or mine but allows both embrace who we really are – a great gift that this real Jewish mother can give with all her heart.
Deciding upon a name for your child can be one of the most fun and most stressful experiences parents-to-be can face during nine months of pregnancy. Honoring family members, naming after favorite authors or television characters and the age old close-your-eyes-spin-three-times-and-point-to-a-name-in-the-baby-book are all perfectly good methods of deciding on the name of your child.
Even after all those discussions, you have to go through the obligatory fail-safe name rules:
“Nope, can’t use that as the middle name… look what the initials spell.”
“No, that name rhymes with a part of the anatomy I do not want associated with my sweet child.”
“Hannah Hannah Bo Bana… Fi Fy Fo Fanna, Hannah!”
On top of all this, we, as an interfaith couple, have had extra “rules” to follow.
First, of course, our Jewish child should have a Hebrew name. Per my husband’s Ashkenazi side, the baby cannot be named after a living relative, but should honor a relative that has passed on. Per my husband’s Sephardic side, we should name after a living relative so that person may enjoy the honor. Per my husband’s Israeli family, our child should have a modern Israeli name. Per my husband’s Orthodox family, only traditional names from the Torah are acceptable.
Confused yet? Then we have to take into account my husband’s particular sensitivity to names since he grew up with a very traditional Israeli name in the United States that turned out to be the name of a Disney character while he was in third grade… a girl Disney character. Poor guy. So since we plan on living in Israel and the United States during the child’s life, the name has to work in both Hebrew in English (sorry: Nimrod, Dudu and Moron are out!).
Plus, my American family has to be able to pronounce this Hebrew name (not an easy task with Southern accents).
After months of searching, throwing out names, rediscussing names, arguing and maybe just a few pregnancy hormone induced tears, we finally have a name for our child!! Baruch Hashem! We happily share the name with our family. Yes, sharing the name before the brit milah is a big no-no, but I think we deserve a break on this one. What do you know? They hate it.
One of the teachers at Baby’s school (aka daycare) was killed in a car accident last weekend. She was much loved at the school and has a daughter who would have moved up to Baby’s class in the next week or so. (That child is safe with her grandma, out of school right now.)
While I’m thankful that Baby is too young to comprehend this loss; my own confusion on how to react has me thinking about his confusion when situations like this–death–arise in the future. Death, unexpected or not, is confusing enough for adults and adults of one faith. How much more so will it be for Baby as he grows, when he’ll be dealing with two faiths? While he’s being raised with a Jewish identity, half of his family is not Jewish. Plus, we live in the Bible Belt, where most people assume you’re like they are and that words like “He/she is safe and at peace with Jesus now” will give you as much comfort as it gives them. How will we help him navigate the well-meant condolences of others, and offer his own? How will we help him understand (far, far in the future, G-d willing) that we’ll sit Shiva for Bubbe and Zayde and Grandma and Grandpa D, but not for Granny and Popi or Grandma and Grandpa G? (Or, wait, will we sit Shiva for Granny and Popi because they’re Daddy’s Mommy and Stepdaddy, even though Granny and Popi aren’t Jewish? See? Confusing!)
Probably people are going to tell me not to worry about these things yet; that there’s lots of time to figure it out, and they’re probably right. I HOPE AND PRAY they’re right. But as time and this blog goes on, you might discover I’m a bit of a planner. And while this is hopefully very long-term planning, it’s still something I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on. How would you/have you handled it in your own families?
(Author’s note: I promise to not post such “downer” topics all the time. This is just something that, sadly, has been on my heart since I found out Monday.)