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I have not posted here in a little while. In part, because the business of life has caught up with me, and, in part, because in the midst of huge changes in this country, inspiration is not coming as quickly. But I can‚Äôt miss a chance to embrace this Valentine‚Äôs Day. ¬†
You may call it a Hallmark holiday, or a day reserved for lovebirds, but as you may have read before, I disagree. Valentine‚Äôs Day is a day you can chose to dread or relish, or anything in-between. This year, as February 14 approaches I am hoping we can use it as a reminder that we all can actively #ChooseLove, and see if we can find some joy and maybe even understanding.
Remember when you were in elementary school, and had to spend all afternoon the day before Valentine‚Äôs Day making sure you had a card for every other kid in your class? Or remember last year, when you stayed up late finishing your child‚Äôs class cards? The Valentine‚Äôs Day of early childhood isn‚Äôt just about your romantic partner, it‚Äôs about your friends (and maybe some kids who aren‚Äôt really friends at all). It might be about buying things–cards, stickers, candy–but it is also about performing a gesture of caring for the people around you.
We are living in a time of tremendous divides in our country and our communities. Be it politics, faith, country of origin or some other line that separates one from another, this is a great time to #ChooseLove. You can choose whatever you want for your February 14: a hot date with your partner, a boycott of the Hallmark store, a giant candy heart to share or not to share, but I‚Äôd encourage you to think of it as a chance to try to see your friends, neighbors, colleagues or the strangers in your life with love. ¬†
Just like writing Valentine‚Äôs cards for your classmates, it is easier to do this for some people than others. But I believe that the act of trying to extend love can bring us closer together, or, at the very least, warm our hearts just a bit more than the day before Valentine‚Äôs or the day after. So will you try it with me? ¬†
By Judy Mollen Walters
My 22-year-old daughter is seriously involved with a wonderful guy. He‚Äôs smart, funny, kind, and they just click. He lives in England, so they only get to visit every eight weeks or so, and have been flying back and forth to each other‚Äôs countries since they met while my daughter was on a semester abroad trip a couple of years ago. Video chats and texting and phone calls have been their lifelines. I‚Äôve spent time with them together, observing them, and they are very much in love.
Last week, I bumped into an acquaintance at the grocery store. I hadn‚Äôt seen her in a year or so‚ÄĒher children and my younger daughter had been in the same high school class. We chit chatted a bit, catching up on how the kids were all doing, adjusting to their first year of college. Then she asked me about my older daughter. How was she doing, what was she up to? I told her about my daughter‚Äôs graduate school work and how hard it is but how she is excelling. Her next question was, ‚ÄúIs she seeing anyone special?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYes,‚ÄĚ I responded enthusiastically. I told her all about the lovely boyfriend with the charming British accent and the incredible commitment each of them have made to keeping their relationship alive. She leaned down then (I am short!) and whispered, ‚ÄúBut is he Jewish?‚ÄĚ
This was a Jewish woman with a Catholic husband who had raised three kids with both traditions‚ÄĒb‚Äônai mitzvot for her children one year, communions the next. The question she asked was not made in light or silliness or fun. It was dead serious.
‚ÄúNo,‚ÄĚ I said, feeling uncomfortable.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs OK,‚ÄĚ she said, ‚Äúsince he‚Äôs a great guy.‚ÄĚ
I turned the conversation back to her children and her life and left the grocery store quite disillusioned. But not shocked. Or even surprised. Because the fact is, I‚Äôve been getting this question from Jewish friends‚ÄĒeven if they had married someone of another faith or don‚Äôt care about being Jewish personally‚ÄĒfor the entire two-plus years my daughter and her boyfriend have been dating. It is often the first question out of their mouths‚ÄĒbefore ‚ÄúDo you like him?‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúWhat does he do for a living?‚ÄĚ or even, ‚ÄúHow do you feel about him living in England?‚ÄĚ
Then there is the inevitable pitying look they give me‚ÄĒas though I somehow screwed up in raising my daughter. As though my life is going to be terrible if my daughter marries this man who may be her beshert. And that feeling hurts.
So I‚Äôve asked myself the question a dozen times, maybe more‚ÄĒam I uncomfortable if my daughter marries someone who’s not Jewish? I‚Äôm strongly Reform Jewish. I love the holidays and look forward every year to making Passover for 16 people with all of the classic dishes and a simple, short Haggadah. I enjoy toasting the Jewish New Year and take the days of awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur very seriously. I enjoy lighting the candles and making latkes at Hanukkah and giving the children in my life gifts. I feel very Jewish. I use Jewish values in my everyday life and let them guide me when I feel I need guidance. Those values inform how I treat others, how I think about the world, and how I choose my political affiliations.
My husband is Jewish. We raised our children in a very purposeful, Jewish way. They started Hebrew school at the age of 3 because we wanted them to learn that Hebrew school was part of everyday life. They attended a private Jewish preschool where holidays were celebrated. When they attended public school, I fought for the school to stop bringing Santa Claus into their winter holiday party‚ÄĒand won. They were bat mitzvahed and my older daughter chose to go to Hebrew high school at our synagogue until her high school graduation. She actively participated in the temple youth group and spent a semester in Israel her Junior year of high school.
So we did everything we could to instill a love of Judaism in our girls‚Äô hearts. We think we were successful.
But were we? Because now my daughter is seriously involved with a man who is not Jewish.
And people are questioning her choice.
And they are making me uncomfortable.
And all they seem to care about is whether he is Jewish.
And that‚Äôs not all I care about, but I get it.
And I wish they would stop asking.
Because in the end, what I want for my daughter is a lifetime of happiness with whomever she marries, Jewish, Christian, Muslim‚Ä¶I want her to feel Jewish in her spirit and heart and know who she is and what she stands for. But I also want her to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and atone at Yom Kippur and get excited about the Passover seder she might make for her own family. I want her to think and act Jewishly. I want my grandchildren to embrace Judaism, in whatever form, just like she did.
Can she do that with a non-Jewish husband? I like to think so.
But when these people keep asking, first thing, ‚ÄúIs he Jewish?‚ÄĚ I feel like I failed. Maybe I did. But, then again, maybe I didn‚Äôt.
This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.
Judy Mollen Walters is the author of five novels, A MILLION ORDINARY DAYS (March, 2017), START AT THE BEGINNING (2016), THE PLACE TO SAY GOODBYE (2015), THE OPPOSITE OF NORMAL (2014), and CHILD OF MINE (2013). She is also an essayist whose articles ave been published on the Washington Post, The Huffington Post, SheKnows, and ScaryMommy. She can be reached via her web site at judymollenwalters.com.
We are sitting in the aftermath of a riveting, polarizing election. It has been all too easy to lose sight of the common humanity of those with whom we disagree. Recently, Anne posted a link to one of her Wedding Blog posts that has become relevant once again. However, I‚Äôd like to focus on a different aspect of this, because it is no longer just about Anne and me- now it is about Jack.
The children of interfaith relationships have an enormous advantage in today‚Äôs world. They are exposed to two people who hold differing religious views while still loving each other. That exposure will hopefully result in our children recognizing that the people with whom we agree may not have all the answers, and that those with whom we disagree have valid and valuable viewpoints.
How do we pass the values of respect and acceptance on to our children? Half of that challenge requires regular demonstrations of love ‚Äď hugs, verbal declarations, and the like, between the parents themselves, and between the parents and the children. The other half, no less important, requires respectful discussion of points of disagreement. We shouldn‚Äôt disregard the differences in our faiths; rather, we should openly communicate as to why we disagree, and what we see differently, and most importantly that we still love each other in-spite of these differences. By combining these messages, we communicate that conflict can be healthy only through respecting people who hold different worldviews from you.
The past few years have seen a dangerous rise of hatred, pointing fingers, name calling, and evil. Many people are constructing ever-thicker social bubbles and shutting out those with whom they disagree. We, as interfaith parents, are in a prime position to raise our children that will reverse these trends. This gives me enormous hope for our future generation.
Recently I had an article published on a Jewish site about a dream I had. It was a political piece, and during these rough, media-frenzied times I received a ton of comments, most of them not the loving kind. I am often asked to write pieces about my Jewish experience, my interfaith experience and my everyday experience as a mother. How do I incorporate two faiths in my home when I am Jewish and Adrian, my partner, is Mexican Catholic? What and how do we teach our daughter about our vastly different cultures and faiths?
The first comment I received was harsh: ‚ÄúThis is the stupidest thing I‚Äôve ever read. Just pure drivel!‚ÄĚ I had struck a political nerve. Also, I should mention that I talked a lot about Hitler in my piece, a little about Anne Frank and how my dream was recurring‚ÄĒa real nightmare. But nowhere in my piece did I tell my audience who to vote for, or condemn them for choosing a particular party they feel represents them. What I did question was how to teach my daughter to have loving-kindness and tolerance for the things I don‚Äôt believe represent me.
As I scrolled down, I saw there were almost 80 comments. One man said, ‚ÄúMs. Keller would look great in my oven.‚ÄĚ That same man uploaded a picture of a bar of soap from a concentration camp with a Jewish star on it. There were also all sorts of comments about my interfaith relationship. ‚ÄúYou have shamed your people and disobeyed the Torah by mating with a goy.‚ÄĚ (‚ÄúGoy‚ÄĚ is a term used by Jews to describe people who aren‚Äôt Jewish.) One person took my article and posted it on another blog, where people commented again about my family, saying, ‚ÄúI feel bad for your guinea-pig daughter.‚ÄĚ Then I got some personal hate-mail emails.
One person wrote: ‚ÄúYou neurotic Jews are so hilarious. You preach to us about ‚Äėparanoid style of American politics‚Äô and the scare mongering of Joe McCarthy, but you see Hitler under every bed. LOL.‚ÄĚ And, ‚ÄúBefore you morally supremacist and narcissistic Jews pontificate about how holy shmoly you are, you should consider a few things.‚ÄĚ I had clearly raised some eyebrows. Someone else told me to pack my daughter‚Äôs bags full of tacos and burritos and prepare her for her trip south.
Ellen DeGeneres says she never reads anything about herself, good or bad. Now I understand why. It‚Äôs easy to get sucked in to all that hate. It‚Äôs easy to want to respond to every single person who has something to say. But I believe in freedom of speech; I just don‚Äôt believe in stupidity. I also believe in Shakespeare, which is one of the reasons I only replied to one person who had personally stalked me via email to get her point across. I simply replied, ‚ÄúThe lady doth protest too much, methinks.‚ÄĚ It‚Äôs one of my favorite lines of all time from¬†‚ÄúHamlet.‚ÄĚ
What bothered me the most wasn‚Äôt the blatant anti-Semitism; it wasn‚Äôt the insults to my writing. What bothered me were the insults on the blog where my article was re-posted. Those people were talking about my daughter, my beautiful, innocent, carefree 1-year-old daughter. It was a moment of clarity: There are people who love to hate other people. There are people who are so unhappy with their own lives, their own situations and their own senses of self that they have to troll around the Internet to find someone they can hate.
The funny thing about the computer is that it doesn‚Äôt have a face. If I had written an article for a class or a conference and people disagreed with it, there would probably be some hand-waving, some discussion, maybe even a healthy debate. Because there is no face on the Internet there is no consequence to what people say. Many of these commenters hide behind fake names. One man‚Äôs name was ‚ÄúBill Kristolnach,‚ÄĚ a pun on ‚ÄúKristallnacht‚ÄĚ (the ‚ÄúNight of Broken Glass‚ÄĚ when the Nazis shattered everything Jews owned as the Holocaust began) and Bill Kristol, the political analyst.
But the comments about my child threw me for a loop. Is this what she will come up against in school? What will I tell her to do? How should she respond? What if someone tells her to go put tacos and burritos in her backpack because she‚Äôs being deported, even though she‚Äôs an American citizen? Will she believe them? Will she be scared? What will I tell her to respond if they say she has shamed the Torah? Will she believe in a God who is merciful, who will save her from this hatred? My 11-year-old self would tell her to put her fist through someone‚Äôs face. But that‚Äôs one of the reasons I was kicked out of an Orthodox yeshiva, and I‚Äôm trying not to repeat the past.
What will I say? Because there will be days she won‚Äôt understand who she is or where she comes from. There will be days she asks what it means to be Mexican, what it means to be American, what it means to be Catholic and what it means to be Jewish. I hope to continue the traditions of both the Jewish and Catholic holidays in our home in order for her to learn, grow and one day decide who she is and who she will become. That is her choice to make, not mine.
One of my favorite quotes to repeat when I am faced with adversity is by Nelson Mandela: ‚ÄúNo one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.‚ÄĚ
The hateful comments were later deleted from the original site, but a few more personal hate emails did make their way into my inbox. Hate is a good lesson. It teaches us that history really does repeat itself. It gave fuel to my original article and had people reading and thinking. Hate twists and turns itself around to fit in the places where love never existed. There are people who already hate my daughter because of her skin, her two religions, because of me and who I am, because of Adrian and who he is. All we can do in response to hate is to love. We can love and love and love. Then we can also punch a wall and scream into a pillow.
There are days when my preteen son is angry with me for reasons that neither of us knows. There are days when he‚Äôs embarrassed by me because of a comment or action that I‚Äôm quite certain no one has seen. There are days when he‚Äôs ornery, gloomy, argumentative or grumpy or sometimes all of the above.
And then there are days when the sweet, loving boy with the heart filled with goodness shines through. Days when he is quick with a smile, a hug or an I-love-you and wants to snuggle close or just do something with me. Days like today, when he reminds me that while being his mom is the hardest job I‚Äôll ever have, it‚Äôs also the very best job I‚Äôll ever have.
This week, InterfaithFamily is celebrating its important work and the leadership provided by InterfaithFamily Founder Ed Case and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston President Barry Shrage in making it possible for more of us to #ChooseLove without needing to decide between love and a Jewish life. Leading up to Thursday‚Äôs celebration, I hope you have had a chance to read IFF‚Äôs own Liz Polay-Wettengel‚Äôs ‚ÄúAn Open Letter to Judaism from an Interfaith Family‚ÄĚ on Medium this week, as well as Molly Tolsky‚Äôs great response on Kveller. In her essay, Liz Polay-Wettengel speaks some honest and difficult truths about her family‚Äôs path to, with, and outside of Judaism as an Interfaith family. Molly Tolsky underscores the importance of Liz‚Äôs piece, and shares her own experience, one that rings true to so many of us, of how often Interfaith couples are whole-heartedly raising their famililes Jewishly, even while there are those in our community who still decry ‚Äúthe problem‚ÄĚ of their couplehood.
I am lucky that my family‚Äôs story is not filled with the denials, closed doors or simple no‚Äôs described in these two pieces. A huge reason for this is based in a single exchange I had with InterfaithFamily, with Ed Case specifically, eleven years ago.
When Eric and I were engaged in Los Angeles in 2004, we knew we wanted to be married by a rabbi. We also knew we wanted opportunities for members of both of our families to be involved and engaged in the wedding ceremony. We had taken an Introduction to Judaism class together and had shul-shopped a bit, but we didn‚Äôt have one rabbi we knew we wanted to marry us. My parents lived in Newton, where IFF‚Äôs founding and national office is located, and they knew a little about Ed Case and IFF. They encouraged us to check out the IFF website, and I was happy when I first poked around to find a link about ‚ÄúSeeking a Rabbi.‚ÄĚ
I emailed the IFF general email with a request for some ideas about rabbis in Los Angeles who would be open to marrying us. Ed Case quickly wrote back with a list of potential clergy, at least a dozen long. We started working our way through the list, setting up interviews, and eventually found a perfect fit – a wonderful rabbi named Allen Freehling with whom we both easily connected.
A list of names in an email might not sound like much, but when I compare it to the stories my peers shared this week, I am reminded of our great fortune. Wedding planning is a huge endeavor, and the process lays a foundation for your identity as a couple. If the very first step in this process is to encounter a set of ‚Äúno‚Äôs,‚ÄĚ it can derail both your planning and your spirit. Because IFF had actively engaged in assembling lists just like the one Ed Case emailed to me, we had a long list of Yeses to send us down a path that encouraged both our pursuit of Judaism and our identity as an Interfaith family.
This week, I am thankful that IFF was available to Eric and me to support our establishment as a family. Every week, I am grateful for the resources of this organization and the communities it creates to continue this support. I hope you find it helpful to you in some small or large way, too. If you are anywhere near Boston on Thursday, I‚Äôll look out for you at IFF‚Äôs #ChooseLove celebration.