Two holidays in one? I’m not so sure.

There was a time when Eric and I shared a love for The O.C. In the days before OnDemand, one of the most romantic things that my future husband ever did was to take copious notes of the 2004 season premiere when I was stuck at a community meeting that night and couldn’t watch it myself. It was a nighttime soap opera filled with hyperbole and totally unrealistic situations, the kind of show that I should be embarrassed about loving. But I admit it proudly, we were serious fans.

Chrismukkah Seth Cohen

Even though I think that the prominence of the Cohens, the lovably complex interfaith family at the center of The O.C.’s drama, probably helped gain some ground for Jewish/Christian partnerships overall, I cringed when Seth Cohen asked the world to embrace Chrismukkah in the Winter of 2003. I’m going to show my cards here: I don’t believe that the answer to “The December Dilemma” is to combine holidays. Its not because I want to deny either Christmas or Hanukah – its quite the opposite. I love both holidays – and I love how marrying into a Christian family means I’ve had 14 years to get an inside view of how joyous Christmas is. But the holidays are so profoundly different – especially in their level of import to the religions of which they are a part – that to me combining them feels like a disservice to them both.

Chrismukkah definition

I have been reminded of my conflicting love of The Cohens and unease for the Chrismukkah they popularized as a new combination of holidays is coming up this year. With the first night of Hanukkah occurring on Thanksgiving, everyday folks, community leaders, and yes, makers of merchandise, have begun to proclaim 2013 the year of “Thanksgivukkah.” I first started hearing about the “holiday” via a mouthwatering post of Thankgivukkah recipes on BuzzFeed. It’s hard to object to a holiday that boasts sweet potato bourbon noodle kugel and pecan pie rugelach. From that first post, it seems to have caught on like wildfire….there are t-shirts, limited edition menorahs, a website (put up by Manischewitz), a Facebook page, and even a block party in LA. Not to mention a piece on this site about navigating the convergence of both holidays with Jewish family and those who do not celebrate Hanukkah.

So am I ok with it? Its growing on me….this idea that it is phenomenally rare (read this article to see just how rare), that there are totally great menu possibilities, and that my family will conveniently all be together to light the menorah for the first time (like many interfaith couples I’m sure, we usually spend Thankgiving with our Jewish family and Christmas with our Christian family, so Thanksgiving is already kind of a Jewish family thing). And part of my objection to combining Christmas and Hanukkah is that it forces an importance on Hanukkah that isn’t consistent with the rest of the religious calendar – making it easy to breeze over a true understanding of either Christmas or Hanukkah.

But Thanksgiving and Hanukkah might fit better together – they are both based on lore that don’t necessarily create something new (like a whole new religion!) but allow people to pause in a time of turmoil to consider new hope. And since we usually eat well before sundown but don’t light the candles until sundown, hopefully they’ll be a moment to pause in between and talk to our kids about each holiday, separately. And, finally, now that I have kids and am navigating life in a multi-generational, multi-faith family where the absolutes of my pre-kid 20’s seem a little fanciful, maybe I’ll soften up on Chrismukkah, too. No promises, Seth Cohen.

Reason # 1: Why Being Interfaith is a Plus

When you are a mixed-faith couple, you loose the ability to assume from the get go.  The question is not when we celebrate Yom Kippur, with whose family will we break fast?  We need to start from more basic questions: Will we celebrate Yom Kippur? Will we both fast? And now that we have kids, how will we celebrate with our kids?

This inability to assume, and therefore the need to have an intention about our practice, is one of the greatest things about being from different faiths. In my marriage and co-parenting, I think this sometimes gives us a leg up, and its something that I wish was celebrated more.

When my husband and I were first thinking about marriage, we went to meet with a rabbi who ran a course for interfaith couples. Before he told us about the class, he asked us if we thought we’d have a Jewish home. We told him we thought so, but we hadn’t figured everything out yet. With this in mind, he recommended that rather than taking his interfaith class, we take his Intro to Judaism class, to figure out if we were going to be an interfaith family or a Jewish family (he had marriage classes for both).

ParentingSo we took the class. It was a great class. We learned that we loved to study together.  And the class triggered a long series of conversations, about what holidays we wanted to celebrate, and how, about how we imagined marking life cycle events, and, at the core, about what it meant that we would create a home and life together, a nuclear family that melded the two individual histories we brought to the coupledom.

[As an aside, InterfaithFamily has a great online workshop for interfaith couples called "Love & Religion" that you can learn more about here.]

This is where the “leg up” comes to bear. All pairings, whether you were raised next door to one another or in different countries, bring two separate perspectives on life to the table when they marry. In an interfaith pairing, the separation between the perspectives is pronounced, highlighted by the difference in two easy to identify components of family history. This can be a gift – a gift in that the differences shout out to us, and demand attention. For Eric and me, it meant the dialogue about how “he” and “I” would become “we” started before our engagement, before we were thrown into trying to make a wedding that was fun for everyone (it was!), building a home together, and raising kids. It demanded a way to talk about things, to identify difference, and to navigate it.

I’m not saying we’re perfect at it, but sometimes in same-faith couples, the differences are subtle, and they whisper until they need attention, often coming as a surprise. While our life together is not without our share of these surprises, I am thankful, particularly as we try to parent a 4-year-old who is as strong-willed and self-determined as I know I was at 4, that the interfaith dynamic of our relationship made negotiating differences a part of our life and commitment from day one.

Being interfaith is often talked about as a challenge, a barrier that separates you from the rest of the community. While I won’t deny the challenges, I think perhaps we have a few positive things we can teach to those who “in-marry.” Can you name some others?

Purim, Revealing the Hidden

One of the themes of Purim has to do with the hidden becoming revealed.  Esther hid her identity as a Jew within Achashverosh’s castle.  When the time was right not only did she reveal her true self, but she revealed Haman’s evil plot to destroy the Jews.  All the coincidences within the story of Esther all come together in the end and reveal a rich and interesting story.  G-d’s name is not mentioned at all in the Megillah (Scroll) of Esther, but is hidden within Esther’s name itself, which means Hidden.

My husband and I celebrated Purim with a local Jewish organization.  I dressed up as Time Flies (I had wings and clocks) and my husband dressed up as Father Time.  Father Time was a priest with clock picture on his chest.  We felt this was funny on a few levels, since my husband isn’t Jewish.  I think he appreciated being dressed up as a character that is distinctly not Jewish.  He could be his non-Jewish self openly when all through the year he feels like he has to downplay and maybe hide the fact he isn’t Jewish.

We had agreed that our son would be raised in an entirely Jewish environment and my husband isn’t/wasn’t very religious so it didn’t seem like a big deal.  It does mean though that he gets submerged and swallowed with Jewishness.  Kosher food, Shabbat meals, Jewish holidays… he’s surrounded all the time.

We celebrate Purim by hiding behind masks and pretending to be what we aren’t (or briefly live a fantasy of who we would like to be), just as Esther pretended she wasn’t Jewish.  My husband got to enjoy the party being openly non-Jewish.

Giving Thanks

Tonight was the first time my family – my husband, me and my two boys – said the Hamotzi  (blessing over the bread) at home – outside a Jewish holiday. It’s not that I am opposed to giving thanks before my meals – I know how many blessings I have and am thankful for them daily – I just don’t express my thanks to G-d on a daily basis. But maybe I should. 

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, my father-in-law, who’s Episcopalian, always leads the Grace before dinner. This year our very chatty two-year-old thought that Grace was the greatest thing ever – getting to hold everyone’s hands before dinner. And his way of saying Grace was by saying “I love my family” – what could be better than that. My father-in-law’s version of Grace is also very universal – thanking G-d for our many blessings, for the meal we are about to enjoy, thankful to the family we are gathered with and also thankful for those who are not able to be with there. Then it’s chow time.

Tonight however, my in-laws were not having dinner with us, it wasn’t a special meal or holiday. It was just a regular Monday night. Just after we all sat down, our seven-year-old asks, “Can we say the blessing?” And I respond that there are different ways – Grace is what Christian people say, the Hamotzi is what Jewish people say and then our younger son’s version – I love my family.  He immediately picked the Hamotzi, as if that was what he was trying to think of on his own, which we then all sang together.   Even his little brother joined in – he has lots of practice from weekly Shabbat celebrations at the JCC pre-school.

Just a little story about how a regular Monday night turned into a really sweet moment for our family who might consider saying some form of thanks on a nightly basis.

Hamotzi lechem min haaretz,
We give thanks to God for bread.
Our voices rise in song together as our joyful prayer is said,
Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, hamotzi lechem min haaretz. Amen.”

Is Raising a Mensch Possible?

I was set to write a post about how Baby Boy is turning 2 in just a couple months, and how that meant Hubby and I needed to revisit the discussion of a possible conversion for him. But something happened at work this week that has taken over my thoughts. I won’t go into details out of professional courtesy, but suffice it to say that at the root of the situation is intolerance. Intolerance, possibly bigotry thinly veiled as religious sensibilities. And of course, there’s the sting of this all happening with people I’ve known and worked with for nearly 11 years. Now, to be clear, this situation wasn’t aimed at me or my interfaith family. This situation actually doesn’t have anything to do with Judaism. So why blog about it here?

Because I’m so disheartened. Selfishly, I wonder how the people in question would react if they realized that I am raising a Jewish son. On a larger scale, I wonder how I’m supposed to raise caring, tolerant, inclusive boys when it feels like intolerance surrounds us.

I want my boys to have their own convictions and identities – religious and non-religious – but I don’t want them to feel the need to force those convictions onto anyone they deem as less than them. Scratch that – I don’t want them to see anyone as “less than” them. I want them to have a voice, and to use it when they need to, but I don’t want them to use it to silence other voices.

But how do you teach those values when it feels like home is one of the few places that behavior is modeled? How do you teach those values when we’re daily bombarded with stories of the loud, radical or extremely intolerant voices drowning out the reasonable, more tolerant voices? How do you teach the right balance of taking the high road whenever possible, but not just always “taking it”? Is it possible?

I want to raise Mensches. I do. And right now I think we’re on the right track with that. But the influences on the boys are increasingly wider than just what Dad and I (and other family) show them at home. And right now, I feel so beaten down by those influences that I’m not sure it’s possible to overcome them. Please, if you’ve struggled with this, I’d love suggestions on ways to do it right. It’s about so much more than just me or my family; doesn’t this really affect us all, as humans?

Introducing Julie

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?