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In a class I teach to engaged and recently married young couples, I talk about the importance of finding time to recharge, refresh and reconnect with one another. We discuss this not in the context of âdate night,â but rather in the context of Shabbat.
I like to point out that Shabbat is a state of mind, as much as it is a ritual. While the rituals of going to services or having Shabbat dinner at home can help us achieve Shabbat’s goals of rest, relaxation, and mindful connection, our lives don’t always lend themselves to Shabbat’s prescribed timetable or observances. Especially for families and parents, finding Shabbat during Shabbat can be hard.
Two weeks ago, I planned to take a little time for myself on a Shabbat afternoon. I was looking forward to practicing yoga and then treating myself to a facial at a local spa. My family’s spring schedule had been crazy, and I thought I had picked a time when things were beginning to wind down as the school year neared its end. I dropped my son at water polo practice and drove to my yoga class. My son was going with a friend to watch the varsity team from his school play in the state water polo tournament after practice, so I had several hours free to indulge in some relaxation.
As I laid down on my yoga mat and closed my eyes, my Apple watch started to vibrate on my wrist. I opened my eyes to see who was calling me. I hoped I could dismiss the call. It was the mom who was taking my son to the water polo tournament. I got up, walked out of the studio, and took the call. The parent said everything was OK; she was just picking up lunch for the boys and wanted to find out if my son liked his bread toasted and the sandwich heated. I said he would eat it either way and she should get what was easiest.
I hung up and went back to my mat. About 25 minutes later as I was finally mentally focused on my practice, my watch vibrated again. A text from my son appeared, “We’re up 3-1.” For the remainder of the class, game updates repeatedly distracted me.
I left class hopeful that my spa time would help me find that Shabbat feeling. As I was changing into my robe before my treatment, I received a text from my friend with an update on when she and the boys would return from the game. “I think we should be back at my house by 2 p.m. depending on the end of the last afternoon game. I will text when we are on the way.” Yikes! My appointment would not end until 2 p.m.
Knowing that I might be late to pick up my son occupied my thoughts during the facial. Rather than relaxing during my treatment, I kept thinking, âHurry up!â and âAre we almost done?â When the facial ended and I returned to the locker room to change, I had 32 new texts. Texts from my friend and other parents about pickup logistics. Texts from my son with game updates. A text from another parent from my son’s team asking if I, as the team parent for the sixth-grade team, could send out an email sharing the news that the varsity team made the finals and would be playing at 6 p.m. for the championship and encouraging the younger boys to attend. I took a deep breath andâŚlaughed. My plan to find Shabbat was foiled. On this Saturday, Shabbat was nowhere to be found.
For parents, the logistical responsibilities of parenthood can make finding Shabbat impossible sometimes. Itâs because Shabbat can be so elusive, especially once you become a parent, that I teach my young couples that sometimes you must expand your idea of what Shabbat is and when it happens. If they get in the practice of identifying Shabbat moments pre-children, hopefully, they will have an easier time savoring them once they enter the craziness of parenthood.
A Shabbat moment can be a peaceful walk with your dog in the morning before work. It can be an enjoyable family dinner on a Sunday night that has no distractions. It can be a Thursday morning yoga class. It can be a morning cup of coffee sipped slowly while reading the paper.
Thatâs how I found Shabbat on Friday morning. School ended on Thursday so I didnât need to rush out of the house to get my son to school and I could go into work a little later. I stood at the island in my kitchen sipping a cup of coffee as I finished reading several sections of the previous Sundayâs New York Times. As I drank my Joe, I savored the flavor and the time, 7:30 a.m. Usually, I was gulping my coffee as I wove through traffic to get my son to school by 7:45. But this morning, I could drink my coffee and read in a quiet house. I took a deep breath and smiled. A little Shabbat to start my day.
Up until recently, I thought the hardest part of navigating life as an interfaith family was determining the religious identity of the home. After all, that’s where 99.9 percent of the angst within the Jewish community lies and therefore, almost 100 percent of the community’s engagement efforts are focused. The idea that many in the Jewish community adhere to is to get couples to a decision point, and hopefully, have them choose Judaism, and then nurture the Jewish choices of couples in a way that helps them to create a “Jewish home.”
But in my recent experience working with other interfaith families in my community of Dallas, Iâve realized that our intense focus on the religious choices of young couples and families has us all but ignoring the challenges and struggles of older couples and families. Especially for the couples that have actively chosen to the be part of the Jewish community, raise Jewish children and/or affiliate with a synagogue or other Jewish spiritual group such as a minyan, we figure that they’ve got this. The religion decision has been made; the family is Jewishly active; our work is done. Not so much.
For my husband and me, our sonâs upcoming bar mitzvah has suddenly brought up big religious questions that have, at times, left me feeling a similar uncertainty I experienced in the early part of our relationship. In the months since I wrote about this somewhat surprising experience in my blog post,Â I’ve made peace with the uncertainty because we’ve seemed to have settled some of the questions. My husband will not convert before the big day and to date, feels 100 percent included in the process. How he will feel the day of the event or post-ceremony is impossible to predict, but I look forward to hearing what he expresses.
We’ve navigated the disquiet on our own. I’ve occasionally mentioned my uneasiness or questions to a close friend, but have otherwise not spoken to anyone about it. I know that I could have raised the issues with a clergy member at my synagogue or the rabbi officiating at my son’s bar mitzvah, but I haven’t felt like we needed professional guidance. However, I have been thinking about how nice it might have been to have a forum to share our questions and experiences with other interfaith couples in the same life stage as us and hear from intermarried couples who recently celebrated a bânai mitzvah, about their experiences. Essentially, I’d like to know if is this uncertainty is unique to my relationship or if other couples like my husband and me have had similar questions.
Iâve also had my eyes opened to the lack of professional support for older couples and families. I serve as the engagement director at my synagogue where I work with the interfaith dating and interfaith married couples. I recently organized a panel discussion for interfaith couples that are struggling with the religion decision. It consisted of two newly married couples who worked through the issue of religion in the home and a couple with elementary and middle school age children who have also worked through challenges of religious identity. The program was well attended by the target audienceâdating, engaged or married young adult couples.
There were also several empty nesters. I wondered what these partners, who raised Jewish children in the context of an interfaith home, were doing at the program. They had Jewishly identifying college students or adult kids. They could be on the panel.
As I listened to the discussion during the question and answer period, I heard two of the empty nest couples say, âJust because you make a decision doesnât mean that religious issues go away. The issues just change.” I thought, âOf course, they do.â I wrote about how dynamic the religious life of an interfaith family is in my bookÂ From Generation to Generation, pointing out that religious identity is often referred to as a journey for a reasonâbecause it evolves as we age and move through different stages of life. How did I forget my words?
One couple shared that they are thinking about religion in the context of end-of-life issues. Another partner, a dedicated synagogue volunteer, mentioned that she is reconnecting with her Christianity now that one son is in college and the other has graduated, and she is struggling with how to incorporate her renewed interest in her faith into her marriage and Jewish family. A man admitted that, after 30 years of marriage and synagogue membership, he and his wife from another background âstill havenât figured it out.â Everyone said that they would appreciate a group for couples like themselves to talk about the religious issues that they are navigating in their lives.
For me, their request was a call to action. Iâm now helping these partners form a small group. Iâm in the process of reaching out to over 100 other interfaith couples in our congregation who are in a similar life stage to see if they are experiencing these challenges and if they would be interested in being part of a small group with their peers who are navigating a similar road.
My personal experiences have always been my best material for writing and supporting other interfaith couples and families. Based on my need for community right now, I’m already thinking about how my congregation can create a forum for interfaith couples navigating the b’nai mitzvah cycle to connect with each other, discuss issues and find support through shared experience.
Focusing on young couples and families, and the choice of a religious identity for a home are absolutely critical for facilitating healthy religious discussions and engaging those who are intermarried in Jewish life. But we can’t be myopic and assume that once an interfaith couple makes a religion decision that our work is done. We must provide support for our couples, families and children through the various stages of life, just as we do for those who are intermarried because the religious identity of a home is a journey, not a destination.
Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday because it is mostly about storytelling. Every year, my family sits around the Passover table and tells the story of how the Jews escaped slavery in Egypt by blindly following Moses across the Red Sea. The story is about freedom, faith and most of all, food. We eat matzah (unleavened bread) to symbolize the unleavened bread the Jews took with them on their long journey through the desert. We clean our houses and get rid of every last trace of bread. Then, my mother calls me 68 times about the Passover menu. In my head, I picture all the Jewish mothers in Egypt during Mosesâ time asking, âChicken, brisket or both?â But what Iâve always loved the most about Passover at my motherâs house was the kidsâ table. It is the table I was always a part of until only recently. Now, thereâs a new kidsâ table and its guests include my daughter Helen and her two cousins (my brotherâs boys), Jacob and Nathan.
I didnât realize this phenomenon about the kidsâ table until I brought over my half of the Passover menu in aluminum pans an hour before the seder. Adrian, my significant other who grew up in Mexico as a Catholic, pointed it out when he carried our daughter into my motherâs house. âMy Mom used to do that at Christmas,â Adrian remarked when he saw one long table in my motherâs living room and the mini table at the end set with three kiddie plastic plates and spoons. Adrian comes from a family of seven kids and he loved my motherâs rendition of a kidâs table, which made him nostalgic. His family is scattered across the globe and his one dream is to have everyone go back to Mexico to sit at his motherâs table on a big Catholic holiday. But this year, Adrian was part of the Passover festivities even though he couldnât totally grasp matzah.
âIt tastes like paper,â he said.
âYes,â I replied, âthatâs the point. We suffered in Egypt and then we suffered with matzah.â
The kidsâ table signified so much to me this year. For the first time in maybe 50 years, my uncle missed the Passover seder because heâs sick and my aunt couldnât come either. My cousins were also absent. Usually, our Passover table is set for 15-18 people, but this year, it dwindled down to seven adults and three kids. This made me afraid because my brother was in charge of running the seder and I was in charge of half the cookingâit made me realize that the original Passover kidsâ table was now the adultsâ table.
My mother is getting older and I am trying to balance old traditions with new interfaith beliefs. Adrian and I are trying to show Helen that two cultures and two faiths can coexist and we are trying to do this by example. But sometimes, I still feel like a kid. Sometimes we donât have all the answers and there are times that even when I make 22 chicken legs, the guests only eat the brisket. âI told you so,â I hear my Jewish ancestors whisper.
My nephews, who are twin boys, came in like a hurricane. They love Helen and arrived shouting âHelen, Helen, Helen!â When they saw my mother, who always brings them the challah bread and chicken noodle soup, they began to shout, âChallah, challah, challah!â But on Passover, we canât eat challah or noodle soup, so they learned instead to shout, âMatzah, matzah, matzah!â And then continued with, âAdi! Adi! Adi!â for Adrian, their favorite uncle.
I marveled at the kidsâ table for its differences and its similarities. This year, as my nephews speak English, Helen answers in Spanish. âNo se,â she says, which means, âI donât know,â and the boys laugh. But they look just as my brother and I had once looked. The only difference is that this Passover, like all future Passovers, there will be room for more than one faith. Adrian sits at the table and is reminded of Catholic holidays in Mexico, I sit at the table and am reminded of my father and how he, too, loved a good story.
The traditional Jewish four questions, to be asked by the youngest child at the table, are sung by everyone, in Hebrew. âWhy is this night different from any other night?â begin the questions. I laugh because I want to look up at God and say, âSeriously?â But instead, I think of a proverb appropriate for this Passover from the New Testament: âGet rid of the old leaven of sin so that you may be a new batch of dough â as you really are.â (Bible, I Corinthians 5:7) This quote gives me hope for the future and urges me to shed my old skin and step into my new real one of woman, mother and two-faith-household-builder.
In my previous blog post, I wrote about why choosing love did not mean choosing conversion for me; but for us, choosing love also meant choosing to raise our children Jewish. We didnât know, initially, what that would look like, especially since we knew (well, I knew) that I wanted to keep celebrating Christmas. (According to my spouse, this makes my children interfaith by default, even if we tell them that they are Jewish.)
Right around the time when bomb threats to JCCs started becoming more frequent, we enrolled our 3-year-old and 7-year-old in Jewish religious school. We chose a wonderful synagogue whose children’s programs we already enjoy, and whose building doubles as my youngest’s non-religious preschool during the week. The thought that she could be evacuated for a bomb or some other emergency is on my mind every time I read of yet another wave of threats.
Our timing for enrolling them has everything to do with identity and with the current political climate of communities under threat. In order to know where youâre goingâwhat choices youâll make, what values will ground your actions, the ways you will choose to fight for those values in the world we live inâyou need to know who you are. This is true for both adults and children, albeit in different ways. For myself, my desire to stand against religious bigotry means emphasizing the voices of light and love closer to the tradition which raised me. For my children, and for my husband and I on their behalf, that means finally making good on the promises my spouse and I made to each other: to raise them Jewish.
Weâve dabbled in and out of what that means, but with the kids asking to come to church with me, Jewish cemeteries being desecrated and JCCs receiving repeated bomb threats, I finally told my husband that the time had come to stop beating around the bush and enroll them in Jewish religious education. (He might remember the exact order of events differently, and thatâs OK.)
We had resisted putting our kids into Jewish religious education. It costs money, which is admittedly no small stumbling block. Itâs tough to add one more commitment to a weekend already studded with lessons, activities and play dates.
Our daughters have been attending for about a month, and so far, they love it. Itâs amazing what starts to happen when you combine eager, interested children with access to friendly, open education that touches their minds and their spirits.
The school meets on Sunday mornings for two hours and what my kids learn there pepper their play and their song outside of the synagogue. My eldest, 7, has the tune of âMa Tovuâ down pat, but chooses to sing it in the child-friendly rhyme the cantor created for the childrenâs service during the morning. The mnemonic seems to work, if one doesnât mind oneâs child singing (to the tune of âRose, Rose, Will I ever see thee wed?â), âMy toeâs blue / Dropped a hammer on my shoeâ Â as a way of working toward âMa Tovu.â
EveryÂ week approximately 50 children, ranging from preschoolers to teenagers, gather to sing, pray and learn. The morning begins with a service in the main sanctuary with kids sprawled throughout. Some parents drop their kids off and go run errands; a fewÂ sit with their children for the Sunday morning havdalah service that closes Shabbat (a few hours late, but no one is counting).
A young girl, maybe aÂ young teenager, passes out spice jars full of sweet-smelling cinnamon sticks. A dad, whom my husband tells me is converting to Judaism and learning along with his children, carries the havdalah candle around the synagogue. His face is alight and alive with joy. I think back to my recent blog post and feel a pang of some complicated emotion I canât quite name.
As the dad walks around the sanctuary, all the children stretch their fingers out to the candle as the light reflects off their fingernails. Itâs clear that many of them have seen plenty of movies where powerful superheroes or evil emperors wiggle their fingers and power shoots out of their hands. Here itâs the opposite. We wiggle our fingers and bring the empowered peace of Shabbat back into ourselves to carry into the coming week.
After their morning lessons, the kids return to the sanctuary for abbreviated, child-friendly morning prayers. My husband and I peek in the doors. Our daughters are sharing a chair up front. The cantor asks the kids what they are thankful for. âSisters!â calls out my older daughter; âOwls,â her sister says. No mater the complexities, Iâm glad to be there, with my kids and my spouse, singing hymns and choosing love.
Itâs Valentineâs Day and Iâm sitting in my car at 8 a.m. listening to a Jack Kornfield meditation talk called âInner Strength and Kindness.â Did I mention that Iâm also crying? Winter is never kind in New York and itâs been a rough month. Iâve been so busy and stressed lately that the only time I get to feel in touch with myself is in the front seat of my car. Last week, I sat in the front seat eating a box of donut holes and listening to Led Zeppelin. So, Jack Kornfield and a cup of coffee is an improvement.
Iâm trying to decompress. Iâm trying to get centered, which is what my religion and my culture often help me do. But, Iâm crying on Valentineâs Day for no apparent reason. My Jewish family growing up didnât celebrate Valentineâs Day, but my significant other Adrian and our 15-month-old daughter Helen celebrate it. Adrian is Mexican-Catholic and he loves anything with red roses. His Virgin of Guadalupe is known to appear to people surrounded by roses, so Valentineâs Day is a big deal for him. I still have the first rose he ever gave me. I dried it and now it lives between the pages of an Octavio Paz poetry book on our shelf.
I left Adrian and Helen cards and little stuffed animals with hearts all over them. I even left my mother a card and a stuffed Valentineâs Day Snoopy doll at her house, which is three blocks away from us. Maybe thatâs the problemÂâI canât sit still. Iâm so concerned with everyone having gifts for a holiday that I donât celebrate and about Helen having the best of both Judaism and Catholicism, that I forget the world I come from. In the middle of trying to fit two religions into every crevice of our lives, I forget my own spirituality. I forget the main reason those two religions and those two cultures exist in our lives.
In the front seat of my car as I meditate and cry, my yogic âmonkey-mindâ shows me a few things. First, I remember a conversation I had about a piece of literature in which a âmany colored coatâ is mentioned. Of course, this was a piece of writing about the story of Joseph. Joseph in the Old Testament has two dreams. In both dreams, Josephâs brothers bow down to him. When Joseph tells his brothers about these dreams, they grow angry. They end up selling Joseph to some merchants and then they dip his coat in goatâs blood to make their father believe that wild animals killed him.
My thoughts are interrupted by Jack Kornfieldâs calm voice asking me to breathe. I go back to my breath, but I canât stop picturing Joseph and how upset he probably was that his brothers sold him for 20 bucks and some cigarettes. What I think about, though, is the fact that I can remember this story. I was probably no older than 5 or 6 years old when I heard it. I also remember that Joseph becomes a powerful leader and meets his brothers again in Egypt, but they do not recognize him. They bow down to him just as he had predicted in his dream. Joseph ends up playing tricks on his brothers to test their wicked ways, but he ends up forgiving them. After all, the story of Joseph is a story of forgiveness. In the moment that Joseph forgives his brothers, he also forgives himself.
With this memory, Valentineâs Day becomes something else for me. It becomes a day of not only love for my diverse, ever changing and challenging family, but a day of love for myself. I can forgive myself for not knowing how to be perfect all the time. I can forgive myself for not celebrating one holiday thatâs not even really a holiday. I can forgive myself for escaping because, sometimes, moms need to escape.
My thoughts turn to a Catholic altar in the Mexico City Cathedral called âThe Altar of Forgiveness.â The story goes that a famous painter was accused of a crime and while he was in jail, he painted the most breathtaking picture of the Virgin Mary. It was so beautiful that God forgave him and the altar was built. I think of the old Jewish tale of Joseph and his forgiveness. Then, I go back to the meditation talk and Jack Kornfield quotes Nisargadatta Maharaj when he says, âWisdom says I am nothing; love says I am everything. Between the two, my life flows.â I cry some more. I breathe some more. I turn off Jack Kornfield. I turn on Led Zeppelin and I drive.
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 canât miss a chance to embrace this Valentineâs Day. Â
You may call it a Hallmark holiday, or a day reserved for lovebirds, but as you may have read before, I disagree. Valentineâs 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 Valentineâs 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 childâs class cards? The Valentineâs Day of early childhood isnât just about your romantic partner, itâs about your friends (and maybe some kids who arenât 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 Iâd 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. Â
Just like writing Valentineâs 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 Valentineâs or the day after. So will you try it with me? Â
By Lindsey Goldstein
The other day my daughter said to me, âMommy, youâre not the most special person in this family.â It was a pointed remark, out of nowhere.
I raised an eyebrow and said, âIs that so? Then who is?â Of course, I already knew the answer.
âWell, I am. You see, none of the rest of you daven [pray].â Without even a hint of humor she continued, âNone of you know Hashem the way I do. I daven every day.â I tried very hard not to laugh because I could see she was being very serious and knew my laughter might hurt her feelings.
I was raised in a Reform Jewish family, going to synagogue twice a year on the High Holidays. We observed Passover with a seder at home. Initially, we celebrated Hanukkah until one day, when I was about 5 or 6, my mom asked me if I would rather get eight gifts once a year or gifts all year-round. Since that was a no brainer, Hanukkah morphed into just lighting the candles to observe and maybe making latkes. As an adult, I didnât do anything to celebrate the holiday. That is, until we started having children.
My husband was raised Catholic, and I mean very Catholic. Mass was mandatory seven days a week in his household. Nowadays he observes nothing. Catholicism overload soured him on it, and he hasnât expressed much interest in religion of any other kind. When we decided to get married, we talked about how we would raise our kids. My husband seemed skittish about flat-out raising our kids as Jews, but he admitted that âsince they come out of you, doesnât that make them Jewish by default?â We agreed that thatâs Jewish law, but I have felt as though âby defaultâ is what weâve deferred to.
That is, until we decided to send our daughter to a Jewish preschool and kindergarten. Itâs Chabad-affiliated, so Judaic studies are part of their everyday teaching. Now that my daughterâs in kindergarten, they study the Torah for an hour a day. The result? She has become a bit of a super Jew.
I have gotten used to conversations such as the following:
My daughter: âMommy, whoâs Elvis Presley?â
Me: âOh, just the King of Rock and Roll.â
My daughter (with an admonishing tone): âMommy. Thereâs only one King: Hashem.â
Once in a while, my husband seems nervous that heâs the odd man out. But I assure him that a lot of the knowledge she possesses far surpasses mine as well. I consider her a refresher course for me since she comes home from school on a regular basis and lectures me about the meaning of Purim or the true reason we celebrate Hanukkah, things Iâd long forgotten about.
Lately, she lives by some sort of code of ethics that she believes will ensure her a place âin the new world.â I find it a bit worrying that she gives death any thought, but she tells me that as long as Hashem is happy with her, sheâll be able to advance to the new world. What is this new world? No idea. I think sheâs referring to when the Messiah comes and carts us all off to Eden or something like that. See? Iâm not the one with the vast knowledge of Hashemâs wheeling and dealing. When my beloved dog passed away recently, my daughter patted me on the back and said, âI know youâre sad, Mommy. But donât worry. Iâm sure Hashem will bring Zooey to the new world. Youâll see her again.â
Admittedly, Iâve used my daughterâs relationship with Hashem to my advantage a time or two. If she misbehaves or whines, I have asked her if she thinks Hashem would approve of her behavior. Maybe not the best parenting tactic, but she will stop and think about it, so maybe not all bad?
The other day my husband asked me, âDo you think Lilah is taking this Hashem thing too far?â And the answer is that her devotion makes me proud. I like hearing her identify herself as a Jew. At the very least, she will have some sort of a foundation of Judaism going forward that I may not have been able to provide for her due to my lack of Jewish knowledge. And I also think sheâs 5 and deeply impressionable. I related an anecdote to my husband to give him some context for her obsession with Hashem.
When I was slightly older than Lilah, I was obsessed with Adam Ant. He was my Hashem. I told everyone Iâd marry him when I grew up. I listened to his music every day on cassette tapes, wore t-shirts with his image emblazoned across, and hung posters of him on my walls. My brother made me a 20- dollar bet that my feelings for Mr. Ant would change in time. By the following year the posters of Adam Ant were replaced with posters of Patrick Swayze. And I was 20 dollars poorer.
And though I love the fact that right now, my daughter is in love with her Jewishness, I donât know what her future holds. For now, I am tickled by the fact that when she thought I wasnât listening, she was consoling her sobbing 1-year-old brother with the following utterance: âYou donât have to cry. Donât worry. Youâre a Jew, too.
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.
ByÂ Sam Goodman
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, Iâd 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 todayâs 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 â 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 shouldnât 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.
This past summer, our family moved to a different, nearbyÂ suburb, one thatâs full of as many synagogues as we could reasonably hope to shop around. With the business of moving, we didnât attend services very often this summer, saving the serious shul-shopping for a more settled time.
Not attending services, though, has meant that our 3-year-old daughter has virtuallyÂ forgotten what happens at synagogue. During this time sheâs alsoÂ moved more firmly into the phase of life where every other statement begins with, âMommy, why?â
Given these two facts, I shouldnât have been surprised by what happened recently at an early-evening outdoor service billed as âfamily friendly.â We arrived just as the service was starting, and sat onÂ benches at the back of the group as the congregation sang âBim Bamâ over the harmonious strains of a guitar.
Thatâs when the questions began.
âMommy, why are we on benches?â
âThere arenât enough chairs right now, honey, but that nice woman over there is bringing more out.â
âWhy arenât there enough chairs?â
I leaned down to whisper to my daughter between phrases of the song. âItâs a busy night, sweetie.â The singing ended; the service began in earnest, and my daughter continued her queries.
âMommy, who are the people up front?â
âWhy are my sister and daddy wearing those hats?â
âWhat is everyone saying? I donât know the words to this song.â (We were singing âLâcha Dodi.â)
âMommy, they said âstars!â I know that word!â This caused particular excitement.
When the service leaders lit the Shabbat candles, I knew the drill.
âMommy, I know this song,â she said with excitement as the blessings were recited. âMommy, are there candles up there?â She stood on her tiptoes, trying to peer over the grown-ups to see the candles in front.
At various points, she asked me, âMommy, whyÂ are we sittingÂ outside? When are we going inside?â
On my other side, my 6-year-old asked her own very pressing and important question: âMommy, when is it time for dessert?â She meant, of course, the oneg, at which she usually made a beeline for cookies after consuming a healthy chunk of challah.
âI donât know if they do an oneg Shabbat here,â I replied cautiously.
âBut I really want dessert,â she explained, as if this would make the appropriate oneg appear.
âI know,â I replied. âWeâll just have to wait and see. Besides, challah is sweet like dessert.â
My daughter answered me with a skeptical glance any teen would envy.
Eventually we came to the Shema, which my daughters both know from bedtime, and their eyes lit up. My youngest asked, âMommy, how do these people know this song too?â
âItâs a very important Jewish prayer,â I whispered between syllables.
The service became quiet as the congregation entered a moment of silent prayer and meditation. She noticed, and said, not exactly loudly, but not very quietly, âWhy is everyone being so quiet?â I leaned down and whispered, âShhhh. People are praying and thinking about important things, quietly. Please be quiet.â
âI am being quiet,â she stage-whispered. One moment later: âCan we talk louder now?â Me, still whispering: âNot yet, OK?â
And thus the service continued. At one point, I left with both girls to explore the outside of the synagogue, an adventure that was accompanied by a conversation about whether or not there was a playground (and if so, could they play on it), when âdessertâ would be, and whether or not the service had moved indoors yet.
Iâm an interfaith parent. As an outsider, itâs tough for me to know if this adorable little girl, with aÂ remarkably precise voice, is cute, or is simply annoying to the other worshippers. Part of me wanted to praise my daughterâs constant questioning, her curiosity, her innate sense that âthis night is different from (most) other nights,â at least in her recent 3-year-old memory.
By contrast, my oldest sat quietly in her seat (for the most part), standing and sitting. While her better behavior pleased me, I also missed the spontaneous, exuberant ritual dancing she used to burst out with at the slightest strain of music. I had alwaysÂ worried that her expressions of joy would simply be seen as a nuisance, a disruption. Now I wondered about her sisterâs incessant questions. Would we be asked to leave? Were people frowning at us?Â I feltÂ torn between a desire to conform to what I thought was likely appropriateÂ (quiet, seated behavior) and a true delight in my childrenâs participatoryÂ joy.
I asked my husband about this later, and was surprised to learn that he, too, although Jewish, felt uncertainty as an outsider to that particular congregation. His words surprised me. Norms vary between congregations of whatever faith, I realized. Maybe my questions werenât so much a matter of being Jewish or not, but of simply being a newcomer, learning to breathe, knowing that kids will be kids, and knowing that one day we may well miss those days when they asked every question and danced to each note of music.
Non-Orthodox institutional Judaism seems to suffer from a lack of young families â and, more importantly, young people. We might see a handful of families with pre-school aged youngsters at the firstÂ FridayÂ “family service,â but at most Shabbat services at Samâs synagogue, there are rarely young children other than Jack in attendance. I know Jack is not the only infant at the synagogue, because we see other babies his age at “bagels and blocks” programÂ on SundayÂ mornings.Â In a congregation of about 300 families, why are so few young children engaged in ritual life at the synagogue?
This was mirrored when we attended Rosh Hashanah at Sam’s parentsâ synagogue earlier this month.Â Upon arriving, I noticed that JackÂ was the only baby, and practically the only child, in services.Â We sat as a family (of 4 generations!), during the early Rosh Hashanah service, and – as babies do – Jack fussed a little. While wandering the halls trying to calm him down, I found the children in classrooms and playgroups. It was surprising to me to see children not sitting with their parents during one of the most important holidays of the Jewish liturgical year.Â I learned that youngsters of all ages attend the family service, later in the day, which isÂ much shorter and geared to children, whereas the other services are for adults only.Â Even duringÂ FridayÂ nightÂ services at our local synagogue, Jack is by far the youngest one in attendance.
This is drastically different than what I am used to. Whether or not it is a major holiday, it seems like familiesÂ with young children are always present at Catholic churches.Â During mass, little children read books, color, and play quietly in the pews. If the babies/toddlers/children have outbursts, their parents take them into the lobby, calm them down, and then bring them right back into the mass.Â During the most important day of the Catholic liturgical year, the entire church is full of families.Â Just last Sunday, at the end of the mass, the priest addressed the moms, calming their fears about bringing their youngsters. He said that children at mass areÂ anything but distracting,Â saying “let the children come to me.”
Are children welcome your place of worship? If our experiences at our synagogueÂ match what youâve seen, how can we shift institutional Judaism to welcome young children and families, ensuring our faithâs continuity for the next generation?