When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?
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 everyone who is reading this already knows, December is probably the most stressful/crazy/anxiety-ridden time of the year. Or at least that’s what everyone wants you to feel. Especially if you are intermarried or if you grew up in an interfaith family. The questions – What are you doing for the holidays? Do you have a tree? Do your kids believe in Santa? Do your kids get presents for both holidays? Maybe it’s because I have been intermarried for 10 years and have had kids for the last 7, but thankfully I do not have a dilemma in December. This is due to my amazing husband, in-laws and extended family and because we really did and continue to do the work to secure this non-dilemma situation during this crazy time of the year. We celebrate Chanukah in our house and Christmas at my in-laws and extended family. We each have our own menorah and bring it with us when the holidays overlap. We have a great time and so do our kids. While my in-laws celebrate Christmas as a truly religious one, we celebrate it as a truly fun day or two to spend with family – exchange gifts – and eat cinnamon buns.
The first year we were married, and I didn’t observe my family’s Jewish Christmas tradition of going to the movies and going out for Chinese food – unique, I know – I was completely overwhelmed by the gifts. My in-laws are completely non-materialistic people so that made me even more taken aback. Chanukah in my family was one nice gift and a bunch of little things for the rest of the seven nights. Thankfully after we had kids, the bulk of the presents went to them – rightfully so – but I still haven’t been able to make my own peace with all of the presents. Even today, I went to Macy’s in our local mall for a Chanukah Family Fest and was simply in shock at how many people were at the mall and all of the shopping bags they were walking out with. Not that I am anti-gifts – my kids would never forgive me for that. In fact, I am done with my shopping and I bought almost all of the gifts at non-commercial places like independent toy stores and book stores – crowds make me a little crazy plus I am a bad decision-maker so smaller stores with fewer options work out better for me.
The first couple of years with our kids at Christmas, I was slightly adamant about their gifts being wrapped in non-Christmas paper: something wintery was fine – snowflakes or snowmen – and I definitely didn’t want any gifts from Santa – only from Grammy & Poppy. I am beyond grateful that my in-laws respected my wishes – and humored me. I also feel that my husband and I have done our job as parents for the other 364 days out of the year so one day is not going to make a lasting impact in their identity.
Now our 7 year old is the one asking questions – Why aren’t stores decorated for Chanukah? Why do only people who celebrate Christmas put up lights in their yard? Why do more people celebrate Christmas than Chanukah? Is Santa real? My husband and I try to answer these questions with simple yet truthful answers and in a way to let him know that we know these things can be hard to understand. The Santa one is the hardest because it is such an honest question and one that we don’t want him to ruin for his friends – kind of like the tooth fairy. It’s a tough one – what do you tell your kids?
Spin the dreidels, light the menorahs, it is Hannukah time. When we announced that Saturday was the first night of Hannukah, the kids dropped their electronic gadgets, stopped texting their friends, and cleaned the table off. Everyone was so excited to start the celebration.
What, your calendar says that Hannukah is still a couple of weeks off? Well, because Hannukah coincides with our trip to California to celebrate Christmas with my family we are doing it early. We have always played loose with the dates for Hannukah. When our kids were really small we made the decision to celebrate each holiday on its own. We felt that by making each event stand on alone, it would eliminate the competition between the two.
The agreement Bob and I reached before we got married was that we would celebrate Christmas with my family but not in our house. We have violated this one year when we didn’t have the time or resources to go to my family’s home. We had a very low key celebration at our house. I am not sure what we will do when my mother is no longer with us, and I don’t like to think about that.
At first I was disappointed about this. I fought it, and tried to put up a tree and decorations. Now, I love that we don’t have to worry about putting up lights and decorating a tree. It is one less thing I have to do. When we go to my mom’s the kids can do all the Christmas stuff. I don’t have to try and squeeze it into our schedule. When we are there we can do it without all the other stressors of our lives. The kids get the full experience and I have less work, win/win!
But, back to Hannukah… it was great to watch my kids get over-joyed by lighting the menorah. To actually want to sit down and play dreidel with us, we sure don’t have this response when we suggest family game night. They immediately started in on determining when we would have latkes and who we would invite. Because of the schedule, the idea of donuts for dinner was met with squeals of excitement.
My youngest who is 6, asked about presents. We told her, that because we were doing it early that the only gifts they would get during our Hannukah would be the ones from us. They would still get gifts from everyone else, but they would just come later. We reminded them that they will just get the usual gifts from us. We give money, clothing and an experience. That is it. Last year we swapped out a material gift for an experience. The experiences were a trip to a baseball game, a pony ride and a professional soccer game. It was something each kid got to do with their father, alone. It was very well received.
So, while for most people Hannukah has not started, for us it is almost over. That is ok, because we will leave the “coldest place on earth” and head home to California for two weeks of Christmas. It works for us, what works for you?
Where am I? Somewhere between adoption and something else. I don’t know what just yet. But as I pause here wondering which way to go, I’ve had some time to think and most of that thinking has been about the question I asked in my last post, “who am I if I’m not a mother?”
As a person that is not married and has no children I spend a lot of time sitting in the pew watching traditional families (married couples with kids) on their way up to the bimah – baby namings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and wedding blessings (aufruf), wedding anniversaries. Jewish ritual greets traditionals at every turn ready to teach how Torah can speak to them at that particular time in their lives, affirming their place in the community and marking it with congregational celebration.
But what if these events don’t happen in your life? Then who are you? Who am I? I don’t find it surprising that a loss of identity is an outcome of infertility and/or failed adoption because so much of Jewish life is structured by these milestones in traditional family life.
“I love my church and I hate my church” a friend who is struggling with infertility tells me. She sighs and adds, “everything is centered around the kids so I’m an outsider when I most need my community.” The Jewish community is no different.
That’s not to say that I’m not happy for all these families. I am. But couldn’t we be more inclusive? Aren’t there transitions that occur in adult life aside from marriage and kids that cry out for engagement in Jewish learning, ritual and celebration?
What if we had a ritual marking the entery into adult life after college or a program of study at the turning of 40 years old (which is a time of deep soul searching for some)? Or for retirees that are adjusting from work to retirement and wondering how to re-imagine their lives? I don’t mean just a class or an aliyah but a full program of study culminating a unique and appropriately sacramental recognition. Wouldn’t ceremonial and educational opportunities like these add to the richness of our congregations and to the lives of those that participate?
As our community continues to change maybe we need to think about re-structuring or simply adding more milestones on the Jewish pathway through life - after all Judaism has something to say every Jew wherever they may be.
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.
It’s been a crazy few weeks since my last post where I described my 7 year old’s 10 day sickness. About a week after he finally recovered, I got the flu and a horrible cough – not normal since I usually get sick once every 5 years. Then the weekend of Halloween, the Northeast, and Connecticut in particular, got hit with a crazy and very unexpected Fall snowstorm that left a foot of snow on the ground and us and most of our friends without power for 10 – 12 days. School was cancelled for 7 full days – not normal. The JCC, where I work, was closed for 10 days so I had no work and my 2 year old son had no day care – not normal. Halloween was cancelled in our town and many others close-by due to downed trees, branches and power lines – not normal. And we moved in with my in-laws for 8 days – definitely not normal! Don’t get me wrong – I love my in-laws – but to be in someone else’s home, with no schedule, strange sleeping arrangements and no routine was tough on all of us. Many of my friends and co-workers left town to stay with friends or relatives in other states and those who did stay or had generators had multiple families over to shower, eat hot meals, charge their phones and computers and simply warm up on a daily basis. Things that we all had planned to enjoy in these 10 days were cancelled – my son’s Consecration ceremony where he and all of his first grade classmates receive their own Torahs, soccer games, family get-togethers and birthday parties. Finally when power was restored to our home, places of work and to our schools – things were FINALLY back to normal. I had never wanted to go to work that badly in my entire life!
I also had a chance to reflect on the word “normal” at a training I attended in Boston last week for Jewish educators who work with intermarried couples and families. The training started off with a panel of four intermarried couples who were all raising their children as Jews and had all found synagogues that they consider “home”. They seemed to all feel normal as intermarried families in these synagogues because these synagogues and clergy were warm, welcoming, caring and respectful of them as an intermarried family – like any other family who is a member at that synagogue.
This got me thinking about how I feel like a perfectly normal family in my synagogue and in the Jewish community at large. Our synagogue has many intermarried families as does the JCC pre-school where my younger son attends. I get asked all the time by JCC members that I have just met “Are you Jewish?” because of my last name – MacGilpin. When my husband and I got married I knew that I wanted to take his name because I felt like one day if we had kids, I wanted us all to have the same last name. At that time, about 10 years ago, Soledad O’Brien was the news anchor on the TODAY Show and I thought, if she could have a Spanish and Irish name then I could have a Hebrew and Scottish name. Completely normal, right?
Since moving back to Atlanta, my husband and I have been running around like madmen buying furniture, reconnecting with old friends, traveling to see family, settling into our jobs and new house and preparing for the kid-to-be.
Hectic is the theme of our life right now. Between CPR classes, baby showers, doctor appointments and pediatrician interviews, this tiny little baby in my belly has already squarely established himself as center of our attention. But we’re okay with that… he’s just so darn cute.
This morning was no different as it was our first meeting with a rabbi of a local synagogue to discuss joining the temple and his views on intermarriage and conversion. We’ve attended services at this synagogue a few times and both felt very comfortable, not an easy task for a family quite like ours.
After the usual formalities, our discussions varied from homosexuality and Hebrew school philosophies to Israeli politics and what makes someone Jewish. It was not exactly what I expected, but I enjoyed the conversation immensely. He shared personal stories of his own interfaith family (he is married to a Jew-by-choice) and inquired about our experience. His views on intermarriage and conversion meshed well with our own and his questions for us even made us stop and think about issues we’ve never considered… Again, not an easy task when it comes to two people who have had nearly 10 years to discuss everything under the sun (and believe me we both are known to be quite the talkers).
The rabbi, of course, asked me why I haven’t considered conversion and listened without judgment or interruption as I explained my personal decision not to convert. Yes, my conversion would make everything easier and on the practical level makes complete sense. I mean, I already live in a Jewish household, keep kosher, celebrate Jewish holidays, attend synagogue, know Hebrew and even lived in Israel for a year. Come on, it is all right there!
But I’m not looking for easy. I’m not looking for practicality when it comes to my spiritual needs. I’m looking for a relationship with G-d. My own faith fulfills that need and until it doesn’t and until I find I am fulfilled by Judaism, I have no plans to convert. He accepted my reasoning under the caveat that the discussion, not only for conversion purposes, but for the overall role of religion and spirituality in our lives between us as a couple, our families, our community and internally never be over. As a true believer in the art of good communication and continued personally growth, I fully agreed. I don’t expect us to know the answers to every hurdle we may face as a family and I want someone in our religious community I can trust to help us navigate the path ahead.
I hope we have found a home temple where we both feel comfortable, where my husband and our children can grow in their Judaism, where we can find a community of acceptance and support and leaders who guide us to better ourselves as a family.
Having a baby has flipped our world upside down in hundreds of ways already and I can’t wait to see what this little guy has in store for us next. He is making us better and opening our eyes to our greater potential every single day.
Before leaving us with a firm handshake, another date to discuss a mohel, a few booklets and a membership packet, the rabbi said he hoped he’d see us in services very soon. I think he just may.
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
The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are referred to as the “days of awe” – a time of reflection, atonement, saying you’re sorry to those you may have wronged. The Days of Awe 2011 for our family has officially been re-named the “days of sick”. Unfortunately our older son was sick and out of school for the past 10 days. Nothing serious – but he had a long standing fever, horrible cough and a big case of the “I just want to lay on the couch, watch TV and play Wii”. He got x-rays for pneumonia – nothing, we went to the doctor’s – his exam was perfect. We went to get blood work – which was a whole other ordeal unto itself – nothing. Just more Jr. Tylenol and cough-induced sleepless nights for us all. I just felt so bad for him – no energy, no appetite, no interest in doing anything. The worst part for my husband and I was that we felt so helpless – we just couldn’t do anything to make him feel better.
The one bright spot of the week was one night before bedtime. We usually read our boys a book or two (or three) before bedtime that they get to choose and at this point, our older son can read on his own – he was so proud of himself when he came home from school on library day with two chapter books after he passed the “test” to take them out. Instead of reading Hooray for Fly Guy or Gus and Grandpa’s Halloween Costume or a book about tornadoes, dinosaurs or baseball, he requested The Only One Club and The Shabbat Box – two adorable PJ Library books that we probably haven’t read in two years but are still in his bookcase. The Only One Club is a great picture book about a girl who realizes that she is the only Jewish child in her class as her teacher is having all of the kids make Christmas decorations. She goes home that night and makes a special badge for herself that says “The Only One Club”. At school the next day everyone asks her what the badge is for and then everyone else wants to be part of the club. Although she makes the badge because she is the only Jewish child, she figures out that each kid in her class is the “only one” of something – red hair, freckles, big teeth, etc. It’s a book that is particularly relevant during the December holidays when kids start to figure out who is Jewish and who is not, or remembering my son’s explanation – “who is Christmas and who is Chanukah.”
The Shabbat Box is a book about a boy who waits “98 sleeps” to take home the Shabbat Box from pre-school and then it drops in the snow on his way home and he ends up making another, even more special Shabbat box for the class. From our experience at the JCC pre-school, the Shabbat Box includes candles, a fresh challah, grape juice, a blessings sheet and a Shabbat book. Getting the Shabbat Box in pre-school was always fun for us – except on the Friday nights when my husband and I were completely exhausted and couldn’t rally to do Shabbat and instead made French toast on Saturday morning.
I was more than happy to read these sweet, moral-based, Jewish books to my sick son who obviously needed a feel-good book before bedtime that night – too tired and too exhausted to read on his own and more in the mood for a pre-school story than a big boy book. My husband also read these same books to our son the night before – unbeknownst to me.
As I look back on these ten days and do my own reflecting, I realize I am so lucky to have a healthy family, an amazing husband who is helping create a Jewish life for our children and a supportive community in which to do so.
For more information on the PJ Library and how your child/ren can get free, age appropriate, Jewish books and music sent to your home on a monthly basis visit www.pjlibrary.org. You will be happy you did!
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!
Request a Rabbi or Cantor!
Looking for a rabbi or cantor to officiate at a wedding or other life cycle event? Our free referral service can help.