Jewish Camp is a valuable way for interfaith families to learn and share in the joy of Judaism in a comfortable, fun and meaningful environment. See which camps identify as welcoming to interfaith families.
Connecting Interfaith Families to Jewish Life in Greater Cleveland by providing programs and opportunities for interfaith families to experience Judaism in a variety of venues, meet other interfaith families, and to connect to other Jewish organizations that may serve their needs.
This is an interactive, fun, and low-key workshop for couples who are dating, engaged or recently married. The sessions will give you a chance to ask questions about faith, to think about where you are as an adult with your own spirituality and to talk through what's important to you and your partner.
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.
Today, my family is ringing in the New Year for the fourth time in 2017.
In January, we reveled with champagne and caviar.
In February, we received homemade turnip cakes andÂ lai seeâ€”festive, cash-filled red envelopes customary for the Chinese New Yearâ€”from my husbandâ€™s 97-year-old Chinese nanny, who also raised my Indian mother-in-law in Hong Kong and is now our surrogate grandmother.
In September, we ate apples and honey, and cheered as my 2-year-old greeted my parents with a joyous, â€śShana tova,â€ť a phrase he brought home from his Jewish nursery school.
And finally, today we celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. We are marking the triumph of good over evil in spiritual lore, the unofficial start of another new year. Weâ€™ll sayÂ puja,Â or prayers, around the houseâ€”particularly in my home office, to appeal for a prosperous year. And weâ€™ll accept my mother-in-lawâ€™s annual deliveryâ€”an aromatic, seven-vegetable curryâ€”along with her challenge to guess the mystery produce, which typically ranges from run-of-the-mill potatoes to exotic (but easily identifiable) lotus root.
Until this year, it never even occurred to me that four celebrations to observe one phenomenonâ€”the passage of timeâ€”could be considered, well, a lot. And itâ€™s kind of confusing to boot, especially for my 5-year-old, whose birthday just happens to fall on January 1st.
It took a while to convince Baby New Year that the noisemakers and fireworks from the rest of the world didnâ€™t herald the auspicious occasion of his birth. I thought we were good once he accepted that, but this yearâ€™s multiple New Year celebrations threw him for a loop.
Admittedly, when he asked how there could be four new years in a single one, I went about the discussion all wrong. I started explaining the scientific concept of timeâ€”how it takes the earth 365 days to orbit the sun, and how different cultures developed their own calendars to mark each dayâ€™s passage thousands of years ago. That didnâ€™t go over so well.
â€śBut doesnâ€™t the earth orbit the sun at the same speed everywhere in the world? Why would people end up with different calendars and different New Years?â€ť he asked.
Ummm, did I just get schooled in astronomy by a 5-year-old?
Clearly, I was incapable of delivering a cogent, scientific argument to a kindergartener and needed to consider the emotional caseâ€”what our various New Year celebrations meant to me, personallyâ€”before I could convince him they werenâ€™t all redundant to his â€śdouble special dayâ€ť on January 1st.
So, for the first time in a while, I paused to really think. I stopped packing lunches and paying bills and punching away at emails on my phone to sit down and reflect on how lucky my family is to usher in four new beginnings over the same 365-day period.
Iâ€™ve given up on as many New Yearâ€™s resolutions as Iâ€™ve made, every year another failed attempt at meeting some arbitrary metric: lose five pounds, meditate for 10 minutes a day, keep my inbox at zero. But what if having a New Yearâ€™s celebration every few months meant we didnâ€™tÂ haveÂ to make resolutions at all anymore?
What if we took the start of each cultural calendar year as an opportunity to set smaller goals and take stock of all the little victories weâ€™d ordinarily overlook?
What if I spent some time during the Rosh Hashanah school break talking to my kids about what weâ€™d done over the past couple of weeks to be kind, and what we could do in the days before Diwali to be even more thoughtful or caring?
What if, during Diwali, we considered all the new and interesting experiences weâ€™d had since Rosh Hashanah, and brainstormed other cool things we wanted to try before New Yearâ€™s Day?
And what if, on January 1st (after blowing out my sonâ€™s birthday candles, of course), we considered what weâ€™d done since Diwali to make ourselves proud, and what we could maybe try harder at before collecting our little red envelopes for Chinese New Year?
What if these four calendarsâ€”my familyâ€™s multicultural forcing mechanismâ€”reminded us to be both grateful and excited for all the small things we experience every day?
In the course of our busy lives, we too rarely take the time to reflect on the mini-milestones of the recent past or contemplate those that lie just within reach. But Iâ€™ve got four opportunities on my 2018 calendar to help me do just that, and I plan to use this new approach to explain the relationship between them to my kids.
How lucky for me that those opportunities just happen to involve bubbly champagne, crispy turnip cakes, sweet apples and fragrant curry.
A few weeks ago my family had a hard day. It seemed that both my Jewish and my husbandâ€™s Mexican/Catholic faith were being tested. A 7.1 earthquake shook Mexico. The epicenter of the quake was in Puebla where my husband, Adrian, is from and where his immediate family still lives. We were at the laundromat with Helen, our 2-year-old. All of a sudden breaking news of the quake flashed across the two flat screens above us.
Both Mexico City and the small, unknown villages of Puebla suffered. What was even more striking was the undeniable factor that the same earth shook on the same date in 1985 when 10,000 people were killed in Mexico City. Adrian grabbed his phone immediately. But then, so had the rest of the world. There was no connection to his village and the phones seemed dead or the lines were all busy. We grabbed our laundry from the dryer, put it in the trunk of the car and drove home to fold it.
The 19th of September this year also marked one day before the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. I wondered how we would be able to celebrate in the wake of such a tragedy.
As the day moved on, Adrian kept getting Facebook updates from friends in his town who had some access to the internet via their phones. Photos started being uploaded of demolished buildings. Another mutual friend of ours who was in Mexico City said 46 buildings had collapsed and there was chaos on the streets. Adrian went somewhere deep inside of himself with worry. I tried to play with Helen in the living room and not say too much. There was nothing to say, there was only waiting.
News came from Adrianâ€™s brother that the church in their village had collapsed. The front was cracked down the middle and still standing but everything inside had fallen. Adrian started to cry. His mother went to that church every Sunday, every holiday and at every opportunity she had. He still hadnâ€™t heard from her. I wondered what it would be like if my synagogue fell down, the same one I had been going to since I was a child. I couldnâ€™t imagine the feeling. He went into the bedroom and prayed to his Virgin of Guadalupe.
At 6 oâ€™clock Adrianâ€™s sister got through to him. That was mostly due to the iPhone he had sent to her a year ago. She said that the town was a mess but that luckily the family was OK. However, a lot of the neighbors were left homeless and there were huge cracks in the earth. One wall in his motherâ€™s house was cracked and the stove had fallen killing three live turkeys that had been running around the kitchen. I could see the relief on Adrianâ€™s face even before he hung up with his sister. I could see his sadness but also his faith, that unshakable faith when you believe in something hard enough that it changes the outcome of your worst fears.
We found out later that one girl in the village had been rushed to the hospital after a house collapsed on her. We also heard later on about how money from the government was not reaching the pueblos and that people were forced to rebuild without help. Then someone in the village started a donation page and raised enough money for bottled water and supplies.
The next night was Rosh Hashanah. Adrian was still reeling from the destruction of his village and he had to work so he didnâ€™t join Helen and me at the table in my motherâ€™s house. But, my brother said a special prayer for his family and he was present even in his grief. Adrian was actually happy to go to work so that he could take his mind off of things.
As the Jewish New Year progressed I looked at Helen. I remember when Adrian and I decided that she would be of two faiths. It was way before she was born. We said that whatever she wanted to be, she would be part of both of us. So far she eats my motherâ€™s chicken soup, jalapeĂ±os, challah and tacos. She smiles like her mother and looks like her father. She says â€śhello,â€ť â€śholaâ€ť and â€śshalom.â€ť
When Helen was just a year old I received an angry email from an irate woman asking me how I could raise my daughter in an interfaith household. She accused me of being a â€śbad Jewâ€ť and told me I was making my daughter into a â€śguinea pig.â€ť The email had me in tears. I couldnâ€™t believe someone would say such a thing. It took me weeks to realize that a voice like that is not a voice of strength but a voice of true weakness, full of misunderstandings. After the earthquake happened I thought about that womanâ€™s email and how absurd it was. After all, Helen goes to the synagogue I went to when I was a child and she will help rebuild the church that her abuela cherishes. We have already asked when we can make a donation in her name.
This year on Yom Kippur I will wear black, say the Kaddish (the mournerâ€™s prayer) for my father and for the people of Mexico who suffered during the earthquake. I will teach my daughter a Jewish prayer and a Catholic prayer. I will teach her that being part of an interfaith family does not make you less of one thing but more of both. After all, we have work to do. There are synagogues that need renovations and churches that are waiting to be rebuilt.
This yearâ€™s Rosh Hashanah became the beginning of a challenging New Year. Approaching the middle of my third trimester with a two-year-old at home I refused to cook. I spent the Wednesday afternoon before the festivities with my feet up while blowing bubbles for my daughter. There was only one small tantrum that occurred in the kitchen when I said â€śchickenâ€ť and my daughter said â€ścookieâ€ť and then when I pulled out a cutlet there were a few kicks and screams and â€ścookie, cookie, cookie!â€ť demands. Other than that, things seemed to be going my way.
We had Rosh Hashanah dinner at my motherâ€™s house and my daughter and nephews played until they exhausted themselves and then we all went to bed. The real Rosh Hashanah tradition begins in the morning when my mother and I walk one mile to our Orthodox synagogue every year. This is purely tradition. We are not Orthodox and I have been running an interfaith household with my Mexican/Catholic partner since before our first daughter was born. But the walking to the synagogue where my father prayed and where we went to visit my grandmother as children, because she lives half a block away, is the tradition I have kept because it is most important to me. It is also important for me to share that tradition with my own daughter and the new baby girl on the way.
It was so humid for our walk in the morning that my mother and I had to stop every few blocks. (AtÂ 72, my mother is in better shape than her pregnant daughter.) We huffed and puffed and made it in time to hear the shofar, the traditional ram’s horn that the rabbi blows into every year. And every year he says the same thingâ€”that no one can hear the shofar in the streets without trembling. I always tremble when he says this because it is such a unique image and I imagine the olden days when perhaps this was true.
It is always the walk to synagogue with my mother that matters on the High Holy Day. Of course we pray and we listen to the rabbiâ€™s sermon, but when we walk, we share memories. We wonder and are in awe of how we both made it so far with so much heartache. We look at my daughter and marvel how a baby so Jewish and so Catholic at the same time can be so blessed.
Our walk home this year is what changes things. On our way back to the house, my mother tells me she is excited because she will be going with my nephews to synagogue on Friday morning. At first, I think my brother will be bringing them to our synagogue. He doesnâ€™t live too far away but he would have to drive them over. But then my mother assures me that he is not driving, in fact SHE is driving to their house in the morning and going to a new synagogue in my brotherâ€™s neighborhood. I stop walking and have to sit down.
During my most challenging times of trying to balance two cultures and two religions in my own home and trying to give my daughter the gift of both beautiful worlds, I have never broken my own traditions to do so. I have never told my mother I was not going to synagogue with her. I have never missed a Passover seder. So it shocked me when my mother decided to do something she has never done before on our most important holiday. It also shocked me that I hadnâ€™t been invited. I was stunned.
The next morning was a beautiful day in Brooklyn. It was what Rosh Hashanah is made of. The neighborhood was green and the sky was a piercing blue. There was no humidity. The sidewalks had cooled off and the Orthodox women in my neighborhood shuffled by in their best dresses. Lilac, burgundy, opal and sea foam green were the colors of the dayâ€™s fabric. I walked out of my house without my mother. At first, I thought that I should try a new synagogue. Next door to our apartment, where I held a baby naming for my daughter, they had a service. When I walked in and the woman asked if I needed help I told her I had forgotten something at home and I walked back out onto the street.
I took the long walk to synagogue alone. When I approached my seat inside, the rabbi had just brought out the torah and everyone stood. Rosh Hashanah signifies a new beginning. It is the day God opens a new page and decides whether or not we will be forgiven for our past sins. It is a joyous holiday celebrated by the tradition of eating apples dipped in honey for the desire for a sweet year to come. It is on this day that I can always hear my father singing, even though he has been gone for so long. It is on this day that I thank God for the opportunities I have, for a family I have made with two faiths. But it was never in my mind that on this day, I would sit without my mother when she is still alive and well. It was never in my mind that I would miss someone. It never occurred to me that the matriarch of my own childhood family would be the first one to truly break tradition, to unravel it like a typewriter ribbonâ€”as if at the last minute she decided to change the story.
This post originally appeared on PJ LibraryÂ and is reprinted with permission.
Chances are, your preschooler isnâ€™t an expert onÂ Rosh HashanahÂ celebrations (theyâ€™ve only been alive for a few of them so far). You may not be an expert on Rosh Hashanah either, and if the holiday is new to you, youâ€™re likely learning alongside your little one. Thereâ€™s no time like the present for you both to learn about the traditions that make Rosh Hashanah so special!
Between learning the colors and practicing how to write their own names, preschoolersâ€™ days are filled with learning â€“ and that learning wonâ€™t stop during Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year itself has a lot of traditions for you to learn about together, such as why you dip apples in honey, blow theÂ shofar and bake round challah.
Get acquainted with Rosh Hashanah as a family using these amazing books, all of which are perfect for the preschool age!
With simple text, this book explains symbols and customs of Rosh Hashanah by comparing a child’s birthday celebration with the rituals of the Jewish New Year. A birthday cake or honey-dipped apples and a shofar or party horns are just two of the comparisons.
Beni loves getting together with family on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year — if only it werenâ€™t for his mischievous cousin, Max. Max is making trouble for everyone! But Grandpa has a few words of wisdom about starting off the New Year right.
With Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, just around the corner, Little Red Rosie wants to make a round challah to celebrate the holiday. Who will help her make the challahâ€”and then eat it? You might be surprised!
Hearing the shofar is an exciting experience for children. After beginning with this important holiday tradition, the author then introduces dipping apples in honey, making greeting cards and baking round challah.
Q:Â Recently, our twenty year old daughter called from college to announce that she is bringing home her first serious boyfriend for Rosh Hashanah. He is an A student, the leader of his a cappella group and involved in community service. Before she introduced him to us, she warned us that although he is a great person, he is not Jewish. We had always expected and hoped that she would date only Jewish guys, and we had talked about this ad nauseam before she left for college. The truth is, we were a little hurt that she rebelled against us. She had a strong Jewish education and continued Hebrew lessons throughout high school. We observe Shabbat weekly and celebrate all of the holidays. My daughter has been to Israel and remains an active member of Hillel on her campus.
From my daughterâ€™s perspective, we did not react well. We lectured her on the importance of marrying someone Jewish and of raising Jewish children. She ended up in tears.
What should we do from here?
A:Â First, your daughter was probably not thinking about rebelling against you when she decided to date this young man. Just like we did not follow all of our parents expectations, we canâ€™t expect that our children will always obey our dictates. In our pluralistic society, it is unrealistic to expect our children to date only within the Jewish religionâ€”unless, of course, we keep them in a totally Jewish world. The reality is that most Jewish Americans, other than the most Orthodox, send their children to secular colleges where they will meet people of other backgrounds.
Many Jewish parents feel that their commitment and effort in providing a Jewish education has been wasted, if their children choose to date outside the faith. I can assure you, the education is not wasted. Your daughter, no matter who she marries, has the knowledge to create a Jewish home.
Again, in America it is not unusual for young people to use their twenties to focus on their career. For many recent college grads, marriage is a distant plan. Too often, parents leap to the conclusion that the first serious boyfriend is the final â€śone.â€ť He might be, but unless your daughter is bringing home an engagement ring, it is unlikely. However, because there is the possibility of marriage or a long term relationship, you want to have a good relationship with this young man.
Since she is bringing him home, be welcoming. Try to appreciate the fine person he is, while showing him the best of our culture. If he is here for Shabbat, offer him a yarmulke and explain that the yarmulke is a sign of respect rather than a religious declaration. Explain why we light the candles and why we bless the wine. Whatever customs your family practices, ask him if he would like to join, but donâ€™t force him. For example, the children might put their hands on the challah and recite the blessing. He could be included. If you bless the children, bless him too, with his permission.
As for Rosh Hashanah, again explain the customs and the history. It is helpful if you can provide him with reading materials about the holiday, as the service can be long and tedious to those who have no idea whatâ€™s happening. You might also give him permission to walk in and out of the service. Whether you like it or not, many of our synagogues are crowded with young people socializing just outside the sanctuary.
If he is from a family that doesnâ€™t practice any religion, he may be receptive and curious about what religion adds to the family. Praise him for any interest or efforts he makes, however clumsily, to participate. Who knows, he might be looking for the community and acceptance that Judaism offers many.
If, however, he is a believer in another religion, you might show some curiosity by asking about his traditions and if he sees any similarities or any differences with Judaism. You are modeling the kind of interest you hope he will reciprocate. Be welcoming but not insisting that he participateâ€”you are not asking him to convert. After all, itâ€™s a new relationship, and marriage is probably not on their minds right now.
On the other hand, it is possible that he is not open to learning or participating in your familyâ€™s traditions because he is vehemently opposed to religion. You should celebrate as you always do. After all, it is your home. Once the kids have gone back to school, you might tell your daughter how much you enjoyed the young man but wonder how she would feel in the long term being with someone who is not supportive of something that is important to her.
No matter what happens between your daughter and this young man in the future, remember, that your behavior has the potential to make friends or enemies for the Jewish people. And goodness knows we need all the friends we can get.
The latest Jewish Population Survey shows that over 50% of our children are marrying people from other faith backgrounds. Our admonitions against marrying people from other faith backgroundsÂ are not working. However, interfaith marriageÂ does not necessarily mean the end of our people. Interfaith marriageÂ has been around and has been a part of our history from our beginningsâ€”and we are still here. Moreover, most American Jews gave up celebrating Shabbat and keeping Kosher well before the interfaith marriageÂ rate climbed. You might better use your energy to continue to show your children the beauty and value of our traditions than continue your rants against interfaith marriage.
One of the strengths of Judaism has been its ability to adapt over the years. We moved from a sacrificial religion to a non-sacrificial one; from one centered on the temple to thriving in the diaspora. Â Perhaps we need to now focus on how to deal with multiple religions in our extended families. If we can figure out how to live together as families, we can truly be a model of co-existence. Besides, interfaith marriage brings new genes into our pool, which can have some health benefits.
I want to be clear here. I am not necessarily promoting interfaith marriage, but I am saying there can be an â€śup sideâ€ť to it. It is up to us all to make sure that we increase our numbers by welcoming others, rather than decrease them by pushing our children away. The demographics are clear. Interfaith marriage is on the rise. We need to embrace it. Otherwise, we might be destroyed by it.
Helen Rose in her Hand Made Birthday Dress from her Abuelita in Mexico
I burned myself last week. Right after Rosh Hashanah I went into the kitchen to pour hot water into a single-cup coffee filter and ended up with a pot of boiling water splashing down the right side of my body. On the week of the Jewish New Year, my 1-year-old daughter, Helen Rose, had a bad head cold and I had a second-degree burn across my chest. Everything would have been fine, except it wasnâ€™t.
A little while later, the blisters that had formed on my breast ruptured while I was trying to carry Helen down four flights of stairs in our apartment building. I was in pain for five days. I walked around the apartment without a shirt on and tried to keep the area clean. Then, one night a few days before Yom Kippur, I noticed a thin red line spreading from my breast to my armpit; I could hardly move my arm.
As a Jew I feel that guilt has played a large role in my life. There are jokes in our community about â€śJewish guiltâ€ť and â€śJewish mothersâ€™ guilt.â€ť So my mind automatically went to that place we tell ourselves not to go: â€śWhat did I do? I did something wrong and itâ€™s almost Yom Kippur. Iâ€™m paying for something.â€ť Adrian, my Catholic partner, heard my lament.
â€śThatâ€™s the most ridiculous thing Iâ€™ve ever heard,â€ť he said. â€śIt was an accident.â€ť
I asked him if there was such a thing as Catholic guilt, especially in Mexico, where heâ€™s from. I even tried to find the word for â€śguiltâ€ť in Spanish. The only word I could come up with was â€śculpa.â€ť But culpa doesnâ€™t really mean â€śguiltâ€ť; it means â€śfault.â€ť It comes from the Latin root â€śculpa,â€ť also used in the well-known term felix culpa. The phrase means â€śhappy fault.â€ť Catholics believe that Jesus dying on the cross was a felix culpa, because although he died for mankindâ€™s sins, which was bad, the Catholics got to have him as their savior, which was good. So to me it was as if Catholic guilt, if there is such a thing, could never compare to Jewish guilt. For me, guilt is guilt, and there is no happiness involved.
As soon as Adrian got home from work, I rushed to the emergency room carrying all my guilt with me. My burn had become so infected that the doctors at my local hospital transferred me to the burn center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. I cried. Adrian was taking care of the baby, and I felt alone. It turned out I had cellulitis and was to stay at the hospital with an IV until my burn healed. I cried again. Helenâ€™s birthday was two days away and Yom Kippur was the day after her birthday, but I was informed I might have to stay in the hospital for three days.
Hospitals are lonely, but if they do one thing itâ€™s test your faith. They test your faith in God and your faith in other human beings. One of my nurses wore a cross. Another wore a Star of David, and the third wore a heart with the word â€śMomâ€ť in the middle. I felt that all three of those nurses represented all three parts of my family and myself:Â Jewish, Catholic and motherly (and fatherly) love. They took great care of me while I thought more about guilt, about the New Year and about the Day of Atonement coming up. I thought about my daughterâ€™s smile and Adrianâ€™s sweet face.
I tried to remember that my wound was nothing. A burn center cares for people who have been truly disfigured by fire. I was lucky to have only been partially burned, and not across my entire body or face.
I thought of my little Helen Rose. How could I have let myself think God was punishing me for something by burning me? I burned my own breast! And it was an accident! Some people sit in the hospital for days, weeks, months. And then some peopleâ€™sÂ childrenÂ sit in the hospital. Guilt has nothing to do with itâ€”life happens. Tragedy happens. Sometimes death happens. These things happen to Jews, Catholics, Muslims and every human being on earth. They donâ€™t happen to make us pay; they happen to make us learn.
But Jewish guilt can come in handy sometimes. I dished out the Jewish guilt that was passed down to me to every doctor who came in contact with me. â€śYou know,â€ť I said as the IV dripped, â€śmy daughterâ€™s first birthday is on Monday, and if you donâ€™t fix me I may not be home for it.â€ť I remember one doctor said, â€śShe wonâ€™t remember.â€ť I could feel my Jewish ancestors rise up in my blood to reply, â€śBut Iâ€™ll remember! And what kind of mother would I be if I missed her birthday because of my burned breast?â€ť
I was released from the hospital on Monday, just in time for Helenâ€™s birthday. I took the kosher cake I had made days before out of the freezer. Our party plans were cancelled, but Adrian, my mother, Helen and I blew out a candle.
The Kosher Aztec Birthday Cake
I couldnâ€™t go to synagogue because I wasnâ€™t allowed to leave the house for a week, but I felt I had already atoned. A week later at my follow-up visit at the hospital, a doctor asked, â€śWhy didnâ€™t I see you when you were here? Were you in the burn unit?â€ť
â€śYes,â€ť I said, â€śI was released on Monday, just in time for my daughterâ€™sâ€¦.â€ť
Before I could finish, he cut me off: â€śYour daughterâ€™s first birthday? Yes, I know who you are now. There was a lot of talk about you. The staff felt so guilty about keeping you here that they decided it was OK for you to leave a day early.â€ť
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€ť but at most Shabbat services at Samâ€™s 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 lifeat the synagogue?
Jack’s first synagogue outing in February. He has been to *almost* every Friday night service, since.
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 youâ€™ve seen, how can we shift institutional Judaism to welcome young children and families, ensuring our faithâ€™s continuity for the next generation?
Our family has had a hard few weeks. Every day we open the news to a different headline about hatred and anger. Sometimes it feels as if the whole world has gone bonkers. To top it off, my significant other, Adrian, recently receivedÂ a phone call from Mexico informing him thatÂ his mother is ill. Her diabetes has taken a turn for the worse, and her doctor told her she could no longer eat tortillas, a staple food in Mexico. Adrian came home from work one night and put his head in his hands, defeated. â€śI think my father feels very alone,â€ť he said.
The next day I found out that my motherâ€™s favorite cousin died from complications from Alzheimerâ€™s disease. He had been living in a care facility where his wife would go three times a day to bring him food, company, laughter and a lot of love. My mother came home from work one day and put her head in her hands, defeated. â€śI think Tommyâ€™s death has finally hit me,â€ť she said.
My almost 1-year-old daughter, Helen, does not understand death and sickness yet. She has just begun learning how to live, how to crawl, how to hold onto something and pull herself up, how to grab onto the coffee table and take one step at a time.
With Rosh Hashanah right around the corner, we leave the house daily with lists of ingredients to buy for honey cake. I want her first Jewish New Year to be a joyous one full of hope. But there is some despair in our home right now.
Adrian checks his phone for messages about his mother. He calls Mexico. He meets with his brothers to discuss how much money they need to send back to Mexico for his mother to see a good doctor.
I sit in my motherâ€™s kitchen trying to scrawl out a letter to Tommyâ€™s wife, searching for words to explain my sympathy.
I want to pray. It is important to me that my daughter learns to pray, and because we are an interfaith family, it is important that both Adrian and I teach her how we both pray, especially because we pray so differently. But Adrian does not feel like praying lately. His statue of The Virgin of Guadalupe rests dusty on the bureau. I take this as an opportunity to learn that sometimes we as human beings donâ€™t have the will to pray. Sometimes praying means admitting something is wrong, and Adrian doesnâ€™t want there to be anything seriously wrong with his mother.
In Judaism it seems there is a prayer for everything. There is a prayer for death, life, sadness, forgiveness, women, men and children. There are prayers before going to bed, before eating lunch, after eating lunch and a prayer upon waking up in the morning. Adrian has different prayers, and because I didnâ€™t grow up Catholic like him, I donâ€™t know many of them. I assume they are similar to Jewish prayers, but I canâ€™t be sure.
Iâ€™ve been trying to teach Helen a few Jewish prayers. Because Adrian has beenÂ feeling so down, I looked up a prayer that Helen and I could recite for him and his mother. After coming across prayers similar to those in Judaism, I found a prayer to Guadalupe that begins, â€śOur Lady of Guadalupe, mystical roseâ€¦.â€ť I liked that because Helenâ€™s middle name is Rose. I sat down on the floor with Helen and began to recite the prayer, even though itâ€™s not a Jewish prayer. Then we added a Hebrew prayer for cousin Tommy.
â€śThis is for Papi,â€ť I said to Helen, â€śand for Abuela (Grandma) to get better. And we will say one for cousin Tommyâ€™s family too.â€ť
Helen was silent; Iâ€™m not sure she understood, but comprehension will come later. For now itâ€™s important for me to keep up with my own traditions, as well as Adrianâ€™s, even when he canâ€™t. Iâ€™m sure he would do the same for me.
Sometimes Adrian and I donâ€™t understand each otherâ€™s faiths. For him, Judaism has a lot of rules and complex meanings to these rules. For me, as a Jew, I donâ€™t bow down to idols. But I can enter into a realm of understanding and ask his saints to care for him just as I can ask Hashem, my God, at the same time to care for him.
Our goal as an interfaith family is to bring just that: faith. How do people survive bombings, terror, heartache and grief? We survive by faith. Helen has two faiths. She will learn, and is learning, two faiths. At times these two faiths can be difficult to maneuver, but their deep messages are the same: Have compassion. Be a good person. Help others. Do good work in the world. And our two faiths teach us that when our significant other comes home defeated, we can be the strength they need to keep going. Our two faiths teach us to watch our child and learn from her as well. She teaches us how to live, how to crawl, how to hold onto something so we can pull ourselves up and how to hold onto a coffee table, a chair, a bench, something, anything, so that we can take our steps slowly and one at a time until we are able to walk.
Growing up in a small, rural town in northern New Jersey in the â€™80s, I never had perfect attendance in school. Not because I was sick or because my family took vacations outside the school calendar, but rather because every fall, I needed to take two days off in observance of the Jewish holidays.
Unlike my friends who grew up in one of the predominantly Jewish parts of our stateâ€”where schools are closed for the High Holidaysâ€”I was one of about six Jewish families in our entire school district. So for us, school was definitely open and the High Holidays were consideredÂ excusedÂ absences (but still counted as absences), which meant Iâ€™d never have perfect attendance.
Of course, what I share today as a sore spot of my youth seems beyond frivolous now at 36 and a married mother of two. But at the time, it really bothered me. I already knew I was â€śdifferentâ€ť from the other kids.
Sometimes I really loved being unique. For example, my bat mitzvah was the first one my friends who weren’t Jewish had ever been toâ€”it was their inaugural exposure to Judaism and, not surprisingly, it was happily met with rave reviews. After all, whatâ€™s not to love? Thereâ€™s the party and the fancy dresses and the DJ and the neon necklaces and Shirley Temples.
Yet, other than the fact that I missed some school days each fall, or that I attended Hebrew School and had a bat mitzvah (whereas they all went to CCD at the same Catholic church and had confirmations), my religion remained a very personal thing for most of my childhood. It wasnâ€™t until I was getting ready to look at colleges that I realized finding a school with a large Jewish population was going to be really important to me.
I didnâ€™t want to be the only Jewish kid on the block anymore.
And so I accepted an offer from American University in our nationâ€™s capitalâ€”affectionately dubbed â€śGay Jewâ€ť (or at least it was called that when I attended, 1997-2001!).Â At American, I found myself part of the crowdâ€”religion often came up in conversation (as did politics, internship opportunities and study abroad plans). Suddenly, being JewishÂ bondedÂ me to others. And later my freshman year, I even dated an NJB (Nice Jewish Boy) for a few months.
I finally felt like I belonged atÂ AU, like I was among my people. And though the university didnâ€™t close for the High Holidays, many professors canceled class, either for their own observances or because they recognized many students would be going home to their families. Instead of being singled out at American, I feltÂ accepted, not having to explain at length why I couldnâ€™t present a group project on Rosh Hashanah. It was justÂ understood.
I didnâ€™t realize justÂ how muchÂ that understanding meant to me until I entered the working world in D.C. after graduation. I was naive and didnâ€™t know how things like vacation time/PTO workedâ€“or that theyâ€™d vary depending on company. I [wrongly] assumed that Iâ€™d be able to take my religious holidays off as personal days, no big deal.
So you can imagine I was none too happy when I learned Iâ€™d have to take PTO for the Jewish holidays, as at this particular company, sick, vacation, personal and religious holidays all fell in one PTO bucket. It didnâ€™t seem fair to me when Iâ€™d be perfectly willing to work Christmas Day and Christmas Eveâ€”which were considered company holidays.
It was a poignant reminder that, once again, I was back to being in the minorityâ€”even in a culturally, religiously, ethnically diverse city like Washington, I still had to â€śexplainâ€ť myself.
Years later, when my husband (who isn’t Jewish) and I moved to Kalamazoo for his job, I told my parents, â€śGREAT. Iâ€™ll be the only Jew in Kalamazoo!â€ť And it sure felt that way for a while. My one Jewish friend here was my friend Dana in Chicago, two hours away. But then my husband introduced me to his new colleague, Emilyâ€”and said, half-kidding, â€śSheâ€™s JewishÂ andÂ has curly hair, too; youâ€™ll be best friends!â€ť
And he was right. She is one of my best friends, to this day.
When the ad agency I worked for was acquired by a global marketing firm a couple years ago, one of the best changes to come out of the acquisition was that now religious holidays are counted as personal days, versus PTO. Though Iâ€™m still the only Jew in our Kalamazoo office, I no longer feel â€śalone,â€ťÂ or like I have to explain myself, knowing this is an across-the-board policy.
Which brings me to present day. Our 5-year-old daughter Maya is really into the Jewish holidays, traditional foods and singing the songs Iâ€™ve taught her. She can begin Hebrew school this coming fall, and Iâ€™m excited to begin her formal Jewish educationâ€”but I know how small the Jewish community is here in Kalamazoo. Itâ€™s just a tad bit larger than my hometown community was, and I worry about how sheâ€™ll feel, being one of just a few Jewish kids in her elementary school.
While Iâ€™ve always been proud of who I am and love our faith and its teachings, I remember that hard-to-explain, nagging feeling of not belonging growing upâ€¦ and it plagues me. Though I know as parents, we shouldnâ€™t project our emotions onto our kids, itâ€™s hardÂ notÂ to when experience is tainting how we feel. Fortunately, the synagogue we will be joining has a lot of young families and even some interfaith families like oursâ€”so I am sure we will get some guidance from those who have gone before us. But itâ€™s hard living in a community where we really are a minority.
Itâ€™s my hope that I can instill in her that being â€śdifferentâ€ť is what makes her specialâ€”what makes her (and our family) interesting and unique. We might have to explain ourselves to some people, especially living here in the Midwest in a city without many Jewish families, but thatâ€™s OK. Who knows, maybe sheâ€™ll find her place in college, just like her mama did.
MelissaÂ HenriquezÂ is red-headed Jew from Jersey who married a wonderful dark-haired Catholic guy from El Salvador. They met in college, endured several years of long-distance love, married in 2006 and now liveÂ in Michigan with their two wonderful children: Maya (5) and Ben (2).Â By day, she is a marketing manager at a global marketing agency and by night she blogs atÂ Let There Be LightÂ (est. 2008).Â Melissa’s writing has been featured on Babble.com and The Huffington Post.
â€śBut youâ€™re not really Jewish right?â€ť This has been a question I have been asked since I was big enough to walk. My family celebrates all of the big holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover to name a few. The women in my family donâ€™t wear long skirts and the men donâ€™t wear black hats. But, yes, we ARE Jewish.
â€śBut youâ€™re not really Jewish, right?â€ť is an insulting question. First of all, what does that mean? Thatâ€™s usually my response: â€śWhat does that mean?â€ť And people respond by changing the subject because they know theyâ€™ve offended me or they keep asking questions that further insult me. Since I live in a very religious neighborhood, these are a few of the questions I get: â€śYou donâ€™t wear a wig right?â€ť â€śYou donâ€™t keep kosher, right?â€ť (wrong), â€śItâ€™s so strange that youâ€™re Jewish,â€ť they say, â€śYou donâ€™t look Jewish.â€ť Again, what does that mean?
This year I had a baby with Adrian, my lifelong partner. He is Catholic from Mexico and I am Jewish from Brooklyn. We decided before we had the baby that ours would be an interfaith family. We wanted the beauty of both cultures and both religions to be a part of who our child was and who she would become. She is a Mexican-American-Jewish-Catholic child.
Adrian and I live in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. The stores are kosher, on Saturday none of the stores are open and on Jewish holidays women in pretty dresses and men in ironed suits walk in the middle of the streets because there are hardly any cars around. Our kitchen is kosher. Adrian eats pork but not in our home. Does this make me less Jewish? Does loving a man from another faith make me less Jewish? Is my daughter less Jewish because sheâ€™s also Catholic?
Baby Helen and Adrian in Prospect Park
The challenge so far has been trying to live a balanced life. When our daughter was first born these questions nagged at me. Would someone one day ask my daughter, â€śBut youâ€™re not really Jewish, right?â€ť What would she say? What should I teach her to say? How would I explain to her a double faith? An interfaith? The more these questions loomed over me the more I decided to challenge the ignorance of these interrogations.
I found myself in the lobby of a large synagogue next to my apartment building where I was to inquire about a baby naming for my daughter. This was when my daughter was just 2 months old. The woman who ran the functions at the synagogue was all smiles when I walked in with the baby strapped to me in my ergo carrier. She asked me the babyâ€™s name. â€śHelen Rose CastaĂ±eda,â€ť I said. She handed me a piece of paper and asked me to spell it. I wrote it out in both Hebrew and English.
â€śOh, you write in Hebrew,â€ť she said surprised. After all, I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and I was not in a skirt or dressed up at all. I had only gone to inquire. I had not gone to pray. As I filled out the rest of the information on the sheet I realized I had to write Adrianâ€™s name in Hebrew and my daughterâ€™s name. Her Hebrew name is Chaya Rachel but how was I to write â€śCastanedaâ€ť in Hebrew? I sounded it out.
The woman stared at the paper. I was waiting for the question, any question. I was waiting for her to say, â€śWell thatâ€™s interesting,â€ť or â€śIs this a Jewish name?â€ť I was waiting for the insult. It never came. Instead, before she could speak I said, â€śMiss, Iâ€™d like to tell you, before we begin the process of setting up this baby naming event, that my family is an interfaith family. I am Jewish and my partner is Catholic. We are not married and our daughter is both. Is this going to be a problem?â€ť
Her reaction was not what I expected. She was calm and smiled. She said, â€śThatâ€™s absolutely OK.â€ť There were no insulting questions, no asking if I was really Jewish. We had a beautiful baby naming ceremony at the synagogue and I felt at home. I felt accepted and my family felt accepted. But, I had also for the first time accepted myself.
I am a Jew always in my heart and I live my life according to Jewish law, meaning I treat others with compassion, I speak to G-d, I meditate and I try to do good deeds. I donâ€™t always succeed at all of these laws but I try my best to abide by them. I was born Jewish and I celebrate Judaism. I come from a long line of prophets and strong biblical women. This is what I will teach our daughter who has Jewish and Aztec blood in her. I also understand that people will always question my â€śJewishness.â€ť Iâ€™ve learned now to respond in a different way. Now, when someone approaches me with the question, â€śbut youâ€™re not really Jewish, right?â€ť my answer is always a flip of my hair and a long laugh.