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A few weeks ago my family had a hard day. It seemed that both my Jewish and my husbandâs 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 Adrianâs 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 hadnât 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 couldnât imagine the feeling. He went into the bedroom and prayed to his Virgin of Guadalupe.
At 6 oâclock Adrianâs 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 motherâs 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 Adrianâs 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 didnât join Helen and me at the table in my motherâs 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 motherâs chicken soup, jalapeĂ±os, challah and tacos. She smiles like her mother and looks like her father. She says âhello,â âholaâ and âshalom.â
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 âbad Jewâ and told me I was making my daughter into a âguinea pig.â The email had me in tears. I couldnât 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 womanâs 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 mournerâs 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.
Ah, yes, itâs summer at last. Time, maybe, to wind down a little bit and contemplate some bigger-picture lessons that get lost in the shuffle during the school year. We talked toÂ Rabbi Jillian CameronÂ ofÂ NewtonâsÂ InterfaithFamily, which supports interfaith families in embracingÂ Jewish life, about three important Jewish values that kids should absorb as early as possible. Nothing big or daunting, just simple lessons to instill in everyday moments.
Compassion and respect
âWeâre all created in the image of God,â says Cameron. âWeâre each special and unique, but weâre also connected through a larger image of something greater, whether people look or act like us, or are different. Weâre all worthy of respect.â
This can be tough for little kids to grasp: Why does one kid have two moms, and another has a mom and a dad? Why do some kids get to go to summer camp, and others canât afford to go? Kids tend to define themselves by their visibleÂ differences, not by their unseen similarities, so they need some prompting.
Since this concept is abstract, Cameron recommends tying similaritiesÂ to a real-life example through a story, like playing with a friend from a different country.Â âYou have white skin and your friend has dark skin, but you both love âDespicable Me,â right?â The more you can make those connections for your kids now, the less scary differences will be as they get older.
Ah, peace. This can be elusive when your kids are bickering over who ate the last cookie,Â or who gets to sit by the window on the car ride to the beach, or whoâs taller orâŠyou name it.
In this case, Cameron recommends âgoing big.â Instead of beggingÂ your kids not to fight (ha!), try to help them think about peace on a larger scale.
âGet them talking: What does peace look like for you? When do you feel peaceful? Is it when youâre falling asleep? What makes you feel at peace? Is it living in a comfortable home or having toys to play with? How can you help create that for yourself, for your friends and for the whole world?â
Make them part of the big-picture solution, instead of admonishing them. If they realize how important peace is on a bigger scale, they might be more likely to think about how it applies to their own lives, too.
Itâs never too early to teach your kids the importance of charitable giving. While Jewish tradition holds that we should give 10 percent of our income to charity, kids donât need to worry about that. At this stage, itâs more about seeing charity with their own eyes, like visiting a shelter to drop off toys or a soup kitchen and helping out.
Kids benefit from participating in theseÂ hands-on, real-world experiences far more than hearing about them. Offer your child experiences where he or she can see their impact firsthand.
âItâs not just about giving money. Itâs about thinking of how to create a more just world,â Cameron says. âInstead of thinking about helping others in terms of financial giving, think about it as giving back a part of your life. Thereâs action involved in justice; we canât rest on our laurels.â
The earlier your kids see that their actions can make a difference, the easier it will be to make giving back a habit.
Reprinted with permission from JewishBoston.com