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Tonight was the first time my family – my husband, me and my two boys – said the Hamotzi (blessing over the bread) at home – outside a Jewish holiday. It’s not that I am opposed to giving thanks before my meals – I know how many blessings I have and am thankful for them daily – I just don’t express my thanks to G-d on a daily basis. But maybe I should.
At Thanksgiving and Christmas, my father-in-law, who’s Episcopalian, always leads the Grace before dinner. This year our very chatty two-year-old thought that Grace was the greatest thing ever – getting to hold everyone’s hands before dinner. And his way of saying Grace was by saying “I love my family” – what could be better than that. My father-in-law’s version of Grace is also very universal – thanking G-d for our many blessings, for the meal we are about to enjoy, thankful to the family we are gathered with and also thankful for those who are not able to be with there. Then it’s chow time.
Tonight however, my in-laws were not having dinner with us, it wasn’t a special meal or holiday. It was just a regular Monday night. Just after we all sat down, our seven-year-old asks, “Can we say the blessing?” And I respond that there are different ways – Grace is what Christian people say, the Hamotzi is what Jewish people say and then our younger son’s version – I love my family. He immediately picked the Hamotzi, as if that was what he was trying to think of on his own, which we then all sang together. Even his little brother joined in – he has lots of practice from weekly Shabbat celebrations at the JCC pre-school.
Just a little story about how a regular Monday night turned into a really sweet moment for our family who might consider saying some form of thanks on a nightly basis.
Hamotzi lechem min haaretz,
We give thanks to God for bread.
Our voices rise in song together as our joyful prayer is said,
“Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, hamotzi lechem min haaretz. Amen.”
Sometimes I think what will be written on my headstone when I die is She had a lot of faith. As Roman Catholic raising Jewish children, I spend a lot of my time in houses of worship—three hours in the synagogue on Saturdays and an hour at Mass on Sundays—preparing for and celebrating holidays, and talking about God and religion with my friends and family.
The truth is I love it. I love being Catholic and I love that my family is Jewish. I am by no means a religious expert or theologian. I have studied Judaism for the past twelve years since I met my husband and as much as I have learned, I do feel like I have barely scratched the surface. Once when I was talking with a (Jewish) friend, trying to understand the differences between the Jewish denominations, he finally said the different denominations are about five minutes old in the span of Judaism, and I should not worry about the difference between a Conservative Jew and a Reconstructionist Jew. He told me to study the Jewish holidays, interpret them for my family, and all will be well.
I am sure some would take exception to that advice, but it has worked for me all these years. I cannot expound on all facets of Jewish religion, tradition, and customs, but I have found my way living a Jewish life with my family. I am grateful for all of my teachers along the way, my children’s preschool, their Jewish summer camp, our synagogue, great friends, and resources on Interfaithfamily.com. And I cannot forget the secretary at my church who recommended the mohel we used for my son’s brit milah (circumcision).
My son is eight years old and my daughter is six. I am happy to share that they are thriving in all aspects of their humanity, they are healthy, they are socially agreeable, and self-identify as Jews. They know I am not Jewish and love me anyway. Last year when William was seven and Sarah was five, we took them to our local mikveh to be officially converted. Of course some lines of Judaism recognize patrilineal descent, but it was important to us to have them officially converted for their Jewish legitimacy to be recognized by most modern denominations.
On the appointed day, William and Sarah went through the ritual immersion for Jewish conversion at the Community Mikveh in Wilmette, Illinois. One at a time, they entered the small holy pool and immersed their whole bodies under the water three times. After each immersion, a prayer was said by the beit din (rabbinic court officiating the ritual) blessing them into the Jewish religion.
William and Sarah loved the experience. My husband and I prepared them for it in advance. The mikveh is a special place. The water is the most special water you will ever feel on your skin. You will be sealed with God’s grace in a very special way. Enjoy it; savor it because it will be a long time before you can go into a mikveh again.
Enjoy it they did. Sarah went first and made us promise she can come back again one day. William dunked himself at least six times. He treaded water. He swam around. He stayed in as long as he could.
The following day was Friday. At our Shabbat dinner, we all made toasts to how wonderful it is to be Jewish and what a remarkable week it had been. Our Shabbat Shaloms , l’chaims and special Shabbat blessings felt extra special and authentic. It was then when I realized that I really am the only non-Jew in our house. I also realized my work to raise Jewish children was not over. It had just begun.
Baby’s bedtime routine is pretty typical: bath every other night, pjs, possibly a little playtime (depending on how organized we are that night), some cuddle/wind-down time with Mommy and/or Daddy on the couch, then upstairs. If Mommy’s putting to bed that night (Mommy’s and Daddy’s put-down routines differ slightly), we go upstairs, read one or two books, sing songs, and then it’s night-night.
Lately, I’ve been letting him pick out what books we’re going to read. (He’s got a veritable library to choose from – that’s what happens with an English-major-nerd-type of a Mommy and Grandma.) For quite some time it was Dr. Seuss’ The Foot Book or a Mother Goose compilation followed by Goodnight Moon. For Christmas, my Aunt Lyn (or, as Baby learned to call her, “Gate At Leee”) gave him On the Night You Were Born and Llama Llama Red Pajama, which quickly became favorites, even ousting Goodnight Moon. (Truthfully, Mommy was a little sad at that, because I love Goodnight Moon.)
But you know what he’s picked, almost exclusively, for the last week (which, let’s face it, in toddler-time is basically a lifetime)? My Shabbat, a soft shapes book by David Brooks. At first I thought Baby just liked it because the shapes come out, so it’s like getting to do a puzzle during bedtime stories. And I’m sure that’s one of the reasons he likes it. But I’ve noticed the last couple of nights that once he gets the removable shape out (or in, depending on whether we started with the pieces in or out of the book), he sits very still as I stumble read through the blessings (full disclosure here – I use the transliterations; I’ve not mastered Hebrew in my “spare” time). Now, I know he doesn’t understand yet, and that he probably really is reacting to the rhythmic sounds of the blessings, but I have to admit that I like it (and remember, I’m the non-Jewish parent). I also like that he now asks for his two night-night songs – the Sh’ma (which he calls “Sam-ah”) and “La La Lu” (also known as the lullaby from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp”). I hope that these routines are, in some small way, a step toward incorporating more Jewish traditions in his daily life.
What do your children’s nighttime routines look like? Do you try to incorporate Jewish prayers/thoughts/traditions into those routines, or at other times of the day?
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?
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!
My kids just walked in the door. The boys are laughing and retelling stories of their afternoon and laughing some more. As they grab something to eat, they both agree that they love to go to Religious School. Assembly was so much fun this week, they tell me. The Rabbi is hysterical.
Jewish education is part of developing a strong Jewish identity. I was always uncertain about how the kids would respond to what seemed to me to be “extra” school. But the Educator does a great job making it fun for everyone. This is great, because our belief is that unless you are sick, you are going to Religious School. My husband and I do not generally let the kids miss for social events.
The problem is soccer, which is almost religion in our household. Our kids play soccer every single day, even in the snow. They kick the ball in the house, in spite of the fact that I tell them not to kick the ball in the house. Last winter, our middle son started to play on the local travel team. The travel team uses fields that are not available on Saturday mornings, so games are generally played on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings.
Can you guess what the conflict is? Do we as good Jewish parents let our kids miss Religious School to play soccer? Do we let the one kid who would die on the sword for soccer miss occasionally to do the one thing he truly loves? As the schedules were being determined for the soccer season, we request no practice on Wednesday. We ask for no games on Sunday mornings. But this isn’t always feasible.
We agree that it is important for the kids to develop a strong Jewish foundation and going to Religious School is part of creating a Jewish identity, it is also important to consider the whole child. Right now my kids like to go to Religious School. They understand the importance of going. We recognize that “making” them go when they might want to do something else could cause resentment.
Granted it is a slippery slope: miss a day for soccer and another for a play date, what if soccer practices conflict with Wednesday Religious School, everyone is too tired from the week, when does it stop? We walk a fine line maintaining the importance of obtaining a religious education/identity and living our lives in modern society. We work hard to keep that balance for our kids. This Sunday, while our youngest and oldest are in Religious School, our soccer player will be on the soccer pitch stopping goals. (He promised to study his Hebrew extra hard this week and to get the assignments he will miss so that he will be prepared.)
When Bryan and I started talking long-term, I blurted out carefully and tactfully broached the subject of whether he’d want to raise any children we might have as Jews. And, since I’m not Jewish and currently have no plans to convert (nor have I been asked or pressured to), I’m sure my question threw Bryan for a loop. He thought for a minute and said, “Well, I never really thought I’d have that option, especially since Bubba and Bear aren’t.” That was the beginning of our faith discussions.
Never having expected an interfaith relationship to become the love of my life, I had never really thought about what religion I’d raise my children. I took it for granted that they’d be raised the same way I was, in the Christian faith. Now, I needed to think about it, seriously, carefully, prayerfully. I realized that it was important to me to raise a child with one religion. But which one? How do you make that call? If you’re going to raise a child in one faith when there are two faiths in the home, the parents have to agree on which faith to instill. I knew Bryan wouldn’t feel comfortable raising a child in only the Christian faith. However, he was quite comfortable raising Baby the same way that Bubba and Bear are being raised (exposed to both Judaism and Christianity). So, it was on me to decide what I was really comfortable with, and what was truly important to me.
After some initial study and lots of talking together, I told Bryan that I thought I wanted to raise our kids Jewish. He was floored. He insisted that I take more time – MUCH more time – to think about it, study more, and really be sure I knew what I was getting into. We found a synagogue and rabbi with whom we felt comfortable (Congregation Beth Israel). We took an Intro to Judaism course at that synagogue. We found InterfaithFamily.com. We read. A LOT. We got engaged and started premarital counseling with both our rabbi and a minister. We studied some more.
Bryan gave me plenty of time for an “out.” I took several more months to study, learn more, and make my decision. As I learned more about Judaism, I realized that the basics of the two faiths were very similar. (Yes, I know that oversimplifies it, but work with me here; this is a blog post, not a thesis… hopefully.) And it came down to this: I feel very comfortable with the Jewish faith. It’s the basis for my own religion, and the major tenets of being a good person and doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing are the same values I was raised with. Yes, there is the major difference of whether Jesus was or was not the Messiah, but for me, that argument has become less important than the emphasis that both religions place on doing the right thing, acting in the right way, and just in general being a good person.
There really was so much more that went into my thoughts and decisions, but like I said, this is a blog post, and I fear I’ve gone on too long already. I’m happy to answer any specific questions anyone might have (yes, Baby had a Brit Milah ceremony on his 8th day). But, what I hope you’ve gotten from this feeble attempt at explanation is that my decision was entered into willingly, with lots of thought, study, and prayer behind it. I didn’t come to my decision to be any kind of martyr or “give a gift” to the Jewish side of the family, or to disregard my own past or heritage. I simply felt in my heart that it was the right decision for me, for our family, and now, for Baby. It’s not always easy for me or my non-Jewish family (that’s another post altogether), but it’s the right decision for us.
Someday, when I finally adopt, my child will be converted to Judaism. This is, of course, necessary and halakhic (according to Jewish law) and even joyful but somewhere, beyond the bounds of reason, there is a corner of my heart that rebels against it. The other day I figured out why.
Adoptive parents have already warned me: wherever I am, Wal-Mart or shul (synagogue), with the child by my side or not, and especially if we are a transracial family, people will ask, “is he/she adopted?” And then some will question “what happened to his real mother?” or “didn’t her real family want her?” (As incredible as this sounds, I’ve never talked to any adoptive parent that has not had this type of experience.) Whether this is callousness or simple ignorance, adoptive parents face a struggle to become real, recognized as legitimate parents, attached to their children with a bond every bit as unbreakable as biology.
So I imagine that moment at the mikvah, my child and I entering the water and blessings and Jewishness, and my heart fractures between joy and resentment. I think “but I’m the Jewish Mommy so isn’t my child Jewish too? And if I am why do I need a ritual to confirm this?” Am I not the real mother? Am I not the real Jewish mother?
This is when being a Jew by Choice (JBC) makes things easier. I converted 2 ½ years ago so most of my life has been lived as a non-Jew. Our sages taught that that a convert should never be pointed out in public as a convert, but there are times when it’s right to do so. When Passover rolls around my Jewish friends know I don’t have a family to celebrate with so they invited me to their seders. Several of my friends also serve as simultaneous Yiddish translators at Torah study because they know that I didn’t learn mama loshen (the mother tongue; Yiddish) at my grandmother’s knee. This is a great hesed (act of loving kindness) that speaks to both being a member of the community and being a convert.
The other day, these two threads of thought, my child’s conversion and my experience as a JBC, crossed and that unwilling, hurting corner of my heart healed. By converting my child I am acknowledge that child’s whole life: a non-Jewish origin and her/his Jewish beginning, as my child and as adopted. Going to the mikvah does not submerge any part of his/her identity or mine but allows both embrace who we really are – a great gift that this real Jewish mother can give with all her heart.
One of the teachers at Baby’s school (aka daycare) was killed in a car accident last weekend. She was much loved at the school and has a daughter who would have moved up to Baby’s class in the next week or so. (That child is safe with her grandma, out of school right now.)
While I’m thankful that Baby is too young to comprehend this loss; my own confusion on how to react has me thinking about his confusion when situations like this–death–arise in the future. Death, unexpected or not, is confusing enough for adults and adults of one faith. How much more so will it be for Baby as he grows, when he’ll be dealing with two faiths? While he’s being raised with a Jewish identity, half of his family is not Jewish. Plus, we live in the Bible Belt, where most people assume you’re like they are and that words like “He/she is safe and at peace with Jesus now” will give you as much comfort as it gives them. How will we help him navigate the well-meant condolences of others, and offer his own? How will we help him understand (far, far in the future, G-d willing) that we’ll sit Shiva for Bubbe and Zayde and Grandma and Grandpa D, but not for Granny and Popi or Grandma and Grandpa G? (Or, wait, will we sit Shiva for Granny and Popi because they’re Daddy’s Mommy and Stepdaddy, even though Granny and Popi aren’t Jewish? See? Confusing!)
Probably people are going to tell me not to worry about these things yet; that there’s lots of time to figure it out, and they’re probably right. I HOPE AND PRAY they’re right. But as time and this blog goes on, you might discover I’m a bit of a planner. And while this is hopefully very long-term planning, it’s still something I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on. How would you/have you handled it in your own families?
(Author’s note: I promise to not post such “downer” topics all the time. This is just something that, sadly, has been on my heart since I found out Monday.)
“You don’t need one. It becomes useless very quickly,” my friend tells me. But I still want one.
We’re debating the utility of that nearly ubiquitous piece of baby room equipment called the changing table. No more than a couple of pieces of balsa wood with a flat surface on top for re-diapering a baby and a shelf below, I’ll admit it doesn’t have much to offer in the way of aesthetics. And yet, months after our conversation, paging through an Ikea catalogue, I stop dead at the sight of one and with a whispered reverence say to myself, “ahhh, it’s a changing table.” My eyes linger over it for a long moment and I nearly choke up.
I’m aware that there’s something deeply psychological about my attachment to this particular item of furniture. I suspect it’s the name – “changing” table. The arrival of my child has been so long anticipated that it’s painful to even think of it at times. First, I waited to get married. Second, I waited because I didn’t think I could raise a child on my own. Then I waited some more, overwhelmed by the choices in adoption (private, foster, international?). And now, I wait for “referral,” that lodestone of adoption-speak, meaning finally, finally, I have been matched with a baby.
And I wait for all the surfaces in my life to become “changing” tables – spaces transformed by the presence of a child –the dining table to become the family dinner table, floors to become play areas, and my ordinary rocking chair to become the point of departure for “Goodnight, Moon” and “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” Like most perspective adoptive parents, I’m working on my Master’s degree in waiting… waiting for change.
This blog is about a single Jewish woman hoping for motherhood. The journey so far has been unpredictable, filled with both promise and tears. I hope you’ll climb up onto the changing table with me as I wait for the simcha [joy] of a new son or daughter.