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By Stacey Zisook Robinson
Editor’s note: This author describes difficulty finding a rabbi to officiate her wedding in Chicago. We urge couples to utilize our free rabbi referral service, available here. If you are in the Chicago area, or any of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community areas, our rabbi/directors can help guide you.
Iâ€™m dating. Again. Post-divorce, post 50, Iâ€™m dating. I suppose itâ€™s fittingâ€”I didnâ€™t do much dating during the prime dating years of adolescence and young adulthood. My teens and 20s (and if weâ€™re being really honest, most of my 30s) were relatively unscathed by the trials and tribulations of this particular social lubricant.
Not by choice, mind you. I wanted to date. Would have loved to dive into the dating pool. I envied my friends who wept and wailed and crowed with delight, sometimes all in the same conversation. I was just weird enough and insecure enough to assume that no one would ever actually want to date me, so I remained everyoneâ€™s confidante and confessor. I gave awesome advice and my ears grew muscles with the constant stream of listening that they did.
By the time I was dating, it was less â€śdatingâ€ť and more a series of negotiations over a meal or three to determine relationship status. I mean, come on: Who dated at my age? Who did small talk and boundaries? Time was ticking; letâ€™s get a move on. In or out, whaddya say?
My criteria read something like an EEOC banner: any and all applicants accepted, regardless of race, color or religion. I probably would have given pause at political leanings; that is (still) a deal-breaker. But all the other stuff? Not a whit did I care. I fell in love, deeply, passionately, forever and for always with someoneâ€™s soul.
It was probably no surprise to anyone that when I finally found The One, he was not Jewish. It was a huge surprise to me when I called my rabbiâ€”the man who had been my rabbi throughout most of my childhood and young adulthoodâ€”and he refused to marry us.
â€śWhat?â€ť I criedâ€”literally criedâ€”into the phone. How could that be? Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that my rabbi (whom Iâ€™d not seen in more than 20 years, but whoâ€™s counting, right?) would refuse. â€śMazel tov,â€ť he said, kindly and with finality. â€ťI wish you luck.â€ť And he hung up the phone.
It took a while, but I found a rabbi, apparently the one rabbi in Chicago who performed mixed marriage ceremonies. On a magical day in May, there was a chuppah and a glass and a rabbi, and my somewhat befuddled bridegroom who wasn’t Jewish.
Nine months and a day laterâ€”exactly nine months and a dayâ€”we had our son. But as time went on, I watched as my world, my marriage, fell apart. I forgot that if you have a relationship based upon need (because really, who on earth could ever love me; need was almost as good, right?), when the need goes away, whatâ€™s left to hold all the pieces together?
And so my husband became my ex-husband, and I jumped back into the (non)dating pool. I wound up with a handful of relationships to call my own. Though now there was a difference: These were all Jewish men.
Itâ€™s not that I had refused to go the Jewish route when I was younger. This was no misplaced rebellion from God or my parents. Had some Jewish man, in need of fixing or just plain in need, offered, Iâ€™d have been all over that. Iâ€™d have loved that. Maybe it was timing or luck. Maybe it was my subconscious. Regardless, Iâ€™d never dated within the tribe before.
At some point in my more desperate attempts to find healing with the ex of note, however, I had found, much to my surprise, God. And with God, synagogue and Torah and community and services and committees and temple politics and devotion and Talmud and chanting and teaching andâ€¦ OK, Iâ€™ll make this easy: I found my Judaism. I felt as if I had finally come home. Outside of being a mother to my son, being a devoted, mindful Reform Jew was the central fact of my life, and I was determined to make â€śJewishâ€ť central to my dating criteria from now on.
So, of course, when I least expected it, there it wasâ€”love. Again. Dating. Againâ€”no, not again.Â For the first time. Actual dating. The Iâ€™ll-pick-you-up-and-weâ€™ll-go-to-dinner-and-then-Iâ€™ll-take-you-home kind of a date. The Iâ€™ll-call-you-in-a-few-days-and-weâ€™ll-make-plans-for-another-day kind of date, because we donâ€™t have to do everything right now; later is also good, because there will be a later.
And now here I am, dating. Heâ€™s kind and funny and smart. He loves me, which is awesome, since I love him. We met in junior high and we found each other again in a hailstorm of good timing and strange coincidence. He likes pizza and the Cubs, has a cat named Einstein, and heâ€™s not Jewish.
Dammit, heâ€™s not Jewish. And it never, ever mattered to me before. But I found God, and Judaism, and mindful devotionâ€”shouldnâ€™t it matter?
â€śI donâ€™t know about him,â€ť I said to my son, now 17. We were talking just after Iâ€™d come home from a dateâ€”not the first one, not even the second or third, but right at that tipping point of figuring out where it all fit, having no idea if I was doing it right at all, since Iâ€™d never actually done this before. â€śHeâ€™s not Jewish. That feels kinda weird.â€ť
My son, filled with that heady mix of cynicism and ennui that pervades every 17-year-old, said, â€śMom, you just want someone who believes what you believe.â€ť
â€śNo,â€ť I replied, with a growing sense of wonder, â€śnot that. I want someone who thinks like I think. Someone whoâ€™s willing to dive in and learn and argue and discuss and discover. Heâ€™s devoted to his faith and to what his faith calls him to doâ€”serve those in need, fix whatâ€™s broken in the world. How is that different from what I want?â€ť
I wonder sometimes if I am betraying my faith, my people. He and I, we talk about it from time to time. He comes to synagogue with me on occasion. I go to church every once in a while with him. I think we are both a bit smugly sure, in a most loving way, that each of us is right about the whole God thing, and we kindly indulge the other in their misplaced faith.
Thereâ€™s a chance that God smiles indulgently at the both of us, too.
But we dive and struggle and wrestle with faith, with God, with love and our imperfectionsâ€”not to change the other, or to prove our rightness. We wrestle because it is part of the thing we share: devotion and faith.
We are completely together, differently. That is, ever and always, enough.
This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.
Stacey Zisook RobinsonÂ is a single mom. She sings whenever she can. She writes, even when she canâ€™t. She worked in Corporate America for a long time. Now she works at her writing and looks for God and grace, meaning, connection, and a perfect cup of coffee, not necessarily in that order. Stacey has been published in several magazines and anthologies.Â Her book,Â Dancing in the Palm of Godâ€™s Hand, has just been published by Hadasah Word Press. She recently launched a Poet in Residence program designed to work with both adults and kids in a Jewish setting to explore the connection between poetry and prayer as a way to build a bridge to a deepened Jewish identity and faith.Â She blogs athttp://staceyzrobinson.blogspot.com, and her website can be found atÂ www.stumblingtowardsmeaning.com.
By Jared David Berezin
When our eyes begin to burn and tear up my wife and I look at each other and laugh. Thatâ€™s when we know the horseradish is ready. We also bake our own homemade matzah, and the unleavened flat bread resembles pita or injera (Ethiopian bread). Preparing Passover-friendly food from scratch and arranging the seder table is a ritual my wife and I enjoy as much as the seder itself.
For many people, Passover is a journey that begins well before the first cup of wine (or grape juice). Some have been to dozens of seders in the past. Indeed, some of our seder guests may have attended a different seder (or two!) earlier in the week, while others have never been to a seder before. Regardless of a personâ€™s experience or faith, everyone comes to the table with conscious and unconscious expectations, desires and concerns.
Ever since I can remember, Passover has always been my favorite holiday. As a restless kid, I could attend the Passover â€śserviceâ€ť (our familyâ€™s seder) without dressing up and going to synagogue, which also meant not having to sit still for an hour. My grandparents would host our family seder, and as they grew older my mother and aunt assumed the responsibility. Our family seders were always quick, predictable and familiar. I loved being surrounded by family, food and singing. As a teenager Iâ€™d just bring my guitar; it was always nice being able to simply arrive and have everything already prepared and laid out on the table.
Hosting Our Own Inclusive SederÂ
In my twenties, I became more curious about Judaism, particularly its intellectual and social justice elements. A few years later I met the love of my life who was raised Christian and has developed a dislike of all organized religion. Amidst my growing curiosity of Judaism and my love for my girlfriend (now my wife), I began to dream of more inclusive and meaningful Jewish moments and celebrations. I wondered what it would be like to host our own seder, one that could be welcoming for our friends of various faiths and (dis)comfort levels when it comes to religious activities.
Initially, I tried to formulate a highly-strategic seder and haggadah that would satisfy the needs of every person who might happen to join usâ€”from Conservative Jews to Buddhists to atheists. I soon realized that although itâ€™s important to be aware of oneâ€™s audience, I found myself drowning out my own individual spiritual beliefs and values. The early drafts were too distant from my vision of an inclusive experience; I had to accept that if I wanted to try new things, my guests and I would simply have to wander through the newness together. Fortunately, the story of Passover centers on faith and risk.
When in Doubt, Look AboutÂ
When I worked in marketing years ago a colleague would often say, â€śWhen in doubt, look about.â€ť I searched online and read through all of the haggadot I could find, along with any Passover-related information on InterfaithFamily.com and other websites. I wanted to learn how others approach the holiday, along with any stories and songs that I hadnâ€™t heard before.
I also reached out to several friends to hear about their seder experiences, as well as my dear friend, Rabbi Lev Baesh, a longtime champion of interfaith marriage and inclusiveness, who is a consultant with InterfaithFamily. My wife and I had performed music the year prior at a seder led by Lev. He interpreted the Passover story in many different waysâ€”social, political, economic and psychologicalâ€”and helped me understand how themes from an ancient tale can become relevant and inspire urgency among people of different faiths and backgrounds.
Our Interfaith-Humanist-Vegan Seder ExperimentÂ
What emerged from my research and spiritual searching was a heightened awareness of my own values, questions and priorities. The result was the creation of an imperfect and ever-changing Interfaith-Humanist-Vegan seder that my wife and I have hosted for the past four years. Most of the guests at our seder tend to be interfaith couples with one Jewish partner as well as couples and friends of other faiths. Every year we invite at least one person who has never attended a seder before.
Our accompanying interfaith-humanist-vegan haggadah, which I also revise each year, includes original writing as well as a patchwork of borrowed text, images and songs. The introductory pages of the haggadah recount the Passover story, and explore questions such as â€śWhy Celebrate if the Story Isnâ€™t True?â€ť and â€śWhy a Vegan Passover Seder?â€ť These questions, and others in the haggadah, offer a way of inviting everyone to explore and question the Passover rituals and their purpose in our lives in new ways. Rather than dump my ideas and beliefs on my friends, I try my best to steer conversations and lead rituals that allow me to learn from them, and all of us to learn from each other. For example, rather than declare what the various items on the seder plate signify, our haggadah asks: â€śWhat do you think the items on the seder plate represent? How might they connect with oppression, slavery and freedom?â€ť These open-ended questions for which there are no â€ścorrectâ€ť answers allow guests of all faiths to contribute their perspective and enhance everyone elseâ€™s understanding.
An Incomplete HaggadahÂ
I think the best conversations and learning occur when people are present and looking at one another. When a haggadah has all the information we need, everyone is looking down at their booklets for hours. In contrast, our haggadah is intentionally sparse and incomplete. Before the start of the seder I ask each of our friends, individually, if theyâ€™d like to read a short excerpt of text that I provide. The readings include writings from intellectuals, feminists, rabbis, writers, activists and philosophers of all faiths, and I â€śscheduleâ€ť them to read at different points in the seder. Itâ€™s fun to pick out certain readings that relate in some way to each of my friends. As the seder progresses and friends share the words on their respective slip of paper, we all in a way become pages in a â€śhaggadah,â€ť and together we make the seder complete.
Music adds a fantastic quality to any evening, and itâ€™s a huge part of our seder. At the very beginning of the meal, rather than jump right into the Passover story, we all sing a song together. The first year we sang David Crosbyâ€™s â€śMusic Is Love.â€ť Itâ€™s easy since the repeated lyric is almost a chant: â€śEveryoneâ€™s sayinâ€™ that music is love, everyoneâ€™s sayinâ€™ itâ€™s love.â€ť My wife and I scatter percussive shakers, drums and a couple acoustic guitars around the room for folks to play, and of course, everyone brings their voices.
In addition to familiar seder songs, such as the African-American Spiritual â€śGo Down Mosesâ€ť and Dayenu, there are a host of secular songs that touch upon various Passover themes: slavery, oppression, freedom and of course the need to continually ask questions of ourselves and our world. And on the â€śnight of questions,â€ť I canâ€™t help but want to sing Bob Dylanâ€™s â€śBlowinâ€™ in the Wind,â€ť a song with questions in every verse.
Thinking About Hosting Your Own (Alternative) Seder?
For those who want to embark on your own journey of hosting a seder (or any holiday) in a new way, keep in mind that certain aspects of your alternative rituals and ideas may stir strong reactions (positive or negative) among some of your guests. Inspiration can look and sound different for each of us.
As I was planning my first seder, I remembered Rabbi Lev Baeshâ€™s sage words: â€śJust remember that Moses had lots of whining to deal with in the story.â€ť Humor is critical! Iâ€™ve laughed at myself many times during our seders, particularly when Iâ€™m taking myself too seriously, and laughter creates more laughter and openness. Dig into both the rich traditions of the past and present. Experiment. Do what feels right, and see what happens.
These types of homegrown celebrations take effort on our part, otherwise they wouldnâ€™t exist. I think thatâ€™s part of the magic and meaningfulness: the effort, creativity, and time it takes to create a relevant and inclusive Jewish experience. My favorite moments during our seder are when I find myself wandering through the desert behind my guests who have taken the conversation in new directions.
A piece of logistical advice: A seder can be held any evening during Passover. Scheduling ours toward the end of the holiday week allows us to join my familyâ€™s traditional first or second night seder, and our Jewish guests can do the same. Beyond avoiding scheduling conflicts, setting an atypical seder date sets the stage for something new and different, and prepares your guests for a different kind of seder experience.
If you decide to create your own kind of seder, itâ€™s important to remember that if youâ€™re inspired and engaged, those around you will want to participate and be inspired too. Togetherness, making connections, and generating meaning is really what itâ€™s all about. And remember, whatever happens, thereâ€™s always next year!
For more information about Passover and the seder, check out our Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families