How to Discuss Anti-Semitism with Youths

  

By Dr. Ruth Nemzoff

Q: I am about to have Jewish grandchildren, and I am terrified! Don’t get me wrong; we love our son-in-law. He has brought out the best in our daughter and they make sensible decisions together. We have never had any complaints; in fact, we are looking forward to learning about new holidays and celebrating them with our grandchildren.

However, recent incidents where Neo-Nazi’s chanting “Jews will not Dr. Ruth Nemzoff gives advice about family reunionsreplace us” in Charlestown have changed my perspective. I now understand that the alt-right is spreading Jewish hatred. We had no idea that along entering into a new community, we were entering a community that lives with fear.

My family immigrated to America from England in the early 1600s because of Protestant persecution during the Catholic Restoration. Since then, we have advocated for religious freedom in America. I have never been conscious of experiencing prejudice on the same scale. I thought that anti-Semitism was a thing of the past: relevant to 1940s Germany, but not present here. Charleston has changed my thinking. I was stunned and horrified to see that anti-Semitism is still a relevant force in the United States. I am having nightmares in which the Nazis are coming for me and my grandchildren. The rise of Neo-Nazis has unsettled me. How do you, as a Jew, deal with this? How do I, as a grandparent, explain this to my grandchildren?

A: First, b’sha’ah tovah, which means “may the birth happen at a good time,” which is the traditional Jewish greeting when you announce a pregnancy, in recognition of the fact that the fate of the pregnancy is not in our hands alone.

Second, I want to thank you and your ancestors for working to support religious freedom. It is indeed a gift that we cannot take for granted—one which we now realize must be continually guarded and protected.

Third, I want to welcome you as a friend of the Jewish people and to thank you for being excited and willing to help bring up Jewish grandchildren. I hope you will find much that is interesting and intellectually challenging as you come to know the the meaning in our holidays and customs. It is not easy to join a minority, or take up the causes which threaten its people.

You may be surprised by this recent anti-Semitic phenomenon, but Jews have dealt with these realities as a part of our identity throughout history. In 605 BCE, the Babylonians sent our people into exile. Then, early Christian preachers promoted an interpretation of the New Testament (Matthew 27:24-25) to imply Jews killed Christ, which has led historically to misunderstanding and calls to violence. After 300 years of prosperity and intellectual flowering in Spain, the Spanish monarchy established an Inquisition, which killed and expelled Jews. Similarly, after a period of relative freedom in Germany and Eastern Europe, the Jews were systematically killed during the Holocaust.

We know our history, and we have lived under this threat for centuries—whether or not it has always been as apparent as it is now, to others. We know the fragility of life and of status—it vacillates.

There are strategies for dealing with the reality of discrimination as we try to change it. Much like black parents must warn their children that policeman might assume they are guilty of one thing or another because of the color of their skin, Jews and those affiliated with the Jews must fortify their children by teaching them their history and the nature of scapegoating; whether it be against Jews or others.

I remember when I was young, and my father told me about how children used to throw stones at him, and call him “a dirty Jew.” I asked how he felt, how he was able to put up with this abuse without being moved to violence or anger? He said: “I knew I wasn’t the problem.”

You remember that your forebears were once persecuted, and out of this came your family’s commitment to protecting religious freedom. Anti-semitism is not new: what has changed is your recognition of it. Recently, the fact that its voice has become louder in our society has made the uncertainty more apparent; anti-semitism has been present in America for a long time, recently as the 1940s and 1950s when there were zoning restrictions on where Jews could live and what clubs and businesses they could join. In current times, instead of allowing fear to move you to inaction, use your awareness to act and to protect freedoms.

Jews are commanded every year at Passover to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt, and that they must work toward freedom for others, because we know that freedom is not always assured. Our resolve is strengthened.

If you give your grandchildren a sense of pride in their identity, they will be less likely to be intimidated, and more likely to understand those who express hatred as limited by their unwillingness to understand religious perspective, and their desire to hate for the sake of blaming what they do not understand.

Your grandchildren will know that they are not sinners, nor Christ-killers, nor any other terms used against them, if you teach them what they are, and how to understand those around them. The same small-minded fear that motivates bigotry and anti-Semitism must be guarded against in all people—it is important to share your family’s religious understanding with your grandchild, as well as encouraging them to explore their own perspective.

Like many Jews, you are shaken; and I cannot promise that your action alone will immediately change what is frightening. But this is a step in the right direction. If we are vigilant against all kinds of prejudice (because we know that prejudice against one group eventually was morphs into prejudice against many) we stand a better chance of maintaining our civility. We resist those who hate. All of us must work together to assure the fragile, but incredibly important ideal of E pluribus unum.

This post originally appeared on The American Israelite and is reprinted with permission.

Don’t Call Me Bubbe–I’m Grandma.

  

By Sherrie Bergus

On the eve of my first birthday as a grandmother, which happened to be the day of the eclipse, I wrote this manifesto down. It took courage, this but here I am. Like Thoreau before me, I headed out to reflect upon the waters of a beloved lake and declared this:

I am a grandma, not a Bubbe.

It didn’t really take the momentous act of the world going dark for not quite three minutes, or this Jewish woman celebrating her birthday, to realize that my existence is light years away from that of my own Bubbe Ida’s.

Besides our DNA, so little of our experience is the same.

I was born into an Orthodox Jewish family. My husband grew up in a “modern” Conservative household. Both of my children were bar/bat mitzvah and continued their religious studies beyond. Their education and travel landed them in different locales, both with non-Jewish partners and their own way of living Jewishly.

Of course, traditions, love, and blood still bind us all.

So I could theoretically assert that I am a Bubbe in the Land of Nanas and Omas, I could redefine the label of Bubbe and modernize it, in keeping with our family, a patchwork of cultures and traditions.

But I am sorry, Bubbe. I just cannot.

At my daughter’s engagement party—she was marrying a man from Montreal—my aunt who is called Bubbe by her grandkids pressed me: “I can’t wait to hear your grandchildren call you Bubbe with a French accent.” In response I whisper seethed, “I will not be called Bubbe.”

It just didn’t feel right: My son-in-law is an atheist. My daughter, wishing to embrace her religion in her new Canadian residence has become part of the fabric of a vibrant, Reform-Jewish community. She has taught her life partner that to her, God is “your invisible best friend.” He attends services with her and lovingly wears her hand-crocheted kippah (head covering). As an avid foodie/chef he enjoys cooking brisket for Rosh Hashanah, latkes at Hanukkah and celebrating the holidays through food.

They’re making it work.

And when it comes to the other side of my family, my daughter-in-law is a practicing Catholic. A Reform Rabbi and an Episcopal Priest intricately wove together their wedding ceremony. Less than six months later, my mother passed away.

On the way to the funeral we were discussing our dinner plans for later that evening. I remembered that it was Lent. I asked her if there was anything we should avoid to make things easier for her. Quickly, she told me not to worry about her at all.

I feel awed by the way my family is marching into modernity, with such thoughtfulness. So do you see my confusion when it comes to what I’ll be called—new traditions, new family permutations, new ways—old names?

I mean, it is 2017 and I didn’t just step out of the shtetl. I would love to add a unique cultural spin on my new name. If I really go back to my Belorussian roots, my little grandbabies would call me “Babka.” Nope. I can’t do it. I have thought about it, but I am not a cushiony soft savta, nor any type of baked goods.

So I have devised the perfect solution. For now, Grandma it is. Ultimately, of course, the baby will decide.

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.

How My Hindu Husband Became the Favorite Jewish Grandchild

  

By Jessica Melwani

How My Hindu Husband Became the Favorite Jewish GrandchildI’d been dating the man who’d eventually become my husband for about a year when my grandmother sat me down for a heart-to-heart.

“I saw Aishwarya Rai on Oprah last week. You know, the Dollywood [she meant Bollywood] actress? Stunning girl!” Then came the truth bomb: “She told Oprah that your boyfriend already has a bride arranged for him back in India. At some point, he’s going to leave you high-and-dry, marry the girl his parents chose, and move back into their house.”

I was pretty sure Aishwarya Rai hadn’t been discussing my love life with Oprah. And while my future husband didn’t actually have a clandestine bride arranged in India, he also wasn’t the Jewish doctor to whom my grandmother had married me off in her fantasies.

“He seems very nice,” she said of the love of my life. “But that’s just how they do things.”

They. She’d never met an Indian person before and, on some level, I was touched by her urge to protect me, even if it was born of her own frustrating, dated brand of xenophobia.

My boyfriend and I were born at the same hospital, raised in the same town and attended the same schools. From an objective eye, we weren’t some sort of star-crossed pair. Still, he wasn’t white and he wasn’t Jewish, and for all the many things we had in common, those two facts seemed like insurmountable differences to her. At least at first.

In the years before our engagement, I ran interference, often dispelling bizarre myths about Hinduism and Indian traditions.

“Jess. Your grandfather printed out an article from the computer. It said that Hindus have 300 million gods and that they worship monkeys. Monkeys.”

False.

“Jess. I just watched a program about women in India. If you marry him, you’ll have to get a dot tattooed on your forehead. A tattoo. On your face.”

Super, super false (and racist.)

Without being too pushy, I tried to create opportunities for her to see us together, to help her understand why our relationship worked, despite what she believed to be deal-breaking differences.

And here’s where the story gets surprising: during our visits, I watched my grandmother and my husband form an extraordinary bond.

As it turned out, they shared a mutual appreciation for beautiful things—art, music, even fashion—and were able to talk about everything from Matisse to Mozart to Alexander McQueen. It didn’t hurt that my guy had developed a masterful knack for conversational Yiddish, having grown up in a predominantly Jewish suburb—and could confidently describe an ugly dress as a schmatte or flowery piece of music as schmaltz. He literally and figuratively spoke her language.

Before the wedding, we invited her to visit our apartment. It was kind of a big deal. She entered tentatively, taking in all the unmarried, interfaith sin around her. Then she stopped in front of a painting by an emerging Indian artist that my husband had acquired before we started dating; a painting that I had made a lot of noise about hating, for no good reason. She gasped.

“The colors. The lines. It’s so…sensual!” I burst out laughing, not because my grandmother had said the word “sensual” (which was definitely hilarious), but because she had simultaneously validated my husband’s taste in art and solidified their unexpected connection.

Over the years, my husband asked her about gallery openings in the ‘70s and Coney Island in the 40’s. She clipped articles for him about contemporary art exhibits and Indian actors in Hollywood. They also shared one key interest—me—and to her delight, she’d finally found an audience for her outsized stories about my childhood. To anyone else, she would have been bragging, but between them, she was simply affirming his good taste.

My husband was attentive to her in ways that grandchildren who’ve had the luxury of time with a grandparent too often are not. And ultimately this was what made her change her mind and deem him a mensch of the highest order.

From birth, my grandmother and I had a special relationship. My status as the favorite grandchild was an open family secret. But by the time she passed, we all agreed that my husband had become the apple of her eye—we even joked about their rocky start.

Friends and strangers alike often ask about the challenges my husband and I faced marrying outside our cultures. They assume that that our parents presented the biggest roadblocks. They didn’t. Not by a long shot. The older generation—my grandmother in particular—held longer, more entrenched views on the importance of marrying within one’s community, and thus they had a much steeper hill to climb to reach a point of acceptance.

There’s that word: acceptance. Too often, we use it to describe some sort of blissful, interfaith end-game. In my experience, it’s just the cost of entry. It’s what we need from the people we care about to maintain the status quo in our relationships. But beyond that threshold genuine love, messy and strong, is what we really crave. And that love can grow in unlikely, even inhospitable places.

That love grew for my grandmother as she got to know my husband, and I was more than happy to relinquish the title of favorite grandchild when she discovered it.

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.

Jessica Melwani, Kveller.com contributorJessica Melwani is a freelance writer and editor. A recent suburban transplant, she lives outside New York City with her husband and their two awesome, ridiculous boys. When she isn’t in the car overcoming her fear of highways and left turns, you can find her binge-watching British crime dramas or sometimes even blogging.

Why We Say Yes to the Easter Invite

  

Family having Easter dinner

The phone rang and I heard my dad’s apprehensive voice. “Hi Sarah. I have a bit of a strange question for you. We are thinking ahead about Easter and we would like to have everyone over for brunch and an Easter egg hunt. We would of course love to have you there, but we know you’re raising Shira Jewish and we don’t want to offend you by extending the invitation.

I cut him off before he could even muster up the right words for the question that would follow. I was ready for this moment and said, “We will be there. I’m glad you brought this up, since we haven’t had a conversation about it yet. Yes, we are raising her Jewish, but we want her to understand that her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins celebrate other holidays. We won’t observe them in any religious capacity, but whenever invited, we want her to participate in those holidays to appreciate what her loved ones celebrate.”

He and I both seemed relieved that the conversation, albeit brief, finally took place. My daughter is 2 years old and we’re now on our third round of celebrating Easter. We just got through her third Christmas as well. I found the timing of the conversation to be funny because we made it this far without having a need for it.

Then I remembered that earlier in the day, my dad had been over at our house and Shira was sharing leftover challah with him. I told him that making and eating the challah is her favorite part of our weekly Shabbat routine. He could see the challah cover, kiddush cup and Shabbat candlesticks proudly standing on our kitchen table. I understand now that up until that moment, he didn’t realize that we practiced Jewish traditions together as a family on such a regular basis. He knew we had done the Simchat Bat ceremony and we observe Passover and Hanukkah, but other than the celebrations and holidays we’ve included him in, our Jewishness is mostly kept rather quiet and simple within our own home.

It must have struck him that we were indeed raising her Jewish in the everyday, not just on the seemingly big holidays. He may have been surprised to come to that realization because it was in stark contrast to how I was raised.

Like my daughter, I was born into an interfaith family. My mother, now deceased, was Jewish, and my father is Protestant. Growing up, we celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, Passover and Easter, but that was the extent of the religiously affiliated holidays we celebrated as a family. None of our holiday observances felt religious in nature. Our celebrations were much more about culture and family traditions. As a young child, I didn’t feel any strong religious identity.

After my mom passed, my dad remarried someone who was Catholic. With this change in our household religious dynamic, any element of Judaism that I once had some connection to had to continue on my own will. My dad and stepmom were both supportive of me lighting the Hanukkah menorah, going to Friday night Shabbat services with friends and joining a local Jewish youth group to explore my roots. They always joined in and happily participated whenever my mom’s family invited us to a Passover seder.

At the same time, I joined them in their celebrations of Christmas and Easter. I had celebrated them when my mom was around, so it felt normal to continue celebrating those occasions with my family. For this reason, I couldn’t see raising my own family without Christmas and Easter. These holidays have always been a part of my upbringing. While my husband and I are raising our family Jewishly, in a more religious and observant way than how I was raised, we both grew up celebrating these Christian holidays and we want our daughter as well as any future children to understand that these holidays are an important piece of our family fabric.

We hadn’t been intentionally avoiding the subject with our families, but we knew that with Shira being so young, her understanding of differing religions, rituals and celebrations is still very limited. My husband and I knew we would need to address it with her, and our respective families, once she reached an age of more awareness. We were preparing for the topic to come up eventually, and this challah-snacking Shabbat day just happened to present the perfect opportunity.

The Conversations We Should be Having

  

…with Grandparents with Grandchildren of Interfaith Marriages

 

By Rabbi Richard Address, D. Min. 

Portait of a big family with grandparents having a picnic at a vineyard

In my travels to congregations and Jewish organizations for Jewish Sacred Aging, many issues seem to emerge organically in discussions of family dynamics. More often than not, concerns about caregiving and end-of-life issues are quickly raised. Not unusually, as situations get unpacked, another issue emerges: that of how to grandparent our grandchildren who are products of interfaith marriages.

This issue is no longer representative of a small cohort of families. Indeed, as baby boomers age and become grandparents, we are beginning to see the impact of the gradual rise in interfaith marriages among our own children. How many of our friends have confronted their children when it comes to the question of “How will you be raising your children?” Those children—those names of those children—are part of our claim on immortality. Is it our name, our legacy that is at stake? Or is it something else – a sense of time passing, a loss of control and a sadness that the world we expected will not be ours?

Every clergy person who does weddings has walked this walk with families. Indeed, some of those very same clergy have dealt with this in their own families. The time has come for our community to begin a serious dialogue on this issue. Opportunities for discussions and support for grandparents who are dealing with this issue need to take place and include those grandparents who already are having the conversation and adults whose children are engaged and about to be married.

There are an increasing number of clergy who are now performing interfaith ceremonies. Often during premarital counseling, the issue of how one will raise children comes up. Rarely, in my experience, however, are there opportunities for a conversation with the potential grandparents on their feelings and concerns. We all wish our children to be “happy.” We take pride in the fact that we have raised independent adults, responsible for their own choices. We also are observing that our adult children are more and more choosing marital partners from diverse cultural backgrounds.

How is this growing cultural and religious pluralism given voice within the framework of the larger family system? Could greater opportunities for dialogue and honest sharing of emotions lead to greater harmony and understanding? Hiding those feelings surely can and does create barriers and in the end, don’t we all wish to nurture and savor these very primal family relationships? Aren’t these relationships ever more meaningful as we age?

I recently sat down with a grandparents whose children married partners who are not Jewish. Not atypical, this couple was in a second marriage and so we add the issues of “blended” relationships and the boundaries that come with this reality. We discussed some of the issues that these grandparents, both active and involved within their Jewish community, faced when dealing with their married children and their grandchildren. I asked them if they could suggest a brief checklist of issues that would be good to keep in mind. Some of the issues they raised were:

  • What does the role of “family” play in your religious tradition? What does the role of religion play within your family’s tradition?
  • How much discussion was there between your adult children and you, the parent, regarding their decision on how to raise children?
  • Looking back, what were the issues that influenced how you responded to this issue? How did friends, family, community, religious identification and philosophy influence you?
  • Was this the first interfaith marriage within your family or extended family? If not, how was it handled before? What lessons were learned?
  • Are the feelings you have for your grandchildren who are being raised in another tradition different from your feelings for grandchildren who are being raised in your own tradition? Do you feel less connected? Is your love of a “different” nature?
  • How do you handle speaking to your grandchildren about your tradition? Do you seek permission from the children’s parents to discuss holidays, books, etc.?
  • Have the two sets of grandparents ever discussed this issue?
  • If your adult child converted to their spouse’s religion, what were your emotions? Likewise, if your grandchild was baptized, how did you react?

These questions and concerns are being discussed and considered by an increasing number of grandparents now. It’s time for our community to create meaningful and non-judgmental opportunities for these issues to be raised. Our most important social connection remains family. How can we have an open conversation and honest dialogue? To repress emotions leads only to anger and discomfort and in an age which is so fraught with uncertainty, let’s open these doors to a pathway to “shalom bayit.”