New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
ByÂ Elizabeth Vocke
Almost two years ago we started talking about joining a synagogue. We knew it was time to put our daughter in Sunday school if she was going to be a bat mitzvah (which so far, is the planâ€”her choice). The synagogue we chose for Sunday school gave us a year before we had to fully commit and join, so we waited. But this year, we had to join for her to continue to attend Sunday school.
Boy do I feel like an adult.
This is the first time Iâ€™ve belonged to a synagogue since attending with my family as a child. And, itâ€™s the first time my husband has belonged ever since, well, heâ€™s not Jewish.
Choosing a synagogue was not an easy decision. There are two local synagogues that we were trying to choose between. One is a Conservative synagogue that my extended family has belonged to for more than 60 years. Our name is on a Torah, and, itâ€™s also where our daughter attended preschool. So we have a strong sense of history there.
The other is a Reform synagogue that has a much larger congregation, and in particular a much larger group of children.
In the end, this was the deciding factor. But it took us a while to get there.
Over the years, weâ€™ve visited both during the High Holidays, and enjoyed both. They are very inclusive and we felt comfortable as an interfaith family. This is great, but it didnâ€™t help us in trying to choose one over the other. We talked to friends at each congregation and weighed the pros and cons.
The Conservative synagogue is where I had family, a sense of history and connectionâ€” that on its own was almost enough to sway us to join. But when I compared the religious schools and thought about my own experiences in religious school, in a very small Jewish community, we saw the benefits of the larger Reform synagogue.
There were other things we considered.
I write a weekly â€śMensch of the Weekâ€ť column and during one interview, I learned about our Reform synagogueâ€™s annual Mitzvah Day. Dozens of congregants go out to organizations across the community and spend a day giving back. I loved this emphasis on community and volunteerism. Plus, there were many opportunities to get involved socially and the events looked like fun.
Iâ€™m sure there are similar opportunities for events and social engagements at both synagogues, and ultimately, it came down to the number of children in the larger congregation.
During that first year, as I dropped my daughter off at Sunday school, I saw my own friends, watched families greet each other with excitement and saw how happy my daughter was when I picked her up. She made new friends and wanted to do play dates after Sunday school with the kids in her class.
So, we chose to stick with the Reform synagogue and have been happy with our decision. And while the fact that the synagogue we joined is a Reform congregation didnâ€™t really play into our decision, I certainly see the benefits for an interfaith family like ours.
We recently attended our first High Holy Day services as members. I was struck by the sense of peace I experienced. For the first time that day I could quiet my mind, enjoy the choir, think and just be.
Our next step is to figure out if and how the synagogue will be a part of our daily lives. For my husband, thatâ€™s a bigger question. Synagogue has never been a big part of my life, but when I join something I tend to enjoy it more if Iâ€™m active, so now Iâ€™m trying to figure out if and how to get involved. Maybe Sisterhood, maybe volunteering in some capacity. Maybe next year.
For now, Iâ€™m enjoying bumping into friends at Sunday school drop-off and reflecting on those peaceful moments I had during the holidays.
By Steven Fisher
This is the story of how a Jewish couple added to and became part of our changing America. But more important, this story is about what I learned when my wife, Robina, and I were introduced via our son to a religion, culture and traditions that we thought were so different from ours. Itâ€™s also a story about love, respect and acceptance.
On October 17, 1971, I married my high-school sweetheart. Nine years later, after two miscarriages and years of fertility treatments, our son, Jared, was born. Because we didnâ€™t want Jared to be an only child, we continued our fertility treatments and suffered another devastating miscarriage of triplets that nearly cost Robina her life. We then looked into adoption to complete our family.
While on a business trip, Robina called to tell me we had 24 hours to make a decision about adopting a little girl.Â A month later, we received a birth certificate for Judith. After completing a mountain of paperwork, we were on our way to Paraguay, South America, to bring home our little Latina daughter, Elana Judith.
Fast forward to 2006, whenÂ Jared arranged a lunch date with Robina. During lunch, Jared began the conversation with the words every mother wants to hear: â€śI met a girl.Â I think sheâ€™s the one!Â Her name is Jaina, sheâ€™s a teacher and sheâ€™s Indianâ€”South Asian, not Native American.â€ť
Like any Jewish mother, Robina wanted our son to marry a nice Jewish girl. She was shocked and disappointed, and it showed in her expression during lunch. That evening we discussed the situation and decided to stay neutral and take a wait-and-see approach, not wanting to drive our son away.
Their relationship grew.Â Jared learned to eat vegetarian Indian food and experienced the Hindu religion and culture at Jainaâ€™s family home and temple.Â Jaina, for her part, ate latkes and matzo brie and came to our house for Passover and Hanukkah, and attended High Holiday services at our synagogue.Â Their love grew, and in 2008 they became engaged.
Planning a wedding is difficult any time, but blending cultures and religions is a real challenge. Jaina wanted a traditional Hindu wedding, and we wanted a Jewish ceremony.Â In the end, it was decided that there would be no combined ceremony; instead we would honor both religions and traditions and have two separate traditional ceremonies with one reception to be held after the Jewish ceremony. What we learned from the process of planning these weddings was that although we came from different religions and traditions, we had so much in common.
Our families worked together on every aspect of both ceremonies and the reception. The year leading up to the wedding was crazy!Â We were immersed in Indian cultureâ€”we ate Indian food, learned about the Hindu religion and discussed the differences and similarities with Judaism. We attended services at both a Hindu and Jain temple, we attended Punjab ceremonies at peopleâ€™s houses and even attended a Hindu funeral.
Jainaâ€™s family joined us for Passover dinner, and we had our first Hanukkah party together.Â At this first party, Jainaâ€™s niece and nephew, ages 4 and 6, surprised us by singing the dreidel song. They had learned the song at school, and from their mother learned it was a song for the holiday they were going to celebrate with Jaredâ€™s Jewish family.
As the wedding planning evolved, we learned how the bridal party reflected the diversity of Jared and Jainaâ€™s friends. It was made up of friends white and black, Indian and Hispanic, Hindu, Christian and Jewish. It was a snapshot of ourÂ changing America.
Today we have beautiful granddaughters. You may wonder, â€śWill the girls be raised Hindu or Jewish?â€ť The answer is they will be raised learning and respecting each religion and culture, as they are part of both.Â They will learn about the mezuzah on their front door and the Hindu shrine in their house.Â Jewish and Hindu traditions will be celebrated with both families watching them with pride. Although we are not social friends with Jaina’s parents, we have become family!
Jared and Jaina are my inspiration. Together they live a life of acceptance. They are an example of how America and the world could be if we looked past our differences and embraced our similarities with understanding, respect and love.
Steven Fisher is in sales and lives in Deerfield, IL with his wife of 45 years.
ByÂ Melissa K. Rosen,Â Director of National Outreach for Sharsheret
A cancer diagnosis affects so much more than you think it will. Of course I expected the physical challenges. And it came as no surprise when I found myself emotionally drained. What I didnâ€™t recognize for either of my two diagnoses was the impact cancer had on my spiritual life.
Living Jewishly has been important to me since childhood. Through the years it has meant very different things, yet has always been an integral part of who I am. I grew up in a Reform temple. My husband, now a committed Jew, grew up in a Christian home. We have spent time in both Conservative and Orthodox communities. Those varied experiences have made us sensitive to both the ways we practice and our relationships with God and community.
During my first diagnosis, I instinctively turned to faith and spirituality. I went to synagogue, spoke with God, wore an amulet with Jewish text and even received a healing bracha, or blessing, from a rabbi. My community and my faith were a large part of my recovery. I drew strength from what had always been important to me.
Seventeen years later, at the time of my second diagnosis, without even realizing it, I shut down spiritually. In retrospect, it was as if a switch was flipped. I withdrew from my community. I stopped attending Shabbat services and drew little joy from holidays and Shabbat.
Navigating cancer places unique pressures not just on the patient, but on the family as well. A medical crisis can bring family togetherâ€”and it can also highlight differences. In my family, with our joyful and carefully constructed religious life, changes of any type were a challenge that needed to be addressed. Were the changes I made permanent? How would they impact my family? Were they actually helping me deal with my diagnosis?
I realize now, both from the benefit of time and from the conversations I have had with other cancer survivors, that diagnosis can make a person spiritually fragile. When you are diagnosed you may look to find meaning in the experience. That may mean drawing closer to faith, changing the way your faith is expressed or turning away completely. It may be an intentional decision, or something you realize in retrospect. Maybe I was mad. Maybe I needed every ounce of strength I had to deal with my treatment. What I know now, healthy and long past treatment, is that my life is missing something.
Jewish observance and commitment has always been an active conversation in my home, so Iâ€™m not sure why it took me months to realize the changes that occurred at my second diagnosis. Now that Iâ€™m aware of what I have lost, I have made myself a promise to fight my way back to something that has always brought me joy and comfort. Iâ€™m not sure where I will find myself in the end, but I know one thing for sure: Iâ€™ll be in synagogue next Shabbat!
Sharsheret, Hebrew for â€śchain,â€ť is a national not-for-profit organization that supports young women and families, of all Jewish backgrounds, facing breast cancer at every stageâ€”before, during and after diagnosis.