Full of helpful advice for families starting to think about their child's bat or bar mitzvah, Bar & Bat Mitzvah For The Interfaith Family will be a helpful primer to all families (not just interfaith!).
This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
Connecting Interfaith Families to Jewish Life in Greater Cleveland by providing programs and opportunities for interfaith families to experience Judaism in a variety of venues, meet other interfaith families, and to connect to other Jewish organizations that may serve their needs.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
Mia here…Ethan is at a meeting and our cat Daisy is curled up next to me. This rare quiet time inspired contemplative thoughts about my upcoming marriage to Ethan in an interfaith context. The theme of “in between” came to mind on three different levels, so I thought I would share. If anyone has had any positive experience with them, I welcome your feedback!
Level 1: Kinda sorta a “member of the Tribe” but not really ~
As previously shared, I have been overcome by the love and joy Ethan’s family and friends have exhibited as our relationship progressed, and especially when we became engaged. I have also been similarly touched by and grateful for their acceptance of me as a non-Jewish person, as well as their appreciation of my efforts to learn all I can about Judaism, and my participation in high holidays, Shabbat dinners, etc. I have been dubbed something of a budding resource about Judaism among my non-Jewish friends and coworkers. But beneath it all is the truth that I am not Jewish, and at this time, I don’t intend to convert in the near future. Respect, yes. Participate, yes. Continue to learn, of course. It’s just that I have had a very complicated relationship with organized religion since an early age. I was not raised in a religion because my parents wanted my brother and me to choose our own paths, and that process has been met with a lot of confusion and hostility over the years from many camps (not from anyone in Ethan’s family, thankfully!). I need to get to a place where I can find a good middle ground and not feel in limbo, nor feel defensive about my position (although Ethan keeps reminding me there’s no reason to feel that way ~ I hope he’s right!).
Level 2: What’s in a name?
Despite having issues with patriarchal societies, I decided to take Ethan’s last name when we marry. This decision has made me think about heritage a lot. “My people” were Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and French (among a handful of others), with a spectrum of heritage associated with them, whereas Ethan’s family name is Russian and Lithuanian with Jewish heritage. We both gravitate toward the unity a shared name implies, as well as the sense of connection we will have with our children. I can just picture my children’s responses to the ancestry question: “Well, we are (in no particular order) English, Irish, Russian, Welsh, Scottish, Lithuanian, Polish, French, German, Spanish, and Native American. Seriously.” I think I may be one of a very small handful of family members in many recent generations of my family to introduce Jewish heritage to the family tree, and this has made me marvel at the amazing webs we all are weaving for future generations of our families in this age of greater tolerance.
And finally (thank goodness, you say!) Level 3: What’s in a Seder and an Easter Egg?
Ethan and I are looking forward to celebrating our third Passover and Easter together. The former is celebrated to the fullest extent; the latter consists of my display of bunnies, painted eggs, and flowers around the house (nothing about Jesus) and the consumption of jelly beans and Cadbury Cream Eggs (drool…). Last year we hosted a Seder, and I asked Ethan in advance if his family would be startled to see Easter decorations. Instead, they were really interested and asked me what the decorations’ meaning is for me. The answer is the thrill of approaching spring and the renewal and fresh start that implies, and memories of savory brunches on the holiday with my family, with me in a new frilly pastel frock and white Mary Janes. Last year, friends and coworkers asked if I was fully participating in Passover since it was Ethan’s and my first under a shared roof, and I replied that I was except for attending every service and observing the restricted eating because I’m hypoglycemic. Again, I find myself in an “in-between” land where I’m partially blending two traditions that have different meanings for me than they do for people who observe them to the letter. But as I write this, I realize that it’s fun! Ethan makes THE best brisket in the world, and I have come to look forward to the bond that exists around the Seder table, while also counting the days until I can transform our home into a springtime display and honor the cycle of the seasons. Don’t worry, I don’t let the Cadbury eggs get anywhere near the brisket.
So I’m faced with the question as to whether or not I will take a dip in the Mikvah —figuratively or literally. I’m left to ponder both the traditional and the contemporary and what either of the two would mean to me.
When we take a look at what a trip to the Mikvah means in the traditional sense, I am left almost speechless at how central it is to Orthodoxy. You see. The idea is that with full immersion into a body of water, one can find ritual purity. That is to say, you are washed clean of the things that make you impure.
Traditionally, it has different uses for men and women, but in the end it boils down to cleansing your self/your soul after one journey and before the next. It sets you up with Tabula Rasa—a clean slate.
So why wouldn’t I want a clean slate before the wedding?
Can I achieve that without the traditional bath? Is there something else that I can do that would achieve the same goal for me spiritually?
Would skydiving feel the same to me?
It’s not that I am against this tradition. It is, in fact, something that seems beautiful and honest and something that I would be TOTALLY into—if it didn’t feel so stuck in the past. The thought of a woman bathing herself in the Mikvah after each menstrual cycle before she can resume sexual relations with her husband just doesn’t sit right with me. I think that it boils down to my egalitarian views on what a relationship should be and the inequalities that I see between matriarch and patriarch in organized religion—not just Judaism. It’s traditions like these that I feel solidify gender roles in the past and don’t look to our modern day for guidance.
There I go again. Leaning left.
I have some thinking to do. How can I achieve what I will perceive as a ritual cleansing without the tradition? If I don’t follow tradition, should I even bother?
So. Friends of interfaithfamily.com. Please feel free to offer me some guidance. Maybe through conversation I will have my Aha moment and figure out what I need to do.
Last night as we sat with Rabbi Berman, I was so exhausted that I was loopy. My new job at JPS is in my brain all the time and I was having a hard time turning my brain chatter down so that I could pay attention to the most important task at hand.
We were talking ritual.
Rabbi Berman is totally down with our questioning of rituals and our desire to make them our own. This is exactly why we knew she would be the right fit. We had so much to talk about and decide upon and I think in the end, we were left with more to ponder than we walked in the door with. You know. This is a good thing.
Something that came up, that Lu and I just love, is the idea of a Bedeken.
Now. Traditionally a Bedeken Ceremony in an Orthodox wedding takes place right before the actual wedding ceremony and is the unveiling of the Bride. The story here (traditionally speaking) is that the groom should see the bride’s face before the magic happens so that he doesn’t marry the wrong woman—Like how Jacob married Leah accidentally when he meant to marry Rachel in Genesis:29
So. Not only is this custom out of date and totally weird, but you wouldn’t even think that it could be a positive thing—a spiritual moment–the connotation that the woman would be trying to get over on the man, and that the man is so distrusting of his wife-to-be that he has to check to make sure that she is who she claims to be. Preposterous! Lu and I are just way too liberal for that!
So Rabbi Berman presented an alternative idea—Let me elaborate.
In the weeks leading up to the wedding, Lu and I will be hectic. Crazy, pull out your hair, yell at each other, and maybe even start drinking-hectic. We will be making last minute plans, gathering family, and working to make our wedding, a wedding. On the big day there will be getting dressed and taking pictures and decorating and flower arranging. We will be totally hectic right up until the moment when we stand there-under the huppah- and look into each other’s eyes.
So why not make THAT our bedeken?
As Lu and I meet, for the first time, under the huppah, on our nuptial day, we will take a moment. We will be silent and we will ground ourselves. We will be sure that we are there completely; leaving behind all of the hectic life that was the wedding-prep and we will unveil each other by taking a breath. By looking into each others eyes and be sure that we are there with each other and for each other.
We know that we can only remain in silent meditation for a few moments without causing our guests to stir. But with any hope, the moment will feel like an eternity. It will be the most calming, grounding, humbling moment that a couple could ask for.
I for one am looking forward to that little break.
As I sit here on the eve of our son, Raiden’s first birthday all that I can think about is how good Lu and I have it.
We met so long ago that I can’t actually imagine life without her in it. It’s amazing how quickly someone binds themselves to you and intertwines with every aspect of your life. It’s almost as if we have grown up together, which in essence, we have.
In our first year of parenting we have learned to really lean on and support each other. Our relationship has only grown and strengthened. We have come to terms with our differences and have learned to love the fact that we are in it together.
We are. In it together.
When we became pregnant, I was overcome with happiness that Lula was going to be a mother, and that she was going to be a mother to the same child that I would father. To this day, I couldn’t be happier.
All the time I find myself telling Lu: “I’m so glad it’s you.” I can’t think of anyone that I would rather take this journey with.
Lula: Thank you for being my stronghold. Thank you for being the best mother that I have ever met. That you for caring, and thank you for feeling, and thank you (most of all) for being born! Raiden is lucky. I am lucky. We are one lucky family.
Lula and Raiden—on your special day.
This post is for you.
Raiden: Baby boy, Dooker Butt, One-Sock-Block My son. My light. My life. I know that you are just learning to walk and to talk and to really show us who you are and “I’m so glad it’s you.” You are the best thing to ever happen to us. You amaze us everyday with your strength in body and mind. You make each moment precious and amazing. I’m glad that you are our teacher and am honored that we will be able to learn from you for years to come.
I’m so excited that the three of us are embarking on this life together. Our future is bright.
I feel like Lu and I are hitting our stride on all things wedding related and I couldn’t feel better about it. We have just finished the last of our meetings with some amazing rabbis, we have our tasting with Diverse Catering next week, and we have decided that I will be wearing a tux. Check. Check. And Check.
There has been something that has come up many times in our rabbi meetings that I have just been itching to call attention to.
Lu and I decided a few years ago that we would not be married until ALL of our friends could be married. It was a conscious decision to wait until all was fair in the world and equal opportunity existed. Well. Fast forward to the “age of Raiden” and we find ourselves more willing to make a legal commitment to each other. The truth is that we don’t want to pass on the benefits that are available for married couples, especially where the little dude is involved. So instead of feeling guilty about it, we are just going to except the fact that we are hetero-sexual-enough to be legally married. And do it.
So why, may I ask, may we be married?
The reality is that I don’t have the answer. I mean. We are two people who have built our lives together. Started a family. Have a few pets. We have fun, we laugh, we cry. We live together as life partners, for better—for worse. Ready for every up and down that a relationship might bring. We are the perfect gay couple—we just happen to not be gay. We are so non-gay in fact that our relationship can be made legally binding. What a world!
This twisted idea that a state sanctioned legitimacy of a relationship has anything to do with sexual orientation is just nutty. Nutty I say. My heart sank when California voted yes on Prop 8 and I will continue to push for equality when it comes to a person’s right to make their own decisions. If a couple wants to marry they should be able to do so no matter how they are born or how they identify.
This is just some food for thought.
So we have decided that we will make this a part of our ceremony. We will pour out a few drops of wine to symbolize the loss that we feel for those who cannot be married. We all need to speak up and eventually, hopefully sooner, rather than later, but eventually–we will be heard.