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Both of my biological parents are Jewish. When I was 4 years old, my father remarried a Christian. Every winter break when I visited my father, we would celebrate Christmas with my step-motherâ€™s family. My childhood memories include Passover with my Orthodox grandparents in Brooklyn, NY, Hanukkah with my mother and step-father in Newton, and Christmas in California with my dad, my step-mother and her family.
Ten years ago I became part of another interfaith family, my own. My husband is a non-practicing Christian and our children are being raised Jewish. We are fortunate to have found The Sunday School for Jewish Studies, a once-a-week Hebrew school where my children learn about their Jewish identity. They learn about the holidays, eat raisins under the sukkah, spin the dreidel, light candles, and participate in Passover Seders. And, like many of their SS4JS friends, on December 25th, they celebrate Christmas.
We just canâ€™t help it. Christmas for me is a holiday of family traditions. Visiting my step-grandparents, filling stockings, opening presents, and eating Christmas pancakes are some of my favorite memories. For my husband, Christmas is the one Christian holiday he canâ€™t do without. My 8 and 10 year old children now have their own Christmas traditions, decorating the tree, eating candy canes and hot chocolate, visiting their Christian cousins, and of course opening presents.
And yes, my kids have asked why we celebrate Christmas if we are Jewish. My husband and I explain that for us Christmas isnâ€™t a religious holiday, it is a holiday about family.
-Contributed by Liz Davis, Parent and Board Co-President, Sunday School for Jewish Studies
By Erica Noonan
Want to get a funny look at parties? Tell people you have a child named Dennis McCormick enrolled at the Sunday School for Jewish Studies.
First people make the most reasonable assumption: I must be a Jew who married an Irishman.
â€śWhat's your maiden name?â€ť they ask.
â€śNoonan,â€ť I say.
That doesn't clear anything up, so they peer at me a little more closely, searching for a reassuring Semitic look around the eyes and nose. It is there, so they start peppering me with questions.
So, ARE you Jewish? Which synagogue do you go to? What is the SS4JS?
At this point, I usually start babbling defensively. â€śWell, my dad is Catholic but my mom is half-Jewish, and a bunch of my relatives are Jewish, but I was baptized and had First Communion in the Episcopal Church, but a Unitarian did our wedding... And uh, David is an atheist, but he kind of likes the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but he put me in charge of the kids religious education because he likes to sleep late on Sunday, but I think atheism is too cynical of a view to press on children...â€ť
The person now looks truly horrified, yet my mouth wonâ€™t stop moving.
â€ś...um,so, anyhow, I am identifying more as an adult with Judaism, but we celebrate Christmas because the grandparents would kill us if we didn't, and we are part Christian. Uh, sort of...."
By now the person has backed away, suddenly remembering an urgent appointment to talk to someone else -- anyone else -- except me.
Oddly, traditionally raised Jewish people are often the least tolerant. There is the â€śyou aren't Jewish enough to countâ€ť camp or the â€śyour kids can't be Jewish!â€ť delivered with a dismissive shake of the head. Or sometimes the discussion turns into a rather intimate genetic search-and-destroy mission capped off with, â€śso, WHAT was your motherâ€™s mother?â€ť Sometimes people sneer. Or say dismissively, "that interfaith stuff never works out."
It took years, but I have finally come to regard these folks as a gang of judgemental creeps. Because of decisions made three generation ago my kids don't get access to this thread of their heritage? Their bloodline is too muddied? Who gets the right to say that I am not â€śenoughâ€ť of something to â€ścount?â€ť
My childrenâ€™s grandparents passed down many excellent things -- but a well-defined relationship with God and a parochial attachment to ethnicity -- were not among them.
As children of the 1960s, my parents and in-laws thought they were doing us a gigantic favor by not imposing religious dogma or an airtight lifestyle choice. As an adult, I appreciate that.
I hope my kids are as equally grateful for the religious structure I am imposing on their generation. I want to give them access to Judaism, with its rich spiritual and intellectual heritage and its proud tradition of moral leadership and social justice. I want them to become compassionate and funny adults who love life.
So, every Sunday morning they go to SS4JS -- a place that manages to be welcoming, tolerant, yet intellectually rigorous enough so that Dennis, age 8, recently out "Alef Bet-ed" a kid belonging to one those those â€śrealâ€ť Jewish people. (Who's sneering now, I ask you?)
Whenever I take them to Sunday School, I feel like I am making up for lost time. The kids know they can choose at age 13 what they want to be -- Jewish, Christian, atheist, or something else entirely.
I see the Sunday School, as one politician put it the context of immigration, as a path to citizenship. By then they will have earned a Jewish identity fair and square. It will be up to them to embrace it for life.
The year is coming to an end and the new year potent with possibilities is approaching.
Take time to reflect and open the heart to forgiveness. Forgiving yourself and others is the royal road to happiness and joy.
Shanah Tova! May the new year be pregnant with new possibilities and joy for you and family.
In 2005-2006, I served part time as the rabbi of Congregation Sholom Aleichem with Cantor Isaac Kriger. We have wanted to share a bimah for the Fall Holy Days again ever since. If your congregation, traditional or liberal wants an inspiring Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur, please contact us here in Central Florida. Cantor Kriger lives in Orlando with his talented voice coach/accompanist/musical directress Elizabeth Brahms-Kriger; I live in Daytona Beach, and work part time in my retirement as the chaplain for Haven Hospice, DeLand, FL. They met in Israel, singing for the Israeli Opera Company, then sang in Europe before returning to the USA. I am reachable at 386-405-4432 or by email at email@example.com.
Ever since I moved to Newton, Mass., I have found services to be just boring. Maybe itâ€™s because now we go to a bigger, less personal synagogue, or when the rabbi talks, I often find myself dozing off. This year I was determined to make Rosh Hashanah meaningful for my family, especially my three year old little boy, Ariel.
I decided to make a birthday party for the world. By making Rosh Hashanah a birthday for the world, I felt my son would truly understand the meaning of the day or at least think it was really cool that we were all dressed up wearing birthday hats and eating sweet food.
For each of the two days of Rosh Hashanah we invited Arielâ€™s friends and their parents over to our house. We had a mix of families with guests who originated from New York, Canada, China, Ukraine, and Australia. We started each meal with apples and honey and a new fruit. It is a tradition on this holiday to try an unusual fruit for the first time in the season and recite the Shehecheyanu, a prayer of thanks that is said on many occasions including when something new happens,â€ť.
We then moved on to the typical fare of homemade gefilte fish, brisket, noodle kugel, and carrots but we were all wearing birthday hats. Each meal was finished with birthday cookies; We keep kosher and donâ€™t mix diary and meat, and I had a hard time finding a pareve birthday cake (one that is not dairy) and am not the type to bake it myself!
We also talked about how G-d created the world with all of the animals and plants on Rosh Hashanah. Then we talked about how nice it would be if we did good deeds or mitzvahs all year because G-d was nice enough to create the world for us. (I figured that as Ariel and his little friends are only three, we could include a discussion on evolution a few years down the road.)
It was the best Rosh Hashanah weâ€™d had in a long while and I hope it will continue for many more years.
Last Saturday, I co-officiated at a beautiful wedding ceremony at Curtis Farm in Wilton, New Hampshire. The bride is Catholic and the groom is Jewish, and I co-officiated with a wonderful and welcoming Priest from Bedford, NH. The wedding was in an open field with a view of the mountains and fortunately, the weather was warm and sunny, even though rain was in the forecast. I believe that both families were very happy with the ceremony, and a great time was had by all.
I was the m'sader kiddushin (officiant) at the marriage of Shannon Reed and Alex Iosevich. It was an intermarriage in more ways than one -- Shannon's family is from rural Missouri and the wedding was held on her parents' farm outside of Jefferson City, MO. Alex is from the former Soviet Union, and most of his guests were, as well. It's quite a sight to see so many people from the FSU sitting on hay bales at an outdoor wedding! But many people on both sides were not very familiar with Jewish traditions, and all seemed grateful for the explanations I provided. I look forward to more such happy occasions.
One day, Sam, a poor man came home from work tired and exhausted. He begged The Creator for just a little treasure. All of a sudden, Sam noticed a little purse lying near his feet. A heavenly voice said to him: "Take this purse as a gift from Creator. You will find a single coin inside, and the moment you take it out, another coin will take its place - until you throw the purse into the river. The moment you spend the first coin, the purse will lose its magic powers." By that evening, Sam had succeeded in gathering a full sack of coins from the purse, but there was no bread left in the house, because he would not spend a single coin to buy food for himself. "I will gather another sack of money, and only then throw the purse into the river and begin to spend the coins." That day Sam asked a neighbor for bread and on the following day he went out to beg for bread in the streets, because, as he said, "It wonâ€™t do me any harm if I fill another sack with coins before I spend the money and throw the wonderful purse into the river." And so he continued to beg for bread and to gather coins until the end of his days, never spending anything because he did not want to part with his wonderful purse. Sam died a very rich man and his home was filled with sacks of coins - but he died still a poor beggar.
Sam did not realize that in order to truly change his life, he needed more than just money and material possessions. He failed to realize that what he really needed was a different outlook, a change of direction. Even when his wishes/prayers were answered, he was "stuck" in a rut and couldn't see beyond his negative feelings of fear, greed, the self perception that he was nothing but a poor beggar.
Often, like Sam, we don't realize our potential and strengths. We wish to have this, and hope to become that. Then, when our prayers are answered, we forget to enjoy what we have. As a result, we keep it all to ourselves and forget to share with world.
It's easy to get caught up in negativity and self loathing, sometimes it may even give us comfort. But consider this; instead of thinking about what you're missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing. The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible. The difference between can and cannot are only three letters. Three letters that determine your life's direction.
Share your inner light without fear and or doubt. Light is good from whatever lamp it shines.