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Classes and Workshops with InterfaithFamily

Updated March, 2013

Interested? Classes and workshops are currently offered in the following communities. Click for more information about dates and registration:

InterfaithFamily offers classes and workshops for interfaith couples, online with in-person components. Read on for information about


Love and Religion — Online

Being part of an interfaith couple can be challenging, but you don't need to find the answers alone. This workshop offers you a safe environment to work on creating your religious lives together. You can make Jewish choices while honoring the traditions of both partners.

InterfaithFamily is now pleased to offer Love and Religion — Online, a four session workshop, based on Love and Religion: An Interfaith Workshop for Jews and Their Partners, created by Marion L. Usher, Ph.D.

Love and Religion — Online includes four sessions with a combination of in-person get-togethers and online meetings.

You can learn more and watch a short video about the workshop at www.interfaithfamily.com/loveandreligion.

Couples should participate if they are dating, engaged or newly married, exploring the issue of religion in their relationship, and

  • want to have a religious life and are unclear how to discuss this issue with each other;
  • want to be with other couples who are struggling with the same issues;
  • want answers to their questions about religious life together, including: Where can we find Jewish clergy to marry us? Can our children be Jewish if my wife does not convert? What does a conversion require? How can we respect both our religions if we decide to have Judaism as the "lead religion"? How can we approach our parents to help us with these dilemmas? Can our children go to Hebrew school if they are not converted at birth?

 

Visit our Chicago, San Francisco Bay Area or Philadelphia community pages to see when this is being offered. Or sign up now for the Chicago class.


Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family

InterfaithFamily is offering a one of a kind class for interfaith parents thinking about whether and how to bring Jewish wisdom, traditions and customs to their home, their lives and their parenting.

Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family is an 8 session class. Each week of the class the material for a new session will be added. You access the material on your own time during that week, read essays (print them for later), hear/learn blessings, watch videos, get ideas for family activities, post in a journal, and more. You will be able to interact with other parents through discussion boards. You will have access to a facilitator so that you can ask questions as you go, and the facilitator will respond to both your journal posts and the discussion boards. In addition, two of the eight sessions include an in-person program for the whole family — a Friday night Shabbat dinner and a wrap-up and next-steps send-off.

Each of the eight lessons is about a major parenting situation and how Jewish teachings and traditions offer insights about how to make these times meaningful and spiritual. We will explore bedtime and food and eating rituals, marking time with meaning on a weekly and yearly basis, doing good deeds, loving learning, spirituality and personal journeys. Every aspect of this class was created with modern interfaith families in mind.

Parents will be able to log on during the week and read interesting essays and/or look at slide shows that give background and literacy about the Jewish ideas involved in the lesson. Each lesson comes with "hear/read" files to help you learn how to say blessings in Hebrew, YouTube-type videos, family projects and bedtime book suggestions, personal stories written by other interfaith families who have tried these same aspects of Judaism in their lives, journaling questions, questions to discuss with your partner, shared discussions with other parents, and more.

This is a non-judgmental, supportive and open forum for you to learn, experience, question, and share.

These eight lessons have the ability to positively impact the rhythm of your interfaith family's life!

Visit our ChicagoSan Francisco Bay Area or Philadelphia community pages to see when this is being offered.

Preparing for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Your Interfaith Family

InterfaithFamily is offering a new, one of a kind class for interfaith parents who have a 4th-7th grader preparing, whether in early stages or later stages, for a bar or bat mitzvah.

Preparing for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Your Interfaith Family is an eight session class. Each week of the class the material for a new session will be added. You access the material on your own time during that week, read essays (print them for later), hear/learn blessings, watch videos, get ideas for family activities, post in a journal and more. You will be able to interact with other parents through discussion boards. You will have access to a facilitator so that you can ask questions as you go, and the facilitator will respond both to your journal posts and on the discussion boards. In addition, two of the eight sessions include an in-person program for the whole family.

Each of the eight sessions is about a major aspect of the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony and experience. We will explore the history of the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, the meaning of Torah, putting the "mitzvah" back in the bar/bat mitzvah, Shabbat morning and evening worship, ritual policies in synagogues, and the enduring Jewish values to hold dear and how to explain this to family members and friends who are not Jewish. Every aspect of this class was created with modern interfaith families in mind.

Parents will be able to log on during the week and read interesting essays and/or look at slide shows that give background and literacy about the Jewish ideas involved in the session. Each session comes with "hear/read" files to help you learn how to say blessings in Hebrew, YouTube-type videos, family projects, book suggestions, personal stories written by other interfaith families who have gone through bar/bat mitzvah with their children, journaling questions, shared discussions with other parents, and more.

This is a non-judgmental, supportive and open forum for you to learn, experience, question and share.

These eight sessions have the ability to positively impact the way your interfaith family can become involved in this major life cycle event!

Visit our ChicagoSan Francisco Bay Area or Philadelphia community pages to see when this is being offered.

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Rabbi Robyn Frisch 07-28-14

Chancellor Eisen,

I just read your article in the Wall Street Journal, Wanted: Converts to Judaism, in which you advocate for “the rabbis of the Conservative movement to use every means to explicitly and strongly advocate for conversion.”  Considering that you are the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of the Conservative Movement, your words carry great weight.  And because of this, I am asking you to reconsider your position.

I of course agree with you that there is much beauty and deep meaning in living a Jewish life.  I am overjoyed when someone comes to me and says that she has decided to pursue the path toward conversion—whether it is because she has lived with a Jewish partner and raised Jewish children and now wholeheartedly desires to become a Jew; she has fallen in love with a Jewish person and thinks that living as a Jew could elevate her own life; or because, independent of any personal relationships, she has found Judaism and has come to believe that she is meant to be a Jew.

It is incumbent upon those of us who are rabbis as well as all people and institutions that are committed to Jewish continuity that we let all people, and especially those family members in our midst who are not Jewish, know that they are always welcome to become Jewish if that is what their soul desires, and that our doors are open wide.  As a rabbi, there are few things I have done that are more rewarding than accompanying someone on their journey to becoming a Jew. Conversion, when done for the right reasons, is a blessing for the new Jew as well as for the Jewish community.  But conversion isn’t the only option, and it isn’t always the right option.  And while I am sure you in no way intended this, I greatly worry that by advocating for conversion, the Jewish community will give the impression that any conversion is OK, even without the sincerity of conviction and belief that a genuine conversion would require.

I agree with you that we should ensure that “opportunities for serious adult study of Judaism and active participation in Jewish life” are always available.  Over the years, I have seen many family members who are not Jewish take Jewish learning very seriously, and I have seen such family members actively participating in Jewish communal life.  I am sure you have witnessed this as well. Sometimes family members who are not Jewish decide over time to become Jewish themselves (often before a significant life-cycle event, such as a child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah).  Others choose not to become Jewish but to remain part of the community.  Their reasons for not becoming Jewish are as diverse as individuals themselves – including the fact that they may believe in and practice another religion; they may not want to convert out of respect for their own parents or other family members; or they may simply not believe in God, thus feeling that conversion to any religion would be insincere.

While I believe that family members who are not Jewish should always know that they are welcome to explore becoming Jewish and that we would be honored to have them as converts if this is what they truly want and believe, I worry that if  “Jewish institutions and their rabbis…actively encourage non-Jewish family members in our midst to take the next step and formally commit to conversion,” as you suggest we do, we will not only encourage conversions for the wrong reasons, but that we will also be putting undue pressure on family members who are not Jewish.  Rather than bringing them into the fold, as you desire, I fear that we could turn them away.

Instead, I think we need to send the message that we welcome family members who are not Jewish as part of our community just as they are (rather than trying to turn them into what we want them to be).  Rather than “explicitly and strongly advocat[ing] for conversion” as you suggest, I believe that we should let family members who are not Jewish know that we would be honored to help them become Jewish if that is what they wish for themselves, and we would be equally honored if they do not convert but make the commitment to raise their children as Jews.  What we really need to do is to ensure that resources are available for parents who did not grow up Jewish (as well as those who did grow up Jewish) to raise their children with Judaism in their lives, whether or not they themselves convert.

Toward the end of your article, you make reference to the biblical character Ruth, the “most-famous convert in Jewish tradition.”  While we often refer to Ruth as a “convert,” using such a term is anachronistic, since “conversion” as we now know it did not exist in Biblical times.  But, more important, as I point out in my blog Re-reading Ruth: Not “Ruth and Her Conversion” but “Ruth and Her Interfaith Marriage,” we cannot ignore the timing of Ruth’s conversion.  As I noted in my blog, by the time Ruth made her famous declaration of commitment to her mother-in-law Naomi and to the people and God of Israel, Ruth’s Israelite husband, Noami’s son Machlon, was already deceased.  This was already after Ruth’s marriage—not before it.

Ruth may have found, as you point out, “community, meaning and direction by entering deeply into her new identity,” but this didn’t happen because Naomi or anyone else in her family encouraged Ruth or advocated for her to take on a new identity.  In fact, the Book of Ruth explicitly informs us that after Machlon had died and Naomi was leaving Ruth’s homeland of Moab to return to Bethlehem, Naomi repeatedly urged Ruth to “turn back” (Ruth 1:11-15) rather than accompany Naomi on her journey.  Ruth uttered the words “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God  (Ruth 1:16) not because Naomi “actively encouraged her” but because Naomi had already accepted her for so many years for who she was—a Moabite, an “outsider,” that was married to her son.  It was because of Naomi’s unconditional love for Ruth that Ruth linked her future with that of Naomi, her people and her God—and ultimately went on to become the great-grandmother of King David.

Chancellor Eisen, you note in the first paragraph of your article that “Judaism needs more Jews.”  I agree with you that the high rate of intermarriage  “presents the Jewish community…perhaps, with a unique opportunity.”  But where we disagree is on what that opportunity is.  In my view, the opportunity we have is not to necessarily convince those who are married to Jews to convert.  Instead, like Naomi, we can help to ensure our Jewish “tomorrows” by unconditionally welcoming spouses and partners of Jews into our Jewish community and making it as easy and meaningful as possible for them to raise Jewish children.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Robyn Frisch
Director, InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia


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InterfaithFamily Staff 07-25-14

By Shannon Naomi Zaid

My internship with the Jewish United Federation and InterfaithFamily has put me in religious Jewish settings that I wouldn’t have normally found myself in. During one of these times, working an InterfaithFamily booth at an event, an issue was brought to my attention that I’d never thought existed: prejudice based on names. In this day and age it seems so odd to assume something about a person based solely on their name, especially so in the U.S. where the culture is a founded on many different ethnicities and geographical backgrounds. Yet there I was, trying to defend my Judaism to a couple of older Jewish men who thought I was Catholic based off my name.

The River Shannon

River Shannon

The origin of the name Shannon is Irish. Depending on whom you ask it means: small and wise, or river. My name was given to me by my birth mother, and my parents chose to keep it when they adopted me. In some ways I can understand why these men assumed I was Catholic. The southern nation of Ireland has been and remained Catholic for centuries, and the name “Shannon” derives from Ireland’s longest river, River Shannon. That being said, I was upset that they couldn’t picture a Jew having my name, and it was only after I explained to them my family background, that they acknowledged me as Jewish.

I understand that in Judaism a name carries weight. Historically, there were three groupings of Jews: the Levites, Kohens and Israelites. Descendants of the Levites and Kohens were tasked with special religious duties (e.g. Kohens were priests and Levites served directly under the Kohens), while the Israelites (i.e. everyone else) held the lowest standing. At some synagogues, Kohens and Levites are still treated differently from everyone else. For example, Kohens can be called up to read from the Torah first, followed by Levites. Even outside the biblical context, a family’s name identifies a person. The Jewish community has always been tight knit, and last names now serve as a tool to help place a person in the community.

In the case of first names, I notice the repetition of certain names within the Jewish community. Daniel, Jeremy, Rachel, Joseph, Sarah, Ari, Noah, Adam, Elizabeth, Rebecca, David, Jonathan, Dana, Shana, Michael, Sam. Chances are you’ll come across these names in a Jewish community, but that doesn’t strictly mean all Jews take their names from the same set. There are Jews all over the world in many different countries. You can’t expect that they all share the same few names.

While I am proud to call myself Jewish, I recognize its drawbacks. Judaism is very good at being exclusive, even toward those who identify with it. Call it a design flaw, or a result of social conditioning from centuries of persecution, either way an individual shouldn’t have to be questioned on what faith they are because their name is different.

Growing up in an interfaith family, I always felt as if I was secretly having an identity crisis, never knowing where I really fit it. But I’ve grown into myself, and I know who I am. My name is Shannon. I identify as a secular Jew. I come from an interfaith family. I’m adopted. Part of my family is from Israel, and the other half is from Europe. I know and understand all of this. The problem is everyone who doesn’t understand.


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Rabbi Mychal Copeland 07-24-14

Last Friday night, I watched as my kids lit Shabbat candles and said the prayers at our table with my in-laws standing by. My partner’s parents are not Jewish, and I felt a deep appreciation for them in this moment. When we all met, none of us could have imagined this scene. Nearly two decades ago, I stayed at their home for the first time. My partner and I were graduate students on the East Coast and we headed west to see her folks at their ranch in central Oregon over break. Like many people, Jewish or not, they really aren’t into religion at all. Here we were, a rabbinical student and a PhD candidate in religious studies. We pretty much ate, drank and breathed religion.

I wanted to be careful not to overwhelm them with Jewish talk or Jewish practice. That was tough because I was starting to observe Shabbat and other rituals for the first time. I chose carefully which ones I absolutely had to do. One of my new, favorite Shabbat rituals was baking challah. As Friday morning rolled around, it felt strange not to make it. I started to get the ingredients out, and the implications ran through my mind:

1) This kitchen is going to be really, really messy.

2)  It would feel weird to me if we ate challah on Friday night without saying the prayer over it.  But saying it will feel really weird too.

3) Oh no…it will feel weird to do the prayer over the bread without doing all three Shabbat blessings.  Now it’s a full ceremony and it’s going to be awkward.

In the end, I did it anyway. The result? Wow, these people love challah. I know most people like it. What’s not to like? My recipe includes eggs, flour and tons of sugar and butter which make it more like a Shabbat dessert. It’s always a crowd pleaser. But I have never seen anyone so overtaken by it. Seeing how excited her parents were and knowing how worried I was about engaging in Jewish ritual in their house, my partner made sure they knew that getting to the challah meant that there would be Jewish prayers at their table. For people who really disagree with religion as a whole, don’t believe in the God we are thanking in these prayers and have no context for the foreign language being spoken at their table, this could have been a huge deal.

It wasn’t.

Challah

Mychal's family's homemade challah

It’s been almost two decades, and I’m still making challah for my in-laws. Now when we visit, our kids help bake and decorate. We do the entire Shabbat ceremony consisting of all three prayers: lighting candles, saying kiddush over wine and grape juice and the motsi over the challah, my partner’s parents stand by, knowing that challah is coming.

I am greatly appreciative that my in-laws have been able to witness our family’s rituals and other religious choices. Clearly, some of these rituals have been easier to stomach than others. My mother-in-law enjoys the challah far more than she did the bris (then again, I’m with her on that one). It’s not easy when your kids choose a lifestyle so different from your own. In one sense, I credit the challah. It was one of the first moments when we came together around a Jewish custom, and unlike lots of other Jewish foods that are acquired tastes, challah was the one that could allow them to see into a completely new religious framework and even allow for it to happen at their family table. In a way, it’s just bread. But “breaking bread” together is also the way people from many cultures have traditionally and symbolically expressed that they can cross a difficult boundary. So maybe it’s no accident that this openness was instigated by a couple of loaves of home-baked bread. But at a deeper level, I credit my in-laws for demonstrating incredible openness to new ideas and most of all, for embracing us. That, and helping me clean the kitchen.

Sweet Egg Bread (Challah) 

Ingredients

5-6 cups of flour
2-3 tsp. salt
1 package dry yeast or equivalent of 1 Tbs.
4 Tbs. sugar (yep, really) or try honey
1 stick margarine or butter (Butter is better…but for those observing the kosher laws, butter poses a problem if there is meat on the table. Oil can also be used.)
1 cup hot water (130 degrees or whatever the yeast you are using requires)
4 eggs

  • Start boiling water and take your margarine/butter and yeast out of the refrigerator to get them to room temperature.
  • In a large bowl, mix 1 and 1/8 cups of flour, the sugar and the salt.
  • Put the yeast (room temperature) in a small bowl with a smattering of sugar.
  • Measure out the hot water at desired heat for yeast.
  • Pour some of the hot water into the yeast/sugar and mix vigorously with a spoon until the yeast dissolves. Let it sit for about 4 minutes until it bubbles up and rises.
  • Pour the yeast/sugar/water mixture into the large bowl with the flour and stir.
  • Cut a stick of softened margarine/butter into the mixture and stir, leaving a little aside.
  • Add the rest of the cup of hot water. The mixer bowl should feel warm, not hot.
  • Separate one egg, putting the white into the mixture while keeping the yolk in the refrigerator for later.
  • Add ½ cup flour into the mixture and the other 3 eggs into the bowl. Mix.
  • Add 3 more cups of flour and stir until it gets too thick to mix with a cooking spoon.
  • Spread some flour onto a large cutting board and begin kneading the dough, adding flour as necessary to keep it from getting sticky. Knead for about 10 minutes or until it seems right.  Really get your palms into it. If you have kids around let them make handprints in it.
  • Butter a bowl (with the extra margarine) and place the dough in the bowl. Find a cool, dark place to let the dough rise for about an hour with a damp dish towel covering it.
  • After an hour, remove the dough and punch it (with a buttered fist).
  • Divide it into two pieces (this is for two loaves, but kids like making several small ones instead so they can decorate their own). Divide each half into three sections and braid it. Remove an olive-sized piece of dough as an offering for the Levites. Say the blessing: Baruch ata Adonai, eloheinu melekh haolam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu l’hafrish challah min ha-isah (who has commanded us to separate challah from the dough). Leave the little ball on the side of the pan and cook it with the rest.
  • Butter/margarine/crisco a cookie sheet and place the braided loaves on it in a cool, dark place for another hour.
  • Beat the reserved egg yolk with a little water and brush it over the tops of the loaves. Sprinkle poppy seeds, cinnamon/sugar, sesame seeds, chocolate chips, rainbow sprinkles or whatever you think sounds good. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes to half an hour, testing it often with a toothpick. When the toothpick comes out mostly dry, it’s done!

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Dana Pulda and Chris Acone 07-22-14

Sun Shining on the New Couple

After all of the plans and preparations, the big day came and went without a hitch! We had glorious weather, the ceremony was everything that we wanted it to be, and the reception was an absolute blast. We had people from both sides tearing up the dance floor until midnight. We ended the night exhausted, our sides and cheeks hurting from a day spent laughing and grinning ear-to-ear.

We arrived in Worcester on Tuesday night, which really allowed us to take a more relaxed approach to last-minute preparations. There were the table numbers to finish up, the seating chart to arrange, welcome bags to assemble, and yard work to be done, not to mention being here for the tent and bathroom installation. Things went quite smoothly for the most part.

Dana's parents sharing a moment with the Chuppah

On Wednesday morning Dana’s mom, Kathy, wanted to reveal the Chuppah. All along we knew it would include articles of clothing from both families but we had no idea what the finished product would look like. Kathy settled on a tree design using the clothing donations as the leaves of the tree. We must have sat for almost a full hour and looked at it, recognizing the articles and locating other items on the Chuppah. It was truly a spectacular final product that we will keep in our family for many many years.

We were bursting with excitement when Friday evening came around and the out-of-town guest began to arrive. The rehearsal went well and afterwards we gathered at a local restaurant for drinks and appetizers—a chance for our families to mingle and get to know each other before the big day. And—much to our surprise—an a cappella group had been hired to sing to us and Dana’s grandparents, who are celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary in July.

On Saturday morning we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day. The ladies got their hair and make up done while the men slept in and spent the morning lounging. By 5 o’clock everything was in place and we were ready to start the show.

Walking down the aisle

Dana walked down the aisle around 5:30 and the ceremony began. We started with a traditional Jewish blessing over the children given by both of our parents. Then we had a reading by Chris’s uncle (a Jesuit priest), followed by our own version of the seven blessings read by friends and a poem read by Chris’s sister. Afterwards we exchanged vows and rings, Chris stomped on the glass (twice—since he wasn’t sure he had broken it the first time), we kissed, and then it was on to the party!

Now, three-weeks later, it’s hard to remember all of the details from the reception but it truly was a magical day. Many people commented on how personal the ceremony was and how much they learned about both religions. The Horah may have been one of our favorite moments, when family and friends from both sides joined on the dance floor to dance around us and lift us in chairs. The joy that we were able to share with our friends and family was palpable during those few minutes, and everyone had a great time.

The morning after the wedding there was a brunch at the Pulda house, which was a great opportunity to catch up with our guests and spend time with those people we weren’t able to see for long during the reception. It’s funny, before the wedding everyone warned us how quickly the night would go, but I guess it’s one of those things that you have to experience to believe. It truly flew by!

The face of pure excitement...

All in all, the wedding was a wonderful time and we considered it to be a beautiful fusion of both of our faiths. Our families and friends came together to celebrate us, our love, and the future we have before us. We consider it to be a bright future, and look forward to the joys and challenges of being an inter-faith couple and raising children with an appreciation for the rich heritage of both of our faith backgrounds.


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Wendy Armon 07-17-14
Love, religion and cocktails event

Rabbi Robyn Frisch, Director of IFF/Philadelphia (left) with a participant at Love, Religion & Cocktails

A few weeks ago, InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia hosted our first gathering for young adults from interfaith homes and those who are in interfaith relationships: Love, Religion & Cockatils. We were fortunate enough to work with The Jewish Collaborative, a local organization that works with people in their 20s and 30s. In addition, our programming committee was terrific in coming up with the right type of program and the appropriate language for the marketing materials. Lots of organizations have mixers or programs, but this event was a little bit of both. It was an amazing night!

Drinks and appetizers: Everyone was given two drink tickets and there was a table with appetizers so that everyone could snack and mingle. We wanted everyone to have a chance to engage in casual conversation before we broke up into two groups. We served the “Love & Religion” as our signature cocktail. We’re pretty sure our participants enjoyed our special concoction.

A unique format: We wanted people to talk casually about their experiences and to connect with one another. The programming committee thought that the best way to achieve this would be to ask lighthearted questions such as, “What is your favorite holiday movie and why?” We hoped participants would explain their points of view as to why they liked certain movies, thus sparking conversation about issues such as how childhood memories inform our identity. We know that for many people, there is a lot of passion about their religion that has to do with memories. We asked other fun questions such as “If you described your family as a food, what would it be?” We heard, “a pizza bagel,” “a potato latke.” The answers were fun and touched upon the backgrounds of each person. One person talked about feelings associated with a Christmas tree. Another person talked about family meals and holidays.

Love religion & cockatils

During our conversations, we heard the most fascinating stories. One woman who grew up in America went to Israel and is now engaged to a Muslim from Sudan. Another woman told us about growing up in a Jewish/Puerto Rican household. One of the couples talked about how the rabbi at their wedding was so wonderful and welcoming that the partner who did not grow up Jewish is now considering converting.

A measure of success: we handed out short evaluations and all data indicated that everyone seemed quite happy with the program. The real measure of success in my mind was that people stayed for an hour after the event ended to talk to one another and our staff. Obviously, there is a real need for a forum for folks to connect and share their stories. I’m proud that IFF/Philadelphia offered that space for them and I’m pleased to be part of an organization that offers a safe space for people to share and communicate online and in person.

Would you like to attend Love, Religion and Cocktails in the future in Philadelphia or elsewhere? Share your comments and ideas below.


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Rabbi Ari Moffic 07-09-14

KetubahSometimes Jews who don’t live their lives by the rubrics of Jewish law feel inauthentic in their identity or less Jewish than more observant Jews. I often hear phrases like, “we weren’t that religious” or “we were very Reform” to describe an upbringing that did not include regular synagogue attendance or Shabbat rituals, for instance.  Sometimes a person who marries a Jew not concerned with Jewish tradition as it applies to food, prayer or holiday observances can be confused when that person wants a rabbi at his or her wedding and wants to raise Jewish children because it doesn’t seem the person cares that much about being Jewish.

There are many ways into Judaism and many ways to practice one’s Judaism.

Sometimes Jews are worried about “doing it wrong” or not following the tradition (as if there is only one) at major life cycle moments. For instance, in preparing for a wedding, many people are concerned with who can sign their ketubah. I explain that “traditionally” it would be people who are Jewish and not related to the couple but that since this is a “non-halachic, not legal” ketubah signed by a bride or groom who isn’t Jewish that they should pick witnesses who they trust and wish to honor and worry less about whether that person is Jewish and related to them. Sometimes brides or grooms are worried about wearing a yarmulke at their wedding when they don’t intend to wear one regularly again. They have to pause to ask themselves why they would want to wear one on their wedding day, what it symbolizes to them and then see if it feels meaningful.

Some of my colleagues have recently been discussing whether they should write that the couple is getting married on Shabbat in a ketubah (even if the wedding is before sundown on Saturday which is still Shabbat) since it is not traditionally thought permissible to hold a wedding on Shabbat. I feel very strongly that if the wedding is on Shabbat that the ketubah in an unapologetic way reflect that by stating the accurate day of the week in both English and Hebrew (rather than writing “Sunday”). This couple and this rabbi must not be accustomed to keeping Shababt in ways that prohibit driving, exchanging money, etc. and thus getting married on Saturday evening fits with their Jewish expression.

In fact, Rabbi Eugene Mihaly who died in 2002 at the age of 83, a professor at Hebrew Union College, the Reform Rabbinical Seminary wrote about whether marriage on the Sabbath is allowed according to the Jewish rabbinic sources.  He concluded that:

“A religious marriage ceremony is a profound spiritual experience. The goals of Sabbath observance for the Reform Jew are also based on the traditional themes of the Sabbath as a day of delight (oneg), of refreshment of soul, of perfect freedom, a day devoted to hallowing of life, the enhancement of person, a weekly projection into the messianic. The spirit of a religious marriage ceremony is thus in perfect consonance with the spirit of the Sabbath. Halachic (legal) tradition, liberally interpreted, as it must be by Reform Judaism, far from prohibiting a marriage on the Sabbath would, on the contrary, encourage it as a most appropriate and fitting activity, congruent with and an enhancement of the highest reaches of Sabbath observance.”

We have a tendency as Jews to put a hierarchy on Jewish practice and observance level. When one is able to learn about Judaism and then live it in a meaningful, thoughtful way, it becomes part of the life force of that person and not something to try on for an hour here or there. The ability to own one’s own Judaism is crucial. When one can talk about it with confidence and not in what one doesn’t do but in what one does and believes and values, then it fills the person. How can we nurture the next generation to be able to do this? If we worry less about “tradition” which is certainly not monolithic and more about knowing why we do what we do, then our identity can sustain us in real ways.


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Jessie Boatright 07-01-14

A snapshot of Keeana and Marc's program

I love a good wedding, which almost all of them are, in my experience. Last weekend I had the privilege of being a guest at a really powerful wedding, with a ceremony that was not only joyous but also left me with strong food for thought about the power of marriage, partnership, love, family, and community. I especially loved the way the ceremony charged family and friends to play a role in the couple’s marriage, so much so that I thought I’d share it with you.

Keeana and Marc’s wedding was special because they are a lovely couple – they are both remarkable people who are head-over-heels for each other in an infectious way. They are connected to and with their faith and their clergy in way that made it impossible to not feel spiritually connected to their ceremony. And the fact that five of their friends came together to form a choir just for their ceremony, or that Keeana’s mother, a reverend herself, led the final step of the ceremony, only sweetened the pot.

But what I really loved were the three “Charges” of the ceremony.

As I understand it, the Charge is the officiant’s chance to tell the couple about the responsibilities they are taking on as a married couple. In a Jewish wedding, I think these charges tend to be a bit more understated.  In Keeana and Marc’s Christian wedding, the Charge was not only explicit, but it was said three times in three different ways. First to the congregation, then to the families, and finally to the couple themselves.

In the first charge, the pastors from Boston’s Bethel AME Church (who happen to be married to one another), told the congregation that the couple’s goal for their ceremony was to celebrate their love, to encourage unmarried guests to think about getting married, and to remind married guests about the power of marriage. This is such a lovely way to attend any wedding – to remember not only to notice the wedding dress and to listen to the couple, but also to reflect on your own relationships as you participate.

The second charge was the one that really stood out to me.  I can never do it justice verbatim, but following are the Cliff Notes. The reverends took pause from the flow of the ceremony to speak directly to the bride’s and groom’s families. They reminded them that Keeana and Marc were standing before them and before G-d to enter into a holy partnership, and that moving forward their primary relationships would be with each other and with G-d. Because of the sacred nature of the commitment they were making to each other, the officiants implored the families that the best way to support these two individuals going forward would be to support them as a couple.  This included supporting their ability to (and perhaps need to) forge their own path as a unit, sometimes stepping aside to let them stumble together. The reverends promised that if the families supported the couple’s partnership, they were gaining a respective son and daughter, and that respecting the partnership was the way to be close to the adult child who they raised themselves.

This was not striking because it was a revelation to me – Eric and I have always felt great support for our marriage from our parents. As a parent myself, now, I feel like I am one step closer to understanding the potential challenge of this charge (although not nearly close enough to really get it!). After nine years of marriage, I am unmeasurably appreciative of the ways in which our families have supported our marriage journey, even when we’ve made choices that have been very different from those our parents made (or might have made for us!). The way Keeana and Marc’s pastors laid out the charge reminded me that this is never something to be taken lightly, that it is work, and that it is sacred work. And while this post may read as more about marriage than parenting, the truth is that all of this only becomes more important when children are in the mix, and the dynamics present and decisions to be made feel even more complex than before.

So it reminded me, especially on the eve of our anniversary this week, to say:

Thank you to Mom and Dad and Mom and Dad!!!

(and the rest of our families, too, of course), and to remember that the successful union of two people is all the richer when we have our friends and family holding up that union.

The final charge, to the couple, was a lovely statement about love and commitment. And all of the wedding guests will remember the way that two pastors emboldened them to maintain a passionate marital bed, but that is for another kind of post for another kind of day.

So Mazel Tov to Keeana and Marc. Mission accomplished in helping me reflect on the power of love and marriage. Thanks to you two, too.


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Anne Marie Keefe 06-22-14

Sorry for the radio silence; throughout these last few weeks, I have been going on a series of vacations and experiences: adventures with Sam. He has taken me to Londonderry, NH, Grand Rapids, MI, Lambertville, NJ, and Allentown, PA. It’s been a busy month!

Sam at Moonlight Meadery

Sam at Moonlight Meadery

In the beginning of June, we visited Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, New Hampshire. They gave us a tour of their facility and we tasted about 14 different meads (honey-wine). It is incredible how they can mimic the flavors of apple pie or mojito with fermented honey. While we were in Londonderry, we visited a local brewery (603 Brewery) and a winery (Zorvino Vineyards). We can now say that we have been to a meadery, winery, and brewery in 2 days.

Last weekend, we drove to Michigan for the National Homebrew Conference. This is Sam’s jam- three days of all you can drink homebrewed beer! About a hundred different homebrew clubs from all over the country brought their best beers, and vendors showcased brewing equipment and supplies, and poured us more beer. Besides drinking and talking to vendors, there were about 50 different seminars. These speakers, titans of the beer world—Mitch Steele, Brew Master at Stone Brewing Company and John Palmer, author of How to Brew, and many others—talked about how different yeast cultures react in different temperatures, how to improve fermentation, and the secrets of aging in bourbon barrels and, you guessed it, they served more beer.

Members of Sam's homebrew club at the National Homebrew Competition

Members of Sam's homebrew club at the National Homebrew Competition

 

 

 

After three days of drinking really good beer, listening to famous beer people and talking with hundreds of other people about homebrewing, we have some really good ideas for our beer themed wedding.

Some of these Adventures with Sam have been “studying” for our wedding.  This past week, our families met at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival to see Fiddler on the Roof.  Throughout the show, I heard them whispering to each other, “Will Anne and Sam have this at their wedding?” My mom held her breath while the bride and groom were hoisted on chairs, and my little brother was amazed at the dancers balancing bottles on their hats.

TThe Bottle Dance. Photo by Lee A. Butz. Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. Fiddler on the Roof.

The Bottle Dance. Photo by Lee A. Butz. Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. Fiddler on the Roof.

 

 

A few weeks before seeing Fiddler on the Roof, we went to a wedding near Lambertville, New Jersey. Throughout the wedding, we took notes on what we would do similarly or differently. The ceremony and reception took place outside on a lovely farm with a small group of friends. It was a perfect setting for dancing under the tent or enjoying the bonfire with a cocktail. We loved how all of the aspects of their wedding reflected who they are as a couple and we hope that our wedding does the same, which is why we will have a beer themed wedding.

Whether it is beer related or “studying” for our wedding, the Adventures with Sam are always fun times with many stories to tell. Maybe I should start writing a book and title it:

Adventures with Sam: The Story of My Life.

 

 

 


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Dana Pulda and Chris Acone 06-14-14

Hello Everyone,

The countdown is on! As of today we have officially two weeks until we tie the knot in front of our friends and family. To say we are excited and counting down the days would be an understatement.

Preparations are moving along smoothly. RSVPs are in (201!) and even our “I work best under pressure” friends have booked hotel rooms. Tomorrow morning we are having a final tasting of the cupcakes and sampling the appetizers for the rehearsal dinner. Songs have been selected, the ceremony is (mostly) organized, and we got our Pinterest on making some pretty cool homespun table numbers out of stained wood, nails and twine.

FIrst Graders do give the best advice

Friday night we attended a party with some of Chris’s co-workers, and they revealed something they’ve been working on: a book of marriage advice from Chris’s first grade students. They were absolutely precious, and here are some of the highlights:

Roberta, age 7: “How to be a good husband: You can kiss her! Spend time with her! Take her dancing! Take care of the kids! Love her and the kids”

Asia, age 6, has some fashion tips: “I’ll give you advice: You need handsome clothing, like a black tuxedo, and you need shiny black shoes”

Kofi, age 7: “Show love to her by giving her flowers and chocolate ice cream and chocolate hearts and take her on special vacations, like to California.”

Takyus, age 7: “Take her on a date and make her dinner before she gets home. And do your laundry…and hers too.”

Devon, age 6: “Be kind to the wife. Do what the wife says. Have fun with the wife”

Do your laundry...and hers, too!

It goes on like this for pages and pages, advice from 100 first graders many of whom recommend buying things like dresses, roses, and rings–who can argue with that wisdom? There was funny advice, silly advice, and a lot of poignant advice about being kind, patient and honest with one another.

We believe that our plan for the ceremony so far reflects our willingness to be patient and honest with one another, and our commitment to include elements of both religious faiths in our lives as we move forward. Here’s the rundown so far:

  • The reception will be in Dana’s backyard and the ceremony will be in the front. A good friend of ours has agreed to serve as our Justice of the Peace, and we will stand with him, Chris’s brother and Dana’s sister on a small platform in the front yard. Most guests will stand during the short ceremony.
  • As we’ve mentioned, we will be married beneath a Chuppah, although we are not sure if we are going to need Chuppah bearers or not. The Chuppah was quilted by Dana’s mom, Kathy, out of significant articles of clothing donated from many family members. Those of you familiar with Patricia Polacco’s story The Keeping Quilt will know how meaningful this quilt will be to us throughout our lives.
  • We will sign a Ketubah, which Chris is busy designing. It will have an image of a tree with silhouettes of birds on it, reflecting a favorite quote of Chris’ mom’s: “There are only two lasting bequeaths we can hope to give our children: one of these is roots, the other wings.”
  • Chris’s uncle, a Jesuit priest, will read from St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians (“Love is patient, love is kind…”) and his sister will read the beautiful poem “Love” attributed to Roy Croft.
  • We have seven groups of friends and family members who will read our version of the Seven Blessings.
  • And…Chris is stomping on a glass, of course. I think he may be more excited for that than any other part of the wedding.
  • Following the ceremony and a brief Yichud (mostly to allow us time to breathe and enjoy the fabulous food) we will have cocktails in the backyard and then a reception until around midnight!
  • Dana’s grandfather will perform a Motzi and give a brief speech and many other favorite wedding traditions will follow: the Horah, the mother/son and father/daughter dances, a non-messy cake cutting, and speeches by the best man and maid of honor. We’re skipping things like the bouquet and garter toss, as they’re not really our style.

 

Then it will be over! We can’t believe it is all happening so fast. It is an event that has been a long time in the making and we anticipate it like we’ve never looked forward to anything in our lives. We can only hope that everyone has as much fun as we know we will.

We’ll try to post again in the next few weeks as everything comes together! Thank you for reading and going through this wonderful process with us.


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Ryan Mount 06-13-14

“You can’t walk away when it gets a little heavy now. “ With all the stress that has fallen onto Lisa and myself over the past couple weeks, Cody ChesnuTT could not be any more right when singing the tune, entitled, “Love is a More Than a Wedding Day.” Through the bad times and the good times music plays a big role in how we remember an event. We sing songs to mark events, like Happy Birthday, and to celebrate holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah. When thinking about the topic of music and weddings, I took to the Internet and just realized how much music happens at any wedding and how it reflects the whole day.

Looking at the songs during the ceremony, I found out there are songs played before and after the ceremony. There are songs throughout the ceremony. Songs for the bridge and groom and songs for the guests. Then the one I actually did think about was what song would Lisa like to come down the aisle to? I have got my homework cut out for me.

I think the most fun song(s) come at the reception. There will be lots of dancing as I am known to dance and dance well and enjoy it. Since this day is about Lisa and me, I can guarantee there will be some music everyone can dance along to. And according to one article I read, it is considering a mitzvah (a good deed) that friends come and dance with the bride and groom. (Any friends reading this, this means you.) However, those songs do not carry much weight and probably will be forgotten in time.

What about the music that says who we truly are? We are already having a nice mix of inter-faith practices during the ceremony, but what about during the reception? Lisa admits the chair dance also officially known as the Hora terrifies her, but we have not officially ruled it out. Mainly because I Iove Harry Belafonte’s “Hava Nageela” and it is a tune that I loved to listen to with my grandmother and one of the records we would bond over towards the end of her life. We may actually look for a way to update the Hora, starting a new tradition to honor my grandmother and still make Lisa feel comfortable. More details to come…

Lisa and I are 99% sure we have our song because it was on the first mix tape (CD) that I ever gave to her. It is simple and actually does wrap us up in the nutshell. Instead of gushing about it, you can just listen to it here.

I began to think about the parent/child dances. Lisa and I are not sure whether we should select the songs or have our parents select the songs. I actually am enjoying the inner dialogue I’m having about selecting the song for the mother and son dance. It is a time to reflect on our definitions of family and what is most important. The Torah (Old Testament) talks about honoring your parents and it is one of the tenets we hear the most. It is applicable to both our faiths as a couple and generally some good advice. This is just one instance in which we get to honor the commandment during the day and in our lives with some extra weight tacked on.

Clearly, music has a big effect on the day. Sometimes it is a spiritual decision. Sometimes it is about who we are every day. Sometimes it is about having fun. This topic will continue to unfold and hopefully closer to the wedding, I will have an update and perhaps a full playlist to go with it all.


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Ryan Mount 06-06-14

While trying to find my inspiration for this week’s post, I just realized how important and how surrounded we are by glass and all the symbols it represents when it comes to weddings. Our chapel is filled with wonderful stained glass. I am reading a book called, Beyond Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding. Glass is a big deal. Sometimes it is obvious. Sometimes it is hidden.

With most Jewish-inspired ceremonies, the tradition is for the groom to break glass under his foot at the end of the marriage ceremony. One reason according to The Jewish Book of Why, “the noise is a warning to man that he must temper life’s joyous moments (such as the occasion of a wedding) with sober thoughts: that life is not all joy; that the happiness of the wedding day will not continue indefinitely; that the young couple ought to prepare itself for all life’s eventualities. “

This week has been a tough one for Lisa and me. We have not gotten a single thing done. No wedding planning. No cleaning for my parents visit. We have just been so stressed due to my unexpected leaving of playing and coaching roller derby. (Which is where we met.) It has even been a struggle to get out this post. Reading the above passage just reminded me that being married starts before the day you say, “I do.” It continues long after that day as well. It is going to be a journey or ups and downs. Although we are both struggling with the new reality, a couple things we are immediately grateful for is that we will be able to spend more time together and I will have some extra time to plan the wedding.

We are all familiar with the “toast” done with glasses known as flutes at the wedding. At one point in my life it the classic scene from Fiddler on the Roof. However, by the time Lisa and I are married, it will nearly mark five years since I quit drinking and decided to walk a more spiritual path. I remember that one of the first bits of advice I received was that I was going to have to throw out lifelong conceptions in order to grow. They told me that, “It is not about the champagne in the glass, but it is about the person you are marrying.” What seemed like an impossible concept to grasp at the time is now becoming true. The toast for that very reason holds a special place in my heart, as a spiritual sign of growth, and that transcends all religions being celebrated that day.

This week has just been filled with reflection, and although it’s a metaphor, clearly this entire blog is a giant mirror for my journey as we march towards our wedding day and spending the rest of our lives together. This week we re-discovered how much we need to be there and support one another at a moment’s notice. How that takes precedent over all other matters. I also took some time and got more involved in my community work, to get away from reflection at first, but ended up reflecting more, but in a positive way.

I know this post is a bit disjointed, but not everything is going to fit into a box. Not everything is going to go as planned now, the wedding day, and beyond. The important thing is to reflect and appreciate how the light shines through all this glass.


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InterfaithFamily Staff 05-21-14

The following is a guest post reprinted with permission from Julie A. Silver and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

By Julie A. Silver

Julie's familyOn Mothers’ Day, my wife Mary and I went on a hike at Will Rogers’ State Park near our home in Los Angeles. We left our two year old home to nap, dropped off our nine year old for a horse-back riding lesson, then took the first hike we’ve taken together in years. I was thirsty from the moment we ascended, but Mary shared her water with me and, as always, made me laugh along the way.

When we reached the top and took in that gorgeous 360 degree view of downtown LA, the magnificent mountains and the shining ocean, I thanked God for this place that supports our family: two working mothers in an interfaith marriage who aren’t exactly spring chickens with two very young daughters. And interfaith isn’t limited to our respective religions. Mary loves the Mets and I love the Red Sox. Mary loves camping and I enjoy clean sheets. Mary loves cats and I’m allergic. I could go on. The bottom line is that despite our differences, we’ve built a life and filled it with kids, family, friends, fun and I’m exhausted just writing about it.

I also might be lying about being allergic to cats.

For the last 25 years, I’ve been a traveling singer/songwriter. I can’t imagine doing anything else. My work requires both constant connections with people and long stretches of solitude—and let me tell you it isn’t easy, but it is precisely this tension that pushes me forward in everything I do.

Mary Connelly has had a long and successful career in television and comedy and has been the Executive Producer of The Ellen DeGeneres Show since its beginning. Every day she walks with grace and confidence through an industry that is the polar opposite of mine. You know, a little gray hair and a few wrinkles around the eyes can kill a woman’s career in Hollywood. In my world, gray hair gives you status. Wrinkles show you’ve been laughing. Glasses mean you’ve been studying. My people celebrate age and wisdom; not so much in the fleeting world of entertainment. But Mary’s creative fingerprints are all over that show in its compassionate outreach and its sense of fun—like the woman herself, always of service to someone in need.

We also have amazing childcare—women who take care of our daughters like they were their own when neither Mary nor I can be around. With that said, I like to say that Mary works Monday through Friday and I work Friday through Monday, but the truth is Mary is gone 12 hours a day during the week. I’m a full time Eema. My day is a mix of driving kids, writing, studying, practicing, taking care of my business, setting up play dates, singing to Katie, piano lessons, paying bills, managing the house, and fulfilling my deepest calling, being a “Dance Mom.”

When I’m away, Mary becomes a single parent. She does the errands, cooks, and takes care of our home and our daughters. While I’m out singing at synagogues across the globe, my Catholic wife drives Sarah to Hebrew School on Sundays. She’s got to deserve something for doing that alone, right? Like a cat? We’ll see.

To be sure, Mary and I are together on this: We want our girls to be of service; to give of themselves and to embrace life’s challenges. We want them to find loving partners who will climb to the top of the mountain beside them, share their water with them and make them laugh so hard they spit it out onto the trail. And when they get to the top, out of breath and exhausted, we want them to look around and love that view.

Julie Silver is one of the most celebrated and beloved performers in the world of contemporary Jewish music today. She tours throughout the world, and has been engaging audiences with her lyrical guitar playing, her dynamic stage presence, and her megawatt smile for over 25 years. Silver lives in Southern California with her partner Mary Connelly, a highly successful Executive Producer and their delicious daughters, Sarah and Catherine.You can follow her on Twitter at @JulieAnnSilver or visit her website at juliesilver.com.


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Jessie Boatright 05-01-14

My family is one of the many families who benefits from the amazing PJ Library, an extraordinary program that mails free Jewish books and music to 125,000 homes throughout the country. Ruthie enjoyed the program for three years, and last year Chaya got her very own subscription. It is a real gift to have colorful, modern media to use to talk to the girls about different aspects of Jewish life. This week I’d like to talk about Chaya’s current favorite, Tikkun Olam Ted, and how reading it has reminded me how to boil big ideas down into bite size pieces for my young kids.

The book, by Vivian Newman, is about a little boy named Ted, who “is small. But spends his days doing very big things.” Ted got his nickname because of his interest in helping to “fix the world and make it a kinder, better place.” For each day of the week, Ted takes on a different task. What is brilliant about the book, aside from the adorable, colorful illustrations by Steve Mack, is how Ted’s big things are completely age-appropriate for a preschooler. Ted does not heal the world by going to a soup kitchen, running a blood drive, or spending a day with Habitat for Humanity. He does things that any kid could easily do in the course of their daily life – he recycles, he does yard work, he feeds the birds and he remembers to turn off the lights.

Reading this book, I am reminded of my own eagerness as a parent to teach my girls big lessons, and to endow them with a sophisticated toolkit of ideas and approaches to having a full and successful life.  I dream of raising them to know how to make good choices, to be resilient, to pursue their passions, and to try to fix the world because doing so is meaningful for them.  Before I had kids, and throughout my first pregnancy, I often schemed about how I would engender these traits in them, but I spent more time thinking about a Bat Mitzvah-age service project, or the feminist literature I might sprinkle into a 16-year-old’s Hanukkah gifts, than what the building blocks might be for a two-year old.

But it is a long time before those Bat Mitzvahs, and that toolkit will be even stronger if I can start now. Reading Tikkun Olam Ted aloud to my girls reminds me of the significance of the things that they can do independently now, and that those are probably as important as that adolescent reading list. Sure, I’ll keep bringing them to political events with me, and telling them of the bigger things Eric and I do to fix the world in our adult way.  But I will also remind them how turning off the faucet really matters, or how re-using yesterday’s sandwich bag actually has a ripple effect on the health of our planet. Judging by how frequently Chaya hands Newman’s book to me, I think she’s already starting to grasp the connections.


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Jane Larkin 01-30-14

We started our Shabbat ritual, in part, to teach Sammy to count his blessings, big and small.

On our flight home from our Christmas visit with Cameron’s family in Vermont, I came across an article in The Wall Street Journal about raising children to appreciate things big and small, and the tangible benefits of giving thanks including a more positive outlook on life, less depression and higher GPAs. I could not help but think how the story’s placement was perfectly timed.

Sammy had just spent the fourth quarter of 2013 collecting presents. In October, he turned nine. While he did not have a birthday party (he celebrated with one friend at a hockey game), he did acquire enough gift cards to buy himself an iPad mini and a Rainbow Loom.

Hanukkah arrived in November, and the eight nights of lights also included eight nights of books and tennis equipment. Gifts that nourished Sammy’s mind and supported a healthy activity seemed like less materialistic choices.

In December, Santa’s sleigh arrived at my in-laws filled with colored rubber bands for the Rainbow Loom, Legos, books and merchandise from the fan shop of his favorite NFL team. There were plenty of trinkets in Sammy’s stocking too.

There were moments during these months when, Cameron and I surveyed Sammy’s celebratory loot and felt as if we were losing the battle against consumerism. We questioned whether our efforts to raise a child who appreciated all that he had – material and otherwise – were futile.

But then we would hear Sammy say with a mix of genuine appreciation and excitement, “Thank you, thank you. Thank you so much. This is awesome!” These exclamations of thankfulness were typically accompanied by a hug or a post-celebration phone call or email to the gift-giver.

Cameron and I smiled. Maybe, Sammy was absorbing the concept of appreciation. Maybe the things we have done to cultivate an attitude of gratitude did have a positive affect.

Cameron and I understood early on that appreciation and thankfulness were not innate qualities, but rather learned virtues. We recognized that, as parents, it was our responsibility to be teach and model these behaviors.

We began a regular Friday night Shabbat ritual, in part, to help us fulfill our responsibility for nurturing Sammy’s (and our family’s) gratitude muscle. Given our hectic weekday schedules, it was hard to commit to meaningful family dinners Monday through Thursday, and while we tried to model the qualities that we wanted Sammy to develop on a daily basis, we felt it was important to reinforce our family values in a significant way.

Shabbat gave us the opportunity to elevate the act of expressing gratitude from a simple thank you said in response to another’s action to a ceremony that reminded us to be appreciative of all that we had. It taught Sammy to give to others through the collection of tzedakah, and to be grateful for more than just material things.

Blessings for the candles, wine, challah, and all present reminded us to be thankful for having each other in our lives, the opportunity to spend time together, and the food we eat. In difficult periods, such as when Cameron closed his business due to the economic downturn or illness in our extended family, our practice of sharing the good things that happened to us during the week reminded us that even in tough times we still had many blessings.

Over the years, Cameron and I have seen, through Sammy’s actions, flashes that have given us hope that our efforts to instill a gratitude attitude are working. We have seen glimpses of it in the thank you’s Sammy says during the holiday gift-giving season and the reports of his politeness and good manners from teachers and other parents, and we have witnessed it in his deep desire to give to others who are less privileged.

When he was seven, Sammy decided he wanted to purchase prayer books for a synagogue in need, so we found, with the help of a friend who works for the Union for Reform Judaism, a new congregation in Texas that needed siddurim. Sammy donated money he saved to the temple and his action inspired an anonymous donor to match his contribution.

While we count these actions as proof that our appreciation cultivation program is working, we occasionally see Sammy being tugged by materialism. He is envious that his friends have video entertainment systems and impressed by the size of some of his classmates’ homes.

At moments like these, we remind Sammy that there is more to life than the acquisition of stuff and remind ourselves that thankfulness is like a muscle. To remain strong, it requires regular exercise at various levels of intensity.

In our house, we nurture our feelings of appreciation through light activity five to six days a week, but pick-up the pace on Shabbat. Our Shabbat ritual is the ultimate workout for our gratitude muscle. What is yours?


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Jane Larkin 01-02-14

As the year begins, many of us find ourselves feeling as if we need to detox after the holidays. I am not talking about cleansing ourselves of the festive food and drinks in which we indulged (or maybe over-indulged). I am referring to the process of removing the toxins that have accumulated in our hearts and minds from extended time spent with family, and especially in-laws.

In a pre-holiday article, in The Boston Globe, Leon Neyfakh writes about the familiar image of “the monster-in-law” and reminds us that nothing seems to bring out our angst about our parents-in-laws like the holidays. For interfaith families, the season can feel especially toxic. Mix the navigation of different faiths and religious customs with regular seasonal stress, sprinkle a little Hanukkah-Christmas competition on top and what you get is a recipe for “holidays from hell.”

But it does not have to be this way. We just returned from Christmas in Vermont with my in-laws and the worst thing I can say about the trip is that my legs are a little sore from skiing.

I feel lucky. Neyfakh reports that more than 60 percent of married women experience sustained stress because of their parents-in-laws. But I love mine. What is wrong with me?

I would like to think that nothing is wrong with me; that my in-laws and I just happen to have found the ingredients for a successful relationship. That all these relationships need, is love.

The first time I met my in-laws, my mother-in-law wrapped me in an embrace as I entered her kitchen. The greeting was not over-the-top or staged. It radiated genuine warmth.

I was moved because I knew I was not the poster child for a future daughter-in-law. I was Jewish, not Christian; and my divorce from my first husband was still not finalized. Yet, my future in-laws greeted me with an air of acceptance.

My divorce would be official eventually; alleviating any concerns that my in-laws might have about my relationship status. But I was still Jewish. Yet, any worries that I had about the acceptance of my Jewishness were dispelled when I arrived for my first Christmas with the Larkins.

Hanging from the mantel with the family stockings was one in white wool with blue Stars of David. It was for me, and I appreciated that my mother-in-law found a way to include me in their holiday tradition while recognizing and respecting my faith.

The hug and the stocking laid the foundation for our relationship, and helped us to focus on our shared values, rather than on our theological differences. For example, we found that we both take our responsibility to help make the world a better place seriously.

Over the years, my in-laws have worked to care for elderly friends, feed the hungry (my father-in-law coordinates a summer lunch program for children and families in need), and help settle Sudanese refugees in the Burlington area (my mother-in-law has volunteered with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program). Their efforts embody Christian values, and from my Jewish perspective, are the very definitions of mitzvot and tikkun olam.

We also realized that we share similar religious experiences and points-of-view. We trade stories about our involvement as lay leaders in our respective houses of worship and find similarities in our liturgies.

My mother-in-law has mentioned that the Reform prayer book Mishkan T’filah reminds her of the one her church uses. And my father-in-law, a student of theology, has been a great resource for answering questions related to the Bible.

While we have found common ground and created inclusive celebrations, I know that my in-laws had hoped that their grandchildren would be baptized in the same church as Cameron and his sister. I know that they were disappointed when we announced that our children would be raised Jewish and realized that a baptism would not happen.

But I also know that they felt that giving a child a spiritual foundation, regardless of religious denomination, was more important than upholding a custom. Knowing that our children would be raised in a home with religion diminished any disappointment that they felt.

I know that my relationship with my in-laws, and their support and participation in our Jewish home have been made easier by the fact that we both affiliate with the theologically liberal brands of our faiths. I also know that focusing on each other’s good qualities, rather than each other’s imperfections has helped too.

This has been our recipe for success. Maybe it is unique. But I do not think so.

It may not be easy to get past criticism, prejudice, exclusion, and parental meddling in order to build good in-law relations; and fundamentalism and the perceived threat of new or different religious beliefs and traditions can add another layer of difficulty. But I do think that many other families can make it work.

I know more of us could “heart” our in-laws if we put the stereotypical behavioral scripts that popular culture holds up as the norm aside. By focusing on what unites us rather than what divides us more families might be able to enjoy emotionally intoxicating holidays in the years to come.

My Christmas stocking recognizes my faith.


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