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    jHUB is your local resource for connecting to other interfaith families and Jewish life in Greater Cleveland. Rabbi Melinda Mersack, director, is available to individuals, couples, and families in the Greater Cleveland area to talk about issues, introduce you to interfaith family-friendly activities and organizations, and to personally help you find Jewish clergy for officiation at life cycle events. Contact her at mmersack@jecc.org or 216-371-0446, x232.

    Melinda Mersack
    Rabbi Melinda Mersack

 
Greater Cleveland

Introducing Our InterfaithFamily/Your Community Affiliate jHUB

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jHUB provides new ways for interfaith couples and families to comfortably explore, discover and personalize the meaning of Jewish culture and values in the modern world. We are here to help you navigate life's challenges in a comfortable place - at your own pace. We aren't big on labels at jHUB. Our goal isn't to find the right box for you to fit into. We just want to hear your story. There's no pressure. Just a cup of coffee and a conversation. It's a great way to get to know you better and to help connect you to what you may be seeking.



Please contact Rabbi Melinda Mersack, director, who is always looking for new program ideas and would be glad to meet you!

Upcoming Cleveland Programs and Events:

For Upcoming Cleveland Programs and Events visit our Eventbrite page or our Facebook page.

A Taste of Judaism®

Everyone is welcome to this free 3-session class for beginners - Jewish or not - that explores the topics of Jewish spirituality, ethics and community values. Classes are taught by a rabbi and offered on both the West and East sides of Cleveland.

A Feast of Judaism®

The perfect follow up to A Taste of Judaism®. A free six-week session class that explores the Jewish life cycle events, holidays, and Israel. Taught by a rabbi, the classes are designed for those with little or no previous knowledge of Judaism. Offered on both the West and East sides of Cleveland.

Intro to Judaism

Explore Jewish observance of the holidays and life-cycle events, major periods in Jewish history, and significant Jewish concepts through lecture, engaging text study, meaningful dialogue, and exploration of the Greater Cleveland Jewish community. Class will be taught in three – six week blocks with a different rabbinic instructor for each block.

For more information on these and other learning opportunities in Greater Cleveland, please contact Rabbi Melinda Mersack at mmersack@jecc.org or 216-371-0446, x232.

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Agudath B'nai Israel
Synagogue
Lorain, OH
44053 United States
2 Members
Greater Cleveland

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This is an Organization

Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple
Synagogue
Beachwood, OH
44122 United States
2 Members
Greater Cleveland

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This is an Organization

B'nai Jeshurun Congregation
Synagogue
Pepper Pike, OH
44124 United States
2 Members
Greater Cleveland

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Beth Israel West Temple
Synagogue
Cleveland, OH
44111 United States
3 Members
Greater Cleveland

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Both Sides of the Family
Arts & Culture -
Chagrin Falls, OH
44022 United States
7 Members
Greater Cleveland

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Congregation Shaarey Tikvah
Synagogue
Beachwood, OH
44122 United States
2 Members
Greater Cleveland

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Gross Schechter Day School
School/Education
Pepper Pike, OH
44124 United States
3 Members
Greater Cleveland

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Laura Rose 11-16-17
Foster dog

Becca, the dog of my dreams

Note: Zach and I worked on this blog post together, to make sure it’s a fair representation of what happened and what we both learned.

Zach and I have been married for a few months now, and one of the things that has surprised me most? We donÂ’t have a dog yet! Our friends know weÂ’ve been talking about fostering dogs for a while, but with the wedding we never had the time. We went through the screening and training, but when it came down to it, we were never around enough on the weekends to commit to caring for a foster, let alone our own dog. We both agreed that this dream would have to wait until after the wedding.

Fast forward to a weekend in October, where we have almost nothing going on—a blessing after a whirlwind preparation year, wedding and honeymoon (all of which were wonderful, but still). I received an email from our rescue organization of choice, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, about fostering, and I opened it to look through some of the photos. I found a beauty and fell in love. Her name was Becca, and she was a 1-2-year-old Feist, muscular and small. Perfect for apartment living. Her big brown eyes begged me to take her home.

I told my co-workers about my newfound love, and most of them fawned over Becca with me. Here is where I learned my first lesson on marriage: Just because your co-workers agree with you, doesnÂ’t mean your partner will. My co-workers advised me to really talk with Zach about it seriously, and (here comes my downfall) assured me that he would understand. I mean, that face!

My emotional attachment to Becca caught Zach by surprise. I was already ready to take this dog in permanently, and Zach was looking forward to doing more short-term fostering before adopting. He was concerned about how having a dog would fit into our lives, while I was ready to jump in and make it work.

One big mistake was starting this conversation a few minutes before we had planned to go out with friends. Our fraught emotional state really made for a, shall we say, tense Friday night on the town.

That night, it dawned on me that I was never again going to make big decisions on my own. This was something that affected both of us (in a big way), and so we both needed to be ready for it, no matter how much BeccaÂ’s eyes drew me in. Zach was not accusing me of not knowing what I wanted or being unwilling to take on this responsibility. He was coming to me as a partner saying he wasnÂ’t sure he was ready, and he wanted us to take our time and go into it together, slowly and thoughtfully.

My personal faith encouraged me to slow down, take some deep breaths and really be open to the growth that this encounter offered. I’ve read a few books by a Jesuit priest named Father James Martin, S.J. (Jesuits are an order of Catholic priests that live in community and serve in various ways, as opposed to diocesan priests who mainly serve parish communities). He often emphasizes the Jesuit idea of “meeting people where they are.” In this small way, I needed to meet Zach where he was as opposed to dragging him to wherever I was.

Place cards

Our place cards at our friends’ wedding in Mexico: a reminder of our new family unit

photo of couple in formal wear with the beach and palm trees in the background

Zach and me at our friends’ wedding in Riviera Maya, Mexico. One of the many trips that make getting a dog difficult…

The solution was finding the sweet spot between comfort and compromise. We decided not to adopt Becca, but we committed to block out some time to foster, to see if this is really what we want to do. Zach saw more of my deep desire to care for our own dog, and my frustration that we keep putting it off because it never fits neatly into our existing schedule. And I learned how seriously Zach takes pet ownership and how both of our feelings and perspectives matter in making decisions as a family.

Becca is adopted now, and I hope she’s happy with some other family. IÂ’m happy in mine, growing in understanding and partnership with my new husband. And still looking forward to getting a dog one of these days—maybe after we stop traveling every weekend.

While it’s been exhausting to be so busy after a year of wedding planning, our travels have been for good reason. This month we went to Mexico to celebrate the wedding of two friends. Their wedding was also interfaith—the bride and her family are Hindi, and the groom and his family are Jewish. There was a fun multicultural element as well: The bride’s family is Indian and resides in Brazil, while the groom’s family is American. Needless to say, the food was delicious and the party was bumpin’. They chose to do two ceremonies, with an American Jewish ceremony on the beach on Thursday night, and a Hindu ceremony (condensed to an hour from the four hour version) on Saturday afternoon.

I was interested to see how they chose to express their religions differently than ours—namely, with two different ceremonies, while we did one combined ceremony. While I wouldn’t have changed anything about our wedding, I saw that they way they chose to do things allowed them to go more in depth with the traditions associated with each religion. You could tell that they didn’t feel truly married until after the second ceremony, and in that way we were similar: We couldn’t imagine not including both religions.


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Ed Case 11-16-17

This post originally appeared on www.edumundcase.com and is reprinted with permission.

The interfaith marriage news since the High Holidays has continued to be positive for the most part. I was especially pleased to read Rabbi Micah Streiffer’s Yom Kippur sermon announcing that he was going to start officiating at weddings for interfaith couples. I say “especially” because Rabbi Streiffer is in Toronto, Canada and as far as I know he is the first Reform rabbi there to officiate. I remember many years when InterfaithFamily was not able to refer people in Toronto to any “mainstream” rabbis, so this is a welcome breakthrough.

I also say “especially” because Rabbi Streiffer cites the Yom Kippur morning Torah portion in which Moses says that everyone present is entering into the covenant with God—and Rabbi Streiffer explicitly says that includes “the ger, the non-Jew.” That’s an argument I first made back in 2000. It’s very affirming to have a rabbi endorse of that view. It’s an exemplary inclusive sermon that is well worth reading.

A second great item was an article by InterfaithFamily’s Stacie Garnett-Cook, Interfaith Inclusion: One Year to Lasting Change, who asked, “What should an organization actually do to become more inclusive? Many organizations say that they are welcoming, but do our actions and words match our intentions?” InterfaithFamily’s new Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative (IILI), modeled on the Keshet Leadership Project and funded by the Covenant Foundation, supports leaders in organizations who create and implement action plans to accomplish those goals. The article describes the program design and underlying theory, as well as the organizations that participated in the first year.

The importance of being truly inclusive in attracting and engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community canÂ’t be over-estimated. I hope many more Jewish organization will seriously consider participating in this initiative.

I was honored to be included in Moment Magazine’s Symposium, Is Intermarriage Good for the Jews? (If you want to know how I looked at 24, take a look at my wedding photo —my 7-year-old grandson said I looked “young”—and I assure you that the tie I was wearing was very fashionable at the time!) Marilyn Cooper did a great job putting together very diverse views; reading all of them carefully left me feeling, well, that there are very diverse views. I was the only person who actually said there are many strong arguments why interfaith marriage is good for Jews. Keren McGinity also expressed a positive view:

Provided that intermarried Jews and their families are treated equally as inmarried families, and that Jewish education is accessible and engaging, intermarriage can be an opportunity for Jews and their loved ones to draw closer to Judaism and the Jewish community.

Several contributors, including Bob Davis, A. J. Jacobs and Naomi Schaefer Riley, saw increased tolerance as a positive impact of interfaith marriage. Rabbis Matalon and Lau-Lavie, who are pushing the Conservative movementÂ’s boundaries on officiation, offer very realistic assessments that I thought were optimistic about engaging interfaith families Jewishly.

But there were several expressions of quite negative views. In upholding the movement’s ban on officiation, I respectfully think Rabbi Elliot Dorff, chair of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, is wrong to say that officiating at interfaith marriages does not help the Jewish people, and that “Reform rabbis have been doing this for quite a while and, for the most part, they have not succeeded in convincing the intermarried couples to be actively Jewish.” I think that is an untenable position given the research I’ve mentioned many times that shows correlation between officiation and later synagogue membership and raising children as Jews.

Two Orthodox perspectives insisted on opposing interfaith marriage, one saying “intermarriage is heartbreaking.” Sarina Roffe was most extreme: “Every time someone marries out, a whole generation of Jewish people is gone.” She comes from the Syrian Jewish community, which she says rejects not only those who intermarry, but even those who marry Orthodox converts.

I was puzzled by Elisha Wiesel, son of Elie Wiesel, who says that if he had intermarried, “experiences that I currently derive tremendous meaning from would be missing.” I say puzzled because there is no reason why the experiences he mentions—saying Kaddish for a parent, preparing a son for his bar mitzvah, and watching a daughter learn Hebrew —have to be missing in intermarried families.

The Forward also published We asked 22 rabbis: Is intermarriage a problem or an opportunity which offered a not dissimilar set of diverse views. Susan Katz Miller had an interesting take on the piece, criticizing the sample for being half Orthodox rabbis (when the Orthodox are 10% of the population) and only two Reform, and the “corrosive” content of many of the responses. She correctly points out that interfaith families reading many of the opinions will not feel welcomed or included.

I was struck, however, by responses from two wonderful Orthodox rabbis, Shmuly Yanklowitz and Avram Mlotek, who did emphasize inclusivity. Rabbi Yanklowitz said, “With the proper inclusive programming and outreach opportunities, there are ways to make interfaith families feel welcome in the community, which will, in turn, spark interest in creating and perpetuating loving Jewish households.” Rabbi Mlotek said, “If our Jewish communities seek to be relevant religious centers for the 70% of American Jews who choose to intermarry, it is incumbent upon us to welcome these families unabashedly and work with them as they strive to build Jewish homes.”

Finally in the continuing discussion about Conservative rabbis and officiation, there is items. Letter Reignites Interfaith Officiation Debate refers to a letter by four Conservative leaders that re-affirms the ban on officiating for interfaith couples, but does talk at length about welcoming them. Conservative Jewish Leaders Are Endangering Their Brand is an opinion by Roberta Rosenthal Kwall who objects to the letter’s statement that the intermarried should be welcomed with “equally open arms.” Kwall wants to retain the Conservative brand’s strong preference for in-marriage — that’s a non-inclusive approach that I believe can only lead to decline.


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Guest Blogger 11-16-17

By Jessica Melwani

Today, my family is ringing in the New Year for the fourth time in 2017.

In January, we reveled with champagne and caviar.

In February, we received homemade turnip cakes and lai see—festive, cash-filled red envelopes customary for the Chinese New Year—from my husband’s 97-year-old Chinese nanny, who also raised my Indian mother-in-law in Hong Kong and is now our surrogate grandmother.

In September, we ate apples and honey, and cheered as my 2-year-old greeted my parents with a joyous, “Shana tova,” a phrase he brought home from his Jewish nursery school.

And finally, today we celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. We are marking the triumph of good over evil in spiritual lore, the unofficial start of another new year. We’ll say puja, or prayers, around the house—particularly in my home office, to appeal for a prosperous year. And we’ll accept my mother-in-law’s annual delivery—an aromatic, seven-vegetable curry—along with her challenge to guess the mystery produce, which typically ranges from run-of-the-mill potatoes to exotic (but easily identifiable) lotus root.

Until this year, it never even occurred to me that four celebrations to observe one phenomenon—the passage of time—could be considered, well, a lot. And it’s kind of confusing to boot, especially for my 5-year-old, whose birthday just happens to fall on January 1st.

It took a while to convince Baby New Year that the noisemakers and fireworks from the rest of the world didnÂ’t herald the auspicious occasion of his birth. I thought we were good once he accepted that, but this yearÂ’s multiple New Year celebrations threw him for a loop.

Admittedly, when he asked how there could be four new years in a single one, I went about the discussion all wrong. I started explaining the scientific concept of time—how it takes the earth 365 days to orbit the sun, and how different cultures developed their own calendars to mark each day’s passage thousands of years ago. That didn’t go over so well.

“But doesn’t the earth orbit the sun at the same speed everywhere in the world? Why would people end up with different calendars and different New Years?” he asked.

Ummm, did I just get schooled in astronomy by a 5-year-old?

Clearly, I was incapable of delivering a cogent, scientific argument to a kindergartener and needed to consider the emotional case—what our various New Year celebrations meant to me, personally—before I could convince him they weren’t all redundant to his “double special day” on January 1st.

So, for the first time in a while, I paused to really think. I stopped packing lunches and paying bills and punching away at emails on my phone to sit down and reflect on how lucky my family is to usher in four new beginnings over the same 365-day period.

I’ve given up on as many New Year’s resolutions as I’ve made, every year another failed attempt at meeting some arbitrary metric: lose five pounds, meditate for 10 minutes a day, keep my inbox at zero. But what if having a New Year’s celebration every few months meant we didn’t have to make resolutions at all anymore?

What if we took the start of each cultural calendar year as an opportunity to set smaller goals and take stock of all the little victories weÂ’d ordinarily overlook?

What if I spent some time during the Rosh Hashanah school break talking to my kids about what weÂ’d done over the past couple of weeks to be kind, and what we could do in the days before Diwali to be even more thoughtful or caring?

What if, during Diwali, we considered all the new and interesting experiences weÂ’d had since Rosh Hashanah, and brainstormed other cool things we wanted to try before New YearÂ’s Day?

And what if, on January 1st (after blowing out my sonÂ’s birthday candles, of course), we considered what weÂ’d done since Diwali to make ourselves proud, and what we could maybe try harder at before collecting our little red envelopes for Chinese New Year?

What if these four calendars—my family’s multicultural forcing mechanism—reminded us to be both grateful and excited for all the small things we experience every day?

In the course of our busy lives, we too rarely take the time to reflect on the mini-milestones of the recent past or contemplate those that lie just within reach. But IÂ’ve got four opportunities on my 2018 calendar to help me do just that, and I plan to use this new approach to explain the relationship between them to my kids.

How lucky for me that those opportunities just happen to involve bubbly champagne, crispy turnip cakes, sweet apples and fragrant curry.

This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.


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Rabbi Robyn Frisch 11-07-17

When planning a wedding, communication is key.  You’ll be communicating with one or more of the following: clergy or other officiant, a wedding planner, florist, caterer, DJ or band, relatives and many others.  But most importantly, you have to communicate with your partner.  One of the great things about working with your partner to plan your wedding is that many of the issues that will come up later in your marriage (such as handling finances, dealing with parents and in-laws, determining who gets to make which decisions, and of course religion) are sure to come up in wedding planning.  So working on  how you communicate with your partner while planning your wedding is great practice for how you will communicate when you’re married!

Pre-Marital Counseling

Some couples engage in pre-marital counseling as a way to prepare for their future life together. Sometimes couples will seek counsel from the rabbi who will be marrying them, from the institution of the religious tradition of the partner who isn’t Jewish (for example, if one partner is Catholic, they may do pre-cana) or from a therapist. Some couples participate in more than one form of counseling before their wedding. ).  If you are interested in pre-marital counseling, you can ask your officiant if this is something that they can do or else ask for recommendations for a good therapist or group for couples in your area. If you live in a community where the Love and Religion workshop for interfaith couples is offered we highly recommend participating in this four week workshop.

When talking about various issues before getting married (such as what lifecycle rituals you’ll include when you have children – e.g., if you have a son, will there be a bris? a baptism?; are you going to have a Christmas tree in your home?; what holidays will your family celebrate?) it’s important to be clear with your partner about what issues are non-negotiable for you, and then to consider what issues you can compromise on.  It’s also essential to recognize that your feelings and positions, as well as your partner’s, may evolve and change over time.  What’s truly essential is not what decisions you and your partner make about what you’ll do in the future, but how you communicate – learning to listen to each other and communicate in a healthy, productive way.

Preparing Family Members for the Wedding Ceremony

Shot of a married couple video calling their loved ones using their digital tabletAs far as the wedding ceremony itself, if youÂ’re the Jewish partner and youÂ’re being married solely by a rabbi, remember that this may not be entirely comfortable for your partner. Even if theyÂ’ve agreed to be married by a rabbi, they may have some concerns or conflicting feelings about not having a representative of their own religion taking part in the ceremony. Be sure to be sensitive to this, and to give your partner space to share their concerns with you.

Wedding couples are adults and most of the decisions about the wedding are theirs to make – though if parents are helping to pay for the wedding, it may be appropriate for them to be involved in aspects of the decision-making. And it’s important in making decisions, though it may not ultimately affect the outcome, to consider how they may affect your parents and close family members.  If you’re going to be including something in your wedding that may be surprising or difficult for your relatives – like having clergy members of different faiths officiate – it’s best to inform your parents as early as possible.  This applies to aspects of the wedding that may not seem like such a “big deal” to you – such as including a reading from the New Testament (something most Jewish parents wouldn’t expect, even if it doesn’t include Jesus’ name) or breaking the glass (something parents from a different religious tradition may not expect) – as well. Similarly, if you are not planning to include rituals from your own religious tradition that your parents might hope or expect to be part of the ceremony, it is best to share this information with them ahead time. The more your parents can be prepared for what to expect, the more comfortable the wedding is likely to be for them.

If you’re going to be married by a rabbi and you weren’t raised Jewish, then you may want to ask the rabbi if they’d be willing to meet with your parents before the wedding, especially if your parents haven’t attended a Jewish wedding before.  This way they can ask the rabbi any questions they may have and they can get to know them a little bit as a person, rather than just meeting the rabbi minutes before the ceremony.

Setting priorities

There will be many decisions you need to make when planning for your wedding ceremony and reception. It is possible you will have different opinions than your partner and family members and it will likely be necessary to compromise. One way to help ease conflict is for each person involved to identify what is most important to them and focus on that rather than on every single decision that needs to be made. Hopefully then you wonÂ’t get caught up trying to satisfy everyone with every decision.

One way to do this is for each person to pick the three things that are most important to them. For example, your top priorities may be writing your own vows, having kippot for the guests, and choosing the cake. Your partner on the other hand may prioritize choosing the officiant, selecting the venue and picking the music. Then you each get to make the decisions about your three things.  For a blog about this, click here.

FINALLYÂ…when youÂ’re feeling stressed about your wedding, just remember that whatÂ’s most important isnÂ’t the wedding, but the marriageÂ…and the fact that youÂ’ll be spending the rest of your life with the person you love.

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Becky & Olufemi 10-31-17

Femi at a Waffle HouseIn case you didnÂ’t notice from the pictures, Femi and I are a devilishly handsome, interfaith, interracial couple. We also happen to live in the South. While Atlanta is a shiny blue dot amongst a sea of red, itÂ’s still the South. There are challenges we have down here unique to any other part of the country. Case in point are the reactions we get to being an interracial couple. In the interest of fairness, let me say that not all of them are bad. For instance, people at restaurants remember us because we stand out (which the narcissist in me LOVES). And, when I see other interracial couples out, we give each other a nice smile of solidarity. Plus, itÂ’s scientifically proven that we will make beautiful children.

But then there are the not-so-great reactions. Older, white men, stare incredulously at Femi like he’s committed a crime. While black women stare daggers at me because I’ve “stolen one of the good ones.” That’s tough for me to wrap my head around because my falling in love with Femi wasn’t part of some master plan to undermine the black women of the world. However, I do understand their anger, even though in this case it’s misplaced.

The worst example of this took place in one of the most sacred institutions in the South: Waffle House. Northerners, imagine an IHOP, but better, and you get Waffle House, where the elite meet to eat. Waffle House is supposed to be a judgment-free zone. ItÂ’s like the Statue of Liberty of food joints; give me your tired, your poor, your hungover masses yearning to eat hash browns (scattered, smothered, and covered, in my case). Imagine our surprise when one morning, when Femi and I were sitting on stools at the counter, we shared a quick kiss and a black, female server stopped in her tracks, gave us the ugliest look IÂ’ve ever seen, and kept walking. We were shocked; the questions started flying. Did that just really happen? Maybe we imagined it? Femi, can I finish your cinnamon raisin toast? While this wasnÂ’t the first look we had ever gotten, this was by far the most brazen. Femi is lucky because he can let that kind of thing roll off his back, whereas I know IÂ’ll carry that moment with me the rest of my life.

Becky and Femi

Becky and Femi (at a Waffle House)

One place where we have rarely been judged for being interracial has been the religious community. I have brought Femi to several Jewish events over the course of our relationship; we’ve done Shabbat dinners with friends, attended Atlanta Jewish Music Festival events and he’s done Passover seder at my house twice. Conversely, Femi and I have been to his mother’s church, the Community Church of God, three times. Besides the religious differences between the two communities I should also note that most people at my Jewish events are white, while the Church of God has a mostly black congregation. Yet we’ve felt completely welcome in both situations. I will say I’d love to see more Jews of color at the community events I attend so Femi doesn’t feel so tokenized, and I think conversations are beginning to happen to change that. Meanwhile, the Church of God is such a welcoming and friendly place. Everyone I met seemed genuinely happy to meet me, and didn’t ask me any questions about my faith (which is something I worried about). We sang and clapped along to the beautiful church choir, and even though there were portions of the service that didn’t overlap with my specific religious beliefs, their general mantra is to be a good person and love thy neighbor—who can’t get on board with that?! Really the most awkward moments were of my own doing when I’d feel particularly moved by a song or a passage and I’d say stuff like “hell yeah!” or “damn right!” and Femi would have to nudge me and politely remind me that we were in church. Seriously, sometimes I shouldn’t even be let out of the house.

There are plenty of naĂŻve people out there who think weÂ’re in a post-racial society. Not to burst bubbles, but weÂ’re not. ThatÂ’s going to take many years of open dialogue, and many years of separation from past generations of backward thinkers. But itÂ’s nice to know that Femi and I have access to a few communities who appreciate the depth of our relationship, and donÂ’t just stop at the colors of our skin.


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Sarah Rizzo 10-30-17
Sarah and her husband with their new baby

Photo by Melissa Naclerio, Modern Birdcage Photography

At just nine weeks pregnant, my doctor ran a blood test and we waited on the results, full of anticipation. When they came back, we found out our baby was a healthy baby boy! Seeing is believing for me, so I waited until the anatomy scan to be sure we needed to start preparing for a boy. Sure enough, the blood test didn’t lie.

Our first baby was a girl, so after the birth, there was no rush to pull off a Jewish lifecycle event. We had done a simchat bat (also called a brit bat) celebration for her (a Jewish naming ceremony for a baby girl), but it was almost two months after she was born, so we had already started to settle into a routine and we were somewhat rested. This time would be very different. This boy would have a bris on his eighth day of life, no matter when that would fall. For my Type A personality, it was going to be tricky to relinquish control.

Sarah with her babyI started planning right away, months ahead of time. I figured we wouldn’t have many attendees with the last minute nature of it, so I planned on holding it at home, unlike the simchat bat. The one detail I needed to really research was finding the right mohel or mohelet (the person trained to perform the ritual circumcision).

Because the majority of our family and friends are Christian, I wanted to be sure we found a mohel who had experience in interfaith settings. We needed someone who could explain the tradition well because for most people in the room, this would be their first experience with it. It was also important that some of our guests who were not Jewish could take part in ceremonial honors.

A few of the mohalim we reached out to required that the sandek (the person who holds the baby during the circumcision) be a Jewish male. I started making a list of all the Jewish men we knew, realizing that if one was not available on the eighth day, we would have to move on to the next. Of course, the majority of the list was out of state. My cousin seemed like the best fit, but if baby decided to arrive later than expected, my cousin would be away at college and I would have to fly another relative or friend in, or end up with someone we didn’t know well to hold the baby during his circumcision. This was not ideal and rather stressful.

I kept looking and reached out to a local JCC group of moms to see who they had used. One name kept coming up and it was a local mohelet. I reached out and she allowed anyone, Jewish or not Jewish, male or female, to serve as sandek, kvatter, and kvatterin (messengers who carry the baby from the parent to the mohel). She also fit the bill as far as my other requests were concerned: no nerve block injection, no restraining board, and a ceremony conducted in both Hebrew and English. I was really hopeful she would be available on the right day, but found a backup mohel who had similar policies. His only difference was that the sandek had to be Jewish, but not necessarily a Jewish male. We could make that happen if needed.

Baby boy was born 12 days late and within hours of his birth, I reached out to my top choice mohelet. Luckily, she was available. As I had imagined, we had very few Jewish attendees and no male Jews. We were able to honor loved ones, regardless of religious affiliation and they enjoyed being able to take part in such a momentous occasion. We named the baby for my deceased grandfather, while my grandmother held him. It was a really beautiful ritual and we were so pleased with the mohelet and the ceremony she performed.

After she left, we ate a meal with our guests and we kept hearing how much everyone enjoyed the ceremony. Most came up to tell us they had never been to a bris and didn’t know what to expect. I had been most anxious about it being strange and foreign to our guests, so I was relieved at the comments about it being a beautiful occasion. One of my aunts put it best when she said that she had her sons circumcised at the hospital and after witnessing this bris, she wished her boys could have been in loving arms, surrounded by loved ones, the way our boy was.

Though it was quite a process to find the right mohelet for this bris, I am so thankful we found one who could cater to our unique wishes. She gave us and our guests a memorable and connected occasion as we celebrated this new light in our lives.

Planning a Jewish lifecycle event and looking for an interfaith-friendly officiant? We can help.


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Annakeller 10-27-17

I can’t believe my first baby girl is already 2! In the beginning of this journey into parenthood I can remember the wise women of the synagogue next door to our apartment shouting, “Enjoy this time! It goes so fast,” as Adrian and I whisked Helen off to the park, to doctor’s appointments, to family functions and to the market. There was something the knowing eyes of those women told me that only a look can convey. Now, two weeks after Helen’s birthday, I understand what they meant.

Adrian and I wanted Helen to have a birthday that represented our family and who she is. For three nights before the big day I stayed up until two a.m. drinking coffee and making mini piñatas. I found a link on YouTube to a very organized young woman who seemed to know her way around a hot glue gun and party paper. Because of the recent damage done to Adrian’s village in Mexico, I also wanted to make the Mexican/Catholic tradition more visible this year so that he would feel included.

The one major event my American Jewish family and AdrianÂ’s Mexican Catholic family have in common is that we love to party! We also love to decorate and cook and we love the element of surprise. IÂ’ve also hated the color pink since I was a child but once I had Helen all of that changed. I was the toddler with the black converse sneakers, black jeans and black t-shirt. My daughter has become everything rainbow and butterflies have to offer. This too may change, but I doubt it.

Our menu was a mix of American and Mexican and so was our guest list! I made a cheese spread, a vegetable platter and fruit for the kids. I scoured Pinterest for ideas of how to make the snacks kid-friendly and I ended up spending over 45 minutes trying to get a red bell pepper and four slices of cucumber look like a train car. The cake was tres leches with Peppa Pig on the top. But the night before HelenÂ’s big day was probably the most special for us as a couple.

As soon as Helen went to sleep, Adrian and I started moving furniture and blowing up balloons. We wanted Helen to wake up to a living room filled with piñatas and balloons. As we decorated, we spoke about how amazing the decision to start our interfaith family was. We remembered thinking that it was going to be hard to balance two religions, two traditions and two vastly different cultures. But then we laughed while we wrapped Helen’s gifts, which were: An Abby Caddaby doll, giant Hebrew flashcards and a book in Spanish and English. What could be difficult about real love?

We hung up most of the balloons but let three loose so that Helen could play with them in the morning. As soon as she woke up she walked into the living room and said, “buuubuuu.” That’s her version of “balloon.” I think that’s because in Spanish the word balloon is “globo” and she mixes the sounds. She loved the balloons and the gift-wrapping more that the actual gifts. She did yell, “Abbyyyyy” a few times before she threw the Sesame Street doll on the floor and went after the balloons again.

That day we ran around Brooklyn getting the last few odds and ends for the party. Finally, at six oÂ’clock the guests began to arrive. My mother was the first, of course. She couldnÂ’t wait to give Helen her gift. Because AdrianÂ’s mom is in Mexico, my mother fills in for her and bought Helen two gifts, one from Grandma and one from Abuela. Then my nephews trudged up the stairs of the apartment and I could hear my sister-in-law and my brother behind them. Finally, AdrianÂ’s brothers came, all four of them!

Our apartment is a small one-bedroom but people are always surprised at how many guests we can squeeze into such an intimate space. As I brought out the snacks and Adrian began making his cheese enchiladas, I looked around at our diverse living room. There was happiness and celebration all around and Helen was so surprised.

After we ate and opened gifts it was time to cut the Peppa Pig cake. My nephews love chocolate cake but this cake was filled with strawberries, peaches, cream, condensed milk and vanilla cake. Tres leches cake is traditional in Mexico and when it’s done right it tastes like a sugary cloud. We turned off the lights and first played “las mañanitas” on the stereo. This is a traditional Mexican birthday song. Then we sang Happy Birthday in English.

My nephews were shocked when they saw that the cake wasn’t chocolate and even more shocked when they tasted how delicious it was. They are just three months older than Helen and they love her. They ran around after the cake cutting singing, “Helen Rose, Helen Rose, Helen Rose.” And I wonder what Helen wished for when she blew out her candle. Was it a pony? Was it candy and ice cream? Or was it my wish? That our house, no matter where we live, will always be filled with two religions and love that knows no limits.


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Ed Case 10-19-17

I hope your Jewish holidays this year were good. Despite all of the bad news in the world, my holidays were excellent. They ended with the first grade consecration of my oldest grandchild on erev Simchat Torah at Temple Sinai in Brookline, Massachusetts. The rabbi had all of the children present at the service sit cross-legged on both sides of the center aisle of the sanctuary and rolled out two Torah scrolls with the children holding them off the floor while the end of one and the beginning of the other were read; the look of awe on my grandsonÂ’s face was wonderful to see. I wish all of the people who say that the grandchildren and children of interfaith marriages wonÂ’t be Jewish could have seen it.

My holidays began on an equal high, and that’s saying a lot. Rabbi Allison Berry of Temple Shalom in Newton, Massachusetts gave a truly wonderful sermon, The View From Mt. Sinai – Building Our Inclusive Community. Recalling Jewish tradition that the people gathered at Mt. Sinai included generations past and future, she said “I was at Mt. Sinai. I was there, and so were you.” She said “all of us were part of the … chain of tradition.” And then she made explicit who she was talking about, mentioning first by name the parents and children of an interfaith family (before mentioning her adopted Korean-American sister, an upcoming bat mitzvah who uses sign language, seniors and transgender people). Noting that nearly half of the Temple’s religious school students come from interfaith families, she said “you are part of us. We appreciate the many ways you expand what it means to be Jewish…. We are honored you have chosen this community.”

Rabbi Berry is a rabbi who “gets it.” I wish the critics of interfaith marriage who say the Jewish community is already plenty welcoming to interfaith families would take this to heart: “I’ve learned from experience there is a tremendous difference between being a welcoming community and being a community that actually includes. We need to allow our perceptions and assumptions to be challenged. We need to be vulnerable and sometimes uncomfortable. We need to be aware that language has the power to include or exclude.”

I was especially moved when Rabbi Berry quoted Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as saying “The Jewish people is a living Sefer Torah [Torah scroll], and each of us is one of its letters.” While Rabbi Sacks is a brilliant Jewish scholar and teacher, he is a harsh critic of interfaith marriage; one of his many books, Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren, suggests he would be surprised that my grandson was just consecrated, and I don’t think he would say there are letters in the Torah for partners of an interfaith marriage from different faith traditions, or for the children of mothers who are not Jewish. But Rabbi Berry does. She said that “Somewhere embedded on the scrolls behind me, in our ark, is the letter containing” the story of the interfaith family she first mentioned;

Together these letters of Torah construct our history and our future. They are an expression of our joys, sorrows, and moments of transcendence. When we leave people out or do not see those asking to be allowed in, we lose letters vital to the integrity of our Torah. When we build sacred, inclusive community we stand together as envisioned at SinaiÂ….

We need more rabbis like Rabbi Berry whose deep-seated attitude is that there are letters in the Torah not just for every Jew, but for every Jewishly-engaged person.

It was quiet on the intermarriage front during the holidays. I was very pleased to be quoted in a great JTA story about How Mark Zuckerberg Is Embracing His Judaism; I had said in my last blog post, after Zuckerberg’s Facebook post that he had given his grandfather’s Kiddush cup to his daughter, that “The fact that such a super-influential couple clearly are making Jewish choices for their family is the best news with which to start the new year. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan could really change the course of Jewish history if they got involved in efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life.” I’d like to think there are letters in the Torah for Priscilla Chan and her children.

Before the holidays there was a lot of news about developments in the Conservative movement. The leaders of the movement just today came out with a statement that affirms the movement’s invitation to partners from different faith traditions to convert, its prohibition on rabbis officiating at weddings of interfaith couples, and its desire to honor and include them:

It is a blessing that growing numbers of non-Jews are willing to see us as colleagues, neighbors, friends and even familyÂ…. We joyously include them and their families in the lives of our congregations and organizations, in our teaching of Torah, in our worship, in our social action. And we find ways to celebrate their marriage and love that honors their choice not to merge their identity with the people Israel by being present as pastors before the wedding, as rabbinic guides and companions after the wedding and as loving friends during the wedding period.

There is a lot that is positive in this language. But with all respect, the stated reasoning behind the officiation prohibition – “Honoring the integrity of both partners in a wedding, and for the sake of deepening faithful Jewish living” – is misguided, in my view. The partner from a different faith tradition who wants a rabbi to officiate isn’t dishonoring his or her integrity, and I believe it is clear that officiation leads to more faithful Jewish living, not less. They are saying, in effect, that that partner doesn’t have a letter in the Torah unless he or she converts.

This post originally appeared on www.edumundcase.com and is reprinted with permission.


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Rabbi Samantha Kahn 10-18-17

Mean girls

“The organized Jewish community is nothing more than the mean girls from high school.”

What?! I think I literally stopped breathing for a moment. Could it be true? I knew this lovely person across from me believed what she was saying. So I wondered, “Could this community that brings me so much joy and comfort be unknowingly treating some individuals as though they are lesser than?”

Feeling compelled to learn the truth, I started asking around: Does the community ever look at you with eyes of judgment instead of acceptance; act unwelcoming to otherÂ’s differences; create distinctions and groupings—with some in and some out? Holy sh*t! Organized Jewish community can be just like the mean girls to those who don’t fit its idea of what normative participants should look like. And this realization now drives my work as director of InterfaithFamily/Bay Area.

Yes, it might stem from our own inner fears about our future, but the Jewish community can be the worst kind of mean kids. We can make others feel unaccepted, unimportant and unwelcome; and then we pretend itÂ’s all in their minds.

Every day. Every year. We look at interfaith families and, sometimes purposefully and sometimes accidentally, with both verbal and nonverbal ques, we question their presence, their legitimacy and their worth.

Since beginning my work with IFF a few months ago, I have heard several painstaking revelations from a large variety of individuals, some Jewish, some who love Jews and some who are raising Jews. Each of these souls sat with me and shared deep pain. This pain came from the words and actions of clergy, staff, lay leaders and other participants in the congregations, schools and organizations these families looked to for community. One told me, “I had never experienced discrimination until I tried to embed myself in the Jewish community.” And another said, “Whatever I do, whatever I say—it’s never enough. They’ll never accept me.”

Obviously, this is hard to hear. Some of you are probably thinking it doesnÂ’t apply to you, or your congregation, your organization. If only that were true.

Even while trying to be welcoming, many Jewish institutions still make interfaith families feel as though they’re lacking. We embrace them, to a point. Welcome them in, but speak about how their choices are flawed or problematic. As one person told me, “Conditional welcoming is not welcoming.” Or another who told me that welcoming her, while subtly pushing conversion, made her feel like her congregation was saying she wasn’t welcome as she was. Or as she put it, “It’s like they said, go ahead and lose 10 pounds and then we’ll hang out with you.”

Or we institute a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy inviting everyone in, but offering unwritten rules that things such as Christmas trees should never be spoken about out loud. We say, just come: Everyone is welcome as you are, but then in an effort to not make distinctions between people we fail to provide proper instruction or explanation to the masses. As one mother told me, “It’s like I asked how to get to the kiddie pool and I was thrown into the deep end, with no life jacket.”

I have been blown away by the stories IÂ’ve heard and the judgment some of our families and couples feel. And I am a rabbi who works for a Jewish organization. If people are interacting with me, they are trying. They are choosing to engage with Judaism and Jewish community enough that theyÂ’re at the dinner table with me.

Even a Jewish family, raising Jewish children, embracing Jewish community is accustomed to disrespectful comments and glances if they are intercultural, interracial or if one hasn’t formally converted to Judaism. Even though they are committed to Judaism in their home, they may receive strange looks and questions that imply we believe they are secretly turning their children away from Judaism. Let me clarify – they are not.

There are interfaith families in every congregation who are active Jewish community members and who, whether you know it or not, never converted. They are members of our religious school committee and regular service attendees. They are devoted to their family’s Jewish identity, even if they themselves are from different faith backgrounds. I fear we hurt these incredible souls the most, for they hear all of the unguarded and offhand comments which denigrate interfaith couples. As one person told me, “The part I don’t normally tell people is that it wasn’t a stranger who said it to me, it was a friend. A friend. I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t speak.”

When will these Jewish families feel like theyÂ’re not second-class citizens? Only when we stop treating them as such.

I get that this feels complicated and painful. I understand loving Judaism so much that you only want what’s best for her future. Here’s the thing—nothing excuses causing another pain. We need to love Judaism enough to know she will offer beautiful and wonderful lessons and rituals that will enrich people’s lives. That’s how Judaism will thrive through generations, not by shutting doors and creating barriers.

If we really want to be good Jews, weÂ’ll remember to welcome our guests (hachnasat orchim), to prioritize love (ahavah) and respect (kavod), to offer respectful communication (shmirat halashon), to support creating peace in the home (shalom bayit) and loving our neighbors as ourselves (vÂ’ahavta lÂ’reacha kamocha).

May we always elevate the values of knowing a whole person (kaf zechut), of offering explanations and choosing our words wisely so as not to embarrass or leave anyone out (lo levayesh) and may we never gossip or insult (lo lashon hara), whether we believe they may hear us or not.

If we embrace who our tradition truly wants us to be, the members of the organized Jewish community will transform from mean girls to ambassadors. We will offer guidance, excitement, connection and true community. When we use our hearts for love, true welcome will flow forth.


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Laura Rose 10-18-17
bride with mom, dad, and sisters in purple dresses with bouquets

Laura’s parents and sisters

Laura's sister putting on her veil

A few weeks ago, I posted some pictures from our honeymoon along with an account of my first Yom Kippur fasting with my new husband. But, you may ask, how was the wedding? It was the event I’ve been planning and dreaming about for the past year-and-a-half that has taken my sweat and tears (thankfully no blood) for its own. And, it went off without a hitch.

Well, not entirely, but the few mishaps that did occur happened before the wedding day, which is a blur. I woke up on Saturday morning and went with my mom to our local church. It was bittersweet, because I had always assumed I would be married in that church, but it was a wonderful way to start the day—thoughtfully and peacefully in God’s presence. The monsignor at the parish even remembered about the wedding and announced it at the end of mass, extending the community’s prayers and good wishes for the day, and for our marriage.

When we got home, the whirlwind of preparations started—hair, makeup, dress and jewelry. My bridesmaids (my two sisters), my maid of honor (Sarah, my college-and-beyond friend) and my parents were all getting ready with me at my parents’ house, which made it really lovely, and about as relaxed as I could be. Before I knew it, the photographer was at the house and ready to take photos! I had lived my whole pre-adult life in this house, so having the photos at home was really important to me. The photographer was able to capture the importance of the house and my family in her photos.

On the way to the venue, I was so nervous and excited—more nervous than I’d been about almost anything else in my life. We got into the bridal suite for a few minutes to cool down with a glass of water before the ceremony started. In the bridal suite, there was a card and gift waiting for me from Zach. He had written me a beautiful message, and gifted me a mezuzah he had gotten on one of his trips to Israel (before which I had bugged him to get a mezuzah for the house and was puzzled why he’d never brought one home after the trip. Patience is not my strong suit.) Needless to say, it made me cry, and centered me in a way, knowing that the Zach I know and love was waiting for me a few (long) moments away.

Laura sitting and waiting for the ceremony to begin

Waiting in the tent for the ceremony to begin

The ceremony was also a blur, but what surprised me was the number of people who came up to us during the reception to tell us it was one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they had ever been to. People were really impressed with the way we seamlessly blended our two traditions, chose readings and readers that were meaningful to us, and included prayers that signified our desire to build a better world. I posted about the ceremony here, but the highlights are:

  • Two readings, one from the New Testament and one from the Old Testament
  • Recitation of vows and exchange of rings
  • The Seven Blessings, led by our fathers and culminating in the sharing of the wine using a goblet that ZachÂ’s mother, Roberta, made
  • General Intercessions, which include prayers for the broader community
  • Benediction and breaking of the glass (which went everywhere but the napkin it was wrapped in)

Fr. Mike and Rabbi Bleefeld give a blessing

Before I knew it, we were walking back down the aisle—married! It definitely took some time to sink in. We took pictures with family, signed the ketubah with the rabbi and headed over to the reception to be introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Zach and Laura Drescher! The reception was a whirlwind of dances, dinner and toasts. We danced our first dance to “Stand By Me,” followed by my dance with my dad and a parents’ dance: Zach dancing with my mom and me dancing with ZachÂ’s dad.

 

As the dance floor filled up, we tried to split our time between dancing and saying hello to folks sitting around the tables in the tent. Honestly, I was surprised at how quickly it went by and how little we got to see each individual person (we had about 100 people). I would start talking with one person, and then be pulled away to take a picture, or hit the dance floor, or say hi to another guest… It was so wonderful to be surrounded by all of the people we love. That was my favorite part of the day—having all of the people who have played different roles in our lives, and seen different parts of our stories, come together to celebrate this new chapter with us.

Before the wedding, Zach was lobbying hard for us to do something after the wedding—a party, a bar, something. I was pretty adamant that we would both be exhausted, but we left the door open for an informal option. When the reception wound down, I was surprised to find I had a lot of energy—I felt like I didnÂ’t want the night to end! We decided to go with some friends to a bar near the hotel, just for one drink…which turned into three. It was surreal, to be in a bar, still in my wedding dress, catching up with old friends from college. It was a great opportunity to see some of the people who weÂ’d barely had a chance to say hello to at the wedding and IÂ’m so glad we took the opportunity to spend more time with friends who had traveled to spend the day with us.

The next morning we hosted a brunch at the hotel for our families, because many of them had traveled far to attend the wedding and we wanted another opportunity to hang out with them. It was a great continuation of the joy and celebration from the day before. Those who weren’t flying out were invited back to my parents’ house for an “open house”—drinks, sandwiches, etc.—during the afternoon. We got to see more family members there, said goodbye to our maid of honor and best man, and eventually wound down from the excitement of the wedding. It was wonderful to end the wedding weekend right where I’d started it—in my parents’ house, among family and friends. The only difference was, I was now married!

The cake

The new Mr. and Mrs. Zach and Laura Drescher!


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Rabbi Robyn Frisch 10-17-17

Every religion and culture has its unique ritual objects and garments that are part of wedding ceremonies. When planning for your Jewish interfaith wedding you will want to consider which to include. You may choose to include ritual objects and garments from multiple traditions or just Jewish ones. We will explain some of the Jewish ones here.

The Chuppah (Jewish Wedding Canopy)

A chuppah (sometimes spelled “huppah”) is a Jewish wedding canopy with four open sides. Jewish wedding ceremonies typically occur under a chuppah, and this tradition offers great opportunities for interfaith couples to integrate elements from multiple traditions.

A basic chuppah looks like a square piece of fabric supported by four poles. The poles stand on the ground and are often held upright by friends of the couple. The poles can also be free-standing and decorated with flowers. Couples can make their own chuppah, use a synagogue’s or rent one. There should be enough space under the chuppah for the couple, clergy and a small table for ritual items like wine glasses.

The chuppah symbolizes the coupleÂ’s home. The ancient rabbis compared it to the tent of the biblical Abraham, who was famed for his hospitality; his tent had entrances on all four sides to signal a message of welcome to travelers coming from any direction.

Making or decorating a chuppah offers opportunities to include various traditions in the wedding. Partners who are not Jewish can include materials and patterns representing their heritage in the chuppah cloth cover. Some couples use a family heirloom, such as a grandfather’s tallit (prayer shawl; more on this below) or a prized family tablecloth (from Irish culture), as the chuppah covering.

The costs of making your own chuppah can be modest, especially if you keep things simple. You can get everything you need in one trip to a building supplies store for $100 or less (www.apracticalwedding.com has a great DIY page called How to build a chuppah). Prefab kits available online run from about $130 to $250. Rental costs vary but are often under $100. The website huppahs.com rents different styles of chuppot (plural of chuppah) as well as canopies and poles if you only need one or the other.

Two Cups of Wine/Grape Juice

Cup of wine

Credit: Jennifer Childress Photography

A typical Jewish wedding ceremony includes two cups of wine (or grape juice). Wine is a Jewish symbol of joy. (Learn more about how these two cups fit into the wedding ceremony.) You can use any cups or glasses for this purpose; however, these cups offer an opportunity to include elements from both familiesÂ’ histories or traditions. Also, try using white wine or juice just in case of spills during the ceremony.

Some couples use only kosher certified wine or grape juice. Most rabbis who officiate at interfaith weddings donÂ’t require kosher wine. The rationale behind what makes wine kosher goes back to very ancient times when Jews were concerned that wine they might buy in the marketplace could have been ritually dedicated to the polytheistic gods of their neighbors. Today, most liberal Jews donÂ’t check whether wine is kosher, but some choose to buy kosher wine for weddings in order to support the industry, or in case they have guests who only drink kosher wine.

A Glass to Break

Most Jewish and interfaith weddings end with one (or sometimes both) partners smashing a glass (for an explanation of the meanings, see Elements of a Jewish Wedding Ceremony from our Guide to Weddings for Interfaith Couples). You can use any glass for this purpose. Just make sure itÂ’s thin and will break easily. Wrap the glass in a cloth or put it in a cloth drawstring bag to avoid injury from the broken shards.

Some couples use shops like Mazel Tov Glass or Traditions Jewish Gifts that provide kits which allow you to send them the broken glass shards, which they then make into artistic keepsakes.

What to Wear at a Jewish Interfaith Wedding

There really arenÂ’t any rules here. You can have a very casual wedding or a very formal one. There are some traditional ritual garments that one or both partners may want to wear including a kippah, tallit, kittel and veil.

A kippah (Jewish head covering, a.k.a. “yarmulke”) is traditionally worn by Jewish men, but sometimes by women too. Either or both partners can don a kippah for the wedding. You can also request that your guests wear kippot (plural of kippah)—you don’t need to be Jewish to wear one—though if you do you’ll want to provide them with some. You can order from wholesalers like www.kippot.com and spend anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars (for personalized embossed kippot). You can also support fair trade by ordering kippot through Jewish United for Justice.

Jewish partners, particularly men, sometimes like to wear a tallit (ritual fringed prayer shawl) during their wedding. In traditional Judaism, the tallit symbolizes the commandments of the Torah and the enveloping and protective presence of the Divine, though not all Jews who wear a tallit practice traditional Jewish lives. Wearing a tallit that belonged to a deceased relative, for instance, can add meaning. Some people take the opportunity of getting married to buy themselves a new tallit that they plan to use in the future, perhaps in the hope of passing it down to future generations.

A kittel is a ritual garment that is typically worn by more traditional grooms. A kittel is a belted white robe, usually made of linen, symbolizing purity. The kittel, which is worn by married men on Yom Kippur, is also used as a burial shroud.

Finally, some brides wear a bridal veil (and at same-sex weddings, sometimes both partners do). In a traditional Jewish wedding, before the ceremony, there is a ritual that takes place called Bedecken, which means “checking to be certain.” In heterosexual weddings, this involves the groom putting a wedding veil on the bride shortly before the ceremony. The groom gets to “verify” that the bride is in fact the person he means to marry. There’s a lovely version of this ritual for lesbian weddings here.

More resources:

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Rabbi Robyn Frisch 10-17-17

One of the first decisions a couple has to make in planning for their wedding ceremony is who will officiate.  When planning a Jewish wedding incorporating multiple faith backgrounds, you have a number of options as to who can be your officiant. You may choose to have solely Jewish clergy (a rabbi or cantor—for the sake of simplicity, we will just refer to “rabbis” from now on, but note that most cantors can officiate just as a rabbi can); to have Jewish clergy co-officiate with a clergy member of a different faith; or not to have clergy at all.

Jewish Clergy Only

If you want to have Jewish clergy officiate your wedding ceremony, there are some things you should know. While Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal rabbis are permitted to officiate interfaith wedding ceremonies, not all do so, and some who do have certain conditions that must be met in order for them to officiate. Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, on the other hand, are not permitted to officiate interfaith weddings. This means that you or your partner may have a rabbi you grew up with that you had always dreamed would officiate your wedding ceremony and they may not be allowed to officiate interfaith weddings, may choose not to do so or may not be comfortable officiating the type of wedding you are planning.

The best way to find out if a rabbi is able and willing to officiate your wedding ceremony is to inform them of your plans as early as possible in your planning and to ask if they can and will officiate. It’s important to run the date by them, as most rabbis will not officiate on Shabbat or the evening before a Jewish holiday. If a rabbi you know isnÂ’t able to officiate, or if you donÂ’t have a relationship with a rabbi, then InterfaithFamilyÂ’s Jewish clergy referral service is a resource that can help. Just fill out the officiation request form, and we’ll email you, free of charge, a curated list of rabbis and cantors in your area who are likely to be a good fit for the type of wedding youÂ’re planning. We also refer Jewish clergy that may be willing to travel.

Jewish Clergy Co-officiate with Clergy of Another Faith

Most rabbis and cantors who officiate interfaith weddings are not willing to co-officiate with clergy of another faith, though the number who will do so is growing. If you’re using InterfaithFamilyÂ’s clergy referral service and you’re looking for a rabbi to co-officiate, please check the appropriate box on the online form.

Good, clear communication is essential when working with two officiants. Many clergy (of any faith) who are willing to co-officiate may have conditions for doing so, and some will want to make case-specific decisions about what they are comfortable doing. Good communication between the officiants, and between you and both officiants, is crucial so that no one feels blindsided or misunderstood. Some rabbis who co-officiate will recommend specific local clergy of other faiths with whom they enjoy working.

Wedding Ceremonies Without Clergy

You can choose to get married without having a rabbi or cantor, or any other clergy for that matter. Hiring a justice of the peace, judge or non-denominational officiant are all options. You can also arrange to have a friend deputized by the state to act as your officiant. Good communication is key when working with officiants who may be unfamiliar with the family dynamics or other issues sometimes in play in interfaith weddings.

If you decide to go this route, there are many resources you can consult to incorporate Jewish ritual and cultural elements into your ceremony. See the Sample ceremonies and definitions for wedding programs section of IFF’s Jewish Wedding Guide for Interfaith Couples for some good ideas.

Questions to Ask Clergy and Clergy Fees

You should feel free to ask any questions of the clergy you contact, including questions about fees. It is important to feel comfortable with someone before you make the commitment to have them join in your special day.

Your first conversation with a prospective officiant is your “interview,” and it’s your main opportunity to discern whether this person is a good fit for you and your partner. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  1. Are you willing to work with us to craft the content of the ceremony, and do you have limitations on how flexible youÂ’re willing to be about the ceremony? (For example, if youÂ’re a couple that prefers little to no God language, this is the time to ask.)
  2. What do you charge for a fee, and when do you need to be paid? Do you use a letter of agreement?
  3. How much time are you willing to spend with us and/or members of our family if there are important issues or family dynamics that require sensitivity?
  4. How far are you willing to travel to a wedding venue, and what travel reimbursement might you need?
  5. How would you describe your approach to working with interfaith couples?
  6. Do you have ritual limitations or restrictions that we might not be aware of?
  7. How much Hebrew and English can we expect in the service, and how do you work to help guests who arenÂ’t Jewish feel included?
  8. Do you do dress rehearsals?
  9. Do you have references we can contact (i.e. other couples)?

After your initial conversation, the most important thing is for you and your partner to decide whether or not you feel comfortable, supported and respected.

As for fees, Jewish clergy fees vary greatly (and are often greater than the fees of clergy of other faiths) though generally they fall somewhere between $500 – $1,500, depending on many variables. Fees may include travel costs, or reflect the amount of necessary pre-marital work. They also vary by region. Many rabbis and cantors offer a sliding scale if finances are an obstacle—donÂ’t be afraid to ask for a fee reduction if this is a factor.

HereÂ’s whatÂ’s going into the fee: Rabbis bring years of seminary training into their work with couples, and often spend considerable time preparing the wedding ceremony according to the specific needs of each couple. In interfaith weddings, rabbis work with each unique couple to craft a sensitive, respectful and meaningful ceremony that strives to balance the aesthetics of Jewish ritual with the need for some cultural translation for family members and guests of other faiths.

When they hire a rabbi, couples are choosing to pay for a professional to create a sacred moment that they will remember forever. ItÂ’s useful to think about the clergy fee alongside the other costs associated with weddings today. The expertise and care couples look for in a wedding cake, a DJ or a photographer all come with fees, and clergy also need to make a living.

Finally, for co-officiated weddings, remember to include clergy fees for both officiants in your budget.

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Rabbi Robyn Frisch 10-17-17

A Jewish wedding has two major sections: erusin (betrothal) and nissuin (marriage). The central part of erusin is the exchange of rings. The central part of nissuin is the seven wedding blessings. Though erusin and nissuin were originally two separate ceremonies, they now take place one immediately after the other, and together they make up the Jewish wedding ceremony. There are many ways to personalize your wedding ceremony and include elements from other religious traditions. As with all aspects of your wedding ceremony, you should discuss with your officiant what you do and donÂ’t want to include in your ceremony.

Processional

There are no set Jewish rules regarding the processional, just customs, so the processional offers interfaith couples a great opportunity to weave in traditions from other faiths or include other cultural elements.

In traditional Jewish weddings the entire wedding party processes down the aisle, with the rabbi going first or simply starting the ceremony waiting at the chuppah (wedding canopy—you can read more about the chuppah here). In heterosexual weddings, the processional typically continues with the groomsmen walking single file, followed by the best man, and then the groom with parents on either side of him. Then the bridesmaids walk single file, followed by the maid or matron of honor, and then any other members of the wedding party (flower girls, ring bearer, etc.). Finally, the bride processes with parents on either side. It is traditional for the bride and her parents to stop before arriving at the chuppah and for the groom to walk to the bride, and then walk together with her under the chuppah. Under the chuppah, the bride stands to the groom’s right (which is the reverse of traditional Christian or American weddings).

In same-sex weddings, and in many Jewish heterosexual weddings, couples use various processional configurations.

Music for the processional usually includes pre-processional music, to which the grandparents process, followed by a piece chosen for all the attendants including ring bearer and flower girl. The bride and her parents usually come in to another piece of music. Traditional wedding marches including WagnerÂ’s “Here Comes the Bride” are not typically used in weddings with Jewish families/guests due to the musician’s association with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Like all details of the wedding, be sure to clear music choices with your officiant(s) and family members.

Circling

In traditional Jewish heterosexual weddings, at the end of the processional, when the couple has arrived at the chuppah (wedding canopy), the bride walks slowly around the groom, circling him seven times. Circling symbolizes the creation of a new home and the intertwining of the lives of both partners. Traditionally, circling has also been seen as the symbolic transfer of the bride from her father’s house to her husband’s house.

Most liberal rabbis offer couples the choice of whether or not to include circling in their wedding ceremony. Many modern couples adapt this ritual to make it egalitarian, with each partner circling the other. A typical mutual-circling ritual would see one partner circle the other three times in a clockwise manner, followed by the other circling the first one three times in a counter-clockwise manner. They then complete one last circle together. Some modern couples view circling as a symbol of the way they’ll define the home space for the couple, each seeing themselves responsible for protecting and supporting the other.

The circling is usually done while music is playing, before the couple enter under the chuppah together.

The First Cup of Wine

After a brief welcome, the ceremony typically begins with a blessing of the first of two cups of wine (or grape juice). In Judaism, wine is a symbol of joy. In a traditional Jewish wedding, a second blessing is also recited before the couple sips the wine. This blessing is called birkat erusin. To learn about birkat erusin, click here.

After reciting the blessing(s) the rabbi invites the couple to sip from the cup. Traditionally, in a heterosexual wedding, the rabbi gives the cup of wine to the groom, who sips from it, and then the cup is presented to the bride, who sips from it.

The Ring Ceremony

In liberal Jewish communities, both partners give each other a wedding ring to symbolize their love and commitment. When exchanging rings, each partner recites a verse expressing their commitment to one another. The exchange of rings completes the first part of the wedding ceremony.

The ring ceremony is a good time for couples to exchange vows with each other—something that isn’t part of a traditional Jewish ceremony, but which many couples like to include. Additionally, some couples like to write something personal that they can each say to the other when exchanging rings.

Traditionally, there are no “I Do’s” in a Jewish wedding ceremony. However, if you want to have your officiant ask, for example, if you “promise to love, honor and cherish” your partner, and then respond “I Do,” you should ask your officiant if this is something they are comfortable with. To read a blog about one couple who wanted to say “I Do” in their wedding ceremony, click here.

See sample ring ceremonies here.

The Seven Blessings and the Second Cup of Wine

Most Jewish officiants sing the blessings in the original Hebrew and translate each blessing into English. These blessings are ancient, and a lot of contemporary couples prefer to use modern creative translations. Also, the original wording of the blessings refers only to heterosexual weddings. Creative Jewish liturgists have written modified versions of these blessings, in Hebrew and in English, which honor same-sex weddings.

The first of the seven blessings is the blessing over a second cup of wine, and after all of the blessings are recited the couple is invited to take a sip.

After the seven blessings, some rabbis will recite another set of traditional blessings. These words, known as the “priestly blessings,” ask God to bless and protect, enlighten and give peace to the couple. Some rabbis will ask if the couple want to have a tallit (prayer shawl) draped over their shoulders while this blessing is recited. If this is something you would like to do, you should speak to your officiant about it.

Read more about the seven blessings and sample programs here.

Breaking the Glass

Jewish weddings end with the breaking of a glass. In heterosexual weddings, itÂ’s usually the groom who stomps his foot down on a thin glass (wrapped in a cloth for safety), though some couples (heterosexual or same-sex couples) will do it together or break two glasses. Many couples also want to have a kiss at the conclusion of their ceremony, which can fit nicely right before or after the breaking the glass. Here you can see a fun short video taken from a same-sex wedding in which we see both grooms breaking a glass. And in this blog post, a groom tests out breaking a glass before the big day.

Progressive or traditional, religious or secular, Jewish weddings almost always include a breaking of glass at the end of the ceremony. The glass-breaking is typically followed by a communal “Mazel tov!,” which means “good fortune” in Yiddish and is the equivalent of “Congratulations!” In addition to the communal congratulations, Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov is sometimes sung after the breaking of the glass. Watch this video to learn the words.

There are countless interpretations for the tradition of breaking a glass. Some see it as a reminder of the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem. Others say it is meant to remind us that marriage is as fragile as glass. It also has been interpreted to demonstrate how life is so fragile that the couple should enjoy every day as if it were their last together.

Read more about breaking the glass here.

Recessional and Alone Time

At the end of the ceremony, couples typically walk back down the aisle, accompanied by music. The recessional can be deliberately “messy,” with the couple heading off down the aisle and then everyone else simply mixing and mingling with the guests, or it can be structured and more formal.

Couples often take time for yichud (seclusion) after the ceremony. This gives couples an opportunity to have a little time to be alone together in a private space immediately following the ceremony. The rabbi may mention, just before the breaking of the glass, that the couple is going to do this, and may offer any other short practical instructions to guests at this point as well. Taking a little time to be alone together before returning to your celebrating guests can be rewarding and grounding.

Including Elements from Other Religious Traditions

Sometimes couples want to include elements of other religious traditions in their Jewish interfaith wedding. There are many options for doing so as well as sensitive issues that may arise. Some couples decide to have separate wedding ceremonies in order to allow both of their traditions to be fully expressed.

For an example of a multicultural Jewish wedding, click here to read about the Japanese, American and Jewish wedding that Kristin from Nourish planned.

For issues specific to Jewish-Christian weddings, click here.

For issues specific to Jewish-Muslim, Jewish-Hindu and Jewish-Buddhist weddings, click here.

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Rabbi Robyn Frisch 10-17-17

What is a Ketubah?

A ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract. In ancient times, a ketubah was a legally binding document, written in Aramaic (the vernacular of the time), describing a groom’s “acquiring” of a bride, and stating the amount that the groom would have to pay the bride in case of a divorce. There’s no mention of God, love or romance in a traditional ketubah. Modern liberal ketubot (plural) are typically spiritual, not legal, covenants between both partners, and ketubot for interfaith and same-sex couples abound. For example, ketubah.com has four different interfaith text options for couples to choose from.

In past generations, the ketubah was a simple document supplied by the rabbi, signed before the ceremony and filed away with the secular marriage certificate. Today, many couples choose  ketubot that have modern texts that they find meaningful and that are also works of art and a visual testament to the love and commitment of the couple. Many interfaith couples choose to have a ketubah and even make it a focal point of their wedding, reading it as part of the ceremony and displaying it on an easel for all their guests to view.

The ketubah text may detail how both partners will share responsibilities and resolve conflicts, the ways they will support and encourage each other throughout life, and/or the values they want to guide their marriage. Some interfaith couples even choose to mention their different religious heritages in their ketubah.

As Aliyah from Ketubah.com notes in her blog post: “The beauty of the modern ketubah is that it can have a text that means something to you personally and as a couple. The original purpose of the ketubah is still there but is elevated to mean more to you as a couple through your modern text.”

Aliyah and Rabbi Robyn Frisch, Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia joined for a Facebook Live about ketubot, which you can watch here.

Where do I find a Ketubah?

Several websites, like ketubah.com, Modernketubah.com, ketubah-gallery.com and etsy offer interfaith couples a variety of artistic styles and texts. You can also purchase ketubot at many local synagogue gift shops or Judaica stores. When ordering a ketubah online or from a store, choose a ketubah with the artistic style that you want, then you can figure out which of the available text options is right for you.

Ketubot are usually written in Hebrew and English (though they could be in just one or the other). Some couples choose to customize a ketubah with other languages that are personally meaningful to them. Beautiful customized ketubot have been created with three languages, adding to the Hebrew and English a language such as Chinese, Russian or Spanish.

You may choose to create your own personal ketubah, either because you have in mind a special design for your ketubah or because you’d like to write your own ketubah text—or perhaps both. There are ketubah artists who will work with you if a customized ketubah is your choice. You will need to commit to this process months before your wedding date to give due time to this process.

If you are artistic, you may decide that you want to make your own Ketubah—or you may want to ask an artistic family member or friend to make one for you. To read about how Hannah created her own DIY Ketubah, click here.

For sample language you can use in creating your own ketubah click here.

Regardless of if you are purchasing a ketubah or making one on your own, before you commit to any version of text, you should make sure that it is acceptable to your officiant.

 

When is the Ketubah Signed?

In most modern Jewish interfaith weddings, the ketubah signing takes place about a half hour before the wedding ceremony in the presence of the two witnesses, the couplesÂ’ immediate family members and the wedding party.

Today, many couples have a “first look” before their wedding ceremony that’s photographed so that they can take pictures together before the wedding ceremony. If that’s the case, then the couple can be together for the ketubah signing. If the couple doesn’t want to see each other before the ceremony, there are different options for how they can sign their ketubah – for example, they can each sign the ketubah in a different location (there’s no requirement that they be in the same room when signing the ketubah) or they can have the ketubah signing at the beginning of the wedding ceremony. If you do not plan to see each other before your wedding ceremony, be sure to discuss with your officiant how and when the ketubah will be signed. There are so many ways to create a ketubah and a ketubah signing ceremony that fits you, so be creative!

Some couples like to display their ketubot during their wedding reception. One way to do this is to have your ketubah mounted, but not framed (or framed without the glass), or placed in a temporary plastic frame to keep it from getting soiled, before your wedding. The ketubah can then be displayed on an easel during your reception.

After your wedding you can have your ketubah framed and hang it on a wall in your home. This is a great way to remember your special wedding day as well as the commitment youÂ’ve made to one another.

Who signs a Ketubah?

Traditional ketubot are signed by two male Jewish witnesses who are not related to the couple or to each other—the couple and officiant don’t sign. Modern liberal ketubot are usually signed by two witnesses as well as the couple and the officiant. If you’re being married by a rabbi, you should ask them who can sign your ketubah. While all liberal rabbis are presumably fine with having females serve as witnesses, they may or may not allow someone who isn’t Jewish to serve as a ketubah witness and they may or may not let you have people who are relatives sign the ketubah.

Some couples want to have more than two witnesses sign their ketubah. If you want to do this, you should check with the company you are ordering from or the artist making your ketubah to see if this is possible. You should also get the OK from your officiant.

Do You Still Need a Marriage License?

A ketubah is not a substitute for a civil marriage license. In order to be married, a couple must have a civil marriage license from the state in which theyÂ’re being married. Some states require that civil marriage documents be signed by witnesses, while other states only require marriage documents to be signed by the officiant. In states that require civil marriage documents to be signed by witnesses, this can be done at the same time that the ketubah is signed, by either the same witnesses or different witnesses.

To learn about obtaining a marriage license in any of the 50 United States, including how much a marriage license costs, which states require a blood test to get married, certified documents you need to bring with you and what you need to know about the United States marriage license laws before applying for your stateÂ’s marriage license application, click here.

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Amy Beth Starr 10-10-17

Making friends as a grown-up isn’t always easy. When I look at my “mom” friends, we’re mostly bonded through our kids. We spend countless hours at cheerleading, football or any of the myriad extra-curricular activities our kids are involved in, and our friendship is based on the relationships of our children with one another. But sometimes, I feel the need to step out of the comfort zone, try to meet people based on interests *I* have, because even though I’m momming 24/7, there needs to be a chance for ME to connect with, well, me, even when doing the mom thing.

So I decided to bring my 1-year-old to a Sukkot event, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to participate in making a sukkah out of pretzels, but with the hope that maybe, after five years of living in Maine and still feeling slightly isolated and disconnected Jewishly, that I’d meet some other moms and families. I felt awkward walking into a situation where I knew no one except the group leader (who greeted me warmly), but I was determined to enjoy this new experience and bond over the commonality we all shared. After all, I was walking into a Jewish event, the kids were Jewish, I was Jewish, we were there to celebrate a Jewish holiday—AND we were all clearly parents of small children. I was encouraged; I had hope; let the bonding and mom-friending begin!

Except I left friendless. And feeling even more disconnected than before. It wasn’t a failure of lack of effort. I think I introduced myself to almost every grown-up there, and there had to be at least 30 people between adults and kids. I tried to strike up conversations as I followed my blond-haired blue-eyed toddler around with his monster-like walking (a new trick for his first birthday!). The conversations usually went like this: “Hi, I’m Amy! This is Finn!” (as he would carefully saunter up to a new grown-up to check them out). Said grown-up would respond with their name and ask me if he went to the daycare at the JCC. In my head I responded, “Is that a requirement to talk to me?” but I was there to make friends, right? So instead I gave my canned response, “He’s on the waiting list,” which is a truth, but I wasn’t going to tell them it was because when I was looking for daycare I couldn’t find a place that DIDN’T have a waiting list and it’s possible he’s on a few at this point. The conversation would end each time, almost as if it was a prerequisite for him to be there in order to communicate with me.  Talk about frustrating.

My blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jewish Irish 1-year-old

I wanted to scream at all of them, “If you only knew! If you only knew anything about me! If you only knew my own Jewish connections, my own history, that on Yom Kippur the other day I stood in front of my congregation and chanted Torah, would I be acceptable to talk to then?” I looked around at the group, self-conscious of my blonde toddler in the mix of all the brown-haired kids, with biblical and Hebrew names. Is this what it’s going to be like for him as he grows up? My Jewish, Irish child who has interfaith parents? My Finnian, fitting in with standard white-bread Maine, but not so much in the Jewish community? I found myself surrounded by talk of day school that apparently most children in attendance go to, this rabbi, that rabbi, kids calling their parents eema and abba (Hebrew for mom and dad). And Finn? Oblivious to it all, walking around the sukkah like he owned it, waving and laughing at the kids who mostly ignored him, and picking up brightly colored leaves that had fallen to the ground.

Making mom friends is hard, but I didn’t think being Jewish was also hard. I walked away from the experience wondering if it’s always been like this, that certain status was placed upon you by how you connect Jewishly. And the reality is that in some communities, it truly is. I realized that I used to be one of the “elite” as someone who not only was actively involved in the Jewish community but also WORKED in the Jewish community. I took it for granted that it WAS easy because I was in the mix. But I’m no longer in the mix. And I’m no longer in a Jewish-Jewish family. I’ve now experienced the harshness of being judged based on perceived participation in the organized Jewish community with my blonde-haired kid, and it makes me sad.

As I tucked him into bed when we got home and pulled the green glowstick from the event out of his clenched hand, I wiped schmutz off his face, kissed him and said laila tov (goodnight). If that’s not connecting Jewishly, I don’t know what is. We have a long road ahead of us and I’m just starting to discover how this whole being Jewish thing won’t always be easy, but I’m confident that Finn will grow up knowing who—and what—he is.


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Annakeller 09-29-17

A few weeks ago my family had a hard day. It seemed that both my Jewish and my husbandÂ’s Mexican/Catholic faith were being tested. A 7.1 earthquake shook Mexico. The epicenter of the quake was in Puebla where my husband, Adrian, is from and where his immediate family still lives. We were at the laundromat with Helen, our 2-year-old. All of a sudden breaking news of the quake flashed across the two flat screens above us.

Both Mexico City and the small, unknown villages of Puebla suffered. What was even more striking was the undeniable factor that the same earth shook on the same date in 1985 when 10,000 people were killed in Mexico City. Adrian grabbed his phone immediately. But then, so had the rest of the world. There was no connection to his village and the phones seemed dead or the lines were all busy. We grabbed our laundry from the dryer, put it in the trunk of the car and drove home to fold it.

The 19th of September this year also marked one day before the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. I wondered how we would be able to celebrate in the wake of such a tragedy.

As the day moved on, Adrian kept getting Facebook updates from friends in his town who had some access to the internet via their phones. Photos started being uploaded of demolished buildings. Another mutual friend of ours who was in Mexico City said 46 buildings had collapsed and there was chaos on the streets. Adrian went somewhere deep inside of himself with worry. I tried to play with Helen in the living room and not say too much. There was nothing to say, there was only waiting.

News came from AdrianÂ’s brother that the church in their village had collapsed. The front was cracked down the middle and still standing but everything inside had fallen. Adrian started to cry. His mother went to that church every Sunday, every holiday and at every opportunity she had. He still hadnÂ’t heard from her. I wondered what it would be like if my synagogue fell down, the same one I had been going to since I was a child. I couldnÂ’t imagine the feeling. He went into the bedroom and prayed to his Virgin of Guadalupe.

At 6 oÂ’clock AdrianÂ’s sister got through to him. That was mostly due to the iPhone he had sent to her a year ago. She said that the town was a mess but that luckily the family was OK. However, a lot of the neighbors were left homeless and there were huge cracks in the earth. One wall in his motherÂ’s house was cracked and the stove had fallen killing three live turkeys that had been running around the kitchen. I could see the relief on AdrianÂ’s face even before he hung up with his sister. I could see his sadness but also his faith, that unshakable faith when you believe in something hard enough that it changes the outcome of your worst fears.

We found out later that one girl in the village had been rushed to the hospital after a house collapsed on her. We also heard later on about how money from the government was not reaching the pueblos and that people were forced to rebuild without help. Then someone in the village started a donation page and raised enough money for bottled water and supplies.

The next night was Rosh Hashanah. Adrian was still reeling from the destruction of his village and he had to work so he didnÂ’t join Helen and me at the table in my motherÂ’s house. But, my brother said a special prayer for his family and he was present even in his grief. Adrian was actually happy to go to work so that he could take his mind off of things.

As the Jewish New Year progressed I looked at Helen. I remember when Adrian and I decided that she would be of two faiths. It was way before she was born. We said that whatever she wanted to be, she would be part of both of us. So far she eats my mother’s chicken soup, jalapeños, challah and tacos. She smiles like her mother and looks like her father. She says “hello,” “hola” and “shalom.”

When Helen was just a year old I received an angry email from an irate woman asking me how I could raise my daughter in an interfaith household. She accused me of being a “bad Jew” and told me I was making my daughter into a “guinea pig.” The email had me in tears. I couldn’t believe someone would say such a thing. It took me weeks to realize that a voice like that is not a voice of strength but a voice of true weakness, full of misunderstandings. After the earthquake happened I thought about that woman’s email and how absurd it was. After all, Helen goes to the synagogue I went to when I was a child and she will help rebuild the church that her abuela cherishes. We have already asked when we can make a donation in her name.

This year on Yom Kippur I will wear black, say the Kaddish (the mournerÂ’s prayer) for my father and for the people of Mexico who suffered during the earthquake. I will teach my daughter a Jewish prayer and a Catholic prayer. I will teach her that being part of an interfaith family does not make you less of one thing but more of both. After all, we have work to do. There are synagogues that need renovations and churches that are waiting to be rebuilt.


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Annakeller 09-28-17

This year’s Rosh Hashanah became the beginning of a challenging New Year. Approaching the middle of my third trimester with a two-year-old at home I refused to cook. I spent the Wednesday afternoon before the festivities with my feet up while blowing bubbles for my daughter. There was only one small tantrum that occurred in the kitchen when I said “chicken” and my daughter said “cookie” and then when I pulled out a cutlet there were a few kicks and screams and “cookie, cookie, cookie!” demands. Other than that, things seemed to be going my way.

We had Rosh Hashanah dinner at my motherÂ’s house and my daughter and nephews played until they exhausted themselves and then we all went to bed. The real Rosh Hashanah tradition begins in the morning when my mother and I walk one mile to our Orthodox synagogue every year. This is purely tradition. We are not Orthodox and I have been running an interfaith household with my Mexican/Catholic partner since before our first daughter was born. But the walking to the synagogue where my father prayed and where we went to visit my grandmother as children, because she lives half a block away, is the tradition I have kept because it is most important to me. It is also important for me to share that tradition with my own daughter and the new baby girl on the way.

It was so humid for our walk in the morning that my mother and I had to stop every few blocks. (At 72, my mother is in better shape than her pregnant daughter.) We huffed and puffed and made it in time to hear the shofar, the traditional ram’s horn that the rabbi blows into every year. And every year he says the same thing—that no one can hear the shofar in the streets without trembling. I always tremble when he says this because it is such a unique image and I imagine the olden days when perhaps this was true.

It is always the walk to synagogue with my mother that matters on the High Holy Day. Of course we pray and we listen to the rabbiÂ’s sermon, but when we walk, we share memories. We wonder and are in awe of how we both made it so far with so much heartache. We look at my daughter and marvel how a baby so Jewish and so Catholic at the same time can be so blessed.

Our walk home this year is what changes things. On our way back to the house, my mother tells me she is excited because she will be going with my nephews to synagogue on Friday morning. At first, I think my brother will be bringing them to our synagogue. He doesnÂ’t live too far away but he would have to drive them over. But then my mother assures me that he is not driving, in fact SHE is driving to their house in the morning and going to a new synagogue in my brotherÂ’s neighborhood. I stop walking and have to sit down.

During my most challenging times of trying to balance two cultures and two religions in my own home and trying to give my daughter the gift of both beautiful worlds, I have never broken my own traditions to do so. I have never told my mother I was not going to synagogue with her. I have never missed a Passover seder. So it shocked me when my mother decided to do something she has never done before on our most important holiday. It also shocked me that I hadnÂ’t been invited. I was stunned.

The next morning was a beautiful day in Brooklyn. It was what Rosh Hashanah is made of. The neighborhood was green and the sky was a piercing blue. There was no humidity. The sidewalks had cooled off and the Orthodox women in my neighborhood shuffled by in their best dresses. Lilac, burgundy, opal and sea foam green were the colors of the dayÂ’s fabric. I walked out of my house without my mother. At first, I thought that I should try a new synagogue. Next door to our apartment, where I held a baby naming for my daughter, they had a service. When I walked in and the woman asked if I needed help I told her I had forgotten something at home and I walked back out onto the street.

I took the long walk to synagogue alone. When I approached my seat inside, the rabbi had just brought out the torah and everyone stood. Rosh Hashanah signifies a new beginning. It is the day God opens a new page and decides whether or not we will be forgiven for our past sins. It is a joyous holiday celebrated by the tradition of eating apples dipped in honey for the desire for a sweet year to come. It is on this day that I can always hear my father singing, even though he has been gone for so long. It is on this day that I thank God for the opportunities I have, for a family I have made with two faiths. But it was never in my mind that on this day, I would sit without my mother when she is still alive and well. It was never in my mind that I would miss someone. It never occurred to me that the matriarch of my own childhood family would be the first one to truly break tradition, to unravel it like a typewriter ribbon—as if at the last minute she decided to change the story.


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Ed Case 09-19-17

This post originally appeared on www.edumundcase.com and is reprinted with permission.

The discussion about Conservative rabbis officiating for interfaith couples has quieted, other than a terrible piece by one of the Cohen Center’s own researchers, that I blogged about separately. I’d rather focus on the positive responses to intermarriage as the High Holidays approach, and fortunately there is are five of them!

Back when Mark Zuckerberg was marrying Priscilla Chan, there were all sorts of derogatory comments from critics of intermarriage to the effect that his children would not be Jewish. So I was very pleased to see Zuckerberg’s Facebook posts showing him with his daughter in front of lit Shabbat candles, what looked like a home-baked Challah, and a message that he had given her his great-great-grandfather’s Kiddush cup. The fact that such a super-influential couple clearly are making Jewish choices for their family is the best news with which to start the new year. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan could really change the course of Jewish history if they got involved in efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life.

Second, Steven M. Cohen, in a new piece about declining number of Conservative and Reform Jews, says that arresting the decline “means encouraging more non-Jewish partners and spouses to convert to Judaism.” That’s not the positive news – the positive news is a much different response: the “radical welcoming” recommended by Rabbi Aaron Lerner, the UCLA Hillel executive director – a modern Orthodox rabbi, who grew up in an interfaith family himself. Rabbi Lerner writes that on college campuses, the intermarriage debate is already over – meaning that they regularly serve students who come from intermarried households, and sometimes those with only one Jewish grandparent, who they serve as long as they want to become part of their community in some way. Cohen could learn a thing or two from Rabbi Lerner:

Hillel and our Jewish community benefit enormously from that diversity.

Nobody can know for sure whether someone will grow into Judaism and Jewish life just because of their birth parents.

A Jewish student in an interfaith relationship may be inspired by our Shabbat dinners to keep that tradition for his entire life, no matter who he marries.

If these young students feel intrigued by Jewish learning, choose to identify with their Jewish lives and take on leadership roles in our community, they will be the ones shaping the future of Jewish life in America. But none of that happens if we donÂ’t make them welcome and included members of our campus communityÂ… I understand the communal sensitivities to intermarriage. But it happens whether we like it or not. If we donÂ’t give these young men and women a right to be part of our community, we risk losing them forever.

A third inclusive response is reported by Susan Katz Miller in a piece about PJ Library. She notes that PJ is inclusive—when it asked in its recent survey about Jewish engagement of subscribers, it asked if children were being raised Jewish or Jewish and something else; it also asked how important it was to parents that their children identify as all or partly Jewish. She reports being told that 50% of interfaith families in the survey said they were raising children Jewish and something else, and 45% Jewish only. She quotes Winnie Sandler Grinspoon, president of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, as saying ““This entire program is for interfaith families, and non-interfaith families, whether it’s the exclusive religion in the home or not” she says. “If your family is looking for tools, and you’re going to present Judaism to your children, whether it’s the only thing you teach them or part of what you teach them, then this is a very easy tool.”

(There were other brief news items that are consistent with the value of an inclusive approach. The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent had a nice piece about interfaith families celebrating the High Holidays(featuring Rabbi Robyn Frisch, director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia), and the secular paper in Norfolk, Virginia had a nice article about Rabbi Ellen Jaffe-Gill’s work with an interfaith couple. The national past president of the Reform movement’s youth group wrote an inspiring piece about how she discovered the Jew she is meant to be – revealing incidentally that she comes from an interfaith family. Batya Ungar-Sargon, the Forward opinion editor, notes the element of coercion in the Orthodox approach to continuity, with disavowal of coercion and embrace of freedom the point of being liberal. There’s also an interesting article in America, a Jesuit publication, When a Jew and a Catholic Marry. The author interviews four couples to illustrate different ways they engage with their religious traditions.)

In the fourth important item, Allison Darcy, a graduate student, asks Are Your Jewish Views on Intermarriage Racist? She had decided not to date people who weren’t Jewish because there was “too much pushback from the Jewish communities” in which she felt at home. A seminar on race theory prompted her to examine the implications of Jews’ prioritizing of in-marriage. For religious Jews who want to share their religion, it stems from a religious source; otherwise some amount of the conviction that Jews should marry Jews is based on ideas of racial purity.

ItÂ’s not a religious argument. ItÂ’s a racial one. ItÂ’s about keeping a people undiluted and preventing the adoption of other cultural traditions, which are clearly evil and out to usurp us. ItÂ’s a belief that itÂ’s our duty to keep everyone else away, rather than to strengthen our own traditions so that they can stand equally and simultaneously with others. In my mind, itÂ’s the easy way out.

Darcy acknowledges that the difference in Jewish engagement between children of in-married vs. intermarried parents – but aptly points to the Cohen Center’s study on millennials to say that “by encouraging engagement with the community, we can near even this out.” Her conclusion: aside from religious-based objections,

This idea that intermarriage is dangerous is a judgment, pure and simple. It implies that other lifestyles are inferior, and that we ourselves arenÂ’t strong enough to uphold our own. And at the end of the day, itÂ’s racist to insist on marrying within your own race for no other reason than they are the same as you.

The fifth item—I was startled by this, given past pronouncements by the Jerusalem Post—is an editorial that takes the position that Israel should allow everyone the right to marry as they chose, not subject to the control of the Chief Rabbinate.

If at one time it was believed the State of Israel could be a vehicle for promoting Jewish continuity and discouraging intermarriage, this is no longer the case. We live in an era in which old conceptions of hierarchy and authority no longer apply. People demand personal autonomy, whether it be the right of a homosexual couple to affirm their love for one another through marriage or the right of a Jew to marry a non-Jew. Dragging the State of Israel into the intricacies of halacha is bad for personal freedom and bad for religionÂ….

Â… Instead of investing time and energy in policing the boundaries of religious adherence, religious leaders should be thinking of creative ways to reach the hearts and minds of the unaffiliated.

Â… Those who care about adhering to the intricacies of halacha should, of course, have the right to investigate the Jewishness of their prospective spouse.

But for many Israelis, love – the sharing of common goals and values, including living a Jewish life as defined by the couple, and a mutual willingness to support and cherish – is enough.

The Jerusalem Post endorsing interfaith couples living Jewish lives as defined by the couples—now that is another great start to the new year. I hope yours is a sweet and meaningful one.


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Ed Case 09-19-17

Taking a closer look at research and being objectiveThis post originally appeared on www.edumundcase.com and is reprinted with permission.

Michelle Shain, a researcher at the Cohen Center at Brandeis, has written a very damaging article about the Cohen Center’s game-changing study, Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage, about which I’ve said, “The many rabbis who don’t officiate at weddings of interfaith couples because they think those couples won’t engage in Jewish life no longer have that leg to stand on.” Shain says she is a social scientist and wants people to understand exactly what the study demonstrates and what it does not—but she picks and chooses pieces of the study that support the apparent intention of her article to support maintaining Conservative rabbis’ opposition to officiation for interfaith couples.

The key findings of the study were that interfaith couples who had a rabbi as sole officiant were far more likely to join synagogues and raise their children as Jews. Shain’s main point is that those who chose to have a rabbi had richer Jewish experiences, so that the “logical conclusion is that their stronger pre-existing Jewish commitments led them both to seek a rabbi to officiate at their weddings and to engage in Jewish life after their weddings.” She says that on four measures, including having a special meal on Shabbat, there was no difference between couples who had a rabbi and those who did not after controlling for the pre-existing differences.

What she doesn’t say is that the study says (at p. 21) that after controlling for pre-existing differences, “intermarried couples who married with a sole Jewish officiant were still significantly more engaged in Jewish life than other intermarried couples on many of the outcomes discussed above. In particular, they were significantly more likely to raise their oldest child Jewish by religion, enroll children in a Jewish early childhood education setting, belong to a synagogue, attend religious services, celebrate Jewish holidays, participate in Jewish community activities, donate to Jewish or Israeli causes, and talk to family and friends about Judaism.” (emphasis added)

Shain also stretches to mention—without citation—a 2010 study that she says shows that officiating rabbis don’t have subsequent contact with couples, and take the standard pot-shot that without a random sample survey, no one can say anything about the impact of officiation on subsequent Jewish engagement.

Shain like anyone else is entitled to her views on policy, but is it appropriate to position oneself as an objective, dispassionate researcher and be selective like this? Conservative rabbis who oppose officiation have already made the pre-existing differences argument, and now have support from a researcher at the Cohen Center itself, when the key findings about raising children and synagogue membership arenÂ’t touched by that argument.

I would urge Conservative rabbis to consider what the study very carefully does say, without claiming causation: ““Interactions with Jewish clergy in preparation for the wedding may serve to welcome the non-Jewish partner into Judaism, establish the groundwork for a continuing relationship, and affirm the couple’s prior decision to raise a Jewish family. However, the opposite may also be true. Rejection by Jewish clergy may serve to dissuade couples from pursuing other Jewish commitments and connections.” That is entirely consistent with common sense and experience, which sometimes are as important as research.

Fortunately, there have been five very positive responses to intermarriage in recent weeks — you can read about them here.

Postscript September 19
Len Saxe and Fern Chertok have an excellent response in eJewishPhilanthropy, Neither Fact Nor Fallacy.


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Rabbi Reni Dickman 09-13-17

My name is Rabbi Reni Dickman, and I am very excited to be the new IFF/Chicago director. In the past month, I have already met incredibly thoughtful people. I have also begun to expand my knowledge of the Chicago Jewish Community. I am very proud of this community. I grew up here and I am inspired by the diversity of creative and innovative programs all over the Chicago area. There is something for everyone, and I hope to help interfaith couples and families find the right opportunities to meet other couples and families, to learn and celebrate and to serve those in need as all faiths ask us to do.

My work in a small congregation in Michigan City, Indiana, taught me about small town Jewish communities and the closeness they offer. In a big city like Chicago, our challenge is to create that same closeness. My experience teaching in Jewish day schools taught me about reaching students in different ways and always identifying the big ideas and essential questions within any text we study. I look forward to exploring lifeÂ’s essential questions with you and helping you come to conclusions that are meaningful for your family.

I am excited to explore lifeÂ’s questions with you at significant milestones in your life and in the years in between. I have two young children, and though my husband and I are both Jewish and I am a rabbi, I have been surprised by some of the issues we face as we navigate our familyÂ’s religious life. I would be happy to share my experience with you, my successes and my challenges and to hear yours as well. If there is one thing IÂ’ve learned, it is that itÂ’s always better to talk about it. I would love to grab coffee, go for a walk, meet your family or loved one, or talk one-on-one. I look forward to hearing your stories and your ideas.

Wishing our IFF community a happy and a healthy new year filled with creativity, communication and inspiration.


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Rabbi Robyn Frisch 09-08-17

By Rabbi Robyn Frisch and Rabbi Malka Packer

Just like the approach of the secular new year, the approach of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is a great time to reflect on the past year and to make resolutions about how you can be better in the year ahead. (Click here to read how Jewish new year resolutions are different from secular new year resolutions.)

We propose that synagogues use this time to take stock of how they’ve been welcoming and inclusive to interfaith couples and families over the past year, and how they can be even more welcoming and inclusive in the year ahead. One way to do this is to participate in InterfaithFamily’s Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative (IILI). But even for those not participating in IILI, this is a great time of year to come up with an action plan of how they can be more welcoming and inclusive. Below are suggestions based on a webinar on “Language and Optics” that we are presenting to IILI participants. These suggestions are the combined work of a number of InterfaithFamily staff members over the years based on our vast experience working with interfaith couples and families. What is your synagogue’s response to each of the following questions? Based on your responses, you can see where you have work to do.

  • Does your synagogueÂ’s website have photos that present the diversity of your community—including people of color, members of LGBTQ families, mixed-race families, etc.? While presenting diversity, you also want to be sure to be honest and make sure to present your community as it actually is, not how it aspires to be.
  • Are all Hebrew words and Jewish “insider terms” that you use on your website translated and transliterated?
  • Is there an explicit statement on your website letting interfaith couples and families know that you want them to be part of your community?
  • Does your website have resources and links to resources (such as interfaithfamily.com) for interfaith couples and families?
  • Who can be a member of your synagogue? Where are membership policies stated? Are they clearly stated on the website or in a pamphlet/brochure?
  • Who can be on which committees in your synagogue and who can hold leadership roles? Where is this stated? On the website or in a pamphlet/brochure?
  • Are printed ritual policies with explanations accessible? Where are they? On the website? In a pamphlet/brochure? In a b’nai mitzvah manual? Do you also have clearly stated policies on all of the following:
    1. What role can parents and other family members, who are not Jewish, have during a baby naming?
    2. What role can parents and other family members, who are not Jewish, have during a bar/bat mitzvah?
    3. Can members who are not Jewish open the ark?
    4. If there is a synagogue cemetery (or local cemetery), can family members who are not Jewish be buried there?
  • Does your religious school handbook include information about children from interfaith homes?
  • Does your bÂ’nai mitzvah handbook include information about interfaith families and extended family from other backgrounds?
  • Are resources for interfaith families (such as InterfaithFamilyÂ’s booklets on a variety of topics) set out and easily accessible?
  • Is there a guide to your Shabbat service available for those who arenÂ’t comfortable with the service (bÂ’nai mitzvah guests and others)?

 

Hopefully these questions can help guide your synagogue in institutional cheshbon nefesh (accounting of the soul) at this time of the year and encourage an action plan for becoming more welcoming and inclusive of interfaith couples and families in the year ahead.

To learn more about InterfaithFamilyÂ’s Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative click here.


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Rabbi Samantha Kahn 09-01-17

For the past couple months, as I’ve settled into our office space at the San Francisco Federation building on Steuart Street, I’ve been surprised by how few Federation employees knew where we were. Since InterfaithFamily is an organization of welcoming and love, I decided this needed to change.

We began by re-envisioning our space. Where four desks once sat, we now have an open space working area with a desk, conference table, coffee/tea cart and some comfy couches—all donated to us by the Federation or local friends who were redecorating their homes. We added some art, some greenery and a couple of great lamps that shine a natural light. Our space was ready to welcome visitors; now we just needed people.

Enter #WelcomeWaffleWednesday! A couple of Wednesdays ago, we brought in a gourmet coffee cart and waffle bar for all of the people who work in our building and the one next to us. With the delicious scent of waffles welcoming all who walked in the building and coffee so fresh you could taste it in the air around you, a diverse group of Jewish professionals joined us for treats and mingling. Along with introducing ourselves and our space to the building, we were excited to be blessed by our visitors.

About half of our guests, while waiting for their waffles to cook, participated in an activity where they decorated cutouts with words and pictures of blessing and good wishes. We shaped the cutouts like hamsas, a beautiful symbol of protection in Judaism and many other faiths and cultures. The hamsa, which is believed to protect us from evil, was enriched by the blessings of our visitors. They now hang on our walls along with our art, bringing beauty, love, community and blessings to all who enter our office.

Now that Wednesday is over, and the waffles are gone, I look back on these past few weeks and a smile creeps over my face. I know this office welcome was just the beginning of a significant number of meaningful friendships and partnership opportunities. And the success of our event leaves me with one important conclusion: We need more #WelcomeWaffleWednesdays in this world!


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Annakeller 08-29-17

Numbers are a big deal in Judaism. Hebrew is an ancient language, but numerology is hidden in every letter of scripture. This is something I learned very early on: Numbers matter. Our time on this earth—our nights and our days are numbered. So it wasn’t surprising that I grew up on 23rd street in Brooklyn and my father died on August 23. I was 12-and-a-half years old. By Jewish law, I was a woman. But by losing a father at such a young age, a part of me remained fixed in time—always a little girl.

This year marks 23 years since my father died and I still haven’t set foot in the cemetery since childhood. This has nothing to do with numbers. This has to do with the fact that my father, a Brooklyn boy through and through, was buried in New Jersey of all places—Paramus, New Jersey. If I know one thing about the spirit, it’s that my father’s spirit wouldn’t be caught dead in Jersey. He’s not really there.

The dead live in our hearts. They live with us throughout our numbered days. Sometimes they ride the train or the bus with us. They help us cross the street on particularly tired days. We can’t see them, but they are around.

In Jewish tradition, my family believes that after death our souls go back to God. My husbandÂ’s family of Mexican Catholic tradition believes that the dead hover around all the time, just in case you need them. Once a year on Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), AdrianÂ’s family travels to the cemetery to leave the favorite foods of the deceased. I believe in all of that, but I also believe that my father still sometimes likes to visit my motherÂ’s living room and sit in his big blue chair.

So this year, as my mother got dressed in her usual Sunday cemetery garb, she called to ask me the same question she’s been asking me for 23 years, “Are you coming with us to the cemetery today?”

My father was cremated—that is unheard of in Judaism. He sits on a shelf in a small jar behind a stone that says his name in both Hebrew and English. On the day he died, one of the neighbors remarked, “There’s Big Dave in a little jar.” I’m not sure my husband’s take on cremation and I’m nervous about asking him, but as it turns out, our two religions and cultures have more in common when it comes to death and dying than I would have suspected.

In Adrian’s village, when someone dies, the family stays up all night because they believe that the spirit of the person is still in the house. Then he informs me that the body must be buried within a 24-hour period. This is true in Judaism as well! Adrian also tells me that people are cremated in Mexico, but those people are usually from a bigger city whereas he is from a smaller village setting.

What Adrian canÂ’t comprehend is that almost my whole family is buried in the Paramus cemetery and there is an empty lot next to my father that belongs to my mother whenever sheÂ’s ready to join him (hopefully no time soon). He says thatÂ’s the strangest thing heÂ’s ever heard. I try to explain to him that itÂ’s kind of like owning real estate and he refuses to believe me.

But, both of our religions have a high respect for the dead. We both have special prayers. Both of our families wear black when someone dies. We both cry. Both of our families visit the dead once or twice a year. Except for me.

I talk to my father every day. And she may not know that I know this, but my mother talks to him every day too. There is a picture of my father in my living room holding me as a newborn. His face is close to my face and I have just been born. In that photo, my father is happy. He owns a house. He has a son and his daughter has just been born. HeÂ’s happily married. He goes to the theater once a week. He eats dinner out. He waters the lawn. In the photo next to him is a picture of Adrian and our little one, Helen Rose. In the photo, she has just been born and Adrian holds her in the exact pose as the photo of my father and me. Adrian is happy. His first child has just been born. He has a new apartment. He sees his friends and brothers once a week. He eats dinner out. He waters his plants.

ItÂ’s been 23 years since my fatherÂ’s death. So much has happened without him, though it feels as though he were here just yesterday. In Kabbalistic terms the number 23 signifies a kingdom. Usually it refers to an inner kingdom. As a Jewish girl from Brooklyn who started a life with a Catholic boy from Mexico, I feel as though my choice to create an interfaith family has kept my inner kingdom and my familyÂ’s inner kingdom intact. The choice to give my daughter a vast knowledge of who she is breaks tradition and yet holds it in place forever.

I never visit the cemetery on the anniversary of my fatherÂ’s death. ItÂ’s clear heÂ’s still among usÂ…in his own way.


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Craig Cohen 08-29-17

We live in a world filled with hate. It seems as each new day dawns, we are reminded of this very concept. Charlottesville, Paris, London, France, Spain, the list continues to grow. Even my beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University, a college with a diverse student population of nearly 60,000 is not immune. Can it really be that we have ushered in a new era where it has not only become popular but acceptable to preach hate and bigotry while encouraging violence at targeted groups? This seemingly commonplace behavior has captivated headlines on a daily basis and often includes attacks on various groups including women, LGBT, minorities and Jews.

America is the land of opportunity. A great country founded on the basic principal of speaking out and rebelling against tyrants forcing their ideologies. Each of us is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People love to hide behind the First Amendment as a reason to spout vulgar insults and racial epithets. It has been uplifting to see many Americans coming together to rally against hate. But itÂ’s important to remember that freedom OF speech is not freedom FROM speech. Do I support or encourage the Ku Klux Klan and its supporters gathering in arms, bearing torches and shouting references to Hitler along with chants echoing through the night, “Jews will not replace us!”? Of course not, but while we, as equal rights supporters stand unified against hate, we donÂ’t encourage violence to solve violence. The hateful actions of these people are deplorable and do not embody the principles this nation was founded on.

As relatively new parents, this is continuously a topic of discussion in our house. Today, we live in a community only a few miles from where I experienced first-hand that hate is not limited to racially divided cities or foreign countries calling for war against the West. I was maybe only 10 years old when our baseball team traveled out to a wealthy suburb on the east side of Cleveland. (For those who don’t know me, I grew up in a predominately Jewish community that was well known for its religious concentration.) I was raised in a Reform Jewish household and became a bar mitzvah. I have been blessed to be married to the most wonderful, kind and loving Catholic woman in the world (although not very religious herself). My life experiences both as a Jew and being in an interfaith marriage have allowed me to view this anecdote differently as I got older.

We arrived for the game on a sunny afternoon and began to warm up. It didn’t take long before we could hear the undertones and whispers coming from the home team dugout. “F-ing (expletive) Jews. Why don’t you go home back where you came from?” These were phrases that, while familiar with, I had not experienced them directly, especially as a young boy. I was raised in an environment to be conscious of the fact that the world did not always like Jews and anti-Semitism was a very real thing. Now to experience it first hand was a little jarring. As the game went on there were similar remarks being made under their breathe. Later in the game, on a close play, I slid into second base and was involved in a little scuffle while colliding with the other player trying to tag me out. The play ended and through the cloud of settling dirt, I heard, “Go home you stupid k___ (derogatory word for Jews that sounds like “kite”).”

These awful words still ring in my ears more than 25 years later. My perspective on the world has evolved over the years—from a young Jewish man to a husband and father, raising my own family, in an interfaith marriage. The world is a cruel place; people are cruel; children are cruel. The events of the recent past can be avoided, but it has to start now. Hate is a learned behavior—it is taught to our youth at a very tender and impressionable age. We breed hate as we pass on our distaste for one culture, religion or ethnic group. Information is so readily available today and can be accessed, at our fingertips, within a moment’s notice. Hate groups are using this to unify and unite their cause with propaganda and recruit new soldiers to fight in the battle.

Today does not feel like the world I grew up in. It is fueled by violence and hate, almost as if we have taken a step back in our progression as a society. This is not the world I want my daughter to grow up in. Not a place where she has to be afraid or embarrassed that her last name is known as a common Jewish name. Not a place where she is afraid to walk into a synagogue. Not a place where she cannot be proud of who she is and the heritage she carries with her. We have to do our part, speak out when you see an injustice being committed. I believe that good can and will prevail over evil. However, it starts with us as individuals. The words we use in our homes, the way we speak to colleagues, the way we greet strangers. We CAN make a difference and chart a new course.


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