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Six Tips for Interfaith Families Facing the High Holidays

Updated August 2012

1. Since family meals are universal, inviting extended family members who are not Jewish to join in the holiday meals can serve to focus on the commonalities of your traditions. Over time, these gatherings become part of the year's cycle for the extended family. They become familiar. Try to cook traditional foods eaten on that holiday. If you don't have recipes, you can find some on our site. Or you can invite close friends, both Jewish not, to bring along their favorite dishes.

2. Try to involve each member of your family in the holiday. On Rosh Hashanah, you can begin new family traditions by discussing how to make the year a better one, how you as a family want to grow. Come up with three or four ways you can attain your goals. On Yom Kippur, you can talk about how you as a family have "missed the mark" and what you can do to repair any wounds.

3. If your spouse doesn't like to attend synagogue with you, try to create a group for others in your situation. Set up a certain area in the synagogue where you can all sit together so that you don't have to feel alone. The seating area could also welcome widowed, divorced or single members. Another option is to join a "havurah" (informal study and worship group) that will sit together.

4. If your spouse would go to synagogue but doesn't understand how the service is put together, why certain prayers are said, and/or what the Hebrew means, ask your rabbi or synagogue educator to hold a special learning service for people in who need an introduction or a refresher (it could also include Jewish members). At that special service, the rabbi can explain the different elements in the service, the Hebrew, and the overall goal, and also answer questions.

5. If you are the Jewish partner, remember that your spouse may be feeling uncomfortable with the traditions, the synagogue and all your family members. So pay attention to your partner, explain as much as possible to them, and appreciate your spouse's willingness to participate.

6. If you don't usually attend synagogue and your partner can't understand why you want to now, you can explain that for many Jews in this country, attending High Holiday services (particularly the first evening service of Yom Kippur) is a way of affirming that we still are part of the Jewish people. We still care about being Jewish — even if we're not very religious and are not sure how we feel about the content of those services. For many American Jews, Jewish identity is primarily ethnic, cultural or communal, as opposed to religious.

Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hebrew for "fellowship," a lay-led group that meets for Shabbat or holiday prayer services, life cycle events, and/or Jewish learning or discussion. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
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