The primary mission of the Jewish Outreach Institute (www.JOI.org) is to "reach out and welcome in" the intermarried, and to promote inclusiveness in the Jewish community for intermarried families and disconnected Jews. Originally founded in 1988 as a think tank and research facility devoted to the study of intermarriage, JOI's services have since grown to include advocacy, training of outreach professionals, and the sponsorship of innovative outreach programs throughout North America as part of its Jewish Connection Partnership program (www.JewishConnectionPartnership.org). This column is an opportunity for JOI to share its findings and views with the InterfaithFamily.com readership.
There is an especially poignant prayer said every Friday evening by parents gathered around Sabbath dinner tables, after candlelighting, to bless their children. At the end of a busy week often fraught with stress, rushing, and the emotionally charged exchanges that typify the relationship between most parents and children, this moment of blessing is particularly optimistic and perhaps much needed! For a brief time, children are reminded of their parents' love for them. And parents are reminded of the promise that children hold for the future. We are given a glimpse of the perfected world-to-come and the possibilities it holds for all of us--and that is the original point of keeping Shabbat.
For those of us, however, whose only Friday evening ritual is a deep sigh of relief after a long workweek, these simple sentiments may start a nice new family custom for you, or even just remain a weekly thought you have to yourself.
For boys, parents approach each son, place their hands on his head, and recite:
May God make you as Ephraim and Manasseh. (Or in Hebrew: Y'simkha Elohim k'ephrayim vekhim'nasheh.)
For girls, parents approach each daughter, place their hands upon her head, and recite:
May God make you as Sarah, Rebekkah, Rachel, and Leah. (Or in Hebrew: Y'simeikh Elohim k'sarah rivkah rachel v'leah.)
Then, for both boys and girls, parents conclude with the priestly blessing:
May God bless you and keep you. May God deal kindly and graciously with you. May God bestow favor on you and give you peace.
(Or, in Hebrew: Y'varekh'kha Adonai v'yishm'rekha. Ya'er Adonai panav e'lekha vichuneka. Yisa Adonai panav e'lekha v'yasem l'kha shalom.)
These moments can be filled with profound love. Jewish tradition invites us to speak these words of blessing specifically through the legacy of Ephraim and Manasseh, who were children of the Biblical Joseph and whose grandfather Jacob took them as his own. In this selfless deed, Jacob continued the line of the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs through his grandchildren, born to him by his son and Egyptian daughter-in-law Asnat.
The Bible is not concerned with Asnat's particular family-of-origin, for she, like so many today who live in our community's midst, chose to cast her lot with the Jewish people, voluntarily establishing a Jewish home and raising Jewish children. Once Jacob and Joseph were reunited in Egypt, Jacob did not distance his non-Jewish daughter-in-law or withhold his love from her or her children based on her origin. Their legacy is insured through their inclusive action, and their example should be held up for today's community. As for Asnat's act of love toward the Jewish people, we have rewarded her with a blessing in her children's name--and included our own children--but it is really she who has blessed us.
Among the matriarchs evoked in the blessing for girls is Rachel, Joseph's mother, who shared in Jacob's raising of Ephraim and Manasseh. Of all the patriarchs, only Ephraim and Manasseh seemed to live together in peace, harmony, and love. They were never jealous of one another, never fought with one another (ok, maybe the Torah is overreaching here), and shared mutual care and support all of their lives. It was because of the unique nature of these siblings' relationship that Jacob blessed all future generations in their names. The potential to create such relationships among our own children--and between them and us--makes these blessings all the more relevant and beautiful.