Jane Young serves as outreach co-coordinator with her husband, Mark, at their Reform congregation, Beth Haverim, in Mahwah, NJ. She also serves on the regional level as the registrar for Introduction to Judaism for the UAHC New Jersey-West Hudson Valley Council. With the encouragement of her rabbi, Joel Mosbacher, in the summer of 2002, Jane participated in the Outreach Fellows for Conversion Certification Program at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, which proved to be a life-changing experience for her. Her teachers and former classmates continue to be an inspiration to her as she works toward her full certification. This article was an entry in the InterfaithFamily.com Network's Essay Contest, "We're Interfaith Families... Connecting with Jewish Life.
Our Interfaith Family: Blessed with Love
My husband Mark and I fell in love twenty-two years ago. I was in my late twenties and he in his early thirties. Our love brought our hearts together like powerful magnets!
I had grown up in a not-overly religious Reform Jewish home and had attended Hebrew school through my Confirmation (a Bat Mitzvah was not something most girls did in those days). Mark was brought up in a Presbyterian home. Although we had both drifted away from our religions, when we spoke about marrying and having children, we knew that we would want to provide a framework of faith and spirituality for our future family. So, we decided that we'd celebrate all holidays and let our kids make their own religious choices when they grew up.
When I was a kid, although we lit candles on Hanukkah, my sister and I got all our presents on Christmas morning by the decorated fireplace---stockings and all! But as soon as our son Harry was born, I felt suddenly compelled to make sure he got at least some little gift every single night of Hanukkah. When Harry was 6, I was explaining to his friend what the paper menorah on our door was (next to the paper Christmas tree, of course!), telling a then-familiar litany of "I'm Jewish and Harry's daddy is Christian, and so Harry is both."
Just then, Harry chimed in: "What are you talking about? I'm Jewish!" Well, this came as a big (but very welcomed) surprise to me! I felt lucky because Mark was totally willing to join a temple so our little pride and joy could learn all about Judaism and pursue a path that led to his becoming a Bar Mitzvah and later be confirmed. I still maintained a "safe" distance from the temple. I was a class mother, but Mark and I didn't attend services unless Harry was involved in some way or it was the High Holidays. Mark could never understand. "Why don't you go to Friday night services?"
So, what happened? Seven years ago everything changed. The three of us attended our congregation's Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial) service. Mark was so moved that evening that he asked our rabbi, may his memory be for a blessing, to let him take the five foot menorahs from the bimah (podium) home to polish and refurbish. He worked on them with love. This simple act helped to forge a special bond between two very kind-hearted people---Mark and our rabbi.
Three days later, my father passed away. As I rushed to Florida to be by my mother's side, Mark worked with the rabbi to make all the funeral arrangements for us, while comforting our son. It was Friday, and Mark took Harry to services. The newly brightened menorahs were a beacon of hope at a very dark moment in our son's life. It was just twenty weeks until Harry's Bar Mitzvah and my dad had lived for that day for almost thirteen years. Mark took care of me, Harry, my mom and sister during our week of shiva (mourning). This difficult time was in different ways a turning point for each of us. I was amazed by the support and kindness that came from congregants I hardly knew. They brought us food and came to our house for minyans (quorum of ten people needed to read from the Torah). After that, I knew that I wanted to "give something back" to my temple. So, I volunteered to become the next Sisterhood president and began to get very involved!
Harry rose with courage to the occasion of becoming a Bar Mitzvah! Though tinged with the sadness of our recent loss, it was a beautiful moment for our family, as Mark and I stood side-by-side on the bimah, inspired by the young man our son had become and by the Jewish traditions that had brought the three of us to that moment.
Sure, I've gotten more and more involved in my Jewishness over the last seven years, now attending weekly Shabbat (Sabbath) services and even Biennials with Mark by my side, and engaged in Reform Judaism in one way or another pretty much every day and night! But, I was born Jewish, so coming to more fully appreciate my religion is not so astounding. However, Mark's transformation is truly inspiring!
Mark, a true miracle worker, has brought our once defunct Men's Club back to life! As secretary and head "rabble-rouser," he sends all the e-mails, writes the articles for the temple newsletters and plans their monthly meetings--programs, location--everything! He works with a great, diverse group of guys and is proud to be a driving force behind the fun and mitzvot (commandments) that Men's Club is all about.
This week, several events converged that clearly demonstrate his commitment to our Jewish community. On Father's Day, Mark, Harry and I got up early to attend a special service at a local Presbyterian church, where our rabbi gave a powerful guest sermon. (This was Mark's first time in church in decades!)
Tuesday evening, Mark attended a town meeting to sign our congregation up to participate for our first time ever in the annual town event. He described listening as they went around the room, each person describing what their church or non-profit group would be selling at their booth. And then it was Mark's turn to speak for our temple, explaining that because it will be Shabbat, we would not be selling any wares, but would instead be there playing music and inviting our neighbors to learn more about us and our friendly Jewish congregation.
Tonight is the annual Men's Club Shabbat. Who better to speak as their representative than Mark?
I will be the one sitting with our wise little catalyst, Harry, bursting with love, so proud of our Jewish, interfaith family!
Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Hebrew for "seven," refers to the seven days of mourning following the funeral of a family member. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well. 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.