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When You're in Love, The Whole World Is Jewish

"When you're in love, the whole world is Jewish." The first time I heard my father say this was in the summer of 1952 when my second cousin Donnie married a non-Jewish girl.

In those long-ago days last century, this was cause for real alarm. Religious families sat shiva for children who made such egregious errors. But I didn't really know what my father's expression meant until I myself was in love in the late 1960s--with a man who was not Jewish. It didn't matter at all to me. At least I didn't think so. Not until the time came when we discussed how we would raise our children.

I was so crazy in love with my intended, that despite years and years of religious training and Hebrew language education, I would probably have agreed to raise our children as devout Zen Buddhists, if that was what my beloved wished.

Jo Anne and Robert Randall
Jo Anne and Robert at their son's wedding

Fortunately, that was not what he wished. He was a man with a philosophical turn of mind, a Ph.D. from Harvard in history and 8 1/2 years in the merchant service--the first three of which were during World War II. There were things he knew that I did not.

He knew for example that any children he had with me, "whether I like it or not," as he phrased it, "will be considered Jewish." He paused significantly. "I think that is something they need to learn to be proud of, rather than ashamed of."

In due course we married and had the children who were to be raised knowing that being Jewish was something to be proud of. One late Friday afternoon, the sun was setting in the kitchen window. The table was set with the good silver flatware, and a freshly baked hallah lay under the cloth laboriously worked by our 7-year-old son in Sunday school. But I was frustrated and upset. Where was the book with the transliterations of all the Hebrew blessings for Friday night for my husband? I couldn't find it anywhere.

I had already lit candles, but we still had to make the kiddush and the motzi. It was after my third circuit around the kitchen, dining room, and living room, that my husband lifted his head from his book, removed his reading glasses, and said:

"What's the matter? I know my part, don't you know yours?"

He recited the kiddush that night flawlessly, in perfect Hebrew, and went on to lift the hallah cover from the braided loaf of bread, bless it, once again in flawless Hebrew, and portion out pieces of the freshly baked loaf to each of the children and to me.

In years to come I would discover that my husband who grew up in Pocatello, Idaho, in a not-every-Sunday Congregationalist family, had committed to memory numerous pieces of Hebrew text. He could recite not only the kiddush and the motzi but the blessings over the candles, the Shehecheyanu prayer, much of the aleinu, the mourner's kaddish, and several others. On the first night of Hanukkah, after reciting all three of the blessings in Hebrew, he cheerfully and lustily sang Maoz Tsur.

It was not just that he had a good memory, or was trying to show off. He wanted to participate in these rituals and celebrations as part of the bargain that he had struck: His children would grow up knowing that being Jewish was something to be proud of, rather than ashamed of. And there was even more to it than that. He was a hands-on, participatory father. And he knew how important it was for the children to see that both of their parents not only practiced the Jewish rituals but enjoyed them.

When our daughter, the younger of our two children, left for college, my husband and I were alone in the house--except for our little dog, Merlyn. Robert stated that he thought it was time to be done with making kiddush on Friday nights. He opined that I could go ahead and light the candles, and do whatever I wished with the hallah and the wine, but he no longer chose to do so. I knew better than to argue with him.

I continued with my candle lighting halfheartedly, but gave up on baking hallah. After a couple of weeks, I came home from my office of a Friday afternoon and thought I smelled fresh hallah. When I walked into the dining room, I discovered that the table was laid as if for guests, complete with a freshly baked hallah (courtesy of Kineret--Robert had troubled to glaze the frozen loaf with an egg wash and had sprinkled it with both sesame and poppy seeds).

"What's this?" I asked. "I thought we weren't making kiddush anymore."

"Merlyn missed his piece of hallah," my husband explained.

Years before this, long before they went off to college, our son became a bar mitzvah and our daughter a bat mitzvah. The rabbi saw no reason why my husband could not have an aliyah at our daughter's bat mitzvah. "I have no problem with that," said the rabbi.

"But, I do," said Robert.

"It won't be hard," said the rabbi, "we can get transliterations for you."

"I know the blessings before and after the Torah reading by heart," said Robert. "That's not the problem. The problem is that I'm not Jewish, and a non-Jew cannot be called to the Torah," he explained matter-of-factly.

I suspect that my experience is not that unusual: The non-Jewish member of the interfaith family has perhaps the larger stake in maintaining the integrity of the Jewish religion. My husband died nearly four years ago, and though he never wanted to convert to Judaism, he was my true partner in making a Jewish home and in raising a Jewish family. My memory of him tells me that he cannot possibly mind that I light a yahrzeit candle for him every year.

Hebrew for "Who has given us life," part of a blessing thanking God for bringing us to a special or new moment. Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Hebrew for "Stronghold of Rock" (more commonly known in English as "Rock of Ages"), a Jewish liturgical poem sung on Hanukkah after lighting the candles. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. Hebrew for "time of [one] year," referring to the anniversary of the day of a relative's death. Hebrew for "holy," a prayer found in Jewish prayer services. There are many versions of the Kaddish, the best known being the Mourner's Kaddish, said by mourners. Hebrew for "sanctification," a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Hebrew for "our duty," it's the name and first word of a prayer recited at the end of three daily services in traditional Jewish liturgy. Hebrew for "going up," it refers to the honor of saying the blessing over the Torah reading. It can also refer to the act of immigrating to Israel. (e.g. "After falling in love with Jerusalem, Rachel and Christopher made aliyah.") A bread that comes in a few different varieties; its most common variation is a braided egg bread, though there are water challahs that don't have eggs, and there are whole-wheat challahs which sometimes also don't have eggs. It is customary to being Sabbath and holiday meals by saying blessings and eating challah. 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 "brings forth" or "expels," the first unique or identifying word of the blessing over bread ("...brings forth bread from the earth"). Some say this blessing over bread, others recite it as a catch-all before a meal. 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. 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.
Jo Anne Randall

Jo Anne Randall, Ph.D. a clinical psychologist and a writer, has published a novel, Through the Door (Stein and Day, 1982), and several short stories. She has lit shabbos candles in Mexico, Argentina, Israel, and even Kentucky and Calif. Both of her children are grown and married, and identify as Jews. She presently resides and lights candles in Cleveland, Ohio.

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