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Family Life Then and Now

April 2, 2010

I grew up in a Conservative Jewish household with two Jewish parents. We kept kosher at home, celebrated Jewish holidays and had Shabbat dinner every week. I was active in the JCC, had a Bat Mitzvah, attended Hebrew School until 10th grade, went to JCC day camp and spent 6 weeks in Israel. Overall, a very Jewish centered childhood. My parents expected that my adult life would continue along this pattern.

Pizza box
Usually on Shabbat they have homemade challah, but sometimes it's take-out pizza. It's still family time and togetherness.

In life, things don' t always work out the way you expect. In my case, I took a different path than my parents had hoped. I became involved in an interfaith relationship that led to an interfaith marriage. My husband Paul and I will be married for 10 years in May. He, a non-practicing, lapsed Catholic and me a former Conservative, now Reform, Jew. He and I, and our two sons, lead a very different Jewish life than the one I had growing up. Nonetheless, it is still a Jewish life.

Paul and I committed to raising our children as Jews before we married and my husband has always taken an active role. We both felt strongly that Paul should feel comfortable when attending synagogue and be seen as an equal member of the congregation, even though he did not convert. A few years ago, we joined a Reform synagogue. For me, it was a bit of an adjustment, coming from a Conservative background, but I have since found a welcoming home and am glad that Paul feels comfortable there as well.

Compromise plays a large role in any marriage, regardless of religion. For us, it also meant deciding how "religious" our home would be. When we were dating, I was not as observant as I was growing up, so some of the decisions we made were easy.

We do not keep a kosher home. Separate dishes and searching for kosher food is a thing of the past for me. My children are not told they cannot have milk with their chicken. We can have ice cream for dessert, no matter the meal. Since I grew up kosher, I never really acquired a taste for either pork or shellfish. My husband is not a real fan of either, so the decision to not have these at home was easy!

Shabbat dinner was a big part of my youth. Each week we came to the table for my mom's chicken soup and brisket and listened to my dad recite the kiddush. Now, I try to make Shabbat so my kids will learn to stop and think about the Sabbath and how it is different than the rest of the week. Each week, my sons and I make homemade challah together. As a family, we say the blessings over the wine and challah before we begin our Sabbath meal. Although we try to do this weekly, sometimes after a long week, we settle for ordering pizza and watching a movie. It's still family time and togetherness, which works for us.

Holidays are celebrated in our home; whether it's just us or with extended family and friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish. We light Hanukkah candles, eat matzah on Passover, dip apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah and break fast on Yom Kippur. Over the years, I have gotten used to the custom of celebrating only one day of Rosh Hashanah, rather than two as in Conservative Judaism. My kids do not attend school on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur and I keep them from going to any school/sports related activities on these days, just as my parents did. But, I do let them watch TV and/or play video games on these holidays, neither of which I was allowed. On Passover, I clean out a cabinet and refill it with Passover foods. I don't burn the rest of the food; it stays in the cupboards as always. On Yom Kippur, we don't wait until sundown to break our fast, we eat at our regular dinner time.

We attend Shabbat services when we can, our older son attends religious school, and his younger brother will begin in the fall. Both will become bar mitzvah. As a child, I remember standing next to my dad at services, listening to him daven and playing with his tallis strings. For me, he was the one who taught me about the rituals and traditions of Judaism. For my kids, I am the one who does that. My husband, while not Jewish, is able to teach our kids about the importance of faith and provide guidance, regardless of his belief.

My Jewish life now is much different than the one of my youth, but I don't feel any less Jewish. My children are learning to identify themselves as Jews and are living in a Jewish home. The way we practice and celebrate is unique to our family. Like me, my children may choose to carry some of these traditions forth and some they may not.

While these customs we are practicing are different than what I did as a child, we are creating our own traditions, as a family.

Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. 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 "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." 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. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." 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. Hebrew for "sanctification," a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. 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 "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew word for an unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the holiday of Passover. Yiddish for "prayer shawl," a ritual item that is worn and has knotted fringes (tzitzit) attached to the four corners. Yiddish for "prayer," it's often used as a verb in English. ("I'm going to daven Saturday morning.")
Abby Spotts

Abby Spotts lives in Harrisburg, Pa. with her husband and two sons.

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