baptism from Pixabay

From my monthly advice column, Mixed and Matched. I receive a note from a well intended wife/mother/daughter-in-law

I am Jewish and my non-Jewish husband and I had a baby six weeks ago. My mother-in-law is Christian and planning to visit us now that we’ve settled in. She called me and begged me to let her take the baby to be baptized. She said that she knows we intend to raise our daughter as a Jew, but it would make her feel at peace if the baby were baptized.

I told her I’d think about it. I thought maybe it was a nice thing to do for my mother-in-law; I don’t believe that she can do anything to render my baby not Jewish. But when I told my husband, he got upset and said this is just the first step and his mother will find a way to make the baby Christian. I feel caught. I want a good relationship with my mother-in-law, but I am worried about my husband’s feelings. What should I do? — Torn

Dear Torn: I commend you for wanting to have a good relationship with your mother-in-law, but I am concerned that she is not thinking the same way you are. Your husband knows her better than you do. If he feels she intends to impose her opinions and beliefs on how your daughter is raised, I would tend to believe him.

I note that your mother-in-law didn’t talk to her son about this. Is that because he is not responsive to her way of thinking? Do they have bad blood about his own upbringing? Additionally, he seems angry at his mother because he anticipates interference in the future.

This is really something that your husband should discuss with his mother. I think it is quite reasonable for him to call his mother and tell her he is aware of her request. Then he should explain to her that he is part of the duo that decided to raise your daughter as a Jew. The two of them need to clarify boundaries. He should explain to her why he is angry about her request and what he expects her role with his daughter to be. He should also tell her that anything she wants to say to you will be for his ears also.

Does your husband know what his mother will be “at peace” about? Does she fear that her grandchild will not go to heaven without baptism? What does his mother think will happen to you? As a Jew, are you going to hell, according to her theology? I realize these may seem like awkward topics, but it is best to know just how desperate she feels. It is important that both you and your husband remain as calm as possible. Remember that she won’t have much access to your daughter, and what you decide will be the law in your own home. When she leaves at the end of her visit, you will go on with your own way of life.

Do some planning with your husband. It sounds like your mother-in-law lives some distance away. I suggest you put her up at a hotel during her visit so that you and your husband have down time to process whatever comes up.

How will you spend her visit? Having a plan helps a great deal. Plan to not spend long hours alone together. Instead, go to a park, meet a friend for tea and introduce your mother-in-law. Enlist a close friend to drop by on days when you might be home alone for an extended period. Try to make the visit enjoyable so that all of you will have positive memories. If you become stressed, pick up the baby and leave. Go to a friend’s house and stay there until your husband comes home from work.

Be aware that your daughter will not remember this visit, so there is no undue influence taking place. Remind your husband of that, too. If he will be made uncomfortable by his mother’s visit, consider how you can ease it for him. He may need a buffer. Ask a sibling or friend who is close to your husband to spend time with all of you. If your mother-in-law will be with you over Shabbat, consider taking her to synagogue with you. She may be pleasantly surprised at how warm and spiritual a Jewish service can be. Your husband will feel supported by your shared spiritual community.

Posted by admin under Children, Life Cycle, Mixed & Matched
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Rebecca Gutterman's family

The number of Jewish and interfaith families who are adopting children is significant. Often these children are not Caucasian. As one very sweet Catholic social worker put it, “Jews don’t seem to mind what color their children are.” We take that as a big compliment!

How do parents give their adopted child a feeling of wholeness, helping them integrate their story of origin with the religion and culture they are being raised in? Adoptive parents raising Jewish children have this and unique questions to answer depending on their family situation, such as:

Will we formally convert our child to Judaism?
Will we have some kind of Jewish welcoming ceremony?
How will we honor their culture of origin and give them a rich, secure Jewish identity?
If our child is a different race from us, how will we handle it? How will we respond to his/her questions at different stages, as well as questions or reactions from people outside of our family?
Join adoptive parents and adoption professional, Susan Romer, for a warm and supportive discussion.

April 20
7:30 to 9pm
Congregation B’nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek
Free, but an RSVP would be most appreciated. You can sign up here.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Children, Parenting, Programs archive
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baby toes pixabay

I’m in the planning stage of a program on adoption in interfaith/intercultural and Jewish families. As I spoke to various local people who are adoptive parents I got this email from Michael Tejeda, a gentleman who has been generous in sharing his insights.

As you might expect, I have some opinions about this.

I didn’t convert until my daughter was 7 years old, so we were an interfaith family for that amount of time. I remember struggling with this at the time since I was always philo-Semitic, my wife is Jewish and my daughter had an infant conversion but I just wasn’t religious.

I believed that my daughter wouldn’t benefit from a split religious upbringing. We attended Christmas celebrations with friends and relatives and we also had Passover and Hannukah. We told our daughter that lots of people were Christians, among other things, but that she and mom were Jewish. When my daughter was 7, I took the plunge. I remember when she realized what had happened she said to me, “Daddy, now we are a real Jewish family”. So even at a young age, we had already taught her to value her Jewish identity.

I know lots of interfaith families and unless the religion of one or the other parent predominates, the result is more often than not a child who grows up irreligious. This isn’t good for the Jews. You can respect and love Christians but if your kid ends up believing in Jesus, they won’t be Jewish. That’s really the bottom line.

Christianity is all around us. It’s very easy for someone to have an indeterminate faith and wind up as an adult falling into one of the many varieties of Christian practice. Without giving a child a fairly definite idea of what Jewish faith and practice is, they are unlikely to find it in the larger world.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually think that intermarriage is fine. Look at me. My intermarriage brought two new Jews into the fold, my adopted daughter and me. I just think that you have to think about it in advance and decide what the child’s religious identity is going to be – hopefully Jewish.

I believe that some of our problem is a failure of Jewish institutions to adapt to the situation that American Jews find themselves in. Despite the increasing rate of interfaith marriages, there is no official mechanism to “Jewishly” sanctify intermarriages.

When I was a kid, the American Catholic Church, while not encouraging intermarriage, had long since stopped forbidding it. There was an official marriage ceremony, performed by a priest. It was called getting married “outside the altar rail”. After my father died, my mother got married again in such a ceremony, since my mother was a Catholic and my new step father was a Protestant of indeterminate variety.

In order to have this Catholic wedding ceremony, my step father had to agree to support my mother in raising the children as Catholics. He agreed and they had a Catholic wedding. All of us kids (5) were provided with a Catholic upbringing. In retrospect it was an ingenious system.

I’ll bet if there was such a system for Jews, more than half of the intermarrying couples would take advantage of it and It would solve a lot of the interfaith marriage problems.

As you can see my system prefers to operate with a Jewish bias and I think that you are looking for something even handed.

What I’m looking for is honest opinions and experiences. Michael has shared his real life experiences and I thank him for that.

The program I am planning will occur on Thursday, April 20 in Walnut Creek. Email me for details, Dawn, dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org

Posted by admin under Children, Conversion, In their own words
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family

The email from this Jewish Dad is a pretty common view for men from Reform congregations. For that matter, it’s a pretty common view period. But what do you do when your opinion differs from that of others? I replied to him in my Mixed and Matched column in the J-weekly.

My wife is not Jewish but is totally on-board with raising our kids as Jews. We belong to a Reform synagogue that is wonderful to our entire family. Our children go to preschool there and are being raised with all the Jewish holidays. My concern is that Conservative and Orthodox Jews don’t see my kids as Jewish. I don’t see any reason to have our kids go to the mikvah, but I know that in my parents’ Conservative congregation, my kids can’t have an aliyah. Why can’t they understand that in today’s world we are all post-denominational Jews?
— Dad of Two Great Kids

Dear Dad: You have raised a very important point — whose rules are we going by? You and your wife have decided to do things in a way that meets your needs and your view of a shared Jewish American life. You may think the Jewish world should change and reshape itself to better match your view. The trouble is that Jews who adhere to traditional Jewish law feel you should see things their way. In fact, every other Jew out there has an opinion and is as unlikely to modify it to match yours as you are to match theirs. Thus, we are at a standstill.

Too often, an interfaith family has that very American belief that they should be able to have things as they wish. We are all vulnerable to thinking within our own paradigm. One of the most beautiful things about Judaism is that many opinions can be held or at least listened to and validated, even if they are contradictory.

Learn more. I invite you to learn about the views of non-Reform Judaism. Take a class, possibly with a rabbi, from another stream of Judaism. You can check out the Lehrhaus Judaica catalog to find classes and teachers from all backgrounds offered all around the Bay Area. Additionally, you can go online to see what adult education classes are offered at synagogues near you.

Suspend judgment. Go into the class with the mindset of an explorer — what do the Jews at this shul teach and believe? Note that they don’t all agree with each other, but it is likely that they hold certain views across the congregation. Just as your Reform synagogue believes that the child of a Jewish man can and should have a bar or bat mitzvah right there on their bimah, the members of other shuls will have different shared views. A common Reconstructionist saying — followed by the more liberal streams — is that the past (i.e., tradition or halachah) has a vote, not a veto. However, in other movements halachah has a great deal more than a vote.

Meet other Jews. Make an appointment with a Conservative and an Orthodox rabbi. There are many friendly ones in the Bay Area and I’d be happy to help you identify someone with whom you could speak.

What am I hoping for you? Well, there are several possible outcomes.

One, you would come away with a clear understanding of the halachic reasons for your children’s status and you will agree to disagree. In this case, you will need to develop a message that you will give to your children, and wife, about their status. The message should be honest and supportive of your children’s identity as Jews. You will also want to develop a message for the community at large for times when your children’s Jewish identity is questioned.

Two, you may decide that you want your children to be recognized by your parents’ Conservative congregation and therefore you want to take them to the mikvah. Here you’ll need to explain this to your wife without insulting her. Arranging the details will require talking to your rabbi.

Three, and this is the one I hope you avoid, you may simply be upset and do nothing.

Many members of our community want to be angry and sullen toward the Jews who don’t agree with their views of patrilineal descent. Please don’t get lost in this dead-end position. Discuss things with your wife and your rabbi. Make some affirmative decisions.

Finally, Dad, you have time, but not forever. Call me if you want to discuss your options. I can help you find a class and/or a rabbi for an informational interview.

Posted by admin under Children, Mixed & Matched, Parenting
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jewsandchristmas

You may want to decorate a Christmas tree while your partner wants to make latkes. What will work for you as a family? Whether December is your favorite month – full of Christmas cookies and chocolate gelt – or your most dreaded month – material surfeit and cultural overwhelm – you are invited to join this open and supportive discussion on how to handle the December dash.

This year will be especially interesting because the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 4
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton
Cost: Free to Beth Emek members, $8 public. No one turned away!
Sign up here or just show up.
www.bethemek.org

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Christmas, Holidays, Parenting
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patricia-l-with-cousins

A wonderful couple I know have five grown children who are interracial, intercultural and sort of interfaith. The Chinese mom converted before marriage and is now trained as a mohel. The couple raised their children Jewish and Chinese. Yup, they got asked questions like, “Are you adopted?” “Is your mother Jewish?” “How come you’re in a synagogue; do you want to convert?”

But this wise couple knew what was in store for their kids and they prepared them. They knew the kids would be asked questions when the parents were not around to step in. They wanted their kids to feel strong ownership of their Jewish identities.

Their family is interfaith in that all of mom’s side of the family is not Jewish. Some of the 5 kids have married non-Jewish spouses and are raising Jewish kids – just like Mom and Dad did.

The systematic teaching of the children to be confident and comfortable as Chinese Jews was brilliant. It reminded me of some of my African American friends who said, “I’ll teach my kids what to expect in the white world. I’LL be the voice they hear, they’ll be ready for racist ignorance.”

On November 10, I will be sharing the strategies that this couple – and many adults who grew up in interfaith families – advocate doing to help kids in interfaith families grow up confident and comfortable with who they are.
Raising a Confident Child in an Interfaith Family

I hope to see you on the tenth.

EVENTS
How Jesus Became God (Alameda)
Or HaLev – Jewish Meditation (San Mateo)
Dispelling (Religious) Myths (Pleasanton)
Raising a Confident Child in an Interfaith Family (Berkeley)
Preschool Science Fair! (Foster City)
Mourning and Grief: After Death (Walnut Creek)
Fourth Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service (Livermore)
Klezmer Shabbat (San Francisco)
Chanukah Festival (Redwood City)

How Jesus Became God
How did the radical Jewish learner, Jesus, change Judaism and the World?
Rabbi Brickner will lead a discussion, following a DVD screening that traces one of history’s most significant movements led by a world-changing Jew: Jesus. The radical Jew? Prophetic Jew? The promised Messiah?
The series will discuss issues such as the historic, scientific, cultural and spiritual context of Israel and the Mid-East during the Roman era, key events and personalities, different perceptions of Jesus.

Dates: Sundays, Nov. 6 and 13
Time: 10:30am to noon
Place: Temple Israel, 3183 Mecartney Rd., Alameda
http://templeisraelalameda.org

Or HaLev – Jewish Meditation
For the last 14 years, Or HaLev (Light of the Heart) – the Center for Jewish Spirituality at PTBE – has provided the opportunity for one of our meditation teachers to teach about a different Jewish topic related to mindfulness meditation along with one or two short sits. Whether you are an experienced meditator or have never meditated before, please join us!

Dates: Mondays, November 7, 14, 21, 28
Time: 7:00 to 8:15 pm
Place: Peninsula Temple Beth El, 1700 Alameda de las Pulgas, San Mateo
www.ptbe.org

Dispelling (Religious) Myths
Our topic will be “What myths would you like to dispel about your religion or religious practice? What are frequent misconceptions?” The speakers will be Imam Tahir Anwar of the Muslim Community Center and Robin Wood, Jewish Educator. Religion Chat is sponsored by Interfaith Interconnect the second Wednesday of every month.

Date: Wednesday, November 9
Time: 5:00 – 6:00 pm
Place: Muslim Community Center, 5724 West Las Positas Blvd., Pleasanton.
(Please enter from the school side of the building, Suite 100.)
Free
For more information contact the Interfaith Interconnect by emailing to: interfaith.interconnect@gmail.com

Raising a Confident Child in an Interfaith Family
A child needs happy, loving parents more than anything else. They also deserve to feel comfortable with their own identity. We’ll come together to discuss what parents are currently doing, what they may want to alter and to talk about planning for your child’s religious traditions.

Date: Thursday, November 10
Time: 7:30 – 9:00 pm
Place: Lehrhaus Judaica, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Cost: $12 per couple; $8 per person; no one turned away for lack of funds
Register here

Preschool Science Fair!
Wornick Jewish Day School and PJ Library invite you to a morning of science exploration especially for children ages 3 to 5 and their families.

Date: Sunday, November 13
Time: 10 am to Noon
Place: Wornick Jewish Day School, 800 Foster City Boulevard, Foster City
Admission is free. Lunch will be served.
Advanced registration is required at their website.

Mourning and Grief: After Death
In this essential session we will address Kaddish basics, what the Jewish tradition says about mourning and grief and memory, and how to gather community support. We will create a safe place to share special cases such as stillbirth and neonatal death; sudden, and traumatic death. We will explore the customs of the first year and talk about “When does grief really end?”

Date: Nov. 13
Time: 10:30am to noon
Place: B’nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek
Cost: $10
Register here.

Fourth Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service
All are invited to attend this year’s Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, ‘Our Common Humanity.’ The service is free, but space is limited, so please register on Eventbrite.
Through readings, music, and reflections, our many faith communities will explore the common ground that unites us all. During the service an offering will be accepted; donations will go to Big Heart Wellness Center after minimal event costs are covered.

Interfaith Interconnect comprises sixteen Tri-Valley congregations. Its mission is, “To enrich, inform and educate ourselves and others about the great diversity of faiths and cultures in our valley.”

Date: Sunday, November 20
Time: 5:30–6:30pm
Place: St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, 678 Enos Way, Livermore
Simple reception in the church hall immediately following the service.
www.interfaithinterconnect.weebly.com
interfaith.interconnect@gmail.com

Klezmer Shabbat
Come light candles, sing songs, delight in familiar prayers melded with klezmer rhythms and melodies, dance, and of course, eat and drink!

Cantor Sharon Bernstein will be joined by master klezmorim Stu Brotman on bass, Sheldon Brown on clarinet, and Ilana Sherer on violin, and Josh Horowitz on accordian. And, the magnetic Bruce Bierman will provide dance support and instruction.

Date: December 2
Time: 7:30pm
Place: Sha’ar Zahav, 290 Dolores St (@16th St), San Francisco
www.shaarzahav.org

Chanukah Festival
Come eat some latkes, buy your presents from our vendors, enjoy our Preschoolers in Concert, and of course see friends.

Date: Sunday, December 11
Time: 11:00am – 2:30pm
Place: Congregation Beth Jacob, 1550 Alameda de las Pulgas, Redwood City
www.bethjacobrwc.org

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Children, Community Activities, Death & Mourning, Parenting
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3generations-at-temple-israel

A child needs happy, loving parents more than anything else. They also deserve to feel comfortable with their own identity. We’ll come together to discuss what parents are currently doing, what they may want to alter and to talk about planning for your child’s religious traditions.

Date: Thursday, November 10
Time: 7:30 – 9:00 pm
Lehrhaus Judaica, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley

Cost: $12 per couple; $8 per person. No one turned away for lack of funds.
Register here.

Contact Dawn with cost questions dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org

Posted by admin under Children, Non-Jewish family, Parenting
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emanu-els-dome-horizontal

Here’s autumn! Time to consider what we want to do in the upcoming Jewish year of 5777. Here are all the workshops and classes scheduled from Building Jewish Bridges. I hope you’ll find something you like. As always, feel free to email me (dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org) if you have a topic that you’d like to see offered.

Dawn

The High Holidays…
Do I Want to or Do I Have to?

What is it about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that pulls Jews into the synagogue by the droves? Obligation? Faith? Remembrance? What do these holidays mean? What part do they play in our lives? Should our children miss school to observe these holidays? Join us in a discussion of history and meaning.

Date: Sunday, September 18
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton
www.bethemek.org
Register here

Adults from Interfaith Families: A Roundtable Discussion
Join other adults who grew up in an interfaith family to discuss how that went for you and to consider challenges and desires. Do you think of yourself as Jewish? Half Jewish? Jew-ish? Does it annoy you that other Jews want to put their own label on you? Do you have a comfortable relationship with your Jewish community or not? Come share your insights and suggestions with others who have dealt with similar life situations.

Thursday, September 22
7:30 – 9:00 pm
Lehrhaus Judaica, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Free, please sign up here as we have limited space.

Kim Carter Martinez

Kim Carter Martinez

Being Black, Asian, Danish…and Jewish: Taking Charge of Your Jewish Identity
Adults from interfaith families often have their Jewish identity challenged by both Jews and non-Jews. Having a name that is not perceived as Jewish, like Anderson, Christiansen, O’Toole, or Wong, can lead to questions like, “How did you get to be Jewish?” For biracial Jews the question stems from their appearance, “You don’t look Jewish.”
There are a number of ways that an adult from a biracial or interfaith family can arm themselves for these micro-aggressions. Join Kim Carter Martinez, the biracial daughter of an African American father and a white Ashkenazi mother. Kim has spent years honing her skills and is pleased to teach others how to own your identity in spite of the doubts of others.

Date: Sunday, October 9
Time: 3:00 – 4:30 pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Free, but space is limited so reserve your spot here.

Making Shabbat Your Own
Would you like to start doing Shabbat? Do you need an easy way to start or do you want to take your current observance up a notch? Come learn easy steps to create “your” Shabbat. We’ll tell you how to have warm, homemade challah even if you work until 6pm. How to engage children of all ages. Ways to approach teens or other skeptics in your family. As a bonus, we’ll tell you how one simple ritual can improve your child’s and your health, happiness and wellbeing. No kidding!

Date: Sunday, October 30
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton
www.bethemek.org
Register here.

2gens-cropped

Raising a Confident Child in an Interfaith Family
A child needs happy, loving parents more than anything else. They also deserve to feel comfortable with their own identity. We’ll come together to discuss what parents are currently doing, what they may want to alter and to talk about planning for your child’s religious traditions.

Date: Thursday, November 10
Time: 7:30 – 9:00 pm
Lehrhaus Judaica, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Cost: $12 per couple, $8 per person
Register here.

Double Roots: A Film and Discussion
A young woman with a Jewish mother and a Christian father was raised religiously “nothing.” She was told that “if the Nazis were here, they’d kill you” and that was the extent of her Jewish education. Decades later she went out to learn what others with one Jewish parent had been taught and how their lives were similar or different from her own. When asked, “Why did you make this film of interviews with adults from interfaith families she replied, “I wanted our voices to be heard.”
Please join us to hear these voices as they were interviewed and to hear from some of the interviewees about their lives today.

Date: Thursday, December 1
Time: 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Place: Kehilla Community Synagogue, 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont
Free, please sign up here.

To Tree or Not to Tree: What Will We do for the Holidays?
You may want to decorate a Christmas tree while your partner wants to make latkes. What will work for you as a family? Whether December is your favorite month – full of Christmas cookies and chocolate gelt – or your most dreaded month – material surfeit and cultural overwhelm – you are invited to join this open and supportive discussion on how to handle the December dash.

This year will be especially interesting because the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 4
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton
www.bethemek.org
Register here

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Chanukah, Children, Christmas, High Holidays, Jewish holidays at home, Jews of Color, Parenting, Programs archive, Shabbat
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Shabbat Table3

In the June 2016 column of Mixed and Matched, I responded to a comment from a woman who had experienced what was described in the previous month’s column – having her Jewish authenticity questioned.

I can relate to your May 20 column “My father is Jewish and my mother is not.” My mother and I both had Conservative conversions when I was 9 years old. Still, all my life I’ve heard “You’re really not Jewish since your mother isn’t Jewish.”

I have always led a Jewish life. As an adult, I married and had children with a Muslim man, and both of my girls were raised Jewish. When I taught Hebrew school at my Reform synagogue, the director asked if I felt conflicted about the occupation of Gaza since my husband was Muslim. I told her that I felt conflicted because I am Jewish. She didn’t get it.

I have been divorced for over a decade. My daughters get comments all the time, saying “How strange to have a Jewish mother and a Muslim father.” Since my mother wasn’t born Jewish, I guess it makes my children not Jewish. We just keep living as Jews.
Oh well

***

Dear Oh well: Where to begin? I’m sorry that my column speaks to your life. I hope the day comes when this attitude goes the way of the woolly mammoth. You are a Jew, as is your mother, as are your daughters. Are there some who do not accept Conservative conversion? Yes. There are also people who are vegetarians and others who are carnivores. We are all free to believe what makes sense to us.

However, I find it disturbing that members of your synagogue, including the Hebrew school director, are so ill-informed about the Reform movement’s policies regarding both conversion and patrilineal descent. I am confident that your rabbis would not approve of these remarks. Sadly, many self-identified liberal Jews are not as open as they believe themselves to be.

In regard to the comment made to your daughters, many people are surprised that a Jew and Muslim would marry. But it does happen, even in Israel, and I wish others would stop feeling the need to say something about it. From what you tell me, your girls are happy as Jews and have been able to brush aside the questions and remarks. Good for them!

You raise the issue of “What is a Jewish name?” Two quick points on this challenging matter: Jews have all sorts of names in modern America; we are no longer just Goldsteins and Levines. And when you encounter a Jew whose last name shouts not Jewish, like Christensen or Church, that individual is likely the child of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother. This makes the individual halachically Jewish.

Many have said to me, “But I’m just curious, not malicious.” If you learned of a person whose child had died, would curiosity be a sufficient reason to ask the parent about the circumstances? No. Do not raise topics that are going to cause pain. If you are uncertain of whether a topic is appropriate, err on the side of kindness and don’t.

I brought your concerns to my friend and colleague at Lehrhaus Judaica, Reform Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, who reflected that Jewish tradition teaches the concept of tzniut, usually translated as modesty. He pointed out that it also means privacy and said all Jews could benefit from observing this mitzvah by respecting the privacy of others.

I would encourage you and your daughters to answer invasive questions this way: “I observe the mitzvah of tzniut, so I can’t respond to that.” If your inquisitor is baffled, suggest they query a rabbi who can explain more fully what this means.

I have no quarrel with traditionally observant Jews who believe that only a person born of a Jewish mother or converted by an Orthodox court is halachically Jewish. Within their community they should live and be well. They should also observe tzniut and refrain from talking about the identity of others.

For the rest of us, it’s important to examine our beliefs and be honest about what we think. Do we accept non-Orthodox conversions? Do we accept patrilineal descent? Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah.” It is hard to do, but we need to anyway.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Conversion, Mixed & Matched
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couple's shoes

In my May Mixed and Matched column in the Jweekly I chose to address a question I hear regularly: “My father is Jewish and my mother is not. Where will I be accepted? Where can I go that they won’t quiz me?”

***

Ever since the Reform movement refined its views on so-called patrilineal Jews three decades ago, this has been a pervasive issue, in the liberal movements in particular — how do Jews with one Jewish parent fit into the community? Because Judaism traditionally is passed through the mother, the issue is particularly sharp for those with a Jewish father.

Not so, say many Reform Jews, who rush to tell me what patrilineal Jews should think or do. They say that people with a Jewish father shouldn’t care what others think; they should join a Reform or other non-halachic congregation. These individuals state adamantly and angrily that Jews who don’t accept patrilineal descent must change, must see the future and accept it or die out. They loudly support a person’s right to self-define and to choose how to be Jewish, except, of course, those Jews who choose to self-define and practice differently than they do. In other words: traditionally observant Jews. This derails the entire conversation, while ignoring the feelings of the patrilineals.

What have patrilineal Jews experienced? What do they want? Do they have a sense of what would reassure them? No one has asked about their feelings at all. How sad. We liberal Jews, and I include myself as a Reform affiliated Jew, need to stop lecturing and start listening, really listening — without judgment.

A number of patrilineal Jews have told me they chose to convert. Others told me, “I wish someone had offered to teach me, to guide me, to just tell me about conversion, just say it was an option.” Others have said that they went through a period of worry and reflection before deciding not to convert.

Yet, others have said that they have been hurt even in synagogues that purport to accept patrilineal Jews. “When I say I have one Jewish parent, people immediately ask me which one, and that makes it clear that it matters or they wouldn’t ask.” Several others said that Jews, affiliated and not, upon learning that the Jewish parent is their father, have said, “So you’re not really Jewish.” One individual who had chosen a Reform conversion because she’d been raised Christian had a fellow congregant say, “Wow, you’re so active, even though you’re not really Jewish.”

This Sunday I am moderating a conference in Oakland called “Growing Up Interfaith.” When I asked individuals who had shared their life stories with me to participate, one replied, “I don’t want to speak publicly, because members of my synagogue won’t think I’m really Jewish.”

On the other hand, one might think that at least the matrilineal Jews are fine; having a Jewish mother has given them clear passage into their Jewish identity. Sadly, that is not always the case. For some it’s been relatively easy. But for others, having a last name like Christianson or O’Malley has meant constant questioning.

And then there are ethnic and racial intermarriage issues. Between 15 and 20 percent of Bay Area Jewish families are multiracial. Many of them don’t “look Ashkenazi.” They too face constant questioning.

I’ve interviewed more than 50 adult children of intermarriage over the past four years. Many don’t know where to start the conversation. They talk about the barriers they face and try to sort out just where they want to engage. What would make them feel authentic? There is not one size fits all. Each person has to find his or her community. I encourage them to speak up and tell their rabbi the kinds of messages they are getting.

We can help. We can listen. We can show compassion and sympathy. We can ask how they want to handle their identity and how they want to engage. Then we need to speak up when fellow Jews are insulting — intentionally or unintentionally. Not with words of bitterness, but with calm, firm words that hold a mirror to the speaker. Let’s all become allies, no matter what Jewish movement we claim.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Mixed & Matched
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