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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New Year Secular urj

We are delighted to offer a couple of special programs for Jews by Choice. Anyone is welcome to both of these. You don’t need to be a convert to attend.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Conversion to Judaism
Join a panel of Jews by choice and Rabbi Delson to learn all about conversion! Have you had questions like:
why do some people convert?
What changes in their lives?
What is the process of converting?
How do single people who convert integrate into Jewish community?
Is it harder for people of color to convert?
Are there things I should never ask of or say to a person I think is a convert?

Date: Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016
Time: 9:15am to 10:45am
Peninsula Temple Sholom, 1655 Sebastian Dr., Burlingame
Cost: $5 public; free to members of PTS and those working with the PTS rabbis.
Sign up here

This program is aimed at Jews by Choice but much of what will be discussed is applicable to interfaith families who are trying to figure out end of life choices. You are welcome to come and learn about Jewish mourning and burial practices.

Death and Mourning for the Jew by Choice
At some point we all lose loved ones. The person who has converted to Judaism will eventually be faced with mourning a non-Jewish relative. What is appropriate behavior for a Jewish mourner who has lost a non-Jewish loved one? What are the options for dealing with funeral masses, “visitations” at funeral homes, and the funeral itself? What about Jewish mourning practices, shiva and sheloshim? The potential for isolation is great, but certainly isolation is not what Jewish tradition seeks for a mourner!

A member of an interfaith family may have some of the same questions. How do I honor my loved one yet find comfort for myself?

Join Rabbi Ruth Adar for a two session class that is open to anyone interested in grieving in a multi-faith family with a special focus on how a Jewish convert may honor their non-Jewish loved ones and their own feelings and adopted tradition.

The first session will meet at Temple Sinai and will address the basics of Jewish mourning. The second session will be in a private home in San Leandro where Rabbi Adar will model a home observing shiva. Students will be able to ask hands on questions, to see and hold the objects associated with shiva.

Feb. 4 and 11
7:30 to 9pm
Temple Sinai and a private home in San Leandro
Cost: $15
Sign up here.

Posted by admin under Conversion, Death & Mourning, Jewish Learning, Life Cycle, Programs archive
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It is common in Jewish parlance to say that someone is “having” or “getting” a bar mitzvah. But it doesn’t really work that way.

I love Rabbi Milder’s article on this topic. He covers it while talking about celebrating bar/bat mitzvah as adults. Here’s what he has to say.

Rabbi Milder

Rabbi Milder

Let’s talk about Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

No one really “has a Bar Mitzvah.” No one gets “Bat Mitzvahed.”

When a Jew turns 13, s/he becomes Bar (son) or Bat (daughter) Mitzvah (of the Commandment.) A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is one who has reached the age of majority in Judaism, the age at which the obligations of Jewish life kick in. No ceremony is required, and there is no transitive verb, “to Bar Mitzvah” someone.

On the other hand, being prepared to fulfill one’s Jewish responsibilities, and having the skills to execute one’s prerogatives as a Jewish adult, is a function of learning. At the age of 13, a Jew counts in the Minyan, the quorum required for Jewish prayer. That doesn’t make him/her competent to lead prayer. You don’t need to be a rabbi to lead prayer, but you do need to know how.

Similarly, the privilege of reading from the Torah is an honor that we grant those who have mastered a certain level of Hebrew, and trained in the art of cantillation. Chanting Torah is a beautiful skill, acquired through significant learning and practice.

That’s why we ask our children to study for years before they turn 13, so that they will be prepared to do what any adult Jew ought to be able to do: lead their congregation in worship, read from the Torah, and teach the meaning of Torah.

Of course, not all Jewish adults have those skills. Many of us never went to religious school, or never trained to be a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or were not Jewish when we were teenagers.

But it is never too late to learn.

You can continue reading about adult b’nai mitzvot here.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Life Cycle, Synagogues
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Sometimes it’s easier to learn about something by watching a video. That can be especially true when the thing you are learning about is a sensitive topic. G-dcast has created a number of videos addressing elements of Jewish life. This one, on Jewish mourning practices, covers the basic issues that you will encounter in regard to a death and mourning.

A Jewish Guide to What To Expect at Shiva, and How to Help Your Friend in Mourning

G-dcast Guide to Mourning (2)

Posted by admin under Death & Mourning, Jewish Culture, Life Cycle
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bare-bottom-babies- from essential baby com au

Today I want to talk about an intimate, yet very common, human body part – the penis — which really means, let’s talk about circumcision.

A true story from the mother of a high school age boy
When my son was in middle school he decided he wanted to go to a Jewish summer camp with three of his close friends. My son is extremely private and was worried about showering and dressing in a strange place that might not offer his preferred level of privacy. My husband and I talked to him about other camp experiences we’d had as a family. For example, there is a public bathhouse at Yosemite, but each shower has a tiny, private room where you put your dry clothes. Reassured, off he went.

When he returned two weeks later and descended the bus with a suntanned face and a big smile, we were eager to hear about his experience at camp. From the back seat he described adventures, counselors, hikes, rivers and more. Finally I asked him, “how did the showering work out?”

“Mom,” he replied soberly, “it was one big open room with shower heads all around. I walked into a room full of penises.”

My husband isn’t Jewish but he is circumcised so we never even discussed circumcision, we just did it. What popped into my head was, what would it have been like for an uncircumcised Jewish boy to walk into a ‘room full of penises’ and to look different from all the other boys?

The question of circumcision
The reasons a parent chooses NOT to circumcise can range from a fear of it causing physical or mental pain (no medical studies have born this theory out), to a disinterest in Jewish tradition, to the desire to have a boy look like his uncircumcised father.

The decision TO circumcise often comes from a primal place for Jews. It is the mark of the covenant, proof that the parents have committed their child to being a Jew. This practice is said to be the oldest continuously observed religious ritual in civilization. Secondarily, all medical studies have shown tremendous health benefits, so much so that many countries have adopted the practice to save lives.

When considering whether or not to circumcise a boy that will be raised Jewish, it is important to think about how your choice will impact the boy’s life and how you will live with which ever choice you make.

It is normative to be circumcised as a male Jew. An uncircumcised boy will look different in a Jewish locker room. An uncircumcised male will be considered not able to approach the Torah in traditional Jewish settings. For the boy in this situation, he doesn’t have to drop his pants for anyone, but he will know in his own head that he is not circumcised. So it is important that you discuss your reasoning with your son. Begin when he starts noticing his penis. Be casual. If his father is uncircumcised you can say, “You’re like Daddy” or “We wanted you to look like Daddy.” If you didn’t circumcise for personal moral reasons or for fear of inflicting pain, use I statements. Chances are he will know other boys, perhaps family members, who will be circumcised and you don’t want him to start worrying about them. “Your mom and I didn’t want to do anything that we thought could hurt you so we didn’t have you circumcised.” “We don’t believe in doing anything to a baby. We think a baby is perfect as he is. So we decided not to circumcise you.” (This explanation works even if Dad is circumcised.)

Halachically, the responsibility to circumcise belongs to the parents; however the boy is responsible in adulthood to become circumcised if his parents didn’t. Some young men decide to go get them selves circumcised. If your son makes this decision, be supportive. Think of it like a tattoo or a piecing. “It isn’t want we wanted to be responsible for doing, but if you want to do it, then we support you.”

If you are raising your son as a Jew, don’t be dismissive of Jewish law. You can state that, while much of Jewish law holds beauty and meaning for you, this particular act does not.

Interfaith couples have an additional aspect to address. What does NOT circumcising your son mean in regard to his being a Jew? What does it mean to the non-Jewish parent?

A liberal rabbi told me that she had initially been happy to performed non-circumcision welcoming ceremonies for boys of interfaith parents. However, she found that in multiple cases conflict arose around raising these boys as Jews. A number of non-Jewish parents told her, “When my spouse decided to forego circumcision for our son I knew he/she wasn’t really serious about raising him Jewish.” The rabbi noted that in these cases it was the non-Jewish person who saw circumcision as the symbol of Jewish identity. That said, it is important that Jewish parents in interfaith relationships who choose not to circumcise be very clear about what they do mean by “raising our son as a Jew.” Does that mean joining a synagogue? Sending the boy to Hebrew school? Will he be expected to have a bar mitzvah? How will your home support his identity – will you go to synagogue with him? Will you observe Shabbat? Which Jewish and non-Jewish holidays will you practice?

Have a detailed and frank discussion with your partner. Make an appointment to talk to a rabbi. Be sure you BOTH have all the information you need in moving forward together. If you want non-clergy help, give me a call.

Posted by admin under Life Cycle, Parenting
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sun on graves

Where and how will each of us be buried?

I’ve been asked how to plan for a funeral in an interfaith family. What things should be taken into consideration in order to plan for that inevitable day when one spouse must bury the other? Can the non-Jew be buried in a Jewish cemetery? Who will do the service? What can non-Jewish clergy do in a Jewish cemetery? I have a friend who is a Jewish funeral director, so I sent her this question:

Dear Robin,
I would like to send out information to my interfaith couples about when, where and how a non-Jewish spouse can be buried in a Jewish cemetery with the Jewish partner. Could you send me a brief description for bay area couples?

Robin’s answer:
First, the general picture. The majority of Bay Area Jewish cemeteries do allow burial of a non-Jewish spouse next to the Jewish spouse. There may be some restrictions. For example, if a non-Jewish spouse dies before the Jewish spouse, the cemetery may require purchase of two adjacent graves–one for the Jewish spouse and one for the non-Jewish spouse–at the same time. They want to ensure that a non-Jew is buried there only if married to a Jewish spouse
Many Bay Area Jewish cemeteries have one or more sections for Orthodox congregations or individuals. Burial in that section may be controlled by a particular congregation (e.g. the Adath Israel section at Eternal Home Cemetery in Colma), or a group of Orthodox rabbis (e.g. the B’nai Emunah section at Gan Shalom Cemetery near Orinda). To be buried in that section, the deceased must be Jewish according to Orthodox law. The deceased must also meet Orthodox burial requirements–e.g. use a”kosher” casket, have tahara done (Jewish purification ritual), be dressed in tachrichim (Jewish burial garments), the grave is completely filled before the participants leave the cemetery, etc. A non-Jewish relative–spouse, sibling, child–would not be allowed burial in such a section
One Bay Area Jewish cemetery, Home of Peace in Oakland, is an entirely Orthodox property. It does not allow burial of any non-Jew on its property.
A Jewish funeral home will certainly know local cemeteries’ policies for interfaith couples and can advise the family before or after a death occurs. Calling the cemetery directly is just as effective, though staff at one cemetery may not know the policies at other cemeteries.
The Bay Area’s Jewish cemeteries (or inter-denominational cemeteries with a separate Jewish section) are generally more liberal than Jewish cemeteries in the Midwest or on the East Coast.

Steps to avoid future problems:

1. Every couple (interfaith or not) should have an open discussion about each partner’s burial wishes–are there other family members already buried at a particular cemetery? Is it essential that the partners be buried side-by-side at the same cemetery? Who should officiate at each person’s funeral? Do both partners plan to have a traditional ground burial, or might the non-Jewish spouse prefer cremation or placement in an above-ground crypt?

2. Before buying burial space, find out the cemetery’s policies about interfaith couples. Under what circumstances can a non-Jewish spouse be buried there? Must the couple buy two adjacent plots at the same time?

3. Ask the cemetery for a copy of its Rules and Regulations. A Jewish cemetery will probably limit the inscription permitted on a marker to traditional Jewish symbols only (Star of David, menorah) and prohibit other religious symbols (cross, angel). Jewish cemeteries will usually prohibit use of non-Jewish clergy to lead a burial service if the prayers, rituals, etc. are used from another religion.

4. Consult a funeral director before services are needed. You may want to have pre-need arrangements in place so each partner’s wishes are clearly stated in writing, to avoid future conflict within the family. Prepayment is not required, just a visit to a funeral home.

Dawn to Robin: I have one question about non-Jewish clergy – can you have a priest if he doesn’t say any Christian prayers? What would he be doing; just attending?

Robin’s answer:
An excellent question. I’ll give you an example.
I directed a service at a non-denominational cemetery for a man who had a living, non-Jewish spouse. The wife wanted her Unitarian minister to officiate. For Sinai Memorial Chapel to serve this family, she could use the minister to conduct the service but not with non-Jewish prayers, rituals, etc. So the minister led a generic service–no pall over the casket with a cross or anything, no mention of Jesus, no holy water sprinkled on the casket, no traditional Christian prayers. He wore a plain suit, not a minister’s robe or priest’s collar. He used the 23rd psalm because it’s used in both faiths and gave a wonderful eulogy.

To summarize, here’s what the non-Jewish clergy CAN do:
o offer the eulogy
o lead prayers which do not refer to Jesus, heaven, etc.

Here’s what non-Jewish clergy CANNOT DO:
o wear clerical robes of another faith
o say prayers of another faith which conflict with Jewish faith, e.g. Hail Mary, the Lord’s Prayer
o use symbols of another faith, e.g. casket pall with a cross

More information from specific branches of Judaism read these articles online.
Reform Judaism
Conservative Judaism
Modern Orthodox Judaism

Posted by admin under Death & Mourning, Life Cycle
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Sunday at the Pride Parade Keshet organized the synagogues to march together. There was LOTS of gaiety and exuberance. Rabbis around the bay are encouraging their LGBT members to give them a call and set a date for their wedding. Looking for a rabbi to officiate at your LGBT — and interfaith wedding? Give me a call! Dawn at 510-845-6420 x11.

Let the celebrations begin!

Posted by admin under LGBT, Life Cycle, Weddings
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Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community
How can transgender people live Jewish lives when many of their significant life choices might be considered ‘un-kosher’? How do transgender Jews navigate gendered Jewish rituals such as burial and conversion?

Balancing on the Mechitza, winner of a Lambda Literary Award, is an anthology by scholars, activists, theologians and others, both transgender and non-transgender allies, who share their interpretations of classical Jewish texts about ambiguous bodies, as well as their stories of Jewish prayer, ritual, and social life.

Nov. 1
JCC East Bay, Oakland site, 5811 Racine St., Oakland
$7 public; $5 for JCC members
Register here.

Posted by admin under Jewish Culture, LGBT, Life Cycle, Past Programs
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If not now when? NOW is the time to learn and to act so that your last wishes will be fulfilled. NOW is the time to decide questions of end-of-life medical care, the disbursement of your wealth and possessions, plans and funeral arrangements, mourning rituals that will bring comfort to your survivors. Few experiences are more agonizing than trying to intuit or guess the wishes of a loved one. Give yourself and your family and friends a gift by deciding NOW.

We have gathered a panel of experts to present, to give you relevant materials and to answer your questions.

Rabbi Judy Shanks will moderate the seminar and describe the Jewish practice of ethical wills, bequeathing our loved ones advice, wisdom and memories to carry to the next generation and the next.

Dr. Mitchell Tarkoff will review health care directives, how they work and how to ensure they are followed in the hospital, by medical personnel and family members.

F. William Dorband will cover the basics of estate planning, the administration of your wishes, the role of trustees and executors, and the proper and consistent content of personal legal documents.

Dawn Kepler will describe the many unique questions that interfaith couples and families face when making end of life plans.

Susan Lefelstein will review Jewish mourning rituals from the traditional perspective and also describe non-traditional choices some families make with regard to death and burial.

The seminar will include a light lunch.

Please RSVP to Nina Jones at Temple Isaiah (925/283-8575 or so we have enough food for everyone and will have enough copies of all materials.

February 27th, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Social Hall at Temple Isaiah, 3800 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette

For more details look here

Posted by admin under Death & Mourning, Jewish Culture, Jewish Learning, Life Cycle, Non-Jewish family, Past Programs
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Are you not Jewish, but keeping a Jewish home and raising Jewish kids?

Do you have questions about “doing Jewish,” or Jewish home rituals?

Do you have concerns about your child’s coming bar/bat mitzvah?

Has something bothered you or puzzled you in the Jewish community?

Are some (or all) of the holidays confusing?  Or fun, but you still have questions?

Do you practice another religion and wonder how other families balance the demands of multiple religious needs in one home?


Join Dawn Kepler, to discuss the questions and concerns that arise as you navigate your way through an interfaith/intercultural life.


Dates:   Sundays, March 7 and March 21 (2 meetings)

Time:    7:00-8:30pm

Place:   Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto

Cost:    $20/member, $25/non-member of the Palo Alto JCC


To sign up contact:

Cody Schaffner

Family Connections Coordinator

Phone: (650) 223-8788

Posted by admin under Couples, Holidays, Jewish Learning, Life Cycle, Past Programs
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