sukkah with lights on

Another letter from my Mixed and Matched column

Dear Dawn: My friends and family agree with you that the High Holy Days were not the right time to introduce my boyfriend to Judaism. So when is the right time? I don’t want to scare him, but being Jewish is very important to me. I am hoping that he will come to really love it, too, because I think he’s the one. He loves the outdoors. He isn’t into cooking as much as grilling. He has a very sweet dog that he treats very well. He’s a caring guy. We’ve been together for about six months and I’d like to start introducing him to Judaism. What do you suggest I do first? Or even second? — In Love

Dear In Love: What a delightful message to receive. You couldn’t have timed this better because Oct. 4-11 is the wonderful outdoor Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Tradition says that we are to build a sukkah and then live in it for a week. If your boyfriend enjoys making things — does he already own things like a saw, hammer and electric drill? — then you could consider making a sukkah together. It is “just” a three-walled hut with a partial roof. Many years ago, I got directions for construction from a woman at my shul, and my husband, who loves building, happily made us our first sukkah.

If you’re not ready for that, consider buying a kit online. No, it will not be cheap. Think of it like a Christmas tree; it’s at the center of the holiday, gets decorated and (good news) can be taken down and saved for next year. So the cost is one time, unlike a Christmas tree (well, the nonplastic kind, anyway). In recent years, I’ve assembled the kit and it’s pretty simple. Since I live where there’s a significant evening breeze, my husband bolts the sukkah frame to the ground. Yes, my sukkah has completely toppled over! We just put it back, and since then it has been bolted.

Have meals in the sukkah. Sleep in the sukkah; his dog will love it. Or just sit together in the sukkah and watch nature around you — butterflies, bees, birds. It’s better than meditating.

If the thought of building a sukkah is too much for you, then consider using the other parts of the holiday to delight your boyfriend.

This is a harvest festival. Make luscious meals all week; have your boyfriend do some grilling. Invite friends over. Eat outside. Tell your boyfriend the story and the symbolism of the holiday so that he can appreciate our funny little huts as much as any other holiday paraphernalia.

This is a great time to also make Sukkot more fun for you and your extended family. Did you know that the traditional foods of Sukkot (Askenazi or Sephardic) are stuffed foods? That could be zucchini, pumpkins, peppers, grape leaves or other things. You can stuff them with meat, rice, quinoa, textured vegetable protein. Think about what the two of you really love and invent your own special Sukkot dish. It can be the beginning of your own tradition.

Do you have a friend who has a sukkah? Or do you belong to a synagogue that has one? See if you can get over to someone else’s sukkah. If you are going to be a guest: Make a decoration to hang in the sukkah, be it temporary (like a paper chain) or permanent (like a decorative lantern); bring along a fruit-stuffed pie; bring some branches to add to the roof.

After Sukkot, there will be a quiet stretch in the Jewish calendar, but there is always weekly Shabbat. If you don’t currently do anything for Shabbat, why not start? Have some friends over for dinner or have a candlelit dinner the two of you.

Try doing one Jewish thing at each dinner and figure out which ones the two of you most enjoy. Having guests? Lighting candles? Having fresh challah? Reflecting on the past week?

If your boyfriend is feeling that you could be the one, start showing him what life with a Jewish woman is like. Don’t hit him over the head with it, but tell him that you want to share what you love most about being Jewish. Maybe see a Jewish-themed film or play. Play him some music; take him to the Contemporary Jewish Museum or to a local Judaica shop.

Let me know how it goes.

Posted by admin under Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family, Relationships, Sukkot
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Mask & Linda

11 Ideas for Making Non-Jewish Guests Comfortable at Your Seder

Chances are that you’ve had non-Jewish friends over for Passover before. But you may be having someone over that you feel particularly sensitive to – a new date, the parents of a fiancé, a step-child, an adopted child. Here are some tips for making things go smoothly for everyone.

1. Give your guest a basic overview of the Passover story. One easy, accessible way to learn it is to watch the Disney film, Prince of Egypt.

2. Tell your guest what to expect at your Seder. How long will it be, are guests expected to participate, how will kids be engaged? If your practice is for everyone to read parts of the service be sure that your guests are comfortable doing so.

3. Being responsible for a part of the evening makes people feel needed and more at home. Ask your guest to bring a part of the meal. If they cook you can suggest something as simple as hardboiled eggs or give them a recipe. If they don’t cook, they can bring wine or matzah.

4. Pick a haggadah that is accessible. Consider lending your friend a copy ahead of time so they can be familiar with it before the Seder.

5. Explain each step of the Seder and encourage questions from everyone at the table.

6. Make the story of freedom relevant to all by inviting guests to share a struggle that concerns them – whether political, physical or psychological.

7. Have fun and entertaining props at the table from coloring books for little guests to symbols of the ten plagues: plastic insects, cotton balls for hail, finger puppets, and masks. Encourage adults to enjoy them too.

8. Don’t let people get hungry. Provide snacks during the Seder. A tray of fresh vegetables and dip, fresh fruit chucks, hardboiled egg slices, cheese chunks or tree nuts can sustain guests.

9. Consider changing the statement when you open the door for Elijah from “Pour out your wrath” to a blessing written by a rescued child, “Pour out your love on the nations who have known you and on the kingdoms who call upon your name. For they show loving-kindness to the seed of Jacob and they defend your people Israel from those who would devour them alive. May they live to see the sukkah of peace spread over your chosen ones and to participate in the joy of your nations.”

10. Give rewards for participation. Hand out candies or nuts to children and adults who ask questions during the Seder. Let everyone know at the start that questions result in prizes.

11. Create a festive mood. Sing some humorous songs, incorporate Jewish traditions from other countries like, swatting each other with scallions to symbolize the whips of the Egyptians, or put a bowl of water on the floor and have each guest step over it to represent crossing the Red Sea.

Frequently Seders taper off after dessert and don’t make it all the way to the last steps. Consider having a definite close – singing a last song, saying a last blessing. That let’s guests know that they are free to go home. You can always sit and visit longer if no one is too tired.

ONE LAST TIP: Relax. If you’re nervous it will be communicated to those around you. Include friends that make you feel comfortable. Share the workload. Remember that this is a holiday. Don’t run yourself ragged with meal preparation. Invite guests to bring food for your sake as well as theirs.

Posted by admin under Non-Jewish family, Passover
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grandparent

My mother’s father was raised Jewish, and so was his brother. The brother moved to Australia and raised a Jewish family, but my mother’s father gave up the Jewish faith and encouraged his children to adopt the religion of their new country, America. Am I Jewish by birth? There is a Reform synagogue not far from me, but how should I identify myself when I go there?
Am I Jewish?

Dear Am I: This is a complicated question and there isn’t an easy answer. Traditional Jewish law has held that Judaism is passed through the mother. Thus, by traditional Jewish law, you are seen as a person of Jewish heritage but not a Jew.

However, within the U.S. Reform movement, there is an acceptance of patrilineal descent. Official policy says that the child of either a Jewish man or woman who is raised with Jewish lifecycle events and holidays is a Jew. However, neither you nor your parents were raised as Jews.

I believe you could find a rabbi that would accept you as a Jew with one Jewish grandfather, but be prepared: This is not a mainstream belief and you will have challenges due to your lack of Jewish memories and practices. It is very common for Jews to ask one another things like, “Where were you bar mitzvahed?” “Did you go to Jewish summer camp? Where?” “You live in Berkeley? Which shul do you go to?” “Do you know the Abramsons?”

These questions are not meant to embarrass or probe, but rather to establish connections. It is commonly referred to as “playing Jewish geography.” However, for you, it would come out early in this game that you don’t have any Jewish markers. At that point, you may be told, quite casually, “Oh, so you’re not really Jewish.”

If you choose to simply “join in” with a synagogue that accepts you as Jewish, do talk to your rabbi about how to handle these questions. Or give me a call and we can chat about it.

What I have seen over the years is that people with Jewish heritage who did not receive a Jewish upbringing often profit by going the route of conversion.

First, you will you receive the education that you missed out on.

Also, you’ll make a formal commitment to being a Jew and cast your lot with the Jews. In effect, you’ll be drawing a line that says, “That was then. This is now.”

Plus, you’ll have something tangible to prove you are a Jew: the certificate of conversion and your educational process. Moreover, the conversion process takes at least a year, and in that time you’ll work closely with your rabbi, creating an opportunity to become close and to have a special bond with him/her. You’ll grow in confidence and be personally guided by your rabbi, and I can’t tell you how many good things come from this.

Are you thinking you would like to reclaim your Jewish heritage? Before you simply tell a rabbi, “I want to be a Jew,” you should know what that means. I suggest you read a book on basic Judaism, talk to any Jewish friends, talk to your Jewish family members if you can. Best of all, consider taking an Introduction to Judaism class. A class will give you a deeper knowledge of a very complex religion. If you decide not to be Jewish, at least you’ll better understand your great uncle and his family.

If you feel you are ready to go speak to a rabbi, do. It will be helpful if you can articulate why you think you want to be Jewish, and why now.

I must also ask: How old are you? If you are underage you won’t be able to convert without your parents’ support of the idea. In fact, some rabbis will turn you away until they believe you are of an age and have enough life experience to make this life-changing decision.

While switching from one religion to another has become relatively common in the United States, it is taken seriously by Judaism. The reason is that Jewish tradition teaches that once a Jew, always a Jew. So if you find that you don’t want to be Jewish in a few years, according to Jewish law, you will be responsible for the same level of Jewish practice anyway.

Many Jews may not take Jewish law (halachah) seriously, but more observant Jews and certainly clergy do. So they are trying to protect you from yourself. Good luck.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family
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I received this question sent to my Mixed and Matched column.
This isn’t a common question, but it is not unheard of either. Sometimes the adult child of an interfaith couple wants to feel they are part of both their parents and they want others to reflect their choice.

My father is my Jewish parent. I was raised with Hanukkah, Christmas, Easter and usually we had a Seder. Neither of my parents cared about religion and they never told me I was any religion. I want to call myself Christian AND Jewish and be recognized as such by my Jewish friends. But I can’t get them to use that phrase. What can I do to change them?

Dear Half and Half,

My mother, an attorney, used to say, “You can call yourself Mickey Mouse as long as you pay your bills.” In other words, you have the right to call yourself whatever you like. The trouble comes when others don’t go along with you. In this case, it isn’t just that your friends don’t believe that you are both Christian and Jewish, it’s most likely that they don’t believe in the concept of being both, period.

What you want is for your friends to believe in an identity called, “Christian and Jewish,” and then apply it to you.

I suggest you make a list of what makes you “Christian and Jewish.” Is it simply because your parents are those two identities? Or do you practice particular Christian and Jewish rituals that you see as imbuing you with both religious identities? What are your theological beliefs? Do you see Jesus as divine? Have you studied the religious teachings of either faith? Do you agree with one or the other’s theology? Or do you see your identity as cultural because you are observing holidays from both traditions?

I’m suggesting you make this list so that you can be clear in your own mind as to what creates and sustains the identity you want to claim.

H&H, annoying as it can be, there are times when we can’t change the beliefs of others. You could certainly talk with your friends about your differences. Perhaps the conversation would be enlightening for all of you. But please remember that, just as you have a right to believe in a particular identity, your friends have the right to not believe in it. It is terribly hard when we have core belief differences from those we love and respect. You are touching on a central issue that comes up for interfaith couples – really wanting to be in agreement with the people who are important to us. From what you describe, neither of your parents cared deeply about their religion. So you have grown up in a home that did not put an emphasis on religion or religious/cultural identity. You are now coming into contact with people who have a greater attachment to religious identity.

For Jews, who are constantly worried about dwindling numbers and assimilation into the dominant culture, it is unlikely you will find many Jews who accept your self description.

You must ask yourself, can I just be happy in my own head; can I be content with my personal conviction that I am half and half? If yes, then you’re good to go.

If not, are you seeking the affirmation that comes from being accepted by a community? You have a much better chance of being seen as half and half in a Christian community that in a Jewish one. Since Judaism is typically seen as the parent of Christianity by many Christians a number of churches will be comfortable with your self description. They are likely to say something about Jesus being Jewish.

However, Christianity for many centuries and in many places today, sees itself as updating or replacing Judaism. It is the New Testament, come to replace the “Old Testament,” the Hebrew scriptures. So Jews are likely to be sensitive to your statement that you are both. You will be asked essentially to, pick a team.

To join any group of people means compromise. If you want to be a citizen who can legally drive a car, you have to abide by the rules of the road. If you want to pick Judaism and be part of a synagogue or other Jewish communal institution you will have to compromise. There are a few very liberal synagogues where you could get by but you are likely to be challenged by someone, Jewish or Christian, when you claim to be half and half in a Jewish environment. You could consider being just Jewish or just Christian.

Only you can determine which will be most satisfying to you. Feel free to call me. We can go over your list. Maybe there are some answers there.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Jewish Culture, Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family
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Oneg Shabbat

Oneg Shabbat

Another question sent to my Mixed and Matched column in the Jweekly.

My husband is Jewish; I’m not. This is a second marriage for both of us, and we raised our kids within our own religions. My husband attended synagogue as he was raising his children, but I never had a religious community. I guess I was sort of Christian because everything around me was. Now I’m attracted to the community that Judaism has. I’m not saying I want to convert; I just want my husband to be part of the community and take me. Any suggestions to get him to go to synagogue?
— Missed Out on Community

Dear Missed Out: This is tough, because you feel like you want something that your husband “owns” and to which you have no access on your own. Frankly, it is probably impossible to sit at home with your husband and coax him into wanting to go to synagogue. I suggest that you explore Jewish community on your own. Carved into the walls of an Oakland synagogue are the words, “My house shall be a house of worship for all people.” You, all by yourself, are welcome to enter a synagogue.

First, I want you to make a list of the things you believe you’d get from participating in Jewish community. Get it clear in your own head so you can talk about it with confidence and ease.

I suggest you then make an appointment with a rabbi at a synagogue near you. Go in and explain your situation to her. Using your list, tell her what it is you’d like to get out of being in a Jewish communal setting. For example: a place to celebrate holidays, a class to learn more about Judaism, new friends, a place to act on your social responsibilities, a place to “belong,” a place to pray, people to turn to in times of trouble.

Everything I’ve just listed can be had as a non-Jew, even without joining the synagogue. A lovely Christian minister used to attend my synagogue’s services because she wanted a place to pray without being in charge. Another woman joined the synagogue’s young adults email group so that she could make friends, be invited for holidays and have a group of people who care about her. She has no intention of converting; she just likes being part of the community. You could do what these women have done and just hang out with the Jews.

What will happen next? You could find that you have been wearing rose-colored glasses and Jewish community isn’t what you really want. Then you could take your list and look into churches. Or you could find that you loved participating with your new circle of friends and get so involved with them that you don’t feel the need for your husband to be there, too. Or you could have such a good time that your husband gets curious and decides to give Judaism a second look.

It may be that your husband has always seen being Jewish as a responsibility — one that he had to uphold by going to services, sending his kids through Hebrew school and making monetary donations. He may have never really felt any personal satisfaction or joy from being Jewish and practicing Judaism. If you start having fun, enjoying holiday gatherings, meeting friends at services, joining the synagogue book group or classes, he may be drawn to your activities. If he isn’t, at least you won’t be depriving yourself of the benefits of communal life, the sense of belonging.

First steps: Make your list of expectations and desires. Look online at the synagogues in your area. Peruse their websites to get a feel for what they offer. Call synagogues and ask for an appointment with the rabbi. Also, mention to the person answering the phone that you’d like to receive their e-newsletter. Start combing through the newsletters you receive to see what you’d enjoy.

You may be feeling shy at the very thought of taking these steps. You can call me and I’ll match you with a member of one or more shuls near you. Also, when you meet with the rabbis, you can ask them if they have any goodwill ambassadors who would be willing to sit with you at services or Torah study or a class.

Once you are going to events and on the rabbi’s radar, the rabbi will steer you toward people who will help you in your exploration.

Posted by admin under Community, Finding a Synagogue, Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family
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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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colored-pencils-pixabay-horizontal

Yes, being different is a fine thing to be

I received this question to my column, Mixed and Matched:

I’ve heard people say that Jews shouldn’t refer to people who aren’t Jewish as “non-Jews.” Is that really a pejorative term? What should one say? Many of my non-Jewish friends don’t have a religion at all. I’ve seen researchers refer to people who have no religion as “nones,” but that sounds ridiculous.
— Want to Be Appropriate

Dear Want to Be Appropriate: I’m so glad you asked this question! Most of the people who are disturbed by the term “non-Jew” are Jews who have decided to attribute a negative overtone to the word. Frankly, I think it’s a fine word. I work with couples in which the non-Jewish partner is Hindu, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, etc. Some are atheists and would be most upset to have anything having to do with religion attributed to them. What do all these people have in common? They aren’t Jewish! And that’s about it. Some are Chinese Buddhists, some are African American agnostics, some are French Catholics and so on. Their common ground is not being Jewish.

Does adding “non” make a descriptor instantly negative? I say no. I’m rather fond of many such terms; my favorite is nonviolent, though there are plenty more: nonsmoker, nonabrasive, nonpoisonous, nonfattening, nonaddictive. So I can’t accept that something that is “non” is necessarily bad. It may be quite good.

Why do some Jews get bent out of shape by the term? Sadly, many of those people are working out some of their own issues. They want to be seen as “nice, open, welcoming.” It is really about their own sense of self. Am I a good person? Do interfaith couples like me? Am I seen as one of the good guys?

A great way to be the good guy is to have a bad guy to attack. The attackers have written articles and given talks with righteous indignation condemning the use of the term. I’m always suspicious of righteous indignation. Very few people use it for the good of others. If a word is truly pejorative, like shiksa, one should certainly take the speaker aside and ask, “Do you know what that word means?” They should be enlightened, but there is no need to get righteous about it — unless you simply want to aggrandize yourself and humiliate that person.

I note also that people who aren’t Jewish do not react to the word unless they are told to. Giving people a reason to feel that others are disparaging them is a terrible thing to do.

I had a Catholic woman call me and say, “Interfaith! I’m in an interfaith marriage! I finally found out what to call it so I look for resources.” The number of non-Jews married to Jews in America is a tiny portion of the population. Jews make up about 2 percent of American society. Even if half of them are married to non-Jews, that means only 1 percent of Americans make up this “non-Jewish” part of the Jewish community. It’s easy to see why the caller was having trouble finding resources.

I do agree that the most appropriate way to refer to someone is by who they are. So if you know someone is a Methodist, it is proper to call them that. If a person is an atheist or agnostic, you can use those terms. This doesn’t mean that any of us needs to ask the religion of everyone we meet in synagogue. If it comes up, fine, but no layperson has a need-to-know situation over the oneg.

Identifying the role of non-Jews in Jewish environments is very important and I urge every Jewish group or synagogue to be transparent about their policies. In any religious environment, it may be that there are activities performed only by the members of that religious community. It is so much more welcoming for a non-Jewish person to know right from the website just what they are permitted to do. Imagine walking into a Muslim religious service and wondering, “Is it appropriate for me to do what everyone is doing? Or is that insulting?”

The most important thing we all can do is simply use good manners.

Posted by admin under In their own words, Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family, Synagogues
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This common question for this time of year came to me via my Mixed and Matched column in the Jweekly.

Congregation Emanu-el, San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-el, San Francisco

I am getting serious about my boyfriend (who is not Jewish) and I want him to understand what’s important to me about being Jewish. I’m thinking that this year I should take him with me to High Holy Day services. Chabad has free services and I was always treated kindly by the Chabad rabbi on my college campus, so I thought about going there. I was raised Reform; do you think I’ll be able to follow the traditional service and explain it to my boyfriend?
Wondering

My reply:

Dear Wondering: I appreciate your growing awareness that your boyfriend deserves to know more about what Judaism is and especially what it means to you. However, starting with the High Holy Day services is really pushing him into the deep end of the pool. I don’t recommend it.

In the 20-plus years I’ve been working with interfaith couples, I’ve seen exactly two people, both practicing Christians, who liked High Holy Day services. Two!

If you have grown up going to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, you are acclimated to the length of the service, the language and the atmosphere. But for your boyfriend it is utterly unknown and probably uncomfortable. The liturgy is unique; so is the music. The intention is to jolt Jews into a heightened state of awareness. Additionally, the reference to sins is heard by most Jews as “missed the mark,” but to most people raised in American culture, it can sound like the precursor to a quick trip to hell.

I suggest you take your boyfriend to a regular Shabbat service. At this time of year, many synagogues have outdoor services or services that include a picnic dinner or lots of music. Since you were raised Reform, I suggest you help him get familiar with a Reform environment. That is going to be most comfortable for you, and your comfort level will significantly influence his.

I would not recommend a Chabad or Orthodox service as his first experience because, for one, you would be sitting on opposite sides of the mechitza, which would preclude you from sharing a prayerbook and explaining things. Additionally, there are parts of a traditional Shabbat service that the Reform movement has deleted, so you too would be a bit confused.

I understand the concern about the cost of High Holy Day tickets, and I have a few suggestions. Rosh Hashanah starts the evening of Oct. 2. A couple of weeks before the holidays, this newspaper will print a long list of free services in the area (last year’s list at http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/75582 could give you a lead). Additionally, look at websites of Reform synagogues near you; many have lower prices for students, military and young adults. Or feel free to call me at (510) 845-6420 ext. 11; I can help you find options near you.

I also want to reflect on this idea you’ve formed: wanting your boyfriend to understand what is important to you about being a Jew. This is very important and he deserves to know. And you are doing the right thing by making this effort.

I want to you to consider the best way to go about assisting him. First, it is best if you and he learn together. Don’t make this a job for him with you as boss. Look for a basic Judaism class that you could attend together. Since most adult Jews haven’t studied Judaism since their teens, you’ll find yourself able to take in more of the details and the subtleties of Jewish history, practice and theology.

Many synagogues offer basic courses, and certainly Lehrhaus Judaica offers classes throughout the Bay Area, including an online option if you are located far afield.

Should you take him to services? Yes! But go easy. Find a service that is a bit shorter and has a lot of music. And, if you can, go with friends. Also, prepare a Shabbat dinner at home for him. Explain the elements of Shabbat at home. Demonstrate how Judaism is, in fact, a home-based religion. It is likely that the Jewish activities you will want him to do with you are home-based: Shabbat, Hanukkah, Passover. Have fun and be prepared to do this together.

Posted by admin under Couples, High Holidays, Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family, Relationships, Rosh Hashanah
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child-baptism medium

A message from a young woman soon to be a mother sent to my Mixed and Matched column in the J-weekly.

I was raised Catholic but no longer practice. I’m pregnant and happy to raise my children Jewish, and my husband and I belong to a Conservative synagogue. We plan to take our baby to the mikvah. My mom wants the baby to be baptized even though she knows we plan to raise our baby Jewish. Mom says it’s not that big a deal, and why can’t I just do it? Also, I don’t see myself as Jewish now, but what if at some point I do? — Anxious mom-to-be

Dear mom-to-be: If it really weren’t that big a deal, your mother could let go of it. Ask her to tell you why it matters to her.

If your mother fears that your child will not be saved, you should encourage her to speak to her priest, as the Catholic Church has been moving toward accepting the Jews as a covenantal people.

If she fears that Jews go to hell, let me offer a lovely paper written by the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations. In “A Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People,” the scholars ask whether God would revoke a promise and conclude that the answer is no. Therefore, they determine, the covenant between God and the Jews remains intact, valid and eternal. Because the Jews are in a “saving covenant with God,” it means they are not going to hell. You can find the paper online.

If your mother’s desire is more of a gut reaction because this is how she was raised and how she sees the world, you will need to address her claim that this isn’t a big deal. It is obviously one to her, and she needs to understand that it is also a big deal to you and your husband.

Baptism is the ritual that officially says a person has entered the body of the Catholic Church. It is the wrong ritual for a child who will grow up as a member of the Jewish people.

Try to help your mom see that baptism, circumcision, receiving a Hebrew name and other religious acts performed to welcome a baby are in fact very important. The rituals that parents choose are a declaration of who their child is and the foundation of the child’s religious identity. Birth rituals affirm a baby’s entrance into a spiritual community. In return, that community accepts the responsibility of caring for the child.

Here’s another way to think about it: Is this ritual important enough to take pictures? Typically people have photos of their babies and family at christenings, brises, baptisms and namings. These photos are shown to children as they get older and explained as important moments in their lives. The pictures we use to fill our photo albums or display in our homes reveal what we value. Doing both ceremonies reduces the status of each. Hopefully your mother can see that for your child’s sake, one message is easier.

If she is worried that her grandchild will not understand her and her religion and therefore will not be close to her, please reassure her that this is not the case. Children naturally attach to grandparents based on love. Also, her grandchild will be raised in America, where Christianity is the dominant religion; there is no way the child will not come to know about it.

Additionally, this is a good time to discuss with your husband which holidays your family will share with your parents. I encourage you to include them in all of your Jewish celebrations and to identify elements from their tradition that will be shared with your child.

Finally, you mention that you might someday want to be Jewish. Indeed, that may happen. Have you given your mom subtle messages about this? Could her fear be more about losing you? If so, lavish some extra time on your mother.

If you are simply acknowledging that anything can happen — I say, time will tell. If someday you want to be Jewish, discuss this with your rabbi and other Jews by choice. Those who have chosen this path can help you figure out how and what to say to your mother.

Posted by admin under Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family, Parenting
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image from zazzle.com

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Sometimes it is hard to put words to an idea. The idea of loving one’s own faith tradition and also finding value in other traditions is an idea we commonly discuss. But what does that really look like? Is there a simple way to explain it to children? Or to our parents? I came across a wonderful statement from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. In his book, The Dignity of Difference, he writes about a model of truly seeing beauty in another’s faith and expresses it this way, “It would be like being secure in one’s home, yet moved by the beauty of foreign places, knowing that they are in someone else’s home, not mine, but still part of the glory of the world that is ours.” I like it – especially because it is so concrete. Kids need this kind of clear language when we talk to them about the religions that other members of our families practice. The description can even apply to our atheist and agnostic relatives.

I encourage you to talk to your children about the religious “home” in which they are being raised and to be affirming of other traditions that are a part of your family. For a child, you can also relate the idea to “their room” vs. other rooms in the house. You can express it like this, “Your room is where you sleep and keep your own things. We, your parents, have designated that this is yours while you live here at home. Other rooms, like Mom’s study, may be just for her and the living room is shared. When you grow up and leave, you’ll make choices about where to live and how to live.”

Trust me, parents, your children will indeed determine where and how they will live. Don’t worry that you are “forcing” a tradition on them. You are giving them a foundation. Just as you have made choices different from your own parents, your children will differ from you. For now, under your roof, it is your job to give them the foundation that leads to confidence and that confidence will help them to ultimately make choices that are true to themselves.

Posted by admin under Community Activities, Non-Jewish family
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