A Jewish woman wrote to me asking about how to include something Irish in her wedding to reflect her fiancé’s Irish heritage. Here’s what she asked.

My fiancé and I are starting to plan our wedding for next spring. Neither of us is particularly religious. I’m proudly Jewish and he is Irish and was raised Catholic but doesn’t consider himself Catholic anymore. He is fine with a Jewish wedding and understands that I want to be married by my childhood rabbi. I think we should include something from his side for his parents’ sake. We don’t know what we should be considering. What do you suggest? — Happily Engaged

My reply is here.

Posted by admin under In the News, Non-Jewish family, Weddings
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The bat Mitzvah girl's family

The bat Mitzvah girl’s family

Compassion, generosity, respect and satisfaction are values shared by all religions.
When do they become uniquely “Jewish” and why bother to color values with a particular religion? Because there are ways in which this helps a child identify with and incorporate the values you are seeking to transmit.

Join other parents for a fascinating discussion that combines Jewish teaching and the current Science of Happiness to develop tools to raise a mensch. Warning: you may increase your own menschlichkeit (humanity) too!

Raising a Mensch is 4 sessions; come for one or more.

Dates & Topics:
March 29 Gimme, Gimme, Gimme: Contentment & Tzedakah
Jewish tradition teaches, “Who is rich? Those who are content with their lot.” The marketing culture around us equates contentment with possessions; who ever dies with the most toys wins. How can we establish a family value of tzedakah? How does tzedakah (responsible giving) result in contentment?

April 19 What’s in it For Me: Compassion for Others
The world is sustained by loving-kindness (Pirkei Avot 1:2)
How does being kind to others make us happier and how can we encourage children’s natural tenderness in a tough world?

April 26 I Can’t Get No Respect: Kavod in an Open and Free Society
Who is worthy of honor? The one who honors others. (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
Our culture worships the famous and rich. How can we teach our children to respect those whom we believe are truly of value, like parents and teachers?

May 3 Why Should I Care: Taking Action
Do Not Stand Idly By As Your Neighbor Bleeds. (Pirkei Avot 2:4)
When should one take action? Whether defending a classmate against a bully or stopping to help a lost dog, there are times when we want our children to stand up for justice. But we also want them to be safe. How do share our values, protect our kids and set an example of how to be a good person?

Time: 10:30am to noon
Place: Temple Israel, 3183 Mecartney Rd., Alameda
Cost: Free to Temple Israel members, $25 for the series, $9 per single session (please bring cash or a check.)
To register go here
Co-sponsored by Temple Israel, Building Jewish Bridges and Lehrhaus Judaica.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Jewish Learning, Non-Jewish family, Parenting, Past Programs, Programs archive
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cousins on bema

Planning a b’nai mitzvah is stressful enough if you had one yourself, but if you weren’t raised Jewish it can be truly nerve wracking. There are the questions of how the study process works, timing, sessions, amount to be learned, how to help your child succeed. Then there’s the non-Jewish partner and extended family. How do you include them, make them comfortable, and explain what is going on.
How does a non-Jewish parent participate? What part of the planning do they want to share? What if it’s all on you alone? What role does each parent play during the bar or bat mitzvah? Is this a service or a celebration of one child? Join other wondering parents of all backgrounds as we decipher this life cycle event!

Sunday, February 22, 2015
9:30 – 11:00 am
Temple Sinai

You can call Dawn for more details at 510-845-6420.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Non-Jewish family, Parenting, Past Programs, Programs archive, Synagogues
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Halloween pumpkins

Halloween is the second biggest holiday in America according to KCBS News. Did you know that? I sure didn’t. Yes, I’ve noticed that Halloween has become dramatically more marketable than it was when I was a kid, or even when my own kids were little. Costumes are no longer homemade – with the hobo costume, your dad’s work shirt and some charcoal smudges on your face, being the easiest. Gone are the paper bags, left over from grocery shopping. Now you can buy it all – costumes of all shapes and sizes, yard and house decorations, candy of all sorts, pre-shaped jack o’lantern cake pans, you name it. What does KCBS mean by “second biggest holiday in America”? They mean it generates a huge amount of money. Second only to… well, you know.

On the Jewish calendar we are in the quiet period of no holidays, other than Shabbat, from Simchat Torah to Chanukkah. For American Jews this period may include Halloween and most likely does include Thanksgiving.

What is Halloween? It is Christianity, really Catholicism, absorbing a Pagan holiday. It’s origin is All Hallows Eve.

For the rabbis this has clear and strong Christian and Pagan meanings. So in traditional Jewish homes there would not be a Halloween observance. Many people, Jewish or Christian or atheist, don’t resonate to the religiosity of the holiday and just like it for the candy and dressing up.

Live a life of intention
My first suggestion is that rather than tossing aside the meaning of the holiday and just jumping into the candy, live intentionally.

Learn about the holiday. It has things to teach us about our culture and the cultures of others.

Make a conscious decision to do, or not do, Halloween in your family. Don’t do Halloween “because everybody does.” That’s never a good reason and you don’t want to teach it to your children.

Consider adding Jewish elements to the holiday. Check out these two useful articles here and here for good ideas.

There are Challah-ween events going on around the bay. Here’s an example of one, it was put on by Urban Adamah.

Of course, be safe, be sure that any costumes worn by your children allow for ease of movement and sufficient warmth. Have your kids bring their candy home to show you before then eat it. It is unlikely that there will be anything bad among the goodies but there’s no harm is being sure. Plus, you should monitor the sugar consumption since you probably want them to go to bed without a stomachache.

I wish you a wonderful end of October; don’t forget to have something pumpkin flavored – ice cream, muffins, something!

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Holidays, Non-Jewish family, Parenting
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Christian child

The Christian spouse knows how to ‘do’ Christianity and is supported in this by our American Christian culture, but you may still want to introduce a concept of Jewish heritage to your child. We’ll discuss how to offer the concept of Jewish roots without disrupting your child’s Christian identity.

Also, if your child’s mother is Jewish then your child will be considered Jewish by the Jewish community. What should you tell your child about this belief about them by people they may know very peripherally?

Sunday, Nov. 9
3 to 4:30pm
Peninsula Jewish Community Center, 800 Foster City Blvd., Foster City
Cost: $12 public, $10 to members of co-sponsoring organizations.
Register here.

Cosponsored by Peninsula Jewish Community Center, Peninsula Sinai Congregation, Peninsula Temple Beth El, Peninsula Temple Sholom

Posted by admin under Children, Jewish Culture, Non-Jewish family, Parenting, Past Programs, Spirituality
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How do you tell your parents about the different choices you’ve made? It can be hard to say, we’re raising the kids Jewish. We will/won’t have a Christmas tree. The baby will/won’t be baptized, receive a bris, have a bar mitzvah. What can we tell the non-Jewish grandparents about what is appropriate and how they can be supportive? What do we do with negative Jewish grandparents who rail against raising kids Jewish for a range of reasons?
Join us for a compassionate and practical discussion of parenting and being parented in a multi-generational interfaith family.

Date: Sunday, December 7
Time: 9:30 – 11:00 am
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Free, please RSVP here.

Posted by admin under Grandparents, Non-Jewish family, Parenting, Relationships
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Little White Lie

Let’s Go to the Movies!
Join us for the SF Jewish Film Festival!
BJB is co-presenting Little White Lie
The film runs from 7 to 8:05pm. We’ll go for ice cream afterwards.

Little White Lie tells Lacey Schwartz’s story of growing up in a typical upper-middle-class Jewish household in Woodstock, NY, with loving parents and a strong sense of her Jewish identity — despite the open questions from those around her about how a white girl could have such dark skin. She believes her family’s explanation that her looks were inherited from her dark-skinned Sicilian grandfather. But when her parents abruptly split, her gut starts to tell her something different.

Little White Lie manages to be both a particular family’s story of the price of living in denial, but also raises larger questions for us all: What factors—race, religion, family, upbringing—make us who we are? And what happens when we are forced to redefine ourselves?-Peter L. Stein

Date: Thursday, Aug. 7
Time: 7pm
Place: The New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St, Oakland

Buy your own ticket at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival here.

Read more about this film here.

Posted by admin under Community Activities, Film, Jews of Color, Non-Jewish family, Past Programs
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Bees know their job

Bees know their job

​The ​concept of ‘chosen-ness’ really messes with some people’s minds. Let’s clear it up so we can be productive.

I read a drash​/teaching​ by a friend for the parshah Kedoshim​ (teaching on a section of the Jewish bible)​. He said:

The Parshah of Kedoshim begins with the statement, ​’​You shall be holy, for I, the L‑rd your G‑d, am holy.​’​ This is followed by dozens of mitzvot (Divine commandments) through which the Jew​ ​sanctifies him- or herself and relates to the holiness of G‑d.

I have put in bold the part that held my attention. ​My understanding is that​ ​b​y performing the mitzvot Jews set them​ apart and become holy AS JEWS, not as Christians, not as Sufi, but as Jews.​ Other religious traditions have other rules and understandings of how they are to relate to God’s demands on them. They have their own contract with the Eternal. The mitzvot are the Jews’ contract. This is how I see ‘chosen-ness.’

Thus, every person, every tradition​,​ has been chosen for something. The goal in life is not to worry about what someone else’s job is, but to clarify what YOUR job is. And then do it.

Please don’t waste any energy worrying that someone thinks they are better than someone else. At the end of the day, who cares if they think they are so hot? You are here for one brief shining life. Get to work identifying what you are here to accomplish.

One of my favorite sayings is from Rabbi Tarfon who said, “You are not required to complete the task, nor are you free to desist from it.”

Feeling anxious about this concept? Feel free to email or call me.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Non-Jewish family, Spirituality
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2 interfaith heads

Feeling confident as a Jew can be complicated for individuals with one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent. For people who have a Jewish mother, Jewish law (halachah) is on your side. No matter how you were raised, if you decide you want to identify as Jewish, the Jewish world accepts you. But it may not be that simple for the individual so viewed. A friend of mine wrote in a recent article about her friend, Rose Black, “According to halacha—Jewish law— Poet Rose Black is Jewish because her mother was a Jew. But Black feels confusion and discomfort when people point this out. ‘Although my mother told me I would always be Jewish,’ she says, ‘I felt I could never be Jewish enough to REALLY be Jewish.’”

As another person with a Jewish mother said to me, “I still don’t know all the secret handshakes.” What are those in-group secrets? Things like, knowing a little Hebrew and Yiddish. Understanding internal Jewish jokes. Knowing the assumptions that are made by practicing Jews. Like any subculture, whether Jewish or African American, Chinese or Cuban, the individuals who have lived this culture for decades, perhaps for a lifetime, have internal, unspoken understandings and behaviors. It can feel awkward while one is just learning them.

For the person with a Jewish father, it is more complicated. Jewish law says that having only a Jewish father is not sufficient to make you Jewish. However, the Reform movement recognizes as Jewish those who have a Jewish father and are raised as a Jew, observing Jewish lifecycle events. But, just to complicate things, this is only true of the Reform movement in the United States, so where you live and where you connect with Jewish community impacts how you are viewed.

Confused much? All this variety leaves a lot of room for opinions and positions of all sorts.

If YOU grew up with one Jewish parent I invite you to share your insights and experiences.

I am currently working with Dr. Bruce Phillips on a study of the experience individuals who grew up in an interfaith family. I would love to include your thoughts in the study.
If you’re willing to be interviewed (interviews take 1 to 1.5 hrs) please call Dawn at 510-845-6420 x11 or email
Please call or email ( for details.

Feel free to share this information with friends and family members.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Non-Jewish family
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A Jewish woman marrying a non-Jewish man sent in this angst-ridden question to Boston’s Jewish Journal:

I am marrying into a lovely family that is not Jewish. My family is hosting a dinner to meet the future in-laws. My mother, who prides herself on being a superb cook, is planning to serve all her Jewish specialties. I feel this is literally putting our differences on the table.

You can read the equally angsty replies on their website.

Rather than get to the heart of the question, the ‘helpers’ jump in & answer their assumed questions.
I would have asked, what are your mother’s Jewish specialties? Brisket? Here’s some news, in the south that’s a common dish. Matzah ball soup? Brace your self, pretty much everyone has had it. Chocolate babka? Excuse me; everyone eats chocolate.
I would suggest the hostess find out about food preferences or restrictions. Do you guests eat wheat/gluten? Sugar? Any foods they don’t like – okra, squash, barley?
Why not tell your guests, “My mom is so excited you’re coming! She’d love to make a very special meal. Let me ask you about your dietary needs so she has a chance to shine and you have a good time.” Really, is there any more flattering message than that someone wants to pull out all the stops for you?

Don’t make trouble for yourself. Changes are that most non-Jewish relatives-to-be will be curious, friendly, interested and excited. I’ve had many soon to be in-laws say, “this will be our first Jewish wedding!”

So lighten up. Call me for a different perspective if you find yourself slipping down the worry shoot.

Here are some funny responses I got.

* Wait…the question is whether or not Jewish foods should be served because it will make them think about intermarriage too much? (Jen T)

* With apologies for the profanity, my reaction to this article was OMFG, only all spelled out. She’s gonna alienate the other family by serving unfamiliar food? News flash, Jewish food isn’t really that out there. There are Jewish delis – and even Jewish people! – every where in this country. The mother should cook what she loves to cook, taking into consideration dietary restrictions. And everybody should stop being so dumb as to worry about it.

* Now if the mom invited to dinner a mohel and starts asking the young man pointed questions… That might make everyone feel that religious differences were coming between them! (Tristan S)

* I agree with you and Tristan. Yes to asking about dietary restrictions. But also yes to letting her cook the way she usually cooks for company. It’s a way into talking about things that make for good conversation. Telling her mom the meal can’t be too Jewish strikes me as a fine way to make the religious difference the elephant in the room. The potential–unintended–result is a mother who feels like she’s supposed to make sure she doesn’t seem too Jewish to the in-laws (good luck figuring out what that means), and in-laws who pick up on the discomfort and assume they are the source of it. Yes, the families are from different backgrounds. Acknowledge it. Talk about it. What better way than food to open the door to conversations about family traditions? (Pam C)

* Ok. I’m baffled. Serving brisket, potato kugel and whatever else, could be offensive and culturally insensitive. Really? Does the other family know that this family is Jewish? They are probably either secretly or openly hoping for some good Jewish food!!! Maybe the incoming family is really tired of grammy Hall’s ham and will welcome something culturally specific to JEWS. Or maybe, must maybe, she could point out that everyone eats “Jewish” food. Bagels and lox. Those are not all Jews down at Noah’s. I see some non Jews buying challah. (Diane W)

Posted by admin under Grandparents, Non-Jewish family, Parenting, Relationships
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