Trang & Ron from behind (resized)

Another question from my Mixed and Matched column in the J-Weekly.

I’m a 26-year-old Conservative Jew and celebrate the major Jewish holidays, although I’m not terribly religious. I’ve been dating a Korean girl who is Catholic but also not very religious. We are getting serious and I’m scared. I do love her, she’s my best friend, and I think about what would happen if we got married. She is open to raising our kids Jewish but still would want to celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter. I think this would cause identity issues for our kids, and obviously they won’t look Jewish. Do you have any thoughts on whether it’s possible to successfully raise mixed children with a Jewish father and Asian mother without the children feeling confused or left out? — Uncertain

Dear Uncertain: You are asking the right questions, and answering them will clarify your options. There are two primary concerns: your kids being multiracial (can Jews be Asian?) and your home being interfaith (can we do two sets of holidays and have the kids feel Jewish?).

You are correct that a biracial child is more likely to be “questioned” about his or her Jewish identity. Don’t let starry-eyed liberals tell you that race doesn’t matter. Young biracial Jews report that it is harder when their parents don’t address racial assumptions about “what does a Jew look like” and racism in general. You can build your children’s confidence by making sure they have a Jewish community — typically a synagogue — that doesn’t just accepts them, but affirms their Jewish identity. There are many such children; I suggest you pick a synagogue that has a noticeable multiracial membership.

A biracial or multiracial child in an interfaith family faces additional concerns. First is the American assumption that Asians can’t be Jewish. Many only consider someone to be Jewish if he or she has a Jewish mother. A young biracial woman whose mother is Jewish and father is Vietnamese told me, “I can’t get the words ‘My mom is Jewish’ out of my mouth fast enough.”

In the eyes of the Conservative movement, your children would not be considered Jewish unless you convert them. Typically, a Conservative Jewish man in your situation takes his infants to the mikvah for conversion. This is something you should think about and discuss with your sweetheart. For some young people, knowing that they were taken to the mikvah is tremendously important. They tell me, “My parents made sure I went to the mikvah. I’m Jewish and have been since before I have any memory.”

Otherwise, I suggest you go to a Reform congregation where they accept patrilineal children as Jewish. But be aware that even if your children are raised Jewish, they will still come into contact with people who do not accept patrilineal descent, and you must be prepared to deal with that in a calm and supportive manner.

Before you go any further, you need to have a discussion about what is involved in raising children as Jews. You are right that a number of Jewish kids who grow up with Christian holidays often feel a sense of dual loyalty. The truth is that this is a compromise, and it does affect the children. This isn’t to say they don’t end up Jewish. But it means you have to be sensitive to how they are taking it in. If you do decide to celebrate Christian holidays, decide in advance which ones and how your partner wants to observe them. Then be sure that you are truly “doing Jewish” the rest of the year.

Ask yourself how important it is that your children self-identify as Jewish. If it is extremely important, then ask your sweetheart if she is willing to have a dialogue about what that would involve. Chances are she has no idea and you have only a sketchy one. She must be given the opportunity to find out what she is getting into before marriage.

No one can promise that your children will be Jewish if you marry a non-Jew. But no one can promise that you will ever feel this strongly about another woman. I would highly recommend that the two of you go to a couples discussion group to sort things out. You’ll get a chance to hear from other interfaith couples and make your decision together. If you can’t get to a group then consider doing individual sessions with me to assess where you and your girlfriend agree and disagree. (I often do these via Skype so you will be in the comfort of your own home.)

You can read the original letter with readers’ responses here.

Posted by admin under Children, In the News, Jews of Color, Mixed & Matched, Parenting
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Henry Robinson age 6 mo

March 2014 column of Mixed and Matched in the J-Weekly

The question:

I am Jewish and my husband is not. We adopted a girl, 8 months old, whose birth mother is not Jewish. We belong to a Reform synagogue and our rabbi said if we raise our daughter with Jewish lifecycle events and synagogue life, she is considered Jewish by the Reform movement. My problem is I don’t feel like that’s enough to make her Jewish. My daughter is Korean and I think people will question her Jewish identity. I would like to have her converted but I can’t do that without my rabbi, right? And what do I tell my husband? — Happy to Be a Mother

My response is here.

Posted by admin under Conversion, In the News, In their own words, Jews of Color, Mixed & Matched, Parenting
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Divorce w-ring

The High Holy Days can bring up some intense feelings for every Jew. One young man called me with a unique issue around the Holidays – his interfaith parents’ divorce and the subsequent lack of clarity about his status.

My September column (Mixed and Matched) in the J-Weekly addressed his feelings.

Here is his question to me:

My dad is Jewish and my mom converted before they got married. Her conversion was Conservative, but after they divorced my father began to go to an Orthodox shul. I have always known that I’m not seen as really Jewish when I’m at my dad’s synagogue. If my mom had continued to raise me as a Conservative Jew, I think I would have been OK, but she stopped practicing Judaism. So I went back and forth between a secular Christian home and a quasi-Orthodox one. I’m back in the Bay Area now, post-college, and living with my mom. The High Holidays are the worst. My dad wants me to go with him and I want to be Jewish and at shul, but not at his shul. The members are nice to me, but I know how I am perceived. My mom doesn’t do anything Jewish anymore. I want to fit in as a Jew. What should I do?
— Torn Apart

Read the rest of the article on the J-weekly page here.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Divorce, High Holidays, In the News, Rosh Hashanah
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Menachem Creditor

josh_kornbluth

On August 13th and August 23rd, Josh Kornbluth and Rabbi Menachem Creditor engaged in a public conversation about Israel, Zionism, Judaism, Peace, and American Jewish activism.

Overwhelmed by Argument
with Josh Kornbluth and Rabbi Menachem Creditor
The description of and rules for the conversation are below. It was an intense conversation between two loving friends who both love Israel and ache for Peace, who both believe in two states and are both pained by Israeli and Palestinian deaths. The disagreements were passionate, nuanced, and respectful. This was, of course, only the beginning of the work ahead.

The Rules of the Conversation
We care, and because we care, we despair. Will there be any outcome for Israelis and Palestinians, for Israel and Palestine, in which both Peoples are acknowledged and respected? Where one group’s national aspirations are not deemed unworthy? This is the conversation Josh wants to have, the conversation we believe we need. We need is as Jews. We need it as people. We need it as one People among many Peoples. Will there ever be a solution? We don’t know. We worry. Everyone suffers when some suffer. And so someone who cares is convening a loving, respectful conversation with a very clear mandate: More hope, More dignity, More love.

Here are the rules for the conversation Josh invited us to share:

1) If your position is that Israel should cease to exist as the Jewish Homeland, that is not the conversation we are going to have.
2) If you believe Jews are better than Palestinians, that is not the conversation we are going to have.
3) If you believe that only Jews have the right to a state, that is not the conversation we are going to have.
4) If you believe Israel’s concerns about security are imagined, that is not the conversation we are going to have.

The jumping-off-point for our conversations were these two books:

My Promised Land by Ari Shavit

The Crisis of Zionism by Peter Beinart

Videos of the Two-Night Conversation are now online!
Part I
Part II

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, In the News, Israel
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3 teens kidnapped

Perhaps you have been following the kidnapping of 3 boys in Israel. One was age 19 and the other two were only 16. There was steely hope that some terrorist group would claim responsibility and demand money or the release of some of their jailed compatriots. But unfortunately it was not to be and their bodies were found yesterday. Apparently they were murdered soon after they were kidnapped.

The reactions have ranged from, now we must kill all terrorists to now Israel must get out of the West Bank to, what I find more realistic, so long as each side is in such pain neither side will recognize the other’s pain and no progress can be expected.

A few years ago a friend of mine went to live in Israel for a year. Her American eyes were opened to the completely different culture of that region. She told me, “Here, to turn the other cheek is seen as expressing weakness and you can’t negotiate from a place of weakness. Here you must return a blow for a blow or you will not be respected.”

Wow. Yeah, that’s really not American cultural thinking at all. So I sit in America, safe, and know that I cannot judge the actions of those who are under attack daily. And by that I mean everyone in that anguished land.

What I do know is that Jews are responsible for one and other. Now don’t fall over in a faint. We are all responsible for each other AND the sad reality is that very few non-Jews will stand up for a Jew. (Did you know that the great American songbird, Kate Smith, received death threats for singing God Bless America BECAUSE it was written by a Jew? That was less than a century ago.) So to all the non-Jews reading this – thank you. I know you would not sit idly by as your spouse, children, in-laws were threatened. Non-Jews in the Jewish family means that more people will, like Kate Smith, stand up and say, not on my watch.

All I ask of you is to say a prayer (I don’t care whether it involved “God” or not, you can just address yourself to the great cosmic wonder that is the universe). A prayer, or a directing of your thoughts to this: May the families of these boys be comforted. May they know that we all offer them our hearts. And may the people who did this terrible deed be healed to the point that they realize that it was wrong. May they come away from the brink of a despair so God-awful that murder seemed reasonable.

Pour out your own love on a world that so very much needs it. Need an idea? Look at this —

A woman wrote:

Who can begin to recount the kindness and giving we have witnessed over the past difficult 18 days?

This Friday, wherever you are, please do an act of kindness or giving in memory of Our Boys and the lives they led.
One catch – please do the act of kindness to someone for whom it is difficult for you to be kind. We all have them. Please do something generous to the neighbor you dislike. Do something kind to your coworker with whom you have virulently differing political views. Give something to the very needy family member you can’t stand. It doesn’t need to be big, and it doesn’t have to be given in public.

In memory of Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal.

Let’s fight the unkindness in ourselves. Begin here, in our own hearts and minds.

May peace come to all of us, everywhere and may it begin with us.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, In the News, Israel
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Korean_Adoptive_family from Kidworldcitizen org

A mother sent me this question about her adopted child.

I am Jewish and my husband is not. We adopted a girl, 8 months old, whose birth mother is not Jewish. We belong to a Reform synagogue and our rabbi said if we raise our daughter with Jewish lifecycle events and synagogue life, she is considered Jewish by the Reform movement. My problem is I don’t feel like that’s enough to make her Jewish. My daughter is Korean and I think people will question her Jewish identity. I would like to have her converted but I can’t do that without my rabbi, right? And what do I tell my husband? — Happy to Be a Mother

My reply:

Dear Happy Mom: You are the born Jew in your nuclear family. As such your perspectives hold a great deal more weight than any other person in the lives of your husband and daughter. If you don’t feel your daughter is Jewish, chances are she will pick up on your ambivalence and so might your husband. You need to do what works for you, even if it isn’t what your rabbi and your movement profess.

What you want to do is not against Jewish law or tradition. You want the validation that comes with the conversion process. For the sake of both you and your family, you need to find peace of mind and confidence in your daughter’s Jewish identity.

Chances are that your rabbi was hastening to assure you, but not forbidding you to convert her. Do you feel close to your rabbi? Can you call him or her and go meet to discuss your feelings? A good rabbi will listen to you and respond to your needs. I have specifically asked Reform rabbis whether they would support taking an adopted child to the mikvah and have they have said yes. If your rabbi is more worried about his or her views on the Reform position than on your feelings, you may have the wrong rabbi.

Since you are considering conversion, let me flesh out the options.

Conversion for an infant or child begins with the trip to the mikvah, the ritual bath. There are special tricks that help a baby go under water holding her breath. The mikvah folks will help with this. In the Reform movement, going to the mikvah could be all you need to do, if it works for you. In Conservative or Orthodox Jewish practice, children are given the option of choosing to continue to be Jewish or to reject it when they come of age — bat mitzvah age. At this point, the child can make a declaration of faith before a beit din (rabbinic court) and go forward as an adult Jew. Or the child could reject the choice that was made for him or her.

In modern America, this can feel like an odd time to make this offer because many preteens have just starting to distance themselves from their parents. On the other hand, it is an age when the child is particularly interested in being “different, just like my friends,” so if she is going to Hebrew school and all her friends are having a bat mitzvah, she will probably also want to have one.

Explain to your husband what we’ve covered here. Describe to him how Judaism has historically brought people into the Jewish community and how that tradition speaks to you.

Next you need to talk to your rabbi. You and your husband should determine whether he should accompany you. I trust your rabbi will support your desire. If he or she does not, then contact me again. While you need a rabbi’s help to convert your child, it doesn’t have to be your congregational rabbi.

You also mentioned that your daughter’s Korean background has heightened your concern about her Jewish identity. Honestly, you are right. There are people, both Jews and non-Jews, who think they know what Jews look like and who will question her. By going to the mikvah, you can give her something very concrete to hold onto. Something for you to remember is that there are more and more multiracial Jews, especially here in the Bay Area — so your family is part of an ever-growing segment of our community. Experts estimate that about 20 percent of Bay Area Jewish families are multiracial. In coming years, I encourage you to help her participate in multiracial Jewish events, such as Be’chol Lashon’s summer camp when she gets older, so she has immersion experiences.

A comment from a reader:
Great response, Dawn! I think it’s all in how you raise them. Rachel doesn’t seem at all ambivalent about her Jewish identity. We make it fun– Shabbat, Hebrew school, PJ Library, etc, and it’s what we do/who we are as a family. I think sometimes these concerns come less from a place of concern about Jewish identity and more out of concern related to issues of adoption. If she is YOUR daughter, she is YOUR child, she is your JEWISH child. That’s how I see it. Right now Rachel is just worried that she’s not Irish– ha ha– and is telling people that she knows Mommy is Irish, so maybe she is too, but really just feels Jewish. Go figure!

March 2014 Mixed and Matched column on J-weekly.

Posted by admin under In the News, Intercultural, Jews of Color, Parenting
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easter eggs

From the Mixed and Matched column in the J-weekly.

The question:
My son-in-law isn’t Jewish. My daughter and he took their 2- and 4-year-old sons to a huge Easter egg hunt this year. It’s the first time they’ve done that and it really upset me. I’m sure my daughter knows this bothered me. I haven’t said anything because they say they are raising the boys Jewish and I don’t want to jeopardize that. I’m so upset. What should I do? I want to remain close to my daughter but I feel like this is just the first step in a downhill process away from Judaism. — Distraught Grandmother

Dear Distraught: I’m sorry this has hit you so hard. Let’s see if we can cut this down to a manageable size. You are close to your daughter and you believe she knows you are upset. The best thing to do is to have an honest conversation with her that’s not colored by negativity that will put her off.

Let’s begin by taking a look at your fears. Read more.

Posted by admin under Grandparents, Holidays, In the News, Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family
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In my January 2014 column, Mixed and Matched, I shared a letter from a Jewish Dad who felt his wife was not doing enough to raise his children as Jews. After reading the article a gentleman who is the non-Jewish husband in a couple who has participated in my programs wrote a very astute article expressing his thoughts as they have developed on this topic. Here is Peter Gardner’s article.

Peter Gardner

You can read a non-Jewish Mother’s thoughts here.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Children, In the News, Parenting, Spirituality
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Alef Bet

In January 2014 my Mixed and Matched column addressed the concerns a Jewish Dad had about his wife’s ‘failure’ to raise the kids Jewish. Many people reacted to the article with some anger at his failure to take responsibility for raising his own children. But some non-Jewish spouses had other thoughts.

One non-Jewish mother had this to say:

I agree that the Dad needs to get more involved but I would not want him to necessarily “lead the way”. I am not Jewish but am raising my children Jewish. I don’t take a back seat to my Jewish family members and would not want them to “lead the way” in my children’s spiritual upbringing. I think instead it is important for the non-Jewish parent (who has agreed to have a Jewish home) to determine how best to embrace Judaism in a way that resonates personally with him/her.

In fact, I chose the Jewish preschool that felt most comfortable to me. I chose our temple. I go to the schools to spin dreidles and host parties for the Jewish holidays. I have one chance to raise my children and their spirituality is important enough to me that I want a central role in guiding my children (rather than deferring that to others). That is why, when I learn of Jewish traditions, I determine which ones are meaningful to me and have the most parallels with my own upbringing. And then I embrace these traditions and weave them into the fabric of the family that my husband and I are building, together.

I would suggest that the husband ask his wife what spiritual traditions were meaningful to her growing up. For instance, did she say a certain prayer? Can she weave elements of this prayer into Shabbat? Make date nights to go to services and let her choose the temple that feels best to her.

As you point out, his wife agreed to raise their children in a religion that is somewhat foreign to her. As much as possible, he should let her take the lead in defining elements of a Jewish life that resonate with her—including choosing a temple and adopting meaningful traditions. I believe this is the surest way for her to embrace Judaism, and therefore their family to embrace Judaism.

Every couple will have their own approach to raising their children. Just be sure that you and your partner are openly discussing both your desires.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, In the News, Jewish holidays at home, Jewish Learning, Parenting, Spirituality
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Camp Kee Tov

Camp Kee Tov

I’ve begun writing a column, Mixed and Matched, for the local San Francisco Bay Area Jewish newspaper, the J-Weekly. My first column is No Follow-through on Agreement to Raise Jewish Kids.

A Jewish father wrote to me:

I’m Jewish, my wife is not. I told her before we got married that I wanted our kids to be Jewish, and she agreed. But she’s not doing anything — she’s not even trying to teach the kids how to be Jewish. How can I get her to move on this and keep her promise? — Frustrated Dad

Many of you have heard me respond to questions of this sort. I am a strong advocate of the idea that the Jewish partner must step up. You can read my reply here.

Posted by admin under In the News, Mixed & Matched, Parenting, Relationships
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