I’m looking for a synagogue. Here are my (many) demands.

Beth Israel Judea, SF

Beth Israel Judea, SF

(This was published in my Mixed and Matched column in the J-weekly.)

I received an inquiry that, quite frankly, annoyed a number of people who read about it. A young man approached me about his desire to find the “right” synagogue. Here is his perspective.

I am serious about a woman who is not Jewish, and I want to expose her to Jewish community and traditions. I grew up as a Conservative Jew in the Midwest and I live in the Bay Area now, but I don’t think I’ll be able to find a synagogue that is right for me and my girlfriend. I can’t find a Conservative synagogue where all the men wear kippot when they are at shul, and I am also concerned that a Conservative shul won’t consider our children Jewish. But I don’t want to go to a Reform synagogue, because they don’t use Hebrew in services and are basically Jewish lite. I grew up with a male rabbi and I would be most comfortable with a male rabbi. Can you give me any suggestions? — Serious About My Judaism

Dear Serious: I’m going to be straight with you — this has little or nothing to do with your girlfriend’s religion. This is about you. You clearly have some very definite ideas of what Judaism needs to look like to feel authentic and to satisfy you. You’ve moved a great distance from your hometown, and the Jewish cultural norms here are different. I would bet that in the decades you’ve been gone, the norms have changed there to some extent. But you are here now, and this is the Jewish community where you are seeking connection.

I notice that you have some small and specific demands, like men always wearing kippot inside the synagogue and the rabbi being male, vs. some very large demands, such as the recognition of patrilineal descent and the use of Hebrew. My friend, you are going to have to compromise on some of your demands. Start by reconsidering the little things, and then let them go. Judaism is a communal tradition. That means the needs of the community are put before the individual desires of the members. There is nowhere that you will get all your wishes met. In fact, there’s not a synagogue anywhere in which every member is getting his or her way all the time. You can’t make all of the male members wear kippot just because you want them to. The synagogue that fits you in other ways may have a female rabbi.

You have some more significant issues to reconcile. The Conservative movement does not currently recognize patrilineal descent. Maybe it will in the future. For now, though, you will have to juxtapose that requirement with your idea that Reform Judaism is “lite.” Which is more important to you? Do you want a Hebrew-heavy liturgy, an observance of kashrut, more days of Hebrew school, greater Shabbat observance, a belief that halachah is binding? Or do you want a community that accepts patrilineal descent?

Next, do any of these concerns supersede issues like geographical convenience? A feeling of connection to the rabbi? Or a sense of comfort with the members? If you are certain you need a familiar Conservative service, start by visiting the shuls nearest to you. It is going to be a lot easier to attend activities if you don’t have to drive a half-hour to get there. It also will be easier for your girlfriend if you are in a familiar environment and feeling at ease. Introduce yourself to the rabbi and chat with members. How does the place feel? Check out the services — are they familiar on a gut level? Go to Torah study or an adult class — is the study at a depth that nurtures you?

Keep in mind that the Conservative movement does not want to reject interfaith couples, and you will find it offers Jewish avenues to giving your child a solid, halachic identity.

It is time to accept that you can’t control everything. As a woman, let me say, “Welcome to my world!” It is one in which typically men are calling the shots and getting their way. If a closer adherence to Jewish law and tradition is what speaks to you, then you will have to accept that sometimes that law doesn’t give you your way. This is also a wonderful opportunity to learn about privilege and humility. And it will benefit your relationship as you see the influence and impact your girlfriend has on your life.

Yes, you may be laughing or angry about this man’s strict requirements for a synagogue. But we make very narrow demands do this at times. It’s worth taking seriously; it’s also a good idea to really consider whether what you want should take precedence over the desires or needs of others.

Posted by admin under Community, Mixed & Matched, Synagogues
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christmas decor Pixabay

A holiday season email from a non-Jewish guy came to my Mixed and Matched column:

I love Christmas but my Jewish girlfriend won’t participate with me, and this is our first holiday season together. I’ve told her that Christmas isn’t really religious for me. The tree and Yule log are pagan originally; they have nothing to do with Jesus. Santa and Rudolph are just American holiday symbols like a turkey for Thanksgiving. Christmas is just what we do in America! How can I get through to her so we can have fun together? — Festive Guy

Dear Festive: Let me be frank with you. You are experiencing the myopic understanding of folkloric-Christian America. I don’t fault you for understanding the world through your own cultural upbringing. But I want you to reflect on what you’ve said, and try to see it through Jewish eyes.

Christmas means “Christ Mass” — that is, a religious service for the Christ. This is the origin and the core meaning of this holiday. Even if you don’t believe in what it expresses, it still represents the birth of the Christ. Its meaning remains intact. It’s like how Yom Kippur retains its meaning even though millions of non-Jews don’t observe Yom Kippur.

You mention that the tree and the Yule log are pagan in origin. True. However, Judaism has opposed paganism from the beginning — take a look at the stories in Genesis and Exodus.

Being pagan doesn’t make it OK. Christianity altered and integrated innumerable practices of the cultures it absorbed. Every country, every culture that has been rendered Christian has leftover traditions that have been adapted to a Christian understanding. That assimilation of indigenous peoples’ heritages is not seen as a plus by many Jews.

Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman (and even the Grinch), and so on, are indeed American symbols of stories that derive from Christmas and have little or no religious meaning or connection to Jesus. However, everyone knows that they are a part of this specific holiday and displaying them is a reference to Christmas.

You are right. All these symbols, stories and practices are “what we do in America.” Professionally, I refer to your view as American folkloric Christianity. You engage with Christianity more as folklore, like Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed.

However, unlike those American myths, Christmas is huge. It arrives in September and doesn’t exit until after New Year’s Day. It alters the entire American landscape. It infiltrates sports, government, commerce, media and daily social interaction. It is seen as sacred by many, which supercharges its role.

For you, and most Americans, Christmas is so much a part of the fabric of our culture that it is hard to see. Remember the saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees”? That’s what you are experiencing. It is just so darn hard to see a lifelong practice through the lens another.

For your Jewish girlfriend, Christmas may be the epitome of her otherness. As a Jew, she doesn’t observe this massive holiday. She has different holidays and they are the signposts on her calendar, for her life.

I don’t want to put words into your girlfriend’s mouth, so sit down with her and ask her to explain to you how she feels about Christmas and why. She may not dislike it, but simply does not want to participate in it.

The two of you need to understand one another’s viewpoints. Living in America, she assuredly is familiar with Christmas, but personalize it for her. Are there things you do with your family that are particularly meaningful to you? I have a friend who always chops down his own tree and another who has a Christmas cookie exchange. There will be things that your girlfriend refuses to do, but there may be activities that feel neutral to her.

I don’t know how serious you two are, but this conflict is a signal that if you are thinking about a permanent relationship, you should do some serious talking about what you each want in a partner and in the home you will make with that person. You don’t want to be expecting your first child and realize that you want the baby baptized and she wants a bris.

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Christmas, Intercultural, Mixed & Matched
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(from Pixabay)

(from Pixabay)

This mom wrote to my Mixed and Matched column about her desire for her child to have God in their life.

One of the things I felt strongly about was having God in my home. I agreed to raise my kids as Jews as long as we really practiced Judaism. Now my 12-year-old middle son says he doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t want a bar mitzvah. He has educational disabilities and I feel he needs the extra support of a faith in God. My husband doesn’t feel as I do and is willing to let him drop out. I’m furious with my husband and upset about my son. Where can I get some help?
— A Believer

Dear Believer: My heart goes out to you as you traverse this challenging time. Preadolescents and teens can be quite difficult to parent. It makes sense that you would want to offer your son comfort and support for his educational struggles.

It is also understandable that you want to give that support in the way that has worked for you. As hard as this is to swallow, your son may not be similar to you and may never feel close to God, or even have a God belief. Some kids, as one Jewish educator put it, are “organically spiritual,” and I’m guessing that applied to you as a kid and does so now.

As a believer myself I share your experience of being comforted by faith and prayer. But not everyone is like us. Many people — especially in the Jewish community— don’t believe in God and yet are quite content.

At age 12, your son is still a literal thinker. So while there are interesting writings about God’s existence penned by scientists, I wouldn’t suggest pushing them at this time. Your son is looking for tangible, provable facts.

Think about what it is that you believe a faith in God provides. Is it a strength beyond yourself? A great love? Someone who has your back? Proof that good will win out in the end? Some of this you yourself can give to your son.

Listen to his struggles. Point out the things you admire about him. Remind him that he is part of the Jewish community of your synagogue and beyond. Invite over adults who think well of your son and share some of his interests. Consider having a talk with him and the rabbi together. You and your community are the most solid provable support he has.

At the same time, you have a right to the comfort that you derive from your belief. You should continue to pray, go to synagogue — or church— as you normally do. Just as you are not telling your son what to say or believe, he must respect that you have your own belief system and intend to live by it.

Make an appointment to talk to your rabbi. He or she has experienced this issue so many times. Your rabbi can talk to you about the value of living a good life even without a God belief. That is what you are trying to give your son — an upbringing to become a mensch.

Having a bar mitzvah is about accepting responsibility in the Jewish community for your own actions. Discuss the ethical meaning of this public demonstration with your rabbi. Perhaps he or she can help you talk to your husband and son about having the bar mitzvah as a statement of his attaining the Jewish age of responsibility.

Do you think that your son’s educational difficulty is part of what makes him want to forgo a bar mitzvah? Could he feel like it is just too much to tackle? Many rabbis and congregations will adjust a bar mitzvah to fit the abilities of the child. If he is feeling overwhelmed by school and homework, it may be too much for him to add this time-consuming responsibility. Maybe scheduling a bar mitzvah for late next summer would allow him to practice and prepare during the summer rather than during the school year.

As for your husband, the two of you need to talk. He needs to grasp how important this is to you, and you need to understand why it is not the same for him. The two of you are a team. If your conversations have taken a downturn, consider seeing a therapist or going in to talk to your rabbi together.
Finally, let me give you a mantra: However things are going, good or bad, don’t get too attached because it will change.

There is no age limit to having a bar mitzvah. Your son may have his at age 18 or 35. Time changes all of us, and your son will mature. If he comes to you at age 21 and says, “Mom, why didn’t you make me have a bar mitzvah?!” Just be ready to say, “You had to come to it in your own time.”

Posted by admin under Mixed & Matched, Parenting, Spirituality
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RH Card

Holidays – especially Christmas – bring out the craft ideas. This young woman wrote looking for a craft connection to Jewish holidays.

Dear Dawn: I have always loved Christmas, especially the crafts that I make for the holiday. I create home decorations from candles to toys to table centerpieces, and I also love to make my own Christmas cards. My Jewish fiance is OK with me decorating for Thanksgiving but is uncomfortable with my ideas for Christmas. I’m willing to try to invest some time in Hanukkah crafts, but I just don’t see many that appeal to me. Can you help me figure out how to be able to practice my hobbies without upsetting my relationship? — Crafty Gal

Dear Crafty: Let me assure you that you are not alone. Crafting is one of the most popular hobbies in America, and in fact crafting is actually good for you! Christmas is the No. 1 money-making holiday in America, so don’t expect its omnipresence to diminish. Christmas season arrives in late September and lasts through January. During this time dogs become Christmas dogs, trains become Christmas trains, etc.

Many people love the holiday simply because it is imbued with stimuli to our senses. Christmas smells good, tastes good, sounds good, looks good and feels good. Then layer those senses over years of memories and you have the Superman of holidays. For the vast majority of Americans, Christmas is a time of familiar memories. Everyone has rituals that are meaningful, whether it’s going to church or leaving cookies for Santa. In your case, it’s crafting. The holiday gives you reasons to sew, embroider, bake, make cards and so on.

In trying to be sensitive to your partner, you are facing the problem of unfortunate timing. The excitement of multiple fall Jewish holidays ends in October, and there’s a dry spell until Hanukkah. The rabbis sometimes refer to this period of time, the month of Cheshvan, the bitter month. Just as Judaism is getting quiet, Christianity and American culture are charging up. Starting with Halloween and continuing through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, America is in full holiday mode. There is a visible effort made to build up Hanukkah so that this little David can match Goliath, but it’s no contest.

You and your fiancé will need to seek a compromise. But first you must articulate what you desire. I want you to find concrete ways of expressing your crafting joy so that your fiancé can better understand what motivates and excites you. Otherwise he will probably keep saying no to Christmas because he doesn’t feel comfortable with it.

Crafty, we’re going to take a two-pronged approach. First, let’s look at crafty options that could appeal to him.

Hanukkah crafts are out there. Take a look at Pinterest. I’m not as organized as I should be, so I have both a Crafty Ideas board and a Hanukkah board. There are home decorations galore; see if any appeal to you. These are ideas that should absolutely work for your Jewish sweetheart.

Second, look at what you already have and see if it could be modified to be “wintery” instead of specifically Christmasy. If you love to twist a garland on your banister because it smells good and evokes the holiday, how about decorating it with some shiny dreidel crafts? A woman I know has a beautiful winter scene with trees and deer all made of wood that she puts on her mantle. She’s Jewish and does this for her Catholic husband who grew up with a crèche. I know another woman who repurposes all of her animal-shaped cookie cutters from tree decorations to either Sukkah decorations or uses the animal cookies for a special treat on the Shabbat of Parashat Noah.

Finally, Hanukkah doesn’t have the cachet of Christmas, so it may not be enough for your crafting needs. So branch out. Look into craft options for Purim, Passover, Sukkot and Shabbat all year-round.

Published in the J-weekly.

Posted by admin under Holidays, Mixed & Matched
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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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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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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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family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by admin under Children, Mixed & Matched, Parenting
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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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