When a Jew Celebrates large

The following message was sent to me via my monthly column, Mixed and Matched

My dad is Jewish, but my parents raised me with no religion at all. I’ve always been spiritually minded and wanted a connection to God. I found a rabbi who was very kind and sympathetic. I told her that I didn’t want to convert just to convert, I want to believe in what I’m getting into. The rabbi guided me to a yearlong class on Judaism and also met with me privately. When I felt I was ready, she took me to the mikvah. I’m still learning, and I so very much wish I had learned about Judaism growing up. Is there no way for interfaith couples to give their children a Jewish education without committing themselves to being Jewish? I would have loved to have grown up around other Jewish kids. It was hard to do this all by myself. — Jewish Now and Forever

I answered:

Dear Jewish Now and Forever: I can’t tell you how delighted I am to hear of your kind and insightful rabbi! She is truly a blessing. I hope all rabbis will sit and listen to the adults from interfaith families, hear what they are seeking, teach them and help them find their own place.

To your question: Yes, there are ways for interfaith couples to give their children a Jewish education without deciding to practice Judaism. But I say this with caveats. Let’s begin with the “yes” part. Many synagogues allow members to enroll their children in Hebrew school while they are deciding what to do. Interfaith couples can meet with the rabbi and discuss their situation. Rabbis will not faint. They are used to the interfaith phenomenon. A local Orthodox rabbi told me that he believes that in order for a child to make a choice about which religion to choose, he or she must be knowledgeable about Judaism, which is a subordinate tradition in America.

Personally, I am one of many Jewish professionals who do not advocate a halfhearted attempt to send your child off to be educated without the parents doing anything themselves. This is disorienting for the child. So the “no” part would be that few rabbis are going to say, “Sure. Drop your child off and we’ll take care of everything. You just go shopping.” Couples are not surrendering their parental responsibilities.

Each synagogue has its own policies, so it is important to learn what they are. I have heard of some that give you a year to determine what you choose for your home. Others will educate a child right up until bar or bat mitzvah age and then ask the family to resolve the religious identity of the child.

Then there are the Jewish summer camps. Most of our local Jewish camps accept children of interfaith couples. At camp the child will have a fun, immersive Jewish experience and will learn Jewish songs, blessings, values and practices.

There are also Jewish community centers, which offer a wide array of Jewish activities and holiday celebrations, as well as preschool and summer programs for kids and families.

And let us not forget the many independent Jewish organizations that offer Jewish experiences. Locally there are organizations like Urban Adamah, Wilderness Torah, The Kitchen, Jewish Gateways, EcoJews of the Bay and Edah. A number of Jewish concierge programs have a professional who will help couples find the Jewish environment that works for them.

As you say, it would have been nice for you to have been around other Jewish kids. Children get a feeling of being “normal” when they have friends who celebrate the same holidays and are familiar with the same foods, music and cultural references. If an interfaith family is able to find another family, interfaith or Jewish, it is great for the children to have playmates who can share these ideas and experiences with them. Children like to be similar to their family and friends and they like having it pointed out. It gives them a sense of belonging. Children don’t have to be raised as Jews to understand elements of their Jewish heritage and enjoy being included.

Finally, I want to commend you on your personal tenacity. You found what you wanted and you worked hard to get it. You are a blessing to the Jewish people. Having lived on both sides of the Jewish identity, you have much to share.

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Shabbat Table3

In the June 2016 column of Mixed and Matched, I responded to a comment from a woman who had experienced what was described in the previous month’s column – having her Jewish authenticity questioned.

I can relate to your May 20 column “My father is Jewish and my mother is not.” My mother and I both had Conservative conversions when I was 9 years old. Still, all my life I’ve heard “You’re really not Jewish since your mother isn’t Jewish.”

I have always led a Jewish life. As an adult, I married and had children with a Muslim man, and both of my girls were raised Jewish. When I taught Hebrew school at my Reform synagogue, the director asked if I felt conflicted about the occupation of Gaza since my husband was Muslim. I told her that I felt conflicted because I am Jewish. She didn’t get it.

I have been divorced for over a decade. My daughters get comments all the time, saying “How strange to have a Jewish mother and a Muslim father.” Since my mother wasn’t born Jewish, I guess it makes my children not Jewish. We just keep living as Jews.
Oh well

***

Dear Oh well: Where to begin? I’m sorry that my column speaks to your life. I hope the day comes when this attitude goes the way of the woolly mammoth. You are a Jew, as is your mother, as are your daughters. Are there some who do not accept Conservative conversion? Yes. There are also people who are vegetarians and others who are carnivores. We are all free to believe what makes sense to us.

However, I find it disturbing that members of your synagogue, including the Hebrew school director, are so ill-informed about the Reform movement’s policies regarding both conversion and patrilineal descent. I am confident that your rabbis would not approve of these remarks. Sadly, many self-identified liberal Jews are not as open as they believe themselves to be.

In regard to the comment made to your daughters, many people are surprised that a Jew and Muslim would marry. But it does happen, even in Israel, and I wish others would stop feeling the need to say something about it. From what you tell me, your girls are happy as Jews and have been able to brush aside the questions and remarks. Good for them!

You raise the issue of “What is a Jewish name?” Two quick points on this challenging matter: Jews have all sorts of names in modern America; we are no longer just Goldsteins and Levines. And when you encounter a Jew whose last name shouts not Jewish, like Christensen or Church, that individual is likely the child of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother. This makes the individual halachically Jewish.

Many have said to me, “But I’m just curious, not malicious.” If you learned of a person whose child had died, would curiosity be a sufficient reason to ask the parent about the circumstances? No. Do not raise topics that are going to cause pain. If you are uncertain of whether a topic is appropriate, err on the side of kindness and don’t.

I brought your concerns to my friend and colleague at Lehrhaus Judaica, Reform Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, who reflected that Jewish tradition teaches the concept of tzniut, usually translated as modesty. He pointed out that it also means privacy and said all Jews could benefit from observing this mitzvah by respecting the privacy of others.

I would encourage you and your daughters to answer invasive questions this way: “I observe the mitzvah of tzniut, so I can’t respond to that.” If your inquisitor is baffled, suggest they query a rabbi who can explain more fully what this means.

I have no quarrel with traditionally observant Jews who believe that only a person born of a Jewish mother or converted by an Orthodox court is halachically Jewish. Within their community they should live and be well. They should also observe tzniut and refrain from talking about the identity of others.

For the rest of us, it’s important to examine our beliefs and be honest about what we think. Do we accept non-Orthodox conversions? Do we accept patrilineal descent? Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah.” It is hard to do, but we need to anyway.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Conversion, Mixed & Matched
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couple's shoes

In my May Mixed and Matched column in the Jweekly I chose to address a question I hear regularly: “My father is Jewish and my mother is not. Where will I be accepted? Where can I go that they won’t quiz me?”

***

Ever since the Reform movement refined its views on so-called patrilineal Jews three decades ago, this has been a pervasive issue, in the liberal movements in particular — how do Jews with one Jewish parent fit into the community? Because Judaism traditionally is passed through the mother, the issue is particularly sharp for those with a Jewish father.

Not so, say many Reform Jews, who rush to tell me what patrilineal Jews should think or do. They say that people with a Jewish father shouldn’t care what others think; they should join a Reform or other non-halachic congregation. These individuals state adamantly and angrily that Jews who don’t accept patrilineal descent must change, must see the future and accept it or die out. They loudly support a person’s right to self-define and to choose how to be Jewish, except, of course, those Jews who choose to self-define and practice differently than they do. In other words: traditionally observant Jews. This derails the entire conversation, while ignoring the feelings of the patrilineals.

What have patrilineal Jews experienced? What do they want? Do they have a sense of what would reassure them? No one has asked about their feelings at all. How sad. We liberal Jews, and I include myself as a Reform affiliated Jew, need to stop lecturing and start listening, really listening — without judgment.

A number of patrilineal Jews have told me they chose to convert. Others told me, “I wish someone had offered to teach me, to guide me, to just tell me about conversion, just say it was an option.” Others have said that they went through a period of worry and reflection before deciding not to convert.

Yet, others have said that they have been hurt even in synagogues that purport to accept patrilineal Jews. “When I say I have one Jewish parent, people immediately ask me which one, and that makes it clear that it matters or they wouldn’t ask.” Several others said that Jews, affiliated and not, upon learning that the Jewish parent is their father, have said, “So you’re not really Jewish.” One individual who had chosen a Reform conversion because she’d been raised Christian had a fellow congregant say, “Wow, you’re so active, even though you’re not really Jewish.”

This Sunday I am moderating a conference in Oakland called “Growing Up Interfaith.” When I asked individuals who had shared their life stories with me to participate, one replied, “I don’t want to speak publicly, because members of my synagogue won’t think I’m really Jewish.”

On the other hand, one might think that at least the matrilineal Jews are fine; having a Jewish mother has given them clear passage into their Jewish identity. Sadly, that is not always the case. For some it’s been relatively easy. But for others, having a last name like Christianson or O’Malley has meant constant questioning.

And then there are ethnic and racial intermarriage issues. Between 15 and 20 percent of Bay Area Jewish families are multiracial. Many of them don’t “look Ashkenazi.” They too face constant questioning.

I’ve interviewed more than 50 adult children of intermarriage over the past four years. Many don’t know where to start the conversation. They talk about the barriers they face and try to sort out just where they want to engage. What would make them feel authentic? There is not one size fits all. Each person has to find his or her community. I encourage them to speak up and tell their rabbi the kinds of messages they are getting.

We can help. We can listen. We can show compassion and sympathy. We can ask how they want to handle their identity and how they want to engage. Then we need to speak up when fellow Jews are insulting — intentionally or unintentionally. Not with words of bitterness, but with calm, firm words that hold a mirror to the speaker. Let’s all become allies, no matter what Jewish movement we claim.

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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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Crowned Shin from TS Torah

There are so many nuances to the concerns that patrilineal Jews have. It is VITAL that we listen to them and not get stuck in our own opinion. After receiving four different messages on this topic I merged them into a single letter for my Mixed and Matched column.

I have a Jewish father and non-Jewish mom. I was raised with some Jewish activities at home and when I got into college, I began to explore Judaism. By the time I was 27, I decided to convert. I found a Conservative congregation and converted with the rabbi. A couple of years later when I wanted to go to Israel, someone pointed out that Orthodox Jews wouldn’t consider me Jewish. I went back to my rabbi and asked him about this. He said, “Yes, that’s true. But what do you care what those people think?” I wanted to curse him with unprintable words about his “born-Jewish privilege!” How dare he be so cavalier about my feelings and my identity! I left his synagogue and am now going to an Orthodox shul and converting there. There should be full disclosure by rabbis and someone should tell them to stop leaning on their blind privilege. I’m really angry about this. — Could Have Used an Honest Rabbi

My answer was:

Dear Could Have Used: I can hear the anger in your statement. I am so sorry. I know that anger is one of the ways we react to pain. Clearly, this rabbi hurt you deeply.

Of course, you are right. Yes, every rabbi should clearly articulate the huge range of Jewish views and spell out who will accept what when it comes to conversion. I am surprised that your rabbi failed to do so. I am not minimizing your experience, but I want you to know that you are not alone. There are Orthodox Jews who aren’t accepted by other Orthodox Jews.

Second, you are so right, there is born-Jewish privilege and those who have it are often oblivious to how it serves them. Your Conservative rabbi may not be accepted as a rabbi by Orthodox rabbis, but he will certainly be accepted as a Jew. He doesn’t have to study or go before a beit din or go to the mikvah. He was born into that identity and it is his for life.

He can chose to walk away from it, change his name and become a Catholic priest, but the moment he returns to a synagogue, he’s in. Some would roll their eyes, but once a Jew, always a Jew, no matter how they behave.

I venture to say that part of the rabbi’s curt response was not about you; it was about him. He was quick to dismiss what “they” think because from an Orthodox perspective, it is his conversion work that is unacceptable. As you see now, the Orthodox are happy to convert you, using a process that they find kosher, i.e., acceptable and authentic. Sadly, many people are too focused on themselves to get their own ego out of the way in order to listen to the pain being expressed by another. It is also possible that the Conservative rabbi has a twinge of guilt for failing to fully inform you, and he was hastening to cover his embarrassment.

Finally, my friend, there is simply too little information available about conversion — whether for those with Jewish heritage or those with none. I hope that as more adults with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother seek conversion, the Jewish community will take on the responsibility of providing complete information, making it easily accessible. In doing so, everyone will profit.

Remember that your voice and your experience are important and need to be shared. I can assure you that you are making yourself part of the solution to a challenge that faces the entire Jewish community. You are to be commended for that. Should you want to speak about this publicly, please let me know. I am currently planning a half-day conference for May 22 titled “Growing Up Interfaith.” Your thoughts are welcome.

You can read comments from readers of the J here.

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kippot

A worried Jewish father with a non-Jewish wife wrote to me about the take his college age daughters had towards New York Jewish “culture”. I answered him in my Mixed and Matched column.

I’m Jewish, my wife is not. Our two daughters, who have been to Israel, were raised Jewish with all the Jewish lifecycle events. They have left California for college in New York. There they encountered New York Jews and have found them to be “awful.” Now they repeat numerous negative stereotypes about Jews. One is happy to “pass” and the other wants to identify as “half and half.” They say Bay Area Jews are different and they still like all the people at our home synagogue. Their mom, who learned Hebrew, drove to religious school, hosted Seders, sees this as amusing. I’m worried they won’t date Jewish men. What can I do? — Sad Dad

Dear Sad Dad: I’m so sorry this has hit you so suddenly and so hard. Your girls are experiencing a new part of the Jewish world that may be strange to them. They would be equally surprised by the differences between their Bay Area experience and the Jews of Mexico City, Paris or Morocco. But since the Jews of New York are American, they expected to feel a sense of familiarity. Additionally, they are in school with Jewish peers, who bring their own culture of origin with them to college. I suggest you do three things:

• Talk with your wife. Why is she amused? Does she perhaps have some insight into your daughters? Does she see this as a time of exploration, but feels confident of the girls’ Jewish identity? Can she comfort or reassure you?

• Talk to your rabbi, who may reassure you with stories about other young members and their parents who passed through this and now have a next-generation Jewish family.

• Talk to your girls. It is important that they not harbor stereotypes and prejudices toward any group, including Jews.

Begin by asking your girls why they say these things. Are there events that have caused them to respond with these negative thoughts? Have people been cruel to them? Do they feel defensive with other Jews? If they feel embarrassed to be identified as Jews, what caused that? You need to get to the heart of this. It would be best if your wife could join you in this conversation. It is possible that they have encountered some nasty people who happen to be Jews and in the college social group, they don’t want to be associated with them.

How do the girls define the difference between good Bay Area Jews and the bad New York Jews? Do they feel positively about Israeli Jews? Can they see the difference between Israeli culture and Bay Area Jewish culture? Can they see that every Jewish group or community may be unique? Would they be open to dating an Ethiopian Jew? Or an Italian Jew? Is it just New York Jews that they find distasteful? It may be that you and they simply need to clarify what it is that they are rejecting.

Have you told them that you wanted them to date Jewish guys? If this is the first they are hearing of it, expect some pushback. They may be surprised for many reasons, the first that since you married their non-Jewish mother, they may take your message as an insult to her. Be ready to explain exactly why you want them to date, and I’m assuming marry, a Jew. They may feel that it can work out equally well for them in an interfaith couple, as it did for you. You need to have a sound reason that doesn’t insult their mom.

I know an interfaith couple, a Jewish dad and non-Jewish mom who, upon hearing that their son was engaged to a non-Jewish girl, sat them down and had a heartfelt talk about the challenges of interfaith marriage and raising Jewish children in an interfaith home. I was told this story by the non-Jewish fiancée, who thought her in-laws’ frank sharing was wonderful. The goal here is to assess with your wife what you want for your girls. Do you want them to raise Jewish kids, but your wife doesn’t care? Get that out in the open. Your daughters can sense what you each want, and being honest is best. From there, you and their mom can explain why you each feel as you do, and the girls can feel respected. You’re welcome to contact me if you need help with the conversation.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Jewish Culture, Mixed & Matched, Parenting
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On the entrance to a Jewish home

On the entrance to a Jewish home

A young Chinese Jew sent the following letter to my Mixed and Matched column –

My dad is Chinese, not Jewish; my mom is white and Jewish. They raised me Jewish. My last name and my looks are Chinese. In my home congregation, no one pays any attention to my mixed race, but in other Jewish environments Jews always remark on it. “So, how did you get to be Jewish?” “Are you here to convert?” “What’s your Hebrew name?” I am so sick of it that I pretty much don’t go to synagogue unless I’m home with my folks. What can I say to people so they will shut up? How can I go to a synagogue and like it if I’m always put off by my first encounters? — Jewish and Chinese, So Get Over It!

My answer:

Dear Get Over It: I hear you. Let me begin by saying you are not alone. A recent study of the Bay Area Jewish community estimated that 20 percent of Jewish families are multiracial. Unfortunately, most American white Jews think that all Jews are white. Jews of color echo your experience in my conversations with them. Interestingly enough, even white Jews in multiracial families often feel their family members are the only Jews of color.

I have asked rabbis from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox shuls, “Is there ever a need for one of your members to ask a stranger, are you Jewish?” They all said, “No, never.” So we’ve established that this is not a question of necessity but one of crude curiosity.

What to say? I’m betting that in different environments you may want to handle this differently, so I’m going to give you a few options.

One response that fits just about any occasion is, “Why do you ask?” If their reply is, “Well, you don’t look Jewish,” You can say, “What do Jews look like to you?” At this point either they realize how rude they are being and bumble off, or you can simply turn away and go get a glass of water, speak to someone else or move across the room.

To the question, “Are you Jewish?” you can respond, “Are you Jewish?” When they answer, “Yes!” You can say, “Oh, I’m surprised. I guess you didn’t learn that that question is forbidden 36 times in the Talmud.”

To the question, “What’s your Hebrew name?” you can say, “Are you planning to say a Mishebeirach [prayer of healing] for me? No? Then you don’t need it.”

My own rabbi is part of a large multiracial Jewish family. Her brilliant father taught her and her siblings that they didn’t owe anyone an answer. It is just fine to turn and walk away. In other words, someone else’s curiosity is not your problem.

What to do about finding a synagogue? Don’t let people you don’t know determine your life path! You need to find a synagogue that you like. If you were raised Reform, consider your local Reform shuls; if Conservative, go there, etc. Most likely there will be members who are Jews of color. Meet with the rabbi and share your experiences. If he or she does not assure you that such behavior is not tolerated at that shul, move on. Your rabbi should be your advocate. Connect with other Jews of color so you don’t feel alone or singled out. Then get to know the members. Once you are familiar with them and they with you, it will begin to feel like home.

You’re not in this alone. You reached out to me, and I’m going to help you make the Bay Area home. Consider connecting with Be’chol Lashon, an S.F.-based advocacy group for Jews of color, if you’d like to be an advocate. Or you can simply be a member of a shul if that’s what you want. This is about your choices.

Last year my African American, born-Jewish niece was giving a talk at her East Bay shul. Her rabbi, who has always been her cheerleader, noticed that some of the adult members were being less than sensitive. Her rabbi asked his 12-year-old son, “What do you think when you see a person of color in our shul?” His son replied, “I figure they must be Jewish. People who aren’t Jewish don’t usually go into a synagogue.” There is the logic of the next generation. If you’re here, you must belong here. As this next generation grows into leadership, not only will many of the leaders be multiracial Jews, the white ones just won’t care what color anyone is.

You can see readers comments to the letter on the J-weekly page that carries my column.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Mixed & Matched
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It can be hard to hear another person when the words in your head are drowning out their voice.

Definition of "shema"

Definition of “shema”

Everyone deserves to be heard out. If someone else’s experience is being blotted out by your own pain you may need to be heard out before you can listen to that person. Try to sort out what is YOUR reaction from what the other person is talking about.

A thoughtful man wrote to me about a letter I’d published regarding a young person who chose to have an Orthodox conversion. That decision was up to the young woman, but this man’s pain made it hard to differentiate between her choice and his distress.

Though you tried to respond to the woman’s angst about her not-kosher-enough conversion in your March 11 column (“Conversion didn’t grant ‘born-Jewish privilege,’”), I am saddened by your seemingly bland acceptance that these basically bigoted ultra-Orthodox are the sole and final arbiters of who is a Jew.

If one is truly interested in “building Jewish bridges,” these folks are certainly terrible obstructionists, and in my opinion should be called out on every occasion possible.

This issue really came home to me — a 100 percent Jew, son of a Reform rabbi — when our elder daughter went to Israel with her confirmation class 28 years ago. My wife is half-Jewish — the wrong half — though American Reform congregations now recognize patrilineal descent. We have raised our children to embrace their Jewish identity. My daughter, then age 16, was invited to a home Shabbos dinner where she was told in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t really Jewish, and if she should ever want to make aliyah (which she doesn’t) that she would have to beg the indulgence of a rigid old man (my characterization) and have a “real” conversion.

Although I have mostly enjoyed your columns and generally admire your work, you can sign me — Very Disappointed

I’m so glad he wrote because he clearly has valid pain also.

Read my reply here.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Conversion, In the News, In their own words, Mixed & Matched, Parenting
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grieving teen

Here’s a question I got from a teenager:

My mom is Jewish, my dad is Catholic, and my brother and I were raised Jewish. Last month they told us they had recently written their ethical wills and each plan to be buried in the cemetery of their own faith. I was so stunned that I said nothing. I just assumed my parents would be buried side by side! I’m mad at them, even though I know it is their decision. I’m hurt and feel like they didn’t even consider how this could impact their children. My brother is upset, too, but he is very quiet and would never speak up. What should I do? — Hurt Daughter

My reply:
Dear Hurt Daughter: I’m so sorry you learned this in such a startling way. It’s hard to think about losing parents, and their news complicates your pain. Yes, your parents do get to make their own end-of-life plans, but I suspect they didn’t think about it from your perspective. It sounds like they simply announced their plans with the intention of giving you and your brother a heads-up. Since you did not respond in the moment, they probably assumed everything was fine.

You should definitely discuss this with them, and it would be best if you and your brother did so together. You could use the moral support, and he could use the practice speaking up about his feelings. I suggest the two of you share with each other how you feel and what is most painful about this news. Then consider what you wish would happen. Hard as it is, imagine what you would want at that difficult time when one of your parents dies. Do you both hope a rabbi would be there to give comfort? Would a rabbi be a comfort to your dad if your mother should go first, or would he want Christian clergy?

read more here

I got an immediate response from an adult who wanted me to tell this young person that she needed to respect her parents’ wishes. It sounded to me like a knee jerk response of an individual who is afraid they might be somehow in the wrong and they couldn’t bear it. Of course this young woman’s feeling matter. This is not a question of her respect for her parents, it is about her love and fear of losing them. I encourage interfaith couples to talk to their children — especially about things that are potentially painful – like death.

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Jewish coffin

Recently a woman wrote to me about her first experience with death and shiva as a Jew. Here’s what she said:
I am a recent convert and a single mother. My sister died recently. When I got the news, I was paralyzed and didn’t know what to do. I had been told that once the word of my sister’s passing got out, people would flock to my door with food, comforting visits and offers to watch my child so I could have time to grieve, but nothing happened. I went to work and kept up with my housework. My rabbi offered to help, but I really didn’t know what to ask for. And actually, I’m not good at asking for help. It felt like people were pretty hands off. People did attend the service, but there was no food since we held the shiva at the temple. My shiva experience could have benefited from more support. What should I know for next time? — Still grieving

She is not alone. Anyone who is not securely embedded in their synagogue community could feel at sea when grief hits. Here is what I answered her in my column, Mixed and Matched.

Posted by admin under Conversion, Death & Mourning, Mixed & Matched
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