Though Purim is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, it is widely observed and a favorite of children. According to the scroll of Esther 9:22, we are to observe Purim as a time of “feasting and gladness.” The holiday is marked not only the by reading of the scroll, but by Purim plays (spiels) and the wearing of costumes. A festive meal is eaten (se’udah) on Purim afternoon. These led to the rise of carnivals, incorporating these traditions and often adding games for children. In Israel, Purim is joyfully observed by parades and people of all ages dressed in costumes.

(From ReformJudaism.org, read more on their website.)

Posted by admin under Jewish Culture, Jewish Learning, Purim
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My Mixed and Matched column for February 2015 is a response to a young woman whose family includes Modern Orthodox cousins and her secular and intermarried relatives. My answer is on the J-Weekly website.

Th dinner 3

She is hurt by the conflict between the adults in her family. For many children, the most important thing is family harmony. If you are having trouble with family relationships, give me a call.

Posted by admin under In their own words, Relationships
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Star necklace horizontal

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, Parenting
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In the 1990′s, glory days of Interfaith Outreach, the American Jewish community was intently focused on successful approaches to teaching Judaism to children from interfaith homes. In their 1996 book, I Went to My Cousin’s Crispening, Margie Zeskind and Sheilia Silverberg were among the first Jewish educators to help Hebrew school teachers deal with the new elements that students from interfaith families were bringing into the classroom. Their approach was a compassionate and insightful one. Their book was funded by an Orthodox Jew through his foundation, The Jim Joseph Foundation.

Books published in the last 10 years have leaned towards personal narratives rabbinic viewpoints on intermarriage. Hopefully, more funders will have the insight and wisdom to support books that take a scientific approach to this emotionally charged issue.

Cousins Crispening

I Went to My Cousin’s Crispening
by Margie Zeskind & Sheila Silverberg
This publication uses the S.A.G.A. Approach (Sensitive Alternative for Guiding Affectively) to address educators as they deal with teaching children in the most formative years of their lives, recognizing that they are “connected by a heartstring” to everything they’ve known and experienced. Jewish values are never compromised, rather the opportunities are explored to extend Jewish learning.
This book is available from the authors. Contact Dawn Kepler to get further information.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Books
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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, Parenting
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Gagie & sister

Today I asked young friends what they thought of the practice that the Jewish cultural website Jewcy has of titling many of their articles, Not Your Bubbe/Zayde’s something-or-other – brunch, seder, costume. I find it rather sad. I miss my grandparents and treasure the small things I have from them – old photos, recipes, a pocket watch. My friends & acquaintances overwhelmingly said they loved their grandparents and didn’t feel a need to belittle their “old timer” characteristics.

A friend who recently turned 30 said, “There is no one I ever called “bubbe.” I’m one generation too young for that in my family… and given waves of Jewish immigration to the US, that’s probably true for most Ashkenazi Jews around my age. So to even use the term bubbe is actually to introduce an idea that is not our own – to add Yiddishy content to an otherwise non Jewish. Interestingly enough, people in my generation and younger are WAY into reclaiming bygone eras, the hipster thing is totally about riffing on things we associate with our grandparents. You know that Macklemore song Thrift Shop? Incredibly popular song with the lyrics “Ima steal your Grandpa’s style, Ima steal your Grandpa’s style”? And since it’s hard to imagine a lot of people younger than I am in the US who had the type of “bubbe” they’re referring to (an immigrant grandmother from a particular era), my guess is that it’s fake teen angst written by someone older, someone who had a bubbe, and for some reason rejected that culture. I doubt that messaging really plays any better with real “young folk.”

I’ll add that for modern adults in interfaith families it is very unlikely that anyone is being called bubbe or zayde. If they are, I suspect it is with love.

What about grandparents? First, grandparents are surprisingly powerful and important. Grandparents can be laid back about rules that parents need to enforce. “Ice cream for dinner? Well, it is hot; we’ll have a healthy breakfast, honey.” I can’t tell you how many young people have told me warm, loving stories of grandparent support and acceptance. This is true of Jewish and non-Jewish grandparents. All grandparents carry the information of past generations, the secrets to where our parents came from and a mystical past that fascinates us more and more as we get older. Grandparents can sooth both the grandchild and their parent. They can intercede, be a voice of wisdom and calm. Who wouldn’t want that? As for their food, I know I was willing to try out food my grandmother made just because she was eating it. Sliced cucumbers in yogurt turned out to be a delicious snack that I would never have tried for my mother.

But if love and memories aren’t enough, there’s the scientific evidence that we are reliant on the knowledge that our elders carry. Check out this fascinating story of animal elders. (http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2013/12/16/251672253/why-we-need-grandpas-and-grandmas-part-1 )
Where ever you fall in the family tree – child, parent, grandparent, or all three – I hope you are valuing those around you and being valued by them in return. As for your grandmother’s recipe or your grandfather’s favorite jig, I hope you keep them close.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Grandparents, Jewish Culture
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Joo definition

What are the challenges that patralineal Jews face regarding their identity as Jews? Here are some of the things they have to say:

My dad is Jewish, my mom is not.
I was adopted and raised Jewish.
My mom had a Reform conversion.

Why do people tell us we aren’t Jewish?

Are you annoyed, hurt, confused by challenges to your Jewish identity? Let’s talk about patralineal Jews, halachic Jews, Judaism, and how to handle other people’s opinions.

Date: Thursday, Feb. 26
Time: 7:30 to 9pm
Place: Lehrhaus, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Cost: $5
Register here.

Curious? Just call or email for more info. Contact Dawn at 510-845-6420 x11 or email dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Current Programs, Jews of Color, Parenting, Synagogues
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Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret feels solidly set in 1970, the year of its publication. The interfaith issues are, by now, stereotypical – the Christian family that disowns their daughter for marrying a Jew and the distracted Jewish father who has no interest in religion and is usually at work. If you give this book to your child be sure to reread it yourself and be ready to point out how times have changed.

Are you There God Its Me Margaret
Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume


My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, published in 2013 is in every way more up to date. The interfaith issues are also intercultural and Tara’s family has made a choice to raise her Jewish. In fact her mother has converted. But, like all kids, Tara has a mind of her own and wants her religion to be HER choice.

Basmati Bat mitzvah
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula Freedman

Email me and let me know which books you like at dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Books, Intercultural
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A number of organizations have basic Judaism classes that run from fall to spring but are offered in modules so it is easy to start the class throughout the year. Even if you see that a class has already started, give the synagogue or institution a call and see if you can join the class. Many teachers will arrange to speak with you and bring you up to date with the other students.


Introduction to Judaism
Winter: Space and Place
Join with Emanu-El clergy to learn about the breadth and wonder of Jewish tradition. This class is a pathway for the adult learner who wishes to discover or deepen Jewish knowledge, non-Jews who are marrying a Jewish partner, and those who are considering conversion to Judaism.
Intro to Judaism meets on Tuesday evenings over three trimesters and has rolling admission. A student can begin in any of the trimesters. Trimesters do not have to be completed in a particular order.

Date: Tuesdays, January 6, 13, 20, 27; February 3, 10, 17, 24
Time: 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Place: Emanu-El, 2 Lake Street, San Francisco
Cost: Emanu-El Member $18; non-member $25 (per trimester)
One-time book fee: $65 (for members and non-members)
Telephone: (415) 751-2535
Information here.

Jewishing: An Ongoing Conversation about Doing & Being Jewish
What is quintessentially Jewish? The Passover Seder? This most ancient Jewish celebration was actually modeled on an ancient Greek banquet. What about the intricate layout of a Talmud page? A joint creation of rabbis and Jewish scholars working with Italian Catholic printers under the direction of a Dutch Protestant publisher. And then there’s the questionable origins of the bagel.
“Jewishing” is an exploration of Judaism not as a monolith of static concepts and practices but as a dynamic system of choices and questions. Listen and talk, read and write and sing and eat your way into questions of Jewish identity, seeing through a Jewish lens and living among Jews in the Bay Area in the twenty-first century.
Complementing the group classroom experience, students are also guided through a process of individualized self-study, using books, media, other courses and tutorials that enhances group process and deepens learning.

Dates: Wednesdays, January 7 – February 25
Time: 11:30 am – 1:30 pm
Place: San Francisco JCC, 3200 California St., San Francisco
Cost: $175/public; $160/ JCC members
Includes books and refreshments
Register here.

Exploring Judaism
This course is a year-long exploration of the history, beliefs, traditions, and practices of the Jewish people. “Exploring Judaism” will be interesting and meaningful whether you are becoming an adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah, you are just beginning to explore Jewish studies, you are considering choosing Judaism, you are in an interfaith relationship, or you are simply looking for a deeper and more mature understanding of Jewish history and tradition. Students are encouraged to expand their Jewish literacy by taking this course in conjunction with Beginning Hebrew. Instructor: Rabbi Ruth Adar

You can enter this class at several points, the entry points are:
Jewish Text & History: Jan. 11, 25, 2/1, 2/8, 2/22, 3/8
Jewish Thought, Prayer, and Music: 3/15, 3/22, 4/12, 4/19, 4/26, 5/3

Date: Sundays, through May 3, 2015
Time: 10:10-11:10 a.m.
Place: Contra Costa Jewish Day School, 945 Risa Rd., Lafayette, across the parking lot from Temple Isaiah. The class is in the library (Rm 211) upstairs to the right. Follow the voices.
Cost: Tuition is $30 per block for members; $70 per block for non-members.
For more information see on the Temple Isaiah website.
Sponsored by Temple Isaiah.

Introduction to the Jewish Experience: Israel and Texts
The land of Israel has been central to Jewish history, both ancient and modern. Even during the years of galut (exile) the Jewish heart was “in the east,” in the words of medieval poet Yehudah HaLevy. This class will examine the history of ancient Israel, the beginnings of rabbinic Judaism, and the modern return to the land. With that history as a backdrop, we will learn about the great texts of Judaism: Tanach (Bible), Midrash, Talmud, the Prayer Book, and the Codes of Jewish Law.

Dates: Wednesdays, January 14 – March 11 (no class 3/4)
Time: 7:30 to 9pm
Place: Beth El, 1301 Euclid St., Berkeley
Cost: $105 for the public; $90 for members of Beth El
Register here.
Taught by Rabbi Ruth Adar, this class is part of a three-unit series. This course will be available to registered students via Adobe Connect distance learning software at no extra charge, both live and via full video recording. Students may attend live in the classroom, live online, or anytime via recording.

The Building Blocks of Judaism
This course is for those who wish to learn (or re-learn) Judaism. All are welcome: non-Jews, Jews, interfaith couples, those considering conversion, and anyone who is interested in learning more about Judaism. Students will learn the basics of Judaism in a friendly and informal atmosphere. We’ll explore fundamental aspects of Jewish practices such as holiday observance and life-cycle celebrations. We’ll also cover Jewish understandings of God and religious beliefs, essential Jewish texts, Jewish history, mu sic and literature, and the significance of Israel in Judaism today.
Taught by Rabbi Heath Watenmaker.
The spring term is from Jan. 21 to March 11, 2015.

Dates: Wednesdays, January 21 – March 11
Time: 7:30 – 9:00 pm, Plus a Friday evening Shabbat experience TBD
Place: Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
Cost: $120 for the public
Register here.

Posted by admin under Community Activities, Conversion, Current Programs, Introduction to Judaism, Jewish Learning
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cousins on bema

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

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

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

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Current Programs, Non-Jewish family, Parenting, Synagogues
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