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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B'nai Tikvah's window

B’nai Tikvah’s window

This Shabbat Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman of B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek sent the following email to her congregation. You probably all know about the sequoia that fell in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Rabbi Gutterman draws a connection to this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi. Reading it gave me the shivers. For those of us who have lost loved ones and can remember places that don’t exist anymore this piece will be bittersweet.

“Brought down by California Storm,” the headline read.

The article that followed was not about anyone’s homes, moods or daily routines. It was about the Pioneer Cabin Tree, a sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Given that sequoias can easily live over 1,000 years, this particular one had seen horses and carts, cars and pedestrians pass through. The idea of such a giant falling as a result of this most recent spate of wind and rain seems unreal. But it’s true.

“It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch,” wrote Rabbi Chaim Stern of blessed memory. Yet these are exactly the circumstances under which we live and love, always. Loss is disorienting to say the least, and never more so when the person, thing, or grounding reality we lose is one we thought would always be here. Perhaps the mark of true resilience lies in finding new paths to walk and new sources of meaning, even with hearts forever altered.

Vayechi, this week’s Torah portion, marks the ending of the first book of the Torah. Appropriately enough, it concludes with the blessing of Jacob’s sons, immediately followed by both Jacob and Joseph’s deaths. These losses were not only significant for their families, but also life altering for their descendants – the tribes who would become an enslaved people in Egypt.

That’s part of the reason why the closing lines of Vayechi are so significant. Joseph extracted one last promise from his brothers: that when their time of deliverance came, they would carry his bones out of Egypt with them. And so their descendants did, hundreds of years later. This gesture was a way of symbolizing that the most important parts of our pasts come forward with us into our future. As long as we guard our memories, tell our stories, create our legacies, then long ago fragments can be made whole again, even if differently so.

Ancestral bones. Remains of ancient trees. Let us set aside some time this Shabbat and during the coming week to think about what is most enduring in our lives, even in the midst of dislocation or loss. What is most worthy of being held inside and carried forward?

I leave you with a poem by Howard Nemerov that brought me solace and inspiration this week. I hope it brings the same to you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gutterman

TREES

To be a giant and keep quiet about it,
To stay in one’s own place;
To stand for the constant presence of process
And always to seem the same;
To be steady as a rock and always trembling,
Having the hard appearance of death
With the soft, fluent nature of growth,
One’s Being deceptively armored,
One’s Becoming deceptively vulnerable;
To be so tough, and take the light so well,
Freely providing forbidden knowledge
Of so many things about heaven and earth
For which we should otherwise have no word-
Poems or people are rarely so lovely,
And even when they have great qualities
They tend to tell you rather than exemplify
What they believe themselves to be about,
While from the moving silence of trees,
Whether in storm or calm, in leaf and naked,
Night or day, we draw conclusions of our own,
Sustaining and unnoticed as our breath,
And perilous also-though there has never been
A critical tree-about the nature of things.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Spirituality, Synagogues
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Photo from Pixabay

Photo from Pixabay

Here we go – 2017! Our world has been shaken. I, for one, was stunned by the election results. The majority of my family and friends are in categories that feel increasingly unsafe. As a woman I have been subject to sexual harassment and as a Jew I have been told I wasn’t welcome (yes, literally asked to leave). But that feels small compared to my Muslim friends, my African American niece, my Hispanic nephew, my many LGBT friends, and friends who were brought to America as infants from Mexico and fear deportation to a land they’ve never seen.

I admit that I was paralyzed for several days. But then I remembered that I need to use my privilege to protect the vulnerable. The major faiths all state that we are responsible for our sisters and brothers – no matter their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. So time to get crackin’!

It is a whole lot easier to move mountains with your community that all alone. I hope you are involved with your synagogue, church or mosque. If you need to get connected just contact me. (dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org).

My job is still to help interfaith couples and families discover whether and how they can feel comfortable in the Jewish community. Call me anytime.

I LOVE it when I run into one of you out and about! Do always say hello.

EVENTS
Jacob and Wrestling and Finding Balance in the New Year (Oakland)
Tots ‘n Torah (Burlingame)
Jewish Overnight Camp Fair (Palo Alto)
Introduction to Judaism Winter 2017 (San Francisco)
Intro to Judaism Class: Israel and Texts (Berkeley)
The Book of Ruth (Oakland)
Ruach! (Spirit!) (Danville)
Mizmor Shir! Social Action Shabbat (Oakland)
Shabbatot (San Francisco)
Sababa Shabbat (Oakland)
Be a Fabulous Interfaith Grandparent! (Pleasanton)
It Wouldn’t Be Make Believe: A Sing-along Concert (Oakland)
Prayerbook Blues? (Danville)
Book Discussion: “Why Be Jewish?” (Palo Alto)
Family Learning Day: The Secret Life of Bees and Trees (Berkeley)
Wilderness Torah’s Tu B’Shvat in the Redwoods (Oakland)

Jacob and Wrestling and Finding Balance in the New Year
A special musical Kabbalat Shabbat
Temple Beth Abraham’s singers have compiled a handful of songs to add to this week’s regular Friday evening service. Inspired by the stories of Jacob wrestling and Rabbi Bloom’s high holiday theme of balance, they invite you to start the new secular year with a mix of niggunim, contemporary Jewish tunes, traditional spirituals, jazz melodies as well as a Polish melody brought back from the congregation’s trip to Eastern Europe last summer.

Date: Friday, January 13
Time: 6:15 – 7:15 pm
Place: Temple Beth Abraham, in the chapel, 327 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland
www.tbaoakland.org

Tots ‘n Torah
Please join us for a musical and festive Shabbat service geared to preschool-age children.
Tots ‘n Torah is open to our entire community.
RSVP includes a light meal for parents and children ($5 for children, $10 for adults). The meal is usually immediately after the short service.
(We send out evites to get an RSVP count for each event. If you are not receiving these evites and would like to be added to the list, please email asteckley@sholom.org)
At dinner there will be a sign in sheet on your table, so there is no need to pay in advance, but please RSVP to the evite so we can order the right amount of food for all.

Dates: Jan. 13, Feb. 10, March. 10, April 14, May 12
Time: service at 6pm; dinner at 6:30pm
Place: Peninsula Temple Sholom, 1655 Sebastian Dr, Burlingame
PLEASE contact Rabbi Lisa at rabbidelson@sholom.org and let her know to expect you. She is concerned about having enough food.

Jewish Overnight Camp Fair
Are you interested in a Jewish overnight camp experience for your kids or teens? Come to the Fair where there will be LOTS of camps represented. Including:

Buck’s Rock Performing and Creative Arts Camp
Brandeis Pre-College Programs
Camp Alonim
Camp Be’chol Lashon
Camp Kimama
Camp Ramah
Camp Tawonga
Habonim Dror—Camp Gilboa
JCC Maccabi Sports Camp
URJ 6 Points Sports Academy
URJ Camp Newman

Date: January 15
Time: 4:00-6:00pm
Place: Osher Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
www.paloaltojcc.org

Introduction to Judaism Winter 2017
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.

Date: January 17, 2017
Time: 7:00 pm – 9:00pm
Place: Temple Emanu-El, 2 Lake St., San Francisco
www.emanuelsf.org
Details here.

Introduction to the Jewish Experience: Israel and Texts
Introduction to the Jewish Experience is a three-part series of classes to introduce students to Jewish culture and practice. Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds: Jews who did not receive a Jewish education, Jews who wish to resume their education as adults, persons interested in conversion to Judaism, and others who wish to learn more about Judaism. The three parts of the series may be taken in any order. Please pre-register.

Dates: Wednesdays, January 18 – March 8
Time: 7:30 – 9:00 pm
Place: Beth El, 1301 Oxford St., Berkeley
Cost: $105 for the public; $90 for members of Beth El and Temple Sinai.
Register here.

The Book of Ruth
This brief but fascinating text touches so many bases in our understanding of the Biblical world: daily life, family, clan and national identity, and the roles and limitations of women. This four-session class will delve into each of the four chapters of this brilliantly concise yet expressive text, both revealing the world of Ruth and linking its timeless meaning to our world.

Dates: Thursdays, January 19, February 2 and 16, March 2
Time: 7:00–8:30pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Cost: $50
Register here.
Co-sponsored with Lehrhaus Judaica.

Ruach! (Spirit!)
Please join us for this joyful, spirited service featuring music by the incomparable Dean Chapman!!
Ruach service is followed by Ice Cream Sundaes!

Place: Friday, January 20
Time: 7:00pm
Place: Beth Chaim, 1800 Holbrook Dr, Danville
www.bethchaim.com

Mizmor Shir! Social Action Shabbat
This year, Social Action Shabbat will feature poetry performances by 2015 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Tova Ricardo and two Slam Champions. We will hear their poetry during the service and have an opportunity to talk with them during the oneg. Youth Speaks, the organization who helped them develop their voices, will be with us as well. Join us.

Date: January 20
Time: 7:30pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
www.oaklandsinai.org

Shabbatot
Our new community-based, music, song, and story-filled Shabbat service and dinner.
3rd Friday of the month will include a short service at 6pm and an inter-generational dinner will be served at 6:30pm.
There is no cost for this program.
We would like our programs to be accessible to those with chemical sensitivities and allergies, and therefore support a fragrance-free environment.

Date: January 20 and Feb. 17
Time: Begins at 6pm. You can leave or stay for the 6:30pm dinner
Place: Sha’ar Zahav, 290 Dolores St., San Francisco
If you have questions, please contact Adam Pollack, Director of Engagement at adam@shaarzahav.org or at 415-861- 6932
Details here.

Sababa Shabbat
Join us for Sababa Shabbat, our special Shabbat program for young children (pre-school age through 2nd grade) and their families. Join us for pizza and salad dinner (Dinner price is $25 per family, please RSVP by Wed, Jan 18 here, No one shall be turned away due to lack of funds.) or join us afterwards at 6pm for a small child friendly, music-filled Kabbalat Shabbat service. We look forward to sharing Shabbat with you and yours!

Date: Friday evening, January 20
Time: 5:30pm for the dinner and 6pm for child friendly services
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Questions? Please contact Michael@oaklandsinai.org

Be a Fabulous Interfaith Grandparent!
Explore how to engage in Jewish activities with grandchildren without overstepping boundaries.

Date: Feb. 6
Time: 7:30 to 9pm
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Court, Pleasanton
Cost: $8, no one turned away.
Register here.

It Wouldn’t Be Make Believe
A Sing-along Concert

The songs of Yip Harburg and Lorenz Hart. We’ll project the words on a screen. All you need is your voice (and maybe your glasses).
Recognized these songs:
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
Over the Rainbow
My Funny Valentine
Join other people too shy to sing alone for a musical evening.

Date: Sat., Feb. 4
Time: 7:30pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland, a block from Broadway
www.oaklandsinai.org
Recommended Donations: $15 and for those under 30 and over 80 $10
Questions: Phil Rubin 510-547-8080

Prayerbook Blues?
Are you lost when you open a prayer book? Where did these prayers come from? Who wrote them? How did prayer develop? Join Jamie Hyams for a 3-session exploration of the history, development and purpose of Jewish prayer.

Dates: Feb. 9, Feb.23, March 2
Time: 7:30 – 9:00pm
Place: Beth Chaim, 1800 Holbrook Dr, Danville
Free
www.bethchaim.com

Book Discussion: “Why Be Jewish?”
Ruth Andrew Ellenson, author of The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt, and Ari Y. Kelman, Jim Joseph Chair in Education and Jewish Studies at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, will discuss the late Edgar M. Bronfman’s book Why Be Jewish?
Ms. Ellenson was Bronfman’s literary collaborator on this compelling reflection on what it means to be Jewish in the modern age. The topics of Jewish identity, ritual, faith, secularism and the future of the Jewish world will be addressed. As the book jacket of Why Be Jewish? states, Edgar Bronfman “makes a compelling case for the meaning and transcendence of a secular Judaism that is still steeped in deep moral values, authentic Jewish texts and a focus on deed over creed or dogma.” The talk will be followed by a Q & A session.

Date: Thursday, February 9
Time: 7:00–7:30pm Happy hour schmooze
7:30pm Discussion begins
Place: Palo Alto JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto, Room F-401
Cost: $10 Students | $12 Members and J-Pass holders | $15 General Public
One drink is included in the price of each ticket
Info: Ilanit Gal | (650) 223-8649 | igal@paloaltojcc.org

Family Learning Day: The Secret Life of Bees and Trees
The Secret Life of Bees and Trees: an Urban Shtetl community-wide, family Tu B’Shevat celebration! We welcome kids of all ages to come celebrate the new year of trees with learning, connecting, art, and games in our cozy sanctuary. A beekeeper will teach us secrets from the bees, plus enjoy stories from Joel Ben Izzy, art projects, honey making games and more.

Date: Sunday, Feb. 12
Time: 10:00-2:00pm
Place: Chochmat Halev, 2215 Prince St., Berkeley
Cost: $40/family in advance; $50/family at the door
Sign up here.

Wilderness Torah’s Tu B’Shvat in the Redwoods
Come to the redwoods to celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the unseen awakening of spring. In the tradition of the Tsfat mystics, we gather in the forest to create an experiential Tu B’Shvat seder that connects us to the trees and the elements. Morning seder, kids program, and afternoon workshops!

Date: Sunday, February 12
Time: 10 am to 3:30 pm
Place: Roberts Regional Recreation Area, Oakland
Cost: See Wilderness Torah’s website for pricing details.
Register here by Thursday, Feb 9 – Advance tickets only, none available on site.

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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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new-years-eve

Rabbi Milder of Beth Emek in Pleasanton sent this email to his congregation. He summarizes the four Jewish new years and considers the meaning of the Gregorian New Year that is observed on Dec. 31.

Which New Year Is It?

The Mishnah records that there are not one, but actually four new years. The rabbis needed one new year for reckoning the date of festivals (the first of Tishri), one for determining when the reign of a king begins (the first of Nisan), one for calculating to which year new-born animals belonged (the first of Elul, after the summer calving season had ended), and one for calculating the produce of trees (the fifteenth of Shevat). According to Biblical law, it was not permitted to use the produce of trees during their first three years.

The new year observed in the Gregorian calendar (January 1) has little to do with the sacred themes of the Jewish calendar. It has a lot to do with ancient themes of chaos, and the conquest of chaos in the coronation of a supreme deity. That chaos is replicated in the revelry of New Year’s Eve, which comes to a halt when the clock strikes twelve and everyone kisses and sings Auld Lang Syne.

In contrast, the Jewish New Year observed in the dead of winter (Tu Bishvat) is one marked by a sacred and optimistic commitment to the future–the planting of trees. No raucous parties accompany this act, just a sense of wonder in the miracle of nature, and a sense of obligation that was put into words in a famous Midrash from the Talmud: “Just as my ancestors planted for me, so shall I plant for my children.”

Likewise, the new year for the festival cycle, Rosh Hashanah, emphasizes themes of reflection and personal assessment. People talk about making new year’s resolutions on the Gregorian New Year, while Rosh Hashanah is less concerned with making promises to ourselves, and more concerned with examining what we have done with the past year. It’s easy to look forward and ignore the past; it is more difficult to confront oneself and acknowledge our weaknesses.

I enjoy the festive quality of the Gregorian new year, while recognizing that the important work of our lives is not about conquering chaos. It is the steady work of planting for the future, and self-examination, that make our lives a continuous work of art.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Intercultural, Jewish Learning
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Faith Kramer's Cheesecake

Faith Kramer’s Cheesecake

I have a friend who is a food writer and chef. She blogs about food and she writes a food column for the J-weekly (the San Francisco bay area Jewish newspaper). She called me a couple months ago as she was writing her December column to ask, “Is having Christmas and Hanukkah overlap fantastic for interfaith families?” For some families, I told her, it’s fine. But a lot of families have the December dumps and some have told me that they ‘run away to Hawaii’ during the school break so that they won’t have to face the (pick your poison) conflict/sadness/stress/sufit of the December holidays.

“Well, what food would be good for interfaith families this time of year?” Faith asked. She took my feedback and came up with a Mint Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust! You can read her recipe in her December column of the J.

If nothing else studies have shown that chocolate increases serotonin levels in the brain. So you’ll feel better just having a slice!

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Christmas, Food
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blue-balls

Rabbi Milder of Beth Emek in Pleasanton shared the following thoughts with his congregation on the overlap of Christmas and Hanukkah this year. He doesn’t just explain how it is that the two holidays can overlap one year but not the next, he explains the different calendars. It’s some pretty useful information. As Americans we often forget that the calendar we use is not really a secular calendar, but rather a Christian calendar that is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in 1582.

When Hanukkah and Christmas Coincide

Okay, this doesn’t happen very often. The first night of Hanukkah happens to fall on Christmas eve this year, December 24.

How unusual? It won’t happen again until 2027, and then it won’t come up again until 2073!

Of course, Hanukkah and Christmas overlap every few years, but the confluence of the beginning of the Jewish and Christian holiday is fairly rare.

Why is that? The holidays operate on two different calendars, and there is no relationship between the two. Even though Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev, and Christmas on the 25th of December, the months of Kislev and December have nothing to do with one another.

The calendar that we commonly think of as the secular calendar (on which today happens to be December 23, 2016) is actually a Christian calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar. It is based on the solar cycle, i.e. it has 365 days a year, plus a correction every four years to make up for the actual solar cycle. If there are 9 hours and 33 minutes of daylight today, next year on December 23 there will also be 9 hours and 33 minutes of daylight.

The Jewish calendar, however, is a lunar-solar calendar. Every month is a lunar month, with the first day being the new moon. Hanukkah will always begin on a waning crescent moon, near the end of the month of Kislev. Gregorian months, by contrast, have nothing to do with the moon.

Since a lunar month is either 29 or 30 days long, while the Gregorian months are 30 or 31 days long, twelve Jewish months wind up being about 12 days shorter than the Gregorian year. The Jewish calendar, therefore, has a correction to get it back in sync with the solar year. That correction is an extra month (Adar I), which gets inserted every two or three years.

For the next couple of years, Hanukkah will move earlier and earlier in December, until we add a leap month, which will push Hanukkah into late December again. The pattern keeps repeating, but the exact days of the respective months don’t sync up very often.

Wondrous? Fascinating? Yes, particularly if you like math and astronomy.

There is a lot to admire and appreciate about the holidays celebrated by other faiths. That Christmas and Hanukkah begin at the same time this year gives us pause to consider what we have to learn from one another. We may not believe the same things, but like the sun and the moon, we are in a kind of dance that goes round and round, shining light each in our own way.

Here’s to the alignment of our cosmic lights!

Happy Hanukkah,

Rabbi Larry Milder

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Christmas, Holidays, Jewish Culture, Jewish Learning
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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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candy-canes-and-candles

Thinking ahead to the December holidays, here’s a question that was sent to my Mixed and Matched column in the Jweekly:

My boyfriend is Jewish and I’m not. I really love Christmas and he doesn’t want to have it in our apartment. I’m not religious; I just love all the fun things about Christmas. A friend of mine suggested that I just start small and gradually introduce Christmassy things each year until I wear him down. I feel awkward doing that on purpose. Is it a good idea or is it kind of sneaky?
— Loving Christmas

My reply.

Dear Loving: I’m with you; it’s not a good idea. You’d be surprised how many non-Jewish partners use that very phrase, “I’ll wear him/her down.” What that, in fact, involves is deception. It is an attempt to gradually change the dynamics of your home, so gradually that presumably your loved one won’t notice. For some people that could work. But for many, the change hits them one day, and they feel tricked.

What can add to the negative reaction at the moment of realization is that a part of them questions whether they have a right to reject Christmas practices when they know full well that last year they went along with the big tree and the year before that they went along with the party on Christmas Eve. They feel sort of guilty and ask themselves, when did I accept all this because clearly I did. The guilt leads to increased anger at themselves and at their partner.

Additionally, the Christian or secular person can feel like, hey, you were fine with this last year. You didn’t say anything about the tree and the caroling, why are you so upset about Christmas wrapping paper? Since the Christian spouse has gotten used to the evolving arrangement too, she may feel surprised and hurt by this sudden shift of emotions. Even worse, the Jewish partner may respond with silent anger and withdrawal. It can turn into a passive-aggressive reaction of, “I’m not mad. It’s just your thing; I’ll be working late.”

If extended family, parents and siblings have become a part of the expanding Christmas, it adds to the awkwardness. You may find yourself saying, “What am I supposed to do? Tell my parents you refuse to attend their Christmas celebration?” The Jewish partner feels trapped and betrayed and the non-Jewish partner feels hurt and misunderstood.

You say you love Christmas, so be honest with your boyfriend. Tell him you know he doesn’t want to have the holiday in your home. Discuss which aspects of the holiday are particularly meaningful to each of you. You may love being with your family, making your grandmother’s special gingerbread and trimming the tree. He may feel that he is drowning in a culture not his own and that the world really doesn’t understand what it means to be a Jew, especially at this time of year. Try to hear what each other is feeling and to understand how this holiday elicits these emotions.

At a workshop I ran, there were two non-Jewish wives. One told the group that she did “everything Jewish,” but she wanted Christmas to be the one concession to her upbringing. So she and her husband celebrated it in their home.

The other wife said that her husband felt overwhelmed by the Christmas season, which permeated everywhere. She said that her husband needed for their home to be a sanctuary where he could escape from the onslaught of Christmas, so they did not observe Christmas.

You and your boyfriend need to find your place in that continuum. There are so many options that I can’t list them all. But here are some things to consider:

• What are the strong feelings that each of you have — positive and negative?

• Who will be impacted by your decisions — extended family, your spiritual communities, children, whether current or future.

• Are there elements of Hanukkah that can meet your need to celebrate? A party, seeing friends, baking?

• Don’t let the commercialism of Christmas define your activities. Look for actions that hold deeper meaning than a mere material item.

• Ask your boyfriend what he is doing that is Jewish? He may need to get Jewishly active.

Posted by admin under Christmas, Relationships
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jewsandchristmas

You may want to decorate a Christmas tree while your partner wants to make latkes. What will work for you as a family? Whether December is your favorite month – full of Christmas cookies and chocolate gelt – or your most dreaded month – material surfeit and cultural overwhelm – you are invited to join this open and supportive discussion on how to handle the December dash.

This year will be especially interesting because the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 4
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton
Cost: Free to Beth Emek members, $8 public. No one turned away!
Sign up here or just show up.
www.bethemek.org

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Christmas, Holidays, Parenting
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