thank you god book65-8_LRG

An Early Childhood Educator once told me, “Children are organically spiritual.” Children naturally explore the non-physical world. They wonder about it. For children, the whole world is new. They are curious and will hear from friends, TV, the internet, commercials, etc. about God. They will wonder about God. Is God really a man? Does he have a beard? Can you see God? Have you seen God, Mom? Whether you personally have a God concept or not, chances are that our society will give your children one – an American, socially appropriate concept. However, that concept may not sit well with you. So how CAN we talk to our children about God?

Begin by asking your child what they believe. Do they believe in “God”? If so, what is God like? See what things they say that you can affirm.

Working with your spouse or a good friend, try to articulate your own God concept – or your reason for disbelief. Put words to it. Make it real to you. Then listen to their beliefs and interpretations. I hope that you pick someone with whom you do not entirely agree; because, believe me, neither you nor I actually know what God is. Once you have a way to describe what you believe, you have something tangible to tell your child. You may express some doubt too, like “no one has ever seen God so no one knows exactly what God is like.” You may tell your child, “When you said X it made me really think.” Children can have some pretty profound ideas.

Then there is the challenge of sharing your ideas, plus those of your child’s other parent, into age appropriate words. What if the two of you disagree? Do you have to have an agreed upon message for your child? What if your child is going to Hebrew school and bringing home bible stories that anthropomorphize God and it’s driving you mad? What do you say to your child, your spouse, the clergy?

Rabbis have amazing conversations about God with children. They are pretty used to it and can help you sort out what you want to say to your child. In fact, all clergy are confronted with this task daily. Go talk to your rabbi, minister or priest. Share your awkward, unrealistic, doubting thoughts. Trust me, they won’t be surprised. Go as a couple.

Do you need to be on the same page as parents? Yes, it is best if you are. But you don’t have to believe the same thing. Perhaps what you’ll both be telling your child is, “Mommy believes in God, but Daddy doesn’t. Here’s why we each think as we do. No one knows for sure about God so we all are just trying to figure it out. We have decided to raise you Jewish/Christian/Hindu so you’ll get to learn from rabbi/minister/priest how Judaism/Christianity/Hinduism understands God. As you get older you’ll keep thinking and you’ll be able to tell us what ideas have come to you.”

This is a time when your interfaith family can come in quite handy. You can point out that Grandma doesn’t believe in God but she always goes to synagogue because she believes in keeping the Jewish people together. Grandpa believes in Jesus but doesn’t really like to go to church so he prays at home. Aunt Julie is an atheist; she can’t decide whether there’s a God or not, but she believes in being a good person so she chose to be a doctor.

Your core message about God will reflect those things that you want to see in your own and your child’s life. Is that kindness, service to others, patience, acceptance of the ideas of others? You will tie these actions/values to the way you speak of the BIG things in life: God, Purpose, Meaning.

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In her own words

One of the speakers at this Sunday’s Growing Up Interfaith Conference is Zoe Francesca. Zoe agreed to write an op-ed for the Jweekly. Here is her beautiful, heartfelt article.

I’m looking forward to the “Growing Up Interfaith” conference coming up this weekend in Oakland. It’s still a bit uncomfortable to reveal that I am a so-called patrilineal Jew, but maybe it’s time for more of us to come out. I’m turning 50 this year, and it took about 40 years for me to comfortably identify as Jewish. I know what it means to wander the desert for 40 years.

First came the half-and-half identity: half-Jewish on my father’s side, half-ex-Catholic on my mother’s side. But this, I was told by my peers, meant I was really nothing, because Judaism holds that the mother must be Jewish. (I was also repeatedly told that Hitler would have killed me anyway, an interesting, but not unheard of, way to be included.) My parents were fine with nothing because they had both decided to reject religion in light of the fact that “there is no God,” and “religion is the root cause of all wars” — and probably some other factors. My grandparents on both sides wished their son and daughter had married in, not out — causing another type of war.
But I wasn’t OK with nothing. I wanted to be something. I was a spiritual soul. I reached out again and again. My greatest sorrow and stumbling block to joining a church or synagogue service was that I didn’t know what to do in those services.
One time, my mother agreed to let me accompany a classmate to religious school. It happened to be near Rosh Hashanah, and the teacher was comparing the Jewish New Year to the Christian one. “The difference is,” he said, “the Christians have a party and get drunk on New Year’s Eve. We Jews fast and ask forgiveness for our mistakes.” It made me feel like if I chose Judaism, it would be tantamount to denigrating my Christian heritage. I never wanted to disparage my mother’s cultural gifts that way. I didn’t want to be a football between two religions, the same way children of divorce don’t want to be a football between their two parents. I didn’t go back to the religious school.
Each time I made a tentative step toward Judaism, I was told by various Israelis, rabbis and Jewish teachers that I wasn’t Jewish.
I sat before them, asking to be validated and accepted as a Jew-in-training. Why didn’t those rabbis and teachers explain the semantics to me? Offer conversion? Discuss halachah? Explain my options? I’ll never know. Each time, I walked away feeling rejected.
My mother taught me that churches could be sanctuaries of peace and beauty — though she never brought me to a church service, she sometimes brought me to sit in empty churches when no one was there — and that Christmas could be the same. My Jewish grandmother taught me that Israel was a place of profound hope for the Jewish people, and she nurtured my Jewish soul with her food, her Yiddish expressions and her humor. I could have gone either way, but I fell in love with the Hebrew language, the land of Israel/Palestine, and I even lived in Israel for a while.
I joined first one synagogue and then another. And still I would go to the rabbis and teachers with the speech about “Am I Jewish?” Then, finally, on my 35th birthday, I gave myself permission to start practicing Judaism as a religion. Soon afterward, my husband and I decided to raise our newborn children Jewish. After 35 years on this earth, I decided that I was a Jew, and that was that. Even if you still think I’m not really Jewish, I do.
Please don’t let my story scare you away from marrying a non-Jewish person that you love. Don’t let it stop you from giving your children your blessing if they marry a non-Jew. Instead, embrace patrilineal Jews and anyone who comes to you asking, “Can I join your tribe?” Find out what to do in a synagogue, and make sure your children know what to do. If your children ask for a spiritual education, please give it to them. It will save them from wandering in the desert for too many years.

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Marty-Ross-199x300

My parents (especially my mother) thought it important to raise me as a member of “the human religion.” The mantra: “I am not a this or a that – I am a human” rings as a distant memory in my ears when recalling that fundamental message.

I think my father, a child prodigy violinist raised in a first-generation immigrant Jewish home, came to view Judaism as a narrow-minded and limited world view. He would hold up his hands to the sides of his head when describing how their Judaism was worn by his parents like “blinders on a horse.”

My mother, raised as a southern Baptist during the depression, developed an early disgust for the bigotry, prejudice and negativism she observed in her environment and in her church. She often recalled her distress witnessing unfair actions against neighbors of color, of “fire and brimstone” sermons and of the shaming and humiliation of church congregants – with the preacher banging a loud gavel while admonishing: “you sinners, you’re going to hell!”

With the benefit of 9 years of parental experience considering the question of what religious upbringing or exposure they want for their kids prior to my arrival, my parents basically decided they would let nature take its course with me – to not try to provide me any specific religious exposure or training as they had done with my older siblings. An interesting side note is that neither of my siblings has chosen the “Jewish” path, as I have.

I’ve always embraced my parents’ humanistic view pretty deeply, but I also envied that sense of “belonging” and “rooted-ness” I perceived my Jewish friends as having. That feeling grew, and upon entering college I joined a Jewish fraternity, developed an interest in Zionism, enrolled in some courses in Hebrew and Jewish studies at UCLA and the University of Judaism (including a Reconstructionist conversion program there that I did not go through with), and generally began to surround myself in a Jewish environment.

Several years later, I made good on a suggestion I saw on the cover of my fraternity’s newsletter, which read: “if you’ve been waiting for an invitation to visit Israel, you’ve got it!”, and signed up for the WUJS (World Union of Jewish Students) – a year abroad program in the Negev desert. I loved it so much that I stayed another 7 years in Israel, working in my field (software development)! While there, I met someone who told me about a cheap way to learn about Judaism more deeply, sponsored by the rabbinate: the conversion program. I entered it, specifically not committing to convert, although at the end it felt like the right thing to do, so I moved through it becoming officially Jewish.

Upon returning to the United States, it’s been a struggle for me to find a comfortable convergence of religious practices. I currently hold my “Jewish training” a bit – as my father said – limiting in its proscriptions, although I struggle with it as defining my Jewish identity and understanding. I haven’t lived according to the orthodox interpretations of Halacha for many years now, yet still struggle with a dissonance – of a feeling that the “authenticity” of my Jewish-ness is brought into question, given the tenants of my conversion. Also, I do believe deep down to some extent that “it’s the traditions (law?) which have (has) kept the Jewish people”, which makes me feel a bit of a hypocrite. One thing I’m very happy about and comfortable with is that I have given myself enough of a context to help give my kids a decent chance at feeling a “belonging” and a “rooted-ness” that I never had.

Together with my loving and supportive wife Renee (who grew up in a reform Jewish environment), and with the help of our affiliation and participation in our Conservative synagogue (Netivot Shalom) and a Jewish after-school program named Edah, we are helping to keep the metaphorical leaf from my father’s ancestral branch of the Hebrew tree from falling off.

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Mizmor Shir musicians

Mizmor Shir musicians

I’ve often told you to look for musical services, outdoor services, and that sort of twist on a regular synagogue service to expand your own idea of what Jewish prayer can be like and to give your non-Jewish family members another way to access Jewish liturgy.

Mizmor Shir is a good example of a Musical service. It is held every 3rd Friday at Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation in Oakland. Here’s their description:

Mizmor Shir!
Mizmor Shir! is a popular phrase found in the Book of Psalms which means ‘Sing a Song,’ and was used during ancient times to direct the Levites, the musicians in the Temple in Jerusalem. Psalm 150 lists the many instruments the Levites played in the Temple as they sang the liturgy during worship. Some of these instruments include: cymbals, harp, lyre, drums, strings and shofar.
In the spirit of the Levites and our ancient heritage, we have created our own Mizmor Shir!Shabbat service featureing guitar, mandolin, percussion, piano, clarinet and flute.
Time: 7:30pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
www.oaklandsinai.org

How do children learn the words and tune? They listen over and over again to the same music. You can do that. Go every month for a year and see if that was new becomes familiar.

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Empathy

I don’t like the way emotions make me feel!

This classic teenage line was spoken by my own daughter during a teen *moment*. She knew what she was saying was silly but she also hated the roller coaster of emotion that teens are heir to. We all have feelings that we’d like to discard at times.

I thought of that line when a dear man I know, the Christian spouse in an interfaith family, said to me, “It’s so hard to worry about how the kids respond to various religious practices. Couldn’t we do what we want and hope it all turns out fine?” Of course he was joking, kind of. I had to give him a hug because it was clear that he didn’t relish the idea of digging down into feelings and all that murky stuff. Seriously though, there are far more parents who avoid that conversation than who make identity formation a conscious part of their parenting job. Why? Primarily two reasons – one, they really don’t have any idea how to even discuss identity with their spouse and kids. Two, it feels uncomfortable, to down right painful, to be out of sync with your partner.

I get it.

“Thank God, we’re not stuck anymore!” is the most common phrase I hear from couples after we’ll talked. It really doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. Think of it like cleaning out the hall closet. Everybody’s stuff is in there. You’re not sure what to do with the belongings of others. It will take time. What if your spouse wants to toss your favorite old sweater? So think of me as a professional organizer. We’ll sort through all that “stuff”, create some order and priorities. We’ll finish up with a plan to keep the closet neat in the future. Think of me as the Konmari of relationships.

You can even test drive the experience by coming to my Growing Up Interfaith Conference on May 22 and FOR FREE hearing lots of ideas on how to have a peaceful family relationship for everyone involved. Go ahead, sign up now. You’ll be glad + there are snacks.

EVENTS
Pirke Avot Study (San Mateo)
Friday Night Lights: The Lag b’Omer Virtual Bonfire Edition (Palo Alto)
Cab Shabbat (San Francisco)
Mizmor Shir! (Oakland)
Jewish Film Series Presents: Mamele (Los Altos Hills)
Preparing for Revelation (Berkeley)
Tikkun Leyl Shavuot – All Night Study (Berkeley)
Kol Truah (Alameda)

Pirke Avot Study
Come study this short and fun Talmud tractate full of pithy sayings and wisdom with Cantor Doron! It’s traditionally studied on Shabbat afternoons between Passover and Shavuot. Texts will be provided or bring your own from home if you have them.

Dates: May 14, 21, 28; June 4 and 11
Time: During Shabbat Kiddush lunch from 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Place: Peninsula Sinai, 499 Boothbay Ave, San Mateo
http://www.peninsulasinai.org

Achshav Yisrael Yom Ha’atzmaut Celebration
All are invited to our community celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day)! Join us to celebrate the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

There will be fun, food, and activities for the whole family: Israeli musician Lior Ben-Hurand his band, Sol Tevel, will perform in Koret Hall — come ready to dance! There will also be a film screening (Dancing in Jaffa), a variety of activities for families and kids on Eva Gunther Plaza, tasty Israeli goodies and drinks, and opportunities for schmoozing and reflecting on Israel’s accomplishments and challenges in the last 68 years.

Date: Sunday, May 15
Time: 3 to 5:30pm
Place: Congregation Beth Sholom, 301 14th Ave, San Francisco
Tickets and info here

Friday Night Lights: The Lag b’Omer Virtual Bonfire Edition
This program for the six and under crowd and their families features Shabbat singing, a light dinner, activities for the children including our featured Friday Night Lights Scavenger Hunt, and wine, cheese and conversation (without the children) for the grown-ups. This program is free and open to all, but please let us know you’re coming so we can plan appropriately.

Date: Friday, May 20
Time: 5:45pm
Place: Etz Chayim, 4161 Alma, Palo Alto
www.etzchayim.org

Cab Shabbat
Yes, that’s ‘cab’ as in cabernet! Kabbalat Shabbat Service featuring melodies by Shlomo Carlebach, led by Jeff Dielle, and wine and cheese pairings, led by Ken Mitchell.

Date: Friday May 20
Time: 7:30pm
Place: B’nai Emunah, 3595 Taraval St., San Francisco
http://bnaiemunahsf.org

Mizmor Shir!
Mizmor Shir! is a popular phrase found in the Book of Psalms which means ‘Sing a Song,’ and was used during ancient times to direct the Levites, the musicians in the Temple in Jerusalem. Psalm 150 lists the many instruments the Levites played in the Temple as they sang the liturgy during worship. Some of these instruments include: cymbals, harp, lyre, drums, strings and shofar.
In the spirit of the Levites and our ancient heritage, we have created our own Mizmor Shir!Shabbat service featuring guitar, mandolin, percussion, piano, clarinet and flute.

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

Jewish Film Series Presents: Mamele
A Sparkling Gem Starring Molly Picon
Molly Picon, “Queen of the Yiddish Musical,” shines in Mamele (little mother), as the dutiful daughter who keeps her family intact after the death of their mother. She’s so busy cooking, cleaning, and matchmaking for her brothers and sisters that she has little time for herself – until she discovers the violinist across the courtyard! The film is free and refreshments will be served.

Date: Saturday, May 21
Time: 3:30pm
Place: In the Beit Kehillah building of Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
More information here

Preparing for Revelation
Join Rabbi Shefa Gold in counting the days of the Omer, as we are preparing ourselves to become the vessels for God’s Presence and messengers for the Divine Word. God instructs Moses to tell us to make ourselves holy for the Day of Revelation, to wash our garments and get ready!
We will joyfully prepare for revelation with this evening of Hebrew Chant. The Chant will help us connect with our longing for Truth, clear our minds, open our hearts and strengthen our commitment to receive Torah anew.

Date: Thursday June 9
Time: 7-9:30pm
Place: Chochmat HaLev, 2215 Prince St, Berkeley
Cost: General Public: Advance $25 /at the door $30; Members: Advance $20 /at the door $25
Details here

Tikkun Leyl Shavuot – All Night Study
Get ready for a unique celebration and night of learning – a spiritual journey bringing together people from a variety of perspectives and affiliations. Come for an hour or stay all night, joined by teachers from our diverse Bay Area Jewish community.

Saturday, June 11 – Sunday, June 12 (6pm – 7am)
JCC East Bay, 1414 Walnut St in Berkeley
co-sponsored by Chochmat HaLev

For most updated info, please check www.jcceastbay.org/tikkun
Childcare provided – pre registration required by June 10
Volunteers Needed! Please contact the office.

Kol Truah
We don’t think great music should disappear, so we’ve put together a volume of what we hop will be many concerts. Come hear us reprise favorites from the past 12 years, and if you don’t hear your own favorite, let us know! The only theme is that we love this music and we know you will too.

Featured on the program will be Ladino, Yiddish, Hebrew, English, Sephardic, old, new, liturgical… well, a mishmash of music!

Date: June 23
Time: 7:30pm
Place: Temple Israel, 3183 Mecartney Rd, Alameda
Suggested donation: $15 general, $10 for students and seniors
For more information contact Cantor Pamela Sawyer at cantorpam@koltruah.org or go to their website.

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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.

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Gold star on Genesis text

In a conversation with a young person who is Asian and Jewish (yes, halachically Jewish, as in has a Jewish mother) I asked, “Are you comfortable in a synagogue?” The answer was, no, so I asked why. The answer:

1. I didn’t get much Jewish education so I don’t really know what’s going on in a service. It’s not familiar to me.
2. No one looks like me (biracial). I’m an outsider.
3. I don’t go to shul so I am literally a stranger. People looking at me might be thinking who is he or they could be thinking, he’s Asian, why is he even here.
4. I’m a secular Jew and going to synagogue is a religious thing. I feel intrinsically that these are my people but I don’t feel comfortable with all this religion.

How can we, as a community, alter this situation?

1. Publicize services that are less formal – musical services, children’s services, learner’s services. These allow adults to come in with no knowledge and just enjoy.

2. We should hold as an ongoing goal to have a more racially diverse synagogue environment – one that matches the demographics of our larger community. How do we get Jews of color to come in our doors? This one is tough. The best way I’ve found to do this is to face it head on and offer not just one, but several programs about Jews of color. A discussion, a lecture, a film – all should be promoted to the community at large. Jews of color are typically not getting the “usual” Jewish media. To promote our What Color Are Jews? program we took out ads on BART. We treated this as a mainstream topic. Which it is.

3. As a member of a synagogue, just assume that everyone who comes in belongs there. It’s no skin off your nose if you treat someone well who turns out to be a non-Jew, a non-member, a curious Christian visiting. But don’t over do it. Smile, say “Shabbat Shalom” and move on.

4. Publicize the non-religious activities of your synagogue as strenuously as the religious ones. Do you take out an ad to announce your High Holy Day services? Consider taking out an ad to announce a class, lecture, or musical performance at your shul. Make sure you have events that someone brand new to the environment can join in without worrying that there will be prayers or Hebrew that is unfamiliar. Remember that a synagogue is “a house of prayer, a house of study and a house of assembly.” Assemble for a wine tasting, bagel bake off, a film, a book discussion and invite the community.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, In their own words, Jews of Color
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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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