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Sep 5 2014

Why is Gwyneth Paltrow Converting to Judaism?

By at 3:52 pm

Gwyneth-Converting

Last we checked, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were consciously uncoupling, recoupling, and uncoupling again. Now Gwyneth has dropped a new bombshell: she’s converting–to Judaism!

Wait a minute–wasn’t she already Jewish? Isn’t that’s why we’ve been covering the Gwyneth beat since Kveller’s inception? Well, Wikipedia confirms that her filmmaker dad, Bruce Paltrow, was a Jew, while her mother, Blythe Danner, is a Christian. Gwyneth was raised both Jewish and Christian, which she’s said, “was such a nice way to grow up.”

Page Six explains that since Gwyneth has taken an interest in Kabbalah several years ago, she’s been rediscovering her Jewish roots: Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 3 2014

A Hebrew Naming Ceremony… for Toddlers

By at 9:52 am

hello my name is nametags

I’m planning a Hebrew naming ceremony for my children. They aren’t twins. And they aren’t babies. Rather, despite their different ages, they haven’t already experienced this lovely rite of passage because I was ambivalent about my Jewishness. While I was raised Jewish and never questioned my religion, when my first husband insisted that I have my mother’s Jewishness “checked” by an Orthodox rabbi, this changed. According to this rabbi, my mother’s conversion wasn’t kosher, and in order to be married in an Orthodox ceremony and for any future children to be considered Jewish, I would have to study and undergo a full conversion. I was shocked.

As a child, I had dressed up like Queen Esther on Purim, endured matzah on Passover, had my apples dipped in honey for Rosh Hashanah, fasted on Yom Kippur, and decorated a sukkah in the fall. For a number of years, I accompanied my mother to Harold’s Kosher Market because she kept a kosher kitchen and Shabbat was a weekly observance. I was told we were Orthodox growing up, yet there was the official opinion: I was not Jewish–enough. This was not deduced from what was in my heart, my knowledge, or my soul. Rather, it was based solely on my mother’s conversion paperwork, signed by a rabbi not known to be from an Orthodox background. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 10 2014

So You’re Thinking of Converting Your Child

By at 3:54 pm

mikveh

I’m a Jew-by-choice. But my conversion to Judaism wasn’t voluntary. When I was about 4 or 5, my Catholic parents converted and took me and my siblings along with them.

I don’t have a great recollection of the process. I vaguely remember the mikveh, which just seemed like a trip to the pool. I remember standing in front of the congregation as our conversion was announced. But that’s about it.

But while I don’t really remember the conversion itself, my experiences growing up as a converted Jew were instructive. Indeed, considering every adult should be free to choose his or her own religious path, choosing to alter your child’s path requires additional consideration. Here are some things to consider before converting your children. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 25 2014

When It Comes to Food, Southerners & Israelis Have a Lot in Common

By at 3:51 pm

spices

I am a southerner. My husband is an Isreali. On the outset, many people think it is a strange pairing, but in fact, our backgrounds share much in common. We are both from communities made up of tenacious people of faith whose circumstances inspire ingenuity and who are intensely tied to the land.

I was not raised Jewish, but my spiritual journey to Judaism began long before I met my husband. I converted on my own terms, yet my decision to go kosher was one that was venturing into a new and frightening territory. It was encroaching on the little piece of home that I had left, my kitchen.

Living in New York, most Jewish food is of the Ashkenazi fare. Either sweet or salty, it often tasted bland to my palate, and completely foreign to me. I never had a vegetable that wasn’t cooked in bacon grease until I moved here. Nor would I believe you, if you had told me I would never go to another crawfish boil again. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 10 2014

When One Daughter is Jewish and the Other is Not

By at 10:40 am

one-Jewish-child

A lot has changed since I had my first child: I got divorced, converted to Judaism, and most recently, got re-married. My wife is also Jewish. We have a daughter together who is Jewish, and she is being raised Jewish. So far, so good, right?

But this is my second marriage and I have a fabulous daughter from my first marriage. While I do share custody with my ex-husband, my first daughter lives with me the majority of the time. And she is not Jewish.

When converting, I did a lot of reading about the commitment as a Jewish parent of raising your children to be observant Jews. You teach them or you have them taught at religious school about the history, the culture, and the religion of Judaism. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 18 2014

My Conversion Prayers Were Answered Through An Orthodox A Cappella Group

By at 10:16 am

concert-Kol-Shira

I love music. I’ve been singing all my life. I belted out an elaborate rendition of “Old Macdonald” in my yellow bathing suit for the cable guy when I was 3 and sang on stage throughout adolescence and college. So much of my life has been set to music; every year a different show, a different song. It is how I built an inner confidence and poise. I have always felt that my voice was one of the things that brought me closest to God. A gift I was blessed with and never took for granted.

But marriage and careers and babies and more babies made it very hard to fit singing into my life.

I remember the first time I set foot in a temple for services. While it was a Reform congregation, the service and songs were primarily in Hebrew. Everything felt foreign to me. I knew that Judaism was calling to me but in that moment I couldn’t hear it. I felt lost, confused and disconnected. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 10 2014

Can a Christian Mother Raise a Jewish Child? Yes, but It’s Complicated.

By at 10:21 am

challah-interfaith

During a recent parent-teacher conference, I learned that my 8-year-old daughter Sophia was asked by a classmate at her Jewish day school, “So your dad is Jewish and your mom isn’t?” Sophia responded, “Yes.” The other child said, “You know if your mom’s not Jewish, then you aren’t either.” According to a teacher who overheard this conversation, Sophia responded, “It’s complicated,” and walked away.

When the teacher told me this story, my first reaction was anger at the other child and my second reaction was regret that Sophia hadn’t dished out a firm retort: “Yes I AM Jewish, I was converted by an Orthodox rabbi when I was a baby, and, by the way, it’s none of your business anyway!”

I could go on. But it would go south fast, as in, “And you go tell whatever parent or rabbi who taught you it was ok to question someone else’s religious identity to shove…”

OK, I admit it. I’m a little defensive…actually, more than a little. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 27 2014

Why I Am Choosing to Convert My Preschool Son

By at 10:19 am

why i'm converting my preschool son

When my husband and I met, he was Jewish. I was an absentee Catholic. Very early on, we agreed that we both wanted kids, and that they would be raised Jewish. At the time, I didn’t fully grasp what that meant.

Over the course of the next few years, I learned about Jewish traditions and culture. We had as Jewish of a wedding as a Jew and a non-Jew can have. When our son came along, my husband searched the Bay Area for a mohel who would ritually circumcise Sam. Since I was not Jewish and so neither was Sam, this was not an easy task. Finally, we found one and our son had his bris at home on his eighth day of life.

Sometime in the following few years, I decided to convert. My year of studying with the rabbi was one of the most important of my life. The rabbi said, “You’ll know you’re ready when you stop thinking of Jews as ‘them’ and think of it as ‘us’.” My studies, attending shul, searching my soul, and my time speaking with the rabbis gradually, over time, transformed me into a Jew. When the scheduler called with my date for the mikveh, I was as excited as I was about scheduling my wedding day. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 24 2013

How My Pregnancy Cravings Led to a Quasi-Conversion

By at 2:13 pm

moroccon food

When I was pregnant with my son, I knew he was going to have blond hair and blue grey eyes like my father. I knew he would take after my American side–rather than his Israeli father–because all the time I was pregnant, I craved pizza, hamburgers, and Coca-Cola.

I was not surprised when he was brought to me: a skinny old man with blue eyes and strawberry blond hair. I gave him a name my Israeli-Jewish husband approved of: Eitan. In America we would call him Ethan, a Puritan name, to reflect my own American Protestant roots. I called him Eitan ha katan because it rhymed. Ethan the little. When my son was 2 years old, we moved, for six months, to Israel.

Conversion to Judaism had never really been a question. My husband and I married just seven months after meeting and I knew I had no chance at an Orthodox conversion. According to Israeli law, I would never be Jewish, nor would our son. And anyway, my husband had grown up on a kibbutz. His childhood was largely secular. His own father had been rumored to eat sausage on Yom Kippur. When we’d lived on the kibbutz for those few months, my father-in-law took great pleasure in bringing me wrapped deli ham from the Russian butcher as a Friday night treat. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 10 2013

A Non-Jewish Surrogate Gave Birth To My Son, And Then We Held a Conversion Ceremony

By at 10:54 am

Boy under waterThanks to a New York Times article, there was quite a bit of discussion last week about whether a baby conceived with a non-Jewish egg donor but carried and raised by a Jewish women is considered Jewish.  And here on Kveller, Jordana Horn eloquently proposed that rather than question the identity of such a baby, we should embrace this child into Jewish life, with which I wholeheartedly agree.  As long as any child or family considers itself Jewish and lives accordingly, should it matter what a small group of Rabbis declares is that child’s identity?  No, of course not.

That said, two weeks ago my husband and I took our four-year-old son to the mikveh to complete his conversion.

Our younger son S. was born through gestational surrogacy.  He is 100% biologically our child but was carried by another women, in our case a non-Jewish woman.

My husband and I have no doubt S. is Jewish.  Neither does S.  He sang the Ma Nishtanah at our Seder, sings Shalom Aleichem each Shabbat, and will spontaneously burst into Adon Olam, to the tune of Call Me Maybe, while playing with Legos.  But because of the circumstances of his birth, there are those who might question whether S. is indeed Jewish. Read the rest of this entry →

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