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Nov 26 2013

The Santa Dreidel–It’s a Real Thing

By at 12:09 pm


Walking down the street in my neighborhood the other day, I glanced in the window of a shop at their holiday display and saw something that made me stop in my tracks. What was it, you ask?

The Santa Dreidel. Seems like it’s this year’s version of the Jewish star Christmas tree-topper, or the Hanukkah stocking.

Ah, assimilation. There’s been a lot about it in the Jewish press lately. There was a huge study that came out a few months back, administered by the Pew Research Center, which noted a few trends in the Jewish population in the U.S. The implications were that Jews are becoming less Jewish; instead becoming more secular, intermarrying, and no longer caring as much about Judaism as a religion. Jewish organizations across the country have been wringing their hands–how can we stop the tide of assimilation? How can we convince Jews to stay Jewish? Read the rest of this entry →

8 Things This Military Family is Thankful For This Thanksgivukkah

By at 10:16 am


After the military moved our family seven times over the last seven years, I can say with confidence that I’m more grateful than ever to live in a place with a Jewish community. While criss-crossing the country, trying to forge a Jewish family and maintaining our identities, I’ve learned to appreciate several facets of American Jewish life.

In the spirit of Thanksgivukkah, I’m especially grateful for:

1) A welcoming spirit. The kind-hearted, slow speaking congregation in Pensacola who made my non-Jewish boyfriend feel at home. They led us to the rabbi who agreed to marry us–a Jew and a non-Jew–when we were having trouble finding one who would.

2) A thoughtful mensch. The group of Jews on vacation who met every night on Hanukkah on the bottom deck of the cruise ship we took for our honeymoon in the Gulf of Mexico. They found out that my new husband was on active duty, and one passenger took his name to her congregation, and to this day still sends him care packages when he’s deployed.

3) A powerful ritual. The hometown rabbi in San Antonio who gave us hugs and held our hands while we sobbed and sobbed during Kaddish for our dearly departed young friend. We had both driven from separate cities to be there to sit shiva as best we could.

4) An enduring gathering place. The tiny congregation in West Texas that meets in the seventies-style home downtown with shag carpeting. They only have enough sustaining interest to meet once a month, but they are determined and forward thinking and proud to do so.

5) A nosy friend. The self-styled “Frozen Chosen” Jews of South Dakota who meet in a retro-fitted two story home on the edge of town. Especially to the friend who whispered “Is that a mazel tov?” when she noticed I wasn’t drinking the wine at our mini-seder with mostly non-Jews. She was the first person besides my husband to learn I was pregnant.

6) A homecoming. The same kind-hearted, slow speaking Pensacola congregants who welcomed us all those years ago. They held our son, named for our friend who died, and showed him the memorial garden they planted for her.

7) An accommodating stranger. The well meaning chaplains in rural northwest Oklahoma who included us on the interfaith panel as they diligently tried to help us overcome the reality that being a Jewish family in remote locations often meant being alone.

8) A fresh start. The vibrant, casual southwest Tucsonians who welcomed us into their folds and overwhelmed us with organizations, temple options, playgroups, and party invites.

You see, even though our ties to Judaism were constantly severed with every move we made, there was always another well meaning person or place ready to pick up the slack. Call it continuity or community, fate or fumble, but it was there for us when we learned to look for it.

I imagined the road to maintaining our Judaism would be rough. Between our minority religious status, passive anti-Semitic remarks, simple misunderstandings, and year-to-year geographic uncertainty, how could it not be?

Looking back at Hanukkahs past, I see now that my worries were overblown. The saying “though she be tiny, she be fierce?” That’s our American Judaism how I see it. Those places with more, do more. Those places without, do just fine. It comes down to people. I am grateful to the many of them who have been part of our journey.

Oh, and I don’t have to throw the Hanukkah party this year. Another reason to be grateful.

Like this post? Check out the rest of our interfaith pieces here.


Nov 25 2013

Free Stuff Alert: Four Tickets to the Jewish Children’s Museum

By at 3:25 pm

jewish children's musuem chanukah delight exhibit

If you’re in the New York area with your kids, a stop by the Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn is a must. As the name suggests, the museum is a unique place for children and their parents to explore Jewish history and heritage in a fun and interactive way.

From November 29th to December 4th, the museum is hosting a special program called “Chanukah Delight,” where there will be an interactive olive pressing workshop, donut decorating, balloon animals, a giant menorah, and the opportunity to meet Judah the Maccabee!

jewish children's museum

We’re giving away four tickets to the JCM to one lucky winner ($52 value; to be used any time). To enter, fill out the form below and we’ll choose a winner this coming Thursday, December 5th. 

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Free Stuff Alert: Matisyahu’s Happy Hanukkah Jam-Along App

By at 12:45 pm


Happy almost Hanukkah to you and your family! We are giving away a free interactive Hanukkah music app to three lucky people, designed for kids by Jewish reggae/hip-hop all star, Matisyahu, along with musical app company, Mibbilio.

This musical storybook entitled “Matisyahu’s ‘Happy Hanukkah’ Jam-Along” allows you and your kids to play music together while reading along with fun holiday text. You can preview the app here.

To enter, fill out the form below by midnight tomorrow, Tuesday, November 26th. Enter now, good luck, and happy Hanukkah!

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This Year I’m Thankful for My Mom

By at 10:03 am

lighting the menorah

People are all about being thankful this time of year. So, in lieu of Thanksgiving approaching, I want to thank my mom. I could seriously spend a lifetime thanking my mom. No, really, I could!

I could thank my mom for always putting me first as a single mother. I could thank her for encouraging me to follow my passion of horseback riding and being my cheerleader at every competition. I could thank her for my love (borderline obsession) with chocolate. I could go on and on, but it would sound too cliche. Every mother knows they gave their child the gift of life, right?

Instead I will thank my mom for doing something profound–showing unconditional love and acceptance as her Christian daughter embraces Judaism:

Thank you for seeing my interfaith marriage as a strength, not a weakness. You were beyond excited about the breaking of the glass, the Hora, and the ketubah signing at our wedding. I know it broke your heart silently that I wasn’t married in a church as generations before me did. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 21 2013

A Rabbi’s Take on the Whole Celebrating-Christmas-and-Hanukkah Thing

By at 3:46 pm


And now the Kveller Rabbi weighs in on what is most likely the most contentious issue on the calendar: Can you do both? Can one family celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah?

It is not a neutral issue. People on both sides feel passionately. The question with which most families struggle, though, is not an interfaith one. It is an inter-cultural one. Or, as I have heard in some circles, an interfaithless one–because theological belief is not what is getting Kveller readers hot under the collar. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 20 2013

The Interfaith Message is Wrong

By at 9:00 am


It’s sort of accepted lore by everyone that you must choose one religion to raise your children. Kids will be confused, it’s a watering down of both traditions, and in the end, by not choosing one tradition, you’re in essence choosing no tradition that your child will be fully comfortable in. Don’t do both–do just one. If you’re Jewish, BE Jewish. Do it all the way. And if you are going to do it halfway, at least acknowledge that you are going to have hopeless, confused, and bewildered kids, with no real spiritual grounding or traditions to fall back on.

At least, that’s the message I’ve always gotten. And I’ve been doing this for a while now; my husband and I are coming up on our 12 year anniversary. And what I’ve found, for us, is that the message is wrong.

I know that we’re not technically interfaith. I converted to Judaism, and my oldest two children went to the mikveh along with me. Our youngest was born after the conversion, so her Judaism is assured as well. My oldest child knew she was Jewish from an early age, but it became clear that according to Jewish law, technically, she wasn’t. I didn’t want her to feel torn or like she wasn’t able to claim her Judaism, and took the steps to make sure that she was officially Jewish, even though there are still a lot of Jewish rabbis who would still claim that her conversion isn’t valid because it wasn’t through an Orthodox rabbi. But I did all I could to make sure that she, her brother, and any future children would feel as at home and as comfortable in the religion and spiritual community we were raising them in as possible.

Even before conversion, I was never a particularly observant Catholic. Spiritual, yes, but not particularly “religious.” So in many ways, we didn’t face the same kind of religious discussions that other interfaith families had. Jewish theology has always made sense to me, and it was always a good fit for what I had sort of figured out on my own.

While I still feel very much like we’re an interfaith family, we’re not. We’re an “interculture” family. As far as spiritually, we’re pretty much on the same page. My husband and I aren’t identical in our beliefs, but we’re close enough–closer probably than many couples where both members grew up Jewish. But culturally, we’re still very different.

I love Christmas, he doesn’t. I downplay it in our home, but still actively celebrate–and he celebrates it a lot more than he’d like to, I’m sure. It’s a cultural difference. Neither of our parents are delighted with it. Mine worry that the kids are missing out, and his don’t really understand why I keep insisting on having a tree every year. Not every difference is as weighted. I like milk with dinner and butter on my bagels, and he doesn’t. I’ll never remember to get gefilte fish for Passover without being reminded, and I still think horseradish is gross. He prefers to have the prayers and blessings in Hebrew; I’d rather English, so we do both.

But we have three kids–five including my (Jewish) stepdaughters–and we’re raising them in a Jewish household.  And I get mad. I know I need to stop, but I get hurt and mad and offended when I read that our parenting style  is “wrong,” and that our kids are only half Jewish and thus not as “Jewish” as kids who weren’t afflicted with a non-Jewish parent.  I get hurt and frustrated when I think about my kids reading debates over whether or not they’re actually Jewish, discussions over how their upbringing may be leading to the demise of the Jewish people as a whole, and why putting up a Christmas tree is so, so wrong.

My kids are Jewish. They know that they are part of an ancient tradition, repeating prayers and celebrating holidays that go back for thousands of years. But they’re also proud descendants of Irish, Scottish, and English colonists, and have a branch of the family tree for the lone man who was put to death during the Salem Witch Trials. My family believes in fairies and Christmas trees, too much candy on Easter, and that going to the ocean is a spiritual experience. That’s as much a part of them as matzah on Passover and singing the shema. They shouldn’t feel as though to be one, they can’t have the other.

I’m convinced that we, as a Jewish community, need to really think about the message we send when we claim that interfaith marriage is wrong. In light of the overwhelming number of kids with one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent, we need to be a whole lot more inclusive and accepting and supportive. Judaism has lasted for thousands of years, and I don’t think that my marriage, and others like it, are going to stop it now.

Like this post? Check out the rest of our interfaith pieces here.

Nov 19 2013

Forget Thanksgivukkah–I’m Dealing with Birthdaykah

By at 11:49 am


Over the past several weeks, my inbox and newsfeed have been filled with various reminders that we are approaching a once-in-70,000-years event: the overlap of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, endearingly named Thanksgivukkah. While I am very much looking forward to cranberry-sauce-stuffed latkes and turkey menorahs, I am having misgivings about another far less public overlap that will be happening in my home this year; that of Hanukkah and my son’s birthday.

I am excited to celebrate both of these happy occasions, but am a little nervous about what will happen with gift-giving squared. Don’t get me wrong; I relish seeing the happiness in my children’s faces when they rip open wrapping paper to find the items that have been topping their wish-list. Yet, I also find that there is an inverse relationship (and I thought I would never again use high-school math) between the number of gifts they receive and their level of appreciation.

I am sure that I cannot be the only mother (at least I hope I am not the only one) who has had a child open a gift in front of the giver and blurt out a particularly inappropriate remark. Something along the lines of, “Is that all?” or, “That’s not the one I wanted,” or, “But my brother’s present is better,” or a similar comment that makes you want to invent a machine that would filter your children’s thoughts somewhere between their brains and their mouths. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 18 2013

Hanukkah Giveaway: $50 Gift Card for Adorable Hanukkah Dresses from Kids Fly Too

By at 2:02 pm

hanukkah dress giveaway from Kids Fly Too

Greetings, Kvellerites! We’ve got a Hanukkah giveaway for you of the most adorable sort.

Kids Fly Too, an online clothing shop that features limited edition dresses, all made in the USA, has just about the cutest Hanukkah dresses for the little girl in your life. We have one $50 gift card to give away to a lucky reader. But fear not, even if you don’t win, we’ve got a gift for you: use the code “kvell” for free US shipping on Hanukkah dresses. All Hanukkah dresses will ship within one business day to ensure they arrive in plenty of time. For more from Kids Fly Too, check out their Facebook page.

To enter to win the gift card, fill out the form below by this Friday, November 22nd. Good luck and Happy Hanukkah!

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Hanukkah Gift Guide: For the Kid Who Prefers to Stay Indoors

By at 11:45 am

For the parents of the kid who would rather play an instrument than soccer, this gift guide is for you!

1. Hohner Kids Toddle Music Band ($21.99) Your little one will rock out and have a blast with this toddler music set, complete with a xylophone, sea drum, bells, and beads!


2. Darice 80-Piece Deluxe Art Set ($17.49) We truthfully want this for ourselves. This all inclusive art set includes water colored pencils, oil pastels, watercolors, paintbrushes, and pencils. Your refrigerator door will be thoroughly decorated for years. Read the rest of this entry →


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