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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 →

Oct 22 2013

I May Not Be Jewish But I Want to Sit Shiva

By at 4:07 pm


shiva

This past week, my 85–year-old grandmother passed away rather suddenly. She was the only grandparent I ever met, and for a couple of years when I lived with her, she was more like a parent figure. My “Grams,” as we called her, was tough as nails. She raised four kids after her husband died at 45 years old, and she was left with nothing. She didn’t even have a driver’s license.

Grams worked 40 hours a week at a six pack store up until about two months before she passed. She always said she wanted to die by “getting hit in the a** by a mac truck.” Well, cancer was her mac truck and it happened rather quickly. Grams was checked into the hospital on a Wednesday, diagnosed on Friday with stage IV cancer, and died Saturday afternoon after the whole family got to say goodbye. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 21 2013

I’m in Love With My Son’s First Celebrity Crush

By at 2:11 pm

mindy kaling

Disclaimer: I asked my son’s permission to write the below piece. He read and signed off on its contents prior to publication.

My oldest son is now 14 years old. For the past few months, he’s been crushing on a TV actress. Nothing surprising about that.

What is surprising is the TV actress he picked: Mindy Kaling, creator, writer, and star of “The Mindy Project.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I happen to be a fan of Mindy myself. My husband and I watch her show regularly. (Though my son actually stumbled on it while on an airplane, and proceeded to binge watch the entire first season. Then he read Mindy’s book. And then he followed her on Twitter.)

My surprise stems from the fact that I expected my son to go the more predictable teenage boy route and obsess over some six foot tall, blonde, Amazonian, busty supermodel type (not that there’s anything wrong with that, either; we all have to work with what we’re given). Mindy Kaling is none of those things. She is relatively short, relatively curvy, non-white and, at least based on the character she plays on TV and the character she plays in interviews (I’ve worked in the media too long to believe anyone is ever being “authentic” in front of a camera), smart, hard-working, an independent thinker. And very, very funny.

In other words, she’s this mom’s dream girl. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 17 2013

I’m a Chinese American Married to a Jew, But Our Marriage Isn’t Trendy

By at 5:02 pm

wedding photo

I am often met by a “knowing look” when I (a Chinese American female) share that my husband is Jewish.

“Oh yeah, that’s a thing,” says [insert well-meaning person’s name here]. And you know, according to all sorts of sources–including the New York Timesit does seem to be a thing. It appears I’m one half of a “marriage trend” that’s sweeping the nation, or at least High Holiday Services. (A professor once mentioned to me that her synagogue had Asian women “sprouting up” all over the congregation.) People usually cite the most popular examples, e.g., Mark Zuckerberg and “his Asian wife,” Maury Povich and Connie Chung, Woody Allen and “his very young Asian wife.” (Hmmm, Connie excluded, I’d say we Asian women are getting the shaft in terms of name recognition. But this is all beside my point.)

Our marriage isn’t trendy. At first glance, we might fit the bill. But ours is not a Jewish boy meets Asian girl, and due to a number of conveniently shared values–“tight-knit families, money saving, hard work, and educational advancement” included–they fall in love kind of story. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 14 2013

Double the Prayers for My Interfaith Baby

By at 2:20 pm

newborn baby in incubator

My youngest daughter, Piper, started out life as a pretty sick baby.

She was born in the middle of the night a little over a week early. I prefer to leave the hospital as soon as possible, since I despise being cold and bothered every hour. I like my bed and my house and very much missed my older daughter, Delanie. Piper had “other plans,” as I like to say. She had a small heart murmur, causing us to stay an additional day for some overly expensive testing.

One night, while my parents were visiting, Piper was having a coughing fit and turned purple. My mom, who is an RN, patted her back fairly hard and Piper seemed to be fine. We let the nurse know and she thought maybe because she was born via C-Section (my second) that she did not get all the mucus squeezed out of her. All in all, they monitored her and performed the additional test. Everything came back normal, and we went home. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 9 2013

My Name is Rachel Stein & I Am Not a Jew

By at 10:00 am

shutterstock_142052896

To be honest, my full name is Rachel Beth Stein. Oy. Before my husband and I got married, I was a church-going, Italian meatball-making girl. There was one boy in my school who was Jewish and the extent of my Jewish knowledge was that I got off for the high holidays from school and that macaroons rocked my world.

When my husband and I got married, I didn’t realize what a huge change it would be to take on that name. Everyone asks me what Yeshiva I went to, which temple I grew up attending, and I was granted the Jewish holidays off from work without asking (OK, that last one was great but you get my point). My name seemed to give me a reputation I was totally unprepared for. I finally had to come up with a one-liner to let people down slowly that the girl with the very Jewish name did not know how to read Hebrew and could not understand most of what was going on at services except for the “Amen” part. I would sometimes say jokingly, “Oh, I’m new to the old testament.” Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 7 2013

How the Maccabeats Helped Me Breastfeed

By at 5:02 pm
the maccabeats

Via Flickr/NewYorkBrass

 

Like so many of us, my love for The Maccabeats started innocently enough with their “Candlelight” YouTube hit.

But now my passing admiration has blossomed into a much deeper and holistic appreciation of their music and purpose.

Coming from the deep southwest, we simply don’t have many (any?) Jewish musical groups to speak of. The whole concept of a Jewish boy band or a cappella group was entirely foreign to me until I heard The Maccabeats sing in their matching white shirts and yarmulkes.

My non-Jewish husband was so entertained by their Hanukkah video; he went so far as to purchase their album and surprised me with it. When he blasted it out, I remember hot tears of joy streaming down my cheeks. I had never heard Lekhah Dodi sound so beautiful. Read the rest of this entry →

Dissecting That Poll About Secular & Assimilated American Jews

By at 1:48 pm

jordana horn and daughter doing shabbat


The Pew Research Center recently released the results of a major survey of American Jews and the results have a LOT of people talking. One-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion and two-thirds of these “Jews of no religion” say they are not raising their kids Jewish or partially Jewish, according to the survey. Our contributing editors Jordana Horn and Adina Kay-Gross respond to the survey and one controversial article on on Slate entitled “American Jews are Secular, Intermarried, and Assimilated. Great News!

Jordana: Okay, Adina, let’s talk tachlis (bottom-line) about this Slate piece by author Gabriel Roth, in which he says the Pew report’s news about the degeneration of American Jews is A-OK by him. The report, in relevant part, states that “Increasing numbers of Jews are not religious, are married to non-Jews, and are raising their children outside the faith.”

Roth (whose fiction work I’ve read and loved) says he, personally, exemplifies the problem: he considers himself Jewish but not religious, he’s married to a non-Jew, and his kid is being raised as “partially Jewish,” whatever that may mean.

I guess my blood started boiling when I read, “And as an intermarried Jewish nonbeliever, I think it’s time we anxious Jews stopped worrying and learned to love our assimilated condition—even if it means that our children call themselves half-Jewish and our grandchildren don’t consider themselves Jews at all.” Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 3 2013

Chelsea Clinton’s 2014 Baby Campaign

By at 4:00 pm

shutterstock_105030977

Chelsea Clinton seems like a woman who knows what she wants and when she wants it. In terms of when to have a baby, it’s already marked on her calendar.

Clinton, 33, recently revealed in an interview with Glamour Magazine that she and (Jewish!) husband Marc Mezvinsky would like to start a family in the coming year.

“We sat down and said, ‘Here’s what we want to do.’ The first thing on the list was simple: We want, God willing, to start a family,” the 33-year-old said. “So we decided we were going to make 2014 the Year of the Baby.”

Like most mothers of married adult women in their 30s, potential grandmother-to-be Hillary Clinton is waiting with bated breath for a little grandchild of her own.

“And please,” Chelsea pleads, “call my mother and tell her that. She asks us about it every single day.”

We hope to see a kvelling Clinton clan come 2014! In the meantime, they can start thinking about names–this Jewish political baby name list should help.

Sep 30 2013

Welcome to the World, Richard Xu Mei Tolsky!

By at 11:12 am
molly thumbs up

Sorry, no baby photos, but hey, here’s how I’m feeling right now.

It warms my childless auntie heart to announce the birth of my new nephew, Richard Xu Mei Tolsky, who came into this world on September 28th in… wait for it… China! Dalian, China to be exact, where my brother moved to teach English and then promptly met the love of his life, got married, and got busy. And I thought having a niece in Chicago was hard.

Mom and baby are doing great, and after a good phone call with my brother, I think it’s safe to say this is the happiest he’s ever been. There is, of course, one problem, which is that he doesn’t want any pictures of his baby on Facebook (the horror!) which is making it especially hard on some of the extended family members who want to kvell over the new addition (I’m looking at you, Bubbe).

I’d also like to point out that I’ve never known the power of naming a baby after a deceased relative until my brother said his name was Richard, the name of our incredible grandfather who passed away last year. I’m so happy to have another Richard in my life, especially one with such a kickass middle initial.

OK, must start looking at airfare to China…

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