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Feb 5 2014

How Do I Talk to My Son About Religion When I Don’t Know What His Religion Is?

By at 4:03 pm

checklist

Ty (age 7): “Mom, am I a Joe?”

Me: “Nope, silly-pants, you are a Ty.”

Ty: “No, Mom, my friend at school asked if I am a Joe, but I wasn’t sure. Are we Joes?”

Me: “What does that mean?”

Ty: “Remember that bad guy was trying to kill Queen Esther and her family because they were Joes?”

Me: “Oh, you mean Jews.”

Ty: “Ahhhh close. Anyway, my friend wants to know, are we Jews?”

Sigh. That is a question I don’t have an easy answer for. We cannot, either by birth, heritage, or conversion, claim to be Jews, and yet as a family we are certainly becoming more Jewish every day. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 27 2014

Loving (and Leaving) the Kibbutz

By at 1:20 pm

kibby

My son was 2 years old and we were living in the West Village. I wasn’t sure the city was the right place to bring up this kid. Maybe another kid, my yet-to-be-born daughter, for instance. But not him. He was and has always been a physically active kid. The only running around he could do was at the playground.

My husband was born on a kibbutz in Israel. He had always described his childhood in idyllic terms, with loads of freedom and activities and nature. He was the person at the Central Park petting zoo who could coax the cow out of the shed. He knew which fruits and vegetables were in season, when. His parents still lived there along with his sister and her children. And while I was not Israeli, or for that matter, even Jewish, I longed for the community and family life he described.

We took the 11-hour plane trip and arrived on the kibbutz. Instantly, my son and I were in love. On the kibbutz I watched him run around excitedly from person to person. Kibbutznik men are generally a loving bunch and were a constant source of entertainment for my young social son. And I? I was relaxed. On that visit, for the first time since my son was born, I could let my guard down. On an Israeli kibbutz, just 15 miles from the Lebanese border, I found peace. Read the rest of this entry →

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 →

Dec 30 2013

When the Jewish Parents from Long Island Spend Christmas with the Missionaries

By at 4:00 pm

details of christmas tree

My father-in-law is the vice president of an evangelical missionary organization. Yes, evangelism. I know… that word has made me shiver a bit too. If I were to write a sitcom about our family dynamic we would get feedback that it’s unbelievable that the Jewish girl’s in-laws are missionaries… but they are. Truth.

When things started getting serious with my now husband and I, we both had conversations with each set of our parents about our feelings for one another and each other’s religions. We chatted with my parents in my aunt and uncle’s living room when my man and I were on Long Island for Passover. We discussed that while we would return annually to read from the haggadah and play with the four question finger puppets, my guy wasn’t giving up the big JC just because he was opening the door for Elijah.

And we talked to his parents while we were driving to lunch in Minnesota. Very strange to be looking at the back of someone’s head when you’re telling them you won’t be converting to their religion. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 18 2013

Thanks to My Judaism, I’m Teaching My Kids About Africa

By at 12:35 pm

motherafric

Last weekend, I took my three kids, ages 14, 10, and almost 7, to a performance of African acrobats. It’s a terrific show, and I highly recommend it if you’re in the NYC area before January 5th. It’s totally not Mother Africa’s fault that, in the middle of it, I was thrown into an existential crises (I am prone to those).

Here’s the thing: I am a Soviet-born Jew. My husband is African-American. Our kids are Jewish African-Americans who sometimes speak Russian. At our house, I’m in charge of the Jewish and Russian part, and my husband is in charge of the African-American part. So you’d think we’d have everything covered.

I thought we had everything covered.

Until I sat in a theater on 42nd Street watching a troupe of amazing acrobats and it occurred to me that my kids know nothing about their African heritage.

Not their African-American heritage; their African one. Read the rest of this entry →

How the Non-Jewish Mom Plans the Baby Naming Ceremony

By at 10:10 am

nametag with question mark

As if the holidays are not busy enough for our interfaith family, we have decided to do our daughters’ naming ceremonies in December.

When we had our first daughter we were undecided on how we were going to raise her and what sacraments/traditions she would practice. After our second daughter was born we decided to expose our daughters to both faiths. More specifically, we became members of a synagogue and we plan on having them attend Hebrew school when they are older.

At the age you would typically plan for a naming ceremony, my youngest was hospitalized with RSV. She continued to have some breathing issues for a few months, so we postponed the naming until her 1st birthday. Since my eldest never had a naming ceremony, we thought it would be nice to do one ceremony for both the girls. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 16 2013

Christmas is Why We Send Our Son to Jewish Day School

By at 5:03 pm

christmastime in the UK

I am not a practicing Jew, but I don’t celebrate Christmas either. My husband is a lapsed Christian and a loather of all things Yule. Late December has always been an uncomfortable time in our house. Until, that is, we decided four years ago to send our kids to a Jewish school.

It was a surprisingly easy decision, made for a host of sound reasons, exactly the ones you would expect to figure into a choice about the expanse of your children’s education. But it also solved the problem of Christmas for us and this has turned out to be one of its most wonderful virtues.

I spent the holiday season as a girl in small Jewish niche towns–Great Neck and Boca Raton–where the passing of Christmas was marked in its own ritualistic way, with Chinese food and a trip to the movies. So many happy memories. When I moved to the United Kingdom 14 years ago, however, Christmas became a dark and almost unbearable period, something to escape, not to indulge in. It triggered in me a strong desire to flee homeward and back to a place where there is still a life to be lived on the 25th of December that doesn’t involve a decorated pine tree. Read the rest of this entry →

Why December Makes Me Sad

By at 9:33 am

peacelub

Hello, December. It’s that time of year here in America. A time for good tidings of comfort and joy. A time for happy family memories and meaningful traditions. But for me and my interfaith marriage, December now comes packaged with a new tradition–an annual holiday cry (or if I’m really being honest…cries. Plural.)

Now I know a lot of people cry during the holidays. The pressure of stressful travel plans and forced family gatherings is enough to make many people crack. But for the interfaith family, December is a particularly lonely time.

I go online to order holiday cards. (I am a little behind this year.) I skip over the red and green ones, the ones with Christmas trees or holly or Santa Claus, the ones that say “Merry Christmas,” the ones that say “Happy Hanukkah,” and I’m left to choose from lots of cards with “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” written generically on the front. After much much agonizing, I pick, “Peace, Joy, and Love.” Those are things that people from all faiths want, right? Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 12 2013

The Only Pregnant Jew in Rural Maine

By at 5:03 pm

rural

I was raised by my secular, humanist Jewish family in the woods of central Maine. We were surrounded by lakes and maples, heard loons at night and occasionally, a moose and her calf wandered into our backyard, much to the consternation of our golden retriever. There were no sidewalks in our town, no traffic lights. My sisters and I played Laura Ingalls Wilder in the backyard until dark. It was isolated and idyllic.

That same isolation became disruptive once we entered the small public elementary school in the next town. We were raised to be proud and outspoken about our heritage, to speak up when teachers talked about Hanukkah in the context of “Christmas Around the World,” to bring in our brass menorahs and wooden dreidels and explain our customs to our classmates.

You may already know how this story goes. Sixth grade boys drew swastikas on their notebooks and showed them to me. “Do you know what this means?” they asked, feigning innocence. My sister’s classroom teacher referred to Judaism as a branch of Christianity, and her classmates called her a “stupid Jew” when she corrected her. A small blonde girl in my class kicked me as I walked up the stairs to the bus, hissing “Jew” in my ear as I fell. In middle school, well-meaning friends urged me to become a Jew for Jesus, to avoid my inevitable damnation. Our bus route took us past hand-painted signs nailed to a grove of trees that read “Jews = Sinners” and “Sinners Damned to Hell.” Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 3 2013

Our Trip to Disney World Reminded Me Why I Send My Daughter to Jewish Preschool

By at 3:44 pm

 disney

It seems that every time we go to Disney World, we forget where we park. We always have to hit the lock button on our key in order to follow the noise to our car. This year I was determined to not to let that happen, so I had my daughter count how many spaces were between our car and the tram car.

I must have looked baffled when she started counting away because she looked at me and said, “That is five spaces, Mom.” My daughter had been counting in Hebrew.

For some reason, I started to tear up. My little girl is learning another language at the age of 4. In Disney, surrounded by such a diverse crowd, you realize how important it is that your children are diversified in their language and experience. Read the rest of this entry →

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