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Nov 27 2013

For the First Time, Both Our Families Will Be Together for an Interfaith Thanksgiving

By at 10:01 am

thanksgiving table

A few months ago my husband and I returned to the Midwest, where we both grew up, after seven years of living in Los Angeles. Out in LA, we were far away from family, which meant that we often celebrated holidays on our own. Sure, it may sound sad, celebrating holidays alone, on the other side of the country. But there was a comfort in celebrating on our own, especially as an interfaith couple. We could observe the way we wanted, out of view of the watchful eyes of our family members–no one to check in and see how we were living out our respective traditions.

But this year is different. Not only are we back in the Midwest, and not only do we now have a 1-year-old, and not only will we have members from both sides of our families together, but for the first and last time in our lives, Thanksgiving and the second night of Hanukkah will also fall on the same day. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 26 2013

The Santa Dreidel–It’s a Real Thing

By at 12:09 pm

DREIDELSSS copy

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 →

Nov 25 2013

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

hankcrhrist

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

xmas

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 12 2013

How I’ll Carry on the Jewish Stories in my Interfaith Marriage

By at 7:21 pm

little girl reading book under blanket

My husband is not the first Jewish man I’ve ever loved. Years before I even met him, when I was 8 or 9, I was crushing on another Jewish guy. Huddled under a blanket at night with a flashlight and our family’s picture bible, I met Joshua, whose illustrated muscly arms, kind face, and friendly beard had me turning page after page. I watched him fight the battle of Jericho, and lead his people into Canaan. He was so young to have the great task of replacing Moses as the Israelites’ leader. Seriously, how do you follow an act like Moses? I was smitten.

But the truth is, it wasn’t only Joshua who had my heart. I loved all the characters in the stories I learned: Jacob, who must really have loved Rachel to work an additional seven years for her hand after Laban deceived him into marrying Leah; David, the poetic and musical son of Jesse, anointed to become one of Israel’s greatest kings; Abraham, to whom God promised descendants like the stars in the sky.

While my husband, like many of my friends, dreaded going to religious school, my siblings and I listened eagerly as our mother told us of vain and tortured Absalom and mimed him weighing his beautiful hair. Our eyes widened as we learned of Daniel, protected by God in the hungry lions’ den. We played along to a recording of “Elijah,” a children’s musical we found in a box of music my dad, our church’s choir director, received several times a year. We sang the names of each of Jacob’s sons, the 12 tribes of Israel. 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 →

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 →

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