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Jun 12 2014

How Being the Rabbi’s Gay Son Taught Me to Be a Good Dad

By at 4:53 pm

raj-castro-pic-(1)

I was 2 years old when everything changed. My father, who was not yet 30, was a rabbi at a synagogue in Budapest. After multiple harassments, he decided with my mother that America would be a much better place to practice freedom of religion and raise a family. My parents told family and friends that we were vacationing in Yugoslavia when, in fact, we had no intention of ever going back. It was 1972 and we were escaping communist Hungary, the threat of imprisonment looming over my parents’ shoulders.

We arrived in the United States a few months later, settling in Brooklyn, New York, where my father would learn English and audition as an assistant rabbi at a Reform synagogue. For our part, my sister and I went with the flow, assimilating into American culture. We spent most days like those of our classmates at the Jewish day school we attended. Other days were different, after all, we were the immigrant rabbi’s kids.

The author and his family arriving in America.

The author and his family arriving in America.

 

Being the rabbi’s son seemed normal, maybe privileged at times. In some ways, I felt like a child star with a couple hundred fans. My father’s congregants doted on me as if I were their own. I attributed this affection as kindness, and probably much of it was. As I grew older, I recognized that part of this behavior was their way to get closer to my father. In some cases, it was to satisfy their natural curiosity about the “Man of God,” who is also a family man, their spiritual leader, marital counselor, and advisor.

Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 6 2014

When the Rabbi’s Wife Doesn’t Believe in God

By at 10:55 am

boots

What do you do when your power goes out for six days in the middle of an epic ice storm, coating the streets of Toronto in a polar vortex, and you’re 40 weeks pregnant?

And then you give birth to your third baby during this multi-­day power outage, followed by a life threatening surgical complication?

Rounded off by a subsequent burst pipe, flooding all four floors of your newly renovated house, making it uninhabitable and having nowhere for your family to live, one of whom is only 4 days old? Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 8 2014

What to Do About the Bris When He’s in the NICU

By at 1:59 pm

icu

For most Jewish couples expecting a son, the decision to have a bris isn’t really a decision at all. It is a time honored tradition, a mitzvah, a tenant of the Jewish religion.

I, however, wasn’t so sure. Our daughter was our first, so when I got pregnant with my son, it was the first time I really gave a bris any thought. To be honest, I just wasn’t sure I wanted the circumcision to take place outside of a clean hospital without a physician. After much thought, and knowing how much this meant to my husband and family, I agreed to the bris. And since I am the consummate planner and organizer, I planned the details down to where we’d get the bagels and lox.

As I entered my third trimester I had a typical plan in my head for my baby boy’s first week. I knew I was having a C-section so after four days in the hospital we would go home and on his eighth day, our family and friends would celebrate my son’s bris. There is a Yiddish phrase that translates to “When you make a plan, God laughs.” When I had a placental abruption at 33 weeks and my son was whisked off to the NICU for what would turn out to be a month-long stay, my plans went out the window. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 23 2013

The Rabbi’s Wife is Breaking Up With Christmas

By at 9:51 am

the rabbi's wife is breaking up with christmas

I think Christmas and I are breaking up. Itʼs not an easy thing to say. But nevertheless, there it is; itʼs time to end my Christmas love affair. My rabbi/husband will be thrilled.

I suppose a little explanation is in order. I do not celebrate Christmas. I never have. I grew up in a Jewish household and Christmas, unlike bacon, was strictly off limits. As young children my brother and I were carted off to the Concord Hotel in the Catskills where Christmas was apparently also verboten. There we ate (and ate and ate) and swam and played and hid from all things tinsel-strewn and poinsettia-adorned.

As we grew, and our grandparents made what used to be the legally-required pilgrimage to the Sunshine State, trips to the Concord became flights to Ft. Lauderdale, and Christmas began to creep in. At first it was just a palm tree covered in white lights here and there, but slowly this lovely holiday crept into my consciousness.

By the time we hit junior high my parents, feeling secure in their Jewish immersion duties, moved the Florida trip to February break and we began to spend December taking in New York Cityʼs delights of the season: shop windows on Fifth Avenue, the Nutcracker, the Rockettes, even a stroll right under that majestic Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. I fell in love. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 7 2013

Returning to the Mikveh After Giving Birth

By at 11:55 am

mikveh jewish ritual bathOnce a month when I was kid, I would watch my mother remove her nail polish, gather her small bag, and head out from home in our station wagon after dinner. We always knew where she was going.

Even though the ritual immersion (mikveh) traditional Jewish women do monthly is done at night and is considered a private affair, my brothers and I were pretty nosy, we lived in a small house, and my parents were very open. That and coming home from an appointment with wet hair at 9 or 10 p.m. was certain to elicit questions from little children. She always spoke about this time in the ritual bath so beautifully–the warm waters, the time alone, the space to think and feel whatever she did without the voice of my dad, her co-workers, or her children in her head. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 13 2012

Behind the Scenes of My Daughter’s Baby Naming

By at 1:04 pm

baby naming ceremony at synagogueTime flies! It’s hard to believe I have a 3-month-old baby and will be heading back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday (boo!). Since she wasn’t a boy, we weren’t rushed to have a bris, but I always knew I wanted a Baby Naming Ceremony. I have been to many ceremonies, usually just a small moment in a Shabbat service, and never really thought too much about it, until it was my baby.

Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 29 2012

Bikini Line Grooming & Other Conversion Questions

By at 2:15 pm

As a candidate in a conversion class at my local Reform synagogue, who can I ask the pertinent questions?

I’m not talking about which prayer to say over challah, either. They give us plenty of books, and I can always head to Kveller when I’m in need of the day-to-day questions. I’m talking about the really personal questions, like, “Are you supposed to shave your hoohah before the mikvah?” because I definitely can’t ask my rabbi in the middle of class with 20 other candidates on a Saturday morning.

I’m by no means shy… but asking a rabbi about shaving my nether regions is even beyond me. I don’t want to be known at synagogue as the one who asked the hoohah question.

A friend of mine who I met in the conversion class said she once asked her Jewish stepmother if she could use her seder plate as a Thanksgiving hors d’oerves tray. The answer was yes, but she felt so weird about it that she decided to use another platter instead. I once got brave and asked in class why Jewish people binded things to their heads and hands. The reaction I got was, “I’m a Reform Jew, so I don’t have to do that…” which is fine, but it didn’t answer why some choose to do it (or not).

My European husband and I are vegetarians, as if being über liberal and converting to Judaism didn’t alienate us enough while living in a small town in south Texas, both heavily Republican and Christian in nature (not that there is anything wrong with that, to quote the wonderful Jerry Seinfeld). I can’t help but wonder if we’re vegetarian, does that make our house automatically kosher or do we still need a blessing? I assume we’d need a blessing, but you feel silly asking. I would also assume that it can’t be done until the conversion is complete. Another topic yet to be brought up in class is kids. We have two young kids. If we convert, do they have to convert, too, or do they get into the tribe by proxy?

That’s the thing about being a Jew by Choice: we don’t grow up with the innate knowledge of how to do things, because we don’t see the people around us doing them. In my case, I grew up in an Irish Catholic family. It’s an extremely hard (and sometimes lonely) path when the faith of your birth is the wrong one for you. There is a delicate balance to finding your own way spiritually without pissing off your parents and extended family. My husband, Sephardic by genealogy, but agnostic in faith, can’t guide me, either.

Personally, I’d implement an “Adopt a Bubbe” program as an add-on for conversion candidates. It would give you a go-to person to get answers that you’d trust. However annoying or silly they may be to the person answering them, they are meaningful to the one posing them. At the same time, it would be also be nice to have someone to share Sabbath dinner with on occasion to make sure that you’re doing it right. I know we are told that you can’t do it a wrong way, but there are times it feels innately wrong to me.

Sep 25 2012

Rabbis Like Kveller, Do You?

By at 10:08 am

rabbi deborah goldmannKveller is part of a non-profit organization that depends on donations from people like you to cover 85% of its budget. This High Holiday season, we’re reaching out to our readers and asking for your help.

Dear Friends,

I always knew that I wanted to be a parent. I never knew (or thought about) what kind of parent I would be. Turns out, that between mine and my daughter’s personalities, and my hearing loss, I am an extended-breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-led-weaning kind of parent. It is thanks to Kveller that I have the words to describe the kind of parent that I am.

I have friends and family who are very loving and supportive. As wonderful as they are, however, they sometimes struggle to understand and respect the decisions that I make. Since finding Kveller, I have found a place where I can intelligently consider many different parenting perspectives and find my own voice and confidence. To my surprise, I also found a community of parents that I want to comfort and support in return for all they have done for me.

This wonderful community needs our support. Kveller is a project of a non-profit organization and depends on donations from people like us to cover 85% of its budget. I hope you’ll join me in donating to Kveller today.

Shana tova,

Rabbi Deborah Goldmann

Sep 24 2012

Interview with Interesting Jews: Rabbi Heidi Hoover

By at 3:57 pm

rabbi heidi hoover interview on kveller.comRabbi Heidi Hoover is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr Progressive Shaari Zedek in Brooklyn, NY, but unlike most rabbis, Hoover grew up the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. We sat down with Rabbi Hoover to talk about her conversion, swapping clergy stories with her father, and why her Jewish kids believe in Santa Clause.

Do you and your dad ever bond about both being in the clergy, albeit different religions?

Yes! The day-to-day work of a member of the clergy has a lot of similarities across religions. When I was in rabbinical school he once called me to say, “I want to tell you about this committee meeting I just had, because you’re going to have to deal with stuff like this.” Another time he told me I’d inspired him to brush up on his Hebrew, and he called me once to say, “What do you think about [the word] chesed?” A couple of times I’ve called him for advice, in particular one time when I had to lead services in a very challenging situation.

(BTW, I love this question, and it’s not one I’ve been often asked.) Read the rest of this entry →

May 3 2012

The Rabbi-to-Be’s Job Interview

By at 12:17 pm

tie dye kippahMy name is Patrick Aleph, and I would like to be your rabbi. I’m graduating from an independent, progressive rabbinical program in a few years, so consider this my job interview. Kveller parents seem to want the kind of rabbi in their lives that I would like to be. So here it goes.

Fellow Atlantan Logan Ritchie in her article on Atlanta Jewish Kids Groups asked, “What happened to the Reform synagogues of yesteryear? I want my rabbi bearded, wearing a tie-dye tallit, and playing guitar.” Mrs. Ritchie, I have an on-again-off-again beard, wear a Super Jew shirt to shul, and have yet to retire from playing rock music in touring bands. We might get along really well. Read the rest of this entry →

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