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Dec 7 2011

There’s No Star on My Tree, But There are Saints in My Home

By at 11:18 am
milagro cross

A Milagro Cross

The Kveller blog has recently featured two posts which speak directly to one of the major challenges facing the Jewish community right now—that of intermarriage and mixed families. Alina Adams wrote about her experience being married to a non-Jew, who is not welcome as a member in their Conservative shul, and Mayim Bialik expressed her distaste for the Star of David Christmas-tree topper (which has apparently been a huge seller, according to a Jerusalem Post article by our own Jordana Horn).

I appreciate the perspectives offered by my fellow Kvellers, and I’d like to share my own. My husband’s heritage is entirely Jewish, as far as we know. The majority of my heritage is Jewish, but not all of it. I have ancestors who were Catholic and Protestant, and I grew up in New Mexico, surrounded by Catholic art and culture. However, I am Jewish, my husband and I keep a Jewish home, and we are raising our children as Jews.

We’re not going to have a Christmas tree in our house this year (or any year, as far as I can tell), but we have a small wooden cross covered in silver milagros on our mantle. A framed picture of the Patron Saint of Mantova, Italy, hangs in our upstairs hallway, right around the corner from a floor-to-ceiling bookcase of Judaic literature and references. We have a beautiful collection of Mexican folk art, in honor of el Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, right next to our menorahs and hamsas.

I respect that many of our readers (including Mayim, whom I consider a friend) may be deeply concerned, or perhaps even offended or horrified by the idea of Christian and pagan icons in a Jewish home. I understand that, and I think our divergent views are precisely what make the Jewish community so rich, vibrant, and durable. I also think that disagreeing about, and struggling with, important issues (and even unimportant ones), is an integral part of the Jewish psyche; an acknowledgment of divergent views is even built into the structure of some of our most important writings. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 23 2011

Getting Crafty, With a Purpose

By at 2:51 pm

Yarn art for Rosh Hashanah.

My 9-month-old son is way too young for real arts and crafts projects. He’s still at the point where everything goes into his mouth, and I don’t fully trust Crayola’s non-toxic claim.

But as a former first grade Hebrew school teacher, I’ve been doing Jewish crafts with young kids for years. Pillbox mezuzahs. Driedel mobiles. Stained glass kiddish cups. Graham cracker sukkahs. Been there, done that.

One of the most important things I tried to keep in mind when creating these crafts was connecting the activity with the object we’re making. Using crayons to color candlestick holders allows you to teach that wax makes up both crayons and the candles. Kveller’s apple-print placemat is a classic way to incorporate the sweet fruit eaten on Rosh Hashanah with the blessings used on the holiday.

But for me, it goes deeper– to the intention that lies with what we create with our children. You can glitter, bedazzle, and paint a wooden cup all you want. But if It never leaves the shelf (or pile of arts and crafts projects), how do you know it’s a kiddush cup? Conversely, if an old sippy cup gets some grape juice occasionally on a Friday night, is it not a kiddush cup? What about decorating it to incorporate the idea of hiddur mitzvah, making our observances beautiful?

Ritual objects are simply what their name suggests: objects that have a ritual associated with them. A challah cover is only as good as the bread beneath it. A kippah is only as attractive as the smile on the head under it.

Craft projects don’t need to be fancy and they don’t need to be made out of expensive supplies from Michael’s. And sometimes we color just for the sake of coloring.

But we’re doing something special when we create together with our children with a little intention. Doing with a purpose–that’s Judaism in a nutshell.

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