Love and Religion

Interfaith Consultation for Jews and their Families


What is the Hardest Part of Passover for Interfaith Families?

The holiday of Passover brings up many issues to think about as we prepare for this festival. We are asked to tell a story—a very scripted story—and one that has many messages for us to heed. We are instructed to change our dishes and clean our houses from top to bottom. There are questions in the text to answer and so many versions of the haggadah to use. As a result, I sit at one end of the table with many haggadot, each with Post-It notes in it to remind me of a special passage that I would like to include. We always read Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Season of the Egg,” and we read a passage describing Miriam’s Cup, something that was not on the Passover table when I was growing up. Then there are the writings from the Labor Zionist, family, children’s, social justice and feminist haggadot. It goes on and on. When we were blessed with three additional grandchildren at the Seder, I changed the whole thing. I wanted them to understand the Exodus story from beginning to end. Now we start with baby Moses in the Nile. I hide baby Moses in his cradle, and the […] Read More >

Montreal, Grandparents, and Snow?

OK, what connects these three disparate words? Let me explain. In August I got a call from Denise Grossman asking me if I want to come back to Temple Emanu-el Beth Sholom and do a program for interfaith couples and families. My affirmative response quickly moved the discussion to potential dates and topics. We settled on the topic of “Intentional Grandparenting, a Workshop for Grandparents with Interfaith grandchildren.” So there you have the words Montreal and grandparent. Where does snow fit in? Considering this event was going to take place the first week in November, the chance of snow was almost non-existent, or so I thought. In an effort to save the congregation money, I flew into Burlington, VT, rented a car, and drove to Montreal. So thoughtful, so considerate…not so smart! I left the airport to see snow falling on the windshield. Having grown up in Montreal, you would think that driving in the snow is still part of my DNA. If only! Magically, I had an easy ride. The entire time I was in Montreal, snow was on my mind and on the ground! The focus of this workshop was to help grandparents feel empowered in facilitating Jewish […] Read More >

A Very Happy Reunion

A tap on the shoulder, a beautiful soft voice asked, “Is that you, Dr. Usher?” She introduced herself and explained that she and her then-boyfriend took my class in 2003. As I turned to greet her, I recognized the man sitting on the floor playing with two small children. We all hugged and were thrilled to have this reunion. I was introduced to their two boys who were making dreidels out of CDs and felt pens and desperately trying to make them spin. This activity was part of the “Make Room for Latkes” event held at the DCJCC on a Sunday morning in early December. So much time had passed, and I wanted to hear their story. Between tending to the little boys and the wonderful chaos of families surrounding us, I heard the following narrative. The first thing Miwa said to me was how grateful she and Jason were that they took my class. She felt it gave them the necessary tools to have the dialogue between themselves in order to create a religious life that makes sense to them. The boys are being raised Jewish, which was critical to Jason, who went to Jewish Day School. They currently […] Read More >

Make Room for Latkes, or who says there are no young Jewish families in the city?

When multiple agencies come together to develop a program, wonderful things can happen. On Sunday, over 30 families, many of them interfaith, came together at the DCJCC to celebrate Hanukah. They made dreidels, applesauce, and aromatic sachets for hospice patients. They learned about tzedakah (charity), sang songs, and ate latkes and donuts. It was crowded; the parents chatted up a storm with each other, there was a fabulous vibe, and everyone had a great time. Five stakeholders sponsored the event. With 100 people in attendance, we had double last year’s numbers. Most families live in the area close to the DCJCC. Two families were from Virginia. A few were from Maryland. Many of the children attended, or are presently attending, the preschool program. Others are using the “Jewish content” after-school program and love it. Others send their children to the “Yom Rishon” classes on Sundays. All of these families have Judaism in their lives and were thrilled to be at this Hanukah celebration. I was impressed by the desire for these parents to transmit Judaism to their children. As I walked around the classrooms and listened to their conversations, many told stories to their children describing how they had celebrated […] Read More >

Thurza’s Baby Naming

I think one of the most joyful celebrations in Jewish life is the naming of a little Jewish girl. There is no pain, only sweetness and love. Let’s start from the beginning. Thurza’s father, Josh, is my husband’s first cousin, once removed, or another way of saying this is that Josh’s father John and my husband Michael are first cousins. This is my mother-in-law’s side of the family who are fifth-generation Milwaukee American Jews. They prided themselves on minimal ritual practice and maximum identity as assimilated Jews. Somehow, our home in Washington, DC, became the gathering place for many of these cousins. How lucky are we?! Another cousin, who moved to Washington decades ago, and whose husband is of another faith, has given her children both a strong Jewish identity, a full Hebrew education, and Bar and Bat mitzvahs, and they have joined us in celebrating all the Jewish holidays. She raised her children as practicing Jews with great intentionality. Back to Josh, his wife Gugu, and baby Thurza. As you can see from this narrative, when Josh, who was raised in an interfaith family with Jewish identity and little ritual, and Gugu arrived in Washington, it was only natural […] Read More >
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Thinking about Rosh Hashanah

Is it time to think about Rosh Hashanah? Up until a few days ago, I would have said no. August is just coming to a close, and the Jewish New Year falls late in September, so why should I begin to focus on the holidays and introduce stress into my life during my calm, bucolic summer vacation in Vermont? Three friends called recently and brought up the subject. The first was obsessing about the invitations she received, trying to decide where she wanted to go versus where she felt obliged to go. The second sent me the recipe for the fabulous bulgur salad she made for our book club last night, and when I called to thank her, both of us decided it would be great dish to make for Rosh Hashanah lunch. So whether I liked it or not, the New Year was moving into my consciousness. My third conversation with another friend centered on how and what we each think about as Rosh Hashanah approaches. She said this is the time when she pays attention to doing something different during the year. This has been a goal of hers for many years. Sometimes she has something specific in mind; […] Read More >

Love and Religion: An Interfaith Workshop for Jews and Their Partners

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A Guide to the Passover Seder

I hope you enjoy this guide to the Passover Seder. Please reach out to me if you have any questions! http:// Read More >
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New Workshop! Interfaith Families: Creating New Traditions

I am excited to announce that I will be running a new workshop at Adas Israel in December 2014, “Interfaith Families: Creating New Traditions.” This workshop will be three sessions, and each session will feature discussion topics that are relevant to interfaith families. Topics will include: Gains and Losses: In every interfaith family, whether the person of another faith converts or not, there are feelings of loss related to one’s family of origin. You are raising your children different from them. On the other hand, there are gains. You are being welcomed into a new community, your spouse is appreciative for what you are doing for him or her and the children, and you are helping to bring more Jews into the world. You are carrying out one of the basic principles of Judaism, a mitzvah, and a good deed!  Awkward Situations: What do you do when you have a question and don’t know the answer? What do you do when you feel uncomfortable in a situation? e.g. you are the person of another faith and your father-in-law hands you a Tallit and suggests you might want to wear it the next time you are in synagogue.  Core values and beliefs: Why are we raising […] Read More >
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Guest Post: Lisette Partelow’s Jewish Journey

Mazel Tov to Lisette who has made the decision to become a Jew. Her conversion will take place at the Beit Din held at Adas Israel’s Mikveh. She studied at Temple Sinai with Rabbi Jessica (Oleon) Kirschner and Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein. Lisette has elegantly described the process in this beautiful essay she wrote. I hope you will take the time to read it. -Marion Usher “I was raised Catholic, but…” followed by a shrug to show my ambivalence. I suppose my Jewish journey started with that offhand remark, made in 2007 in the atrium of my graduate program’s building to a then acquaintance who also happened to be my future husband. He was inviting me to a Yom Kippur break fast and a friend’s birthday party later that evening, which I guess you could call a first date. Unbeknownst to me, I had given him the green light. Though I wasn’t Jewish, I was what he would later call “religiously ambivalent,” which was second best. And religiously ambivalent I was. Allow me to back up a little bit so you have some context. My mother is a religious Catholic and growing up we went to church every Sunday, church school, and CCD. […] Read More >
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