Love and Religion

Interfaith Consultation for Jews and their Families

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Raising Jewish Children

It’s not often that I get to do an entirely new program, but recently that is exactly what I did. I conducted a workshop for interfaith couples on how to raise Jewish children. Miriam Szubin and I have been trying to do this class for quite some time but somehow it never got onto the schedule. In her position as Director of the Parenting Center of the Edlavitch DCJCC, Miriam creates all the programs related to parenting. Last August she contacted me and was totally committed to making this happen. Then in mid-January, it finally happened! So many things are interesting about the group of couples who attended this class. They were all interfaith; most had children, but one was pregnant, and another was preparing for when they would have children of their own. None of them had their children in the EDCJCC preschool. Most had been in the EDCJCC before with their children who had taken music, swimming, or gymnastics classes, or had attended a holiday celebrations event as a family. All the couples except for one lived in this urban neighborhood. I find this population very interesting because five years ago none of them would be living in […] Read More >
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Creating a Jewish Identity within an Interfaith Family: A Discussion on Effectiveness and Empowerment

A few months ago, Phyllis Katz of Kol Shalom Congregation in Rockville, MD, contacted me to see if I was interested in speaking at her synagogue. She has organized a series of discussions to better serve the needs of her fellow congregants who have grandchildren in interfaith marriages or interfaith parents in the congregation raising Jewish children, and she wanted me to conduct one of these sessions. When I asked her who she thought would be in the audience, she said there might be both grandparents and parents. This intrigued me! I have conducted many workshops for each group, but this would be my first time having both together in the same room. As I prepared some points to present, I also tried to get ready to dance on one foot since some of the issues that are relevant for one group are really not that important to the other. On the other hand, many are common to both, such as, “How do you transmit a Jewish identity to a child (your child or grandchild)?” Phyllis and I were both pleased with the turnout. As I looked around the room, I noticed that the grandparents sat on one side of […] Read More >
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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 >

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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Five Things to Think About as You Prepare for Passover

My mother kept a calendar that revolved around the Jewish holidays. As soon as one finished she began talking about the next one. We hadn’t yet finished all the hamentashen and she began thinking about her Passover preparations. I have vivid memories of her polishing all the silver flatware and serving pieces. Then the bathtub was filled with glassware, dishes and any other kitchenware that could be made kosher for Passover by the “soaking with stones” method. She also started the cleaning of the house with a vengeance making sure that every surface had been scoured and cleaned thoroughly. Her way of thinking about time has become one of the ways I think of time. When I think of getting ready for Passover, I remember all my mother’s efforts and I will also change my dishes as she did. However, I have other aspects of the holiday I like to focus on. Here’s my list of things I focuses on during Passover: First, think about how you want this Seder to be. Of course, there is the basic text of the Haggadah, but think of what you would like the people at the table to reflect on. Is it freedom, […] Read More >
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Engaging Interfaith Couples Through the Arts

Engaging Interfaith Couples Through the Arts

On February 18th and 19th, Love and Religion, Theater J, Adas Israel Congregation’s Beit Midrash, the JCC of Northern Virginia, and the Washington DC JCC co-sponsored a reading of the play “Love, Faith and Other Dirty Words,” written by Kent Stephens. The play is about interfaith couples and the critical issues they face as they construct a religious life together. The purpose of the production was to reach out to interfaith couples through the performing arts, and for me, it was a monumental evening! It was the first time such an event was undertaken in our community and five groups worked together to make it happen. We also collaborated with the New Center Now of Boston, whose mission is to have this important play read in cities all over the country–Washington D.C. was the play’s first stop out of Boston! While I had read the play through a few times, I was unprepared for my intense involvement with the actors as they took on these roles. The content of the play emerged from the playwrights’ discussions with interfaith couples in various combinations of religions including: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. The potential of this play for dialogue amongst people of many faiths is enormous. We held “talk-backs” after […] Read More >
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“Being Jewish on Valentines Day”

As some of you might remember, last year, the Washington Post’s On Faith column published some of my thoughts on the origins and history of Valentines Day. I have included a snippet of the article below, I hope you all enjoy! Here in the United States even the name of the holiday has been changed from religious to secular. No one even thinks about the religious origins of the holiday. There were in fact three St. Valentines. While all three were martyred, the patron saint of the day was indeed a benevolent soul. During the third century when Claudius III, ruler of the Roman Empire, realized that unmarried young men made better soldiers, he forbade them to marry. It is Valentine who took the risk and performed the marriages clandestinely.  He was celebrated for his acts of bravery and made a saint. The romantic aspect came much later at the end of the fifth century. The oldest valentine still in existence was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.   Click here to read the whole article, and […] Read More >
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How Does Judaism Inform My Daily Life?

How Does Judaism Inform My Daily Life?

In my interfaith classes, I’m often asked the question, “How does Judaism inform your daily life?” Yesterday, I had one of those days where everything that is meaningful and special to me was a part of my day from sun up to sun down. In the morning, I gathered with my friends and family to celebrate my dear friend’s 80th birthday. To honor someone’s life, to mark the event by being present, and to share our love of his presence in our lives was very special to me. All of these activities give my life meaning, and fill up my internal psyche. Next we went to celebrate the brit milah of our Cantor’s newborn baby. The entire Adas Israel Congregation was invited–our cantor and her husband wanted to include us in bringing their child into the Jewish community. I was both honored and grateful to be included. For me, this invitation represents an authentic building of our congregational community. And lastly, I ended the day by having a good friend over for dinner. I knew she was grieving a loss, and hadn’t been out in a while, so having her at the table was a gift to us all. To […] Read More >
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Six Tips for Conversion

Are you seriously involved in an interfaith relationship? Are pondering the idea of becoming a Jew-by-choice? Here are six tips to guide you as you go on this wonderful and important journey. 1. This tip is for the Jewish partner in the relationship, the partner who is not converting. Now is the time to express your gratitude and appreciation to your partner who is considering this life altering decision. It is imperative that you demonstrate how thankful you are to be receiving this magnificent gift. 2. Sign up for an “Introduction to Judaism” class together. Not only will you learn, you will also meet other couples who are exploring their Jewish journey. 3. Everyone who wants to convert needs a sponsoring rabbi to help guide his or her process. Before you pick someone, I would recommend visiting several synagogues together. Research the synagogues online, and go to several services before you make an appointment with the rabbi. This will help you get a feel of the synagogue and congregation, and decide if you would feel welcomed there. 4.  Go with your gut. Once you attend a synagogue where you feel welcomed, and where members of the congregation have reached out […] Read More >
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An evening of Storytelling About Interfaith Families and Their Jewish Journeys: Recap

A little known fact about Adas Israel Congregation, is that we have over 90 families in our conservative congregation who identify as interfaith. It is part of Adas Israel’s mission to integrate this group into the many facets of synagogue life, and so on December 15th Adas Israel hosted its first storytelling event that focused on interfaith families. Ten people volunteered, okay, were persuaded, to present their narratives. Each of these couples was, at one time, composed of a Jewish partner and a partner of another faith. Some have become Jews-by-choice, and some have not converted, but all are raising their children Jewish. Nine of the couples had participated in my “Love and Religion” Workshop, and one couple was in the very first session I ran 19 years ago! Each person had 5 minutes to present his or her story, and what incredible stories they were! The themes ranged from “forbidden fruit” to how “conversions can make many generations of Jews” to “what do you get when you mix an Irish Catholic with an Israeli Jew.” The audience laughed and sighed–some stories were sad, some were happy, some focused on issues still out there to be addressed, and some talked about […] Read More >
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