Ever wanted to meet your Mohel? Me neither.

Ever seen the movie Men in Tights? There is that scene where Rabbi Tuckman, played by Mel Brooks, is explaining what a Mohel does.

Scarlet: What, pray tell, sir, is a circumcision?

Rabbi Tuckman: It’s the latest craze. The ladies love it!download

Little John: I’ll take one!

Ahchoo: Hey, put me down for two!

Robin Hood: I’m game. How’s it done?

Rabbi Tuckman: It’s a snap.

[demonstrates with a carrot and a miniature guillotine]

Rabbi Tuckman: I take my machine here, I take your little thing, I put it through this hole, and then…

One of the most awkward moments in my life was at my first nephew’s bris. I was in college and I traveled home to my parents for the occasion. Jen and I had just started dating. I don’t think I had invited her. The bris was going to take place in the living room on an old card table my parents have.

The Mohels (the guy who does the snip snip) walks up to me says hello and asks “how are you down there, everything working ok”?  I was shocked. What a strange thing to ask. I told my father, he laughed and told me he was the same Mohels who performed the bris on my brother and me, in the same room, on same table. I love my parent’s friends, they are like a second family to me. But they didn’t have to remind me that they were here in this room watch my Bris. I love them, but I hoped I peed on them as a little boy.

When the Bris happens, no one watches. At least none of the men do. Then we eat. That’s the part that Jen finds weird, eating in the same room as the Bris. The nice part of having a girl is no cringing snip snip moments.

Advertisements

Challenges of Being Jewish

I don’t usually rant. Writing this was cathartic.

Being Jewish can be hard. Being a religious Jew is harder. We can become targets because we stand out. These are some a few of my memories.

When I was a child, men waited on the corners outside of my middle school handing out King James bibles. I was walking home and was given one. Why do people feel the need to proselytize to children?

When I was a teenager, I traveled the country with a Jewish Youth Group. In the South a man on a bike with a bible in his hand followed us screaming how we killed Jesus and the only way to avoid the fires of hell is to repent and accept Jesus in our Hearts.

I once wore a Keepa into a store. (a head covering) I was called Jew boy and refused service. I couldn’t believe that still happens.

In my early 20s I traveled through Europe. I remember the synagogue in Rome having metal barricades and other cement planters keep passers-by and cars from getting close to the main synagogue, and Italian police officers with automatic weapons stand guard in sentry boxes day and night. In Munich, the entrance was down the street, you had to go through a metal detector and entered the sanctuary through a tunnel under the street.

In the United States, you can enter any church on Christmas or Easter without planning ahead. On Yom Kippor or Rosh Hashana, you have to have a ticket. We have police guarding and checking bags. For as long as I remember the Paramus police had to be present not only for traffic, but to protect us on our most holy day.

Two years ago synagogues around my home town were being firebombed.  They caught the men responsible as they were getting ready to throw Molotov cocktails at my childhood synagogue.

4 Jews died in Paris because they were Jewish. This is the world I bring a child into. I sometimes think she would be safer if she didn’t have a Jewish last name. I just hope she never knows this level of hatred. But I also know my parents had the same wish for me.

To sing or not to sing…in Church

It’s the time of year when radio stations are full of Christmas music. Sirius XM has traditional, country, modern, and a few other random stations. I happen to love White Christmas and Winter Wonderland. And let me just say I do sing. I even enjoy singing. This may be a bit arrogant, but I have a nice voice. People have turned around at the end of a Jewish service and have complimented me on my voice. So it’s not because of an inability to carry a tune or be on key. But why can’t I sing on Christmas in a church?

Every year I find myself struggling with this question. Take a song like Handel Messiah. The one that goes “And he shall reign for ever and ever, Hallelujah.” (I always like that booming base part) It holds a warm and fuzzy place in my memory. When I was in high school choir, this was the final song of the winter concert. Alumni were called up to sing with the choir. There is a nice picture of my brothers and me, all 50 or more pounds lighter, singing together in the high school auditorium. Together we sang a booming “And he shall reign for ever and ever, hallelujah”.

Fast forward, 10 years and it’s Christmas Eve. Jen, her father and I are attending services together. I stand whenever everyone else stands, I wish people a merry Christmas when they wish me a merry Christmas and I light a candle when everyone lights a candle. But through responsive readings and songs, I remain silent.

Here I am, a Jew in an interfaith marriage. I have a tree decorated with dreidels and I’m attending Christmas services. One thought is I’m trying to be different. I may be in a church, but I’m trying to remember I’m Jewish. If I don’t sing the songs, I’m not taking part in the service. There is nothing more awkward then being the only person in a room not going up for communion. But I don’t want to fit in, I want to cling to the idea that I’m not Christian and I don’t want anyone to think I am.

There have been so many times in my life that I have been surrounded by or confronted with the question, “Why don’t you believe in Jesus?” Missionaries used sit on the corner outside my middle school and hand out bibles. My mother was not amused when I brought a King James New Testament bible home one day. Maybe it’s the years of protest I have built up inside of me, the constant explaining that I’m not Christian.

Another thought that crosses my mind is that songs take on a different meaning inside a church. They become prayer. However, I was taught a prayer isn’t what you say, it’s what’s in your heart. And in my heart, this is just a song. As a Jew, I don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah and I’m not sure if I believe there is even a historical Jesus.

Jen’s response to all this is, “I understand why you wouldn’t want to pray in a church, but I just want to hear your voice.”

Finding a Religious home

Jen

One of the decisions that we have struggled with in talking about religion is deciding on the type of religious community we want to join. In a perfect world, it would be great to be active members in both church and a synagogue, but realistically, we don’t have the time or money to be active members of multiple houses of worship. In fact, Keith’s parents have been active members of the same synagogue for more than 35 years. Both of our parents served on the boards of directors. My dad taught Sunday School and my mom played the bells in the bell choir. Keith’s parents were part of the many organizations including the young couples club. (His parents and their group of friends somewhat jokingly still refer to themselves as the young couples club, even though they’re all in their sixties.)

I have fond memories of volunteering with my family to repair houses in Western Maryland as part of a week-long church youth trip, enjoying spaghetti dinners and talent shows, and eating homemade ice cream at the church’s annual Strawberry Festival each summer.

Keith has equally fond memories of growing up as a part of his synagogue community, such as helping his parents run the games at the Purim carnival every year, building and decorating a sukkah during Sukkot, or always being on call to start a minyan when needed.

The common thread in these memories is having a special bond with other families who were members, making friends at our houses of worship, and having almost everyone stop and say hi  and ask how we were doing after a service or other event. If we didn’t attend for a while, people would notice! (Which is both good and bad, I supposed.)

I think that both of us hope to one day have our family be part of a community like that with our children; to be more involved than just going to services every now and then. Both churches and synagogues have a great history of giving back to their communities, which we both value. However, where would we join? A church? A synagogue? An interfaith place of worship? That depended on how we wanted to raise our children, which resulted in a number of very difficult discussions, which every interfaith couple who wants to be involved in a religious house of worship needs to have.

In the end, we agreed to raise our future children in the Jewish faith for a number of reasons, including that it would be easier for me to be involved in their religious upbringing than Keith be involved in their religious upbringing would be if we raised them Christian. I look forward to the day where I have a religious house of worship that feels like home to both Keith and me.

Been a While

Keith

I have to admit I forgot about the blog. As with most hobbies, life happens. The biggest update is that Jen is pregnant, with Triplets!!! Ok, just kidding. Jen at this point is 6 months pregnant with a baby girl. Hearing the heart beat is one of the happiest moments of my life. Right up there with marrying my best friend and getting an extra fortune cookie last weekend.

After talking with some friends, we decided to pick this up again. Now that baby Jellybean is on the way, there is so much to plan for. I look forward to sharing.

PS Jellybean is nicknamed from one of our weekly baby updates. After we heard she was the size of a jellybean the name stuck. Or as Jen’s aunt calls her, Princess Jellybean Mirowitz.

A Passover-Friendly Easter

Jen

I was reading through some of our past posts and realized that they have been very focused on Jewish holidays, but then realized that’s because there are so many more Jewish holidays than Christian ones! While there are only two major Christian holidays (Easter, which is tomorrow, and Christmas), there are more than half a dozen Jewish holidays that Keith and I celebrate: Shabbat—yup, considered a holiday—Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukkah, Simchat Torah, Purim, Pesach/Passover—of which we are in the sixth day.

Image

Peeps–always an Easter Basket staple that rarely got eaten

I enjoy celebrating most of these holidays, but I have to admit that I get the short end of the stick on the number of them! (Not that I think we have time to celebrate any more than we do.) Christmas at least seems like it lasts for several weeks, but Easter always seems to come and go so quickly, since I don’t really observe Lent anymore. When I went to Catholic church (up until about 6th grade, after which we started attended Methodist church—my Dad is Catholic, and my mom is Methodist) my family always celebrated Lent—the six weeks leading up to Easter—by going to mass on Ash Wednesday, not eating meat on Fridays, and giving up something for Lent. I remember feeling annoyed that we couldn’t eat meat just one day a week! I wonder how I would have felt as a child not being able to eat bread for a week, like Keith and I are doing now for Passover (well, I’m doing it at home, while Keith follows it all throughout Passover). I also remember Palm Sunday being a joyous occasion where we all got palms in church and I would fold them into crosses during the service, followed by the sadness of Good Friday, and then the happiness of Easter.

On and around Easter, I always looked forward to dying Easter eggs, wearing a new spring dress on Easter Sunday, going to my Mom-mom’s house after church for Easter egg hunting with my sister and cousins, followed by having a big Easter feast. I hope to do all of those things once we have kids one day.

Now that I’m older and identify myself Protestant, some years I’ll give up something for Lent, but not usually, and I no longer avoid meat on Fridays for the sake of Lent. On Easter Sunday, we now go to church with my family, then go to their place for a big lunch. Since Passover usually overlaps with Easter, and Keith keeps kosher for Passover, it was a challenge at first as to how he could keep a kosher for Passover diet and eat at my parent’s house for Easter. My parents have been very accommodating and every year that Passover falls on Easter, they use disposable dishware, we bring a side dish and a dessert to share with everyone, and we bring a separate main dish for Keith. When I think about it, it’s actually funny that Christians don’t keep kosher for Passover on Easter, since the last meal that Jesus ate was most likely during Passover.

Church on Easter has been somewhat of a challenge in the past as well, particularly the sermons. Keith usually goes with me to church on Christmas and Easter, at least two years the sermon at the church where we attended for Easter were particularly uncomfortable. One that sticks out in my mind is when the minister mentioned how he felt bad when he went to funerals of people of other religions because they didn’t have the joy of knowing that their loved ones could be in Heaven. Not only is this inaccurate (when he studied other religions in becoming ordained he would have learned that a belief in an afterlife is a belief shared by other religions), but it was it was offensive to Keith and anyone in the congregation may have been of a different religion.

Believe it or not, there is a history of Jews feeling uncomfortable around Easter, going back to the Bible verses implying that the Jews killed Jesus. Fortunately, I never was taught this concept in all of my years of attending both Catholic and Protestant church services, Sunday School, youth group meetings, and bible studies. However, I don’t doubt that other Christians around the world have been taught this, especially in years past.

While it took several years for me to be comfortable celebrating Yom Kippur, Easter is one of the more challenging holidays for Keith to celebrate, and I don’t think he will ever be completely comfortable in an Easter church service.  But we look at it more about supporting each other by participating in each other’s holidays than necessarily finding any spiritual meaning in the services.

Pacing Yourself at a Seder

Keith

I think that one of the first Jewish holidays Jen celebrated was Passover. We live four hours from my parents, so Jen and I have had to take off from work these last few years. When asked, I would describe Passover as Thanksgiving with a four drink minimum.

Bears eating matza

Matza–the 11th plague

For those unfamiliar with Passover, the holiday focuses on the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. The first two nights, Jews attend Seders or dinners. During the Seder, we retell the story of Moses taking the Jews from slavery and delivering them into freedom. To an outsider, the Seder can seem like a strange, highly ritualized dinner. Wine is spilled onto napkins, matza is hidden for children to find, guests are told to recline and wine is poured for an invisible guest. My family’s Seder has at least 10 courses. Each course having its own meaning and story, including the greens, matza, hard-boiled eggs, marror (bitter herbs), gefiilte fish, soup, and salad. Jen, not knowing the order of food, had no room left when the main meal came out.

The uniqueness of Passover is how it takes place in the home. Although some Jews go to synagogue this week, the majority of traditions take place in the home. Every year my parents try different themes, to try and make what would be the same each year new and fun. One year included magic (which I will admit I performed) and another year included finger puppets.

For me, I have always enjoyed asking and answering questions during the Seder. My father and I would prepare questions and in the past have tried to stump each other. My mother would try to limit the debates so we can get to the dinner quickly. However, at its core the Seder is about asking questions. This may be the most important point for someone who isn’t Jewish. It is not only okay to ask questions throughout the Seder; everyone is encouraged to ask questions. So if you find yourself at a Seder, don’t worry about not knowing whats going on. Drink some wine, eat some food, and ask some questions.

Hanukkah, Chanukah, or Hanukah?

Eight-foot menorah

The eight-foot menorah that Keith’s dad built for their synagogue.

Keith

A question I often get is, “what is the correct spelling?” The correct spelling is חֲנֻכָּה. The first letter of the Hebrew word is a chet, a rough consonant that doesn’t have any direct letter in the English language. It is usually written as a “Ch” and sometimes as an “H,” but really, it doesn’t matter how you spell Hanukah.

Hanukah is the festival of lights. It is a minor Jewish holiday celebrating how a small Jewish army threw out a much larger occupying army from their lands and re-sanctified the temple in Jerusalem. Their oil that was supposed to last for one night lasted for eight (crazy) nights.

There are certain traditions that stick out in my mind from when I was a child. Everyone in my family had our own Menorah, which we lit every night. We would eat tater tots or latkes with applesauce, and we would get gifts each night. I know, eight gifts may sound amazing, but you have to understand that one night could be underwear and socks and another night could be pajamas. Mixed in were the usual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers action figures.

The menorah always seemed so much smaller than our seven-foot artificial Christmas tree (something to discuss in a future post). Last year I asked Jen, “Since we have a seven-foot tree, can I have a six-foot wide menorah to place on the balcony?” Jen, thinking this was a joke, said she was okay with the idea. What she didn’t realize was my father had made one in the past for the synagogue in my home town. When she found me measuring the balcony, she retracted her approval. Instead, we bought a brand new menorah on which we have built our traditions.

Like all holidays in Judaism, Hanukah comes down to food, family and G-d. Maybe not in that order. This year Hanukah occurred during my final exams and we were unable to travel up to New Jersey to see my family. Each year, I really appreciate that Jen makes sure that I’m never alone on my holidays. She lights the menorah with me (we have a his and hers set of menorahs), makes latkes from scratch (third year has been the charm) and even tries to get me to play spin the dreidel. Without the hours in synagogue, or the serious topics discussed during Passover, Hanukah is a light, fun holiday that is always nice during the cold of winter.

Shabbat: Not Just for Jews

Jen

One of the things I appreciate the most about Judaism is the idea of Shabbat. Keith and I try to have a Friday night Shabbat dinner together at least once a month, and I truly look forward to these nights. Jewish or not, I think everyone can learn something from Shabbat. I see it as a time to slow down from our busy lives of working, studying, running to workouts, happy hours, etc., and really take the time to enjoy the company of friends and family.

Challah bread  - before

Pre-baked challah bread that Keith made. I know, I’m a lucky woman.

During the week Keith and I usually eat in front of the newest episode of Homeland or Parks and Recreation but on Shabbat we eat at the dining room table. I know this is a strange idea, to talk to each other during the meal instead of watching television, but I like doing it once in a while.

Like so many things in Judaism, the prayers are in Hebrew and the customs are ancient. We use a special bronze cup for the Kiddish (prayer over the wine) that belonged to Keith’s great-grandfather after whom he was named. Listening to friends and family, I’’ve learned there is such a wide spectrum of what Shabbat means and how people observe it.

About a week ago, Keith and I hosted our first large Shabbat dinner. Attending were some friends and some fellow Georgetown classmates of Keith. The final count was 17 Jews and what we have come to call the “Jewcurious.” We somehow fit three six-foot tables in our one-bedroom apartment to seat everyone. Keith made his homemade challah bread and the main course was take-out from our favorite Peruvian restaurant, Crisp and Juicy. After all, the food doesn’t matter as much as the company.

We had a great time catching up with old friends and making new ones at the Shabbat dinner. I hope that we can do this again sometime soon, but maybe at someone else’s apartment.

Keith

Here is my advice for someone who wants to learn more about Shabbat (which, believe it or not, is the most important Jewish holiday). Go find a friend and participate in the entire ritual. From Kiddush, to the washing of hands, to the hamotzi, to the singing, and in some cases, dancing. Wear the kippah, use a challah cover, and debate the night away.

Do everything to determine what you want to take away from this ritual. Jen and I don’t bench or say grace after the meal is done. We don’t sing the many folk songs associated with Shabbat. By getting out of your comfort zone, you may find the traditions that you like and would be comfortable doing in your household. This keeps it from being constrained to only what your Jewish partner observes and allows you to take ownership in the holiday and make some part of it your own.

This suggestion isn’t just for Shabbat, it can be applied to any Jewish or Christian tradition that is important to your partner. After taking part in a Shabbat dinner, sleep on it, then have a conversation you’re your partner. Nothing needs to be a definitive line in the sand, but a conversation about “I can do X and Y, but I don’t feel comfortable doing Z” should occur. Being in an interfaith relationship is about these compromises. You may be surprised to find that you enjoy or want to take part in something that your partner doesn’t do. But who knows, you might discover that you enjoy making gingerbread houses like I do or have a desire to make cheese blintzes on Shavuot like Jen does.