Jewish Holidays and Practices
A Guide for Newcomers
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Basic Holiday Info
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Think Pieces and Sermons
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Thereâ€™s a new magazine out on the newsstands thatâ€™s worth noticing. Jewish Living is a new bi-monthly magazine that, according to its newly launched website, â€ścelebrates Jewish home, Jewish family and Jewish cultural life like no other magazine ever has.â€ť I first read about the magazine in this New York Daily News article and then went out to buy my own copy of the first issue. Itâ€™s packed with fun and tasty ideas along with helpful information about raising children and making a Jewish home. I think I may even get a subscription for myself! If you like magazines like Martha Stewart Living or Real Simple, I have a feeling youâ€™ll like this one too.
The premiere issue features easy recipes for Shabbat and Hanukkah (click here for Jewish Living Magazine’s latke recipe), instructions for playing dreidel, advice for raising kids with character, a guide to hanging a mezuzah, and much more. Check it out and let us know what you think.
A few years back, JOI’s executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky wrote a short piece on the potential for conflict for interfaith families during Thanksgiving. He wrote that Thanksgiving is a time for family…
But that is precisely why such a holiday has the potential to be just as filled with conflict as are holidays that belong to one religious tradition or another, and why Thanksgiving can really catch us off-guard. Even after it is decided with which family the holiday should be celebrated (a challenge for most families, interfaith or not), there are still quite a few obstacles around which interfaith families must navigate. Simply put, whenever family gets together, unresolved issues that often boil under the surface rise to the top when we least expect it. Little things can set them off, but it may take a long time to recoup from them. That’s why it is better to anticipate them.
The piece recommends honest communication as the best way to avoid conflict. We hope your holiday will be filled with nothing but joy and good food. Happy Thanksgiving!
At JOI, we have long been looking for ways to provide access to Jewish rituals like bar and bat mitzvah to those who may not be on the traditional “track” of Jewish education and affiliation. A recent article in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, “Congregations, Rabbis Try to Stop the ‘Big Day’ from Becoming the Last Day,” discusses different approaches to attracting and retaining children both before and after bar/bat mitzvah. Our joint initiative with STAR is discussed:
Nationally, the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI), in partnership with STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), is conducting a pilot program, “Call Synagogue Home,” in the West San Fernando Valley. Participating synagogues take part in a one-day seminar, which focuses on creating a connection with interfaith families around life-cycle events, including b’nai mitzvah.
“We are using life-cycle events, both traditional and nontraditional, to nurture and develop relationships with interfaith families and children,” said Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, the institute’s executive director. “We help congregations to see where they can say yes, as opposed to focusing on where they have to say no.” … JOI has prepared a manual about b’nai mitzvah that explains how rabbis might tackle typical problems that come up for interfaith or unaffiliated families.
One of JOI’s recommendations is a more flexible residency requirement. “We help congregations recognize that there are going to be families who don’t approach a synagogue until close to the bar or bat mitzvah,” Olitzky said. “They don’t recognize that many synagogues have a schedule that chooses dates three years in advance and religious schools that require several years of preparation and commitment.”
If a three-year commitment is what the synagogue is looking for, he suggested, then perhaps the clergy should ask people to commit for the three years after the ceremony, rather than before.
The program helps rabbis separate issues of Jewish law from those of synagogue culture, for example, where a non-Jewish parent can stand on the bimah, who can handle the Torah, who can be involved in a ceremony to pass the Torah across generations or parental blessings that do not include formulas about chosenness. “We don’t want to force synagogues to do things that are beyond their set of principles or guidelines, but we want to stretch them to their comfort level,” Olitzky said.
Dasee Berkowitz is an experienced Jewish educator who is seeking to navigate the changing issues in Jewish education, especially when it comes to those familiesâ€”many of them interfaithâ€”who by choice or by necessity have decided not to affiliate with the organized Jewish communities and its Jewish institutions and pursue life cycle events. Rather, she wants to create a personalized approachâ€”similar to what JOI has called a Jewish Concierge ServiceSMâ€”in order to meet the needs of the changing Jewish community. Since families often enter the Jewish community within the context of life cycle events, this is the place that she is starting. And since she is an educator, she believes that education is also the entry point for life cycle events. This is what she says about the class she is teaching:
Jewish Sacred Moments: A Class for Interfaith Families
It can be hard work for interfaith families (including parents of intermarried children) to celebrate sacred moments in ways that satisfy everyone. In this class, participants can learn more about each stage of the Jewish life cycle: birth, coming of age, marriage, death and mourning as they gain resources to enrich their Jewish life passages. Participants will also have opportunities to reflect on negotiating diverse families’ needs by sharing experiences and strategies with each other.