Entries for Category: Mothers Circle
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When I was a teenager, I went to Jewish weekend camp where every month we had a topic to discuss. The first topic was “What Makes a Jew?” The entire discussion about mothers/fathers, patrilineal/matrilineal descent, observant/not observant, didn’t resonate with me. When I thought about who was Jewish, I decided that whoever says she is Jewish, is Jewish. I never saw any benefit to determining for others whether they were Jewish or not.
This week I read an article in The New York Times called “What Makes a Jewish Mother?” about how to determine, in the case of adoption and sperm/egg donation, the religion of the child. This is my favorite line: “Jewish authorities are finding evidence in the Scriptures to support both arguments: that the egg donor is the mother and that the birth mother is the mother.” I had no idea that “egg donation” came up in the Bible, something that was written thousands of years ago before anyone knew about turkey basters let alone invitro fertilization.
In our latest edition of The Mothers Circle-Shalom Sesame holiday resource guide, we take a look at the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, which begins at sundown on Tuesday May 14th, and ends at sundown on Thursday May 16th.
Shavuot is a spring holiday that celebrates the first harvest, the ripening of the first fruits, and most importantly, the giving of the Torah. The holiday can offer a wonderful entry point into Jewish life. Entry points, in fact, are at the very heart of this holiday, particularly because of its connection to the Book of Ruth, which is traditionally read on Shavuot during late-night (or even all night!) study sessions. Shavuot is also known for the delicious foods eaten, including blintzes and cheesecake.
For more about this unique holiday, including activities, video and discussion questions, and more, click here to download the free Shavuot resource guide. And please feel free to share!
Also, be sure to visit The Mothers Circle Facebook page to share how you will be celebrating Shavuot with your family, by leaving us a comment on the post about this fun guide. You can even share photos of the tzedakah boxes you make!
I have written before about my struggles with characterizing my Jewish practice. Having done extensive research on the “millennial” generation of which I am a part, I have come to understand the nuances of living in a world in which options and choice are valued above all else, and how my religious practice plays into this, or plays against it.
For this reason, I was taken by a recent article in Tablet magazine, in which self-proclaimed “Jewish atheist” Jonathan Zimmerman chronicles his experience attending a Humanistic synagogue. Humanistic Judaism identifies with the history and traditions of Jewish culture independent of a higher power. That is, the focus is on “[celebrating] the centrality of human reason and responsibility from a uniquely Jewish perspective.” This would objectively seem like a perfect fit for Zimmerman, and yet, for him, the experience was totally uncomfortable, even laughable…not in and of itself, but when compared to formative prayer experiences from his Conservative Jewish upbringing.
Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is dedicated to providing education and support to those on the periphery of Jewish life through a wide array of programming, including The Mothers Circle and The Grandparents Circle. As part of that commitment, we have collaborated with our friends at Shalom Sesame to introduce you to free educational resources at ShalomSesame.org. From the creators of Sesame Street, Shalom Sesame is a cross-platform media initiative developed to introduce American children to Jewish culture, Hebrew language, and the diversity of Israel.
The Shalom Sesame site is easy to use, focusing on timely themed units. Each unit includes videos, worksheets, games and a series of parent articles. We are excited to share our new holiday-themed Shalom Sesame resource guides, which help you navigate the resources, with an eye toward the diversity that characterizes the Jewish community of today. As you bring Jewish tradition into your households, Shalom Sesame is a wonderful way for you and your children to learn together.
Are you a mom looking for guidance on sharing Passover with your children? If you are, or know someone who is, we are here to help!
With Passover just around the corner, beginning on March 25th, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is excited to offer a free online discussion about celebrating the holiday of Passover, during which we will talk about the details of the seder (ritual meal), what to eat/not to eat, how to involve your children, and more!
WHO: Mothers of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children, and anyone else interested.
WHAT: The Mothers Circle: Seder Survival Guide Online Discussion
WHEN: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 1:00 PM EST
WHERE: Online! All you need is a computer and a phone.
HOW: Register for this free class by clicking here.
We at JOI consider mothers of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children to be the unsung heroes of the Jewish community. Therefore, we want to make sure they have the resources necessary to create a Jewish home. By offering this class in an online discussion format, moms from across North America who may not have a local Mothers Circle will be able to get their questions answered while virtually surrounded by moms just like them.
The online discussion will be co-led by Laura Kinyon, a long-time Mothers Circle facilitator based in Hartford, CT, and myself, and participants will be able to submit questions in advance to ensure they are answered during the session (submitted during registration).
We hope you will join us, and will pass this information on to anyone who you think might be interested!
JOI wants to help make Passover an enjoyable holiday for everyone. As always, anyone can register for a Mothers Circle online session, and JOI welcomes participants to do so by clicking the link above. For questions about either session, how to participate, or how to get a question about Passover answered, I invite you to be in touch with me at HMorris@JOI.org or 212-760-1440.
I’ve written before about Jewish celebrities, and how they inherently invoke a sense of pride simply through association. Adam Sandler touched upon that pride in a big way through his Hanukkah songs, in which he goes through long lists of celebrities who are in any way Jewish. As he sings, “Harrison Ford’s a quarter Jewish: not too shabby!” (Note: as it turns out, Ford’s mother is Jewish on both sides; Sandler should probably fix his math on that one!)
But there’s a new category of celebrity Jewish pride that Sandler has yet to address, and that category includes stars like Drew Barrymore. Drew recently spoke to the ladies of The View about her decision to raise her new baby girl, Olive, as “traditionally Jewish.” Barrymore married her husband, art dealer Will Koppelman, about seven months ago in a Jewish ceremony performed by a rabbi, complete with a ketubah (Jewish marital contract), yarmulkes (Jewish head coverings, also called kippahs), and a chuppah (canopy under which a Jewish couple stands during the ceremony).
While Barrymore has not converted and has not intimated that she will choose to, she has embraced Judaism into her life, calling it “a beautiful faith” that she is “so honored” to be around.
“It’s so family-oriented,” she said. “The stories are so beautiful and it’s incredibly enlightening. I’m really happy.”
I would have been excited by Drew’s Jewish connection regardless. But now that I am working with moms just like Drew, who are raising Jewish children without being brought up Jewish themselves, I connected to her words on a new level. I am constantly inspired by the commitment of our Mothers Circle moms to take on such a huge and potentially daunting task, and am so privileged to be part of a team that supports them in their journeys. I hope that Drew’s story gives our moms the same pride and connection I feel when I hear about a Jewish celebrity. Beyond that, I hope it gives Jews everywhere a sense of pride that there are so many who wish to cast their lot with the Jewish people.
Perhaps it’s time for Adam Sandler to start writing The Hanukkah Song Part 4: The Celebrity Mothers Circle!
This past weekend, I finally watched Pitch Perfect, a hilarious take on the world of college a cappella. In addition to bringing back a ton of memories from my days in the Golden Blues at the University of Delaware (Go Blue Hens!), it also reminded me how much I enjoy Elizabeth Banks, who is also one of the movie’s producers.
As luck would have it, the Hunger Games actress and UPenn grad was recently interviewed by Marc Maron for his WTF Podcast, which I learned about thanks to an article by Jewcy.com writer Stephanie Butnick which highlights the fact that Banks is a Jew-by-choice. Banks, raised a Catholic in Massachusetts, married a Jewish man, and eventually converted. But, Maron asks, “are you, like, officially a Jew?” Banks replies, “I’m not officially stamped, but by all accounts yes…My kids go to Jewish pre-school, we only celebrate Jewish holidays, I love seder…Frankly, because I’m already doing everything, I feel like I’m as Jewish as I’m ever going to be.” She goes on to say:
It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Suzette Cohen, who was among the first Mothers Circle coordinators and facilitators in the country. Suzette served as the second facilitator of The Mothers Circle in Atlanta, GA, where the program began, and went on to coordinate the Circle there for several years. She was also a kindergarten teacher at Temple Kol Emeth, as well as the lead teacher of the primary grades, and additionally, served as the Director of Community Outreach for Atlanta Area Psychological Associates, P.C.
Below is Suzette’s obituary, posted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Mrs. Cohen was a social worker employed by the Atlanta Area Psychological Associates and an active Jewish educator, but her main emphasis and source of much pride was raising her three sons. Along with being lead teacher at Temple Kol Emeth, she also was lead teacher at Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta. Mrs. Cohen graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. degree in Urban Life, and also received a M.A. in Judaic Education from the Siegal College of Jewish Studies. She was a member of Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta and Shalom B’Harim in Dahlonega, where her husband serves as spiritual leader. Survivors include her husband, Mitchell of Alpharetta; sons, Dr. Zachary, Jordan and Eric Cohen; mother, Mrs. Rose Sowadsky of Alpharetta; sister, Jeanine (Zvi) Bekerman of Atlanta; brother, David (Jennifer) Felsberg of Atlanta; mother-in-law, Roslyn Cohen of Alpharetta; brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, Howie and Deborah Cohen of Alpharetta, and Sandra Cohen-Goldberg and Jack Goldberg of Savannah; nieces, Elana Frank of Israel, Arielle Furman and Carey Felsberg of Atlanta, and Lainey and Rachel Cohen of Alpharetta; and nephews, Daniel Bekerman and Noah Felsberg of Atlanta. She is loved and will be greatly missed by all whose lives she touched and the people she transformed. An online guestbook is available at www.edressler.com. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Kfar Chassidim (contact Mitch for information) or to the Temple Kol Emeth Adult Education Fund. Services will be 1:00 PM TODAY, Monday, January 14, 2013 at Temple Kol Emeth, 1415 Old Canton Rd., Marietta, GA 30062, and will be officiated by Rabbi Steven Lebow. Burial will follow at Arlington Memorial Park in Sandy Springs. Arrangements by Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care, 770-451-4999.
The staff of Big Tent Judaism / Jewish Outreach Institute sends our condolences to Suzette’s family, and is so happy to have had the opportunity to work with such a wonderful advocate of Jewish outreach.
The staff of Big Tent Judaism / The Jewish Outreach Institute wish you a Happy Hanukkah!
How are you sharing the light this Hanukkah? Click here tell us below!
In the spirit of opening the tent, our staff are opening their doors and sharing the light this Hanukkah in many ways– through both their work here at JOI, as well as at home and in public spaces with family and friends. We invite you to leave your comment about how you plan to share the light this Hanukkah, and we wish everyone a safe, bright, and happy holiday!
Our recently released report on the success of The Mothers Circle is starting to make waves, as more communities are asking us to share this important program.
The fact is that when an intermarried couple decides to make a Jewish home for their children, it is often the mother who bears the primary responsibility for making the home Jewish. And when this mother does not have a Jewish background, the task may seem impossible. The fact is, too, that non-Jewish mothers in interfaith relationships have been less than welcomed by the Jewish community. Without the necessary support, many of these women may abandon Jewishness altogether.
Enter The Mothers Circle. At the Jewish Outreach Institute we believe that interfaith couples are an opportunity, not a threat to the Jewish community. With the right support, and the right welcoming attitude on the part of our communities, these mothers and their family can become part of our Big Tent, creating a Jewish home where there may not have been one before.
Which brings me back to this latest report. Through our research, we learned that participants of the 16-session course become more comfortable doing Jewish activities, bring more Jewish practices into the home (for example, the percentage of those who say they currently light Shabbat candles at home jumps from 50% to 83% following the course), and begin their journey toward greater Jewish engagement by choosing Jewish education for their children and participating in Jewish institutions.
Alicia Scotti, a former Mothers Circle participant turned facilitator of Mothers Circle programs, has blogged for JOI.org in the past and is especially good at sharing her experiences raising Jewish children. Today, she offers her perspective on what celebrating Sukkot has meant to her family. For more guidance on how you can bring Sukkot into your family’s life, visit The Mothers Circle Guide to Sukkot here.
Sukkot was never much on my radar. Actually it didn’t really get there until several years ago, when my oldest was already halfway through high school (We live in NYC, which explains a lot.) Every year our temple would have a sukkah decorating party, to which we’d bring gourds, apples, and different things to tie to the structure that the maintenance staff had erected earlier that day. Afterward, we’d attend a Sukkot service, and we’d all huddle in the structure to shake the lulav and smell the etrog. It was always fun, but that was the extent of our Sukkot.
One year, out of the blue, my husband decided we should get our own lulav and etrog. Once he made that decision, it was a big deal! He did a lot of research about where to get the best ones, and conveniently one was our local Judaica store. Of course, however, he was working and couldn’t get away, so he sent me. Inside, there was a table stacked with etrogs, and another with the lulavs. The place was packed with people reaching over each other and pushing to get closest to the table to smell and examine each one until somehow miraculously the perfect one was found, and then on to the next table! I had no idea what I was doing, but I can smell. I can examine and take a good guess. So that’s what I did.
There are few sights more stunning than the changing of the leaves as summer turns to fall, and the Jewish calendar presents the perfect opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this time of year through the harvest festival of Sukkot. Arriving just five days after our solemn observance of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, Sukkot is a celebration of gratitude for what we have and what is to come in the exciting year ahead. While you may notice that Sukkot is not as widely celebrated or acknowledged as the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, one can find many parallels to American Thanksgiving, as the pilgrims used this Biblical holiday as a template for their Thanksgiving celebration.
Like Thanksgiving, Sukkot celebrates our history and our connection to nature. You can now learn more about the holiday through The Mothers Circle Guide to Sukkot, which offers an introduction to its symbols and rituals, as well as ideas for celebrating with your families and making it your own. We invite you to take some time during this “Season of Our Rejoicing” (as Sukkot as often called) to celebrate the beauty of autumn through this unique and joyous holiday. Chag Sameach (Hebrew for “Happy Holiday”), and Happy Fall!
Readers of this blog may already be familiar with The Mothers Circle – one of JOI’s flagship programs, serving mothers of other religious backgrounds who have committed to raising Jewish children. While these women often do not feel welcomed by the Jewish community, we believe them to be our unsung heroes. The majority of Jewish households in North America are, in fact, intermarried households – where one spouse was not raised Jewish. And it is these women, these mothers raised in other religious backgrounds, who we should look up to. Choosing to raise their children in a faith other than their own, these mothers, for whom The Mothers Circle was designed, hold the key to Jewish continuity in North America.
Yet, steeped as we are in the daily routine of work here at JOI, it is often easy to overlook the positive change we manage to bring daily to Jewish communities around the country. Now is the time to celebrate our success!
JOI has recently released a case study featuring the wonderful success of one community where The Mothers Circle has been implemented successfully over the past four years. One of close to a hundred communities who have already implemented Mothers Circles, Portland, OR has a legacy of successful recruitment. As is the case nationally, alumnae of the Portland Mothers Circle overwhelmingly go on to affiliate with Jewish organizations and to choose Jewish education for their children.
As a native Houstonian, I’m particularly excited that JOI has recently begun a three year partnership with the Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), an organization dedicated to preserving, documenting, and promoting the practice, culture, and legacy of Judaism in the South. Living in New York City today, it’s easy to forget that Jewish life in the city is unique, that Jewish here is almost “normal,” and that American Jewish life has many regional flavors. Here, we don’t turn our heads when we see a man with a kippah, let alone a Hassid. And while this “normalcy” might not exist at home, I do want to see Jewish life in the South flourish more visibly. Thanks to my (Houston-based!) Jewish education at the Emery/Weiner Schools, I did once have the opportunity to travel beyond Jewish Texas into the Deep South (with stops in Jackson, Natchez, and New Orleans), to marvel at the old synagogues, learn about Jewish Civil Rights work at the sites where they actually took place, meander through Jewish cemeteries, and learn about the bustling Jewish life and the vestiges it left behind. Jewish life in a lot of the South is not always easy to find.
I see a partnership like the one between JOI and ISJL as an exciting and important step in making Southern Jewish life more vibrant and self-sustaining. Our partnership will be primarily focused on working to support intermarried couples and their families in all the communities that ISJL reaches. JOI will train the ISJL Fellows not only on the sensitivities surrounding intermarriage, but also the opportunities that intermarried couples provide; we have so much to learn from them! Additionally, JOI will provide and support courses, webinars, and take-home materials for its Mothers Circle (for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children) and Grandparents Circle (for grandparents whose grandchildren are being raised in intermarried families) programs. I’m hoping that the training and services provided will help ISJL communities be all the more prepared to welcome and embrace our intermarried families, as well as help these families feel all the more supported by their peers.
Our circle has widened! This summer The Mothers Circle has debuted two new programs, High Holiday Highlights: A Holiday Prep Class and The Mothers Circle Self-Guide, both of which create avenues for mothers of other religious backgrounds to learn and feel empowered by their decision to raise Jewish children.
High Holiday Highlights will be hosted by 17 different organizations across North America, 13 of which will be offering Mothers Circle programs for the first time. Locations include classes in San Francisco, CA, Greensboro, NC, and Scranton, PA. In each of these communities, participants will be learning the “how-tos” and valuable conversation-starters to help them share the meaningful experience of honoring the High Holidays with their families. With class activities ranging from learning to recite the Rosh Hashanah blessings to listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire?” (a comparison to the Rosh Hashanah prayer, “Unetanah Tokef”), High Holiday Highlights will be helping participants of all learning styles understand how both individuals and the community as a whole experience the High Holiday period in the synagogue and in the home.
Additionally, we are now proud to offer The Mothers Circle Self-Guide, a practical tool to accompany the book How to Raise Jewish Children…Even When You’re Not Jewish Yourself by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Paul Golin. Those who use the Self-Guide will be able to reflect on the stories, recommendations, and questions posed in How to Raise Jewish Children…, as well as further articulate their goals and determine the choices they will make as they raise their Jewish children. By creating an introspective guide that a mother can work through alone at any given time, JOI hopes to serve more mothers who, whether due to geography or other commitments, may have previously felt alone in the venture to raise Jewish children.
For more information regarding these programs, visit MothersCircle.org or feel free to be in contact with Hannah Morris here.
For the past two and a half years, I have worked for the Jewish Outreach Institute helping to provide Jewish professionals with the tools they need to build a more welcoming and inclusive Jewish community. After a semester-long internship helping to evaluate our Public Space Judaism initiatives, I accepted a position as Program Associate, training Jewish professionals all over North America in bringing resources and support to all those who may wish to enter the tent of the Jewish community, including less-engaged Jews, Jews by choice, Jews of color, Jews with special needs, and the group I worked with the most, interfaith families. I have spoken to countless professionals and volunteer leaders, assisting them in bringing programs like The Mothers Circle and The Grandparents Circle into their communities. However, my time doing this work is coming to an end. In less than two months, I will begin my rabbinic training at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. While I am very excited to take this next step professionally, I will miss the work that I am doing here.
The Jewish Outreach Institute’s work carries a deep personal meaning for me. As a patrilineal Jew, my family has struggled with finding meaning and acceptance in the Jewish community. I took this job partly out of a sense of personal responsibility, in order to help families like mine find the acceptance and support that would lead them to deeper involvement in Judaism.
I leave JOI tremendously optimistic that the Jewish community is headed toward ever more inclusion and support. In my time as Mothers Circle and Grandparents Circle National Coordinator, I have heard firsthand the tremendous impact our programs have on families. We have helped parents bring Shabbat into their homes for the first time. We have helped grandparents communicate about religion with their adult children with confidence and respect. And all of this is leading to rich and engaging Jewish upbringings for thousands of children from interfaith homes across North America.
In the weeks leading up to Passover, organizations throughout North America are hosting a variety of programming around the holiday. Many of these organizations have chosen to implement JOI’s Seder Survival Guide, a free half-day program designed to help interfaith families make the seder more engaging for themselves and their children.
The Seder Survival Guide teaches everything from how to select a haggadah (seder guide) that is meaningful to your family, to which foods are kosher for Passover, to a creative and open-ended take on the Four Questions. The participants in many of these programs have told us how helpful it was for them to learn more about family-friendly options for haggadot and activities during the seder, as well as the “why” behind many Passover rituals (such as why some Jews eat kitniyot— rice, legumes, and beans— and others do not). They come away from the class feeling better prepared to celebrate the holiday, whether it be at home or at a relative’s or friend’s home.
This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of our enthusiastic Mothers Circle facilitators, Rabbi Adrienne Scott, the Associate Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel of Houston, TX about her Mothers Circle group and its successes. In our conversation, Rabbi Scott noted the many benefits of the program both for the participants and the congregation, as well as indicated her hope for the continuation of such programming.
Why? Since participating in the class, The Mothers Circle women have felt more comfortable creating Jewish homes, getting involved in synagogue life, and considering new options for their children’s Jewish education. In turn, Congregation Beth Israel has created a community for these women to join, and the synagogue can now pride itself on actively welcoming non-Jewish spouses/partners into their community. These women are not only being acknowledged, but actually served! As Rabbi Scott explained in the March 2012 Congregation Beth Israel bulletin:
The participants in The Mothers Circle and I have enjoyed our time together. It has been helpful for each woman to learn from one another in a safe place, where previously each person felt alone. By gathering together to discuss issues that are shared by everyone, tensions are diffused and questions are answered…. It is my hope that The Mothers Circle is a program we will continue to offer. These sensitive religious issues are important for every member of our congregation and most especially our non-Jewish congregants who are equally dedicated to raising Jewish children with strong morals and ethics.
As a native Houstonian, I feel especially proud to be working with Rabbi Scott and Congregation Beth Israel, a synagogue that embraces intermarried/interpartnered couples in the community and helps them create Jewish homes. Because the congregation has offered programming that creates a safe space, actively invited participants (not just though emails!), and publicized the importance of non-Jewish members in the community, intermarried/interpartnered couples know that Beth Israel can be a home for them. I hope their work in creating a big Jewish tent continues to foster Congregation Beth Israel’s leadership and growth in the Houston Jewish community.