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Passover and Jewish Identity

Growing up a child of intermarriage, Passover was the time I felt the most “Jewish.” We had an otherwise secular household—went to High Holiday services, but not much else. For Passover, however, my mother went all out.

A few weeks ahead of time, my mom would bring up the Passover dishes from the basement. A few days before the Seder, she would become a cleaning maniac, on a mission to get out every single crumb in the entire house. She’d pull out all of the couch cushions and move the furniture. My sister and I had to clean our rooms, under our beds, even our closets. We’d even burn the remains of last year’s afikoman to symbolically nullify all of the crumbs that might have been overlooked.

All this care and attention may also happen in other Jewish households, but in my home it came from a woman who was raised protestant. She was doing her part to make sure we were raised in a Jewish household.

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Combined Influences on Passover

In “Crash Course,” an article in Tablet Magazine, Patrick Huguenin describes his efforts to become an expert in Passover dietary laws in time to prepare a dish for his Jewish friend’s Seder (ritual Passover meal). Huguenin, who describes himself as an “agnostic Christian,” throws himself head-first into researching the details and techniques of preparing kosher-for-Passover chopped liver, a classic Ashkenazi Jewish food.

After two “trial” batches of chopped liver, during which Hugenin stresses about everything from chicken fat ratios to finding the perfect snacks to “dunk” with, he discovers the biggest shock of all: Matt, his Jewish friend doesn’t really care about keeping kosher for Passover.

“You know,” said Matt as he noshed, “we’re not that strict, and it’s not even sundown yet. You could have served this pate on toast.”

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Mutli-Faith Passover Blessing

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Craig Taubman, a Jewish musician, has teamed up with American Greeting Cards to create an electronic Passover card that “celebrates the universal message of the holiday.” The card features a video in which rabbis are joined by religious leaders of other faiths to show how Passover’s themes of freedom and hope have inspired humanity for generations. The card can also be personalized, so we encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to share with your family and friends this wonderful Passover blessing.



A Seder on Any Night of Passover

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

I’ve been fretting about the first night of Passover and how I can pull off a Seder: (a) by myself; (b) when I won’t get home with the kids until at least 6:30 pm, and; (c) I need to get the kids in bed (lights off) by 8:00 pm.

I figured if I did a lot of preparation the day before, I could just heat things up when we got home Monday night and then just try to move along as briskly as possible. Presumably our daughters wouldn’t be the only kindergartner and 2nd grader who stayed up too late that night and showed up at school on Tuesday bleary-eyed. Nevertheless, this solution didn’t lend itself to the thoughtful approach to a Passover Seder to which I aspire.

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Passover and Easter

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

Years ago, I somehow imagined that marrying a Jew would eliminate the perennial question which most (Christian) couples face, “whose parents will we visit for Easter/Christmas?”

I was wrong.

Despite my husband’s strong assertion, “We’re Jewish,” they also enjoy what has become the secularized American holidays Christmas and Easter. At Easter, my husband and his brother always dyed eggs had enjoyed an Easter egg hunt at their home.

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Cleaning for Passover

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

Recently, I found myself reflecting on a Passover checklist. One glance had me simultaneously laughing and growing anxious. I laughed because the items reflected an approach to Passover and the Seder which is wholly absent in our home. Anxiety set in when I saw what we’re not doing and started second-guessing how we do things.

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Guide for an Inclusive Interfaith Seder

Passover begins soon, and for many families that means preparations are well underway. And with increasing rates of intermarriage, more Seders will be populated by people unfamiliar with Passover and all of its traditions. That’s why we created a guide for holding an Inclusive Interfaith Seder, printed yesterday by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on its Passover blog. It also mentions our ongoing “Preparing for Passover” blog series written by participants in The Mothers Circle. The purpose of the guide is to show how using the holiday’s themes of freedom and welcoming can help interfaith families make their Seder an inclusive event the will resonate with everyone.

Click the link below to read all of our suggestions. What else would you add to the list?

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A Welcome or a Wall?

We firmly believe it is up to no single Jewish denomination to decide who is or isn’t Jewish. No one group should have a monopoly in this area. This is particularly true in terms of conversion. Whether someone finds meaning in the Reform or Orthodox movement is irrelevant – we should simply be excited that a person has chosen to join the Jewish community. But recent attempts in Israel to make it harder for a convert to claim Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, writes David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, signals something deeper than a tough new citizenship policy. It’s a “battle over the right of all Jews, irrespective of denomination, to help usher new members into the Jewish fold, consistent with basic criteria of knowledge, sincerity, and commitment.”

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Evolving Response to Intermarriage

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Almost any conversation about the future of the Jewish community involves intermarriage. This has been true for quite some time, but especially since the National Jewish Population Study of 1990, which found that intermarriage rates had reached 52 percent. Since then, responses have been all over the map – from rejection of intermarried couples to their embrace, and everything in between. But a pragmatic approach seems to be winning over, said an editorial in the Jerusalem Post. “Leaders of all three main streams of Judaism recognize that, unlike in the past, the decision to marry a non-Jew does not necessarily signal a rejection of Judaism,” the paper said. “Rather it is a sign of the full and successful integration of Jews into American society and culture.”

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Of Blessed Memory

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

My sister died suddenly two weeks ago.

My friend who has always hosted the first night Seder told me that she would be in Florida for the first night this year with her parents.

Another friend said she would host one night, but that I would have to help her, as she has never hosted a Seder before. Yes, she’s Jewish.

I keep thinking of the trove of kind folk who always join us at both Seders. What will they do if I don’t host one night?

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New Passover Resources for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren

We have added exciting new resources to the Passover section of the Grandparents Circle website. The goal of Grandparents Circle is to provide Jewish grandparents whose adult children have intermarried with tools they can use to help nurture – and in some cases establish – the Jewish identity of their grandchildren. This new section of the website provides specific tools that grandparents can use to connect their grandchildren to Passover.

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An Entirely Different Dilemma

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

All of us that are Non-Jewish Women Raising Jewish Children (Can we get a better acronym here? Anyone?) have in front of us the Christmas/Hanukah choices and compromises. For me, it has been easy to show my children that we celebrate only Hanukah in the home, but when we visit grandparents, aunts and uncles and other loved ones, we are free to enjoy their holiday as honored visitors, and that is how everyone makes us feel.

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Changing Attitudes on Intermarriage

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), which represents Reform rabbis throughout the world, has just wrapped up its annual convention in San Francisco. During the convention, CCAR leadership released the results of a long awaited three-year study of intermarriage. The leadership found that since intermarriage is a “given,” we should “increase outreach and understanding, rather than [treat intermarriage] as a threat to Jewish identity that must be resisted at all costs.”

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Passover Questions

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

I’ve started preparing for Passover in the last week or so, and in keeping with my Passover resolution for this year, I’m trying to enjoy the process (and not focus too much on feeling overwhelmed by the preparations). I’m planning a seder with two other families, both of which happen to include Israelis. As my husband pointed out, at least now we’ll learn how to pronounce everything. I read the Jewish 101 Passover faq, which actually made the whole enterprise seem less complicated. I finished reading it and thought, well, surely we can get through that much, even with the nanosecond attention span of the younger members of our family. Another friend of mine shared her secret for getting through all of the preparations without losing her mind…she hires a cleaning service and buys the Passover dinner offered by one of our local grocery stores. Brilliant!

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Speculating on a Jewish Wedding

Rumors continue to swirl regarding the upcoming nuptials of Chelsea Clinton and her fiancé Marc Mezvinsky. When they announced their engagement last year, they said they wanted a summer wedding. But what kind of wedding will this be? Clinton is a Methodist and Mezvinsky is Jewish. As an article in the Associated Press recently asked, “Is a Jewish wedding ahead for Chelsea Clinton?”

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Pillars of Outreach

Last week, Julie Wiener reported on an intermarriage workshop that took place at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The workshop was touted as noteworthy because it marked the first time the school had sanctioned an event where students could come together and discuss issues surrounding intermarriage and how they impact the Jewish community (although JOI’s exec Rabbi Kerry Olitzky has presented to the students on the subject several times over the past few years). In response to the piece, JTS chancellor Arnold Eisen wrote a letter to the (New York) Jewish Week clarifying the school’s “policy on the matter of outreach to intermarried families.”

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Taking the First Welcoming Steps

There is a simple way to make synagogues “sacred and vital,” said Dr. Ron Wolfson in the New Jersey Jewish News. “Congregations can start by making sure everyone who walks in the door is warmly greeted.”

Though it sounds easy, this first step is too often overlooked. That moment when someone – especially a newcomer – walks through our doors is an opportunity to establish a lasting connection. So important is that experience for both the synagogue and the visitor, Dr. Wolfson, a professor at the American Jewish University, now devotes much of his time to helping synagogues realize the power of welcoming. As president of Synagogue 3000, an organization that aims to make synagogues compelling moral and spiritual centers for the twenty-first century, he helps challenge “the existing assumptions of synagogue life in North America.” Most notably, this means a successful synagogue is not one that merely offers more programs, but instead develops a deeper relationship with their members. This begins with a warm welcome.

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New Tool for Jewish Education

To what extent can technology become a tool for Jewish education before it becomes a mere distraction? That, said Julie Wiener in the (New York) Jewish Week, is a question many in the Jewish community—including JOI—have been struggling with more and more over the last few years, especially in terms of reaching those on the periphery of the Jewish community, such as intermarried families, children of intermarriage and unaffiliated Jews. But a new online game, JLand, is trying to find that right balance and offer these families a low barrier—and enjoyable—entry point into the Jewish community.

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No Longer Mourning Intermarriage

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In generations past, when Jewish parents discovered that their child was planning on marrying someone of another religious background, it was not uncommon for those parents to sit shiva, or mourn the loss of their child. This attitude was immortalized for many on stage and screen in “Fiddler on the Roof,” when Tevye the milkman discovers that his daughter, Chava, has eloped with a Christian. But, wonders Rabbi Joshua Hammerman in the (New York) Jewish Week, would Tevye respond the same way today? Do Jews even still mourn intermarriage in this way?

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A Workshop on Intermarriage Outreach

Over the past few years, the Conservative movement’s rigid stance on intermarriage has gradually softened. While rabbis are still forbidden from officiating at interfaith weddings, many Conservative synagogues now allow the non-Jewish spouse to take part in life-cycle events like a bar or bat mitzvah, or serve in leadership roles. The reasoning is that with more congregants personally touched by intermarriage – either involved in one or the parents of children who have intermarried – more should be done to include interfaith couples in synagogue life. This, according to Julie Wiener in the (New York) Jewish Week, is what led the Jewish Theological Seminary to host a first-of-its-kind workshop “sensitizing students to issues of intermarriage and changing demographics.”

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