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February 24, 2012

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1 HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 24, 2012 Interfaith ish Outreach Institute and its national listserv, From page 2A Mothers' Circle, which provides free educational to light the candles or say programs and resources anything in Hebrew. I am for non-Jewish women disappointed," she said. raising Jewish children. And sometimes syria- Jewish professional Dana gogue leaders make mis- Lichtenberg runs a local takes, leading to poten- arm of Mothers' Circle, tially awkward moments, offering occasional classes Non-Jewish women rais- and discussions. Lobel ing Jewish children can called both "a huge help." be mistakenly offered Raised as a Methodist in honors that may later rural Michigan, Lobelsaid be rescinded. Something her husband was the first along these lines hap- Jewish person she really pened to Levy years ago. knew. When they decided But for her, it was such to get married, they knew an understandable error, they wanted children and such a non-event, that the would be actively engaged details have blurred over in just one religion but the years, they didn't know which Even when the rules are one. clear, and the grownups "We decided to let God understand, children can decide," said Lobel. "If be caught in betWeen. Fer- we had a boy, it would be nandez's younger daugh- Jewish; if we had a girl, it ter was disappointed that would be Christian." In- her mother could not join stead ofjust one child, they her for the traditional eventually had three--all passing of the Torah scroll boys. from one generation to the "It was meant to be." she next at her bat mitzvah said. about their gender- service. Fernandez said. "l based decision. Today, told her. 'This is not about even though she has not my choices: it's about converted, she said. "I your choices.' I think she want my boys to marry understood." Jewish girls. I didn't go 'A huge help' through all of this for Among the liberal move- nothing!'" ments, and even within a Levy and her husband few Orthodox congrega- didn't decide what religion tions, the growing number to raise their children of interfaith families has until they went searching been effecting a change for a house of worship. in attitudes among syn- They visited churches and agogue leaders. While synagogues all over the policies once.reflected a area. When they came to desire to discourage in- the Summit JCC. she re- termarriage, they are now called. "It was a match for being adjusted under the us. Itwas just awelcoming premise that by welcom- community." 4rig such families, their Their decision was also children are more likely nudged by their honey- to be raised as Jews. moon in Spain. where they The same philosophy kept stumbling upon relics is behind many of the ofthelnquisition."Catho- 'initiatives and resources lic history really had an that have sprung up to impact on our decision. help them. from national We could give the world groups to synagogue out- two more Catholics or two reach committees, more Jews. I felt more like Tracy Lobel of Oak I wanted to do the latter." Ridge in Jefferson Town- she said. ship turned to the Jew- Grace Yeung of Short Hills was raised Buddhist, but she was not involved in religion at all by the time she married a Jew- ish man and had a son. Although she has had little interest in becom- ing engaged in Judaism, she has insisted upon her son's commitment to it, even after a divorce, and her ex-husband's move to Florida. Yeungset up a menorah and lit candles with her son during Chanukah-- though only he recited the blessings. She takes him to a Jewish youth group and services on a semi-regular basis. "Religion is lifelong," she said. "It's not, 'You have a bar mitzvah and you're done.'" While Yeung has not embraced Judaism in any way for herself, for some of her peers, agreeing to raise Jewish children is only the first step. After the decision comes a steep learning curve. Said Fernandez: "I de- cided I had to commit and educate myself. Jewish homes are very matri- archal. The woman is in charge. So I took over." She buys plenty of Jew- ish books, and has turned to Rabbi Donald Rossoff of B'nai Or in Morristown. where the family belongs, for help and guidance. December dilemmas For many of these wom- en who have committed to living in a Jewish house- hold, Christmas can be a challenging time of year. "It's very complicated." Katz said. "There are a lot of emotions around Christmas." particularly when it comes to family traditions and memories. "It's hard to let go of that." she said. They put up Christmas decorations and celebrate with family, but they don't go to church. "Christmas is less about the birth of Chi, ist and more about being together with family and building traditions," Katz said. "It's one piece of my tradition that I want to share with my kids." For Katz, having the .flexibility to incorporate Christmas in this way helps keep her marriage solid and grounded. "Everyone has their own solution. But excluding all of my family traditions would have been a mistake,'-she said. Lobel's family celebrates Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter; they have a tree that her children like to call a Chanukah bush, and they decorate it with snowmen and Chanukah symbols. But Lobel has drawn the line at nativity scenes. "I was given one as awedding gift, but I've never put it up with the kids," she said. Similar potentially con- fusing ritual issues can irise when these Jewish children go to church with Christian relatives. Every year, Levy takes her children to see her family in California for Christmas, and they go to church with family mem- bers. This year, she said, her daughter complained when she could not take communion with members of her extended family. "I had to explain that she has to go to church every week [in order] to take communion," Levy said. "That was a tricky explanation." It got easier, however, when Levy told her daugh- PAGE 7R ter, "'Catholics don't have onegs, they just leave after services.' The look on her face when I told her that--she won't want communion again." Being betwixt and be- tween in the Jewish com- munity can be a rough ride for some. But most of these women have made their peace with their decisions. "It was very difficult to make the switch,!' said Fernandez, "but I think it has been a real privilege to have lived fully in two religions." 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