I very much enjoy Jewish holidays. It actually pains me that my life my fall is my busiest time at work AND not everyone has it off which means if I take it off I continually have this conversation:
Where were you?
It was Rosh Hashanah.
Oh, you’re Jewish?
No, my partner is.
So why do you celebrate?
An then I get to explain that when someone we loves celebrates something different than us, we’re there to support them because that’s what partnership is.
This past year, however, a magical thing happened. The holiday fell on our off days. So we did something we’ve never done before.
We went to his parents’ to celebrate the holiday with them. In all of our years together this was something we had ever done. Mostly because we were always in school or working. Since we joined our synagogue, we’ve always gone at our home.
At this point and time, only my future sister-in-law knew I wasn’t going to convert. With my decision came the reality that I wasn’t sure where I would fit in with Judaism. It was the hardest thing that I was struggling with after I made my decision.
And it was one of those moments in life, when you realize that life and God have a funny way of working out.
Because in my in-laws 50 odd years and his grandmother’s 70 odd years they had never, ever heard a Rosh Hashanah service that focused on interfaith families.
He began with a story of a family, he’s Jewish, she’s not and the had a baby and decided to raise their child Jewish. They called a mohel the synagogue’s office recommended for his bris, and the mohel refused, saying that the child was not Jewish. The rabbi was embarrassed, and hurt. He had a long conversation with the mohel, they still aren’t on the same side.
Which lead him to writing this sermon.
His entire sermon was a love letter to the partners of Jews who were opting to give up aspects of their own histories and things they had envisioned passing onto their own children to instill a faith into their children.
The most surprising thing was he spoke of Oznat, a woman mentioned just three times in the Torah. A woman who I had never heard of. But, the names of her sons are invoked in blessing, yesmichem elohi l’efriam v’chi-m’nashe. They were the first brothers actually get along, the sons of a non-Jewish woman. She was simply a wife and mother, who was not Jewish but chose to keep her identity and raise her children Jewish.
He spoke of the Ger Toshav saying :
3000 years ago, the Torah already recognized that there was a group of people who lived among the Israelites and who followed Jewish practices, but who, for whatever reason, chose not to formally join the Jewish people. The Biblical name for this group is Ger Toshav – the “resident stranger,” or “the one who lives among you.” There are laws about the Ger Toshav all over the Torah – you’re supposed to share tzedakah with them; you’re supposed to treat them with respect; you’re supposed to include them in communal life. That’s not to say that there was no distinction. Biblical society most definitely did differentiate between Jew and non-Jew. But what’s remarkable about the Torah’s approach is that it treats the Ger Toshav essentially as a part of the brit – the family. And in Judaism, being part of the community means being part of the covenant.
And that felt like me. Close to Judaism, but not officially Jewish. Which is how the term K’rov Yisrael came about. A term I like a little better than non-Jew, which feels like an outsiders term. K’rov Yisrael feels like we’re a part of a world we’re so involved in.
He ended the sermon with the following blessing from Rabbi Janet Marder
You are the moms and dads who drive the Hebrew school carpool and bring the refreshments to Shabbaton. You help explain to your kids why it’s important to get up on Sunday morning and to learn to be a Jew. You take classes and read Jewish books to deepen your own understanding, so you can help to make a Jewish home. You learn to make kugel and latkes; you try to like gefilte fish; you learn to put on a Seder; you learn to put up a Sukkah. You join your spouse at the Shabbat table – maybe you even set that Shabbat table and make it beautiful.
You come to services, even when it feels strange and confusing at first. You hum along to those Hebrew songs, and some of you even learn to read that difficult language. You stand on the bima and pass the Torah to your children on the day of their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and tell them how proud you are and how much you love them, and how glad you are to see them grow into young Jewish men and women.
We know that some of you have paid a significant price for the generous decision you made to raise Jewish children. You have made a painful sacrifice, giving up the joy of sharing your own spiritual beliefs and passing your own religious traditions down to your kids. I hope your children and your spouse tell you often how wonderful you are, and that their love and gratitude, and our love and gratitude, will be some compensation, and will bring you joy.
It may only be June, but the chances of us going to his family for Rosh Hashanah this year are very slim. As I look back on last Rosh Hashanah, one of the most moving experiences of my life, I am so blessed. I’m blessed to have such a wonderful and supportive family who has never once asked me to change who I am, who have always loved and accepted me because I’m not Jewish, not in spite of it. I’m blessed to have found a community that it open to loving and serving interfaith families. I’m blessed and lucky to be here as the acceptance of interfaith families in all movement grows.
I look forward to the lessons and realizations that this year’s holiday brings.