You Shall Pursue

March 31, 2013

Out of Egypt

Filed under: Choosing Life, Jewish Communitty — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 12:48 pm

In our culture there are two quite distinct ways of defining oneself as a Jew. One way is primarily ethnic and secular and arises from the experience of being “other,” of not being Christian in Christian America… But the second sense of Jewishness arises from an attachment to Jewish religious traditions, including lighting the Sabbath candles, celebrating the Passover seder, and singing Hebrew songs.

The Educating Synagogue, Joseph Reimer

The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.

Exodus 12:37-38

This year was my first year hosting my family’s Passover seder (after many years of leading the seder at my parents house). Because my family is what it is, this year there were more non-Jews than Jews around the table. My mother, my cousin’s wife (who is the daughter of a pastor), my Presbyterian grandparents, my Wiccan roommate, my sister’s Presbyterian boyfriend, and my atheist former-Christian friend all joined the Jews  in making the journey out of Egypt. And today, I am going over to my grandmother’s house with my Jewish dad and sister to help her celebrate the resurrection of Christ with ham and lox and bagels. Welcome to my family!

In large part, I owe my faith to my grandparents. They are the only religious people in my family, they introduced me to scripture and houses of worship at a young age, and they have supported my journey into faith. Granted, my faith is not their faith, but we are family, and I recognize that part of family is things turning out well, but not exactly how you planned.

Intermarriage has been in the news a lot this year (and every year; it’s a contentious issue) but what the naysayers seem to miss is that the ship has already sailed. My family is what Jewish families look like. And it’s not just a matter of praying that somehow the children of these families make it through with a Bar/ Bat Mitzvah and maybe some Jewish summer camp. It’s about the multiplicity of our lives now. We have non-Jewish friends. We have non-Jewish family. And if we reach out to them and make them a part of our celebrations, we are that much stronger as Jews for having to explain our faith and our customs to those whom we love.

The trick is making sure that we, as people, know enough and have enough passion to be able to explain competently. It is not enough in this world to say that Judaism is doing what your parents and grandparents did, without meaning, without understanding, because what if your grandparents did exactly none of it? No, we must actively embrace Judaism, and build memories for ourselves and our children, and seek out the beauty of our tradition, because there is no easy path any more. We must find the path ourselves.

My cousins have a two year old daughter, who is just getting old enough to start to understand things a little bit. This year, I handed her the egg on the seder plate and she tried to crack it on the table. She laughed at the singing. She and her mom hid the afikomen, and then opened the door for Elijah. I think she had fun, although it’s hard to tell sometimes with two-year-olds. She’s the next generation in our complicated family, and I wish nothing for her but love and an understanding of the stories of all of her people.


  1. How do you balance participation in other religious traditions without worshiping other gods? How do you/how does one find a line between visiting and learning from and sharing in other cultures with Judaism still very firmly NOT being polytheistic or permitting actual worship of foreign gods?

    For my own perspective only having been raised with Judaism, the concept of “foreign” gods feels concrete and straightforward to me, although finding that line between being a good guest and impermissible worship can still be tricky.

    I can see a sense in which for you the Christian god ISN’T a foreign god since you were partly raised Christian. Though the same claim could be made by Israelites who worshipped Baal? By becoming a rabbi you chose Judaism with its exclusivity, right? What are the contours of that exclusivity? Do you take Easter communion? Do you eat chametz or the Easter ham? How does it all play out?

    Comment by Dan — March 31, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

  2. I’m kind of confused by your question… There is nothing worshipful about attending the worship services of other faiths if I’m not actually, you know, worshiping (so DEFINITELY no communion). And I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was raised partly Christian, as there wasn’t much about my upbringing that was Christ-centered. While my grandparents are Christian, my parents were very careful to keep Christ out of the home. I prefer the term “ecumenical monotheism” in that I celebrated Christmas and Easter for its cultural resonances, not for the theological content.

    Comment by marleyweiner — March 31, 2013 @ 7:29 pm

    • You’re right. I read too much into your phrase “help her celebrate.” I think it is an issue, the gradiant between observation, participation, and worship, that I was pondering independently when I read your post.

      I am curious what you ate at the Easter meal and how that played out.

      Have fun eating chametz in Jerusalem!

      Comment by Dan — April 3, 2013 @ 10:13 am

      • Oh, I do want to disagree with this, or at least complicate it: “I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was raised partly Christian, as there wasn’t much about my upbringing that was Christ-centered. While my grandparents are Christian, my parents were very careful to keep Christ out of the home.”

        This is something I’ve heard very often from Christian friends. Perhaps more precisely, “friends I would describe as secular Christians, or just plain Christians, even though they insist very strongly that they are not Christian. I understand that, within the Christian paradigm, they are not Christian because they do not literally believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Within the Christian paradigm, there is no such thing as a secular Christian, the concept doesn’t make any sense. And yet–these are people who celebrate CHRISTmas, and often other Christian holidays such as Easter, who grow up living their lives against the backdrop of Christian fairy tales (Eg Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, not Elijah and Rabbi Akivah). They are secular Christians in exactly the same way so many people are secular Jews.

        Of course, the Jewish paradigm sees religion, or at least Judaism, much more as a cultural and ethnic grouping. So I’m basing forcing my Jewish paradigm on Christianity, which isn’t really fair either–the whole thing is very messy. There’s a real difference between a secularized Christian and a secularized Jew or a secularized Hindu or whatever, and it seems worthwhile to have a way to talk about that. “Secular persons of Christian heritage” is perhaps accurate but very clunky.

        I think I also have some built up resentment from a history of things like all the Grinch stories that by insisting that Christmas and Easter are magically secularized, I should totally be celebrating them and there’s something wrong or un-American about me for not doing that. (I really, really hate the Grinch story).

        This secular-Christians are still sort of Christians is a separate point really from my prior post thinking about the line between sharing other people’s cultures and forbidden worship of other gods. Though I guess maybe they’re related? My thoughts here aren’t perhaps as ordered and coherent as I might prefer. I’m abusing your blog a little as an opportunity to work through my thoughts on the fly.

        Comment by Dan — April 3, 2013 @ 10:33 am

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