|Helping Jewish partners acclimate their non-Jewish spouses to High Holy Days|
|By Kit Haspel|
|Tuesday, 20 September 2011 03:10|
|Rituals and customs are new – and possibly uncomfortable – for the uninitiated|
As the coordinator of The Mothers Circle, a free program for non-Jewish women raising Jewish children, I usually direct my columns toward the non-Jewish partner in an interfaith relationship – explaining ideas that may be foreign, giving helpful hints on how to become more involved and how to gain more understanding of Jewish life. However, for this High Holy Day season, I’m going to talk to the Jewish partner – with the goal of helping him or her be sensitive to the non-Jewish partner’s needs during this awesome, holy, and potentially overwhelming time.
Remember that what for you is a time of reaffirmation of your identity, as the blasts of the shofar and the sounds of Kol Nidrei transport you back to your childhood, is an entirely new experience for your partner. I always play a recording of the shofar at my Mothers Circle sessions, and it never fails to send chills down my spine. It took me a couple of years to realize that the women in the group reacted more with interest and curiosity than with any more personal emotion.
There is no Christian equivalent to the High Holy Days. I generally tell the women in The Mothers Circle that the High Holy Days are not the best occasion (indeed, may even be the worst) to enter a synagogue for the first time. A Tot Shabbat or even a regular Friday night service is far more user-friendly. But the reality is that many American Jews attend synagogue only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – something that in and of itself is difficult for the non-Jewish partner to understand. The service is long, and the primary image of God is of a judge on a throne deciding “who shall live and who shall die.” This image can present a problem even for many Jews who attend these services religiously.
In an article on InterfaithFamily.com (one of my favorite Web sites for interfaith issues), Rabbi Jonathan Kraus explains that for many American Jews, attending High Holy Day services has nothing at all to do with religion or theology. Rather, it is a “way of demonstrating that we haven’t yielded to assimilation, haven’t broken the ancient chain of the Jewish people’s survival and continuity…. We still belong. We still care about being Jewish….” Explaining this to your partner may truly help him or her understand why you take these days off from work, why you choose to fast and why you make one of your rare appearances at a synagogue.
So what is the best way to guide your partner through these Days of Awe? Focusing on the home rituals will help. Be sure to have a Rosh Hashanah meal with a round challah and serve apples and honey; even if your partner doesn’t fast on Yom Kippur be sure to have a big break-the-fast celebration. (We can all relate to traditions involving food!) And what else? Be understanding if your partner doesn’t want to attend services with you and/or doesn’t want to fast. Non-Jewish partners who accompany their Jewish partners to services may sometimes feel as though they stick out like a sore thumb – and may need reassuring that they don’t. Review with them what to expect, and cut them a little slack.
Jim Keen (again on InterfaithFamily.com) tells the following story. At the first Yom Kippur service he (an Episcopalian) attended with his Jewish wife, “She slipped me a Power Bar during the service and told me to go take a break outside.” A little understanding can go a long way.