by Rabbi Robyn Frisch
I love Sukkot! It’s so much fun to put up and decorate our Sukkah. And I enjoy inviting guests to our Sukkah—both real guests as well as ushpizin (Aramaic for “guests”), Biblical “guests” that are symbolically “invited” into a Sukkah, a different one each night of the festival. Many people expand on the custom of welcoming ushpizin and use Sukkot as a time to discuss who they would like to welcome as guests: people who have been part of their lives or people they have never met, living or deceased.
As Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia, I appreciate hearing the stories of people in interfaith relationships and their relatives. Every person’s story is unique and powerful, and by welcoming people in interfaith relationships into our Sukkot (both literally and metaphorically) and respectfully listening to their stories, we not only benefit those who tell their stories, but we benefit our community as well.
And so here is my “Dream Guest List” for this Sukkot:
- Tziporah: The Biblical figure Tziporah, a Midianite, married Moses and was the mother of his two sons. I would ask Tziporah what it was like, as a non-Israelite, being married to a man who went on to become the leader of the Israelites. Was she concerned when she married him that he was not a Midianite? What was it like in her day to be married to someone from a different culture, who worshipped a different god? Did she and Moses ever discuss their different backgrounds and beliefs?
- Ruth: Ruth (from the Biblical Book of Ruth) is often viewed as the first Jew-by-Choice, since she accepted the God of the Israelites as her God and the Israelite people as her people. I would ask Ruth what it was about the people of Israel and the God of Israel that drew her to them. What was it like to give up the beliefs and ways of her people? When she raised her twin sons, even though they were Israelite, did she teach them anything about Moabite culture or tell them about her Moabite family?
- Parents who did not grow up Jewish who are raising Jewish children: Many parents who grew up practicing other religions (some still practice another religion, others do not) are now raising their children as Jews. If I had such a group in my Sukkah, I would ask them to discuss the sacrifices they have made by committing to raise their children in a faith tradition different from the one in which they grew up. How did they decide to raise their children as Jews? What are the challenges and what are the rewards? I would thank them for their commitment to the future of Judaism.
- Jewish parents with children in interfaith relationships: I would like these Jewish parents to be able to have an honest conversation about how they feel about their children being seriously involved with someone who is not Jewish. Surely some would feel disappointed— perhaps even hurt or rejected—and their feelings should not be ignored. Hopefully, though, they would understand that it is their adult child’s choice who they are going to date and/or marry and they would respect their child’s decision. I would encourage all of them to accept their children’s partners and welcome them into their family.
- 5.Children growing up in interfaith households: I would invite a group of children of different ages who are currently growing up in interfaith households. I would ask them what is most exciting and what is most difficult about growing up in an interfaith family. In what ways, if any, do they find that having a parent who is not Jewish impacts their Jewish identity?
6. Dating, engaged and newly married interfaith couples: I would ask them about the rewards and challenges of being part of an interfaith couple. Have they discussed how they are going to raise children if they have them? Can they discuss these issues with their parents? How does their interfaith relationship affect their own Jewish identity?
Chag Sameach(happy holiday)! May this Sukkot be one in which we honor one another’s stories and in which we can all be welcoming and all feel welcomed!
Rabbi Robyn Frisch is the Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia. The next session of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia and jkidphilly’s six week online class, “Raising A Child with Judaism In Your Interfaith Family” starts on October 22, 2014. The next session of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia’s four week in person workshop for interfaith couples, “Love and Religion,” starts on November 2, 2014. If you have questions or would like information about any of InterfaithFamily’s programs and resources, contact Robyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.