Two of my friends were involved with the Longitudinal Jewish Continuity Study commissioned by UJA Federation. The point of that study was to see if, and how young Jews live Jewish lives in America. The study looked at synagogue membership, rates of intermarriage and levels of ritual observance. The Birthright trips to Israel for Jewish young adults are an outgrowth of the study.
Over the past couple of days, I have had a series of email exchanges with a friend from one of the sewing discussion groups that I am involved with, that made me re-think some of the issues around inter-marriage. My friend, Marky, emailed me a few weeks ago. Marky isn't Jewish, but her daughter married someone who is Jewish and committed to raising the kids Jewish. Marky was looking for a Chanukah themed embroidery program. She was planning to make Chanukah gift bags for her grandchildren. Marky wanted to decorate the bags with appropriate symbols and perhaps the children's Hebrew names. I don't use computerized letters and don't know very much at all about embroidery machines, which for you non sewers are hybrids of computers and sewing machines which allow one to essentially embroider clip art on fabric.
I offered to write out the kids' names in calligraphy and email her photos of my work. A couple of days ago, marky sent me the children's names, Lior and Tehila. I was blown away by the sophisticated choice of Hebrew names. The name Lior meaning he is my light, seemed natural to turn into a menorah. The tall lamed would clearly be the shamash- the helper candle that lights the other candles and is set at a different level than the other candles on a menorah. I quickly sketched out the graphic in pencil and then inked it in.
When I was a very little girl, so little, I have no memory of it, Rivka, who taught in my father's Hebrew School made us ceramic Chanukah plates. Rivka made the plates by throwing them on a wheel and then allowed them to mostly dry. Then, with a sharp tool, she inscribed our names in her beautiful Hebrew cursive and added a Chaunkah symbol to the our names. My oldest sister's had lit Chanukah candles sprouting from the letters of her name. My other sister's name was surrounded by a large ewer of oil. The first letter of my name, was the beginning of the spinning trail of a dreidle. The plates were charming. I remember eating latkes off of them when I was very little. But mostly, they were among our collections of things we loved in our bedrooms. My mother recently gave me my plate.
I re used Rivka's design for Tehila's name, and the letter that shows up on the dreidle is the last letter of her name.
Tehila's design, the spelling in English is Marky's
I emailed my designs to Marky. Marky described how her daughter's family will use the bags. They light the menorah on a table. The gifts for the kids are put in to their marked bags. After candle lighting, they open their gifts. On the one hand, it does sound a bit like Christmas stockings. On the other hand, that Christmas ritual for children has been transformed and made Jewish in quite a lovely way.
She then told me that when her husband was a little boy, his mother remarried . The new stepfather was Jewish and raised Marky's husband and his four siblings with real love, " as if they were his own". Marky felt that it was important to honor her father in law by honoring his Jewishness and encouraginmg it in her grandchilkdren. Marky wrote about how she wanted her grandchildren to know that they were loved by their grandmother during each of the holidays.
I am so touched by Marky's generosity, by her helping her Jewish grandchildren create Jewish memories. Like Marky's experience, the Longitudinal study uncovered complexities in issues like Inter-marriage.I'm glad that Marky provided me with this though provoking assignment.