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The Last Interfaith Bible Seminar, for the year


We finally had our last session of the Interfaith Bible Seminar, so of course it started to snow for the first time since our last attempted meeting, but only a little bit, as a token, to let me know that God has a sense of humor. A dark one. For this session we met at the Methodist church, which shares a building with a Korean Presbyterian congregation, and a Hispanic Evangelical congregation, just to keep things interesting. There were drawings of dreidels and menorahs on the walls, next to the Santas and Christmas trees, which made sense, eventually, when the pastor explained that the church’s nursery school is non-sectarian, and filled with Jewish kids, and a lot of Mandarin speaking families as well, because, Long Island.

The final seminar was led by the Methodist pastor and the cantor from my synagogue, both of whom had the mistaken impression that we prepare for these seminars by reading ahead. I didn’t even know that what was billed as the book of Ezra also included the book of Nehemiah, let alone what was included in these books. It turns out that Ezra is set at the end of the Babylonian exile, as the Jews were returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. Ezra is trying to teach the returning Jews how to be Jewish again, because they are clueless after generations of exile, and the non-Jewish ruler of the area is actually encouraging the Jews to rebuild the Temple, so there’s no anti-Semitism to fight against, which makes the Jews feel weird. We are a people who do better with antagonism, it seems. Acceptance makes us nervous.


“I like acceptance, Mommy.”


“I don’t particularly care for it myself.”

The fact is, throughout history walls were built around the Jewish community, by others, to keep us from mingling with the regular people, but that isolation served to keep the Jewish community together. Despite the rise in anti-Semitism over the past two years, we still live in a society that is overwhelmingly accepting of Jews and Judaism, which brings on the fear that assimilation and comfort will lead to the dissipation and disappearance of the Jewish people.

Ezra, who is trying to regenerate Jewish peoplehood after the Babylonian exile, thinks that the big danger is intermarriage. He tells the Jewish men that they have to send away their foreign wives, and the children born of them, in order to purify the Jewish community and return to God. This made my skin crawl. Later, the message is somewhat softened to say, just don’t marry outside of the community in the future, but I had to remind myself all over again that the bible is not a how-to manual, but a how-they-did-it story, and we can learn from them about what not to do.

Of course, behind this fear of intermarriage there is, always, the fear of women. Because women are temptresses who lead good men astray. The pastor said that Christians have long believed that Women are the root of all evil too. Ah, harmony.


“Wait. What?”

So, anyway, if our goal is Jewish continuity, do we try to prevent intermarriage at all costs, or do we welcome fellow travelers into the community? And if we can’t prevent intermarriage, because we live in such a welcoming society, where Jews are not treated as pariahs as they were in generations past, how do we deal with that acceptance?

Growing up in the conservative and orthodox movements, intermarriage was seen as an obviously bad thing. A Shandeh. A shame. But the Reconstructionist and Reform movements were quicker to adapt, and tried to accommodate mixed religion families, since the other option was to lose those Jews altogether. At our Synagogue school we have lots of kids who celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas, and the idea is to give them the education, and the sense of community, and let them decide how to shape their religious lives going forward; whether they choose to be Jewish or Christian, or some mix, is up them. As a result, we have a lot of active families and kids who think being Jewish is sort of cool. Who knew?

My dogs still weren’t invited to the Interfaith Bible Seminar, but I keep trying to raise them with Jewish identities, in my own way. I tried to interest them in the lighting of the Chanukah candles this year, but they are really not fans of fire. And prayer isn’t really their thing either. But family, and community, and ritual, those are big things in their lives. Just ask Ellie how she’d feel if I forgot to give her the traditional chicken treat after her morning walk. A Shandeh!


“A treat? For me?”

I want to wish everyone who celebrates Christmas a Merry Christmas, and for everyone else, a happy Chinese-food-and-empty-movie-theaters day! If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl.

YG with Cricket

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.



About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

77 responses »

  1. A Merry Christmas to you and your family, Rachel.
    Best wishes from England, Pete.

  2. I am by myself this year at Christmas, but instead of the empty theater thing I think I will buy your book. Thanks. A belated Happy Hanukkah.

  3. Happy ‘howlidays’ to you and yours.

  4. Cheers of the season to you and your mom, Rachel. Jello says to remind you that Cricket and Ellie will want treats in their stockings Christmas morning – after all it is an important ritual! 🐾

  5. theseniorclaycrafter

    Blessings to you and your mom this season. Cricket’s

  6. theseniorclaycrafter

    vision sounds pretty delicious. Hugs to her and Ellie!

  7. Great read. Thanks.
    N V Subbaarman

  8. Hi Rachel! Thank you for visiting my blog. I enjoyed reading your posts too. I am not a good essay writer so I admire your ability to write so well!

  9. Happy Holidays to you, your Mum and your lovely little white balls of joy. I hope you have a wonderfully relaxing break. And as always thank you for your words.


    The Cat

  10. That was a fun read. I have to say, though, that the minister you listened to is the only Christian I’ve heard say women are the root of all evil. That’s nuts! I’m Catholic, and we teach no such thing.

  11. Happy holidays to you and your family! I hope your book sales are going very well.

  12. Merry December 25th to you! I have learned so much from your blog – although I grew up with Jewish friends, we never talked about religion. I kind of wish I had taken the opportunity to learn more from them but kids, you know. Thank you for educating me!

  13. Best wishes for the festive season and New Year!

  14. From South Australia where the temp is 37c, Seasons Greetings to you, mom (grandma) and to Cricket and Ellie.

  15. Enjoy the holiday season!

  16. I have seven kitty stockings to hang this year. Christmas with my feline family is quiet and soothing when the year end brings so much to do. Thankfully my errand running is finished and in the coming week I plan to curl up with your book and my holiday food goodies, stay home and relax. I hope your Hanukkah was joyous and I look forward to 2019 being a good year for us all (and enjoying more of your posts).

  17. I so appreciate your meditations on intermarriage and acceptance.

  18. Kudos to you for remaining so involved with your faith and faith community in spite aspect of which yiu disagree. Raised Catholic and once very active in my church over the years recently I have become disalussioned with the Catholic Church for taking so long to correct bad practices and eon long wrongs, and in trying to correct them not doing a very good job. I consider the church in its most basic form to be hypocritical, and even more so the so called non catholic Christians who exclude those who don’t outwardly proclaim Jesus Christ as their savior and all the dogma that goes along with that. But I guess I too am a hypocrite because I celebrate Christmas, I still consider myself catholic, and I say grace before dinner. This religion thing is complicated. John Lennon said it best,

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people living life in peace

  19. Merry Christmas to you too Rachel, to your Mom and to Ellie and Cricket.
    Treats by proxy, and best wishes always.

  20. Have a wonderful holiday Rachel. I loved your book, learned a lot, and was very angry and saddened…all at the same time. Pats to Cricket and Ellie, hoping they find lots of treats in the next few days.

  21. Happy Chinese-food-and-empty-movie-theaters day sounds pretty good. Love Jesus, not as thrilled about the Christmas endurathon! 🙂 Blessings, Rachel!

  22. “Of course, behind this fear of intermarriage there is, always, the fear of women. Because women are temptresses who lead good men astray. The pastor said that Christians have long believed that Women are the root of all evil too.” Smash the patriarchy!

  23. Hugs to you, your Mom and your beautiful pups.

  24. The Native Americans may be in the same quandary about intermarriage as the Jewish people are. Two of my nieces in Oklahoma are married to Native Americans. But if you love someone, what else do you do?

  25. The 29% of me that is Ashkenazi eats Chinese food every Christmas. So of course does the 71% that is pure WASP. Happy days getting longer minute by minute!

  26. Blessings to you and a wonderful New Year Rachel! May 201 be special – Hugs

  27. Steven James Humphreys

    Interesting and well written. Have a great holiday season! Ha! I like the ‘Ah, harmony’. Funny. What an intelligent sense of humor you have.

  28. Thought your book was good, filled with pain, but also compassion and caring. Accepting help and trusting others, particularly adults is difficult. Thank God for grandfathers.

  29. Compliments of whatever Season you think deserves them most!

  30. Christmas is over so I’d like to wish you a happy and successful New Year.

  31. I’m a few days behind in getting to this but enjoyed it. I like the notion of the bible as a how-not-to manual vs a how-to-do manual. Not that I’m religious at all but I do like the take on that! Hope you have a wonderful final weekend of 2018!

  32. Season’s Greetings to you and all yours, Rachel!

  33. It’s all about intermarriage with the Canaanites, who God pronounced judgement upon, not all people. Ruth, a Moabite, marries the Jew Boaz, and in their line is David AND JESUS!!! She is upheld as the Proverbs 31 woman according to Jewish Tradition. So important to recognize what the Jews is Ezra-Nehemiah did wrong and that it does NOT carry over into our modern day!!!

  34. Nice explaination about God .

  35. I wish there were more interfaith buildings of worship. It could help more peace on earth.

  36. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:


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