February 8, 2023

In Consideration of “Going Rogue” this Passover

By Michelle Cove

140130_cover_v8_i2It’s time. This is when we dig through the family recipe box, or “Google,” to find the perfect charoset recipe, hunt down a more challenging location to hide the afikomen, and locate the right person to get the shank bone this year: not Uncle Alan who purchased chicken wings last year. The rituals, even when they can be hassles in our chaotic lives, comfort many of us. Here we are again, preparing for this same, age-old ceremony conducted by millions of other Jews on the same night. It’s pretty amazing, really.

While plenty of Jews prefer to replicate the same experience every year, many others search for new rituals that will connect the story of the Exodus to current times: whether it’s finding a way to tie in the Ukraine; reading new poetry or excerpts about freedom; baking Matzo Almond Brittle from Gourmet magazine; passing out toy plagues (here’s your plastic frog and locust!) to the kids; or asking an additional “Four Questions” like, “When have you most longed for home?” to dinner guests.

We often get so set in our Jewish ritual ways that we forget, or never acknowledge in the first place, that we have the right to make up our own. Yes, there is beauty in following the same actions and re-making the same Seder plate every single year. But there is also comfort, joy and exhilaration that arise from establishing new Jewish rituals, ones that may be even more meaningful.

One of the aspects I love about editing 614 is the constant challenge of coming up with “fresh ways of thinking about Jews and gender,” the HBI mission. Last fall, I wrote an essay about adapting the Rosh Hashanah ritual of Tashlikh, casting away our sins symbolically by throwing breadcrumbs into the water. I took my pre-teen daughter to a lake and replaced “sins” with “bad feelings about my body.” We vowed to have kinder, gentler thoughts about our bodies this year. If you have or know a pre-teen daughter, you understand what a pressing issue this can be. I heard back from many moms saying they will replicate this idea, and wondered what other ritual adaptions I could share.
So, for the current issue of 614, we partnered with Ritualwell.org, and included rituals that mark the loss we feel when we move away; help us connect with family members at dinner time; honor a child’s transition to double digits; and celebrate the end of cancer treatment with a mikveh. In past issues, we have asked our readers “What would you make the 614th commandment?” and pondered surprising “aha Jewish moments.” If there’s a new way to think about living our lives as Jewish women, we want to explore it.

If you like your rituals traditional, that’s fine. Keep going. But if they sometimes feel rote, give yourself permission to change the rituals—or make new ones—that feel meaningful. I know, I know, it can feel like one more thing to add to our spilling-over to-do list. It’s much easier to go with the flow and follow directives. But, if we want religion to be a significant and valuable part of our lives, we must keep finding ways to make it relevant for our families and ourselves.

So, is there a new ritual you’ll be trying out this Passover?

Michelle Cove is the editor of 614: the HBI eZine

Jews, Tattoos and Plenty of Controversy

131212_cover_v8_i1By Michelle Cove

I remember one of my Jewish women friends telling me in tears about how her 20-something son got a tattoo (the first time). He did it without telling her, knowing she would be horrified and view the act as a betrayal against their religion. She did. There were many tears and screams. The two have gotten through it okay, but it took my friend awhile to find any kind of peace with this.

This past week, a colleague of mine, another Jewish mom, told me with sadness about her 18-year-old son coming home recently with a tattoo. While she was (somewhat) touched he chose a symbol to honor his deceased grandfather, she couldn’t help but feel that her son crossed a Jewish line. “It’s hard to put into words exactly what upsets me,” she confessed, “but I do worry he may be a little less connected to his Jewish heritage, or that the tattoo may be some kind of deal breaker for what could have been a future Jewish wife.”

All around the country Jewish parents and their grown-up children are having heated discussions around tattoos; the fact is, 40 percent of Americans age 26 to 40 have a tattoo now, according to Pew Research.

What’s the exact problem here? It depends on whom you ask. Some parents consider it against the Jewish law, referring to Leviticus 19:29, which states “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.” Others find it, if not unlawful, then extremely disrespectful to the Jewish community. Some find it low-class, and plenty of parents just worry it’s an impulsive bad decision that will last a lifetime.

Here’s what’s fascinating: Many young Jews are getting tattoos as ways to solidify and strengthen their feelings of Jewish identity. They are choosing tattoos of a Biblical quote, Hebrew word, or Jewish symbol, such as a hamsa or Star of David. An increasing number of young Jews are even having the Holocaust number of a deceased relative tattooed on their forearm. Can tattoos make a young Jewish person more connected to their religion?

This question is creating a tremendous amount of discussion and controversy, and questions about what this latest trend means for the Jewish people. That’s why 614, the online magazine of the HBI, decided to devote the Jan/Feb issue to “Jews and Tattoos.” We hope you’ll read through the collection of essays, see where you stand, and join the conversation.

Michelle Cove is the editor of 614. Additionally, she is the author of I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms (Seal Press, 2012) and I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You: A new understanding of mother-daughter conflict (Viking, 2012), as well as the filmmaker of “Seeking Happily Ever After” and “One and Only”. Visit michellecove.com.

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