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home : news Friday, February 02, 2007

2/2/2007 9:53:00 AM Email this articlePrint this article 
For more information on the Mothers Circle, visit www.themotherscircle.org, or call the national Mothers Circle coordinator, Ruth Decalo, at (888) 205-7373.

Tune in to Jewish Brunch With the JT Bunch on WMLB AM-1690 on Sunday, Feb. 4, to hear a panel discussion with Auer, Macksoud, Maser and Rabbi Sugarman.

NEWS: Non-Jewish Moms Share Lessons

Marcy J. Levinson
Staff Writer

Interfaith families in which a non-Jewish woman raises Jewish children must confront plenty of tough questions. The Mothers Circle helps provide the answers.

The group is an Atlanta project of the Jewish Outreach Institute in New York to help ensure Jewish continuity. The rabbi emeritus of The Temple, Alvin Sugarman, is a guide for the group and, according to some members, a friend to turn to.

He and several veterans of the circle will discuss the challenges of raising Jewish children when you're not Jewish at a community forum Monday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Federation North Metro Campus in Alpharetta.

The first Mothers Circle pilot program began in Atlanta about three years ago. Early participant Abi Auer said it provided invaluable knowledge.

The nine-month course "really taught you the nuts and bolts about how to go about parenting a child in Judaism when you are not Jewish yourself," she said. "The most interesting thing, and the most lasting thing, has been the relationships I made during that course. We all keep up on e-mail."

Beth Maser has been friends with Mary Ellen Macksoud, another member of the Mothers Circle, for about five years. They bonded as non-Jews raising Jewish children before the program existed.

Maser said that although she was raised an Episcopalian, she feels drawn to Judaism.

"My husband and I both love to study Judaism. My circle of friends has grown from these classes that we have taken, and we stay close. We do Shabbat dinners at each other's houses. Here we are, the non-Jews, putting together these great seders," Maser said.

Rabbi Sugarman said he offers support and open dialogue for those raising Jewish children in interfaith marriages.

"I hope I offer, first and foremost, support for what they are doing. Here you have a situation where one partner is Jewish, one is not Jewish. I hope I bring support to their endeavor and an unbelievable - if I can be so bold as to speak on from my perspective on behalf of the Jewish community - the deepest debt of gratitude for what you are doing," he said. "Hitler wanted a world without Jews, and if the Jewish community disappears, then Hitler's won a posthumous victory. But what these young women and others are doing is making sure that does not happen."

Some of the first steps to making an interfaith marriage with kids work, the rabbi said, is opening up the lines of communication to discuss religious issues. He said couples should seek out groups such as the Mothers Circle for support, education and the chance to spend time with others in similar situations.

He said the most important issue is the respect of each partner for the other's religion.

Issues of conversion can become stress factors in marriages. Rabbi Sugarman said the Mothers Circle allows couples to address such questions early.

Macksoud, raised Roman Catholic, has been married for 20 years. She said she has taken inventory of her devotion to Judaism and is considering conversion. She said it is a deeply personal decision that she came to on her own accord.

Other issues the Mothers Circle addresses include Christmas trees, secular and religious holidays, and how the non-Jewish spouse gives up a part of her upbringing and memories to create a new set of memories with her husband and children.

"Everyone who is involved in the Mothers Circle has made a sacrifice to give up some of those things we were raised with," Auer said. "I think everybody has made some sacrifice. There are some childhood memories that you will not share with your children, but we focus on the positive things, developing new memories with our current families, and that's really what the group is about. And you don't know what you don't know when you are raising Jewish children and you weren't raised Jewish yourself. Work on developing those new memories."


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