Interfaith Family: Review of Reflections of a Loving Partner: Caregiver at the End of Life

Originally published on InterfaithFamily.

Death is much like the famous aphorism about opinions: everyone will have one. Unlike opinions, we tend to keep our thoughts about death to ourselves. On one level, this makes sense: death is scary and it’s a downer, sure to put a damper on any conversation. But on another level, it is our avoidance of the topic that makes death scary. In Reflections of a Loving Partner: Caregiving at the End of Life, author C. Andrew Martin not only makes the case for a healthy discussion of death, he models how to talk about death and offers exercises to assist the reader in considering the inevitable.

Reflections is equal parts memoir and self-help book. Martin became an expert on death and dying in the worst way possible — through the AIDS diagnosis and eventual loss of his partner Gil Victor Ornelas in the mid-1990s. Rather than passively watch his beloved slip away, Martin took action, enrolling in a hospice volunteer-training program so that he could become a more effective caregiver.

Today, Martin is a certified nurse specializing in hospice and palliative care, and his knowledge and sensitivity informs every page. Despite his current expertise, Martin ably recreates the sense of floundering helplessness as well as the desire to learn from his early days. As readers, we accompany Martin in his education about hospice, benefitting from his education as well as the provocative questions his hospice teacher posed at the end of each training session. These questions, along with additional questions Martin includes in the appendix, provide opportunities for the reader to examine one’s own assumptions and beliefs about death and dying. As Martin makes clear, this process is valuable whether one is struggling with someone dying at the moment or not. After all, it is inevitable that at some point in everyone’s life, death enters the scene, and we’re better off having some preparation.  Continue reading

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InterfaithFamily: Review of The Choosing by Andrea Myers

Originally published on InterfaithFamily.

I am one of those people who grew up bombarded by messages from the mainstream Jewish community denouncing intermarriage as the worst plague affecting the Jewish people. Often, when whoever was railing on was feeling charitable, their rant would include a parenthetical reminder that converts were considered fully Jewish, so marrying a convert to Judaism wasn’t intermarriage.

Andrea Myers’s memoir, The Choosing: A Rabbi’s Journey from Silent Nights to High Holy Days, reminds us that there’s more than one way to create an interfaith family. Although Myers’s wife is Jewish, her own conversion to Judaism created many of the same dilemmas in her relationship to her parents and extended family that many interfaith couples confront. Her parents, themselves a mixed marriage of Catholic and Lutheran, are supportive and even eager to embrace their daughter’s new faith — at times with hilarious results. You mean the Jewish new year isn’t celebrated with midnight noisemakers? It’s not appropriate for a woman to thank an Orthodox Judaica seller for a discount with a big bear hug?  Continue reading

Jewschool.com: Loving the Stranger, Even When He’s Estranged

Originally published on Jewschool.com.

In the last year or so, I’ve noticed some radical reconfiguring of my own views on inclusivity and exclusivity in Jewish community and Jewish tradition. I’ve become much more conscious of the ways we speak about Jews of multiple heritages, Jews born into other faiths, etc.

From the time I was a kid (I’m going to guess the seventh grade, when we spent a year of Hebrew School learning about the Holocaust), I have been very uncomfortable by any reference to Jews as a race. (“That’s how Hitler defined us!” I was trained to think.) But I never really thought about the concept of “Jewish Blood” as anything other than metaphor until BatyaD objected to the phrase in a comment on this blog.

Her comment got me thinking about the way we speak of converts. There’s a somewhat accepted, conventional (dare I say “traditional?”) narrative of the “Jewish soul” that many people use to conceptualize conversion into the Jewish faith. Somehow, the idea that converts were born Jewish but just didn’t know it yet is supposed to make someone feel more comfortable about including them in the Jewish people. This bothers me. If someone finds that the teachings of Judaism feel like the appropriate framework for her life, and wants to cast her lot in with the Jewish people, I don’t know what benefit there is to say “it was predestined.” Jews, to the best of my understanding, don’t believe in predestination anyway.

But there’s another problem with this creepy Jewish soul business. Often, the self-same proponents of “they were born Jewish but just didn’t know it” (guess God makes mistakes?) are those insisting that if you’re born Jewish, you’re always Jewish no matter whether you renounce Judaism or take on some other religion or no religion or what have you. This, to me, feels hypocritical. I don’t see how we can accept the idea of people converting into Judaism while denying the possibility of people earnestly and honestly leaving Judaism for another path. Either souls can get born into the “wrong” religion or not. Either people can determine appropriate frameworks for their own lives or not.

I know I’m largely (but not entirely) preaching to the choir here, but I had to get this off my chest. I feel better already.