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  • Writer's pictureAlicia Chandler

Yesterday, in response to the events in Washington D.C., there was one phrase I heard over and over again. “This is not who we are.” Going to these six words is such an automatic reaction when faced with events that are wrong or scary. Hate speech is spray painted on a local synagogue. “This is not who we are.” Someone demeans a Jew of color in our congregation by telling them that they do not look Jewish. “This is not who we are.” A discussion devolves into cursing and personal insults. “This is not who we are.” Insurrectionists attack Capitol Police with pepper spray and break into our nation’s Capitol. “This is not who we are.”

The harder reality is that these moments and actions are part of who we are. Every person, every community, and every nation has good and bad within it. We are capable of harm and hurt and hatred and we are capable of heroism and greatness. We cannot simply discard all that is bad or uncomfortable by saying “This is not who we are.” We can ascribe to be better and make the important declarative statement “This is not who we want to be.”

In thinking about building more inclusive communities in 2021, I think relying on these six words can be dangerous. It is easy to look at the best of humanity and declare “This is who we are.” We want to be King and Heschel, marching side-by-side. But we are also the slum lords that took advantage of impoverished communities and redlining. We want to be the hero of the story, but sometimes we are the bystander and sometimes we are the villain. We want to hold up the best of America, but if we want to grow, we must also grapple with the worst of our nation and acknowledge that this is also who we are.

In thinking about this new year, let us not be afraid to wrestle with pain and tragedy. Instead, let us seek to understand both that which is great and that which is abhorrent within human nature. Let us refuse to excuse the horrid by declaring “This is not who we are” but instead face the worse within us and state for all to hear “This is not who we want to be.”

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  • Writer's pictureAlicia Chandler

After the first decade or so celebrating Christmas with my husband’s family, I had a confession to make. I missed Jewish Christmas. For many, Jewish Christmas consists of eating at a Chinese restaurant and going to the movies. (For background on this tradition – READ MORE ). As trivial as this tradition might sound, I genuinely missed it.

Holidays consist of traditions and religious obligations, but it would be overly simplistic to elevate the importance of the religious obligations and reduce the importance of the traditions. On Hanukkah, it is a religious obligation to light the menorah. It is not a religious obligation to gather with my parents and my sister’s family to eat latkes and layered salad, but I simply could not imagine the holiday without that tradition. On Christmas, my husband is religiously obligated to go to Mass, but the family tradition of sharing oplatek (a wafer) while giving each family member good wishes for the coming year is just as essential to our Christmas. (For more of the Polish tradition of oplatek, READ MORE).

So while Chinese food and a movie was far from a religious obligation, I really missed it. However, Jewish Christmas obviously did not trump spending one of the holiest days on the Catholic calendar with our family. What is an interfaith family to do? We simply rescheduled Jewish Christmas. Now, every December 26, we go out to a Chinese restaurant and see a movie (or two!) at the theaters. This year COVID required as to carry in and watch Soul from our living room, but the tradition of Jewish Christmas is intact.

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  • Writer's pictureAlicia Chandler

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

My daughter was given a children’s Bible in her toddler years which she liked to read and reread constantly. It turns the biblical stories into children’s stories – all neat and tidy. This year on the high holidays when one of the sermons discussed Abraham almost killing his beloved son Isaac (the so-called “Binding of Isaac”), my daughter turns to me and says, “This isn’t in the Bible.” Then, since these were Zoom services, she raced upstairs to grab her Bible and verify that her memory was not faulty and that her Bible did in fact omit this story entirely.

While I understand that removing a story of near filicide from a toddler Bible is a perfectly age-appropriate choice, I find the messy parts of the biblical stories are the most interesting. The Torah is not Aesop’s fables, with a clear moral at the end. There are gaps and redundancies and contradictions and mess that has given us thousands of years of scholarship to question what it all means.

One of these messy pieces is Zipporah. Zipporah is the wife of Moses – Judaism’s greatest prophet. Moshe Rabbeinu – Moses our Teacher. But growing up, while I learned all the stories of Moses and his greatness, I never learned of Zipporah.

Zipporah is not an Israelite; she is a Midianite. Moses, who has been raised as an Egyptian rather than an Israelite, is now fleeing from Pharaoh and meets Zipporah at a well. Legend teaches that this is the very same well where Jacob had met Rachel. Moses, who has a tenuous relationship to the Jewish community at best, now marries outside his people.

Where Zipporah becomes interesting is her next appearance. As Moses, Zipporah, and their son are travelling from Midian to Egypt, they met either God or an angel of God who tries to kill Moses. Zipporah grabs a piece of flint and circumcises their son, and God spares them.

Who is this superwoman? In the history of many other Jewish women, I spent my son’s bris as a bit of a mess, averting my eyes from the procedure. Zipporah, who is not herself an Israelite, acts with bravery in the face of God’s anger and saves her family. In doing so, she honors a tradition and a people to which she does not belong.

Zipporah, like many others, operates in a liminal space between Jewish and not Jewish. One scholar – Gwynn Kessler – describes Zipporah as “an outsider, a non-Israelite, the wife of the father – but not herself the mother – of Israel.” Another scholar, Karen Strand Winslow, talks about how the circumcision story “links Zipporah to other preserving, delivering women in the lives of the ancestors. She is a link in the chain of other women – both insider and outsider – who saved males and preserved Israel.”

So why didn’t I learn about Zipporah in Sunday school? Because she was a woman? Because she was an outsider? Because she presents a complication – that it is her bravery and maternal instinct to protect that acts as the savior instead of Moses? In teaching our children, let us tell them all the stories, even the ones that are a bit messy.

If you are interested in learning more about Zipporah and how intermarriage has existed throughout Jewish history, I will be teaching a class called “A Love Fate Relationship: Intermarriage Throughout History” through JLearn - READ MORE. You can sign up by calling (248) 205-2557 or going to CHECK OUT THE WEB PAGE HERE.

It costs $80 for all five sessions, but if cost is an issue there are many different scholarships available by calling (248) 205-2557. Contact me at if you have any questions.

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