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December 27, 2014 / 5 Tevet, 5775
 
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The Ashkenazi – Sefardi Blend

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Sixteen years ago, when I married my husband, I did not give much thought to whether he was Askenazi or Sefardi. Having grown up in what was then a small close-knit Jewish community, it held little importance; my concerns were focused around whether or not my bashert (intended) was Jewish according to halacha, someone who was upstanding in both ideals and actions, and a man solidly committed to a Torah lifestyle.

In my hometown girls married boys from various ethnic backgrounds, many of who were born and even raised for most of their lives in foreign countries. So marrying a man of Moroccan heritage, who was actually born and raised in Brooklyn, did not seem the least bit unusual to me. In fact I felt that whatever cultural differences we had would add some flavor to our family and great new recipes to my file.

For all intents and purposes there was not much difference in our lifestyles. Our goals and dreams complimented one another. My husband was educated in typical main stream Ashkenazi yeshivot and attended popular yeshiva summer camps, while growing up in what was a primarily Ashkenazi community at that time.

Over the course of raising our family together I have made some changes that have helped me to feel more Sephardic – davening a bit differently, giving up my wig (and wearing other types of headcoverings) and cooking more traditional Sephardic foods for my family. Emotionally, for the females that find themselves in this same position, it may take some time to get used to no longer observing religious rituals she grew up with, and instead running her home according to the religious traditions of her husband.

For most families this is where the story might end. Two people from different backgrounds marry, and according to Jewish law follow the minhagim or customs, of the husband’s family. In fact there are even some mitzvot that are performed differently for Ashkenazim and Sefardim, but over time everyone adjusts. Keep in mind, that although religious customs may be observed paternally, there is so much more that goes into raising a family that most couples may choose to incorporate non-religious based traditions from both families.

For the blended family things can be a bit more complicated. What about the children from the wife’s first marriage when there is a “mixed” Sefardic/Ashkenaz second marriage? My children for instance were born Ashkenazi, as both my ex-husband and I are of European decent. His family may have had slightly different family rituals than mine, but the minhagim and halachot were the same for both.

After I married my second husband I now found myself following Sefardic laws and customs, but what about my children from my first marriage? Who do you even ask direction from: an Ashkenazi rabbi or a Sefardic one? Were we obligated to run our home and family honoring two sets of customs? I was concerned that it would hinder my plans to create one cohesive family unit for my blended family.

Fortunately the rabbeim we sought counsel from, both Sefardic and Ashekenaz, understood our concerns and felt that under our personal circumstances, where my children’s biological father had very limited interaction with the children and no participation in their upbringing and education, my children should be raised and educated in accordance with Sephardic customs.

As our blended family grew, my husband and I raised our motley crew according to Sephardic heritage, until one day my daughter from my first marriage met and married a nice Ashkenazi boy. As the custom goes, she now runs her home based on the customs of her husband’s family; she went back to her birth heritage. My husband and I gave little thought to this fact and were thrilled that the boy she was marrying was a ben Torah and raised in a loving home with wonderful parents.

As most of you can attest, by and large the tradition that prominently stands as being polar opposites between the two heritages is the custom of naming a baby. While Sefardic Jews name after the living – as a way of blessing for a long and healthy life – Ashkenazi Jews have the custom of naming after a relative who has passed away as a means of keeping the name and memory alive, and to honor the deceased.

About the Author: Yehudit welcomes and encourages input and feedback on issues relating to the Blended Family and can be reached at blendedfamily@aol.com


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3 Responses to “The Ashkenazi – Sefardi Blend”

  1. The Ashkenazi – Sefardi Blend.
    By: Yehudit Levinson.
    Sixteen years ago, when I married my husband, I did not give much thought to whether he was Askenazi or Sefardi. Having grown up in what was then a small close-knit Jewish community, it held little importance; my concerns were focused around whether or not my bashert (intended) was Jewish according to halacha, someone who was upstanding in both ideals and actions, and a man solidly committed to a Torah lifestyle.

  2. Ashkenazim and Sefardim Jews..?? Familiar terms.. But what's does that mean actually..? What's the difference between them..??A

  3. Very interesting article, Yehudit Levinson. In keeping with your subject of stepfamilies, as a step and biological Mom, and the author of a book on stepfamilies which included not only my own experience but research with stepfamily authorities and other stepfamilies, I am aware, all to often, of the high rate of divorce among these families regardless of their backgrounds.

    One reason is that there are no understood guidelines for these families. Society tends to apply the rules of first marriages, while ignoring the complexities of stepfamilies.

    A little clarification: In a stepfamily the child(ren) is of one co-parent; in a blended family, there are children from both co-parents; and, virtually all family members have recently experienced a primary relationship loss.

    The Landmines

    Three potential problem areas are: Financial burdens, Role ambiguity, and the Children’s Negative Feelings when they don’t want the new family to “work.”.

    Husbands sometimes feel caught between the often impossible demands of their former family and their present one. Some second wives also feel resentful about the amount of income that goes to the husband’s first wife and family.

    Legally, the stepparent has no prescribed rights or duties, which may result in tension, compromise, and role ambiguity.

    Another complication of role ambiguity is that society seems to expect acquired parents and children to instantly love each other. In reality, this is often just not the case.

    The third reason for a difficult stepparent-child relationship might be that a child does not want this marriage to work, and so, acts out with hostility, since children commonly harbor fantasies that their biological parents will reunite. Stepchildren can prove hostile adversaries, and this is especially true for adolescents.

    Stepmother Anxiety

    Clinicians say that the role of stepmother is more difficult than that of stepfather, because stepmother families may more often be born of difficult custody battles and/or particularly troubled family relations. Society is also contradictory in expecting loving relationships between stepmothers and children while, at the same time, portraying stepmothers as cruel and even abusive (Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few bedtimestories we are all familiar with).

    Stepfather Anxiety

    Men who marry women with children come to their new responsibilities with a mixed bag of emotions, far different from those that make a man assume responsibility for his biological children. A new husband might react to an “instant” family with feelings which range from admiration to fright to contempt.

    The hidden agenda is one of the first difficulties a stepfather runs into: The mother or her children, or both, may have expectations about what he will do, but may not give him a clear picture of what those expectations are. The husband may also have a hidden agenda.

    A part of the stepchildren’s hidden agenda is the extent to which they will let the husband play father.

    The key is for everyone to work together.

    The husband, wife, their stepchildren, and their non-custodial biological parent can all negotiate new ways of doing things by taking to heart and incorporating the information you are about to learn—the most positive alternative for everyone.

    One Day at a Time.

    Now you have a pretty good feel for what everyone is going through. How do you start to make it better — a process that can take years? First you must be very clear about what you want and expect from this marriage and the individuals involved, including yourself. What are you willing to do? In a loving and positive way, now is the time to articulate, negotiate, and come to an agreement on your expectations and about how you and your partner will behave.

    The best marriages are flexible marriages, but how can you be flexible if you do not know what everyone needs right now. And, this may change over time, so there must be room for that to happen as well.

    In flexible marriages partners are freer to reveal the parts of their changing selves that no longer fit into their old established patterns. You couldn’t possibly have known at the beginning of your new family what you know now and will learn later.

    Spouses may feel the “conflict taboo” even more than in a first marriage. It is understandable that you want to make this marriage work. You might feel too “battle-scarred” to open “a can of worms.” And so, you gloss over differences that need airing and resolution—differences over which you may not have hesitated to wage war in your first marriage. Avoiding airing your differences is a serious mistake. It is important for you to understand your own and your partner’s needs because society hasn’t a clue how stepfamilies should work. Unless you talk about your expectations, they are likely to be unrealistic.

    Living Well

    Since roughly one third of stepfamilies do survive—even thrive—we know that stepfamilies can grow the safety, support, and comfort that only healthy families provide. Consider the following for living your step/blended family life well:

    You must assess, as a couple, how well you accept and resolve conflicts with each other and key others. Learn and steadily work to develop verbal skills: listen with empathy, effectively show your needs, and problem-solve together. The emotional highs of new love can disguise deep disagreement on parenting, money, family priorities, and home management, i.e., values that will surface after the wedding.

    Together, accept your prospective identity as a normal, unique, multi-home stepfamily. You need to admit and resolve strong disagreements, well enough for positive results.

    You must balance and co-manage all of these tasks well enough on a daily basis to: build a solid, high-priority marriage; enjoy your kids; and, to keep growing emotionally and spiritually as individual people.

    Know and take comfort in the fact that confidant stepfamily adult teams (not simply couples), can provide the warmth, comfort, inspiration, support, security—and often (not always) the love—that adults and kids long for.

    Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect.

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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/the-ashkenazi-sefardi-blend/2012/08/30/

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