Q: My daughter has been invited to attend a Passover seder at her best friend's house. Is there something I could send with her that traditionally goes with Passover? For example, if she were going to an Easter dinner, I might send a lily.
-- P., via the Internet
A: The first thing to ask is if her friend's family keeps a kosher house. If they do, then bringing any kind of food would be out of the question. A bouquet of flowers is nice, but Jewish tradition considers cut flowers an affectation of luxury and so prohibits them at certain rituals. A potted plant would be nice, though a tree might be a bit much.
Even if the family does not keep kosher, it's still wrong to bring food that is not kosher (anything made with yeast or other forbidden foods) for Passover. Many chocolate shops have kosher Passover candy that they make or sell boxed. Do be aware that milk chocolate is never used because meat is usually served at the meal and many Jewish families, even those who do not keep kosher the rest of the year, do not mix milk and meat in conformity to kosher laws.
Of course, you could combine the two ideas by bringing a chocolate potted plant. It is a great honor to be invited to the Passover seder and the most important gift your daughter can bring is a smile and an open heart. The traditional greeting is, Happy Passover! Or in some homes, Happy Passover Let's Eat!"
Seeing few Stars of David
Q: Why, when military cemeteries are shown on TV, do you seldom sees any Stars of David among the crosses? I've asked many of my Jewish friends this question but no one has an answer.
-- R., Apex, N.C.
A: There are Stars of David in the cemeteries of Normandy and down the road from us at Pinelawn National Cemetery in Farmingdale, N.Y., but you're right that there are not that many. The small number of Jewish stars in military cemeteries is not at all reflective of the number of Jewish people who have served in the armed forces, but rather reflects some of the burial customs of Judaism.
First of all, Jewish people are supposed to be buried in a cemetery consecrated as a place to bury only Jews (just like a Catholic cemetery is a place to bury only Catholics). If Christians and people of other faiths are buried in a military cemetery, some Jews feel required to follow traditional law and ask for burial in consecrated ground instead.
Another practice common to military cemeteries that runs contrary to Jewish law is burying spouses in the same grave. Jewish law requires that only one person be buried in a grave. Most military cemeteries that are short of space require double burials of spouses.
Finally, it is a custom for the mourners and friends of Jewish person to help fill in the grave, and this is prohibited by military regulations. For all these reasons, it's hard to find a rabbi who will officiate at a military cemetery. Marc will but he is in the minority.
Q: I was adopted by a wonderful couple and raised Catholic. I consider these people to be my parents, although I just found out my birthmother was Jewish. Now I'm confused. Any advice?
A: You are fully Jewish, even if you were baptized. While you don't need to decide whom your nurturing parents are, the discovery about your mother presents you with several spiritual options.
You could formally convert to Catholicism and affirm the fact of your upbringing, or reaffirm your Jewish identity, which would be, in effect, a decision to "convert" to Judaism -- although that's unnecessary because you're already Jewish by virtue of the fact that your mother was/is Jewish. For this reason, most couples adopting infants or small children convert them formally to their religion.
If you choose to become Jewish, you might want a ceremony of rededication, and you would need to study. Whichever way you decide to go, either Tommy or Marc will be very happy!
Monsignor Tom Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman are happy to try to answer your religious, personal or ethical questions. Contact the God Squad, c/o Telecare, 1200 Glenn Curtiss Blvd., Uniondale, N.Y. 11553 or e-mail email@example.com.