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The Big Tent Judaism Blogcontaining up-to-the-minute news about the efforts of the Big Tent Judaism Coalition and other programs and events within the Jewish community that open our tent...
Reflecting on her experience at JOIâs conference about the Jewish future, JOI board member and ModernJewishMom Meredith Jacobs shares her thoughts in the Baltimore Jewish Times. (The following is reprinted with permission from Meredith Jacobs.)
“Last month, I had the privilege of attending Judaism2030, a conference created by the Jewish Outreach Institute. The purpose: to convene some 200 people working in various areas of Jewish life to talk about what we all need to start doing now to position our organizations for the future.
We learned from futurist Marvin Cetron that people in 2030 will live well into their 120s, that we will replace organs with those artificially grown from stem cells, that computers will be âsmarterâ than humans and that virtual belonging will be more important than face-to-face connection.
From there we worried about the future of the bricks-and-mortar synagogues and community centers. We worried about the research indicating fewer people identified Jewishly or felt âreligionâ was central to their Jewish identity. We noted that âonly in Americaâ was the focus on the individual rather than those of the community. We worried.
But the stories from those in the field, those doing the most dynamic work today, counteracted those statistics.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency posted an interesting profile this week called, “Meet Australiaâs Aborigine who is president of her Orthodox shul.” In looking at the two photos posted with the story, one of Lisa Jackson Pulver, the woman being profiled, and the other of a group of “Indigenous students,” I couldn’t help but wonder if the phrase, “Funny, you don’t look Aboriginal” is as offensive to some folks “down under” as the phrase “Funny, you don’t look Jewish” is to a growing number of Jews here in the United States and around the world.
This article is yet another reminder that you can be Jewish “and something else,” because there are so many broad ways of defining Jewishness, and because as artificial constructs, race and ethnicity are not in conflict with Jewishness—despite what is unfortunately maintained in some quarters. Everywhere Jews have wandered on this planet, they have intermarried, and their physical features have reflected that generation-over-generation of intermarriage. Some may no longer identify as Jewish. In the article, Jackson Pulver points out, âThe first Jew came here on the First Fleet in 1788, and since then Jews have been marrying Aborigines because white women wouldnât marry them. Thereâs a big mob of black Cohens out there, and theyâve got Jewish ancestry.â
Yet Judaism is still a powerful influencing factor in the world today, not because of some genetic magic in our bloodline but because it has inherent value that offers meaning in people’s lives, and that meaning can override the pull of assimilation. About herself, Jackson Pulver explains, “There is a natural relationship between my Aboriginal spirituality and my Jewish religion. The things that bring us together are our history of dispossession, a deep sense of family, community and tribalism, and a deep sense of whatâs wrong and whatâs right. I keep a kosher home, and I make my own challah every Friday. And I attend to cultural and spiritual practices of my grandmothersâ [Aboriginal] cultures.â The article recognizes how Jackson Pulver serves as a bridge between the two communities, and building bridges is an important calling for Jews who have a variety of racial and ethnic identities—and their empathy from person experiences a great advantage in helping them do so.
There are some people who argue that we should eschew the so-called âHallmark holidays,â such as Mothers Day and Fathers Day. Instead, we should celebrate the selfless acts of parents on a daily basis, rather than waiting one day a year to do so. And the latter sentiment is certainly championed by Jewish tradition. But we at JOI believe that there are people in our community who are not so readily celebrated by the Jewish community by the acts of goodness they perform everyday, particularly those who come from other faith communities and raise Jewish children in the context of an intermarriage. So we want to make sure that we take this opportunity, on Fathers Day, to thank all those fathers, regardless of their religion of origin, for raising Jewish children and helping to ensure a bright Jewish future. That is why we created this card and that is why we encourage you to share it with others.
JOI Program Associate Marley Weiner has a piece in this month’s EdJewTopia Newsletter, a joint project of PELIE: Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education, and the Legacy Heritage Fund. The piece explains how JOI’s Mothers Circle program complements what Jewish children may be learning in supplementary school by engaging their non-Jewish parents in Jewish learning. She writes:
Even when one parent has the Jewish experiences and literacy necessary to shape Jewish memories for their children, in an intermarried family, the other adult partner does not have those skills. Thus, we at the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) developed the Mothers Circle program to provide these adults, namely non-Jewish women raising Jewish children in the context of an interfaith family, with the tools necessary to raise Jewish childrenâso that the complementary schools to which they may be sending their children can indeed do the work that they were created to do.
When it comes to Jewish education, we believe in a variety of approaching serving all individuals and family members, rather than placing the full burden on those responsible for the challenging task of educating our children.
Tonight, as we begin the observance of Shavout, we are especially grateful to have inspirational role models like the biblical Ruth and Naomi, who exemplify the importance of welcoming newcomers into our midst. The story of family members wanting to identify with the Jewish community is much the same today as it was in biblical timesâwe have to find ways to mentor and embrace not only Jews by Choice, but all those who cast their lot with the Jewish people. To read JOI’s illustrated version of the Book of Ruth with commentary, click here.
In a recent article that mentions JOI’s work, Edmon J. Rodman, a JTA columnist, writes about the connection between Shavuot, the Book of Ruth, and Jews by Choice. Mary Lane Potter, a Jew by Choice from Seattle, thinks the Book of Ruth is read at Shavuot because, âItâs the holiday commemorating âthe moment of revelation,â a moment when all need to be included and welcomed.â
Sometimes there are issues that are unique to Jews by Choice. To address their needs, JOI has developed several programs. These programs are designed to enhance their experiences within the Jewish community. Empowering Ruth is a free program that supports women Jews by Choice through a virtual email community and through an education course. We also offer Shofar, an online community for men who have converted to Judaism or are in the process of conversion. Through online discussions, we hope to develop a lively, thought-provoking place where individuals can talk about important issues unique to men who are Jews by Choice. This year, letâs not miss the opportunity to acknowledge those in our communityâwhether they are Jews by Choice or individuals dedicated to creating Jewish homesâand include them as an integral part of Jewish life. Through reaching out and welcoming them in, we will strengthen the Jewish community now and in the future.
Whenever I make community presentations (including the one I made last evening on behalf of the Jewish Community Alliance in Providence, Rhode Island to its leadership group), I usually emphasize this notion about outreach, because I believe that its implementation is indispensible to our success and growth as a community especially as we navigate this difficult âepoch of transitionââas I like to call the period of Jewish history in which we find ourselves. (We donât know what the community will look like following this epoch, but it is clear that it will look nothing like what it looked like at the beginning of this period.)
If only we could pay attention to the impact of our work on reaching the newcomer (whether new to the community or just new to communal Jewish living) in everything we do, the urgent work of outreach would be made a lot easier. Most communal institutions ask the question of kashrut whenever they plan programs. Irrespective of the decision, the question is always asked, always considered. We should be doing the same for outreach. This would allow us to weave the best practices of outreach into the best programs we offer.