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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...
With a great deal of anticipation, I read the recent publication of the Federation of Jewish Menâ€™s Clubs, which focused on a study of select practices concerning intermarried families in Conservative congregations. I was hoping that the work being done by the FJMC and JOI and others in the field had indeed made an impactâ€”opening wider the doors of Conservative synagogues to intermarried couples and their families. This study of 100 random congregations, according to its author Rabbi Charles Simon, yielded some interesting results about Torah honors, in particular. It states that 79% of those surveyed allow non-Jewish partners to stand with their Jewish partners on the bimah (the raised platform in the front of the sanctuary), specifically during bar/bat mitvah family celebrations. However, among some of the congregations who do not permit this arrangement during bar/bat mitzvah, they do permit it during baby namings.
While this study may not be indicative of the entire Conservative movement (we will need to at least use the â€śreality testâ€ť to see whether indeed it reflects a larger group of synagogues), it does seem that change is afoot in the Conservative movement as it pertains to a welcoming attitude and practice for interfaith families. This is indeed a welcome change.
To view the publication, please click here.
As a native Houstonian, Iâ€™m particularly excited that JOI has recently begun a three year partnership with the Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), an organization dedicated to preserving, documenting, and promoting the practice, culture, and legacy of Judaism in the South. Living in New York City today, itâ€™s easy to forget that Jewish life in the city is unique, that Jewish here is almost â€śnormal,â€ť and that American Jewish life has many regional flavors. Here, we donâ€™t turn our heads when we see a man with a kippah, let alone a Hassid. And while this â€śnormalcyâ€ť might not exist at home, I do want to see Jewish life in the South flourish more visibly. Thanks to my (Houston-based!) Jewish education at the Emery/Weiner Schools, I did once have the opportunity to travel beyond Jewish Texas into the Deep South (with stops in Jackson, Natchez, and New Orleans), to marvel at the old synagogues, learn about Jewish Civil Rights work at the sites where they actually took place, meander through Jewish cemeteries, and learn about the bustling Jewish life and the vestiges it left behind. Jewish life in a lot of the South is not always easy to find.
I see a partnership like the one between JOI and ISJL as an exciting and important step in making Southern Jewish life more vibrant and self-sustaining. Our partnership will be primarily focused on working to support intermarried couples and their families in all the communities that ISJL reaches. JOI will train the ISJL Fellows not only on the sensitivities surrounding intermarriage, but also the opportunities that intermarried couples provide; we have so much to learn from them! Additionally, JOI will provide and support courses, webinars, and take-home materials for its Mothers Circle (for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children) and Grandparents Circle (for grandparents whose grandchildren are being raised in intermarried families) programs. Iâ€™m hoping that the training and services provided will help ISJL communities be all the more prepared to welcome and embrace our intermarried families, as well as help these families feel all the more supported by their peers.
Here at JOI, we are always excited to offer unique free materials to help Jewish communal professionals open the tent of their communities. This summer, JOIâ€™s Big Tent Judaism Coalition has introduced a new tool to help families with young children instill the positive values and ethics found in our Jewish heritage, while creating quality time with their families: Torah Topics for Today.
Torah Topics are brief and meaningful conversation-starters drawn from the timeless stories/wisdom found in the Five Books of Moses, empowering parents to spark regular, relevant family discussions with almost no prep time or prior knowledge required.
Now, for the first time, we are able to offer Torah Topics for Today in hard-copy: a printed “starter set” of beautifully designed cards that include discussions about the first three weekly Torah portions, how-to instructions, and value questions. (Parents can then sign up to receive more weekly guides via email, free of charge, at www.TorahTopicsToday.com.)
In partnership with Fred Claar of Torah Topics for Today, the Jewish Outreach Institute is mailing organizations multiple Torah Topics starter sets, and so far over 100 organizations have requested the sets, which are sealed in a clear plastic envelope for easy distribution. There is no charge to receive the cards; we are only asking that organizations distribute some of them beyond the walls of their institutions in order to reach families not currently engaging in organized Jewish life. To support that goal, the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) will host a free webinar in late August, “Finding New People Through Giveaways in Secular Spaces,” for professionals and volunteers at all organizations who agree to distribute the starter sets.
Choosing to live your life by your own choice is the greatest freedom you will ever have.
– Shad Helmstetter.
About six months ago (post-Passover/Easter observance), I was sitting at the beach talking to my stepdaughter Kyla and her fiancĂ© Sarah about their wedding. We had a good laugh looking at bizarre wedding cakes and thinking about some of the crazier things that people do at their weddings. While it was clear what Kyla and Sarah didnâ€™t like, it was also clear what they wanted their â€śpartyâ€ť to be like. But what was a lot less clear was what they were expecting (if anything) of their ceremony.
They knew they wanted it to be special, but they werenâ€™t sure how to begin. So we researched wedding ceremonies. My own ceremony was unusual. Robert and I were married on the anniversary of Martin Luther Kingâ€™s death, and because of our commitment to social justice and equality we had a dear friend read Dr Kingâ€™s inspirational â€śI Have a Dreamâ€ť speech. Another friend read the â€śApache Wedding Prayerâ€ť â€“ just because we liked it. Oh, and I had 17 attendantsâ€”but I let them all wear whatever outfit they wanted as long as it was black. Weâ€™re New Yorkers.
My mom thought the ceremony should be as brief as possibleâ€”the party, especially the flowers, may have been more important to her. So I gave her full flower approval while Robert and I planned the ceremony. It was important to us that we share a meaningful, public ritual in front of and with the community of family and friends who would be by our sides in the blessings and trials to come in a long marriage. We would rely on their counsel and love to see us through, as we believed that the witnesses to a marriage are as responsible as the couple to do whatever they can to ensure the marriage thrives. This makes the guest list really important.
I nervously asked my stepdaughter, Kyla, if she and her fiancĂ©, Sarah, would be having any religious rituals in their wedding. Why â€śnervouslyâ€ť? Because the only other time I brought up religion, there seemed to be some discord and I didnâ€™t want to add any angst. I knew they were being married by a female Muslim friend who became a minister for the occasion. I was pretty sure she wouldnâ€™t know about circling and the seven blessings, but I didnâ€™t want to push anything on them.
When my mom asked what she could give the brides, I suggested a Ketubah (a non-binding Jewish wedding contract). My mother had given Kylaâ€™s dad and me our beautiful Ketubah â€“ which actually Kyla and her sister, my husbandâ€™s other daughter, Arielle, signed as â€śjunior witnesses.â€ť As has become common practice, the ketubah is a piece of art now framed and hanging on our wall. Robert and I donâ€™t know what it says â€“ though he can read the Hebrew and I cannot â€“ but we know what it means. It is a contract of commitment.
I hadnâ€™t asked about a Ketubah, but I thought it was benign enough that they would accept the gift. Why did I need a benign gift? Because I was afraid to bring up the religion issue. However, Kyla and Sarah wanted one, so I went to the store in Los Angeles (http://www.galleryjudaica.com) where my mom had purchased ours 19 years ago. The staff were very excited that they had their first second generation wedding ever.