Welcome, Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders!
Big Tent Judaism Op-Ed's
Click here for more »
Click here for more »
Think-Pieces and Sermons
Click here for more »
Voices of Big Tent Judaism
Click here for more »
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...
Taking Outreach and Engagement to the Next Level: The Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates Program
If you read our blog or follow us on social media, youâ€™ve probably seen mention of the Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates program, a free training series and networking opportunity for Jewish communal professionals from across North America. This program allows Jewish communal professionals the chance to learn both as a group and one-on-one from JOI staff the â€śins and outsâ€ť of JOIâ€™s outreach methodology, as well as about implementing Public Space JudaismSM program to best reach out to newcomers and welcome them in. Begun in 2012, the program now has over 75 professionals, and is beginning the fourth North American cohort this month.
JOI Program Officer for Evaluation, Zohar Rotem, recently compiled a report on the success of the pilot cohort of Professional Affiliates, which we shared with eJewishPhilanthropy earlier this week:
The small pilot cohort of 16 dedicated professionals was able to engage 8,000 individuals in outreach programs over a 12-months period, of which 5,000 were Jews who are unengaged or under-engaged with the Jewish community and non-Jewish members of interfaith households. With new cohorts already formed and undergoing training, those numbers will grow exponentially in 2013.
To read the entire report, please click here to download a PDF, and click here to meet our pilot cohort. For more information on the Professional Affiliates program, please contact JOI Program Associate Brenna Kearns at BKearns@JOI.org or 212-760-1440.
Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is taking another big step forward in opening the tent of the North American Jewish community by hiring a Big Tent Judaism Concierge for Middlesex County, New Jersey. The Big Tent Judaism Concierge will serve as a guide to the Middlesex County Jewish community, assisting organizations in Public Space JudaismSM program implementation, and creating partnerships to ensure that the Middlesex area Jewish community works together to open the tent to all who wish to enter it.
Partially funded by the local Federationâ€™s Dave and Ceil Pavlovsky Jewish Education Fund, the Big Tent Judaism Concierge will also be working with the Federationâ€™s new community engagement coordinator, Michal Greenbaum. A recent article in the New Jersey Jewish News highlights the work of these two positions to open and grow the Jewish community in New Jersey.
JOIâ€™s â€śconcierge,â€ť meanwhile, will â€śbecome the pivotal person to meet with newcomers and guide them into the community and into community engagement,â€ť said JOI executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky. â€śThe biggest issue facing the North American Jewish community is engagement. Weâ€™ve found that those inside the Jewish community feel that itâ€™s warm and welcoming. Those outside find it cold and prickly â€” and that gap is widening.â€ť
In addition to working with the Federationâ€™s community engagement coordinator and partnering institutions, the Big Tent Judaism Concierge will work directly with individuals in the community to guide them on their Jewish journeys, ensuring that they are led to the institution that fits their needs, and that that institution is trained in effective outreach techniques, to best welcome them in. Along with Greenbaum, several Middlesex-area Jewish communal professionals will be involved in JOIâ€™s Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates program. This training program will allow these Jewish communal professionals to learn together proper outreach methodology, as well as work with one another so that they truly know what the community has to offer as a whole, not as individual institutions.
Ok, now that Iâ€™ve answered that question, let me elaborate: every disabled child whose family wishes them to have a Jewish education should be able to receive one in some capacity.
A recent article in The Forward examined the offerings (and limitations) of Jewish day schools in serving children with disabilities. These disabilities range from mild learning disabilities such as dyslexia, to severe autism and into more physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy. What obligation are Jewish day schools, which are in essence private schools, under to accommodate these children? And with a system that is already struggling financially, can they afford it?
In my opinion, they have to find a way.
Here at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI), we have been talking about the application of learnings from the hospitality industry for many years. My colleague Ron Wolfson, of Synagogue 3000 and American Jewish University, has been offering similar advice, some of which he learned from Disney University, who are masters at hospitality. As someone who is a â€śroad warriorâ€ť for the Jewish communityâ€”that means I travel a lot for my work at JOIâ€”I have the occasion to stay at many hotels. Some hotels practice â€śaggressive hospitality,â€ť not a term that I coined, which charges each staff member with the responsibility to make sure that guests are accommodated. No staff member walks by without saying â€śhello,â€ť or asking if the guestâ€™s stay could be made more comfortable, or if there was anything that the staff member could do for the guest.
At JOI we have chosen to call this â€śproactive hospitality,â€ť frankly, a term that doesnâ€™t say it all but approximates what we are trying to teachâ€”the responsibility of being hospitable, which has its roots in the foundation of Jewish values and thus is indeed a Jewish values construct. One colleague, Rabbi Baruch HaLevi calls this idea â€śradical hospitality,â€ť perhaps an extension of the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschelâ€™s notion of â€śradical amazementâ€ť when one encounters the holy and sacred, and then applied to the everyday. I like this idea a lot.
Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is dedicated to providing education and support to those on the periphery of Jewish life through a wide array of programming, including The Mothers Circle and The Grandparents Circle. As part of that commitment, we have collaborated with our friends at Shalom Sesame to introduce you to free educational resources at ShalomSesame.org. From the creators of Sesame Street, Shalom Sesame is a cross-platform media initiative developed to introduce American children to Jewish culture, Hebrew language, and the diversity of Israel.
The Shalom Sesame site is easy to use, focusing on timely themed units. Each unit includes videos, worksheets, games and a series of parent articles. We are excited to share our new holiday-themed Shalom Sesame resource guides, which help you navigate the resources, with an eye toward the diversity that characterizes the Jewish community of today. As you bring Jewish tradition into your households, Shalom Sesame is a wonderful way for you and your children to learn together.
I am not a fan of Lifetime movies. While thereâ€™s always a time for an incredibly predictable love story, the idea of watching what is basically the same plot with different characters over and over again doesnâ€™t appeal to me. The â€śheartstringsâ€ť channelâ€™s latest variation on a theme is Twist of Faith, starring Toni Braxton as a gospel singer and David Julian Hirsch as an Orthodox Jewish cantor. The Forwardâ€™s Eitan Kenskyâ€™s broke down the plot of the movie, as well as analyzed it being advertised as an â€śinterfaith love story,â€ť in a recent article.
The first interesting point Kensky brings up is one I think about a lot: sure, intermarriages and inter-dating are becoming more common on TV and in movies, but usually at least one, if not both, of the people involved is not particularly religiousâ€”itâ€™s the parents or grandparents stressing religion and culture, or family history. We see this in real life as well, as, understandably, having one â€śstrongâ€ť faith is easier than two, and can make combining traditions a bit easier. So where, then, is Lifetime going with two main characters who each have such strong yet different religious backgrounds? According to blogger on NewsObserver.com, absolutely nowhere.
Every so often, the subject of my denomination comes up in conversation. That is to say, I am asked if I am Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, etc. I spent most of my life being so sure of the answer, but recently I find that the question just makes me uncomfortable.
I grew up in the Conservative movement, went to a Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School, lived in a kosher home– the whole shebang. But did I pray three times a day? No. Did I work on Shabbat? Once I turned 16, you could find me scanning groceries at the local Publix on most Saturdays. Do I eat cheeseburgers? Yes, but never in my parentsâ€™ house. All this is to say that I adapted my Conservative upbringing to accommodate a more modern lifestyle, which is essentially a Reform Jewish perspective. Yet, attending a Reform service has always felt uncomfortable to me. Why? Because itâ€™s just not what I do. While many of my values align with the Reform movement, the religious setting feels unnatural to me because the melodies are different, there is more English, and there are often instruments. What appeals to me about Judaism in general IS the tradition, the memories I attach to it, and the sense of efficacy I feel when I am engaged in it. I prefer a Conservative service because I like that I know what to expect; it reminds me of my upbringing and makes me feel closer to my Jewish self. But I by no means adhere to Jewish law in the way that the Conservative movement propounds. Iâ€™m not prepared to give up my cheeseburgers.
I wrestle with my own hypocrisy a lot on this one. My views tend toward Reform, but my synagogue practices lean toward Conservative. It is largely because of this that, a recent Op-Ed from The Times of Israel really spoke to me.
For anyone who, like me, is interested in creating a more inclusive Jewish community, The New Normal, Ari Neâ€™emanâ€™s new blog in The Jewish Week, is more than worth reading. In the inaugural post, Neâ€™eman puts a mirror to the face of the Jewish community and poses a clear and provocative challenge: Can the organized Jewish community call itself truly inclusive as long as accessibility to people with disabilities is perceived as a matter of â€śextra rights, not equal rights?â€ť When will Jewish communal institutions (who are exempted from the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act) make full inclusion of people with disabilities a priority, rather than something that is merely nice to have? What will it take, in other words, to make an accessible Jewish community â€śthe new normal?â€ť
I am excited about Neâ€™emanâ€™s blog because I think the same lesson can be applied more broadly. This is not meant to lessen the particular importance of including people with disabilities. Creating an inclusive Jewish community must mean making buildings wheelchair-accessible, posting signage in Brail, and offering Sign Language interpretation. But it must not stop there.
The Landings is a planned community set up on Skidaway Island, one of Savannah, Georgiaâ€™s barrier islands. Formerly a logging camp, it is now home to 8,500 residents with almost 4,000 houses. This gated community of 4,500 acres (including 90 acres of forested area) includes four athletic fields, 151 lagoons, 34 tennis courts, six golf courses, 91 miles of road, and 30 miles of trails. They also have an organization called Jewish Women of the Landings (JWOL), which, I was told on a recent visit, isnâ€™t just for Jewish women â€“ anyone can participate as long as they live in The Landings.
JWOL has a lot of activities; some are social, some are civic-minded, some are educational. For their February educational evening, over 30 men and women gathered at the home of Dr. Norton and Linda Rosensweig (Nort is on JOIâ€™s board of directors) to hear Rabbi Kerry Olitzky speak about engagement, intermarriage, grandparenting, and the future of the Jewish community.
Are you a mom looking for guidance on sharing Passover with your children? If you are, or know someone who is, we are here to help!
With Passover just around the corner, beginning on March 25th, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is excited to offer a free online discussion about celebrating the holiday of Passover, during which we will talk about the details of the seder (ritual meal), what to eat/not to eat, how to involve your children, and more!
WHO: Mothers of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children, and anyone else interested.
WHAT: The Mothers Circle: Seder Survival Guide Online Discussion
WHEN: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 1:00 PM EST
WHERE: Online! All you need is a computer and a phone.
HOW: Register for this free class by clicking here.
We at JOI consider mothers of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children to be the unsung heroes of the Jewish community. Therefore, we want to make sure they have the resources necessary to create a Jewish home. By offering this class in an online discussion format, moms from across North America who may not have a local Mothers Circle will be able to get their questions answered while virtually surrounded by moms just like them.
The online discussion will be co-led by Laura Kinyon, a long-time Mothers Circle facilitator based in Hartford, CT, and myself, and participants will be able to submit questions in advance to ensure they are answered during the session (submitted during registration).
We hope you will join us, and will pass this information on to anyone who you think might be interested!
JOI wants to help make Passover an enjoyable holiday for everyone. As always, anyone can register for a Mothers Circle online session, and JOI welcomes participants to do so by clicking the link above. For questions about either session, how to participate, or how to get a question about Passover answered, I invite you to be in touch with me at HMorris@JOI.org or 212-760-1440.
The following is a guest blog from JeriAnn Geller. Ms. Geller is a writer, editor, teacher, artist, and occasional wrangler of adolescents. Judaically conservative, politically progressive, romantically infinitive.
Question: Which Jewish group has the most African genes?
The answer, actually, is â€śall of the above.â€ť According to researchers at the New York University School of Medicine, sub-Saharan African genes are consistently found in all Jewish groups at the rate of 3-5 percent. In fact, it is the strongest clue to date that there is a common biological ancestry among modern Jews. If you couple this with the finding that 20 percent of the current world Jewish population is non-white, you might begin to wonderâ€”where did we get the idea that a Jewish person looks only one particular way?
Could it be a problem of perception? When many of us were growing up, images of Jews of Color in the media were usually limited to entertainers who had convertedâ€”Sammy Davis Jr. and Nell Carter. Few people knew that versatile character actor Yaphet Kotto came from a long line of African Jewsâ€”or that he was Jewish at all. In fact, many of us grew up with the misperception that there were only two ways a person could be black and Jewish: conversion or having Ethiopian ancestors.
It is a year since my mother died. Many have written books about their experience saying kaddish during their first year of mourning and about the developmental genius implicit in the traditional approach to mourning and bereavement. (Years ago, I prepared Grief in our Seasons as a vehicle that implicitly combines the Kubler-Ross approach with the rabbinic approach.) Some of the kaddish memoir books reflect my own experiences, especially as one who travels frequently and is often away from oneâ€™s home community. And as a result, I have found community in a variety of places, sometimes permanent (like the daily minyan in my home synagogue), sometimes semi-permanent (like the regular local minyanim in which I drop in during my travels), and sometimes limited by time (like the â€śpick upâ€ť minyanim assembled so that I might say kaddish or simply catch in an airport or at a conference as one who traditionally engages in formal prayer three times a day). I think about the notion of community a great deal. While it is not a concept that I take lightly, I find it increasingly difficult to define, especially as a value promoted by the organized Jewish community.
When I visit synagogues, they often tell me that one of the benefits of participating in their synagogue is being a part of a community. And I know that the nature of this kind of community is most evident at the time of tragedy or loss. And it is sometimes also evident during times of celebration. But this canâ€™t be enough. Newcomers canâ€™t be expected to wait for celebrations or, Gd forbid, tragedy or loss, to find community. So synagogues have to do more than provide community. Community itself is insufficient. I find community in lots of places, like the fitness center where I play a regular game of racquetball. What Jewish communal institutions have to provide, particularly synagogues, is not just community, but community with meaning. While I find community in many places, what is rare today is finding community with meaning, a community that helps me to find my purpose in the world, that helps to anchor me in a chaotic world, and that helps to answer the big questions of life. If synagogues can do so, then there will be lots of folks interested in participating in their community.
A recent story in the New York Times tells of an Orthodox couple who are hosting posh, â€śbuzz filledâ€ť parties at their SoHo loft in Manhattan, where social mingling of affluent young Jewish professionals weaves seamlessly into a Talmudic study session. And these two seem to be doing it right; according to the story, these parties are increasing in popularity, and the couple is looking to expand to other cities outside of New York.
The North American Jewish community has been feeling the pinch of disengagement for decades now. At any given time, the majority of American Jews simply do not participate in organized Jewish life, in part because many Jewish institutions have become self-contained and alienating to those on the outside. So, the Jewish community has had to get creative, just like the couple mentioned in the New York Times article, and just like Public Space Judaism â€“â€“ a program model bringing Jewish programming to spaces where anyone can access it, regardless of how or whether they affiliate with the Jewish community.
Public Space Judaism is something that Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) has done successfully for a decade now. However, we were never the only ones, of course. The difference in our work is that when JOI and our local partners bring Hanukkah to Barnes and Noble or Passover to your nearest grocery store, what we offer is an open door to an exploration of the entire gamut of what Judaism could mean and what participation in the organized Jewish community can provide. We offer fun activities for kids and engaging conversation for adults â€“ whether they identify as Jews themselves or are part of a Jewish family â€“ in order to learn about their needs and interests so that we can invite them to continue their Jewish journey with the help of their local Jewish community.
Now, this exploration could entail, at some point or other, attending a Shabbat dinner or a menorah lighting at a local synagogue. But it certainly does not have to mean that. Perhaps a passerby can enjoy Passover in the Matzah Aisle and then be invited to a Jewish film festival, or donate to a Jewish cause, or just talk to his or her kids about it. The reason we bring Judaism to public spaces is not to hook people into joining a synagogue. The reason is that we believe Judaism is something valuable enough to be shared in public. Jewish experience, and experience with Judaism, should not be limited to the four walls of Jewish institutions, or even our homes, and should not require membership.
So how do you do it? How do you successfully bring Purim, or Passover, or Shavuot to where anyone can access it? Thereâ€™s no need to start from scratch or reinvent the wheel. JOI works with hundreds of communities across North America, offering free materials and training, and implementing events that have engaged tens of thousands of individuals over the past decade. We have learned that those who follow through on our guidance and adopt our best practices are that much more likely to produce a successful Public Space Judaism event. Would you like to bring Judaism to your communityâ€™s public space this spring? Please let us know.
Iâ€™ve written before about Jewish celebrities, and how they inherently invoke a sense of pride simply through association. Adam Sandler touched upon that pride in a big way through his Hanukkah songs, in which he goes through long lists of celebrities who are in any way Jewish. As he sings, â€śHarrison Fordâ€™s a quarter Jewish: not too shabby!â€ť (Note: as it turns out, Fordâ€™s mother is Jewish on both sides; Sandler should probably fix his math on that one!)
But thereâ€™s a new category of celebrity Jewish pride that Sandler has yet to address, and that category includes stars like Drew Barrymore. Drew recently spoke to the ladies of The View about her decision to raise her new baby girl, Olive, as â€śtraditionally Jewish.â€ť Barrymore married her husband, art dealer Will Koppelman, about seven months ago in a Jewish ceremony performed by a rabbi, complete with a ketubah (Jewish marital contract), yarmulkes (Jewish head coverings, also called kippahs), and a chuppah (canopy under which a Jewish couple stands during the ceremony).
While Barrymore has not converted and has not intimated that she will choose to, she has embraced Judaism into her life, calling it â€śa beautiful faithâ€ť that she is â€śso honoredâ€ť to be around.
“It’s so family-oriented,” she said. “The stories are so beautiful and it’s incredibly enlightening. I’m really happy.”
I would have been excited by Drewâ€™s Jewish connection regardless. But now that I am working with moms just like Drew, who are raising Jewish children without being brought up Jewish themselves, I connected to her words on a new level. I am constantly inspired by the commitment of our Mothers Circle moms to take on such a huge and potentially daunting task, and am so privileged to be part of a team that supports them in their journeys. I hope that Drewâ€™s story gives our moms the same pride and connection I feel when I hear about a Jewish celebrity. Beyond that, I hope it gives Jews everywhere a sense of pride that there are so many who wish to cast their lot with the Jewish people.
Perhaps itâ€™s time for Adam Sandler to start writing The Hanukkah Song Part 4: The Celebrity Mothers Circle!
One of the overarching messages we value here at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is getting Jewish organizations to move beyond â€śbusiness as usualâ€ť in order to secure a future for the Jewish community. This includes lowering barriers such as cost and language, but also thinking creatively about programs, who they serve, and what those peopleâ€™s needs are. By simply stepping back and viewing the situation from the point of view of those being served, an institution can become much more attractive (and much more of an asset) to the community.
Rabbi Michael Friedland at Sinai Synagogue in South Bend, Indiana knows this from personal experience. As described in an article published by JTA, Friedland nearly doubled participation in the synagogueâ€™s Hebrew Sunday school, by moving it to Saturday mornings and adding a brunch. A small change, but one that served the needs of his community, as well as intrigued them. Yisrael Shapiro, the articleâ€™s author, writes â€ścongregants with and without children saw something interesting happening, and participation soared from about 50 members on a typical Shabbat morning to 90.â€ť
Smaller congregations around the country are attempting to follow suit. What does this say about the state of the Jewish community today? In order to stay relevant, institutions must stay fresh and in tune with those they wish to serve, and perhaps most importantly, be willing to take risks. Here at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute, this is exactly the kind of attitude we encourage, and look forward to hearing about more congregations like Sinai Synagogue, and more forward thinkers like Rabbi Friedland.
Last week, I traveled with JOI Executive Director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky to Los Angeles to meet with some wonderful people from the various Federations and other Jewish organizations around the city, as well as individuals. As we made our way from meeting to meeting, I was reminded of so many important aspects of outreach, as well as learned a few new ones.
1. You can’t be a prophet in your own land. Bringing in experts to put a mirror up to current practices and work with leaders in your community will move a community forward faster than you trying to convince your peers - lay leaders or professionals - that they need to risk the barn to save the farm.
2. Baby steps are for babies. The Jewish community is not a baby; we need to be bold and take large steps forward. I would have added “before it’s too late” but I am optimistic for the future of the Jewish community. (See #9.)
3. The future of any Jewish family can change in a nano-second. In the split-second between when a child tells a parent s/he is “serious” about a potential partner who is not Jewish and the response from the parent, the relationship between the parent and child, the parent and future grandchildren, the parent and the child’s partner, and the partner and the Jewish community all hang in the balance. Be the warm, welcoming Jewish community in which someone will want to participate.
4. Non-Jewish spouses are not included in mailings from synagogues. That’s right. A mother from a different background whose family joined the synagogue, who drives the children to Hebrew School, who makes Shabbat every Friday night, who sends her kids to Jewish day schools and enrolls a them in Jewish camps doesn’t rank high enough to have her name included on the envelope for the newsletter the synagogue sends to her home. What other policies are in place that are exclusionary?
5. We need to trust our children more. If we want our children to have Jewish spouses we need to be straight about it and not try to trick them. Send them to day school because we value Jewish education. Support Moishe Houses because they provide meaningful Jewish experiences. Provide free trips to Israel so that young adults can feel connected to the land. Then get out of the way and trust the kids to make decisions that are right for them. After all, we raised these brilliant beings…
Through the generosity of our supporters and after many years of working with Jewish communal professionals in the Windy City, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is hiring a Public Space Judaism Coordinator in Chicago. In this (initially) part-time role, the Public Space Judaism Coordinator will take JOIâ€™s training on best outreach and engagement practices, and use them to coordinate and implement outreach programming in public spaces. The programs are designed to reach and engage all those who may benefit from the meaning and value of participation in the organized Jewish community, including intermarried households. The Public Space Judaism Coordinator will foster collaboration between Chicagoâ€™s Jewish institutions, as there is now a broad coalition interesting in casting the widest possible net through Jewish holiday programming and experiential education in secular spaces. The Coordinator will also steward newcomers to other relevant programs and organizations that meet their needs, as our approach is “client-centered” and about serving the individuals’ interests and needs. For the complete job description, click here.
Most importantly, the Public Space Judaism Coordinator will be providing a crucial service for the community â€“ someone who can independently provide a doorway into the entire gamut of Jewish communal programming and organizations. We envision that our Public Space Judaism Coordinator will promote the value of Jewish life, no matter the route one chooses.
This past weekend, I finally watched Pitch Perfect, a hilarious take on the world of college a cappella. In addition to bringing back a ton of memories from my days in the Golden Blues at the University of Delaware (Go Blue Hens!), it also reminded me how much I enjoy Elizabeth Banks, who is also one of the movieâ€™s producers.
As luck would have it, the Hunger Games actress and UPenn grad was recently interviewed by Marc Maron for his WTF Podcast, which I learned about thanks to an article by Jewcy.com writer Stephanie Butnick which highlights the fact that Banks is a Jew-by-choice. Banks, raised a Catholic in Massachusetts, married a Jewish man, and eventually converted. But, Maron asks, â€śare you, like, officially a Jew?â€ť Banks replies, â€śIâ€™m not officially stamped, but by all accounts yesâ€¦My kids go to Jewish pre-school, we only celebrate Jewish holidays, I love sederâ€¦Frankly, because Iâ€™m already doing everything, I feel like Iâ€™m as Jewish as Iâ€™m ever going to be.â€ť She goes on to say:
The following essay, â€śLoving the Stranger: Intimacy between Jews and Non-Jews,â€ť offers both a moving personal testimonial and a profound new understanding of Jewish intermarriage. Dr. Rachel Baum, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies & Hebrew Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, writes, â€śIs it possible that marrying a non-Jew might help us understand Judaism better. See something against a new background, which we couldnâ€™t see in the sea of sameness? Is it possible that we, above others, embody most profoundly Judaismâ€™s injunction to love the stranger?â€ť The essay is collected in a new book, â€śEncountering the Stranger: A Jewish-Christian-Muslim Trialogue,â€ť and is an important addition to the intermarriage conversation. Weâ€™re honored to excerpt it here for the first time anywhere:
Loving the Stranger: Intimacy between Jews and Non-Jews
RACHEL N. BAUM
I am a Jew. There is no branch of Judaism that would deny this, despite my maternal grandmotherâ€™s marriage to a non-Jew, despite my having celebrated Christmas throughout my childhood, despite my occasional affection for bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. I am a Jew, because my mother is a Jew, and her mother before her, and her mother before that.1
Am I a good Jew? I admit that I bristle at the question. Yet the question, â€śIs person X a good Jew, Christian, Muslim, etc.?â€ť lies at the heart of much conversation within and among religious communities. Many debates within religious communities can be understood as disagreements over what it means to be a good member of the community. What is essential to the community, what must one have or be in order to identify with that community?
The branches of Judaism define its essence differently. Halacha (the body of Jewish religious jurisprudence) is central to Orthodoxy; Jewish ethics is of fundamental importance to Reform Judaism. Yet the determination of what makes a â€śgood Jewâ€ť is not limited to religious Judaism, but extends to secular Jewish culture as well. And here, despite the differences between the religious and the secular, there is a surprising amount of agreement on the challenges facing the Jewish community.