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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...
Yesterday, JOI hosted the Womenâs Summit for a More Welcoming Jewish Community. We had hoped to draw in 75 women volunteer leaders and Jewish communal professionals to discuss the critical need of serving unengaged Jewish populations, including those from intermarried households. We reached our goal of 75 women and then some â we had over 100 women in attendance!
Yesterdayâs gathering is evidence that people want to do more to welcome newcomers and engage those on the periphery. Through interactive skill-building sessions and networking opportunities, we hope everyone left with new ideas for how to better reach out and welcome in. The overwhelming attendance was great, but itâs only one measure of success. We will consider the Womenâs Summit a true success only when these ideas are implemented back home at the synagogues, JCC, and other Jewish institutions represented. The greatest successes of the Jewish community are not behind us. They are ahead of us.
We want to thank all those who made the day possible â the attendees, the speakers, the JOI staff and all those who gave us generous financial support, including the Jewish Womenâs Foundation of New York, the Albin Family Foundation, Fern K. Hurst, and Lauri M. Tisch. We look forward to continued discussions and working together to build a more welcoming Jewish community.
Judaism has survived and grown because of its ability to adapt to its surroundings. The Torah is an âexpressly patrilineal document,â said Mike, a second year rabbinical student at American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism). It was in the time of the writing of the Mishna (background on Jewish law) that Judaism started to move towards matrilineal descent. This proves that âleaders of the people have the authority to introduce changes consistent with our tradition.â
Writing in his personal blog, Mike thinks itâs time to revisit and reverse the notion of matrilineal descent. He makes the argument not only theologically, but also as a practical matter. Since the reform movement began allowing for patrilineal descent in 1983, those kids are now grown up and getting married. Since they were raised as Jews, Mike said, they might âhave an interest in marrying other Jews.â And they just might want to do this at a conservative synagogue. Is the Conservative Movement ready to shut their doors or welcome them in?
The doors should be wide open, and Mike points to recent changes within the Conservative movement that demonstrate the agility of Judaism to cope with modern times. Mike writes:
âIt is frankly bizarre that the Conservative Movement can twist itself into knots for the laudable goal of welcoming openly gay and lesbian rabbis, but when the issue of patrilineal descent comes up, we start singing “Tradition!”â
There are a number of reasons to rethink notions of patrilineal and matrilineal descent, but none as important as the âmoral obligationâ to embrace and engage those in our midst. If a Jewish father and a mother of another religious background raise their children as Jews, the last thing we should do is tell them they are not a part of the community. Mike puts it best when he says: âI hope to soon see the day when Conservative rabbis and congregations welcome entire Jewish families, including the children of Jewish fathers.â
âGiven the rainbow muddle that is Jewish identity todayâfrom born-again to secular and all the way to couldn’t-care-lessâwhat does a Jewish film festival mean? A very big tent is what, to judge by some of the movies previewed in this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival.â
The quote is from a recent review in the Village Voice newspaper, but it could be applied to any number of cities because January seems to be Jewish Film Festival month. Along with New York, four other cities â Las Vegas, Baton Rouge, Atlanta and Jackson, MS â are holding festivals with a lineup of films that run the gamut from screwball comedy to historical documentary. Some festivals are larger than others (the Jackson festival has four movies, the Atlanta festival has 45), but no matter the number of films, each provides a great opportunity for people to come together and explore a variety of issues facing the Jewish Community worldwide.
Film festivals are a great example of what we call Destination Jewish Culture, which is part of our Public Space JudaismSM model. Most festivals are held at secular venues, so people donât have to belong anywhere to see these films and they are open to anyone who might be interested. Since the barrier to participation has already been lowered, film festivals can become effective outreach tools. With good name collection techniques, such as raffle tickets, and dedicated follow-up, these events could go from a one time interaction to deeper and continuing Jewish engagement.
With such a large number of festivals to choose from, maybe more people will find the time to attend a screening or two. If so, we hope those organizing the events will recognize the outreach opportunity and take advantage. Either way, itâs exciting to see so many communities hold Jewish film festivals and showcase important movies that otherwise would rarely be seen.
Throughout the 20th century, barriers created in the Jewish community due to gender have been lowered or eliminated. Many congregations and institutions across the Jewish spectrum have created dynamic egalitarian environments that allow both men and women to operate on equal footing both spiritually and civically. Normative gender roles have been redefined and re-imagined.
However, the Jewish Communityâand American society at largeâis currently confronting the important issue of those who fall outside our gender norms of âmanâ and âwomanâ as determined by anatomy and external organs. A recent article by Rebecca Spence of The Forward highlighted this new focus on creating an environment welcoming to transgender individualsâand all.
Rabbi Elliot Kukla, a transgender Reform Rabbi based in San Francisco, spoke about the issue at a recent West Coast regional conference of Reform rabbis. He said that he is proud of the recent shift he has seen in the acceptance of transgendered Jews:
âI’m so amazed at the old ladies who will turn to their friends and say, ‘Did you meet the nice, young transgender rabbi?’” Kukla said. “Some of that is San Francisco, but that conversation would never have happened a few years ago.â
The number of innovative projects actively advocating for this new awareness and appreciation of the inclusion of transgender individuals has âincreased to a level never seen before,â according to the article (Details on these programs are below the jump). Itâs another step towards creating a Jewish community that is open to all who approach, and we are glad to see a growing number of people who are beginning to address this issue.
All too often, intermarried Jewish professionals face overt prejudice, an unacknowledged glass ceiling, and couched criticisms that make them self-conscious in their capacity as Jewish role models for children, young adults and seniors alike. Others see their experience as an asset as they relate to diverse groups.
The Jewish Outreach Institute is launching an email discussion forum for intermarried/inter-partnered Jewish communal professionals who wish to discuss the workplace dynamics of being in an interfaith relationship. JOI is acknowledging their unique struggles enriching the Jewish community amidst judgment and inequity by creating an online discussion forum exclusively for intermarried Jewish professionals.
By providing a platform for intermarried Jewish professionals to share their experiences and find support in one another, it is JOIâs hope that awareness about this issue will grow and professionals will feel at ease identifying as intermarried in the workplace.
This listserve will provide a place for them to discuss their experiences, find solidarity, support and seek or provide advice.
We invite you to join the conversation! If your spouse or partner is of another religious background and you identify as a Jewish professional, email Rachel Gross.
Hundreds are already participating in other JOI listserves that support those in the context of intermarriage. JOIâs longest running forum, The Mothers Circle supports over 400 women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children. Mothers discuss their diverse but shared experiences relating to in-law relationships, teaching children about Jewish holidays and maintaining their own heritage. Many express that the listserve community has empowered them as they raise Jewish children and provided them with concrete tools to do so.