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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...
After 23 years, we have spent a lot of time of late thinking about the name of our organization. Perhaps it is the end of the secular year that is motivating the discussionâ€”a time for review. Or maybe it is the recent in-depth discussions with regard to a new strategic plan that will take JOI into the next five or ten years, and most certainly create a new iteration of our work that will help us grow and nurture a more inclusive Jewish community.
Last week, I noticed that we had been called JOIâ€”the Jewish Outreach Initiativeâ€”by someone who was reporting on our work. It got me to thinking. The original name chosen by our founders really referred to the fact that JOI was a research institute housed in a university (City Universityâ€™s Graduate Center). And research continues to be a significant part of our work. But it is not all that we do. We offer direct programs and services such as our signature Mothers Circle program. And our training initiative such as our recent webinar series and upcoming conference reach a lot of people. Moreover, our advocacy platform called Big Tent Judaism has nearly 450 organizational/institutional members. It is clear that we do initiate a lot of new things. So maybe such a name makes sense.
So I am asking you, our blog readers, our supporters. Should we change our name or keep it as JOI (which some people pronounce as JOY) irrespective of the growth and evolution of our mission?
If someone asks you what a Jewish person looks like, would you have an answer?
Here is what your answer could be: there is no â€śJewish look.â€ť In fact, Jews have been ethnically and racially diverse for millennia, and are even more so today with globalization, intermarriage, adoption, Jews-By-Choice, and the far-flung communities of the Jewish Diaspora. Still, despite the growing diversity in Jewish demographics, non-Ashkenazi Jews are often questioned in terms of their â€śJewishness,â€ť or worse, unacknowledged by the community.
The website MaNishtana.net is seeking to change that by raising awareness of Jewish diversity.
During the December months, many interfaith families discover that they must devise creative solutions of how to meaningfully honor Christmas and Hanukkah at the same time. As this New York Times article shows, many Jewish families make out-of-the-box decisions in order to create family traditions that resonate with them. While these decisions may seem unorthodox to some, it is important to remember that one way of being a â€śJewish familyâ€ť does not work for everyone. The complicated decisions that families make about incorporating many different traditions into one cohesive whole do not necessarily lessen their commitment to Judaism.
Although Hayley Krischer is a Jew, married to a Jew, and raising two Jewish children, Kirsherâ€™s ex-husband and the father of her son is not Jewish.
Over the past couple of weeks, numerous media outlets have reported on a letter signed by fifty Orthodox rabbis in Israel banning the rental or sale of property to non-Jews. The rational was a fear of intermarriage, fear of reduced property value, and safety. These rabbis believe that the lifestyle of non-Jews (specifically, Arab citizens) can endanger lives both physically and spiritually.
The response of international condemnation has been swift, staggering, and unanimous. According to the Forward, the letter has been denounced by â€śAmerican Modern Orthodox and Conservative rabbinic associations, and by the spokesman for an American ultra-Orthodox umbrella group.â€ť An alliance of more than 900 rabbis, â€śmost of them affiliated with non-Orthodox denominations,â€ť has also signed an online petition. Rabbi David Ellenson penned a powerful op-ed for the [New York] Jewish Week opposing the statement, and in Israel, Prime Minister Benjanmin Netanyahu has spoken out against the letter, as have numerous high ranking rabbis.
Amidst all of these voices, one phrase stood out as a clearly articulated explanation of how the rabbis who signed the letter are damaging the Jewish community.
Edgar Bronfman, president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation and author of Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance, is one of the most influential personalities in the Jewish community. He is particularly vocal about his belief that the future of the Jewish community rests in large part on how welcoming we are towards intermarried families and unaffiliated Jews, writing in his book that those â€śwho seek a home in Judaism should find a community and a tradition that ushers in its guests with warmth and pride and that celebrates diversity of background and opinion.â€ť
Bronfmanâ€™s philosophy of opening our doors to all those in our midst is precisely what motivates the work of JOI, so we read with great interest his recent opinion piece in the Forward newspaper about welcoming, reaching and engaging intermarried families in the Jewish community.
We are in the afterglow of Hanukkah, and thanks to an exciting initiative of the Big Tent Judaism Coalition, thousands of newcomers to Jewish life celebrated the holiday this year in a whole new way. Last month, the Jewish Outreach Institute developed a new Hanukkah resource that was sent to Big Tent Judaism member organizations as a way to reach unaffiliated individuals and families in their communities. We printed laminated holiday instruction cards to help those on the periphery of Jewish life celebrate Hanukkah. The â€śnewcomer cardsâ€ť were modeled after airplane safety cards, and offered clear, visually engaging and appealing instructions on how to participate in Hanukkah ritual and celebration (including candle lighting, latke-making, and driedel playing). The cards were a way of helping communities throughout North America activate the Big Tent Judaism principles of â€śwelcoming all newcomers,â€ť and â€ślowering barriers to participation.â€ť
Almost 100 communities asked for the cards, reaching close to 8000 people around the continent. Participating organizations distributed cards through a variety of creative means. Hereâ€™s just a sample of how they helped spread the light and some of the reactions:
At JOI, we often marvel at the ability of the Jewish community to incorporate the ever expanding diversity of those who now stand with us under our Big Tent. Interfaith couples, Jews-by-choice, and children of intermarriage all help make our community a more vibrant place, and we are grateful for their contributions. But a growing trend among Jewish families gives us a good opportunity to highlight another aspect of the Jewish communityâ€™s diverse nature: adoption.
Clergy and congregants, according to an article on Beliefnet.com, are seeing more children of Latino, Asian and African descent. â€śAnd that, in turn, is slowly changing the face of American Judaism.â€ť
In our work with communities across North America, one thing we constantly teach is that in order to reach those on the periphery of the Jewish community, we have to go where they are rather than wait for them to come to us. Itâ€™s what we call Public Space Judaism, and itâ€™s one of the cornerstones of our work and philosophy. The best time of year to do this is around holidays, particularly Hanukkah and Passover since those are the two most observed holidays by both affiliated and unaffiliated Jewish families.
There is another benefit of putting Judaism on public display, as we learn from an article in the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa. Yes, it helps us reach those on the periphery, but it can also help remind Jews of all backgrounds that despite our difference of opinions, we all stand together under Judaismâ€™s Big Tent.
Leave it to Alan Dershowitz. I needed a break from serious reading so I decided to pick up (really, download on my Kindle) a copy of one of Dershowitzâ€™s latest novels (having read his more serious attention to the same subject) called The Trials of Zion. It is a fabricated story of the involvement and kidnapping of a young woman, Emma Ringelâ€”zealous Jewish peacenik, Ivy League Law School graduateâ€”who goes to Israel to work for a legal defense organization, headed by a former law school buddy, Habash, who happens to be a Palestinian Arab. There are lots of familiar sound bites in the novel for anyone familiar with Dershowitzâ€™s illustrious and often controversial career. As a matter of fact, there are many similarities between one of the protagonists in the novelâ€”Abe Ringelâ€”and Dershowitz himself.
In order to make the story more interestingâ€”and in order for Dershowitz to make his pointâ€”there is a subtle subplot in the book: an interfaith relationship between Emma and Habash.