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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...
Earlier this month, over 90 Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders from across the continent â€śgatheredâ€ť on an interactive webinar to learn about the Jewish Outreach Instituteâ€™s High Holiday outreach tool and accompanying program model: The Color-Me Calendar for the Jewish New Year. Participants learned how to bring this brand new, FREE calendar (produced in collaboration with our friends at Shalom Sesame*) to their communities, and how Color-Me Calendar can accomplish the following:
â€˘ The program, built around decorating a dynamic kid-friendly activity calendar, functions educationally to introduce children to symbols of the High Holiday season.
â€˘ In addition, it provides a creative marketing opportunity, in that each Jewish community or organization can customize the calendar with its upcoming events and offerings that specifically target families with young children while they are in a planning mindset.
â€˘ This is a project around which communities can collaborate, ultimately reflecting and highlighting the diverse opportunities available within a local Jewish community.
â€˘ Color-Me Calendar also serves as an entry point to relationship building between these families and the Jewish communities.
â€˘ In order to find people where they are, Color-Me Calendar takes place in back-to-school shopping establishments, community fairs, farmers markets, food stores, bookstores, library, malls, playground/parks and other venues where families with young children spend their time at the end of the summer/beginning of school year. Color-Me Calendar can function on its own, or augment late summer and High Holiday family programs currently being planned.
Itâ€™s not too late! You still have a few days left to sign up to bring these exciting tools to your community and join the dozens of Jewish communities who are already on board! Email Eva Stern, JOI’s Senior Director of Training, to learn how to access this FREE tool and its accompanying programmatic methodology to find those who are not yet connected to your institutions this High Holiday season.
(Cross-posted on Examiner.com)
Like most people in the Jewish community, especially those on the more liberal end of the religio-political continuum of Jewish life, I have been following the same-sex marriage laws with a great deal of interest. Let me be clear. I am an advocate for the legalization of same-sex marriages for a variety of reasons. As someone who works in New York, I was thrilled when the legislature finally legalized same sex marriages and I was proud of the state for being one of only a few states to do so.
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about intermarriage in the Jewish community, I also recognize that GLBT relationships are more likely to be interfaith than are straight relationships. And it is quite understandable. More than anything else, intermarriage or interpartnering is demographically driven. If there are fewer opportunities for infaith partnerships, then it is logical that more interfaith partnerships will take place.
While there have been many articles about the recent decision in Albany, there has been little discussion about its interfaith aspect and its ramifications on the Jewish community. Sure, there have been discussions about rabbis and officiation, especially in those communities where rabbis have been generally more conservative about such issues. But of all the articles that I have read about the decision, I found this New York Times article to be most interesting.
Why? Because of these two lines: â€śMr. Saland opposed the measure in 2009, but at home in Poughkeepsie, two powerful forces seem to have quietly nudged him toward a yes vote: his wife, Linda, who wanted him to back the measure, and the rabbi at his longtime synagogue, who is an outspoken advocate of gay rights. And with a margin of victory in 2010 of nearly 20,000 votes, Mr. Saland is not seen as being in any particular danger of being defeated.â€ť It seems that while much of the focus of rabbinic discussions is about officiation, at least one rabbi sought another approach. He sought to influence a decision-maker and did so out of the context of specific Jewish values.
For those who think that rabbis no longer have any influence in the community or in the decisions that peopleâ€”especially people in powerâ€”make, I advise them to read this article carefully. I applaud Mr. Saland and I thank and applaud his rabbi, whomever that might be.
For decades now, panicked voices in the Jewish community have responded to the high rates of intermarriage by asking the provocative question, â€śWill your grandchildren be Jewish?â€ť While in recent years we at JOI are gratified to see the community move away from fear-based program decisions to a focus on positive Jewish engagement â€“- and feel that weâ€™ve helped change the discourse â€“- we are disappointed that there are still communal professionals who maintain as part of their reports or presenting repertoire the highly-deceiving statistics â€śdemonstratingâ€ť that almost no grandchildren of an intermarried Jewish grandparent will be raised Jewish.
We think anyone still asking that question should instead imagine themselves asking, in the 1970s, â€śWill Bob Marleyâ€™s grandchildren be Jewish?â€ť Of course, nobody had the foresight to ask that question while reggae great and global icon Bob Marley was still alive. He was Rastafarian, not Jewish, and did not marry a Jewish woman. Yet according to a recent article and video on YNetNews.com, his grandkids are being raised Jewish! His son Ziggy, also a reggae singer, married an Israeli women and together they are raising their children Jewish. Ziggy Marley speaks admiringly of the way Jewish holiday celebrations help maintain Jewish tradition and identity.
Hereâ€™s the problem with the interfaith grandparenting statistics: even if they are taken from the latest National Jewish Population Study in 2000 (the most recent national survey conducted), it means that in order to measure the results on grandkids, the grandparentsâ€™ intermarriages had to have taken place at least twenty years earlier for there to even be any grandchildren, and in most cases it would have been many more decades earlier. In 1980, there was an almost-universal rejection of intermarriage in the Jewish community, and the Reform movement had yet to accept patrilineal descent. Now imagine 1970, or even 1960, when the majority of those marriages took place. The likelihood of such intermarried â€śfuture-grandparentsâ€ť raising Jewish children was much lower in those days than the rates of intermarried parents raising Jewish children today.
That this context is never included as a disclaimer to that fear-tactic demography, or that no explanation is provided that the numbers will inevitably rise with the increase in Jewish communal programming that includes intermarried families, is at best irresponsible sociology. Ziggy Marleyâ€™s wife is just one of countless hundreds of thousands of intermarried Jews raising Jewish children, which is exponentially larger than that cohort size was in 1980 or earlier. And in a community that welcomes all who seek meaning and connection, there is no reason to believe her grandkids wonâ€™t also be Jewish. Anecdotally we have already begun to encounter large numbers of Jewish grandchildren of intermarriage being raised Jewish, and fully expect that percentage to increase in the coming decade. While we donâ€™t necessarily advocate for Ziggy Marleyâ€™s other avocation, we do recommend that those in the community who continue to stir fear around intermarriage find a way to instead share our positive vibrations.
As I am sure is that case for many people, our email inboxes are filled with lots of messages, some more wanted than others. I intentionally like to receive the various spins on the Torah portion of the week which come as â€śTorah commentaries.â€ť It helps me to get in sync with the Jewish calendarâ€”something, by the way, which is among the most difficult things for those entering the Jewish community from the outside to do. Some weeks I read them all carefully. Other weeks I simply skim them. But it has usually more to do with content than with the time I have available.
This weekâ€™s Torah reading, Parashat Pinchas, has two salient elements to it: the daughters of Zelophechad (whose inheritance as daughters is called into question) and the rewarding of the zealot Pinchas who kills an interfaith couple because they were involved in a â€śforbiddenâ€ť relationship, forbidden because they come from different religious backgrounds. I read each commentary that I received this week, including those from the more liberal on the religio-political spectrum in our community. And each one focused on the womenâ€™s issues implicit in the â€śdaughters of Zelophechad.â€ť None of them questioned the actions of Pinchas. After all, the tradition celebrated his action. It even named a Torah portion in his honor.
I for one am tired of defending the actions of those in the Torah, especially when those actions seem to have a Divine imprimatur on them. The classical Reform movement had its way of dealing with objectionable segments in the Torah. It simply skipped over them and didnâ€™t read them in public. But I believe we have an obligation to study these segments and confront them head on. And when they are morally repugnant, as is this section, to challenge the tradition.
Some colleagues will argue that any tradition needs its boundaries and this is the Torahâ€™s way of demonstrating its boundaries. Well let it find its boundaries another way, not in the death of a couple whose only sin is that they have fallen in love with one another.
The New York Jewish Week newspaper just released its July “Text/Context” special section, which this month is focuses on “some challenging questions about how the Jewish community relates to those among us who might be considered other, or different, whether Jews of color or with disabilities, gay and lesbian, converts, nonbelievers or women.” We of course appreciate any focus on underserved populations within the Jewish community, though if you add “intermarried” to that list (which the Jewish Week thankfully covers regularly through its columnist Julie Wiener), you’ve actually just described the majority of the community, not really “the other.” A collection of articles like this might help the Jewish community to stop considering “the norm” as two heterosexual able-bodied able-minded married white Jews with children. That’s actually the decreasing minority.
Two of the pieces in the special section address multiracial Jews. In “Jews of Many Colors,” Eric Goldstein mentions how “the Jewish Multiracial Network, a community-building, education and advocacy group promoting Jewish diversity, has created what it calls an ‘Ashkenazi/White Jewish Privilege Checklist,’ with items designed to make white/Ashkenazi Jews more aware of the slights experienced by Jews of color in synagogue and communal life.” And in “Lighting A Candle For Sammy Davis Jr.,” renowned journalist and author Samuel G. Freedman makes a persuasive argument for inclusion, though I was concerned with the way the piece ends.
I was surprised to read the latest op/ed by Rabbi Donniel Hartman, whose forward and progressive thinking has become a mainstay of the liberal Orthodox community, as the main voice coming out of the Shalom Hartman Institute, founded by his father in memory of his grandfather. Like the institution, Hartman is a pluralist whose grappling with the reality of the 21st century in combination with a deep rootedness in sacred texts and Jewish tradition is often refreshing and inspiring. But this latest op/ed readsâ€”perhaps unintentionallyâ€”as a diatribe against entry level programs, especially those for interfaith families and their children, as if somehow these programs are â€śwatered down.â€ť
As someone who has worked with those who have intermarried over the last decade and poured over the statistics and trends emerging from that population, I do agree with part of Rabbi Hartmanâ€™s analysis. One of the major reasons that intermarriages have increased is because large numbers of non-Jews are now willing to marry Jews. That was not the case in prior generations. Why would someone want to marry into a community that was vulnerable and at-risk? But the immigration trajectory of Jews in the United States has changed all that. The Jewish community is now mainstream. And young Jews feel fully American. The Holocaust is part of history and not the recent past for them. And the state of Israel came into being before they were born. And if they received a Jewish education, it was an expression of what I call â€śjoyful Judaismâ€ť rather than the survivalist Judaism that marked my own early Jewish education, like the rest of the boomer generation of which I am part.
Whatâ€™s more, as my colleague Rabbi Irwin Kula is fond of saying, Judaism has entered into the marketplace of ideas. And with that free market economy, there will be ramificationsâ€”positive and negative. Rabbi Hartman may want to anguish over its dark side but we must also celebrate its bright side and recognize that such light also causes shadows. This light has also caused Jews who come from secular or minimalist families to embrace more ritual than had their parents or grandparents. It is thrilling to know that Jewish thought is being considered an option by so many, including those who were not born Jewish, something that might have been inconceivable only a few years ago.
But my real complaint is that Rabbi Hartman, like others, claims that programs of outreach to those on the periphery are â€śwatered downâ€ť without identifying specific programs. And such a description reveals a lack of understanding of the sophisticated methodology of outreach practice used by many organizations, including the Jewish Outreach Institute.