Entries for Category: Mothers Circle
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For everyone here at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) —and for all who work toward the creation of a more inclusive Jewish community—there is much to be thankful for this year.
- Raising Jewish Children: The Pew Forum’s study of the American Jewish community confirmed that the majority (61%) of intermarried households are raising their children with a Jewish identity.
- Changing the Conversation: Jewish communal leaders are beginning to shift the conversation away from handwringing about who people marry to helping households of all configurations determine how to raise Jewish children, and how to find meaningful answers to the great Jewish question of the 21st Century: “Why be Jewish?”
- Seizing the Opportunity: Some of the most prominent Jewish communal organizations in America are increasingly joining us to do the actual work of providing Jewish programming for all of those who are historically marginalized, lowering the barriers to their participation while still offering meaningful content.
- Broadening Our Vocabulary: The phrase “Big Tent Judaism,” which we coined to refer to our inclusive approach to Jewish communal life, has made it into the vocabulary of the Jewish community.
- Beyond the Walls: Our signature series of programs designed to move the Jewish community’s outreach efforts beyond the walls of Jewish communal institutions, Public Space JudaismSM, has become a prominent program model for Jewish communal institutions that want to meet potential newcomers where they are.
- Radical Welcoming: People have come to realize that welcoming is a strategy that requires more than just a warm and friendly “hello.” Greeting a newcomer at the door is a wonderful start—but it is only a start. We must learn to follow through by getting to know our newcomers as complex human beings, and serving their needs and interests with relevant programming and events.
- Aiming for Engagement Over Affiliation: Synagogues and other member-based institutions are recognizing that new models are needed for new times. They are beginning to see that affiliation (whether someone pays to be part of the community) is no longer as relevant a goal of outreach as engagement (actually participating in Jewish activities).
- The Grandparent Connection: Grandparents are embracing their grandchildren being raised in interfaith homes, and growing closer to their adult children who have intermarried—all with an eye toward a more inclusive and optimistic Jewish future.
From all of us here at JOI, we hope you have a warm and meaningful Hanukkah, and of course Thanksgiving.
I gasped when I read a recent article by David I. Bernstein in eJewishPhilanthropy that you should cut (or threaten to cut) your child’s inheritance in half if they intermarry– even though most of us know that our parents are living longer and there probably won’t be all that much to inherit. Bernstein goes on to suggest that you should only send your children to colleges with large Jewish populations. (Read: Only pay for college if they go where you want them to go.)
But Jews are no longer (for the most part) meeting their spouses in college. According to the National Jewish Population Study, only 10% of college-aged Jewish men and 18% of college-aged Jewish women are married. That means 90% of all Jewish men and 82% of all Jewish women marry after they get out of college. So there goes your child meeting his or her Jewish spouse in college. Maybe you could put in your will that your child must become a Jewish communal professional in the hopes of meeting another Jew in the workforce. Or we could carry the stereotype even further - they can only work in finance, medicine, or the law - that’s where the Jews are, after all, right? Or media - do we still control the media?
These responses to intermarriage are purely punitive. As parents, we know that punishment only goes so far toward achieving the behaviors we desire in our children. If we cross the line, the rebellion can create a wedge in relationships that last for generations.
As written proof of their new status, freshly minted adult Jews-by-Choice receive a nifty little certificate to proudly display, stash in a drawer, recycle, or otherwise do with what they will. When you’re born a Jew (traditionally, only by birth to a Jewish mother), you don’t get such a physical memento of your Jewishness.
But what about those of us somewhere in between? What about people who are considered Jewish by birth in some parts of the Jewish community but not in others? I’m talking about the ever-sticky issue of patrilineal descent (being born to a Jewish father and a mother of a different background). And, as you may already know, I’m also talking about myself: My father was Jewish but my mother was not when I was born (though she now is). They raised me in a Jewish home; affiliated with the Jewish Reform movement (the largest religious body to recognize patrilineal descent), I was taught to believe I was a Jew from birth. But, eventually, a variety of circumstances conspired so that it made sense for me to formally undergo a conversion a couple years ago – despite my strong reservations about doing so.
Because I had been raised Jewish and the Conservative movement rabbi overseeing my conversion had seen me participate actively and knowledgeably in services, the conversion process was rather abbreviated for me. I knew going into my meeting with the Bet Din (a court of three rabbis assembled for various purposes, including to oversee a conversion to Judaism) in the lobby of the mikveh (a Jewish ritual bath, immersion in which is a necessary component of conversion to Judaism) that this would be a tad more casual than the conversion of someone who chose Judaism later in life. We skipped the formal education, and the Bet Din didn’t need me to prove my Jewish knowledge by answering questions about Jewish tradition.
Last week, JOI Associate Executive Director Paul Golin weighed in on the recent Pew research study regarding the current Jewish population in the United States. His comments, which appeared in the article “Half Full or Half Empty” in the New Jersey Jewish News, point out the positives in the study where many are seeing the negatives. Instead of focusing on the million-person increase to the Jewish population over the last decade or so, many are focusing on the high intermarriage rate, believing it spells disaster for the future of the Jewish population. Paul Golin doesn’t see it that way.
“We found an extra million Jews since the last time we counted — and we found it a great disaster!” quipped Paul Golin, associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute in New York. His organization tries to integrate unaffiliated and intermarried families into the Jewish community.
“The question people are asking is: What kind of Jews are they? It’s one of the most divisive questions you could ask,” said Golin. “The panic I see being expressed is because the Jews they are finding are not like the Jews who run the Jewish community. They don’t find resonance in the same things, so what do we do about it?”
For us at JOI, the question is not “what kind of a Jew are you,” but simply “do you want to participate in the Jewish community?” If the answer is yes, then we as Jewish communal professionals should help these people and their families to find a place in the community.
Do you agree? Then we invite you to show your support for the 61% of Jewish interfaith families who are raising their children with Jewish identities by sharing the photo below on Facebook.
How well are you able to share the meaning and value of the Jewish High Holidays with your family?
Here’s how NOT to feel lost and confused during the High Holidays, and truly find the benefit, even if you didn’t grow up celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We invite you to join us for High Holiday Highlights.
High Holiday Highlights is a FREE one-time webinar (interactive online session) from the staff of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute and Kit Haspel, a Mothers Circle Coordinator at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.
This webinar will empower you to better understand the value and meaning of the holidays, and provide the opportunity not only to learn, but to interact with fellow participants about blessings and prayers, food traditions, and activities you can do to share the beauty of the holiday with your family.
• When: Wednesday, August 21 at 2:00pm EDT.
• Where: Via phone and any computer connected to the Internet!
• How: RSVP to JOI Communications Manager Amanda Kaletsky here to receive the link.
• Who: Anyone who wants to learn more about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Please feel free to invite any friends, family, or colleagues who may be interested!
High Holiday Highlights is brought to you by The Mothers Circle, a program for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children.
When I was a teenager, I went to Jewish weekend camp where every month we had a topic to discuss. The first topic was “What Makes a Jew?” The entire discussion about mothers/fathers, patrilineal/matrilineal descent, observant/not observant, didn’t resonate with me. When I thought about who was Jewish, I decided that whoever says she is Jewish, is Jewish. I never saw any benefit to determining for others whether they were Jewish or not.
This week I read an article in The New York Times called “What Makes a Jewish Mother?” about how to determine, in the case of adoption and sperm/egg donation, the religion of the child. This is my favorite line: “Jewish authorities are finding evidence in the Scriptures to support both arguments: that the egg donor is the mother and that the birth mother is the mother.” I had no idea that “egg donation” came up in the Bible, something that was written thousands of years ago before anyone knew about turkey basters let alone invitro fertilization.
In our latest edition of The Mothers Circle-Shalom Sesame holiday resource guide, we take a look at the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, which begins at sundown on Tuesday May 14th, and ends at sundown on Thursday May 16th.
Shavuot is a spring holiday that celebrates the first harvest, the ripening of the first fruits, and most importantly, the giving of the Torah. The holiday can offer a wonderful entry point into Jewish life. Entry points, in fact, are at the very heart of this holiday, particularly because of its connection to the Book of Ruth, which is traditionally read on Shavuot during late-night (or even all night!) study sessions. Shavuot is also known for the delicious foods eaten, including blintzes and cheesecake.
For more about this unique holiday, including activities, video and discussion questions, and more, click here to download the free Shavuot resource guide. And please feel free to share!
Also, be sure to visit The Mothers Circle Facebook page to share how you will be celebrating Shavuot with your family, by leaving us a comment on the post about this fun guide. You can even share photos of the tzedakah boxes you make!
I have written before about my struggles with characterizing my Jewish practice. Having done extensive research on the “millennial” generation of which I am a part, I have come to understand the nuances of living in a world in which options and choice are valued above all else, and how my religious practice plays into this, or plays against it.
For this reason, I was taken by a recent article in Tablet magazine, in which self-proclaimed “Jewish atheist” Jonathan Zimmerman chronicles his experience attending a Humanistic synagogue. Humanistic Judaism identifies with the history and traditions of Jewish culture independent of a higher power. That is, the focus is on “[celebrating] the centrality of human reason and responsibility from a uniquely Jewish perspective.” This would objectively seem like a perfect fit for Zimmerman, and yet, for him, the experience was totally uncomfortable, even laughable…not in and of itself, but when compared to formative prayer experiences from his Conservative Jewish upbringing.
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.
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.
I’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, “Harrison Ford’s a quarter Jewish: not too shabby!” (Note: as it turns out, Ford’s mother is Jewish on both sides; Sandler should probably fix his math on that one!)
But there’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 “traditionally Jewish.” 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 “a beautiful faith” that she is “so honored” 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 Drew’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 Drew’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 it’s time for Adam Sandler to start writing The Hanukkah Song Part 4: The Celebrity Mothers Circle!
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 movie’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, “are you, like, officially a Jew?” Banks replies, “I’m not officially stamped, but by all accounts yes…My kids go to Jewish pre-school, we only celebrate Jewish holidays, I love seder…Frankly, because I’m already doing everything, I feel like I’m as Jewish as I’m ever going to be.” She goes on to say:
It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Suzette Cohen, who was among the first Mothers Circle coordinators and facilitators in the country. Suzette served as the second facilitator of The Mothers Circle in Atlanta, GA, where the program began, and went on to coordinate the Circle there for several years. She was also a kindergarten teacher at Temple Kol Emeth, as well as the lead teacher of the primary grades, and additionally, served as the Director of Community Outreach for Atlanta Area Psychological Associates, P.C.
Below is Suzette’s obituary, posted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Mrs. Cohen was a social worker employed by the Atlanta Area Psychological Associates and an active Jewish educator, but her main emphasis and source of much pride was raising her three sons. Along with being lead teacher at Temple Kol Emeth, she also was lead teacher at Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta. Mrs. Cohen graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. degree in Urban Life, and also received a M.A. in Judaic Education from the Siegal College of Jewish Studies. She was a member of Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta and Shalom B’Harim in Dahlonega, where her husband serves as spiritual leader. Survivors include her husband, Mitchell of Alpharetta; sons, Dr. Zachary, Jordan and Eric Cohen; mother, Mrs. Rose Sowadsky of Alpharetta; sister, Jeanine (Zvi) Bekerman of Atlanta; brother, David (Jennifer) Felsberg of Atlanta; mother-in-law, Roslyn Cohen of Alpharetta; brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, Howie and Deborah Cohen of Alpharetta, and Sandra Cohen-Goldberg and Jack Goldberg of Savannah; nieces, Elana Frank of Israel, Arielle Furman and Carey Felsberg of Atlanta, and Lainey and Rachel Cohen of Alpharetta; and nephews, Daniel Bekerman and Noah Felsberg of Atlanta. She is loved and will be greatly missed by all whose lives she touched and the people she transformed. An online guestbook is available at www.edressler.com. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Kfar Chassidim (contact Mitch for information) or to the Temple Kol Emeth Adult Education Fund. Services will be 1:00 PM TODAY, Monday, January 14, 2013 at Temple Kol Emeth, 1415 Old Canton Rd., Marietta, GA 30062, and will be officiated by Rabbi Steven Lebow. Burial will follow at Arlington Memorial Park in Sandy Springs. Arrangements by Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care, 770-451-4999.
The staff of Big Tent Judaism / Jewish Outreach Institute sends our condolences to Suzette’s family, and is so happy to have had the opportunity to work with such a wonderful advocate of Jewish outreach.
The staff of Big Tent Judaism / The Jewish Outreach Institute wish you a Happy Hanukkah!
How are you sharing the light this Hanukkah? Click here tell us below!
In the spirit of opening the tent, our staff are opening their doors and sharing the light this Hanukkah in many ways– through both their work here at JOI, as well as at home and in public spaces with family and friends. We invite you to leave your comment about how you plan to share the light this Hanukkah, and we wish everyone a safe, bright, and happy holiday!
Our recently released report on the success of The Mothers Circle is starting to make waves, as more communities are asking us to share this important program.
The fact is that when an intermarried couple decides to make a Jewish home for their children, it is often the mother who bears the primary responsibility for making the home Jewish. And when this mother does not have a Jewish background, the task may seem impossible. The fact is, too, that non-Jewish mothers in interfaith relationships have been less than welcomed by the Jewish community. Without the necessary support, many of these women may abandon Jewishness altogether.
Enter The Mothers Circle. At the Jewish Outreach Institute we believe that interfaith couples are an opportunity, not a threat to the Jewish community. With the right support, and the right welcoming attitude on the part of our communities, these mothers and their family can become part of our Big Tent, creating a Jewish home where there may not have been one before.
Which brings me back to this latest report. Through our research, we learned that participants of the 16-session course become more comfortable doing Jewish activities, bring more Jewish practices into the home (for example, the percentage of those who say they currently light Shabbat candles at home jumps from 50% to 83% following the course), and begin their journey toward greater Jewish engagement by choosing Jewish education for their children and participating in Jewish institutions.
Alicia Scotti, a former Mothers Circle participant turned facilitator of Mothers Circle programs, has blogged for JOI.org in the past and is especially good at sharing her experiences raising Jewish children. Today, she offers her perspective on what celebrating Sukkot has meant to her family. For more guidance on how you can bring Sukkot into your family’s life, visit The Mothers Circle Guide to Sukkot here.
Sukkot was never much on my radar. Actually it didn’t really get there until several years ago, when my oldest was already halfway through high school (We live in NYC, which explains a lot.) Every year our temple would have a sukkah decorating party, to which we’d bring gourds, apples, and different things to tie to the structure that the maintenance staff had erected earlier that day. Afterward, we’d attend a Sukkot service, and we’d all huddle in the structure to shake the lulav and smell the etrog. It was always fun, but that was the extent of our Sukkot.
One year, out of the blue, my husband decided we should get our own lulav and etrog. Once he made that decision, it was a big deal! He did a lot of research about where to get the best ones, and conveniently one was our local Judaica store. Of course, however, he was working and couldn’t get away, so he sent me. Inside, there was a table stacked with etrogs, and another with the lulavs. The place was packed with people reaching over each other and pushing to get closest to the table to smell and examine each one until somehow miraculously the perfect one was found, and then on to the next table! I had no idea what I was doing, but I can smell. I can examine and take a good guess. So that’s what I did.
There are few sights more stunning than the changing of the leaves as summer turns to fall, and the Jewish calendar presents the perfect opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this time of year through the harvest festival of Sukkot. Arriving just five days after our solemn observance of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, Sukkot is a celebration of gratitude for what we have and what is to come in the exciting year ahead. While you may notice that Sukkot is not as widely celebrated or acknowledged as the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, one can find many parallels to American Thanksgiving, as the pilgrims used this Biblical holiday as a template for their Thanksgiving celebration.
Like Thanksgiving, Sukkot celebrates our history and our connection to nature. You can now learn more about the holiday through The Mothers Circle Guide to Sukkot, which offers an introduction to its symbols and rituals, as well as ideas for celebrating with your families and making it your own. We invite you to take some time during this “Season of Our Rejoicing” (as Sukkot as often called) to celebrate the beauty of autumn through this unique and joyous holiday. Chag Sameach (Hebrew for “Happy Holiday”), and Happy Fall!
Readers of this blog may already be familiar with The Mothers Circle – one of JOI’s flagship programs, serving mothers of other religious backgrounds who have committed to raising Jewish children. While these women often do not feel welcomed by the Jewish community, we believe them to be our unsung heroes. The majority of Jewish households in North America are, in fact, intermarried households – where one spouse was not raised Jewish. And it is these women, these mothers raised in other religious backgrounds, who we should look up to. Choosing to raise their children in a faith other than their own, these mothers, for whom The Mothers Circle was designed, hold the key to Jewish continuity in North America.
Yet, steeped as we are in the daily routine of work here at JOI, it is often easy to overlook the positive change we manage to bring daily to Jewish communities around the country. Now is the time to celebrate our success!
JOI has recently released a case study featuring the wonderful success of one community where The Mothers Circle has been implemented successfully over the past four years. One of close to a hundred communities who have already implemented Mothers Circles, Portland, OR has a legacy of successful recruitment. As is the case nationally, alumnae of the Portland Mothers Circle overwhelmingly go on to affiliate with Jewish organizations and to choose Jewish education for their children.
As a native Houstonian, I’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, it’s easy to forget that Jewish life in the city is unique, that Jewish here is almost “normal,” and that American Jewish life has many regional flavors. Here, we don’t turn our heads when we see a man with a kippah, let alone a Hassid. And while this “normalcy” 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. I’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.