Entries for Category: Intermarriage
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Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute
Rabbi Charles Simon, Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs
Five-year benchmarks are quite commonly employed to measure the progress and success of initiatives. Were a Conservative/Masorti synagogue in the United States to choose to respond positively to demographic change implied by intermarriage, these are some of the issues that will have to be thoughtfully considered and employed.
- Disparaging remarks from the pulpit or in the pews will not be tolerated. Religious school children raised in Jewish families will be encouraged to share their experiences in the classroom. The conversation among synagogue leaders will move from who one is marrying to how one is raising children.
- Staff members and volunteer leaders in interfaith relationships will not be discouraged nor penalized.
- Youth group participants will be welcome to bring friends to events irrespective of their religious backgrounds. Youth leaders will not be limited in their relationships.
Administration and Program
- Teachers will be sensitive and respectful of children who have intermarried parents and strongly support their efforts to raise Jewish children.
- Synagogue application forms will reflect the religious traditions of people married or partnered to Jews in an equal and non-judgmental manner. Celebrations of those who have intermarried will be affirmed in synagogue publications without distinction. Those who wish to honor their children’s choices with a Kiddush or other celebration will be encouraged/welcomed.
- Educational and social programming will be designed to engage people of different religious traditions.
- Youth group events will be viewed as an opportunity to bring people close to Judaism and will not be governed by the fear that they promote interfaith relationships.
- Aufrufen (pre-marital blessings) and “Keruv aliyot” (recognition of the decision to have a Jewish family) will serve as an important step to integrate intermarried couples into the community.
- Clergy will be able to attend and participate in some capacity in the interfaith weddings of congregants and their children.
- Clergy will officiate at funerals and burials of their members and their families who are part of the community irrespective of their religious backgrounds.
- An adult partner or grandparent from another religious tradition will be able to participate in the life cycle events of their family and their family members.
- Patrilineal children will be welcomed in the synagogue and will undergo a “completion ceremony” in anticipation of b’nai mitzvah (rather than a “conversion ceremony”).
- People of different religious traditions will be permitted to sit on synagogue boards as voting members.
- People who are part of the community will be considered full members of the synagogue and will be permitted to vote on all issues.
To read the featured article in The Forward referencing this piece, please click here.
With Hanukkah coming early this year, many families and couples are already planning their Hanukkah meals, making their gift lists, and digging out their latke (potato pancake) recipes. But for those whose partners are Jewish, but are not themselves, it can be challenging to bring a holiday into the home that one didn’t grow up celebrating.
The LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle offers the first of its kind parenting programs to LGBT couples who are raising, or are considering raising, Jewish children. The first program will center around the holiday of Hanukkah, offering a safe space to learn about and discuss how to celebrate the holiday for LGBT interfaith couples. In addition to topics like the story of Hanukkah and the themes of the holiday, participants will also have an opportunity to delve into topics unique to LGBT interfaith couples raising Jewish children, such as how to reclaim the holiday and making the connection between the themes of identity and rededication as they relate to Hanukkah and LGBT interfaith families.
There are two opportunities to participate in the free class, so we hope you will share this information with those you think may be interested, to help spread the word about this wonderful program. For more information, or to RSVP, please contact JOI’s LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle Coordinator, Lisa Hanish, at LHanish[at]JOI.org .
Last week a series of minor earthquakes hit the northern Israeli town of T’veria (Tiberius). No harm done, but it did remind everyone in the area that they are living on top of one of the Earth’s major tectonic fault lines. Now everyone is talking about home preparedness kits and aftershocks.
Over here, the North American Jewish community has experienced its own minor earthquake: the image presented by the Pew Research Center’s comprehensive study of the U.S. Jewish population. No harm done, but we were all forcefully reminded of a couple of major fault lines of our own.
On the one hand, we were reminded that the Jewish community extends beyond religious affiliation. Not only are a growing number of Jews identifying as having no religion, but even among those who do consider Judaism their religion, only 39% are synagogue members and only 29% visit a synagogue more than a few times a year.
On the other hand, the Pew aftershocks also brought to the fore the fault lines within the organized Jewish community, which is divided on the issue of how to respond to this increasing lack of institutional affiliation. Is it best to hunker down and focus on the few who still consider Jewish institutions relevant, or is it more advisable to transform existing institutions to accommodate the needs and wants of those who don’t show up?
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.
The recent publication of the Steinhardt Social Research Institute’s (SSRI) American Jewish Population Estimate: 2012, coupled only a few days later by the release of the Pew Research Center’s A Portrait of American Jews threw some in the community into a tail spin of lamentations.
In a New York Times article on the Pew Study Jack Wertheimer, to give just one example, called the findings “a very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population.” And the other comments from Jewish communal professionals and researchers closely dovetail Wertheimer’s comment. Non-Orthodox American Jews are now intermarrying at an all-time high rate of 71%. This, surely, spells the destruction of the Jewish community – at least the non-Orthodox Jewish community. Unfortunate references to a “modern Holocaust” have already been made.
But wait a minute. The authors of the SSRI, who have been the primary consultants to the Pew study, makes a very different case: they claim to draw “a portrait of American Jewry [which is,] at least numerically, in ascent rather than in decline.” They estimate the overall number of United States Jews (including children) at a surprisingly high 6.8 million, up 5% from a 6.5 million figure estimated by the same folks, using the same methods, in 2010. “The U.S. Jewish population is substantially larger than previously estimated,” the SSRI authors conclude.
Yesterday we shared an excerpt from the latest Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) newsletter, which features Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI). Today, we would like to share another piece from that same newsletter, a list of ten promises Jewish institutions can make to partners of other backgrounds. To read the entire newsletter, please click here.
There have been numerous pieces about intermarriage in the press lately. I am not really sure why they have suddenly emerged. Perhaps it is the result of several books that have been recently published. But I have decided to follow the advice of one of my teachers in rabbinical school, Alvin Reines z”l (of blessed memory). And while I usually disagreed with much of his religious philosophy, I often appreciated his practical advice. He often told us that sometimes silence is the best response, especially to public positions taken that are patently absurd. Rather, he suggested, let people determine on their own how absurd are the positions. You, he would argue, do not need to point it out. So here are some reasons why I have chosen not to respond, in particular, to those articles that are being written.
1. Unlike in previous articles, neither Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) nor I were named explicitly or implicitly. Our board made a decision some years ago not to respond to such pieces unless we were specifically named since it does no one any good to engage in what I call “Jew wars.”
2. During this time of year, I am particularly mindful of the challenge of being respectful to one another, even in the context of a philosophical debate.
3. I refuse to allow someone else to set the agenda for our work. Rather than responding, I would prefer to follow the advice of my colleague Paul Steinberg z”l who would often say “let your deeds sing your praises.” After 25 years of work, JOI has a proven track record. It can stand on its own as a rebuttal to any claim our critics make.
4. The positions that are being taken are old arguments. We have publicly responded to them on numerous occasions. Since there are no new arguments being made in these articles, it is silly to repeat those arguments.
5. I refuse to allow the work we are doing with regard to intermarriage to be classified in terms like “war” or “battle.” Any response would be an affirmation of such terms.
6. To divide the Jewish community along the lines of intermarriage is archaic. The great divide is along the lines of engagement.
7. To intermarry is a choice people are entitled to make. The goal of the Jewish community must be to provide meaning to these couples, and not to judge the decisions they have made.
8. I fear that these articles allow some people to respond and use such reactions as cover for the positions they take, which are commonly known. Our positions are known and we welcome people who want to work along with us.
It is time to move the conversation away from who people marry to how they raise their children. We welcome all those who want to work with us—and join us in the opportunity to shape an optimistic Jewish future.
As a non-practicing Russian Jew, when I got engaged to a non-practicing Catholic, I did not foresee any problems. Sure, our heritages are different and we both have our own distinct cultures, but our morals and values are the same, and although we come from different backgrounds we are both more agnostic than anything else. Our wedding ceremony would be simple and secular, and our families get along so there would be no real problems there…
How naïve I was. The first real bump in the road came when my fiancée and I showed my future mother-in-law the venue: a beautiful spot in Central Park. When the question of who would officiate came up we told her it would be a friend of ours. She very calmly explained to us that not having a religious leader present makes the whole thing unofficial and if we are not going to be married in the eyes of the Church, we might as well not be married at all.
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.
Below is an excerpt from a recent op-ed in the New Jersey Jewish News written by JOI Associate Executive Director Paul Golin in response to recent debate in the Jewish community about whether or not rabbis should be permitted to intermarry. To read the complete piece, please click here.
“[…] I’m not the typical intermarried unaffiliated Jew, since I’m also a Jewish communal professional. Still, I think I speak for many intermarried households when it comes to what I want and need from a rabbi. And that might be instructive to the seminaries, who are training clergy for a U.S. population that now has more intermarried than in-married households.
I have two admittedly broad criteria for what I want in a rabbi: Tell me I’m in and mean it — and show me why it’s so amazing.
[…] Rabbis with nontraditional families like my own make me feel more included. Conveying why Judaism is still relevant to them provides me with access I wouldn’t feel elsewhere. The focus is not on how you come in, but what you get out of doing Jewish — in other words, why it’s so amazing.
American liberal Judaism in the 21st century must be about conveying Jewish meaning, not ensuring ethnic survival. Some may lament that rabbis today must first answer “what can Judaism do for me as an individual,” rather than “what am I supposed to do because I’m Jewish.” But the days of obligation-before-meaning are gone.
So tell us why Judaism is better! Why should my children’s ethical foundation be provided by Jewish wisdom rather than the universal ethics they would receive as Americans? Why should I seek spirituality in synagogue when the local meditation studio promises results I never hear offered by rabbis? How can the millennia-long conversations in Jewish texts help make my own life — or the world — better?”
Read the complete text here.
To read New Jersey Jewish News Editor-in-Chief Andrew Silow-Carroll reaction to the piece, please click here.
My non-Jewish roommates were confused by the idea that I would “convert” to Judaism. “From what?” Brent asked. It was a fair question. Jon seconded: “Yeah, if you’re not Jewish now, what are you?” There was no easy answer. My first attempt at answering them – I launched into a preamble about my half-baked idea of drawing a distinction between “converting” and “undergoing a conversion” – didn’t help much.
We met during college orientation, so the three of us had known each other for almost five years by the time I decided to undergo a conversion. A regular at Saturday morning services in college, they knew me as the rare college student who rose before noon on Saturday. My extensive collection of what Brent called “esoteric Hebrew t-shirts” (the result of spending high school in a never-ending series of positive Jewish youth events) had long been the butt of good-natured jokes in our circle of friends. In the time they’d known me, I had rarely shut up about Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness.
Without realizing the irony of it, Brent, Jon, and everyone else I knew in college would have placed me squarely in the “very Jewish” column. Yet, I am a patrilineal Jew, meaning my Jewish pedigree comes only from my father’s side. In the Orthodox understanding of Jewish legal tradition, only Jews-by-choice and the offspring of Jewish mothers are considered Jews. But there’s another detail complicating the issue: To be a Jew by birth, your mother must have already been a Jew herself at the time of your birth – and that’s where I ran into trouble: I was a little kid when my mother converted.
Already a regular at services and Sunday school, I remember beaming with pride when she came to the front of our congregation one Friday night for the public portion of her conversion, in which the convert is asked to quote the titular character of the biblical Book of Ruth: “Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God.”
I have learned and relearned many things while I spent the month of June teaching at the Abraham Geiger Kolleg in Berlin. I had never been to Germany before, but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t come as a tourist. So I accepted the invitation as a visiting professor so that I could explore Germany’s Jewish past and present—and help the community and its rabbinical students to shape a bright future.
One of the stories that was driven home for me once again was the story of the demonstration against the Nazis (the so-called Rosenstrasse protest) by spouses of other religious backgrounds of Jewish men who were imprisoned during the Fabrikaktion (Factory Action). It was the last round-up of men working in factories in February 1943. The action of these spouses led to the release of these men, almost all of whom survived the war and became the seeds of the Berlin Jewish community.
While I don’t like to mix the issues of Holocaust and intermarriage, for obvious reasons, in this case, it is necessary to do so. This is another example in which spouses of other religious backgrounds secured the future of the Jewish community—much in the same way as do the mothers in JOI’s own Mothers Circle program. Moreover, when these women of the Rosenstrasse protest died, there was a section reserved for them and for their spouses in the Berlin Jewish Community’s Weissensee Cemetery. No questions asked. No debate needed.
There are many lessons from history yet for us to learn.
Lest we think that only heterosexual couples have to work out issues around intermarriage, here is a Wedding Announcement from The New York Times of a gay couple with two adopted girls being raised as Jews by a stay-at-home Catholic dad.
They talked, exchanged numbers and went on their first date three weeks later. They went out four more times that week, the last of which to watch the Gay Pride parade. When a family with children walked by, Mr. Mulvaney, who was raised Roman Catholic and is one of 13 children, mentioned that he might like to have a family someday.
“As long as we raise them Jewish,” they both recall Mr. Kozuch replying with a smidgen of humor.
Intermarriage is not only prevalent in the homosexual community, it is almost a necessity. It’s hard enough to find someone compatible who is Jewish when you are straight, but being gay shrinks the marriage pool that much more. Of course if you live in New York City, the odds of meeting a nice Jewish gay boy or girl are greater, but when over half of all marriages in North America are intermarriages, it stands to reason that a good portion of gay marriages will be as well.
As someone who not only works with intermarried, but is also immersed in the Brooklyn Jewish community, I was extremely moved by the recent open letter to Hebrew Union College from Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu of Brooklyn, NY. Published in the Jewish Daily Forward, Rabbi Lippmann urges the seminary, of which she counts herself an alumna, to reconsider their policy of prohibiting admission to rabbinical school candidates in interfaith relationships. Lippmann has been in an interfaith, same-sex relationship for nearly thirty years, during which time she and her partner have raised a daughter in a Jewish home. While Lippmann’s partner feels that conversion is not the right choice for her, she still embraces Jewish traditions, including Shabbat and the counting of the Omer (ritual countdown of the days from Passover to Shavuot).
“We are like the thousands of Jews across America who commit to strongly Jewish lives with their non-Jewish spouses. Interfaith families tell me that having a rabbi who mirrors their relationships makes an enormous difference to being able to commit to Jewish life.”
As inspiring as it was to read such an eloquent and heartfelt expression of inclusion as a core Jewish value, I was extremely disheartened upon scrolling to the bottom of the page, where Rabbi Lippmann’s words were met with a litany of hateful responses. Most of the comments decry intermarriage as sacrilegious, and some even go so far as to denounce the Reform movement altogether as “not Jewish anyway.” What really got to me, though, was seeing the golden calf and even Hitler invoked with careless ignorance. All I kept thinking was, “this is not Jewish.”
We here at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) believe in unequivocally welcoming all Jews and their loved ones into the Jewish community. We know how difficult it can be for some couples to reconcile their different religious backgrounds with their love for each other. JOI has programs like The Mothers Circle, which is designed to support women of other backgrounds raise Jewish children, as well as others that help newcomers navigate the at-times murky waters of the Jewish community. But we shouldn’t make the assumption that every “interfaith” couple is going to have religious issues. Religion is an important question to discuss if it’s important to you, but we as a Jewish community have to recognize that it may simply not be that important to everyone.
I recently came across an op-ed entitled “Interfaith Marriage: A Mixed Blessing” by journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley. Schaefer Riley, who identifies as “a conservative Jew married to a former Jehovah’s Witness,” paints a decidedly tepid portrait of intermarriage, which she expands upon in an upcoming book. After describing the unintended consequences of interfaith marriage for both society and the individual, she writes that “remarkably, less than half of the interfaith couples in my survey said they’d discussed, before marrying, what faith they planned to raise their kids in.”
Alyssa Latala is JOI’s new Big Tent Judaism Coordinator in Chicago. She partners with the Chicago Jewish community to create and implement low barrier, welcoming programs that serve all those who might find interest and meaning in Jewish life regardless of affiliation or family structure. We are excited to add her voice to the JOI.org blog. Meet Alyssa here.
As is the case whenever one gets a new job, it’s exciting to share the new role with friends and family. In my case, as the newest Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) staff member, it has been an eye-opening experience that has inspired me further to do the work that we do.
The conversation that hit home for me the most took place with a friend who was unfamiliar with JOI. Upon learning about the mission and goals of the organization, she shared a story about a close friend who came to her for guidance after being rejected by a potential employer. The employer, a Jewish organization she had been connected to since childhood, told her she was unfit for the position because of her non-Jewish husband.
The largest challenge I face as a Jew dating someone of another religious background is navigating the relationship between my girlfriend and my family. Having her meet my parents and gain their approval seems like the main obstacle; however, it is only the first step in a long process. As an immigrant who was raised in an area with a large Russian-Jewish presence, when I refer to my family, I’m not just talking about my mom and dad. What I’m really talking about is the large community of people around me, which includes aunts; uncles; cousins; distant relatives which I call my aunts, uncles, and cousins; close friends of the family; their distant relatives, in-laws, and their distant relatives; and so on. If you have a big “family,” this can sometimes include up to a third of your local Russian-Jewish community.
Having gained the approval of my parents some time ago, my girlfriend, Camilla, was now ready to meet other members of my “family.” This can be rather intimidating under any circumstance, but coming into a community that can be very closed off to outsiders can make the task even more difficult. Not only would she have to impress them as a person, she would have to overcome possible prejudices, not being a Russian or a Jew.