Entries for Category: Intermarriage
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Sandra Armstrong is a special education preschool teacher and author who lives in Kailua, Hawaii. She recently published an autobiography, “A Jewish Girl & a Not-So-Jewish Boy,” about Judaism and her interfaith marriage.
With Christmas and Hanukkah around the corner, it made me think back 35 years to when my husband Don and I were newly married.
I called the local synagogue and spoke directly to the secretary. Since my married name was Armstrong, she did not mince words with me. She stated clearly that because my husband was not Jewish, we could not be members of the synagogue. Ouch! Obviously, it was not a pleasant phone conversation. She preempted the Rabbi, to whom I should have spoken to directly. I was young and hurt, but I didn’t let it stop us from attending High Holidays services or participating in the Young Couples Club. Long-standing members were gracious and welcoming to us. We fondly remember the warm glow of acceptance that was cast upon us by them. There is something very unique about Judaism. It seeps deep into your soul, and even if you were raised without a Jewish education, you maintain an ethnic identity. This is how it was for me.
We began our married lives celebrating Jewish holidays like Hanukkah and Passover. I always observed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because I didn’t know how to celebrate any others yet. We also celebrated Christmas and Easter for Don. We attended synagogue on the High Holidays and a church service once while visiting with Don’s Grandmother Armstrong in North Carolina. We did just fine with this arrangement. Don was raised with Christmas and Easter, and my family celebrated Hanukkah and Passover. I have to admit that I was not thrilled the first time we brought a Christmas tree home. I grew up believing that Jews were not allowed to celebrate Christmas. It was the big no-no.
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.
Most of America is returning to their normal routines now that the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is over. Some see this period of time as the beginning of the Christmas season (or should I say “Christmas shopping season” starting with the so-called Black Friday). The winter season, centered around the national holiday of Christmas, has been joined by Hanukkah as the national Jewish holiday, much to the chagrin of some in the Jewish community who try to minimize the holiday, among whom I do not consider myself.
Although Thanksgiving has its roots in the Biblical celebration of Sukkot, it has clearly evolved as one of the premier fully American holidays. While some may argue that Shavuot (which occurs in the spring) is the best example of an outreach holiday, since Ruth famously takes on Judaism when she says “Your people will be my people, your Gd will be my Gd,” for others it is Thanksgiving, since families don’t have to make any religious decisions (only with whom to spend Thanksgiving and that isn’t always easy). Nevertheless, there are many lessons learned during Thanksgiving that perhaps can inform the winter holiday season and the celebration of the holidays, which is often more difficult for some interfaith families.
Most people think that it is the conflict of holiday theology and observance that causes friction to surface during the winter solstice season. In reality, what usually happens is that folks who don’t see each other during the year are suddenly placed in constant contact, sometimes even under the same roof. And long unresolved issues bubble to the surface. Perhaps this doesn’t happen when friends and family get together for Thanksgiving because of the shared values in Thanksgiving.
I am not advocating for a syncretism between Christmas and Hanukkah nor a blending of tradition. Each holiday needs its separate identity and celebration—even if the place of importance for these holidays differs in their requisite faith tradition. But as Judaism enters the marketplace of ideas, perhaps there are some ideas and values that emerge from Hanukkah that would be of interest to others, irrespective of their faith tradition.
Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of religious freedom. It reflects the strength and fortitude of a small group of people dedicated to this idea, willing to place themselves in mortal danger in order to advocate for such freedoms, an idea that can transcend differences in traditions. How’s that for starters?
Every December, I eagerly awaited Hanukkah with my mom and my brother. Lighting my great-grandmother’s menorah and together reciting the beautiful prayer whose words I carefully sounded out without knowing their meaning made me feel special. As the daughter of intermarried, non-religious parents growing up in small desert towns in the Southwest, I had little exposure to Judaism. I always knew that I was Jewish, but I had no idea what “being Jewish” meant. Our annual candle lighting gave me only a shadow of what I was grasping for—a fleeting sense of connection to a rich tradition and community.
It was not until college that I had the chance to grapple with what Judaism holds for me and craft a meaningful Jewish identity for myself. A few months into my freshman year, I tagged along with an acquaintance to Shabbat services at the campus Hillel. There, I found a warm and vibrant community of wonderful people to which I was immediately drawn. But though I desperately wanted to belong, I felt like kind of an imposter. After all, it seemed like everyone else had gone to Jewish summer camp; they knew what all those Hebrew words meant (even in transliteration, I was still lost); they had family stories of Bat Mitzvahs and Jewish grandmothers and hamantaschen (delicious triangular cookies made for the holiday of Purim); and I had none. How could I ever find my place in this community?
My own preconceived notions and others’ friendly assumptions proved major inhibitions. Inexplicably though, I kept returning each Friday night for services, sitting there silently, trying to fit in and follow along. I eventually realized that the homogeneity of “Super Jews” was a mirage, and people came from all sorts of backgrounds. The tent was bigger and more varied than I thought it was, but it took a long journey to find my place in it—even a big tent can have intimidating flaps.
I have just read with interest the latest report about the impact of Birthright Israel. This celebrated 10-day Israel immersion program proves once again that its impact on participants is robust and–the point of this latest report–long-lasting. Even a decade after participating in the trip, participants show greater Jewish engagement on a wide range of measures (compared to similar kids who applied to the program but never got to go)–from feeling connected to Israel, to celebrating Jewish holidays, to synagogue membership. But the focus of this report seems to be the finding that:
Taglit alumni inmarry at rates greater than would be expected based on socio-demographic research, and at significantly greater rates than others who did not participate. (Page 30)
More precisely, Birthright participants are 45% more likely than nonparticipants to marry other Jews.
That this should be highlighted as the study’s most important finding is disappointing. Intermarriage by itself should not be seen as an ultimate ill plaguing the Jewish community, disengagement should. We know that, from a sociological standpoint, intermarried households who are Jewishly engaged look very similar to inmarried households; and additionally, unengaged Jewish households look very similar as well, regardless of whether both spouses are Jewish or only one.
I would like, instead, to highlight a different finding of this same report:
“Taglit participants and nonparticipants who are intermarried are equally likely to be raising their oldest child Jewish.” (Page 24)
As The Mothers Circle continues to provide education and support to women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children across North America, we are excited to announce that our reach has extended even further!
Kit Haspel is a veteran Mothers Circle facilitator in Rhode Island, where she will soon begin her fifth circle. Kit recently traveled to Poland on behalf of the Jewish Alliance of Rhode Island to facilitate a workshop at Limmud Keshet, a conference of Jewish learning. The Jewish community in Poland was decimated after the Holocaust and by the influence of communism, and continues to feel many of those effects even today. However, as she reports in this article in the Jewish Voice & Herald, Jewish life has begun to reemerge in the past 15 or so years. The Limmud Poland conference presented a unique opportunity to support this renewal in Jewish engagement, particularly amongst young Polish adults who were born into a free society and are seeking to learn more about their Jewish heritage.
Kit based much of her presentation, “Embracing Jewish Ritual,” on The Mothers Circle curriculum. With many Polish attendees only recently finding out they are Jewish (or only recently feeling free to express their Judaism), she focused much of the learning on starting small, as she incorporated topics like Shabbat and tzedakah (righteous giving). She hopes that participants not only learned more about Jewish life, but about how to transmit that enthusiasm to others.
We are truly honored that our curriculum could be a part of such an important educational opportunity for Jewish life abroad. I have felt Kit’s passion for Jewish learning since I first spoke with her, and we are so fortunate to have such a fantastic ambassador for The Mothers Circle!
This weekend is going to be a first for me – my first time attending the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly. When I first started working in the Jewish world and heard about the GA, I thought my colleagues were going to the United Nations. And in a sense, they were. The Federated world encompasses so much of the Jewish communal world that it represents a vast diversity of North American Judaism. Scratch the surface of many Jewish institutions in any city and you’ll find a Jewish Federation.
We are pleased to co-lead a session titled, “Engaging Interfaith Families: Programs and tactics for increased community involvement.” Intermarried couples and the children and grandchildren of intermarriage represent a large segment of our community, and have often felt marginalized. This interactive session will allow staff and volunteer leaders from Federations and other Jewish organizations to explore the needs and challenges facing intermarried families, and discuss successful programs that increase their level of participation in the Jewish community.
If you are going to be at the GA in Baltimore this weekend, please join us for what should be a very engaging program. Be prepared to share your opinions, and leave with tools and resources.
And unlike the GA at the UN, IMHO u dnt hve 2 wr a trad costume.
Not sure what that says? Look for our Big Tent in the Marketplace (#711) and find out why using in-speak and acronyms excludes people. See you there! Do you think they’ll give me a first-timers badge?
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.
I just returned from the International Lion of Judah Conference, celebrating women’s philanthropy as part of the Jewish Federation system. I spoke to 150 women who are concerned about how intermarriage affects their family and their community. We talked about many things, including how to effectively grandparent grandchildren who are being raised in intermarried homes and how to make the community more welcoming. But clearly what they wanted to hear was what to say when your adult children “brings home” someone from another faith background and introduces that person as their intended life partner. To me, the only thing to say is “welcome,” for in that nanosecond you determine what your future relationship will be with your adult children, his/her partner, and their future children. Here is a list of items regarding what else I had to say on the subject. (Click on the image to download the PDF list.)
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.
With a great deal of anticipation, I read the recent publication of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, which focused on a study of select practices concerning intermarried families in Conservative congregations. I was hoping that the work being done by the FJMC and JOI and others in the field had indeed made an impact—opening wider the doors of Conservative synagogues to intermarried couples and their families. This study of 100 random congregations, according to its author Rabbi Charles Simon, yielded some interesting results about Torah honors, in particular. It states that 79% of those surveyed allow non-Jewish partners to stand with their Jewish partners on the bimah (the raised platform in the front of the sanctuary), specifically during bar/bat mitvah family celebrations. However, among some of the congregations who do not permit this arrangement during bar/bat mitzvah, they do permit it during baby namings.
While this study may not be indicative of the entire Conservative movement (we will need to at least use the “reality test” to see whether indeed it reflects a larger group of synagogues), it does seem that change is afoot in the Conservative movement as it pertains to a welcoming attitude and practice for interfaith families. This is indeed a welcome change.
To view the publication, please click here.
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.
Choosing to live your life by your own choice is the greatest freedom you will ever have.
– Shad Helmstetter.
About six months ago (post-Passover/Easter observance), I was sitting at the beach talking to my stepdaughter Kyla and her fiancé Sarah about their wedding. We had a good laugh looking at bizarre wedding cakes and thinking about some of the crazier things that people do at their weddings. While it was clear what Kyla and Sarah didn’t like, it was also clear what they wanted their “party” to be like. But what was a lot less clear was what they were expecting (if anything) of their ceremony.
They knew they wanted it to be special, but they weren’t sure how to begin. So we researched wedding ceremonies. My own ceremony was unusual. Robert and I were married on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death, and because of our commitment to social justice and equality we had a dear friend read Dr King’s inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech. Another friend read the “Apache Wedding Prayer” – just because we liked it. Oh, and I had 17 attendants—but I let them all wear whatever outfit they wanted as long as it was black. We’re New Yorkers.
My mom thought the ceremony should be as brief as possible—the party, especially the flowers, may have been more important to her. So I gave her full flower approval while Robert and I planned the ceremony. It was important to us that we share a meaningful, public ritual in front of and with the community of family and friends who would be by our sides in the blessings and trials to come in a long marriage. We would rely on their counsel and love to see us through, as we believed that the witnesses to a marriage are as responsible as the couple to do whatever they can to ensure the marriage thrives. This makes the guest list really important.
Our circle has widened! This summer The Mothers Circle has debuted two new programs, High Holiday Highlights: A Holiday Prep Class and The Mothers Circle Self-Guide, both of which create avenues for mothers of other religious backgrounds to learn and feel empowered by their decision to raise Jewish children.
High Holiday Highlights will be hosted by 17 different organizations across North America, 13 of which will be offering Mothers Circle programs for the first time. Locations include classes in San Francisco, CA, Greensboro, NC, and Scranton, PA. In each of these communities, participants will be learning the “how-tos” and valuable conversation-starters to help them share the meaningful experience of honoring the High Holidays with their families. With class activities ranging from learning to recite the Rosh Hashanah blessings to listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire?” (a comparison to the Rosh Hashanah prayer, “Unetanah Tokef”), High Holiday Highlights will be helping participants of all learning styles understand how both individuals and the community as a whole experience the High Holiday period in the synagogue and in the home.
Additionally, we are now proud to offer The Mothers Circle Self-Guide, a practical tool to accompany the book How to Raise Jewish Children…Even When You’re Not Jewish Yourself by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Paul Golin. Those who use the Self-Guide will be able to reflect on the stories, recommendations, and questions posed in How to Raise Jewish Children…, as well as further articulate their goals and determine the choices they will make as they raise their Jewish children. By creating an introspective guide that a mother can work through alone at any given time, JOI hopes to serve more mothers who, whether due to geography or other commitments, may have previously felt alone in the venture to raise Jewish children.
For more information regarding these programs, visit MothersCircle.org or feel free to be in contact with Hannah Morris here.
I nervously asked my stepdaughter, Kyla, if she and her fiancé, Sarah, would be having any religious rituals in their wedding. Why “nervously”? Because the only other time I brought up religion, there seemed to be some discord and I didn’t want to add any angst. I knew they were being married by a female Muslim friend who became a minister for the occasion. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t know about circling and the seven blessings, but I didn’t want to push anything on them.
When my mom asked what she could give the brides, I suggested a Ketubah (a non-binding Jewish wedding contract). My mother had given Kyla’s dad and me our beautiful Ketubah – which actually Kyla and her sister, my husband’s other daughter, Arielle, signed as “junior witnesses.” As has become common practice, the ketubah is a piece of art now framed and hanging on our wall. Robert and I don’t know what it says – though he can read the Hebrew and I cannot – but we know what it means. It is a contract of commitment.
I hadn’t asked about a Ketubah, but I thought it was benign enough that they would accept the gift. Why did I need a benign gift? Because I was afraid to bring up the religion issue. However, Kyla and Sarah wanted one, so I went to the store in Los Angeles (http://www.galleryjudaica.com) where my mom had purchased ours 19 years ago. The staff were very excited that they had their first second generation wedding ever.
When my stepdaughter and her fiancé announced their engagement, there was much joy. In fact, there was double joy. There were two rings to design; two families to meet and merge; two religions to incorporate; and two wedding dresses to purchase. There were two brides - one was Jewish and one was not.
Responses to the announcement were varied. Everyone loved both Kyla and Sarah, but looking at a situation for decades in one way made it hard for some of our now extended family to get their arms around this new paradigm. Some relatives and friends were happy they found each other, but not so happy about them getting married – citing their belief that marriage was between a man and a woman. Interestingly, not one person questioned that Kyla, raised in a household with a grandmother who was a holocaust survivor, chose a non-Jewish spouse. I wonder if it would have been different had her grandparents still been with us. I also wonder if that is an unintended consequence of gay marriage – just as the marriage pool narrows for women as they age (just get married already!), does the marriage pool narrow for Jewish lesbians? (I also wonder if Kyla and Sarah will be horrified to read this, but I digress.)
The recent New York Jewish Community Study can be (and has been) parsed from various angles (here, here, and here, for example). It turns out that while the Jewish population of the NYC metropolitan area (including Long Island and Westchester County) has grown slightly over the past decade, it has also become increasingly dichotomized. Rather than the familiar denominational spectrum, most New York Jews today fall either among the growing (and increasingly poorer) Ultra Orthodox, or among those (also growing in numbers) who are not affiliated with institutional Judaism.
In the rush to debate the significance and implications of this study, one finding is worth looking at more closely. Of those Jews surveyed, fully “12% […] consider themselves ‘partially Jewish.’” And this number, too, is on the rise.
Rising numbers of people report unconventional identity configurations. They may consider themselves “partially Jewish,” or may identify as Jews even while identifying with Christianity or another non-Jewish religion (many more do so now than who so reported in 2002). Of such people with unconventional configurations, 70% have a non-Jewish parent (or two).
Now, what are the implications and significance of this finding to the future of the American Jewish community?
When I joined JOI a couple of weeks ago, it was with the hope of using my research skills to help sustain the research-focused aspect of JOI’s work, both in terms of documenting our successes, and in terms of helping us think about ways to grow going forward. I fully believe in the power of research to help the American Jewish community be the best that it can be. Like many at JOI, I believe that interfaith couples are the largest untapped resource for the Jewish community; pushing them away just makes no sense. But I also think that the growing population of interfaith couples and their children challenges the more mainstream Jewish community to think harder about what it means to be an interfaith person.
For the past two and a half years, I have worked for the Jewish Outreach Institute helping to provide Jewish professionals with the tools they need to build a more welcoming and inclusive Jewish community. After a semester-long internship helping to evaluate our Public Space Judaism initiatives, I accepted a position as Program Associate, training Jewish professionals all over North America in bringing resources and support to all those who may wish to enter the tent of the Jewish community, including less-engaged Jews, Jews by choice, Jews of color, Jews with special needs, and the group I worked with the most, interfaith families. I have spoken to countless professionals and volunteer leaders, assisting them in bringing programs like The Mothers Circle and The Grandparents Circle into their communities. However, my time doing this work is coming to an end. In less than two months, I will begin my rabbinic training at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. While I am very excited to take this next step professionally, I will miss the work that I am doing here.
The Jewish Outreach Institute’s work carries a deep personal meaning for me. As a patrilineal Jew, my family has struggled with finding meaning and acceptance in the Jewish community. I took this job partly out of a sense of personal responsibility, in order to help families like mine find the acceptance and support that would lead them to deeper involvement in Judaism.
I leave JOI tremendously optimistic that the Jewish community is headed toward ever more inclusion and support. In my time as Mothers Circle and Grandparents Circle National Coordinator, I have heard firsthand the tremendous impact our programs have on families. We have helped parents bring Shabbat into their homes for the first time. We have helped grandparents communicate about religion with their adult children with confidence and respect. And all of this is leading to rich and engaging Jewish upbringings for thousands of children from interfaith homes across North America.
I grew up around boxing– not your average Northeastern Jewish upbringing, I admit, but my dad has had a passion for the sport forever, and so naturally, I have been raised with an appreciation for the sport as well, especially when it comes to Muhammad Ali. Ever since my dad was 14, he has idolized the charismatic boxer, writing a book about him, and even turning our basement into an Ali museum (I kid you not, he’d be happy to show it to you). So, my ears always perk up when I hear some news about Muhammad Ali, as was the case a few weeks ago when I came across an article from Be’chol Lashon, a non-profit organization celebrating the racial and ethnic diversity of Jews, about how one of Ali’s grandson’s was recently Bar Mitzvah’d.
Muhammad Ali’s family now includes three religions: his mother was Baptist, he is (and raised his family) Muslim, and one of his daughters, Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer, married a Jew. Khaliah’s son Jacob decided on his own to be Bar Mitzvah’d, saying that he felt a connection to Judaism, and both Khaliah and her father supported Jacob’s desire to be Bar Mitzvah’d.
Ali’s family is a wonderful representation of the current diversity of the Jewish community, and of its willingness to accept people from all backgrounds and faiths; and Ali himself has been an amazing voice for inclusion. While Ali is best known for some of the greatest fights in boxing history (The Rumble in the Jungle, the Thrilla’ in Manila), Muhammad Ali instilled values of welcoming and peace in all of his children. Despite his poor health (Ali has Parkinson’s), he did attend his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah, and followed along with the service as best he could. It’s just one more reason to look up to the Greatest of All Time. (at left, my Dad with Muhammad Ali and trainer Angelo Dundee at Ali’s 70th birthday celebration)
A few weeks ago I had the honor and privilege of presenting at Colloquium 2012: “Half Jewish?” The Heirs of Intermarriage, a program of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. The video of my presentation and the Q&A that followed can be viewed in its entirety here (as a .MOV file) and is covered in this article.
The conference was an excellent experience on a number of levels. First, the organizers—particularly Rabbi Adam Chalom—invited a slate of highly thoughtful presenters and panelists, from both within and beyond their own movement. Secondly, they utilized an interesting format whereby each presenter would offer a frontal presentation followed by questioning from a panel, then rotate to the panel for the other presentations, so that all presenters were given the opportunity to weigh in on each presentation throughout the course of the weekend.
But most importantly, it was an excellent experience because it was one of the first national conferences to directly address a hugely important topic, the children of intermarriage. During my presentation, I tried to convey what we at JOI have heard from young-adult children of intermarriage. But we as a community have much more listening and learning to do. It would benefit many other movements, organizations, and communities to replicate the kind of conversation hosted by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, to find ways to better engage and serve a population that is essential to the future of American Jewry, and which is already the majority of Jews under age 25.