Entries for Category: Inclusive Judaism
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A recent article from Tablet caught my attention because I am constantly surprised by how much personal baggage many Jews bring to Judaism. As a Jewish summer camp Jew and Youth Group Jew, I didn’t have a lot of the experiences that have turned people away from the organized Jewish community. The article talks about Wilderness Torah – an environmental Jewish group that focuses celebrations on four holidays: Sukkot, Passover, Shavuot, and Tu B’shevat, and on connecting back to nature through a Jewish lens. With the exception of Passover, I think most American Jews might have a hard time finding any scarring negative experiences with these holidays, as many of us didn’t even grow up celebrating them except, perhaps, in Hebrew school.
Julie Wolk, an environmental and community organizer who is founding co-director of Wilderness Torah says, “I am not unique. There are tons of Jews looking for ways to connect in alignment with their values.” This is a very important statement for the future of the Jewish community. We need to provide opportunities (often outside the walls of our current institutions) that show each other there is value in Jewish life, and sometimes that means staying away from activities that might trigger negative memories. Those negative memories are unfortunately often within the walls of the institutions we were raised in, and we need to offer other options. And sometimes, it may not be the negative experience keeping people away, but rather that they have just found meaning somewhere else—like in nature.
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.
It has become popular in the engaged core of the Jewish community to look down on Hanukkah. It is an unimportant holiday, some say. Others say that celebrating Hanukkah in a big way compromises Jewish values, worrying that it is emphasized only because of its proximity to Christmas. We beg to differ. There is nothing wrong with fun holidays like Hanukkah and Purim. In fact, they’re a great opportunity to engage those who have become bored with or alienated from Jewish life.
The “unimportant” holiday of Hanukkah has a lot going on, something for everyone: Inspiring miracles, military campaigns, a controversial revolt, the fight against assimilation, a connection to other cultures’ winter light festivals – not to mention delectable fried foods and fun parties and games. On top of that, its wide popularity (regardless of whether its popularity stems from the proximity to and association with Christmas) make it a perfect gateway holiday: Less engaged Jews and their families may already be thinking more about their Jewish background at this time of year because of Hanukkah’s high name recognition in the broader culture. Instead of sneering at Hanukkah, we should embrace it as a chance to meet less engaged Jews and help them become more involved in the Jewish community.
To that end, we have created this list of Eight Values for Building an Inclusive Jewish Community on Hanukkah. We hope this list will help you see Hanukkah for the important outreach opportunity that it is – and the deeply meaningful holiday that it can be.
- Warmth: Share the friendly warmth of the Jewish community as the weather turns colder.
- Light: No matter how you got here, no matter what road you took, the light will illuminate your way to the Jewish community.
- Faith: Many cultures have a winter light festivals of light, making this a great holiday to share with others from different backgrounds.
- Communal Memory: See yourself as part of the collective story of the Jewish people, see how it unfolds in the story of Hanukkah, and claim it as your own.
- Rededication: There is a place for you in the Jewish community no matter how long you’ve been away or even if you’ve never been a part of it before.
- Reconciliation: Leave behind internal conflict within the Jewish community as your community celebrates Hanukkah.
- Accessibility: Make sure that all are not only welcome to celebrate, but able to celebrate as well.
- Renewal: Adapt old Hanukkah traditions so that they continue to live and have meaning in your life.
Written by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and David A.M. Wilensky. Published in the New Jersey Jewish Standard Friday, November 21, 2013.
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.
Parents and doting relatives of young children, take note: a new collection of Jewish stories has arrived just in time for Hanukkah. The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales by Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand transforms rich Jewish tradition into accessible stories for a new generation of children ages four and above.
Stories like “The Prince Who Thought He Was a Rooster” and “Clever Rachel” are gorgeously illustrated by Amanda Hall and feature a more gender-balanced representation of role models than Jewish tradition can sometimes provide. As a trained outreach professional and an experienced babysitter, I also appreciate the glossary of signs and symbols in the last pages of the book; while explanations are offered throughout, they are rather vague and too subtle for younger readers.
The tales collected here convey Jewish values—compassion for others, being clever and kind, the importance of human choice—that every family will find worthwhile.
Read the New York Times review 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 .
Today’s guest blog is from Laurie Rappeport. Laurie made aliyah (moved to Israel) from Detroit in 1983. She is the mother of five and lives in Safed, a Northern Israeli town. She teaches for JETS, the Jerusalem EdTech Solutions group, which facilitates a wide range of Jewish online educational opportunities, including the JconnecT Online Hebrew School program.
According to recent surveys approximately 50% of American Jewish families send their children to an afternoon Jewish enrichment program.
It’s clear that congregational complementary schools are not for everyone. Some kids live in rural areas in which they don’t have access to a synagogue or temple school. Others don’t integrate well into an available Hebrew school framework. Day school students whose education took them through the 5th or 6th grade often look for high quality post-day-school learning options while other kids, with no Jewish learning background, want to explore Judaism in a way that allows them to comfortably step into a structure in which they’ll feel comfortable as beginners.
I often think about how significant social trends in American culture affect the Jewish community. Some argue that Judaism, by definition, is and should continue to be counter-cultural. Of course, such a position is only relevant when those trends are perceived to be out of sync with the evolution of Judaism and the Jewish community. There is one trend, however, that I think requires deep exploration. It is particularly important because, unlike many trends today that might be described as micro trends, this is certain to be a mega trend. This trend is what I call “radical disclosure,” the notion that there are no limits to personal disclosure, fostered perhaps by the ubiquitous nature of social media. That is why there are those who are motivated to share anything and everything about their personal lives on sites like Facebook and Twitter. In turn, these sites unwittingly turn the rest of us into voyeurs, hungry for every bit of personal information. Now we can know just about anything about anybody—because they have told us.
Admittedly, some of these issues may emerge as a result of a generational divide. It is like calling something a virtual relationship because it is being nurtured on-line. I may call it virtual; someone younger may scoff at the application of the adjective “virtual.” It is real, nothing virtual about it at all, from someone else’s perspective.
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.
It is impossible to work as a Jewish communal professional and not have heard the words “Pew Report” in the last few weeks. The Jewish Future has long been a popular topic of conversation within Jewish institutions—the only difference is that we are now armed with new numbers about Jewish demography and population growth. Now it appears that all we can do is hunker down and wait to see how institutions choose to respond to this data.
While it has been interesting to read the plethora of responses that have been published within the Jewish community, I am much more intrigued about the programmatic changes that will take place in the Pew aftermath. What are Jewish communal institutions going to do to engage people? And how will they reach them?
Although it did not analyze the report, I found this JTA article about the recent USCJ (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the institutional body for the Conservative movement) centennial convention particularly interesting. I grew up very active in the Conservative movement, and while some of my beliefs have evolved over the years, I still identify as a Conservative Jew. The movement has been talking about the need for change for years—I remember when I was at a USY (United Synagogue Youth, the Conservative movement’s youth group) convention in high school, I watched a performance about “The Last Jew,” about the idea that the Conservative movement is dying. This trope has been constant, to the point where it no longer elicits a reaction from me.
Rabbi Amy Memis-Folder is the rabbi of Temple Judea Mizpah in Skokie, IL and is also a Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliate. below is an excerpt from her “erev Rosh Hashanah” (the first night of Rosh Hashanah) sermon, in which she discusses the importance of being a Big Tent Judaism community and synagogue with her congregation. Photo credit: Michael Jarecki for Sun-Times Media
Speaking of marking milestone years, this year Temple Judea Mizpah (TJM) is celebrating our 60th year. Through the coming months we will be marking this milestone with a variety of simchas [festive occasions], such as a ribbon cutting for our new archives, a gala evening and monthly blessings on the bima [raised platform from which the Torah is read] for every group in the congregation. Keep posted to hear how you can participate and how we’re honoring you.
Temple Judea Mizpah too needs to grow. How?
Do we want to grow the population of people in the congregation and get more members? Well yes, but there are other ways to grow too.
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.
Yesterday, my 19-year-old son and I had this textversation:
Son: What would you and the family say if I was dating a black girl?
Me: Is she nice?
Son: She seems like a sweetheart so far.
Me: That’s the most important thing!
Of course there are many other important aspects to building good relationships, but starting out with two people who are nice to each other isn’t a bad place to begin.
Now let’s get to the real issue: racism. If a Christian parent said to his or her child, “Don’t marry that Jew!” it would be considered racist, and the speaker would be considered a bigot. A bigot is someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats other people with fear, distrust, hatred, contempt, or intolerance on the basis of a person’s ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics (Wikipedia). Wouldn’t I, then, be considered a bigot if I said, “Don’t marry that Christian!” or “Don’t marry that black girl!” But I don’t think I’m a bigot, am I?
Not knowing Hebrew was, and continues to be, one of my biggest barriers to Jewish life. Having grown up far outside of the organized Jewish community, my Hebrew education has been quite varied, sporadic, and only over the last couple years. The Jewish communities to which I am drawn, though, are often more traditionally religious in nature and do rely on a lot of Hebrew.
I found my first path into Judaism through non-denominational Friday night Shabbat services on my college campus. The prayers, even in transliteration, were completely foreign to me. Yet the comfort and sense of community—even a community in which I felt lost and unsure if I belonged—compelled me to return each week until I could mumble and even sing along with words I had memorized but still didn’t know.
Even after spending one summer in a Hebrew immersion language program, and another studying Jewish texts at an egalitarian yeshiva (place of intense Jewish study and worship), and another spring in an adult Hebrew class at a Jewish Community Center, my Hebrew is hesitant and halting. I declined the honor of doing an Aliyah (saying a blessing over the Torah), because I am embarrassed about my lack of fluency. I hesitate to say Kiddush, the Friday night blessing over wine, in front of all but a few people close to me (one of those I am comfortable in front of is my Catholic boyfriend). Certain Hebrew prayer services move impossibly fast for me to keep up, even when I read along in English.
As September winds down this weekend, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) will be out and about in two locations bringing a taste of the fall Jewish holidays to passersby at two great events. JOI’s newest Public Space Judaism program for the High Holidays will give people the chance to not only learn a bit about the holiday, but also make connections in their local Jewish community, enabling them to find programs and events of meaning to them.
A Spoonful of Honey: Rosh Hashanah Gourmet Honey Tasting, JOI’s latest Public Space Judaism program, takes advantage of the myriad fall festivals happening around the country this time of year, as well as of the delicious tradition of eating apples and honey to celebrate the Jewish new year. Participants are offered a sample of several different flavors of honey, along with information on upcoming events in their local Jewish community. This weekend, JO’s Big Tent Judaism Coordinator in Chicago and Big Tent Judaism Concierge in Middlesex County, NJ will be at two large festivals reaching out to their respective communities through this exciting program.
So stop by, say hello, and check out the JOI team in action!
Long Grove, IL
Long Grove Apple Festival
September 27, 28, and 29, 2013
Alyssa Latala, Big Tent Judaism Coordinator for Chicago, and Amanda Kaletsky, Communications Manager, will be offering passersby a free taste of apples and honey from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM each day at the 21st annual Long Grove Apple Festival.
There will also be fun fall activities for children, and an opportunity to chat with Alyssa about other exciting events coming up in the Chicago Jewish community.
All are welcome. $5 per person (children 12 and under are free). For more information, please click here.
New Brunswick, NJ
Raritan River Festival
September 29, 2013
Caren Heller, Big Tent Judaism Concierge for Middlesex County, NJ, along with other JOI staff, will be offering a taste of honey at the Raritan River Festival along with other JOI staff. The Raritan River Festival takes place in Boyd Park from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Now in its 33rd year, the festival includes boat races, raft races, and music entertainment. This is a perfect opportunity to experience a unique festival and get to know Caren so that she can help you find a place in the Middlesex County Jewish community.
All are welcome. FREE Admission. For more information, please click here.
We hope to see you this weekend!
Admittedly, the building of a sukkah is what I usually call a high barrier ritual experience. Even with the growth of prefabricated sukkot (the plural of sukkah), and a growing number of people who install them, it is still a relatively small percentage of people who actually build sukkot in their backyards. As a result, most sukkot are limited to synagogue yards, some kosher restaurants, and, of course, the infamous Chabad sukkah-mobile, which is driven through major cities offering people the opportunity to step inside.
Over the past few years, we have seen some sukkot in public spaces such as Reboot’s “Sukkah in the City” project held in New York City’s Union Square last year. (This has recently been issued as a film, just in time for Sukkot.) Although this holiday epitomizes the Jewish value of “welcoming guests,” fewer people are invited into sukkot than invited around the Passover seder table, for example. Thus, I am proposing that we bring back the notion of Sukkot as a “pop-up” experience and actually install temporary sukkot—even more temporary than the festival itself, which lasts eight days—in public spaces for all to enjoy. At Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI), we advocate a theoretical construct called Public Space Judaism, actually taking Judaism outside—from the four walls of community institutions—to public spaces so that people can “stumble over Judaism,” as I am want to say.
I recently sat in an audience of several hundred people in a Broadway theater to watch the life story of a modern rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach. The show was called Soul Doctor. This is the second theater production that I have seen on his life, but it is the first one to have made it to Broadway. This reinforces the notion that I and others have been speaking and writing about lately: Judaism has entered the marketplace of ideas. While there were many Jews in the audience (socially visible because of those of us who keep our heads covered), there were clearly many people who had absolutely no connection to the Jewish community and were simply interested in the life of a man, a rabbi, whose influence on contemporary Jewish music and prayer is unparalleled. For me, this is what is most important about the show. Like Carlebach’s music, his teachings have found their way into many faith communities.
I met Carlebach for the first time in 1971. I was in Israel for the year and he played to a small group of us, maybe thirty people, gathered at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was intimate and uplifting, and I became immediately attracted to his music and his gentle soul at that moment. A special charisma oozed from his soul.