Weblog Entries for May 2005

Unfortunate News from New Jersey

JOI was surprised to learn that one of the longest-standing interfaith outreach programs in the country is slated for elimination. As explained in this article from today’s Forward, “the 15-year-old Pathways Program, run by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey, could close as early as this summer.” As the article also points out, Pathways director Lynne Wolfe “was among seven people named by the Jewish Outreach Institute last year to the inaugural class of the Outreach Hall of Fame” (pictured, on the right, together with fellow Outreach Hall of Famer Rosanne Levitt after the induction ceremony).

JOI believes programs geared toward specifically helping interfaith families grapple with the issues are an important part of the complete programmatic offerings of any Jewish community. While our own outreach has focused more on finding unaffiliated and intermarried people and exciting them about Jewish life in general, our goal is to help them find (or help the community create) meaningful programs that speak to a wide range of interests. And for the percentage of newcomers who are looking for interfaith-specific programming, it’s a shame when we can’t make it available to them.

“Bar Mitzvah Madness”

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Perhaps it is the time of year but it seems like there is a bevy of articles about the bar and bat mitzvah hitting the press. And while most of them either note the sensational and some applaud those that are grounded in social action, few provide the balance that reflects the majority of bnai mitzvah ceremonies as this recent article in Slate. While it is true that more and more bar and bat mitzvah parties are over the top, such extravagance does not always eclipse the important emotional changes that take place in the bar or bat mitzvah candidate and his/her family as a result of the process. Moreover, if it is to be a rite of passage into adulthood, then we have to find ways of affirming that adulthood within the context of the post modern world where adulthood has been delayed significantly since the time in which such a passage made sense.

In JOI’s recent study about children of the intermarried, which is about to be released, we discovered that the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony was extremely important in the affirmation of their Jewish identity although many of them reported little contact with the organized Jewish community over a sustained period of time. If that is the case, then we will have to develop innovative ways of providing access to the bar/bat mitzvah ceremonies for these children if we want to help them affirm their Jewish identity.

Sneak Peak of JOI’s Latest Research

In early June, JOI will release the full findings of our most recent research, “The Dimensions and Determinants of Jewish Identity Among Young Adult Children of the Intermarried.” JOI Research Project Consultant Pearl Beck, Ph.D., led a team that conducted in-depth interviews with 90 young adults from intermarried households, to hear about their Jewish experiences while growing up, so that the Jewish community might learn how to reach and better serve a traditionally underserved segment of the Jewish population. Sue Fishkoff of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) wrote a preview of some of the findings, which you can read here. But watch this space…. Much more to follow!

Taking the Jewish Community to Where People ARE… This Sunday!

Coming this Sunday is the next event in JOI’s Tribooka: Jewish Book Brunches for Tykes and Toddlers. Every month, families with kids ranging in age from four to eight come together to listen to a story and create related arts and crafts. So far we’ve highlighted local Jewish writers and storytellers around themes of holidays, kindness to others, and the uniqueness of every individual. This time we’re throwing a birthday party for the State of Israel! The events are free and open to anyone who’s interested, whether you’re Jewish, married to someone Jewish or just interested in the program.

So if you’re in New York City this Sunday May 22, come join us at 10:30 am at Tribakery, 186 Franklin St. between Hudson and Greenwich. Call me, Melinda, at 212-760-1440 or email me at to let me know you’re coming!


A Nice Stereotype, But Still A Stereotype…

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The Jewish Week features a piece today on the latest “how to” book, “Boy Vey! The Shiksa’s Guide to Dating Jewish Men.” The title is fairly self-explanatory and the author, Kristina Grish, explains the allure as such:

…they’re the ultimate caretakers without a hint of machismo. They’re also generous and thoughtful thanks to a matriarchal culture that’s taught them to appreciate women’s strength, candor, humor and intelligence. And because Jewish men value professional drive, your mom can finally tell neighbors that you’re dating a doctor, lawyer or entrepreneur. And she’ll mean it this time.

As flattering as her depictions of Jewish men may be, we wonder how Grish’s depictions of interfaith relationships read to those who are actually in them. How does this article strike readers who have moved beyond the stereotypes and are in true-life committed interfaith relationships? We welcome comments from those of you who can speak from your own experiences.

Wonderful Reactions to the Mother’s Day Cards

There was a very nice article in the Boston Jewish Advocate about the Mother’s Day Card sent out on behalf of JOI’s The Mothers Circle Program.

We’ve also been pleased and excited by the positive feedback received via email. Here are some examples.

From Mothers:

  • I was really touched by the e-card that you sent out. I am proud that my son and husband are Jewish and am honored to raise my son in such a strong faith and culture. I feel that our family has been welcomed fully into the Jewish Community by your organization, Shalom Baby, Congregation Beth Israel, and the other outreach programs throughout San Diego. Thank you so much for your support. It does mean a great deal.
  • I was one, among many of the lucky moms today, who received this beautiful “Virtual Mother’s Day Card,” and felt very rewarded to receive such a special card. Thanks for your kindness. (New Hampshire)
  • I appreciate your card and am interested in your organization!
  • Thank you, this is a beautiful card that I am pleased to forward.


“Gentile” or “non-Jew”? Or neither?

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We were delighted that The Jerusalem Post picked up one of two JTA stories that emerged from JOI signature program The Mothers Circle, currently being piloted in Atlanta and slated to go national next year. This program helps provide free resources to a group of unsung heroes in our community: non-Jewish women raising Jewish children. But the title which the Post gave to the article—certainly not the one chosen by the reporter or by JOI—is “A Gentile Yiddishe Momma?” To us, this raises the language question once again. At JOI, we are always thinking about language—inclusive language. So we ask the question that is perhaps implicit by the title: Do you prefer the term “Gentile” over “non-Jew”? We don’t like either term and are searching for more inclusive alternatives. What do you think?


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Over the last two days JOI has emailed out thousands of very special “virtual” Mothers Day cards to our friends and supporters throughout North America, in order to THANK the huge numbers of women of other religious backgrounds who are raising Jewish children. If you didn’t get the card, you can see it here. (And if you got more than one, sorry!) The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, which is tremendously encouraging to all of us at JOI.

Recognizing, thanking, and serving the unsung heroes of the Jewish community is the idea behind our Mothers Circle program, which sponsored the Mothers Day card and offers free resources, education and events for moms from other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children.

The Jewish media has taken an interest in the program, which is currently piloting in Atlanta. This week we saw two nice pieces: an article in the Atlanta Jewish Times and one from Sue Fishkoff at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that was picked up by numerous papers, including the Baltimore Jewish Times, “Helping Non-Jews Raise Jewish Kids.” Ms. Fishkoff also wrote a related piece about the issue in general that includes a photo of some Mothers Circle participants.

We are thrilled about the excitement being generated by the pilot program and look forward to offering Mothers Circle programs in cities throughout North American in the very near future.

Seeing a Silver Lining?

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The usually conservative Jerusalem Post ran a fairly neutral piece on intermarriage last week, on the potentially positive effects of intermarriage on the number of people attending Passover seders. Uriel Heilman writes, “One little-noted consequence of the high intermarriage rate in the United States is that more non-Jewish Americans than ever are living with a Jew in their household.” Of course, he had to then add that it “may portend dire consequences for the numerical future of American Jewry,” but that it probably means that more Americans are celebrating Passover Seders then during any time in history. His conclusion even sounds downright positive:

It also means that it’s possible that the number of US Jews observing Pessah [Passover] in future years may rise, or at least hold steady. Because chances are that Jews reticent to go to a Seder will be asked to do so by a non-Jewish spouse, relative or friend interested in experiencing one. It’s not your typical tale of Jewish return, but it sounds better than an exodus from Judaism.”


The Larger Trend

For some in the Jewish community, it is very difficult to comprehend the rapid rise in Jewish intermarriage rates, from single-digits before 1960, to 30% in the 1970s, and approaching 50% in the 1990s to today. Sure, Jews are a special people…but in this regard (as in many others), they are also totally American. And intermarriage for every type of person in America has risen over the same period, between all religions (not just Judaism) as well as between ethnicities and races. A lot of it has to do with the Civil Rights that Jews were—perhaps ironically—so influential in winning.

A recent New York Times article with an appropriately Biblical headline—”When You Contain Multitudes“—discusses how this larger trend impacts on the children of interracial marriage. While Judaism is not mentioned, one of the young people featured in the piece is Jen Chau, whose mom is Jewish and dad is of Chinese heritage. We at JOI had the pleasure of working with Jen briefly when she was at the Jewish Multiracial Network. She is a remarkable activist, a co-director of and the executive director and founder of Swirl, a national non-profit organization that provides support to mixed race individuals. To us, she embodies the great potential among today’s generation of proud Jewish children of intermarried parents.


Bringing Latino Families “Home” To Judaism…
In Yonkers!

A recent New York Times article tells of an exciting young rabbi, Rigoberto Emanuel Viñas, who has revived a dying Conservative congregation in Yonkers, New York, through an emphasis on greater diversity and inclusion, as well as through a love of Jewish practice and spirituality. I had the pleasure of meeting Rabbi Viñas at this year’s Be’chol Lashon conference (which I blogged about here), and he explained his belief that there could be literally millions of people in the Latin-speaking world who trace their roots to Jewish ancestors and might be interested in learning more about their Jewish heritage and even returning to Judaism. In fact, Rabbi Viñas—who traces his roots through Cuba to Spain—has helped a number of such Latino families do so. The Times article explains:

The personal histories of the new Latino members are varied. Some are the children of Holocaust survivors who settled in Buenos Aires. Some are New York City-bred Puerto Ricans who married Jewish sweethearts. Others, like Ms. Rodriguez, believe their ancestors were among the Jews who were forced centuries ago to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. They are known as anusim, a Hebrew term that refers to Jews who forcibly converted. Rabbi Viñas welcomes them, too. Over the last decade, Rabbi Viñas has performed dozens of “ceremonies of return” for people who grew up in Roman Catholic homes watching their grandmothers perform rituals they believed were strange family customs, such as lighting candles on Friday nights.


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