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Look Out, Wikipedia!

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Look out Wikipedia, an updated Encyclopaedia Judaica will be released soon, according to a recent article in JTA. It has been 30 years since the last edition, and needless to say, a lot has happened in the Jewish world since then. The new edition contains many more entries about Jewish women (not because they weren’t around before the 70’s, but because our culture has shifted its tradition of leaving women out of the “of significance” canon) as well as new spins on old entries, such as the recent popularity of Kabbalah. There is even an entry on JOI’s very own Kerry Olitzky!

The price tag? $1995 (for the print version; an e-version is also available). And while the “smell of leather and all that stuff” is compelling and all, wouldn’t it be great if they offered a free CD Rom and spread the wealth of knowledge to everyone who wants to learn? Perhaps it would even be financially beneficial to them in the end, inspiring people to purchase the hard copy. Cost is a major barrier, especially for those not yet engaged with Jewish life—for any Jewish educational program, let alone one that costs thousands—and if we want Judaism to be accessible, we need to reveal its worth before demanding an entry token.



Can Secular Jewish Identity Survive the Generations?

Yesterday I served on a panel to discuss the new play by Robert Brustein called “Spring Forward, Fall Back” premiering at “Theater J,” a department of the D.C. Jewish Community Center. The story follows four generations of a Jewish family from 1945 to the present that meets with tragedy and challenge in each generation. A key element of the play is their journey from having a strongly-identified yet totally secular Jewish identity, to an intermarried couple, to ultimately a baptized Christian. Because of this theme, the panel discussion was titled “Assimilation Fears — Are the Problems and Answers So Simple?”

I read the script on the train down to Washington and felt the themes were delivered a little heavy-handedly, though once I saw the actual play I thought they pulled it off nicely (the Washington Post, however, seems to disagree). One of the first things I pointed out after the performance was that while this play is indeed a great launching point for a discussion of assimilation and intermarriage, the family portrayed can in no way be considered representative of Jewish and intermarried families in general (they were dealing with additional issues like drug abuse, alcoholism, and teenage pregnancy). One of my co-panelists Rabbi Toby Manewith correctly noted that it’s wrong to use “assimilation” and “intermarriage” synonymously, as intermarried households run the gamut of Jewish identity, and my other co-panelist Julia Andrews was living proof of that, as she is both the product of intermarriage and intermarried herself yet raised strongly-identified Jewish children.

Still, the play presents important themes. By the time we meet the family in 1945, they have already shed the religious aspects of Judaism but identify strongly as secular Jews. However, by not actually doing anything Jewish, they fail to pass their Jewish identity on to the next generation. I believe that “secular” is too vague a word to fully describe all non-religious Jewish families. In this case, “secular” was almost synonymous to “completely assimilated.” In many other families, however, secular Jewish identity includes active involvement in Jewish life, both within the family and communally. I know from my own family experience that strong cultural involvement in Jewish life can indeed sustain Jewish identity through the generations. The key is to actually do Jewish, not just talk about it.



Patrilineal Progress

I was delighted to read my colleague Rabbi Marmur’s comments in an article in the Canadian Jewish News (October 26, 2006) regarding his change in position on patrilineal descent. I have supported the notion of patrilineal descent since it became a cause celebre of the Reform movement 25 years ago. Perhaps where its leaders erred was in linking it to an increase in interfaith marriage. Instead, patrilineal descent could have and should have emerged out of the Reform movement’s commitment to equality—across the board. If men and women are equal, then Jewish identity and descent should be egalitarian.

As you know, a lot of time has passed since the Reform movement’s initial decision. What is certainly clear is that while the intermarriage rate may have stabilized in the United States but it is certainly increasing in Canada. And the total number of intermarried families is increasing as a result. The Jewish future depends on how well we welcome them into our community. That’s why our work at the Jewish Outreach Institute is about making sure that as many of those families as possible raise Jewish children and that the community is open and supportive to those families raising Jewish children. That is precisely why we have developed The Mothers Circle as one of our signature programs—designed for women of other religious backgrounds raising their children as Jews. Lowering the barrier for “who is a Jew?” makes that even more possible. As I am fond of saying, “interfaith marriage is not the end of Jewish continuity. Not raising Jewish children is the end of Jewish continuity.”



Community Transformation Success

What does the JOI Community Transformation Initiative look like when it works? What does success in the outreach coordinator look like? And what do the early and late stages of the JOI Community Transformation Initiative look like? Well, consider two of the Federation communities with which JOI has been working with: Tuscon and Ottawa. In the case of Tucson, thanks to the incredible work being done by Rebecca Crow, Tucson’s community outreach coordinator, they have made wonderful progress in reaching the unaffiliated and the intermarried. This is particularly important for a community that has a high intermarriage rate, a low affiliation rate and explosive growth in the Jewish community. Would that we could transport Rebecca into all of the communities with which we are working.

It was Rebecca’s and Tucson’s success that led Otttawa to forge ahead with its plans to work with JOI in such an intimate way. And as is detailed in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, the community’s investment in its own future is already paying off. In a short time, the community and its Jewish institutions have begun to change the way they “do business.” Gatekeepers now understand their important role in welcoming in those from the outside. Institutions are beginning to think about how to move their programs creatively into public spaces. And the Jewish community is better as a result.



For Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren

The first time I remember seeing Shabbat candles being lit I was three and at my grandparents house. I was confused that my grandparents—who my father told me were not religious—were doing something that we didn’t do. My family started lighting Shabbat candles occasionally after that, partially because of the influence of my grandparents. Kerry Olitzky and Paul Golin of JOI are actually writing a book, to be published by Torah Aura entitled Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren To Do (And Not Do) To Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren, which discusses ways that grandparents can be a positive Jewish influence on grandchildren whose parents are intermarried. Although my parents are not intermarried, I can see how the observance of my grandparents affected their practice and my own.

There is also a new book for young children that deals with the similarities shared by a Jewish and non-Jewish grandmother, both of whom love their grandchildren “very, very, very, very, very much.” Two Grandmothers to Love, by Harriet Goldner, discusses what the grandmothers share—love for their grandchildren and a desire to share their traditions. The book provides a simple way to explain to children that although different sides of their family may have different traditions, the children are loved by both sides of their family. The two grandmothers in Goldner’s book have different hobbies, live in different places, and celebrate different holidays. But both of them unconditionally love their grandchildren and wish to share their celebrations with them. We think acceptance and support is always a positive thing, and encourages an open door to future Jewish involvement.



Rabbi Larry Kushner is in Love with Kabbalah

Anyone who has read any of my friend and colleague Larry Kushner’s books know that he is an amazing storyteller. kushner-kabbalah.jpgAnd until now, all of his work has been non-fiction. That is what is so exciting about his first novel: he will be bringing his skills as a kabbalist (some say he is Reform Judaism’s resident mystic) to a novel, a love story even.

In my work with interfaith couples, many of them tell me that such fiction is an important part of their Jewish education since fiction (especially historical fiction) is easy to access—much easier than most textbooks to be sure. Larry has also recorded some of his work. His collection called Invisible Lines of Connection are raised even higher when he reads them in his own unique way. (For those of you in the New York area, he will be reading from his new and first novel Kabbalah: A Love Story at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion at 1 west 4th St. on Thursday, October 26, 6:00pm. No reservations necessary, admission is Free, and Photo ID required for entrance. For further information, please call Rabbi Ruth Gais at 212-824-2296 or e-mail rgais@huc.edu).

The story line seems simple, but it isn’t (and, by the way, neither is kabbalah!): Hidden within the binding of an ancient text that has been passed down through the ages lies the answer to one of the heart’s eternal questions. When the text falls into the hands of Rabbi Kalman Stern, he has no idea that his lonely life of intellectual pursuits is about to change once he opens the book. Soon afterward, he meets astronomer Isabel Benveniste, a woman of science who stirs his soul as no woman has for many years. But Kalman has much to learn before he can unlock his heart and let true love into his life. The key lies in the mysterious document he finds inside the Zohar, the master text of the Kabbalah. So if you want an entertaining and easy-access point to kabbalah, then this is the book for you.



The Weakening Power of “Jewish Guilt”

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I wouldn’t be here today if an older Polish couple didn’t hide my mother’s parents from the Nazis during the last two excruciatingly-long years of World War II. My grandmother lost her parents and all seven siblings in the gas chambers, and her first two children to the hardships of war. The Holocaust left an indelible impact on her, which she passed on to some degree to my mom, who passed it on in a much lesser degree to me. I was fortunate enough to know my grandmother and to hear her stories; my future children will not have that opportunity, and I have no idea what the Holocaust might or might not mean to them.

When a woman like my grandmother—who carried so much of the weight of history on her shoulders—told her children and grandchildren that “if you marry a non-Jew, you finish Hitler’s job,” it’s not just hyperbole. It’s gut-wrenching and very personal. And yet, it’s not enough to prevent intermarriage. My grandmother’s son intermarried, I intermarried, my sister married a child of intermarriage, and my cousin (himself a child of intermarriage) married a Jew-by-choice who was not yet Jewish when they began dating.

Perhaps what we all have in common was that the weight of a tragic past could not outweigh a potential future filled with love. Or perhaps we all instinctively recognized what is now one of our slogans here at JOI, that “intermarriage does not end Jewish continuity; not raising Jewish children ends Jewish continuity.” Or, perhaps most importantly, we could not define our current Jewish identities by the tragedies of our people’s past. (That’s a hard lesson for an organized Jewish community that still pours hundreds of millions of dollars a year into Holocaust remembrance and fighting perceived anti-Semitism.)

Many of these issues were touched upon in a column in yesterday’s New York Times by Lauren Fox called “When a Relationship Carries the Weight of History,” about how she uncovers her family’s Holocaust past even as she is discovering love with a non-Jewish man from Ireland named Andrew. She writes:

My life feels inextricable from this history. Yet letting go of Andrew couldn’t have defied genocide or undone sorrow. It would have only defied our love and undone the possibility of the happy life he and I now share with our little girl, in whom I try to instill both my history and my hope.



One Night With the King (not Elvis)

Purim is coming sooner than we think. one-night-with-the-king.jpgThat is, in the form of a new film called One Night with the King. I have to admit that I have always been a fan of Purim. Not of the so-called children’s beauty contests nor of the ubiquitous carnivals that many synagogue youth groups use to raise a few shekels for their own projects. No, I have been a fan of the story—in its unabridged adult version—and I have constantly been an advocate for adult celebrations of Purim in the American Jewish community, where “pediatric Judaism” seems to eclipse much else. It is what motivated me years ago to write a small booklet called “Will the Real Hero of Purim Please Stand Up?” and why I am currently working on a new translation and commentary of the Biblical book of Esther, as part of a series of sacred text translations for URJ Press that my colleague Leonard Kravitz and I have been involved in for years.

One Night with the King is produced by Matthew Crouch, head of Gener8Xion Entertainment and son of mega-televangelists Paul and Jan Crouch. Perhaps the story’s message interested him. Perhaps it is part of our culture’s recent interest in religious films, such as the controversial and profitable Passion of the Christ. I see it as another vehicle which helps bridge gaps between Christianity and Judaism, especially for the extended family members of interfaith families. And although it is certainly not the adult film that Purim (and adults) deserve, it does leave out some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the story, parts of the Purim enterprise of which I am personally not very proud. The film was shot in India. And like Memoirs of a Geisha which I also sometimes recommend to offer insight into the Purim story for us contemporary westerners (after all, Esther was a member of the King’s harem), this film will help to give us a little more color for a Jewish holiday and will provide easy access for many on the periphery of the Jewish community.



“The Year of the Gentile Spouse”

In the latest installment of Julie Wiener’s straight-talking monthly “In The Mix” column about her own personal experience of intermarriage, appearing in today’s New York Jewish Week newspaper (click here for a free trial subscription for intermarried households in the NYC area), mc-web-image.jpgMs. Wiener focuses on the non-Jewish spouse who has committed to raising Jewish children.

Besides recognizing her own husband (thank you, Joe!), she identifies a growing trend within the organized Jewish community to finally recognize the great contributions made by our wonderful non-Jewish family members in helping to raise the next generation of Jews—a recognition that we at JOI are excited about having helped bring about. She even suggests that this is the “Year of the Gentile Spouse.” And she acknowledges the particular challenges faced by the non-Jewish moms raising Jewish children, by discussing JOI’s Mothers Circle program:

Feminism notwithstanding, the folks doing the kid-schlepping are usually women. Which is why the Jewish Outreach Institute recently launched a national program called The Mothers Circle. “We were getting a lot of e-mail messages from women who were not Jewish, but had decided to raise Jewish children and found they had no support from the Jewish community,” explained Sonja Spear, a program officer at JOI. (Full disclosure: I’m on the its women’s advisory board.)

The program, which comes to New York next month, offers a basic Judaism course, a listserve and opportunities for women to share their experiences with others in similar situations. “It helps cement their relationship with the Jewish community,” Spear said.

If there were a Fathers Circle, I’d probably try to persuade Joe that participation in it was included in the Promise…

Funny she should mention a “Fathers Circle”! We’re working to create it now and hope to roll it out in a community near you very soon!



The Prince of Rome

This morning, I learned of a new film being released on DVD about the life of Pope John Paul II. pope-cartoon.jpgThe topic of the film is not surprising, as many films and even comics have documented the life of Pope John Paul II, but what is unusual is that this is the first animated portrayal of any Pope’s life.

According to the BBC’s coverage of the cartoon, it is geared particularly toward children. This got me thinking about how like Catholics, Jewish educators can use innovative, and specifically animated, means of reaching unaffiliated and unengaged Jewish families. Of course, there are the typical bible story cartoons shown in Hebrew Schools, but there are also mass market films, such as The Prince of Egypt, that are easily accessible to the general population.

How can we incorporate comics and cartoons into the fabric of Jewish education? Is it by showing the opening sequence of X-Men to open the topic of the Holocaust and using An American Tail to teach about the Jewish immigrant experience? What other ways can you introduce Jewish topics and stories into the discussion in a low-barrier, low-committal fashion?



Israelis and Interfaith Marriage

While there has been some interest in interfaith marriage in the land of Israel (mostly with lots of political overtones between Arabs and Jews, like the film “Forbidden Marriages in the Holy Land”), little has been said or written about interfaith dating and marriage for Israelis who have moved to the United States and Canada (and other countries). falafel.jpgAnd while we know many of the challenges that face North American Jews as they contemplate interfaith marriage—including the stop/start of a relationship (what I call “an interrupted relationship”), we don’t know a great deal about the introspections that take place. Recently, Jewsweek invited an Israeli who dated someone who isn’t Jewish to reflect on that issue.

I didn’t care that he [Chris] wasn’t Jewish. I was too impressed by his maturity, intelligence, and interest in me as a person, thinker and artist…I view myself as a “Jew” to the extent that I embrace the positive, ethical and life-giving values of my tradition…However, being born “Jewish” does not give anyone metaphysical or innate holiness or virtue. That Chris wasn’t racially “Jewish” doesn’t make him less worthy to date or marry me.

In the end, she decided to move back to Israel: “Chris and I are still in touch, but ultimately we know that a long-term relationship is a mute prospect. Chris appreciates my vision more so than many of my Jewish friends, but he loves Los Angeles.” But for the many Israelis that decide to stay here, intermarriage is no less of an issue than it is for Jews who were born here.



The West Valley/Conejo Valley: JOI’s Latest Community Scan

I was thrilled to be able to make a recent presentation on JOI’s environmental community outreach scan to the leaders of the Valley Alliance there. kerry-in-conejo.jpg(The local Federation is called the Valley Alliance, and is part of the Los Angeles Federation.) The leaders there seem to be as excited about the inherent potential in the transformative work of JOI as we are, making the presentation feel more like a dialogue among people who agree. And that is also what was reported in the Jewish Journal:

Some of the things that are already taking place reflect JOI’s model of Public Space Judaism. “Temple Beth Haverim has been doing just that for the last 10 years, holding menorah lightings at The Promenade at Westlake.”

“We’ve just been providing it as a service for the community,” said Rabbi Gershon Johnson, who added that the Agoura Hills Conservative synagogue hadn’t looked on the activity as an outreach opportunity. He said the congregation would be more proactive this year about collecting names and phone numbers from unaffiliated Jews attending the event.

And this is why the application of JOI’s Best Practices in Outreach can make a difference. As the article noted, I believe that although some people may be hesitant about the term “retail mentality” (and I only use it in presentations to leaders and in training), adopting this model can help get people in the door, especially advertising membership discounts and free specials. For instance:

Debbie Green, vice president of membership at Conservative Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, said her synagogue drew in 40 unaffiliated Jews with an outreach program that advertised special no-cost High Holiday tickets. But she said follow-up has been a problem for Aliyah. “One month later, we need to be telephoning them and offering free tickets to something else,” she said. “We’re one-time-event oriented, and we need to get beyond that.”

We look forward to working with this community in the weeks, months, and years ahead.



Intermarriage Reaches 95% Tipping Point

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The American Jewish community was shocked in 1990 when the National Jewish Population Study showed an intermarriage rate of 52%, meaning that more than half of all marriages that involve at least one Jewish individual during the prior 5 years was an intermarriage. The more recent 2001 study showed that the rate remains about the same.

Half is a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the 95% intermarriage rate in Finland. That’s basically everyone. And it’s a small Jewish community in Finland—a grand total of 1,500 people. This fascinating video shows what the community is doing in response: they are not trying to “combat” intermarriage, but instead turn their energies to education, recognizing that only education will provide a Jewish parent with the tools necessary to pass on Jewish tradition to their children. As we advocate at JOI, the focus is not on preventing intermarriage but on raising Jewish children. They realize that it is not how many Jewish parents a child has, but how immersed they are in Jewish experience that matters most for Jewish identity.



An Important Jewish Journey

One of the most generous and forward-thinking philanthropists in the Jewish world today is Edgar Bronfman. It would be difficult for many Jewish organizations—including JOI—to imagine their work without his participation, vision and leadership. And yet, it turns out that Judaism “was not always central” to his life.

Like so many of us, Edgar Bronfman’s Jewish identity evolved. Too often in the Jewish world, the assumption is made that a fluid Jewish identity only goes in one direction—out and away from the Jewish community toward assimilation-beyond-return—without the recognition that in so many other cases Jewish identity moves toward greater engagement and participation, especially when triggered by important lifecycle events, or powerful experiences or relationships.

On the newly-redesigned website for his foundation, Edgar Bronfman writes in his President’s Letter that the journey began for him when he got involved with the movement to free Soviet Jewry in the 1970s:

Even then, my interest had more to do with human rights than with Judaism per se. But it was on those trips to Russia that my curiosity was piqued. What is it about Judaism, I asked myself, that has kept it alive through so much adversity while so many other traditions have disappeared? Curiosity soon turned into something more, and that “something more” has since turned into a lifelong passion.

He goes on to point out that everyone’s journey is different, but that we all have the opportunity to be part of a rich tradition no matter what path we take. That is a message many of us in the Jewish community can get behind and it is what motivates our work here at the Jewish Outreach Institute.



Age-Old Wisdom

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Virtually my only negative memory of growing up is my parent’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, the day we had chosen to complete all of my college applications. It was a rather high stress day, complete with my normally mild-mannered father standing on a chair and screaming because I had folded my applications in thirds instead of placing them neatly in manilla envelopes. So when I heard recently about a Jewish book that specifically addressed the concerns of parents who were over-involved in their children’s lives I was intrigued.

“So the Torah is a Parenting Guide?” by Emily Bazelon was number one on the New York Times’s most e-mailed articles list. It discusses The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, a book written by Wendy Mogel that analyzes how Jewish texts and ideas advocate a laid back approach to parenting that allows children to experience some degree of risk and skinned knees along the way.

Mogel took a year off from her practice to study Jewish texts, and out of this year was born The Blessings of a Skinned Knee. She feels that if more parents adapted Jewish Talmudic and Hasidic advice (the Talmud is rabbinical discussion of Jewish law and Hasidism is a spiritual movement emphasizing mysticism and making Judaism accessible to the masses) about letting your child find some of their own way and not controlling their lives, the world would have more children who were polite, hospitable, and happier than they would be if not constantly under immense pressure to succeed. Her advice has proven to be immensely popular, and the book has sold 120,000 copies.
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N.J. and You: Lowering Barriers to Jewish Involvement

I recently had the pleasure of joining my colleagues Kerry Olitzky and Ruth Decalo in offering a workshop to communal professionals hosted at the Middlesex County, NJ, Federation and sponsored by the Karma Foundation and the Middlesex County Federation. Our daylong training focused on transforming one-time contacts into deeper engagement in the Jewish community, and reaching out to newcomers through our Public Space Judaism model. Last week’s New Jersey Jewish News reported on this training:

Ruth Decalo, senior director of programs and training at the institute, said the key to connecting with the unaffiliated is not to make them feel like “second-rate Jews.” Both she and the local professionals spoke of instances when rather than bonding with the community and its institutions, people looking to find their place in the community were actually turned off.

As part of our session on maximizing contacts with newcomers, we focused on techniques to lower barriers to participation in Jewish life. In fact, one of the central take-away messages of the workshop was how wonderful it is to identify barriers, because it enables us to lower them! JOI would like to offer Jewish communal professionals a free one-time consultation on lowering barriers to Jewish engagement in their community. Please email me at estern@joi.org if you’re interested!



The Opera is Singing Our Song

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Jewish organizations aren’t the only ones in town trying to engage newcomers. Even New York City’s prestigious opera world is realizing that it needs to attract a younger and more diverse audience in order to sustain itself in the years to come—and it’s investing in outreach to make it happen.

As reported in an article in today’s New York Times, there are quite a few parallels between their own outreach strategy and the approach JOI has been recommending to Jewish institutions. First, opera houses like the City Center, Lincoln Center and Metropolitan are offering radically discounted seats (from $10 apiece) to compete with the full marketplace of entertainment options. In addition to holding free dress rehearsals to attract new audiences, the Met is also offering the art world’s version of Public Space Judaism—taking programs out to where people are—by holding free simulcasts of the gala performance of Madame Butterfly at Times Square and Lincoln Center Plaza. These discounted shows are also being marketed where people are, in mainstream media.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy: It’s Sukkot!

The 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as well as Yom Kippur itself have a reputation for being a solemn, somber time. But that’s not how I experience it.

When I tell people that Yom Kippur is my favorite holiday, they give me a strange look. Then a look of understanding washes over them: “Oh, you mean the part when you break the fast!” But no, I don’t mean that part. I mean the part where we realize that we have the power to change our lives, and that we can forgive and be forgiven. Though this joy has been greatly subsumed in our times by a more somber tone, the Rabbis of the Mishnah recognized the potential for joy on Yom Kippur: “There never were in Israel greater days of joy than the fifteenth of [the Jewish month of] Av and Yom Kippur” (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:8). (As a side note, the 15th of the month of Av is kind of like a Jewish Valentine’s Day.)

For most people, however, Yom Kippur remains a somber reminder of our own mortality, which is met by immediate release in the indisputably joyous holiday of Sukkot, which begins tonight. It is actually customary to begin erecting the temporary hut, called a Sukkah, right after breaking the Yom Kippur fast. Traditionally, meals during the week-long holiday are eaten in this hut. But even more important than eating meals in the Sukkah is the commandment—yes, commandment—to be HAPPY. That means that if the weather would make it miserable to eat outside, we go into a cozier environment.

So even if you don’t plan on having a meal in a Sukkah (though it’s great fun, and a good entry point for unaffiliated and interfaith families), don’t worry—be happy.



High Holiday Conundrum?

Two years ago, Rabbi Janet Marder of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos, CA took a bold step forward in her Yom Kippur sermon when she invited those of other religious backgrounds who are raising Jewish children to come forward to the bima (the elevated section of the synagogue).Rabbi Janet Marder

On the bima, in front of the entire congregation, she thanked them and she blessed them. She thanked them for both the “mundane” (driving the kids to Hebrew school) and for the sublime (casting their future lot with the Jewish people). This stirred a great deal of controversy in Reform congregations and beyond. In anticipation of the High Holidays, the Union for Reform Judaism, the national arm of the Reform movement, sent out a list of guidelines for welcoming in interfaith families.

Among its recommendations was, in fact, a suggestion similar to what Rabbi Marder had done. Needless to say, the controversy arose once again this year, according to an article in JTA. How do we honor those of other religious backgrounds who are raising Jewish children without singling them out or making them feel uncomfortable? How do we affirm their decision without affirming the decision of those who are Jews by Choice or Jews by Chance (birth) who are also raising Jewish children, juggling similar schedules, and making financial decisions about synagogue affiliation and religious education?

This time of year is a time of reflection. It is also a time of celebration, especially of the Jewish family for it contains the seeds of our future. And so we celebrate and welcome all those families raising Jewish children, and are especially appreciative of moms and dads of other religious backgrounds who have made the decision to raise their children as Jews. We welcome you into our synagogue with open arms and open hearts.



How Do You Say Au Pair in Hebrew?

Interfaith families often look for ways to replace the fact that they may not have the Jewish memories that help facilitate the raising of Jewish children. This is particularly true among the mothers in our own program, The Mothers Circle. After all, Jewish education, as far as I am concerned, is really about the creation of Jewish memory more than anything else. It is certainly not primarily about the transmission of cognitive information. Some families send their children to Jewish day schools so that the schools can provide that role, often to replace the Jewish memories that at least one of the parents doesn’t have. (It is true that both parents may not have Jewish memory—even if both of them are Jewish.)

But some families have found alternatives. According to an article in the (New York) Jewish Week, Nicole Malachi, an Israeli who has been working for Jewish families in New York since May, said she feels her employers want to take care of her because she is Israeli, and that they’re relieved to have someone familiar with kosher laws and Jewish observance.

After working for one family with a Jewish mother and Christian father who rarely talked about Jewish things at home, Malachi could feel her influence. She said of one of her charges:

By the time I left, every day she’d say she loves me in Hebrew.





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