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Congratulations on Making Interfaith Programming a Priority!

Congratulations to Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, Temple Isaiah in the East Bay, Peninsula Temple Beth El in South Bay/Peninsula, and Congregation Rodef Sholom in Marin/Sonoma for their first place finishes in the Interfaith Synagogue Program category of the Readers’ Choice Awards held by J. the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California. We at JOI applaud these and other synagogues that are working hard to reach out to interfaith families, welcome them into their communities, and provide programming and policies to meet their needs. We also thank J. the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California for recognizing the importance of interfaith programming and making it a category in their Readers’ Choice Awards.

We at JOI are pleased to be working with award winning Congregation Sherith Israel this year to offer The Mothers Circle course in San Francisco. The free course, made possible through the generosity of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, will provide education and support to mothers of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children. As National Coordinator of The Mothers Circle, I was also pleased (but not surprised) to see another synagogue that hosts The Mothers Circle course recognized in J. the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California Readers’ Choice Awards. Congratulations to Congregation Beth Am of Los Altos Hills for their first place award for Most Innovative Synagogue Programming.

If you’re interested in bringing innovative interfaith programming to your community, we encourage you to consider The Mothers Circle. You can contact me at LizStoll@TheMothersCircle.org to find out more about how you can bring The Mothers Circle course to your area.



Does Netflix have the answer for synagogues and other Jewish communal institutions?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, Netflix, the popular on-line dvd rental company, has changed its strategy concerning customer service. It no longer uses e-mail. Instead, it employs customer service representatives 24-hours-a-day to handle customer issues. It considers this renewed approach a strategy to challenge its competition. Rather than looking for the cheapest labor possible, it located its call center in Hillsboro, Oregon, considering its local residents to be among the friendliest in the United States. Its toll-free customer service number, which used to be buried in its website, is now located on its home page. And people are encouraged to call rather than simply looking for answers to their frequently asked questions on their website or to post any questions there.

Some will argue that it is inappropriate to use a business model to inform the way the Jewish community does its business. Others will say that companies like Netflix can afford certain luxuries that an overburdened, understaffed Jewish communal institution, especially a synagogue, cannot afford. But there are lessons to be learned. The Jewish community has been quick to adapt cost-saving measures such as voicemail. And it has also installed websites in order to communicate to its constituency.

Perhaps such a personalized approach is too expensive for one institution to undertake. But maybe it is a vehicle for community cooperation. It is true that in order to secure the Jewish future, we need strong institutions. But we will also need these institutions to be concerned about the entire Jewish community and not just the survival and growth of their own institution. What is clear about the approach Netflix is taking is that for the business to be sustained and grow, the focus has to be on the customer. Maybe it is time for the Jewish community reorient its focus, as well.



Call Synagogue Home in Atlanta

I just returned from Atlanta, Georgia for our second in a series of training sessions for synagogues involved in Call Synagogue Home, a partnership project between JOI and STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal). This project is designed to help synagogues reach out to interfaith families and nurturing their relationship with them—all through life cycle events. In Atlanta, we are also partnering with Pathways, a newly-funded initiative of the Jewish community housed at the Marcus Jewish Community Center. We are thrilled that these seven synagogues are currently involved in the Atlanta project: Ahavath Achim; Beth Tikvah; Emanu-el; Kehillat Chaim; Or Hadash; Temple Sinai; and The Temple (Hebrew Benevolent Congregation).

While we stressed numerous issues regarding the more traditional life cycle events, we also explored several non-traditional lifecycle events and how to develop them. Our lives are filled with various moments of life transitions. Some we mark formally; we take others for granted. For example, all parents are concerned when their children receive their driver’s license and drive solo for the first time. Imagine the response if a synagogue were to offer a blessing for well-being for the child on the day of his/her first solo excursion. This is not something that those on the periphery would normally seek from the synagogue. Nor is it a lifecycle moment that is encumbered by various aspects of Jewish law. As a result, the synagogue has both a challenge and an opportunity to reach out and initiate a relationship with this elusive teenage population and their parents. By casting a wide net, synagogues will unobtrusively reach interfaith families in this way too.

Is your synagogue ready to give it a try?



Breaking Down Walls and Barriers

Here at JOI, we believe that in order for Jewish organizations to attract those on the periphery, they must lower “barriers” to participation. One congregation in Cleveland, Ohio, has gone so far as to eliminate the physical walls of the synagogue altogether. As reported in the Cleveland Jewish News, “Informal study groups, Shabbat observances in members’ homes, and doing myriad acts of tsedakah and outreach to others will be the cornerstones of The Shul.”

The rabbi of The Shul, Rabbi Edward Sukol, aims to create experiences that are responsive to the specific needs expressed by each segment of the population. For instance, he has found that synagogue life and traditional services are not at the “center of religious identity” for the baby boomer population in Cleveland. Rabbi Sukol is trying to help them find new points of connection with participatory and interactive celebrations such as an intimate potluck Shabbat each Friday night in someone’s home, complete with singing, prayer, and learning. The Shul also seeks to be open and inclusive of interfaith families. Rabbi Sukol sought the help of a local minister to help him coordinate study sessions for interfaith families. Recognizing that building genuine, personalized relationships is the key to motivating people’s engagement, The Shul seeks to provide each participant with “individualized gateway experiences.”

Rabbi Sukol insists that “this non-traditional approach to Judaism is just another option to live a meaningful Jewish life that speaks to our members’ hearts, spirits and souls.” In other words, it is an augmentation not a replacement for physical synagogues, which continue to provide great meaning to many Jews. While the concept of a synagogue-without-walls may not be entirely new, it is still certainly an endeavor that will add tremendous value to the Cleveland community, as it promises to reach out to those on the periphery and share Jewish experiences with those who have not otherwise been able to access all that Judaism has to offer.



Who Wants to Move to New Orleans

The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans is spearheading a remarkable effort to revive their Jewish community and is offering a post-Katrina special, as reported in the New Jersey Jewish News (offline). Under the project name “Re-New Orleans,” the local Federation is offering $5,500 for moving and housing expenses; interest free loans up to $30,000; half-price tuition at a local day school; and a year of free membership at a local synagogue and Jewish Community Center. While the Jewish community peaked at about 13,000 in the 1980s and was at 10,000 before the storm, estimates are now down to about 7,000. Yet they see this time as an opportunity for restructuring and growth, and in fact are seeing some positive results and unity—as also covered by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here. Will such an approach draw people to (or back to) New Orleans? Time will tell.

On a smaller scale, an Orthodox synagogue in Perth Amboy, New Jersey tried a similar approach several years ago. Since it was diminishing, it took its endowment and offered housing down payments for all those willing to come to Perth Amboy (a blue-collar town on the water in central New Jersey that is finally experiencing rebirth and gentrification).

So my question is simply this: If we can take such a deeply discounted approach in such times, why can’t we do the same in communities that didn’t experience such a disaster? Why can’t we reach out to those on the periphery especially at a time when all second and third tier American cities are experiencing flight to the large urban centers? If the expense of participating in Jewish communal life is indeed a barrier—one of many—then perhaps lowering such barriers will result in communal growth.



Hey Murray!

Who would have thought that the answer to one of the puzzles facing the North American Jewish community could be found in the midst of falafel—Israel’s favorite fast food. Made from ground chick peas that are then deep fried and placed along with salad (and sometimes even fries) inside a pita, falafel has become synonymous with Israel. Good falafel may be hard to come by, even in New York City, but good advice is even harder to obtain. Murray Allon, the owner of Murray’s Falafel and Grill, serves good food and advice. Growing from a pushcart to a storefront, here is what he has to say, according to his own website:

Murray also wishes to revive tourism to Israel with his own tour groups departing from New York. Murray’s focus will be on inter-faith groups, notably Jewish & Christian groups, to see the holy sites and create harmony and understanding amongst each other. After seeing the large number of mixed couples in synagogue, Murray thought that the best way to unify the families of these two different backgrounds would be to have a tour that highlights both the Christian and Jewish heritage.

Anyone interested? Murray is leading the tour and cooking en route!



Free Religious School Education

We are indeed making progress in lowering barriers and providing access. Congregation Har Tzion-Agudath Achim, a Conservative synagogue in Silver Spring, Maryland announced that it will provide free religious education in its religious school for the academic year 2007-2008. The program is open to all children in grades K-6 who have not been enrolled in other synagogue religious schools. This congregation understands that the unengaged and unaffiliated represent the majority of the community and opening up its religious school is not a way to pilfer the members of other congregations. I wonder if other congregations will follow its lead. I also wonder how Har Tzion Agudath Acim will be promoting its endeavor since it is only beneficial if it promotes this offer where people who are not currently engaged in the Jewish community are apt to find it.

If you are doing the same thing in your institution, let us know.



There’s a New Jewish Doll in Town

As a child, I was a Barbie girl. I spent countless hours playing with Barbie and her friends, and—except for when Barbie joined me at the Passover seder—religion rarely mixed with my dolls. Isaac Larian, an Iranian Jewish immigrant, changed the anonymous, nonreligious doll when he created the Bratz line of dolls, which each come with their own personality and background. In the case of Bratz doll Yasmin, that background is of half-Latina, half-Jewish descent.

In a recent profile of the Bratz doll line in time for the release of theBratz live-action movie, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency questions the mixed messages sent by the dolls:

Unlike Barbie — with her WASP-y blonde hair, penchant for pink and lame steady boyfriend, Ken — Bratz represents a different type of feminine ideal. They reflect the mixed messages that are fed to young girls today — a “Girl Power!” mantra combined with a tarty, sexed-up image a la Britney Spears. With ethnicities ranging from Asian to African American to a unique blend of Jewish-Latina, the dolls trumpet their message loud and clear: It’s okay to be yourself — as long as you look totally hot when the boys are around.

In one sense, the Bratz doll Yasmin is a positive and tangible role model for multiethnic, Jewish girls. But even as we applaud the fact that a popular line of dolls features a character with a multiethnic and half-Jewish background, do the Bratz’ revealing clothing and overwhelming sense of vanity outweigh their positive “girl power” image? Should the Jewish community embrace Yasmin as a representative of the modern, diverse Jewish community despite her literal shortcomings when it comes to clothing? (And if not, is our only other alternative Tefillin Barbie?!)



Kabbalah is not Just for Celebrities

Kabbalah is popular among many celebrities — at least as it is interpreted by The Kabbalah Centre. And irrespective of whether or not people agree with the Centre’s approach or understanding of kabbalah, it has thrust a peripheral Jewish theology into the mainstream and, in doing so, transformed its nature. It is not clear how long kabbalah will be popular among celebrities. But one thing is clear. Kabbalah has powerful potential as an outreach vehicle for many people on the periphery and for whom other aspects of Judaism do not speak. According to this article from Haaretz called “Thank G-d for Madonna,” apparently there are many rabbis in Safed, Israel—the spiritual center of kabbalah and Jewish mysticism—who agree.

But what will it take for the North American Jewish community to employ kabbalah as a vehicle to reach those on the periphery of the Jewish community without compromising its essence? First, it will be important for it to be accessible without watering it down. Second, it has to be taken to where people are and speak to them “where they are at.” If traditional institutions wait for potential students of mysticism to come to them, they may be waiting for a long time. And finally, it can’t just be about kabbalah. We have to be able to provide experiences of mysticism for those who are interested, for those spiritual seekers looking for the path, so that they can find it in Judaism as a whole.



Gifts from “Fellow Travelers”

JOI’s blog tends to focus primarily on current events, but an article from the Spring 2005 edition of the “Reconstructionism Today” newsletter just came to our attention and rings as true today as two years ago. The article, “Jews and Fellow Travelers: Appreciating the Gifts of Non-Jewish Partners” by Rabbi Maurice Harris, discusses a 2004 Jewish Reconstructionist Federation convention workshop that focused on the gifts that non-Jewish Partners—or “Fellow Travelers” as the workshop called them—can provide to Jewish life.

Rabbi Harris maintains that it can be greatly beneficial for Jewish communities to welcome and further engage Fellow Travelers. He gives examples that he himself witnessed, including when his synagogue board needed assistance thinking outside of the box about membership issues and a Fellow Traveler provided valuable “outside” perspectives from a different religious community. A few other benefits that Fellow Travelers can bring to Jewish life, as mentioned in the piece, include:

  • Fellow Travelers are sometimes able to see and appreciate things about Jewish life that born Jews take for granted or don’t notice;
  • Children growing up in intermarried households often learn that cultural sensitivity and tolerance of difference are wholesome family values;
  • Sometimes Fellow Travelers are valuable bridges between Jewish and other religious or cultural communities in North America.

We agree with Rabbi Harris that Fellow Travelers can greatly contribute to Jewish institutions and Jewish life if given the chance to do so, and we encourage the Jewish community to welcome intermarried families and Fellow Travelers. By looking beyond the “costs” of intermarriage to embrace the gifts that these Fellow Travelers provide, we can strengthen Jewish life and further enriched our community.



Diversity and Informal Jewish Education

The Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE) recently published their first online Jewish Education News journal, including an article by JOI’s own executive director, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky. Diversity and Informal Jewish Education, Rabbi Olitzky’s article, calls for recognition of the value of what he calls “episodic education.” In addition to formal and informal Jewish educational programs, Rabbi Olitzky, and all of us at JOI, are advocating that a third kind of methodology is needed for effectively reaching those on the periphery of the Jewish community.

“Episodic education” combines characteristics of both formal and informal Jewish education, with informal learning activities meant to lead to programs of greater depth. The greatest difference and essential element of episodic education is that programs are designed to be “low-barrier” entry programs for which no prior knowledge is necessary. While programs of informal Jewish education deliver valuable lessons through experiential learning, they are limited in their reach because, as Rabbi Olitzky states, “those on the periphery are increasingly unwilling to venture into even the informal environments of Jewish education.” The alternative that JOI’s outreach methodology offers is to take Judaism out to where people are, rather than waiting for them to come to us. One example of this methodology is a program model that JOI teaches, called Public Space Judaism.

As Jewish educators, it is our responsibility to make sure that Jewish education is not only offered to those who are already deeply involved and affiliated with the Jewish community. Public Space Judaism provides the opportunity for those on the periphery to find Jewish learning in the secular community that they live and interact within. This approach creates the possibility of engaging with unaffiliated Jews who otherwise may miss out on Jewish experiences. A combination of formal education, informal education, and episodic education, each with its own significance, presents a more complete and reliable variety of educational methods to ensure that everyone is afforded the opportunity to share in Jewish learning and experiences.



Inter-Orthodox Debate? One Last Bit on Noah Feldman…

A tremendous amount of words have been expended these past few weeks in the Jewish community (including by us here, here, and here), debating a New York Times Magazine article by Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman about being shunned (in ways) by his Orthodox day school after he intermarried.

One interesting aspect about the debate that has gone relatively unmentioned is that it is primarily occurring among Orthodox Jews. This is quite remarkable, considering similar public conversations about whether to welcome or shun the intermarried began taking place in the Conservative Movement only several years ago, and in the Reform movement several decades ago. And we have been pleasantly surprised by some inclusive messages, including a piece from Rabbi Levi Brackman called “Intermarriage rethink thanks to Noah Feldman.”

To me, this is further evidence of the wide reach of intermarriage in this country; if Orthodox families were genuinely immune to intermarriage—as so many communal leaders (both Orthodox and non-Orthodox) would have us believe—why such passion over this issue rather than simply writing off Feldman as a crackpot aberration?

Not all comments have come from Orthodox quarters, of course. We at JOI felt the need to reply to Gary Rosenblatt’s thought-provoking editorial in the (New York) Jewish Week with our own letter to the editor (third from top), in which we responded to his pointing out how some Jewish leaders believe “that the community already has tilted so far toward outreach and acceptance of non-Jews that there is little incentive left for them to convert to Judaism”:

The word “incentive” is a particularly interesting choice for describing the shunning, disowning and even sitting shiva that accompanied intermarriage in the past. In the rare cases where those tactics actually led to conversion, the proper term would be “coercion.” Thankfully, we are living in a time when the Jewish values of outreach and acceptance really is “incentive” for intermarried families to find a place in the Jewish community, and the overwhelming majority of converts today are people who really want to convert.



Shalom Springfield

It’s no secret to any Simpsons-watcher that Jewish culture and humor play a noticeable role in the animated series. We have even blogged about it before here on the JOI website! With last’s month’s release of The Simpsons Movie, there is no better time to take advantage of The Simpsons’ Jewish leanings, positive and negative, to encourage participation in the Jewish community.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post, the move was dubbed in Hebrew for its Israeli release. How can the Jewish community use this opportunity for outreach and engagement? Perhaps, local communities can use clips from the Israeli version of the movie to teach an introductory course in Hebrew, or maybe a community can use the timeliness of the movie to promote a lecture discussing the Jewish inclinations of The Simpsons. As the Jpost article notes:

Though the film’s Israeli premiere marks the first time the Simpsons will conduct their affairs in Hebrew, the movie is hardly the family’s first exposure to Judaism or that other famous Jewish tongue, Yiddish. Members of the family have been familiar with the language since at least the show’s third season, when it was revealed that Krusty the Clown’s full name is in fact Herschel Krustofski, and that the pie-throwing children’s entertainer had been disowned years earlier by his father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofski, for not continuing the family tradition and becoming a rabbi.

The Jewish community can look to pop culture icons, such as The Simpsons, as entryways into the Jewish community for unengaged Jews and those who have a connection with Judaism.



A Vote for the “Strategic Hug”

I continue to be amazed by the discussion in the community raised by the Noah Feldman article that appeared in the New York Times Magazine. Many journalists and community leaders have weighed in on the article. I really think that associate editor of the (New York) Jewish Week Jonathan Mark summed it up rather nicely. Mark suggests that the Jewish community has two options: either to strategically hug those who have intermarried; or to give them the cold shoulder.

He also seems to suggest that the signs are in favor of institutions doing more to welcome interfaith families, including Orthodox synagogues:

One Modern Orthodox shul in New York, with more than 700 members, now welcomes a non-Jewish father and non-Jewish grandparents to the bima for non-ritual moments during Shabbat morning bar mitzvahs, if the mom is Jewish.

He also indicates that the glass ceiling is being broken in institutions that previously would not have welcomed those who have intermarried into top leadership positions:

Clal’s next chair, explained Rabbi [Irwin] Kula, will be Larry Gellman who intermarried later in life, after raising children in the Jewish community. “He’s demonstrated Jewish leadership not only within Clal,” said Rabbi Kula, but within his Reform temple and as chair of the Milwaukee federation. “He did not intermarry as an escape from his Jewishness or as a step to assimilating. We talked about this as an organization. We didn’t say anything goes.”

We welcome the news as good news. (But please be careful to avoid using phrases like “riddled with intermarriage” if you want to persuade us that we are really becoming more of a welcoming community.) Let’s continue the dialogue. It’s our best option. Those who have intermarried will help shape the Jewish future and the future is already upon us.



Atlanta Synagogue Takes Big Steps to Welcome Intermarried Families

Rabbi Julie Schwartz recently sent a letter to her congregation, Temple Emanu-El, located in the Dunwoody section of Atlanta. This letter explains the philosophy behind the temple’s new approach called Tapestry: Weaving Together Families and Faiths. Rabbi Schwartz writes, “…the leadership of the congregation has adopted a strategy of outreach, inclusion, education and support for interfaith families as a central element of its role in the North Atlanta community.”

She goes on to explain the salient elements of Tapestry:

Specialized programs to help the non-Jewish family member to become more familiar with the Temple environment, ceremonies and content of religious education that their children may be receiving;

Targeted activities designed to introduce interfaith families with one another;

Support and discussion groups to help address issues that face interfaith families;

Co-sponsored events and activities with other clubs, committees, and organizations within Temple Emanu-El to help non-Jewish members and interfaith families become more completely engaged in the Temple Emanu-El community.

We applaud Rabbi Schwartz and Temple Emanu-El for taking an important step and sending out a message of inclusion to the community it serves.



Days of Awe

The Hebrew month of Elul, which begins this year at sundown Tuesday August 14, is known as the “Days of Awe.” These 29 days leading up to the Jewish New Year are meant to serve as a month of spiritual growth and contemplation. Traditionally, every morning of the month, the shofar is blown, to awaken our minds, bodies, and souls, in order to prepare for what many consider to be the holiest days of the year.

Craig Taubman, the Los Angeles-based Jewish singer/songwriter/producer, found meaning out of this month through “Jewels of Elul.” In its third year, Jewels of Elul III offers daily meditations for the month of Elul from a wide spectrum of sources.

From worldly sources of thought and spirituality, like Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama, to Jews of different ideology and observance, like Kirk Douglas and Matisyahu, Craig Taubman brings all these individuals together in order to show that we can all find meaning through self-reflection. The diversity of voices presented by Jewels of Elul III suggests that there are many different entryways into finding meaning and inspiration for the New Year.



First Kabbalah, Now Kashrut

According to the Ynet article, “America Goes Kosher,” kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) is the new Kabbalah. Kosher restaurants in large metropolitan areas have suddenly become fashionable, and the Hollywood trendsetters have not only staked out their own tables but their own rooms in such establishments. The article reports:

In the last decade, kosher food sales in American supermarkets have reached a growth rate of 15 percent as opposed to a four percent growth rate for food that is not kosher. Eleven million Americans buy kosher food, and they are responsible for a yearly turnover of $9 billion. What’s interesting in all this data is that there are only just over six million Jews in America and even fewer keep kosher. Slowly but surely the kosher food market is being taken over by non-Jewish Americans who are on the lookout for kosher food that is not just gefilte fish and matza.

Kosher food manufactures and restaurants are doing something right. How have they gotten individuals who have no ties to kashrut for religious reasons to buy their products and enter their establishments? One survey suggests that many non-Jews eat kosher food because they believe it is healthier. There may also be a spiritual element, however. Someone quoted in the article suggests that “The kosher trend fits in with modern life. Like the Kabbalah, it combines the old with the new. Kosher food meets spirituality and health in one plate, and that’s what people are looking for today: a little spirituality with an everyday practicality.”

What can the Jewish community learn from this phenomenon? Just like the kosher food industry (with a little help from a few celebrities), the Jewish community can transform its image from one of gefilte fish, matzah and old world Jewry to one of gourmet food and welcome to all if it offers programs and events that intersect with people’s needs.



Nice Words From a Friend

Jewish Outreach Institute is a “Featured Nonprofit” in this month’s edition of NYNonProfit.com, and received some very kind words from New York State Senator Eric Schneiderman, who wrote:

The Jewish Outreach Institute promotes inclusiveness in the Jewish community towards interfaith couples, unaffiliated Jews and others. Of course it’s easy to achieve unity in a homogenous group where everyone agrees, but by modeling inclusiveness across traditional barriers the Jewish Outreach Institute provides an example for overcoming divisions based on ethnicity and religious identity that are all too prevalent in the world today.

Organizations like these inspire me to work harder to advance the values we share in my own work. They also give me renewed hope that a progressive movement rooted in these values can grow and reshape our state and our nation at this time when change is so sorely needed.

We thank NYNonProfit.com and Senator Schneiderman for encouraging us in our work and for recognizing that there is indeed strength in diversity for our community.



Our Message is: WELCOME

Rabbi Avi Shafran has written yet another article with which I disagree. Usually I am not motivated to respond, but I feel compelled to do so in this case. His op/ed, which is posted on JTA (and therefore will be picked up by many Jewish newspapers), is a response to the article which Noah Feldman wrote in last week’s New York Times magazine and to which many have already responded. Rabbi Shafran is wrong in saying that intermarriage is necessarily “an abandonment of the Jewish past and an undermining of the Jewish future” and that “there is simply no way — not in the real world — to warmly welcome intermarrieds without welcoming intermarriage.”

We have a moral and demographic imperative to welcome those who have intermarried. And the Rabbis have given us a model to apply when considering how and why to do so. In Jewish law, the Rabbis have a difference response to circumstances before the fact (which they call m’hatchila) and after the fact (which they call bedeavad).

Welcoming the already-intermarried does not “promote” intermarriage. We know this because the intermarriage trend skyrocketed when there was no welcoming. In the 1970s and 80s, almost nobody in the Jewish community (even the liberal community) was prepared to welcome intermarried families—yet intermarriage happened despite the unwelcoming attitude. Now that it is after the fact, we as a community must recognized failed tactics and reverse course, welcoming all who are willing to cast their lot with the Jewish people. It’s the more moral response.

What Shafran also fails to offer is a reason for those who have intermarried to remain Jewish; for their spouses to want to enter the orbit of the Jewish community (and perhaps consider conversion); and why they should want to raise Jewish children. If the climate of the Jewish community is the kind that Rabbi Shafran is fostering, then why would they or anyone else even want to be part of it? It is this kind of attitude that is smothering the Jewish community.

I believe that it is possible to support those who have intermarried while still creating non-judgmental venues to encourage unmarried Jews to find potential Jewish spouses. And I am willing to enter into dialogue with Rabbi Shafran or anyone else willing to do so with the hope that it would put an end to any of the mudslinging that is currently au courant and helps no one, neither the Jewish community nor those who seek to be part of it.



Why Raise Jewish Children?

We at JOI have been saying that the Jewish community needs to better articulate “Why be Jewish” for a long time (most recently here), especially as we are working with interfaith families. But I would rephrase the question somewhat and add: Why raise Jewish children? Why stay within the orbit of the Jewish community—even if I am married to a Jewish person and raising Jewish children? Of what benefit is it to me? These questions have to be deliberated and answered. That is why I was thrilled to be part of the recent conversation initiated by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation. And I look forward to a continued discussion. In the meantime, I share some of the reasons suggested by Richard Price in a July 2007 commentary in the New Jersey Jewish News:

Because Judaism provides the road map for living a holy life in accordance with the spirit if not the letter of Torah, one of the most important and influential documents in the history of humanity. We are Jewish because we wish to be engaged with the world. We are Jewish because we want to preserve a religious heritage that goes back thousands of years. We are Jewish because we wish to better the world through acts of social welfare and social justice. We are Jewish because we are inexorably bound together as a spiritual community. We are Jewish because we wish to be part of a community of shared values, placing a premium, for example, on education and the need to care for others in need. We are Jewish because we believe in the centrality of Israel.

We are Jewish because it is a passionate undertaking. We are Jewish because it brings us joy through the observance of our holidays and through the mitzvot we perform. We are Jewish because we seek to make a qualitative difference in a resistant world. We are Jewish because we possess a moral compass that imposes a high standard upon us. We are Jewish because we understand the power of memory and the promise of tomorrow.

In sum, our individual lives matter and much is expected of us because there is much to do. Judaism is an intensely personal faith and it gives each of us the opportunity to spark a difference in the world.

What do you think of Mr. Price’s reasons? Which reasons would you add of your own?





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