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Weblog Entries for February 2010

A Calendar of Events

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

Lately I have been thinking about how my life has shifted to a different calendar than the one I knew as a child. I remember my mom’s calendar on the refrigerator, with scribbles of schedules every day of the week; the eagerly anticipated Advent calendar at Christmas; the seemingly endless supply of airplane-themed calendars that my dad, an aviation historian, delighted in bestowing on his less than thrilled offspring. If there were any Jewish holidays on our many calendars, they existed only in polite small type at the bottom of the squares. My family celebrated Christian holidays out of habit and an appetite for chocolate, rather than for religious reasons. The calendar revolved around the academic year and family vacations (Colorado!! in red ink); our various enthusiams and hobbies (Piano recital! Soccer practice! Air show!) and whatever time my mother could squeeze in for herself (Walk dog!). My mom habitually punctuated all activities with exclamation points, and I never understood why, until I became the keeper of our family calendar. It’s the equivalent of mental coffee–keep going!!!

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A Comparison that Doesn’t Hold Up

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In a recent speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested—as many have before him—that intermarriage and assimilation are one in the same, and as such they are today’s greatest threat to Jewish identity. He called them toll-takers of Jewish numbers, and in the same breath implied intermarriage and assimilation are just as bad for the Jewish people as the Holocaust.

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Religious Affiliation Among Millennials

Many in the Jewish community worry about the level of unaffiliated in our midst, especially among the younger generation. Synagogue memberships are down, as are memberships in Jewish institutions that used to be the center of the Jewish community. But does choosing not to affiliate mean this younger generation is not interested in religion? A few recent polls suggest just the opposite. While younger generations are less affiliated, they may actually be “more spiritually thirsty than older generations.”

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Thinking About Food

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

Food has been on my mind a lot recently. How to eat for good health, educate my kids about food, keep my weight at a healthy level, and most importantly, eat, eat, eat. I love to cook, and I love to eat! Our family shares this “live to eat” mentality, and cooking and family dinnertime is a don’t-miss event in our house.

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Planes, Trains and Afikomen

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

A bit more than a decade later, I’m still trying to figure out what we’re doing for Passover, with whom, and how we’re doing it. Trying to raise Jews (not having been raised one myself) I feel like the bar’s a lot higher for me. My husband and his family try to assure me otherwise. Nevertheless, I still feel like it falls primarily to me to instill in my daughters why we do what we do.

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An Inclusive Change in Cleveland

Jewish interfaith couples in Cleveland now have a few more options when looking for a rabbi to officiate at their wedding. According to the Cleveland Jewish News, Rabbis Richard Block and Roger Klein, both of The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, have recently decided “that they will now officiate at weddings of some interfaith couples.” The decision came about organically, they said, when they realized that refusing to officiate undermined their ability to “help create and strengthen Jewish families and to assure a vigorous, expansive and sturdy Jewish future.”

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Discovering New Passover Traditions

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

My son became a Bar Mitzvah this past year. Why is that of significance to Passover? He’s usually the youngest. Hes been the youngest at both his Godmothers Seder table and ours for years now. Ever since he was able to ask the 4 Questions, he has been asking them beautifully, and thats been quite a while. Personally, I love hearing him, he has a beautiful voice.

Last year he begged me. Do I have to? I’m so tired of it! Of course, I told him, until you’re 99 if you are the youngest! He snarled at me, and I laughed.

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Who is She and Why is She Here?

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

When my husband and I were engaged and I was interested in learning more about practicing Judaism, I attended a Seder workshop which was sponsored by a synagogue. The workshop was intended for folks who were leading a Seder for the first time or who wanted to “spice up” their usual Seder.

Before I showed up, I was pretty concerned that everybody there would immediately know I wasn’t “one of them” and wonder why I was there. I anticipated that if they knew that I was there because I was trying to redeem myself as a schiksa it’d only be worse. Despite my anxieties, I mustered up my courage and think I managed not to wince when I introduced myself as Christine (In my honest opinion, among the worst names for somebody marrying a Jew).

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An Inspiring Story of Inclusion

On a daily basis, we highlight and comment on stories or events related to creating an open and welcoming Jewish community. In thousands of blog entries, we have touched on any and every subject that has impacted our community, for better or for worse. After five years of blogging, we still find ourselves inspired by the extraordinary steps many are willing to take in the name of inclusion. A recent story in the New Jersey Jewish News about a bar mitzvah perfectly captured this sense of awe.

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A New Theory on Interfaith Dating

Although Valentine’s Day is not a Jewish holiday, it is celebrated in one way or another by many. For this reason, JTA columnist Edmon J. Rodman wrote a Valentines Day article offering an explanation as to why so many in the Jewish community date and marry people of other religious backgrounds. Jewish people, it seems, are just too darn attractive. Jewish actors were recently named to the top of two different “desirability” lists (Emmanuelle Chriqui in Askmen.com and Jake Gyllenhaal in People Magazine), and our history is filled with stories of irrepressible urges towards Jews (Potiphar and Joseph, King Ahasuerus and Esther).

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Passover: Chaos from Order

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

Passover is a totally different holiday than anything I was used to celebrating growing up Catholic. My first Passover five years ago was the start of making this our biggest Jewish tradition, and we really like it. I think my favorite part about it is the fact that it is ordered chaos. I have never been to anything like it! Here’s what I mean. The very word seder means order (right? Hey, I’m still learning here!). But the very order of evening’s events seems to give rise to a lot of freedom, mix in the kids, and it’s organized chaos. But in a good way! Here are some of the ordered chaos things I have noticed at seders I have attended or hosted.

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Dating and Intermarriage

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Birthright Israel NEXT, the alumni arm of Birthright Israel, has created a digital magazine called Alef: The Next Conversation. The purpose of the magazine is to explore Jewish identity through media such as essays, interviews, photos, poems, and music. In the most recent issue, there is an interesting discussion about dating with two young Jewish women (Emily and Sara), both of whom are children of intermarriage.

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Two Months

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

Two months.

On Friday I brought my daughter to the airport as she headed back to college, that’s when I realized that Passover is just about two months away.

Whew! I thought, I’m not really up to start thinking about another holiday quite yet. I feel like I just got through New Year’s, Christmas, Chanukah – and well, it was my son’s Bar Mitzvah, that’s really what I’m recovering from.

Then reality caught up with me. Two months is not that long.

“Don’t worry, dude,” my daughter said to her younger brother, “I’ll be back in a few weeks for Passover. You won’t even have time to miss me.”

She’s right; it really isn’t that far away.

After 22 years of marriage, I have learned that the moment it occurs to me that there’s a holiday approaching, I need to jump on it and start to get things ready! And Passover requires the greatest forethought.

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Passover Blog Series

As the Jewish community begins preparing for Passover, we are reminded of the increasing number of interfaith families who will be celebrating the holiday this year. Preparing and executing the meal upon which the holiday centers – the Seder – is a complex and time consuming task for anyone, much less folks of other religious backgrounds who are now in our midst. From cooking a meal with no yeast or leavened bread to weaving in the story of Jewish emancipation, the holiday can seem overwhelming. To help ease some of the tension, we have reached out to a few participants of our Mothers Circle program for guidance. As non-Jewish women who are raising Jewish children, they must navigate foreign religious customs, unique dietary restrictions, and a number of cultural quirks. Over the next couple of months, these women will be posting blog entries to share their thoughts and reflections on what it takes – emotionally, physically, and spiritually – to prepare for the Passover holiday as newcomers to Jewish ritual and customs. We invite you to follow along, forward blog entries to anyone you think would be interested, and share your own thoughts in the comment section on our blog.

These women will be providing a valuable tool for all intermarried families who might find this holiday a challenge to plan. Through their own experience they will show us that no matter the challenges, there are a variety of ways to realize the warm, welcoming and inclusive essence of Passover.



New Documentary asks Who is a Jew

There is a new documentary making the rounds at film festivals that tells a common story in today’s Jewish community. Called “Who the Jew are You?” the film introduces us to Alan Goldman, an intermarried Jew with a new child. The thought of raising a Jewish child forces Goldman to consider his own Jewish observance, so he goes on a journey to try and discover what it means to be Jewish. “If Alan could just figure out what relevance Judaism has in his own life,” it says on the movie’s website, “he’d be able to help his son find his place in the Jewish world.”

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Trial Membership

At JOI, we believe one of the best ways to entice unaffiliated Jewish families to take their first step towards engagement is by offering free samples (it’s even one of the principles of our Big Tent Judaism Coalition). That can mean a one time event (like our Public Space Judaism programs), free tickets on the Jewish High Holidays, or even a year of free membership. Lowering these barriers can encourage people to walk through our doors and give us the opportunity to show them how the Jewish community can serve them and what we have to offer. This is the same thinking behind an initiative currently underway at Temple Solel in Cardiff, CA. Called “Taste of Solel,” the six-month project “offers newcomers a chance to try out – or ‘taste’ – all of the temple’s different programs and classes without formally joining.”

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An Inclusive Shabbat Weekend

This upcoming weekend (Feb. 5-6), Jewish congregations throughout the so-called MetroWest region (the Oranges and beyond in the northern center of the state of New Jersey) will join together to offer a variety of programs focused on the “inclusion of those with disabilities and other special needs.” Sponsored by MetroWest ABLE, a network of agencies and community leaders that advocate for individuals with disabilities, the Shabbat weekend is meant to coincide with National Jewish Disability Awareness Month.

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Sending an Inclusive Message

On the heels of yesterday’s blog about inclusive new programs for Orthodox LGBT Jews in Israel, we have a story about same-sex relationships in the Jewish community. Shaarey Zedek, the largest synagogue in Winnipeg, announced it is “moving toward full inclusion for gay and lesbian Jews by offering to bless their same-sex unions.”

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Inclusive Momentum

We recently commented on an article in the online magazine Slate about the growing number of Orthodox Jews who are now willing to acknowledge homosexual members of their community and discuss methods of inclusion. That piece was focused on the American Orthodox community, but an article in the JTA informs us that the same trend is happening within the Orthodox community in Israel.

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Fulfillment and Affiliation

Rob Eshman, the editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, and his wife, Rabbi Naomi Levy (spiritual leader of Nashuva), recently visited Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara, CA. Many of the members are intermarried, they were told, but those were also some of the “most active members.” Not only that, Eshman writes, Jewish life in Santa Barbara “has grown, not shrunk” in the last decade. This got him thinking – what can the rest of the Jewish community do to mirror these results?

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