Weblog Entries for April 2010

Jewish Cooking Blog Moves us Towards Inclusion

Tori Avey, aka The Shiksa in the Kitchen, converted to Judaism on Feb. 25, 2010. Why, then, does she still consider herself a shiksa (a word with derogatory connotations that we generally try to avoid using)? Writing in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Avey, who runs a Jewish cooking blog and sits on our Women’s Advisory Board, explains that she does this “in good humored defiance of the lingering doubts surrounding intermarriage and conversion.” Her decision to embrace the term stems from a desire to force others in the Jewish community to confront intermarriage and conversion and help move us towards a culture of welcoming and inclusion.


The Opportunity to Find a Path to Jewish Engagement

Nathanial Popper, formerly a reporter at the Forward newspaper, ended his tenure with a reflective essay tracing his Jewish journey. He grew up in Squirrel Hill, Pa., “one of the last surviving urban neighborhoods in America where all Jewish denominations still live side by side.” Like many born into the Jewish community today, he was a child of intermarriage. His family would do a “watered-down version of most Jewish and Christian holidays,” and his personal religion was “ice hockey.” But after having the opportunity to explore the Jewish community from his unique position at the Forward, Popper was able to look inward and re-discover the value that Judaism could have in his life.


Religious Custody

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The high profile case of a messy interfaith divorce in Chicago has become fodder for dozens of editorials in the last few months, in both the religious and secular press. Briefly, Rebecca Reyes, who is Jewish, and her ex-husband Joseph, who converted but has gone back to Catholicism, are at odds over the religious upbringing of their daughter, Ela. Though both agreed to raise Ela Jewish when they were married, Joseph has had a change of heart and recently won the right to take his daughter with him to church. While the parents hopefully work towards some kind of compromise, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of CLAL (The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership), uses this episode to explore the unfavorable question of “who gets religious custody in an interfaith divorce.”


New Book about Raising Jewish Children

We are thrilled to announce the availability of a new book by JOI executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and associate executive director Paul Golin titled “How to Raise Jewish Children Even When You’re Not Jewish Yourself.” The book, published by Torah Aura Productions, helps to “open up the code of Jewish living” for the non-Jewish spouse in an intermarriage. Through detailed explanations of holidays and customs, Rabbi Olitzky and Golin offer a roadmap for intermarried couples who want to create a vibrant Jewish home.

Rabbi Olitzky and Golin are well versed in the challenges many intermarried families face when trying to make connections to Jewish life. With over twenty years of combined experience working with intermarried families, they are able to translate the language of Jewish life and lower barriers for all those seeking to raise a Jewish child. We invite you to order your copy today and share this book with anyone you think could benefit from its message.

Written in the spirit of welcoming and inclusion, “How to Raise Jewish Children” is the perfect supplement for any intermarried family looking for an introduction to Jewish life and culture. Enjoy!

Renewing our Commitment to Inclusion

Karen Lee Erlichman of Jewish Mosaic, the National Center for Sexual & Gender Diversity, has been a Jewish communal professional for over twenty years. In the course of her career, she has experienced both an atmosphere of inclusion and an atmosphere of disconnection among Jewish organizations. In her opinion, she has experienced far too much of the latter. To inspire the changes she feels are necessary to create a “vibrant and welcoming Jewish community,” she took to the pages of Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture and offered “Ten Guidelines for Jewish Communal Life.” These guiding principles will help our Jewish organizations “survive and thrive” and “create a new covenant and organizational culture, grounded in relationship and mutual respect.”


An Opportunity for Jewish Communal Professionals

For any professionals working in the Jewish community, there is still time to sign up for the upcoming Jewish Communal Service Association of North America Annual Program. If you register now, you will have the opportunity to hear from leaders in the field of Jewish communal service – including JOI executive director Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky. He will open up the conference with a D’var Torah (Word of Torah) and then make a presentation on what Jewish communal professionals can do to make the Jewish community a more welcoming and inclusive space. Other speakers include Jerry Silverman, President and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, and Dr. Misha Galperin, author of the book “The Case for Jewish Peoplehood: Can We Be One.

The Annual Program, titled “Working in the New Normal: Roles and Realities,” takes place on May 6th at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Click here for more information about speakers, workshops and a full schedule. The deadline to register is April 28th. Don’t miss this opportunity to meet with Jewish communal leaders and network with other professionals to share best practices and strategies for engagement.

A Global Jewish Community

The Los Angeles Jewish Journal recently sat down with Israeli Knesset member Einat Wilf. To say we at JOI were enthralled by her positions on intermarriage, Jewish peoplehood and Jewish identity would be an understatement. For instance, she believes Judaism belongs “to the Jewish people as a whole” and that “all Jews are equal in their Jewishness.” When asked if her marriage to a non-Jewish German impacts her role as a public figure, she responds:

My view is if anyone sees it as a problem, they’ll just have to get used to it. Long before I married, I thought the Jewish world was making a big mistake in counting intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews as minus one, not plus one.


A Normal Jewish Experience

Is there a normal Jewish experience in North America? Or is “normal” a relative term? Writing in Lilith Magazine(PDF), Rabbi Susan Schnur thinks back to her days growing up in New Jersey and New York in the 1970’s. “In that world,” she writes, “Jews were largely Jewishly literate – they’d gone to Hebrew school, had immigrant grandparents, their families belonged to synagogues.” And in that world, Jews married other Jews. But something has changed, and Rabbi Schnur decided to sit down with three young Jewish women – all with “trenchant Jewish identities” – to talk about what she sees as a “radically shifted generational experience.” Specifically, that these three highly engaged young adults – who are all the daughters of rabbis – date non-Jews and are “consonant with the idea of someday marrying partners who are not Jewish.”


Making the Tough Decisions

Laurel Snyder, a poet, editor and member of JOI’s Board of Professional Advisors, has an interesting approach when people come to her with questions about life in an interfaith relationship. As editor of the book “Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes,” she had fallen into an authoritative position on the subject (additionally, she is intermarried and the child of intermarriage). In a blog post on the website, Snyder says that when people ask her questions about navigating these relationships, she explains that any “issues” need to be talked about “from the heart” and before the interfaith couple is married. “But what if it turns out we can’t agree? We might not end up getting married!”


Reinventing Judaism

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The Jewish community is built upon a foundation of rituals. Lighting candles, the prayers we say, telling the story of our liberation from slavery on Passover – these are elements of our religion that have not changed in hundreds, if not thousands, of years. But they have been “reinvented” time and again. Prayers have been put to new tunes and stories have come to include references to modern day events. Is all this “reinvention” a good thing, asked Meredith Jacobs in the Baltimore Jewish Times? Or should we just leave things alone? “After all, what’s so wrong with the way we’ve been doing things?”


Opening Our Doors to Those with Special Needs

JOI established the Big Tent Judaism Coalition as a way to bring together organizations across the globe that all shared a common goal: to create an inclusive and welcoming Jewish community. Specifically, this means doing more to welcome in folks who have traditionally experienced barriers to participation, including intermarried families, children of intermarriage, Jews-by-Choice, and LGBT Jews. That’s why we were excited to read about a joint effort by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education Jewish Outreach Partnership (ACAJE/JOP) to “make area synagogues, schools, camps and other communal facilities fully inclusive to people with special needs.”


Intermarriage Doesn’t Mean Assimilation

Back in February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech to the Jewish Agency, an organization which aims to strengthen ties between Jews and Jewish identity. During the speech, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that intermarriage and assimilation are the greatest threats to Jewish identity, implying the two are inextricably connected. In response, JOI’s associate executive director penned an opinion piece for the (New York) Jewish Week challenging the long held belief that intermarriage and assimilation are synonymous terms. He explains that such a comparison is not only inaccurate, but it is also “an affront to the literally hundreds of thousands of households where one parent happens to be Jewish that are currently raising Jewish children.”


Post-Passover Thoughts

The blog post below comes from a participant in The Mothers Circle, and is in response to the question “Have you found time for adult practice while supporting the religious practice of your children?”

Especially at Easter and Christmas, my friends ask me what I’m doing to celebrate “my” holidays. The answer, I’m sincerely sorry to say, is not much. We celebrate the nuts and bolts of the big Christian holidays at my parent’s house, but that’s it. The only time my kids and spouse have been to a church was when our congregation held our High Holiday services in one last year. The problem, however, is not my family. All of them would be more than happy to join me once in awhile at “my” church…and therein lies the problem. I can’t find one. I was baptized Lutheran out of deference to my grandparents, raised by more or less agnostic parents, converted to Catholicism in college, and promptly became the world’s worst convert. (Long story there, involving–of course–a guy I was dating at the time.) I hadn’t been to church for several years before I even met my husband, and that was 14 years ago.


What to Say to the Rabbi

Today’s blog entry comes to us from Valerie Jones, a participant in our program for women Jews-by-Choice, Empowering Ruth.

Before my first meeting with a rabbi about converting to Judaism, I called my best friend. Overcome with anxiety about the meeting, I whined, “What if he asks me a bunch of questions I don’t know how to answer?”

My friend, who has a very quick wit, decided to coax me out of worry with humor. “Remember that episode of M*A*S*H when Radar had a date with a really sophisticated nurse but didn’t know how to talk to her?” she asked.

Of course, I did. In this classic episode (aren’t all M*A*S*H episodes classics?), Hawkeye and Trapper John coach Radar on answers to every scenario that might arise during his upcoming date. If asked about classical music, for example, Radar was to simply nod his head knowingly and answer “Ah, Bach.”


Asking Tougher Questions

Writing in the Washington Jewish Week, Rabbi Reeve Brenner of Congregation Bet Chesed in Bethesda, MD said that one of the most significant questions to come out of the Reform movement’s recent convention in San Francisco was “how to regard non-Jews raising Jewish children.” An undoubtedly important discussion to have, but it only gets us to the starting point. “Step one,” he writes, “lies ahead.”


Inclusive Jewish Day Schools

Children of intermarriage, regardless of which parent is Jewish, should have equal opportunity when it comes to, among other things, Jewish education. From an early age, we shouldn’t stigmatize their status in the Jewish community, especially if we want them to grow up with a positive image of Judaism. That’s why we were pleased to read that the Nathan Bohrer-Abraham Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County (HAMC) was “dropping its requirement that all students have a Jewish mother or be converted.” Instead, the school will now “consider applications from any student considered Jewish by Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist standards.”

(more…), an online resource devoted to issues relating to Jewish conversion, has recently undergone a major upgrade. The new website now incorporates some of today’s best elements of social networking, education and community blogging in a way that easily allows users to share experiences and talk about what it’s like to be a Jew-by-choice.


Writing a New Chapter in Jewish History

We often argue that Judaism is not a completely static entity. While there certainly are elements of the religion that have remained unchanged since its earliest days, other areas have grown and changed along the way. And we, as a community, must find ways to tether our past with the inevitable changes that occur over time. J.J Goldberg, a columnist for the Forward newspaper, recently attended a bar mitzvah that represented to him just what kind of accommodations we can make that will help define the future of the Jewish community.


Enjoying the Seder

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

“We are not remotely observant enough to justify to your teachers why we are so late this morning!” I yelled at my daughters this morning.

“What does that mean?” Eight-year-old Elizabeth sobbed.

“Just get in the car!”

Thus was our first morning celebrating Passover. On Monday night my husband astonished me. The girls and I arrived home at 6:30 pm after our usually hectic Monday of school followed by guitar and skating lessons. After considerable discussion and debate (read: arguing), we’d agreed that my husband would buy a roasted chicken for dinner that night and that I’d prepare a more formal meal for Seder on Tuesday.


Star Wars Epidsoe VII: Intermarriage

Eli Valley, a cartoonist/columnist for the Forward newspaper, recently took a look at the subject of intermarriage through the lens of Star Wars. In this version of the eminent tale, Luke Skywalker is Jewish and he discovers that Darth Vader (a child of intermarriage) is building “an empire for the intermarried” and their children. Luke, who believes that intermarriage is “Jewish suicide,” is infuriated, so he gathers Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Yoda to help take down this evil empire.


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