Weblog Entries for May 2010

Blaming Intermarriage for Every Jewish (and Secular) Social Ill Imaginable

There has been a lot of debate recently over Peter Beinart’s recent piece in the New York Review of Books about why American Jews feel increasingly disconnected from the state of Israel. Beinart believes it has to do with U.S. Jewish groups refusing to criticize the rightward shift in Israel, but others believe it has to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All valid points, but JOI’s associate executive director Paul Golin noticed that there is one particularly odd claim that has “nothing to do with political identity.” The culprit, some argue, is intermarriage.

Writing in, Golin says he’s not surprised, as intermarriage has been “blamed for every Jewish social ill imaginable – from decreasing synagogue affiliation to the ‘dilution of Jewish ethnicity.’ Intermarriage ends ‘Jewish continuity.’ It creates two separate ‘Jewries.’ It lays waste to crop and cattle.”

So why not go ahead and blame it for everything else? Click here to read about what Golin believes are the “additional problems caused by intermarriage that have yet to be properly studied, so that the half-million intermarried households raising Jewish children and participating in Jewish life are aware of the disaster they have wrought.”

The Opportunity to Reach Unaffiliated Jews Online

Getting Jews with little or no affiliation excited about participating in the organized Jewish community is a challenge. It’s not a new challenge, though with expanding online media outlets and social networks, the opportunities for reaching the unaffiliated are growing. That’s where a magazine like Tablet comes in. It’s online and therefore easy to access, and it creates a unique space where anyone – regardless of affiliation – can explore Jewish life and culture.


Jewish Baseball Player with an Interfaith Background

With so few Jewish professional athletes in North America, we’re always excited when another one comes along. The latest is Isaac “Ike” Davis, the new first-basemen for the New York Mets. His Jewish background is constantly brought up in articles and interviews, and he has said in the past that he is “really proud of his Jewish heritage.” But a question during an interview in the New York daily newspaper AMNY reinforced something we call the “Celebrity Exception.” He was asked how he navigates religion as a child of intermarriage.


Nurturing the Jewish Identity of Teenagers

Adam Gaynor, executive director of The Curriculum Initiative, which works to support Jewish culture and identity within non-Jewish high schools, asked some important questions in a recent article on the website eJewish Philanthropy. He noted that most American Jews “choose to live, work and socialize in modern, diverse communities,” yet the most Jewishly committed adults “participated in intensive Jewish education as children.” He wonders how we can reconcile the two – maintain both the longing for diversity and the interest in Judaism. Should we “direct the bulk of communal resources towards day schools and camp,” or is it possible to “re-imagine what Jewish education can look like for most American Jews?”


Highlighting the Paths to Jewish Engagement

To celebrate her two year anniversary at the J., San Francisco’s Jewish weekly newspaper, editor Emily Savage wrote a column describing how she went from thinking “nothing” of her Jewish heritage as a teenager to where she is today – understanding Judaism “as an active part of her life.” Not in the cursory sense of writing about Jewish arts and culture for a Jewish newspaper, but as something central in her life.


Celebrating People for Who They Are, Not Who They Aren’t

At JOI, we understand the value of inclusive language. We have written numerous times about the need to eliminate commonly used negative language from our vocabulary, and we’ve also created tools like our “Cracking the Code” glossary which translates the “language” of the Jewish community for newcomers. Both have the same goal in mind – to create a space where even the words we use are welcoming. But there is one phrase in particular that we use in reference to many in our community who are raising Jewish children, though we often avoid using it because it is inherently antagonistic – “non-Jews.” Writing in The Forward, Jennifer Thompson thinks its time we developed a new phrase to honor all those who have married into the Jewish community and are committed to raising Jewish families.


Sleeplessness on Shavuot

Have you ever participated in a Tikkun Leil Shavuot—literally, a Shavuot night watch? Much like high school or college students who pull “all-nighters” studying for exams, on Shavuot, which begins tonight, we can all join in a similar experience as we stay up all night studying the Torah and other topics related to Judaism. Siân Gibby, a blogger and copy editor, who never pulled all-nighters as a student, writes in Tablet Magazine about how her abhorrence to staying up all night is precisely what makes Shavuot so special for her.


The Story of Ruth through an Interfaith Lens

In a couple of days, many in the Jewish community will visit the story of Ruth, the Moabite woman often thought of as the first official convert to Judaism (although this, of course, is debatable). While many will spend Shavuot reading her story and focusing on the elements that make it the paradigmatic conversion experience—her holistic embrace of Judaism—Rabbi Rayzel Raphael thinks there is another way to read the Book of Ruth. “What’s missing from this story is the interfaith lens through which we view contemporary society,” she writes. By leaving out any mention of the traditions she left behind, Rabbi Raphael believes this is a good opportunity to explore the “details and nuances” of the lives of those who have chosen Judaism or live in a Jewish household.


Recognizing the Different Paths to Jewish Engagement

The diverse methods of celebrating Jewish holidays are a great reminder that there is no “right” way to find meaning in Jewish rituals. Some might find meaning in Shabbat by staying in and reading a good book, while others might find meaning in joining others at synagogue. There are numerous pathways to engagement, and Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of the [New York] Jewish Week, explains that the upcoming holiday of Shavuot is no different. But as each finds their own way to celebrate, no one should look negatively upon how someone else approaches the holiday. “Shavuot,” he writes, “is the festival that speaks most directly to this concept of unity and embracing the other.”


Reflections on the Annual “Why be Jewish” Gathering

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The Samuel Bronfman Foundation just finished its fourth annual “Why be Jewish?” gathering. Over the course of two days, a wide selection of Jewish thought leaders were brought together to collaborate on one of the most essential questions facing the Jewish community today. Writing for the online publication, Adam Bronfman shared his thoughts on what he gained by being a part of the gathering and if there is indeed an answer to the question, why be Jewish?


New Online Resources for Shavuot

On Shavuot, which begins this year on the evening of Tuesday, May 18th, we celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. G-d decreed through Moses on that day that the Torah belonged to all those in the Jewish community, including the strangers who were in our camp. Through this message, we understand that the giving of the Torah – and the celebration of Shavuot - is a time to make sure all those in our midst are welcomed and included. That’s why the Jewish Outreach Institute has created some new and exciting resources that make the holiday accessible and welcoming to intermarried families, Jews-by-Choice and all others in the orbit of our community.


Famous American Jews on the Value and Meaning of Being Jewish

In honor of their 35th anniversary, Moment Magazine asked 70 American Jews to answer two big questions: What do Jews bring to the world, and what does it mean to be Jewish today? The names range from comedian Mel Brooks to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from artist Daniel Libeskind to Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance founder Blu Greenberg. The answers vary as much as the names, but in this diversity an inclusive theme begins to emerge.


Reacting to News of an Interfaith Relationship

When Jewish parents have done everything “right” – sent their children to Jewish day school, had them bar or bat mitzvahed, attended synagogue on a regular basis – it can come as quite a shock when a child announce they are going to marry someone who isn’t Jewish. This was the situation Karin Kasdin found herself in a few years ago, when her son, Dan, fell in love with “a blond, green-eyed beauty named Kristin.” Writing in the online newspaper The Faster Times, Kasdin explains the range of emotions she felt, and how she ultimately decided the best course of action was to simply welcome them enthusiastically, with love and excitement.


Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 9th. We would like to take the opportunity to show our appreciation for the growing number of women of other religious backgrounds that are raising Jewish children. Our Mothers Circle course was developed to show our support for women who have made this decision, and to date over 1,000 women have benefited from the program.

Below is a card we designed especially for you. We want to thank you for the many “ingredients” that contribute to your efforts and let you know that it is a privilege to be connected to such an amazing group of moms!

On behalf of all of JOI: We appreciate all that you do! We hope that you and your families have a nice time this weekend and that everyone reading this blog takes time to offer respect and gratitude to all of the moms in their life. We invite you to forward this card to anyone you know who might enjoy it!

Happy Mothers Day!

For more information about the Mothers Circle program, visit, email, or call Pippi Kessler, National Coordinator of the Mothers Circle, at 212-760-1440.

Responding to Growing Rates of Intermarriage in Canada

Statistics Canada, Canada’s national statistical agency, recently released the results of a study which looked at the rising rates of mixed unions across the country. Using data from the 2006 census, which counted a 33 percent increase in mixed unions from 2001, the study examined the “the characteristics of mixed union couples in Canada.” As ethnic and religious groups – including the Jewish community – continue to see rising rates of intermarriage, it’s no coincidence that JOI has been increasingly invited to Canada over the last couple of years to work with the Jewish community and find ways to help intermarried couples feel connected to their roots and strengthen their Jewish identity.


President Obama Reads our Blog?

On April 30, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation declaring the month of May Jewish American Heritage Month. For five years now, May has been set aside to recognize the “invaluable contributions Jewish Americans have made to our Nation.” As an organization devoted to outreach and as American Jews, we continue to be grateful for this meaningful act of inclusion. But what struck us about this year’s proclamation was a slight change in language, one we might have even had a hand in orchestrating.


Inviting In Those on the Outside

[New York] Jewish Week columnist Julie Wiener recently spent a few days down in Louisville, Ky., visiting Congregation Keneseth Israel. Over the last few years, JOI has spent a lot of time working with the Jewish community in Louisville, helping to expand awareness of and programs for interfaith and unaffiliated families. While Wiener was there, she saw the benefits of practicing a particularly important piece of outreach we often teach: by intentionally reaching out to the less involved folks in our community, you are likely to encourage increased participation.


A Thoughtful Approach to Raising an Interfaith Family

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In all the news regarding the recent high-profile interfaith divorce case in Chicago, little has been written to explain that intermarriage doesn’t always end in disaster. Much more common are the families that grapple with the tough questions and find ways to agree upon the religious upbringing of their children. Alexa Aguilar, a Catholic woman married to a Jewish man, recently wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune demonstrating that it is possible for an interfaith couple to fall in love, get married, and “build a happy family.”


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