For the fourth time in as many years, we are thrilled to announce that JOI’s Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky has been named by Newsweek magazine as one of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America. He was recognized as one of the countries leading rabbinical advocates for outreach to intermarried families and unaffiliated Jews.
The compilers of the list, Michael Lynton and his pal Gary Ginsberg, both media executives, admit their methods are “unscientific.” But it would be nearly impossible to scientifically define the most influential rabbi. Instead, the list can be seen as an affirmation of the diversity that exists within the leadership of our community. They include Orthodox, Reform, and LGBT rabbis because each has made a unique impact on the community at large. Whether you agree with the list or if you think there have been rabbis left off, we’re thrilled that Newsweek is continuing to promote a healthy dialogue within the Jewish community.
As with most rabbis on the list, Kerry doesn’t work alone. In recognizing Kerry, Newsweek is also recognizing the whole of JOI. Together we have created one of the most powerful and emphatic voices to speak for all those on the periphery of our community, working to transform the Jewish community into a more welcoming and inclusive space for all in our midst.
For those who have a passion for inclusion and are already involved in the organized community, we have an exciting new program to help make our community more welcoming for all: The Ambassadors Program. As a JOI Ambassador, you will have at your disposal all of the resources we offer to transform your community into a more welcoming space and bring less involved individuals and families into deeper Jewish engagement.
Over the weekend, the Detroit Free Pressexplored the subject of intermarriage among the area’s Jewish community. While the paper spoke with people who represent both sides of the intermarriage issue, those who see it as a threat and those who believe it is not, it chose to illustrate an outlook becoming more common in today’s Jewish community – they looked at what various synagogues and congregations are doing to reach and engage intermarried families.
As the Jewish community continues to grow in diversity, many of the voices that represent the emerging face of Judaism – children of intermarriage, Jews-by-Choice, multiracial Jews – are not being heard. But a new show on The Jewish Channel hopes to reverse that trend and give these folks a place to talk about their identity and their views on the Jewish community. Called “Jews of Color,” this roundtable discussion “explores the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Jewish community, sharing the unique perspectives of Jews from African-American, Asian, Hispanic and other ‘non-white’ backgrounds.”
At JOI, we take the work we do very seriously. We believe promoting a more welcoming and inclusive Jewish community is vital to our survival and growth, and for over 20 years we have worked tirelessly towards this goal. In that time, we’ve worked with countless families to help them navigate the tensions that exist in an interfaith relationship. While we look at our work as important to the future of the Jewish community, we also realize there is a lighter, humorous side to all types of family dynamics. That’s why we were interested to read about the new stage comedy, “Spaghetti and Matzo Balls — Fuhgeddaboudit!”
Encouraging the large number of unaffiliated Jews in our community to participate in Jewish life is one of the greatest challenges here in North America. Through our programs such as Passover in the Matzah Aisle and Eight Days of Oil (Hanukkah olive oil tasting), we have successfully brought Judaism to the public square, helping innumerable people take that first step towards a path of Jewish engagement. According to an article in the JTA, it seems the Jewish community in Italy could benefit from taking a page out of our playbook.
In anticipation of the upcoming LGBT Jewish Movement Building retreat being held in Berkley, CA, from June 27-29, Lynn Schusterman, chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, wrote an impassioned op-ed for the JTA advocating for the total embrace of LGBT Jews. And in a bold move that demonstrates without question her commitment to LGBT equality and inclusiveness in the Jewish community, she states that in the future, her foundation “will only consider funding organizations that have non-discrimination policies covering both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.”
Planning a bar or bat mitzvah is one of the most time-consuming and rewarding tasks for families in the Jewish community. Often it takes years of training and preparation by both parents and children – driving to and from lessons, learning to read Torah, writing speeches – to reach this terrific milestone in the life of a young Jew. Today, many intermarried families and children of intermarriage undergo the same rigorous preparations, yet long-held traditions create barriers when it comes to the participation of the non-Jewish parent and his or her side of the family.
Writing in the Cleveland Jewish News, JOI identified five areas where synagogues and communities can include intermarried families in bar and bat mitzvah rituals while still respecting both tradition and Jewish law. Life-cycle events like these are not just a celebration of a single person or family, but a celebration of the entire community. Finding ways to engage intermarried families – and people of all backgrounds – will show that everyone is welcome to stand under our Big Tent.
With Father’s Day coming up this Sunday, June 20, the Jewish Outreach Institute created the Father’s Day card below to celebrate men of all backgrounds raising Jewish children. We invite you to share this card with all of the fathers you know who are helping to secure a vibrant Jewish future.
Every parent who has raised a family knows one thing – it isn’t cheap. Clothes, toys, after school activities, day care, athletics; the list never seems to end. For some exact numbers, the Department of Agriculture released a study which found the total cost of raising a child through the age of 18 to be between $286,050 and $475,680, depending on income levels. An article on MSNBC.com gave some tips on how to save money in the long run, but there was one category they left out – the added cost of raising a child in the Jewish community.
At JOI, we don’t pretend being raised in an interfaith home is not without challenges. We know from both studies and anecdotal evidence that children of intermarriage often struggle with their religious identity, which can lead to confusion and, sometimes, contention. But for intermarried parents who are trying to raise Jewish children, there are incredible opportunities to embolden Jewish identity around almost every corner. This was a point made by Nina Joyce in the Jewish Advocate (subscription required). Sitting around a Christmas dinner with her Jewish mother and Christian grandparents one year, an argument over a Christmas tree at the local library gave Joyce deeper insight into the Jewish identity of both her mother and herself.
Since starting this blog in 2005, we have written many times about the issue of interfaith couples who want to be buried together in a Jewish cemetery. These couples already face a distinct set of challenges when they decide to get married and start a family. And part of planning for a life together means planning for the inevitable – death. Unfortunately, interfaith couples who support and maintain a Jewish lifestyle are rarely given the opportunity to be buried alongside one another in a Jewish cemetery. That’s why we read with interest and optimism a recent article in the Forward which explained how Conservative Judaism’s rabbinical association found something of a compromise which would allow intermarried families to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
From June 27-29, nearly 100 leaders of LGBT synagogues, national and local LGBT Jewish organizations, as well as individuals, foundations, and organizations will come together in Berkley, Calif. for an historic meeting to discuss how the Jewish community can work together to build a stronger and more unified movement for LGBT inclusion and equality in Jewish life. This first-ever LGBT Jewish Movement Building retreat is being organized by Jewish Mosaic, Keshet, and Nehirim.
Edgar Bronfman, Sr., president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, is a person you can always count on to speak his mind, particularly on the subject of intermarriage and the Jewish community. As a community leader and as a major philanthropist, he is able to say and do things that others may not be willing – or able – to do. It’s a refreshing approach, and one that was on full display during a recent speech at McGill University in Montreal. Intermarriage, he said, is not necessarily a “bad thing,” but it is a reality of today’s Jewish community. “Let’s make it work for us, rather than against us.”
On the surface, the story of up-and-coming hip-hop star Aubrey “Drake” Graham isn’t all that unusual. Despite his portrayal of Jimmy on the Canadian television show “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” his rise to music stardom followed a well-tread path. He wrote and produced music in his spare time, put it on mix tapes, and did what he could to try and get his music recognized. Eventually, after his third mix tape, people took notice and he was signed to a contract. Though his rise since being signed has been meteoric, there is a much more interesting aspect to his story. According to Heeb magazine, Drake is the “first-ever black Jewish rap star.”
The unfortunate case of the Chicago interfaith couple embroiled in a messy divorce has needlessly put interfaith support organizations on the defensive. This should be unnecessary, as the Chicago case is only one extreme example. But when we see an article in the Washington Post titled “Interfaith Marriages are Rising Fast, but they’re Failing Fast, too,” we feel it’s important to reiterate that to date there has been no study to confirm higher divorce rates among interfaith couples. We think the real story should be that despite negative press, the acceptance and integration of interfaith families and children of intermarriage into the Jewish community is gaining more widespread support.
For 16 years, the Jewish community of Boulder, Colo. has come together to hold the annual Boulder Jewish Festival. It’s free and open to the public, so it represents a great opportunity for what we call “Public Space Judaism,” in which we bring Judaism to where people are rather than waiting for them to come to us. This year, the festival’s organizers took full advantage of that model, even creating an inclusive and welcoming tag line for the event: “Come in, our tent is open!”
While we tend to focus on religious issues related to the Jewish community, we often come across articles or studies that remind us that the challenges we face – particularly in the area of affiliation and identity – are not unique to us. Yes, among today’s younger generation synagogue membership is down as is interest in the institutions that used to be central to Jewish life. But this isn’t just a Jewish phenomenon. Young people in general, according to an article on CNN.com, are more likely to define themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” foregoing traditional affiliation for the freedom to engage with God and religion in their own way.
The Big Tent Judaism Coalition, a project of JOI, is a movement of Jewish communal institutions which strives to engage, support and advocate for all those seeking a welcoming and inclusive Jewish community. Nearly 350 organizations have joined since our launch a few years ago, and we continue to grow. But not just organizational growth – we are excited to announce the launch of a new online resource that will help unite coalition members and create a more robust and interactive approach to Big Tent Judaism.
In America, people on trial are innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the prosecutor, who has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. This system was designed to protect the rights of individuals, to protect their privacy and livelihood. This is apparently not the way the Chief Rabbinate in Israel believes we should treat Jews-by-Choice – or any Diaspora Jew who has moved to Israel, or an Israeli child of Jewish parents who were married abroad. According to new regulations, the burden of proof is on the individual to prove their Jewishness – guilty of not being Jewish until proven otherwise.