Weblog Entries for September 2012

The Inspiration of the Israeli Baseball Team

Guest blog from James Thurman Kahn, member of the Jewish Outreach Institute President’s Advisory Board

In this year full of serious issues, it can be a great relief to lose one’s cares in an interlude of baseball.

Here’s part of what’s so inspiring about the new Israeli baseball team: many of these players are Americans who grew up secular, maybe not even religious; some had only one Jewish parent or grandparent. Yet, they identify with Israel – contradicting both left-wingers like Peter Beinert, and many right-wingers who think that only religious Jews support Israel. The lie from both ends of the political spectrum, which each side uses for different reasons, is the same: assimilated American Jews are not Zionist. But here are these guys with Stars of David on their caps, and I bet they have a much stronger feeling for Israel and for Judaism than they did before this began. It’s a wonderful rallying point for the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI).

The beauty is, it’s only a game. However, tell that to African-Americans in 1936 when racial bigotry was everywhere and the Nazis had the “superior race,” and then Jesse Owens won all those medals in the Berlin Olympics. Now, in 2012, when world leaders are sitting quietly, listening to Ahmadinejad explain how Israel and “400 years of Zionism” are a cancer that must be wiped off the map, there is a certain comfort in being allowed to compete on equal footing, a team like any other team.


Celebrate Sukkot with Your Family! Tips from The Mothers Circle

There are few sights more stunning than the changing of the leaves as summer turns to fall, and the Jewish calendar presents the perfect opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this time of year through the harvest festival of Sukkot. Arriving just five days after our solemn observance of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, Sukkot is a celebration of gratitude for what we have and what is to come in the exciting year ahead. While you may notice that Sukkot is not as widely celebrated or acknowledged as the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, one can find many parallels to American Thanksgiving, as the pilgrims used this Biblical holiday as a template for their Thanksgiving celebration.

Like Thanksgiving, Sukkot celebrates our history and our connection to nature. You can now learn more about the holiday through The Mothers Circle Guide to Sukkot, which offers an introduction to its symbols and rituals, as well as ideas for celebrating with your families and making it your own. We invite you to take some time during this “Season of Our Rejoicing” (as Sukkot as often called) to celebrate the beauty of autumn through this unique and joyous holiday. Chag Sameach (Hebrew for “Happy Holiday”), and Happy Fall!

On Being Jewish and Chinese

So-Han Fan considers himself the product of not just the Jewish Diaspora, but a Chinese one as well. In this article, published in, So-Han, a Chinese-American-Jew who only found out he was Jewish as an adult, writes: “The main thing that I know now, that I didn’t know before, is that Jewishness and Chineseness aren’t things that you can go and simply pick up and put on, like a hat - you have to create them, and it’s a process that never ends.” As a community that wants to grow and thrive, the more welcoming we are, the more we help individuals and families find a way to “be Jewish” that works for them, and the wider we open the tent to create Big Tent Judaism, the more successful we will be.

When we meet someone like So-Han who doesn’t “look” Jewish, how do we determine if he or she is interested in participating in anything Jewish-related? Of course, we would have to ask. But it might be impractical for us to go around asking everyone we see, “Are you Jewish?” Not only that, it might seem like we’re proselytizing - which is not something Jews do. So how do we identify the newcomer in order to engage him or her? We create engaging programs outside the walls of our institutions (where the people are) so that the newcomer might find something of interest in our programs that s/he would like to explore further.


JOI Announces the Passing of Saul Mintz

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It is with great sadness that we begin the New Year by announcing the passing of a dear friend and member of JOI’s Board of Directors, Saul Mintz.

Prior to joining the JOI Board of Directors in 2008, Saul Mintz was a generous supporter of JOI since 2003. He also served on the President’s Advisory Board from 2006 to 2008. A graduate of Tulane University in architecture, Saul served on the boards of Tulane University President’s Council, LSU Health Sciences Foundation-Shreveport, as well as the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. He also served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and as the Chairman of Strauss Interests.

Saul was the recipient of the: ADL Torch of Liberty Award/South Central Region, Tulane University Emeritus Club’s Outstanding Alumnus Award, and the Jewish Endowment Foundation’s Tzedakah Award.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Jean Strauss Mintz; brother Albert Mintz and wife, Linda of New Orleans; sisters-in-law, Elaine Levy Mintz of New Orleans and Peggy Strauss Greenbaum and husband, Jim Greenbaum of Rancho Mirage, CA; children, Morris Mintz and wife, Melinda, Carolyn Kaplan and husband, Jay of Houston, TX and Sally Mann and husband, Anthony of Greenwich, CT; and his grandchildren; Mark Mintz and wife, Jennifer, Clifford and Sarah Mintz, Glynn, Layne and Jack Kaplan, Alexandra, Isabelle, Strauss and Georgia Mann; great granddaughter, Lillian Mintz; and a score of adored nieces and nephews. His daughter Carolyn Mintz Kaplan is also on the JOI Board of Directors.

To read Saul’s complete obituary, please click here.

What To Do When Your Child “Brings Home” Someone of Another Faith

I just returned from the International Lion of Judah Conference, celebrating women’s philanthropy as part of the Jewish Federation system. I spoke to 150 women who are concerned about how intermarriage affects their family and their community. We talked about many things, including how to effectively grandparent grandchildren who are being raised in intermarried homes and how to make the community more welcoming. But clearly what they wanted to hear was what to say when your adult children “brings home” someone from another faith background and introduces that person as their intended life partner. To me, the only thing to say is “welcome,” for in that nanosecond you determine what your future relationship will be with your adult children, his/her partner, and their future children. Here is a list of items regarding what else I had to say on the subject. (Click on the image to download the PDF list.)

Happy New Year From the Jewish Outreach Institute

Finding a Place in the Tent

My friends and family have always viewed me as someone who would only work for an organization whose values I strongly and deeply uphold. So, I was excited to begin my new position as grant writer here at JOI. A self-identifying atheist-agnostic with unaffiliated unengaged immigrant parents and an intermarried brother and sister in-law (whose kids don’t realize that Thanksgiving, Passover, and Christmas come from three separate cultures) I haven’t always felt welcomed into the North American Jewish community, but the benefit of working for JOI is being able to show my family, and families like us, that the Jewish community is, in fact, a welcoming place to be, no matter how you celebrate your Judaism.

Growing up, I was raised by my agnostic mother, agnostic grandmother, and atheist father, who all felt very strongly about their Jewish roots and upholding Jewish traditions. As is often the case for Russian Jews, many of the traditions were not passed down to my grandmother’s generation and were reinvented by my mother’s generation (due to the restriction on religion during communism, which often makes our traditions a little different from other Jewish family traditions).

My family traditions included Passover dinner with the retelling of the story of Passover, with Russian dishes like red caviar and salads that included mayo and pickled fish on the table next to traditional Jewish ones like gefilte fish and Matzah ball soup. In my home, lighting candles on Friday and then staring into them and making a wish silently wasn’t necessarily a religious practice, but more of an ethnic tradition. My nephews love challah and coming over for family dinner on Friday nights, even though they don’t understand how this is related to their father’s ethnicity. An over-arching theme for us is that this is a way to preserve our ethnic identity, not necessarily our religious identity. So where do we fit in the tent? I would often hear my family discussing how communal Jewish activities are not for us: there aren’t meeting places for people like us, other Jews don’t understand us.


Drake Accepts VMA as Black and Jewish

At last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, rapper Drake accepted the award for Best Hip-Hop Video for his song “HYFR.” The music video, which made the internet rounds when it was released earlier in 2012, features Drake, a Canadian Black Jewish rapper, surrounded by Jewish friends and features several scenes of a Bar Mitzvah service and reception (although this one probably doesn’t have the traditional Coke and Pepsi-like games many of us remember!). It is worth mentioning that the video was not well-received by everyone; however, it won the VMA, giving Drake the opportunity to mention his Judaism.

What is notable about both the video and Drake’s acceptance speech is his highlighting of his Black and Jewish upbringing. Since becoming popular a few years ago, Drake has repeatedly talked about his Jewish heritage, as well as his pride in being both Black and Jewish. In an MTV interview back in April 2012, he stated:

“I’m proud, a proud young Jewish boy. When I had a Bar Mitzvah back in the day, my mom really didn’t have that much money. We kinda just did it in the basement of an Italian restaurant, which I guess is kinda like a faux pas,” Drake told Cash Money videographer Derrick G on the video’s Miami set [of the “HYFR” video shoot]. “I told myself that if I ever got rich, I’d throw myself a re-Bar Mitzvah. That’s the concept for the video.”


JOI Featured in ISJL Newsletter

JOI’s strategic partnership with the Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) has thus far been an exciting one. This week alone, we held a training session for ISJL Fellows and staff members (focused on welcoming in interfaith families, and what we can learn from their experiences), and led a webinar on how to celebrate the High Holidays with your children if you weren’t raised Jewish for those in the ISJL service area for moms of other religious backgrounds. (We will be offering several more free webinars for non-Jewish mothers in the South who are in an interfaith relationship. If you live in the South, or know someone who does, please contact Andrea at for more information.)

This week, ISJL released its monthly educational newsletter, which highlighted our work together. Employing the theme of “Big Tent Judaism,” JOI staff members and ISJL Fellows worked together to present compelling stories about intermarried families, multi-racial families, Jews with special needs, and the less-engaged, especially those in the wide-spread small Jewish communities of the southern United States. In addition to spotlighting a Mothers Circle in Greensboro, NC, the newsletter provides southern Jewish educators with the tools to reach the less-engaged and develop a sensitivity to the many faces of the Jewish community in the South.

We look forward to our continued partnership with ISJL. JOI will continue working with ISJL fellows to reach those in small southern Jewish communities with our programs, and conducting free webinars (on-line seminars) for mothers of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children, and for grandparents whose adult children have intermarried.

To read the ISJL e-newsletter, please click here.

Success of The Mothers Circle in Portland, OR

Readers of this blog may already be familiar with The Mothers Circle – one of JOI’s flagship programs, serving mothers of other religious backgrounds who have committed to raising Jewish children. While these women often do not feel welcomed by the Jewish community, we believe them to be our unsung heroes. The majority of Jewish households in North America are, in fact, intermarried households – where one spouse was not raised Jewish. And it is these women, these mothers raised in other religious backgrounds, who we should look up to. Choosing to raise their children in a faith other than their own, these mothers, for whom The Mothers Circle was designed, hold the key to Jewish continuity in North America.

Yet, steeped as we are in the daily routine of work here at JOI, it is often easy to overlook the positive change we manage to bring daily to Jewish communities around the country. Now is the time to celebrate our success!

JOI has recently released a case study featuring the wonderful success of one community where The Mothers Circle has been implemented successfully over the past four years. One of close to a hundred communities who have already implemented Mothers Circles, Portland, OR has a legacy of successful recruitment. As is the case nationally, alumnae of the Portland Mothers Circle overwhelmingly go on to affiliate with Jewish organizations and to choose Jewish education for their children.


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