Weblog Entries for June 2013

On This Side of History

The following is a poem written by Rabbi Heather Miller, who is currently training to be one of JOI’s Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates. We invite you to share her beautiful words.

June 26, 2013
By Rabbi Heather Miller

What does it feel like
when a human-made law
tells you your relationship isn’t worth as much as that of others
even when you’ve been together 10 years, 20 years, 60 years?
What does it feel like for your religious marriage ceremony to not be backed by your government?

Before today, I couldn’t tell you, because it was too oppressive,
and I didn’t want to explore the pressures it forced upon my life.

But today, on this side of history, I can say
that the Supreme Court decisions of June 26, 2013
feel like sunshine breaking through the clouds.
That the Creator is shining down
renewing the covenantal promise
that we are indeed created in the Divine image.
It feels like a heavy rush hour traffic suddenly clearing
and all road blocks have been taken away.
It feels like we are 10,000 feet up and now free to move about the cabin.
It feels like news that a disease has gone into remission.

One of life’s major obstacles have been removed
and instead of our government working against our family unit,
it is supporting it, rooting for us.

It feels like we are marching through the parted waters of the Red Sea,
on our way to freedom.

It feels like people have confidence in our ability to make the world a beautiful place,
instead of begrudgingly tolerating us.

It feels like justice.
It feels like intentional, sincere hugs and cheers.
It feels joyous, empowering and deeply affirming.

It feels like we are a true part of the community and that we are blessed.

Rabbi Heather Miller serves several congregational communities in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2008, she majored in Peace and Justice Studies and Africana Studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA. She and her wife, Melissa de la Rama, were named the 2013 Liberty Hill Foundation “Leaders to Watch.” Learn more at

Tot Shabbat Tottering

I went to a tot Shabbat service last Friday. Tot Shabbat is what synagogues usually call a Friday night religious service experience tailored for young children and their parents. There was music and singing; the half-dozen or so couples of parents sat in a circle, clapping and enjoying the singing, quietly observing, or anxiously searching the room for their toddler. The kids did what kids do, mostly run around. Then there was a potluck dinner followed by some unstructured socializing.

I don’t like synagogues. Sorry, but I don’t. I grew up a secular Israeli Jew and I find in religious service little that is of meaning to me. I also did not enjoy this particular tot Shabbat service that much either. People were nice enough, for sure. But there were little things that irked me (like the way Americans pronounce the word Shabbat as if it rhymes with Chabad – Shabbad is here, Shabbad is here… one song went). More significantly perhaps was the possible implication that, since this kind of religious service is the one way of being Jewish that is sanctioned by Jewish institutions, it is also the most authentic, or truest way of being Jewish. Was this the message I want to send to my son?


“You should put some shmeer on that.”

Lest we think that only heterosexual couples have to work out issues around intermarriage, here is a Wedding Announcement from The New York Times of a gay couple with two adopted girls being raised as Jews by a stay-at-home Catholic dad.

They talked, exchanged numbers and went on their first date three weeks later. They went out four more times that week, the last of which to watch the Gay Pride parade. When a family with children walked by, Mr. Mulvaney, who was raised Roman Catholic and is one of 13 children, mentioned that he might like to have a family someday.

“As long as we raise them Jewish,” they both recall Mr. Kozuch replying with a smidgen of humor.

Intermarriage is not only prevalent in the homosexual community, it is almost a necessity. It’s hard enough to find someone compatible who is Jewish when you are straight, but being gay shrinks the marriage pool that much more. Of course if you live in New York City, the odds of meeting a nice Jewish gay boy or girl are greater, but when over half of all marriages in North America are intermarriages, it stands to reason that a good portion of gay marriages will be as well.

What Makes a Jewish Mother?

When I was a teenager, I went to Jewish weekend camp where every month we had a topic to discuss. The first topic was “What Makes a Jew?” The entire discussion about mothers/fathers, patrilineal/matrilineal descent, observant/not observant, didn’t resonate with me. When I thought about who was Jewish, I decided that whoever says she is Jewish, is Jewish. I never saw any benefit to determining for others whether they were Jewish or not.

This week I read an article in The New York Times called “What Makes a Jewish Mother?” about how to determine, in the case of adoption and sperm/egg donation, the religion of the child. This is my favorite line: “Jewish authorities are finding evidence in the Scriptures to support both arguments: that the egg donor is the mother and that the birth mother is the mother.” I had no idea that “egg donation” came up in the Bible, something that was written thousands of years ago before anyone knew about turkey basters let alone invitro fertilization.


How Do Jewish Men Pray?

I think that it is fair to say that men navigate the world differently than do women. We relearn that lesson each day here at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) as we promote our women’s programs (such as The Mothers Circle and Empowering Ruth) and our men’s programs (such as How Should I Know? and Answering Your Jewish Children), all of which are available for anyone who wants to implement them or participate in them. Just contact us.

As difficult as it may be to recruit for our women’s programs (made a lot easier if you follow our recommendations on outreach best practices), it is even more difficult to recruit for the men’s programs. Truth be told, men really aren’t any more elusive than women—and certainly no more elusive than the 20-30-year-old population—they are just different and have to be reached differently.


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