Mothers Circle in the Wall Street Journal

We were very excited to see our Mothers Circle program featured in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. Writer Julie Wiener did an excellent job conveying the amazing dedication of women of other religious backgrounds who are raising Jewish children, in spite of the challenges they face. She interviewed many of the women who have helped make the program a success, and highlighted why the program is so essential. Here’s some of what she had to say:

Today, with intermarriage increasingly pervasive in the American Jewish community, it is no longer unusual to see gentile moms coordinating the Hebrew school carpool and hosting Passover seders. In fact, the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) — a New York-based group seeking to make the Jewish community more welcoming and inclusive — estimates that there are over 200,000 households in the U.S. in which gentile mothers and Jewish fathers are raising Jewish children.

The Mothers Circle, a national program sponsored by the institute, aims to give these women the know-how and confidence to pull this off.

Piloted in Atlanta in 2002, the program has now reached 30 communities throughout the country and hundreds of mothers. Congratulations to everyone who has helped make the program what it is today. You can contact me if you are interested in learning more or finding a Mothers Circle in your community.


  1. 1/ Since the WSJ is a business publication, I believe this article is known as ‘filler’. I wouldn’t worry about it being much read.

    2/ Women are more spiritual than men-which is why

    a/ there will never be a ‘Father’s Circle’ (even though the children of Jewish women are always considered Jews.)

    b/ Any religion with women leaders will disappear (note to Jewish branches that have women rabbis) since the males will stop showing up.

    3/ Once again, what happens when these children grow up and encounter this Halacha thing and find out this Halacha thing says they are not Jewish? (and if they never find out about this Halacha thing are they really being ‘raised’ Jewish?)

    4/ What happens when they grow up and find out that the Orthodox Jews (you know those people with the long beards, kippot, teffilin, all of whom keep Kosher always, etc) consider them to be Gentiles?

    Comment by Dave — April 5, 2008 @ 11:43 pm

  2. Is that a photo of a boy lighting Shabbat candles?

    Syncretism anyone?

    Comment by Dave — April 5, 2008 @ 11:46 pm

  3. Dave,
    The WSJ has a circulation of about 2.7 million. That means even if a quarter, even if a fifth, even if a tenth of the people who picked up the newspaper read the article, there are now hundreds of thousands of people who have become familiar with JOI and The Mothers Circle.

    Comment by Levi Fishman — April 6, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

  4. Dave,

    Women are more spiritual than men? I’d like to see this argument proven quantitatively. I want to see pie charts, bar graphs…the whole USA Today treatment.

    Or maybe you could just backtrack a little and admit that your statement is mere pablum. For that matter, so is the idea that “any religion with women leaders will disappear since the males will stop showing up.” If that were legitimately the case, Protestants would have died off years ago and we’d be discussing them as if they were the Mayas. Despite a centuries-old history of appointing female religious leaders, the Protestants are doing remarkably well.

    Finally, given what many of my relatives in Germany and Austria went through, I’ve always thought there’s something undeniably Orwellian about Jews judging other Jews’ “purity,” even under the guise of Halachic adherence.

    Comment by Brooke — April 7, 2008 @ 9:16 am

  5. Brooke,

    I think there are plenty of us who lost relatives in the Shoah who are Orthodox as well (as were our relatives who were murdered). I’m not sure it’s appropriate to use the Shoah as an argument against halachic determiniation of “who is a Jew.”

    Undoubtedly, all of our families have suffered and took away different messages from that experience…even the opposite message from the one you posted above.

    Comment by marc — April 7, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  6. 1/ There were many Gentiles murdered by the Nazis, both with or without Jewish ancestry. Being murdered by the Nazis doesn’t make one Jewish any more than surviving the Nazis makes one Gentile.

    2/ Women not being more spiritual? here’s more:

    Hundreds of thousands of Jewish women will go to services this year without even being allowed to see the Torah being read-and will do so year after year. No comparison on the male side.


    Comment by Dave — April 7, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

  7. I am raising Jewish children. I was not born Jewish. My children were both converted shortly after birth. They do understand that judgemental people with nothing better to do are apt to waste their time quoting Halacha and telling them they are not really Jewish. They understand Jewsih law. Based on these very same laws, I would beg to differ with your opinion. They have converted, and they are being raised as committed Jews. They are Jewish. If anything Dave, you should thank me. I have helped your numbers grow. By the way, you shouldn’t worry about judging others, that is what God is for.

    Comment by vicki — April 7, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

  8. Thanks Vicki for what you have done and what you have said. Fortunately, the majority of those of us in the Jewish community are here to celebrate and support you.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — April 7, 2008 @ 10:13 pm

  9. I don’t want Dave’s post to take us off track. No Orthodox Jews I know and live amongst would say its okay to tell children they “aren’t really Jewish.” Difficult situations call for sensitivity and, ultimately, reaching out to their parents and not letting kids get caught in the middle of adult disagreements.

    What I said above is not entirely true…in fact I do know a couple of people who would want tell someone (kids or adults) that they Jewish according to Jewish law. There’s always one or two ultra-zealous individuals who may feel they are doing the right thing even when it does more harm than good.

    Not having grown up Orthodox, I also know a couple of people who regulary say things that are insulting and hurtful to Orthodox Jews, and who are ignorant of all things Orthodox, but think they know enough to judge us with steretypes both publicly and privately.

    I don’t such people are the vast majority in either camp so why give them more attention than they warrant? There is what to talk about regarding the halachic status of children and why it is an important issue to the community for many reasons. It’s an adult conversation that neds to take place before American Jewery finds itself in a situation where the Orthodox feel they cannot trust the Jewish status of anyone who didn’t grow up Orthodox or have an Orthodox conversion; and before the non-Orthodox react to such a decision by completely disaffiliating Orthodox representation from community decision-making.

    Comment by marc — April 8, 2008 @ 12:27 pm

  10. I was just in an exhausting relationship with a Jewish guy. I felt completely outcasted by his entire family. The reason being, I am not Jewish.
    It went as far as when he wouold speak with his family, he would go into the other room. When they would come to visit his apt, I could not be there.
    The sad thing is that I have many Jewish friends, this particular experience really offended me. Furthermore, it made me feel like I was being completely discriminated against because I was a “non-Jew”.
    I can not believe that people actually live their lives like that.
    I suppose since his mother was an emotionally challenged housewive in Long Island, she had nothing better to do but stew.

    Comment by Amber — April 22, 2008 @ 3:53 pm

  11. I’m sorry you were hurt Amber, but if your boyfriend was open to his family having this level of influence over his relationship, then his family acted correctly, knowing that they could end the relationship by pressuring him.

    I believe the JOI’s point (in other posts) is that in families where the adult children are NOT apt to be influenced in this way, parents should be more welcoming so as not to cause strife within the family over what is likely to become an intermarriage. In your case, even your boyfriend realized (on some level) that intermarriage was simply not an option. Otherwise, he would not have been so receptive to his family’s reaction to you.

    We all discriminate against others. Some discrimination is perfectly fine. I don’t want registered child sex-offenders living on my block near my kids. Most people wouldn’t blame me for that. I also don’t want my kids to go to hockey games or watch violent movies…some would think that’s going too far, but it’s not really their business. I also want my children to grow up knowing the richness of their Jewish heritage and to marry Jews b/c I believe firmly that this is the only way to ensure Jewish continuity in my family. It seems your boyfriend’s parents felt simlar and perhaps he did as well. Discrimination isn’t always sinister, illegal or immoral. In this case, there was a very good reason for it. Unfortunately, your boyfriend did not realize it until he had already drawn you into his life and you both developed an emotional attachment. For that, he should be sorry.

    Comment by marc — April 24, 2008 @ 11:15 am

  12. Marc,

    Discrimination and discretion are two different things. Discrimination leads to prejudice, which seems to be what Amber felt she experienced.

    What we’re dealing with here reminds me of the economic concept of “opportunity cost.” What if Amber were interested in learning about Judaism, or even converting? What if it turned out she’d be supporting of raising children who are actively engaged with the Jewish community throughout their entire lives? Wouldn’t that strengthen us? The opportunity cost is the fact that such prejudice turns away people who might become some of our staunchest allies. We don’t know unless we give them a chance, and prejudging those for whom our relatives have feelings only works against us.

    Comment by Misha — April 25, 2008 @ 9:54 am

  13. Misha,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. “Discrimination.” has a connotation that is negative, but not withstanding our common misunderstanding of the difference b/t illegal and immoral discrimination vs. that which is perfectly fine and normal (even good). We are all discriminating in how we choose friends, career paths and our spouses…and we should be!

    When it comes to personal relationships, it is neither illegal nor immoral, and certainly not prejudicial, to want your child to have the best chance to carry on your family’s historical and religious traditions. If you prefer to call this “discretion” that’s also fine. Regardless of what it is called, there’s nothing wrong with it. We wouldn’t say a Native Americans tribe was “prejudiced” for wanting their kids to in-marry to continue their unique and time-honored traditions, so we should we equally deferential to those who do feel that way about Jewish tradition.

    If we are to weigh the situation economically, which I think is a creative way you are looking at things that is worthy of discussion in and of itself, a strong argument can be made that the opportunity cost in this case is the liklihood of the son marrying a nonJew and decreasing his interest in Judaism, and having kids who are not halachically Jewish. Perhaps this family was also clued into the fact that this son would not have had the strength to live a Jewish life without a Jewish spouse?

    If we go based on current data, since most intermarried households are less affiliated Jewishly than in-married counterparts (though there are exceptions), it seems intermarriage ultimately is more likely to weaken us than strengthen us. In that case it would not be the lost opportunity of a potential convert that would most concern us. Rather, it would be the lost opportunity of the son continuing his family’s connection to their Jewish heritage. In this case, that was an opportunity his mother was unwilling to lose.

    It should also be pointed out that even though his family felt so strongly that he should in-marry, and that he ultimately acquiesced, the son was clearly raised to interact on a normal basis with nonJews and treat them with respect…how else could he have wound up in the relationship in the first place? His parents merely felt that dating and marriage were an appropriate place to draw the line. We can have a great deal of respect and appreciation for nonJews without marrying them.

    Comment by marc — April 28, 2008 @ 2:59 pm

  14. from reading these comments, there are those who feel intermarriage has the potential to strengthen the Jewish community, and those who feel that in-marriage is the only way to ensure Jewish continuity. i disagree with both of those statements. each one has its potential flaws, some more noticeable than others.

    first, intermarriage. it confuses the kids and makes the in-laws uncomfortable. it also weakens affiliation…or does it? sometimes, a relationship with a non-Jew can awaken the long-dormant ties to Judaism within the Jewish partner. this does not mean they become totally religious. but it means they have to work a little harder than they would if they were with another Jew. this is not a bad thing, per se. if the non-Jew is welcomed and interested in learning about Jewish life, then they’re more likely to convert or raise Jewish children than if treated coldly. so while it is considerably more difficult to carry on tradition in an intermarriage, it is not impossible.

    next, in-marriage. it’s one less concern if two people share similar values and beliefs. but it doesn’t always guarantee a successful marriage or that the couple will affiliate with the Jewish community (especially if one person is more observant than the other, or if there is no compatibility in areas other than religion). furthermore, utilizing guilt and scare tactics to ensure that Jews marry each other doesn’t work. no one wants to be pressured into a marriage simply to increase demographics or to please their panicked parents.

    my late Rabbi (who sadly passed away 3 weeks ago) used to tell me that “there is good in everyone, regardless of their race or religion. don’t turn someone away without getting to know them first, because you never know who you could end up with.”

    Comment by h. — April 30, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

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