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Shaping Our Future

Earlier this summer, I spent a day with fellow adult children of intermarriage in Philadelphia at a conference called “Jews of ALL Hues.” Sponsored by Birthright NEXT and Interfaithways, the conference environment provided a safe space to share stories, examine issues and find common ground among the growing population of children—now adults—raised in an interfaith household, in particular, and the expanding diversity of the Jewish people, in general. But beyond my personal connection to the issue, learning from my peers’ experiences and the opportunity to build solidarity among other children of intermarriage—and others on the periphery—on behalf of JOI, excited me. I hoped their stories could inform our work as we advocate for greater inclusion and welcoming of them across North America.

My fellow participants were Jews-by-choice, Jews of color, Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist and everything in-between. At first glance, one could justifiably ask, “What on earth do all these people have in common?” By the time we finished sharing our personal stories and struggles in the Jewish community, we found few telling surprises. Mutual feelings of judgment or marginalization in the Jewish community or in our families were evidence of our common bond. Beyond sharing our personal approached to negotiating Jewish identity and practice, we discussed the intersecting issues of race, class, divorce, secularism and authenticity. (Julie Wiener wrote about her take on the conference for the New York Jewish Week.)

At JOI, our listserves provide a similar safe space, albeit virtual, for the sharing of personal stories. As the facilitator of some of them, I know very well the importance of providing safe spaces for conversation among groups with unique experiences (such as men and women who are Jews-by-choice, interfaith families and intermarried Jewish communal professionals). “Jews of ALL Hues” reminded me of the importance of sharing diverse experiences for the sake of creating a cohesive community. In cultivating these opportunities to talk about challenges we might face, we validate the experiences of individuals who struggle to negotiate their role in the Jewish community. Creating these empowering conversations shows that we value their journeys in diversity.

My hope is that the Jewish community continues to listen to these voices, hear these stories and learn from them to shape the future landscape of the American Jewish community. We at JOI look forward to working across denominational boundaries to shape change by providing curricula, safe spaces, resources, and training for adult children of intermarriage and others who feel they are on the periphery and for the communities they wish to join.



4 Comments

  1. Your listserv has no category for children of intermarriage. Fortunately, there are others. I am about to create my own group for “half-Jewish” people because I want People Like Me to have a safe place.

    It’s kind of pathetic that we have to create our own communities because there is no place for us in the existing ones. It is challenging not to feel chronically hurt or to become overwhelmingly bitter. I have taken up Buddhist mindfulness techniques to combat feeling so worthless. If I am not a “real” Jew and I am not a convert, what’s left? Nothing? (Focus on your breathing. Remember: You control Nothing. Oh, good - because I am Nothing.)

    Most of what I know I learned by myself. For religious leaders who don’t like that idea - because who knows what I’ll conclude on my own! (danger! danger!) - may I suggest they change their attitudes toward children of intermarriage?

    Julie Wiener’s article is right on target.

    Thank you for at least having the guts to mention our existence.

    Comment by Sara — July 8, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

  2. We included adult children of intermarriage in our listserve for intermarried Jewish communal professionals-by request. the group is on our list of community segments which we are working thru one at a time. We would start the program if we could identify the needs. It takes time. Five years ago we started mothers circle and now there are 70 circles. We are launching a series of mens programs in the fall. I wish we could do more simultaneously but we just cant.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — July 8, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

  3. I’m glad you do what you do. It’s important work, which I respect and appreciate.

    b’shalom

    Comment by Sara — July 10, 2009 @ 11:34 pm

  4. We (Mira, Rebecca, and myself) were so happy to launch our project “Jews in ALL Hues” and have you as a part of it. Thank you for sharing your experiences once again. We look forward to seeing you at our next line of programming!!

    All the best,

    Jared Jackson

    Comment by Jared Jackson — August 2, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

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