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.