A Disney Star and a Samoan Fighter

While many critics doubt whether the children of intermarriage will identify as Jewish over the long term, at IFF we constantly run into examples of children from mixed marriages who identify as Jewish.

Two interesting recent examples include:

  • Ashley Tisdale, who was in the hit Disney film High School Musical. According to the Detroit Jewish News:

    Ashley’s Mother, Lisa Morris Tisdale, is Jewish (her father Mike is not), and Ashley identifies as Jewish. Her family attends High Holiday services at a Los Angeles-area synagogue.

  • Cooper Andrews, a 21-year-old stuntman in Atlanta. The son of a Samoan father and a Hungarian Jewish mother, he manages a martial arts team, the Fading Fists, that works in movies, and is a part-time bouncer at a bar in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. His profile was in the Atlanta Jewish Times; unfortunately, it’s not online.
  • In other news, our friend Kathy Kahn, the national director of outreach and membership for the Union of Reform Judaism, will be the scholar-in-residence this weekend (Jan. 19-21) at Suburban Temple – Kol Ami, a Reform synagogue in Beachwood, Ohio. This article in the Cleveland Jewish News details her thoughts on the importance of reaching out to the intermarried.

    Solving the Mixed Marriage Riddle in Israel: From Ben-Gurion to the Present

    The difficulties faced by modern interfaith couples and other non-traditional families in Israel is the focus of a great Jerusalem Post piece by Ruth Eglash, “Challenging the consensus of the Israeli family.”

    The article uses the story of a Russian-born Jew and her Moroccan Muslim husband as the jumping off point for a discussion about the obstacles faced by Israel’s 800,000 non-traditional families. The couple had to go to Paraguay to get married, jump through bureaucratic hoops to have the marriage recognized in Israel and undergo a DNA test to “prove” that the man was father to their child.

    “The consensus says that a family in Israel can only be a man and woman united in an Orthodox Jewish marriage,” states [Irit] Rosenblum [director of the New Family Organization, which advocates on behalf of non-traditional families in Israel]. “That means single-parent families are not allowed, gay parents are not allowed, common law unions are not allowed, civil marriages are not allowed and interfaith marriages are not allowed.”

    Moreover, she says, while unconventional unions are largely accepted – even if not practiced – by most of mainstream society, the establishment and the legal system do not provide for them or recognize them in the same way they do the traditional nuclear family.

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    MTV’s True Life: I’m in an Interfaith Relationship

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    MTV gets a lot of flak for its socially irresponsible reality series like “The Hills,” “The Real World,” “Laguna Beach” and whatever name the Real World-Road Rules Challenge goes by these days.

    But quietly, MTV also produces some of the most thoughtful, balanced documentaries on issues facing young people. One series that is usually quite good is called “True Life.” Each half-hour episode of “True Life” focuses on two or three subjects who are all grappling with a difficult issue: coming out, eating disorders, mental illness, internet addiction–if there’s a problem teenagers and 20-somethings have in this country, “True Life” has covered it. Last night’s episode focuses on two young married couples in interfaith relationships.

    One couple was Ira and Sasha, who live in Longwood, Fla. Ira is a non-observant, although somewhat knowledgeable, Jew, and Sasha is a devout Christian whose church celebrates the Jewish holidays. The other couple was Travis and Jasmin, who live in Hollywood, Fla. Travis is a non-practicing Lutheran, and Jasmin is a very spiritual woman who is strongly leaning to becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. Sasha is pregnant while Jasmin has two children, so both couples are dealing not only with interfaith issues with their partners, but also grappling with how to teach religion to their children.
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    Our Big Fat Anniversary

    On Tuesday of next week, we’re publishing the 200th issue of our Web Magazine. It also happens to coincide almost exactly with our fifth anniversary as an independent non-profit. For a history of the organization–and an explanation of the differences between the anniversaries–here’s the article we’re going to run next week on our history and accomplishments.

    The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles published this brief today about the 200th issue, and Julie Wiener at The Jewish Week plans on running a story about the milestone next week.

    I’ve only been here for a small part of InterfaithFamily.com’s history, but even in that time I’ve seen us grow and expand our influence and impact. Here’s a little recap/preview of some new features we’ve recently added or are going to add soon:

  • Bryan Daneman, a Jewish man, and Julie, his United Methodist fiance, have started blogging on our Weddings Blog about planning for their 2007 interfaith wedding.
  • We quietly started a rabbinic officiation referral service a few months ago, and the demand keeps growing.
  • We just changed our Discussion Boards to be more user-friendly. You no longer need to register to post to the boards.
  • We’re going to launch a User Survey next week to find out ways to improve and enhance the site.
  • To Bris or Not to Bris?

    While everyone in an interfaith relationships knows–and plans–in advance for the issue of what kind of wedding ceremony to have and how to raise the kids, circumcision often creeps up unexpectedly on an unsuspecting interfaith couple, usually one that assumed they were secular. Circumcision is perhaps the only cultural ritual that is almost as common among secular Jews as it is among the Orthodox. The strong desire of the Jewish partner to circumcise their sons can of course be a bit of a shock to the non-Jewish partner.

    On Salon.com, Neal Pollack, a terrific writer and author of the forthcoming book Alternadad, writes about his and his wife’s decision to circumcise their son. He’s Jewish, she is not. She felt circumcision was barbaric and detrimental to their child’s health and sexual enjoyment; his parents said they would betray 6,000 years of tradition by not circumcising their grandson. Pollack discusses in an amusing and poignant way how he and his wife came to their decision, and how the procedure went.

    What Do They Talk About At Those Conferences?

    A friend of mine sent me a very funny piece from 2005 mocking the kinds of survivalist discussions that happen at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly, which is held every November. It’s a little out-of-date–even some conservatives have now deserted President Bush–but it does a nice job poking fun at how out-of-touch some community leaders are.

    The Orthodox on Intermarriage, Continued

    Yeshivas cannot admit the children of Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers unless the mother has properly repented, according to a rabbinical ruling quoted on My Jewish Learning’s blog “The Mixed Multitudes.”

    While the Orthodox consider the children of Jewish mothers Jewish even if the father isn’t, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein determined that yeshivas should not accept these children and synagogues should not bar mitzvah these children because those actions “may easily be misconstrued as implicit approval of his parents’ lifestyle.” Amazing that the Orthodox are so antagonistic to intermarriage that they’d punish a child who’s fully Jewish by their rules because the child’s mother did something they disagree with.

    In other news, the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Outreach Institute recently partnered to create an online quiz that will help organizations determine how friendly they are to the unaffiliated and intermarried.

    Chabad on Intermarriage, etc.

    Chabad has a story on its website arguing that despite the recent studies showing the American Jewish population has grown, Steven Cohen’s recent study on intermarriage demonstrates that Jews should do everything they can to prevent intermarriage.

    While many people in the organized Jewish community are suspicious of Chabad, I am quite sympathetic to their approach, if not their aims. Decades before federations and synagogues got wise to the power of outreach, they were actively seeking out and welcoming unaffiliated Jews. But there has always been a tension between their methods and their goals: on the one hand, they’ll welcome anyone into their Chabad centers, including secular Jews, intermarried Jews and children of intermarriage; on the other hand, they are firmly against intermarriage and abide by the strictest definition of Jewish identity, so that children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers are not considered Jewish. I wouldn’t argue that a deeply religious movement with a powerful reverence for the Torah should change its stripes, but I just wonder how much stronger a Jewish community we could have if there were a national movement that combined Chabad’s zeal for outreach with the Reform movement’s tolerance and open-mindedness?
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    There’ll Be No Chrismukkah This Year

    CNN.com reports that Fox has canceled “The O.C.,” a show that only a few years ago was one of the most popular and trend-setting shows among young adults. “The O.C.” featured an interfaith family at its center, with Peter Gallagher as Jewish lawyer Sandy Cohen, Kelly Rowan as his non-Jewish wife Kirsten and Adam Brody as their neurotic son Seth. Addictively entertaining in its first season and a half, the quality of the show has suffered precipitously in recent years as they’ve resorted to ever more outlandish plot twists (Ryan’s part of a fight club? Marissa has a lesbian affair?) to juice the ratings.

    From IFF’s perspective, the show’s creator, Josh Schwartz, missed a golden opportunity to depict an interfaith family sensitively and intelligently; instead, Seth invented “Chrismukkah,” a blended mock-holiday that diluted and distorted both Judaism and Christianity. Ever since the December 2004 episode that unveiled Chrismukkah, the secular media has had a field day with the notion that people are increasingly celebrating a blended version of the holidays, but Schwartz’s portrayal of the Cohens was not a reflection of reality. There is little evidence that interfaith families are blending the two holidays. Even among those families that practice little or no religion, there is no evidence that they’re celebrating some mishmash of Hanukkah and Christmas. Indeed, if you read the voluminous number of stories on Chrismukkah that come out every year, you’ll find that most reporters were unable to find even a single family that was blending the two holidays.

    So we’re happy to say that there’ll be no Chrismukkah this year.

    A Tale of Three Families

    Cokie Roberts, the NPR and ABC telejournalist, and her husband Steve Roberts, also a journalist, form one of the most visible interfaith couples in the country. They often speak sensitively to the problems, needs and opportunities of interfaith families. Unfortunately, raised their children in both Judaism and Catholicism, a choice we don’t endorse.

    One of the unfortunate byproducts of raising children in two religions can be a collapsing of the differences between religions, to the point that they form a sort of amorphous, universal religion that shares more in common with Christianity than it does with Judaism. Case in point: in a recent column about their holiday celebrations, the Roberts speak of their Hanukkah party, which was attended by a number of mixed-religion couples:

    Some are raising their kids Jewish, others Christian, and a few as both. But they share a belief that Chanukah and Christmas reflect the same elemental human yearning: for hope and redemption, peace and goodwill.

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