The Chutzpah of Hummus

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In case you didn’t realize it, an interfaith love story between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian won an Oscar for best short film on Sunday.

Called West Bank Story, the 21-minute spoof of West Side Story is focused on two competing falafel stands in the West Bank, one run by a Jewish family, one run by a Palestinian family. But the children of each families–David, a handsome Israeli soldier, and Fatima, an Arab beauty–fall in love. After each stand is burned down, the two lovers persuade each side to join hands and sing together.

Certainly not the most realistic story, but it does demonstrate the way interfaith relationships can be fraught with political complications–and the way interfaith relationships can help open people’s minds to unfamiliar cultures. For more on the making of the film, see this JTA story.

In other news, our own Ed Case will be presenting a seminar at the Interfaith Family Weekend and Conference in Philadelphia. The conference runs from Friday, March 23 to Sunday, March 25, and Case will be presenting a workshop on “Family Dynamics: Parenting in an Interfaith Home.” The weekend and conference is being presented by Faithways, the interfaith family support network of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia. Most impressively, 42 (!) synagogues in the Philadelphia area are participating in the event. For more on the conference, see http://www.jfcsphil.org/events.asp.

The Life Cycle, cont.

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We put out a new issue today on Differences in Interfaith Issues Through the Life Cycle. There’s a great piece by Rosalyn Shafter about why she and her husband decided not to tell his 95-year-old mother that he converted to Judaism; a nice little article from Paula Yablonsky, a Jew-by-choice, on how a driving lesson with her daughter seemed like the perfect opportunity to say a Hebrew blessing; an interesting analysis of the stages of marital development by family and marriage therapist Wendy Weltman Palmer; a superb–albeit slightly long–profile of Jorma Kaukonen, the founding guitarist for Jefferson Airplane, who was born Jewish but didn’t have anything to do with the religion until he married a non-Jewish woman; and, just because we know what you like, an Interfaith Celebrities column with goodies about Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Ben Stiller and Scarlett Johansson.

The Entire Lifecycle, in Three Articles

Three interesting articles today, each focusing on a different stage in the lifecycle of an interfaith family:

  • The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles has a short story on the recent RAVSAK conference in L.A., where IFF Publisher and President Ed Case spoke. RAVSAK is the association of Jewish community day schools. Community day schools are unaffiliated with any movement and are therefore open to Jewish people of all backgrounds, including children of intermarriages. In the article, Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, points out how in the past day school enrollment flowed from a family’s religious observance, but now the path is often reversed. Many families become more religious and more Jewishly identifying because they send their children to Jewish day school. Day school becomes an opportunity not just to educate the child, but to educate the parent.
  • According to Hillel, The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, increasing numbers of college students are looking to convert to Judaism. A story on their website mostly focuses on kids who grew up with other faith traditions, but also notes that some of the students are children of interfaith families. The article relates the particularly sad story of a student who grew up Jewish but whose mother is Catholic and was told on a birthright trip that the State of Israel did not consider her Jewish. Now she’s pursuing an Orthodox conversion. Good for her, I guess, but I suspect that message will turn more people away from Judaism than turn them toward it.
  • January’s JTA story on interfaith burial options continues to inspire locally focused stories on the topic. The latest one is from the Cleveland Jewish News. One thing that strikes me about these stories is that there really are a lot of Jewish burial options for interfaith couples. Many Jewish cemeteries have separate sections for intermarried couples and many Reform congregations freely allow their intermarried members to be buried with their spouses in their section of the local Jewish cemetery. One stumbling block that has yet to be resolved, however, is how to handle the funeral services for non-Jewish partners who actively practiced their faith. I don’t know of any Jewish cemeteries that will allow Christian markings on a tombstone or a non-Jewish religious service at the grave.
  • The Good and the Bad

    Some good news and bad news today.

    First, the bad: Our favorite quasi-famous child of an interfaith home with an unsightly tendency to pick his nose, Mr. Boston, has been booted off “I Love New York.” He was one of the final six contestants for the love of New York, ne Tiffany Patterson, formerly the runner-up for the love of deranged rapper Flavor Flav in “Flavor of Love.” But don’t worry, Mr. Boston fans, apparently your favorite uncoordinated CPA may be in line for his own show.

    (And if you didn’t understand any of the last paragraph, you probably live a fulfilling, meaningful life.)

    As for the good news: the folks at the JTNews, Seattle’s Jewish newspaper, have launched a new site, www.jew-ish.com. Designed in the vein of other hip Jewish sites like Jewsweek and Jewlicious, it’s intended to provide a forum for Jewish content for 20- and 30-something Jewish Seattle-ites. While there are numerous sites like it on a national level, it’s the first example of an attempt at creating a hip Jewish communal website on a community level that I know of outside New York.

    One of the first posts on the site is from Neal Schindler, who explains how his interest in Jewish culture came from his non-Jewish girlfriend:

    The culture you were raised in comes and finds you, as it turns out, in the oddest of ways. For over a year I’ve been dating a woman raised Protestant — the daughter of a minister, in fact — and her passion for Jewish politics and culture, more than that of anyone else I’ve met here, has compelled me to go to Shabbat services, celebrate Tu B’Shevat with Jewish friends, and, yes, become a writer for Jew-ish.com.

    Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Curtails Conversions

    Official recognition continues to get more difficult for patrilineal Jews in Israel, as a state-funded religious academy has decided to halt sending conversion candidates to rabbinical courts until the chief rabbinate loosens its conversion requirements, says The Forward.

    Recently, the chief rabbinate has been tightening its requirements for conversion. Within the last few months, the chief rabbinate moved to freeze all conversions from abroad until it could determine whether the converting rabbis met its strict standards. The Forward story relates tales of people who were told by rabbinical courts that they needed to move to Orthodox neighborhoods, send their children to Orthodox schools and have their whole family adopt an Orthodox lifestyle before the court would recognize their conversion.
    Continue reading

    Shmuel on Saxe

    Shmuel Rosner, Ha’aretz’s American correspondent, continues his ongoing series of interviews with American experts on Jewish demography and intermarriage with the start of a Q&A with Len Saxe, the co-author of the 2005 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study and the just-published “Reconsidering the Size and Characteristics of the American Jewish Population.” Saxe’s appearance on Rosner’s blog follows interviews over the last year with our president, Ed Case, Steven Cohen, Sylvia Barack Fishman and Ira Sheskin.

    As discussed in this space before, the “Reconsidering” study synthesizes the results of 37 population studies to determine the size of the American Jewish population and concludes that there are more than 6 million Jews in the U.S.–nearly a million more than the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01 estimated. Over the years, Saxe has used demographic data to demonstrate that the intermarried are a vital and growing part of the American Jewish community.

    It’s interesting that Rosner discusses intermarriage so much in his blog. In a recent The (Pittsburgh) Jewish Chronicle article, he says that Israeli and American Jewish interests are drifting apart; where Israelis are worried about the existential threat of a nuclear Iran, American Jews are worried about the perceived assimilationist threat of interamrriage.

    A Wedding Celebration

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    Religious differences are of little concern to many interfaith couples until they’re planning a wedding. All of a sudden a relationship that thrived with little to no religious content must face the question of whether the wedding will be in a church, who will officiate and how much–if any–religious content the ceremony will have. In a sense, it’s when couples with partners from two different religious backgrounds become interfaith couples.

    Many outreach organizations, including ourselves, attempt to reach these couples during the beautiful but stressful time that precedes the wedding. A terrific example of outreach for these couples is “A Jewish Wedding Fair,” happening next Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif.

    Much like typical wedding fairs, it will showcase caterers and bands and include a fashion show, but it will be from a Jewish bent. The bands will be Jewish wedding bands, the artists will be Judaic artists (designers of ketubahs and the like), and organizations from the Jewish community will share information. The fair will also include workshops, many of which are tailored to interfaith couples, including “What Makes a Wedding Jewish?”, “Two Faiths, One Ceremony: A Guide to Interfaith Ceremonies,” and “Finding Your Perfect Fit… in a Rabbi.”

    The event is co-sponsored by Project Welcome, the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. If the high demand for our rabbinic officiation referral service is any indication, interfaith couples are starved for information about how to include Judaism in the wedding.

    Steven Cohen Talks

    The coverage of Steven Cohen’s A Tale of Two Jewries continues, with an audio interview with Cohen by JTA editor Lisa Hostein and an op-ed on outreach and intermarriage from Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

    Responding to a question about what the most “frightening impact” of intermarriage is, Cohen says, “The most frightening impact is that we haven’t yet figured out a way to keep the children… and grandchildren of intermarriage Jewish.” He says the communal response to the problem should have two prongs: persuading Jews to marry Jews, and persuading intermarried couples to raise their children exclusively Jewish. He says he has a mixed opinion on outreach. Some outreach, he says, is great because it brings intermarried couples closer to Judaism, but some he says, “advocates a type of lifestyle that blends Judaism and Christianity.” But he also says, “It’s hard to attribute anything, for well or for good, to outreach.” He says there is no evidence that outreach has helped bring intermarried couples closer to Judaism.
    Continue reading

    Black Jews, including Karen from The Office

    We talked about Lacey Schwartz and David Matthews, two children of black-Jewish relationships, a couple weeks ago, but I only just realized that both were featured as part of an entire issue on black Jews in American Jewish Life magazine. Six of the 10 black Jews featured are children of interfaith relationships, including: Rashida Jones, who plays Karen on The Office, and is the daughter of musical legend Quincy Jones; Rain Pryor, the daughter of Richard Pryor and a moderately successful stand-up comedian herself; Raymond Roker, the editor of the hip alternative magazine URB; and Mischa Van Schet, a Dutch soap opera star who is now living as an Orthodox Jew in New York.

    While their stories are unquestionably fascinating, they also serve as confirmation of the observation that mothers have a much stronger influence over their child’s religious upbringing than fathers. In all of the aforementioned features, the mother was Jewish and the child now identifies as Jewish. The only exception is Matthews, whose mother was Jewish but left her father at a young age; today being Jewish is only a small piece of his identity.

    Compare their experiences to that of Alexandra Rosenfeld, who was crowned Miss Europe in October. A Frenchwoman, she was raised by a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. While she supports some Jewish causes, she does not practice Judaism.

    There’s no denying that Jewish moms in interfaith relationships raise their children Jewish more frequently than non-Jewish moms. But IFF supports any parent–mom or dad–in an interfaith relationship who wants to raise their child Jewish, and we support more programming targeting both non-Jewish mothers AND non-Jewish fathers.

    Intermarriage in Israel

    A new study claims that 10 percent of marriages in Israel are intermarriages, and that only 58 percent of all families in Israel have a Jewish father and Jewish mother, says Ynet.

    New Family, an Israeli organization dedicated to advancing the rights of non-traditional families, conducted the study. It was based on an analysis of divorce filings because the only source for official marriage registration in Israel, the Chief Rabbinate, does not keep track of intermarriages. Among those mixed couples, the majority (65 percent) are between immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The study also showed that 57 percent of interfaith couples in Israel are raising their children Jewish–as compared to 33 to 39 percent in the U.S.

    The survey also looked at Israelis’ opinions on intermarriage. Sixty percent of Israelis said they oppose intermarriages, while 17 percent said they are not opposed to intermarriage but would object if one of their children wanted to marry a non-Jew. Opposition was strongest among the religious, of course, but was also higher among the old as compared to the young and among the married than the unmarried.

    A report on the survey is available on New Family’s website.