The Adult Children of the Intermarried: The “Forgotten”?

JTA just released a package of stories on the adult children of the intermarried, by Sue Fishkoff. It’s an important and interesting series, although not without its flaws.

The centerpiece of the package is an article that looks at how little Jewish programming there is tailored to the needs of adult children of intermarried. Fishkoff calls this population “the forgotten piece of the outreach puzzle.” It’s true; Fishkoff doesn’t say it, but there seems to be an attitude among Jewish policy-makers that this population is already “lost” and it’s better to focus on young intermarried couples who haven’t had children yet or whose children are young. There’s no doubt that programming geared to young intermarried parents has the potential for greater impact, but that doesn’t mean we have to ignore the 360,000 young adults with one Jewish parent. We know of, and Fishkoff shares, stories of a number of adults who chose Judaism as young adults.
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A Politician Who Chose Judaism; A Seattle Outreach Program Shutters

Some links of note:

  • The Arizona Daily Star has a story about Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D), a Jewish woman who was born to an interfaith home. What makes it particularly interesting is that her parents–her dad is Jewish and her mother is Christian Scientist–didn’t push her to adopt any particular religion.

    “We were kind of neutral,” Spencer Gifford said. “We let them decide for themselves. That’s what Gabby did.”

    But as a state senator in 2001, she went on a trip to Israel with the American Jewish Committee that the article says was “life-changing.”

    “It just cemented the fact that I wanted to spend more time with my own personal, spiritual growth. I felt very committed to Judaism,” she said. “Religion means different things to different people. It provides me with grounding, a better understanding of who I came from.”

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The Debate is Over

Shaul Kelner, a Jewish studies professor at Vanderbilt University, takes Steven Cohen–and outreach advocates like ourselves, as well–down a notch with his wonderfully sensible op-ed for The Forward.

Essentially, he argues that debating over the value of outreach to the intermarried is misguided because in a pluralist Jewish world, there are spaces where outreach is promoted and there are spaces where it is shunned:

…one would and should expect that the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements will each adopt policies tailored to their particular constituencies and ideologies. The same goes for the federations, Jewish community centers and other agencies.

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Bears in Space

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To pay tribute to his late father’s Jewish heritage, an astronaut from an interfaith home brought a teddy bear into space. The bear was a replica of Refugee, a teddy bear donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Holocaust survivor Sophie Turner-Zaretsky.

Astronaut Mark Polansky, whose mother is a native Hawaiian, asked the museum for some mementoes that would simultaneously pay tribute to his father Irving, who died in 2001, and bring awareness to the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. The museum also gave him a photo of a child refugee from Darfur. The bear made its 5.3-million-mile journey on the Discovery mission in December, and Turner-Zaretsky, now 80 and living in New York, followed the shuttle’s progress every step of the way.

Encouraging Jewel-ish Choices?

Purim, often called the “Jewish Halloween,” is on Sunday. But it’s more than that–it’s also the Jewish April Fools’ Day. It’s become a bit of a tradition for some papers to publish fake news for Purim.

The intermarriage debate comes in for some parody by our friend Julie Wiener at The (New York) Jewish Week, as excerpted on the Jewish Outreach Institute’s blog, in a post by Kerry Olitzky. For the 25 of us who know all the players parodied in the article, it’s pretty amusing.

The S-Word: A Response to More Than a Succubus

A response to More Than a Succubus: Confessions of a Shiksa, published in our Web Magazine on Feb. 13, by Ellen Jaffe-Gill:

I had taken a stand on the Yiddish word shiksa long before the afternoon I visited my husband’s Hebrew class. Having learned, while researching a book on intermarriage, that it (and its male form, shaygetz, and the plural shkotzim) derived from a Hebrew word meaning “abomination,” I was already gently correcting people who used it, asking them questions like “An abomination — is that really how you think of your daughter-in-law?”

Then one day I celebrated the meeting of a major deadline with a day off, a nice lunch, and a little text study at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, where my husband had been enriching his life studying classical Hebrew on Wednesday afternoons. The class was looking at I Kings, chapter 11, in which Solomon wrong-headedly builds altars to pagan gods for his foreign wives.

Most Hebrew vocabulary is organized into families of three-letter roots, and I recognized the Hebrew root shin-kof-tzadi spelling the word shikutz before I looked at the translation.

“Hey, there’s the root for shiksa,” I said. “Is ‘abomination’ an accurate translation of shikutz?” I asked the teacher, a native Israeli.
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A Powerful Partnership

Two innovative national Jewish organizations are teaming up to create a program that will help 18 synagogues become more welcoming towards interfaith families. The program, “Call Synagogue Home,” is the product of a partnership between the Jewish Outreach Institute and STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), a group that helps synagogue improve and strengthen their services.

The program will take place at synagogues in three different communities. According to the release:

Call Synagogue Home’s pilot program will provide participating synagogues with tools and communications to reach out to interfaith families during key life-cycle events and ritual celebrations, including beginning a Jewish pre-school or religious school, brit milah and baby namings, divorce and death.

I can’t say enough about how promising this program sounds. Even though many synagogues have become quite adept at welcoming and involving interfaith families, numerous synagogues could use the help. Further, by focusing on life-cycle events, this will help the participating synagogues recruit interfaith families who might not otherwise consider joining a synagogue.

Kudos to all involved.