Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
Julie Wiener, in typically brilliant fashion, has written a great piece on the “Who is a Jew?” debate as seen through the eyes of her 3 1/2-year-old daughter:
Our recent conference gathered 40 outreach professionals who are mostly doing the most established kinds of outreach: couples counseling and family education. But what are some new directions for outreach?
One idea comes from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which operates the “PJ Library,” a project that mails a year’s worth of free, age-appropriate Jewish children’s books and CDs to less-affiliated families with children, most of whom are interfaith families.
The PJ Library operates in 35 communities across the country. A recent survey showed that most of the families owned virtually no Jewish books before joining the program and now 75% of them read the PJ Library books to their children once a week or more. To extend the successful program into more communities, the Grinspoon Foundation has offered to match up to $100,000 raised for the program in any community by June 30, 2007.
I’ve also recently been in touch with one of the actors in “Both Sides of the Family,” a one-act play about intermarriage by Maryann Elder Goldstein that premiered in Cleveland in December. The play explores interfaith marriage through the lens of two characters: one, a divorced Jewish man remarried to a Christian woman who is raising his second family Christian, the other, a Christian woman raising her daughter Jewish with her Jewish husband. Well-written and well-acted, the play poignantly explores the challenges, both internal and social, that intermarried families face.
The small company that put on the play is looking to turn it into a roadshow in different Jewish communities. It could spark some very interesting conversations.
Is it OK for Jews to proselytize?
A terrific new article in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles tackles the question by looking at the Reform movement’s “Taste of Judaism” program. “Taste” is a three-part class that teaches the basics of Judaism to anyone who is interested–Jewish, non-Jewish, interfaith partner, whatever. Since its launch in 1994, more than 75,000 people have taken the class at 450 synagogues around the country. “Taste” is typically marketed through ads in secular newspapers.
While Orthodox Judaism still discourages converts, the Reform movement has been in favor of seeking converts for decades. In 1949, Leo Baeck established a “missionary center” to train Reform leaders to teach Judaism. In 1978, Rabbi Alex Schindler called on Reform Jews to offer Judaism to those unaffiliated with a particular Christian church.
I need to unclog the drains of some links that have been piling up over the last two weeks:
We often speak of Jewish outreach to intermarried families, where progressive organizations and programs can serve as a bridge between the intermarried and the Jewish community. But it works both ways. The intermarried can serve as a bridge between the Jewish community and the non-Jewish community. Intermarriage can actually be a form of outreach to the general secular world.
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky elaborates on this notion in an op-ed for the New Jersey Jewish News:
Last week was blog-free because I was at InterfaithFamily.com’s first-ever conference, a retreat for outreach professionals called “Nurturing Outreach: Embracing the Other, Taking Care of Ourselves.” Taking place at the Capital Camps and Retreat Center in Waynesboro, Pa., it was the first-ever national conference for professionals working exclusively in outreach to interfaith families.
More than 50 people attended, including:
Among the highlights were a Biblical text study of midrash relating to intermarriage, led by Rabbi Brian Field; a session on research on outreach and intermarriage, led by Dr. Sherry Israel of Brandeis University; and a model outreach program visioning session. One of the most exciting developments was the broad-based support–the hunger, really–for a national organization of outreach professionals. Many of the people who work in outreach work in isolation, with little professional respect and for not much pay, and an organization could help them connect and share information in a way they haven’t done before. It could also potentially advocate for them, and the field of outreach in general, among major Jewish funders. As Eve Coulson, former assistant director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and IFF board member, said at the conference, we need to make outreach a fixture in Federation funding, like day schools, camps and Israel.
Let me paint a picture: It’s the age of lava lamps and rollerskates. Lynyrd Skynyrd rules the airwaves. America has yet to discover the gritty urban raps of the Sugarhill Gang. It’s an innocent time, the ’70s, a time before intermarriage was commonplace, a time when a Jewish man and a Catholic woman would have to be crazy to fall in love. Can their passion survive the anti-Semitic glares of their neighbors? The disapproving tweed jackets of their fathers? The confused sideburns of their friends?
Eli Valley, Jewcy.com’s talented humorist, has the answer.
In his recent post, “When Jewish David Met Irish Eileen,” Eli analyzes a 9-part series from the obscure ’70s comic book series “Just Married.” The storyline? An Orthodox Jew–who never wears a yarmulke but is partial to turtlenecks–falls in love with a devout Catholic woman. A typically hilarious passage from his analysis:
Now, if in the wake of the Don Imus affair, you’re wondering what is acceptable to joke about and laugh at, and what is not, Peter Moore, a self-described “half-Jewish” (“I always tell people that I’m not really one of the Chosen People, but I am an Alternate.”) actor and director, created a list of guidelines for telling jokes in the PC age, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune.
Russia and England provide interesting contrasts when it comes to anti-Semitism. Both have rather shameful histories of Jewish persecution–anti-Jewish pogroms were a common feature of 19th century Russian life, Jews were banned from England for more than 350 years from 1290-1656–and both retain legacies of anti-Semitism. In Russia, Jews are openly discriminated against and blamed for the ills of society, while in Britain, anti-Semitic statements are surprisingly commonplace.
Two recent stories illustrate how the particular cultures of these countries can affect people’s sense of religious and cultural identity. The JTA tells the fascinating story of Bella Leidentel, the 73-year-old matriarch of a a small Jewish community in Russia’s Far East. As a child she doesn’t remember much anti-Semitism, but after World War II, she noticed that people began blaming Jews for the war. As a young woman, she found anti-Semitism so overt that she made a decision to turn her back on Judaism. She told people her Jewish-looking features were actually Armenian.
The (New York) Jewish Week broke the news last week that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has agreed to recognize all conversions by the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Orthodox rabbinical association in North America. In exchange, the RCA will set up regional conversion courts that will follow the strict standards requested by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
I’ve written about the sorry state of affairs for would-be converts in Israel before, and this is welcome news. Would-be converts from the U.S. who are looking to undergo an Orthodox conversion can now be confident that their conversion will be recognized in Israel. At the same time, there are numerous groups that this decision doesn’t help, including: those who converted before the official network of regional courts were established; those who went through the state-funded conversion academy in Israel; those who converted under Conservative or Reform auspices; and those who converted under Orthodox auspices outside of North America.
While potential converts still face numerous obstacles in Israel, the Orthodox in America, to their credit, are beginning to open up toward non-Jewish spouses looking to convert. Traditionally, Orthodox rabbis did not accept intermarriage as a legitimate reason to convert, but Eternal Jewish Family, a non-profit based out of New York, is looking to change that.
The group is holding a seminar in Phoenix May 13-15 on “Universally Accepted Conversion in Interfaith Marriage.”