Our current poll question for our Web Magazine issue on Growing Up in an Interfaith Family is “Can a person be half-Jewish?” Appropriately, a day before the issue went online, jacqueline-of-all-trades JTA reporter Sue Fishkoff wrote a story titled “‘Half-Jews’ fight for acceptance.”
For years, people have been saying they were half-Jewish, but the Jewish establishment never gave the moniker any credence. The different denominations are divided on what makes someone Jewish–the Orthodox and Conservative say only a Jewish mother can have a Jewish child, the Reform and Reconstructionist movements say a Jewish father can have a Jewish child provided the child is raised Jewish–but they are united in their opposition to the notion of divided identity. You can’t be half-Jewish. You either are Jewish, or you’re not.
But a growing number of grass-roots efforts are looking to gain acceptance for those who identify themselves as half-Jewish:
Since the Sept. 26 issue of our Web Magazine last year, we’ve been running polls alongside the table of contents. We typically get around 20 responses. While nothing like a statistically reliable sample, they do provide an interesting barometer of our readers’ opinions on interfaith issues.
For example, in our last issue on interfaith weddings, we asked “Do you think interfaith couples are more likely to participate in the Jewish community if a rabbi officiates at their wedding?” Eighteen people responded. 72% said Yes, 28% said No. In our new issue, out today, on growing up in an interfaith family, we asked, “Can a person be half-Jewish?”
We received the most respondents to our December holidays question: “Christmas music: Love it or hate it?” The 69 respondents were evenly split. Half said it was “OK in limited doses,” while slightly more than a quarter (28%) said “Love it” and slightly under a quarter (22%) said “Hate it.” Count me in the last category.
Rabbi Abraham J. Klausner died on June 28. The obituaries in the Jewish press, including JTA and the Jerusalem Post, described how Rabbi Klausner, the leader of a Reform synagogue in Yonkers, N.Y., for 25 years, was the first Jewish chaplain in the US Army to enter Dachau and had been a leading advocate for Holocaust survivors. The New York Times obituary tells that story too, with quotes from Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, that Rabbi Klausner was “the father figure” for more than 30,000 survivors found at Dachau, and was instrumental in improving conditions in the displaced persons camps after the war. But the Times tells one more story about Rabbi Klausner that the Jewish press didn’t mention.
Everyone who’s dated–that is to say, everyone–knows that figuring out why you are attracted to someone is often the greatest mystery in your life. Are you interested because the other person is interested? Is it physical attraction? Does the person laugh at your jokes? Is there a chemistry that can’t be explained?
One factor that is particularly difficult to untangle is the cultural factor. Are you attracted to someone because they come from a similar background–or because they come from a different one? In Elizabeth Rosner’s “Everything I Know About Being Bad I Learned in Hebrew School,” an excerpt from Bad Girls: 26 Writers Behave published in The Forward, a girl who grew up with a stringent Orthodox upbringing rebels against Judaism and dates every non-Jewish boy she can find:
Keeping with yesterday’s return-from-San-Francisco theme, j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California, and The Forward recently wrote about a clever new outreach strategy from Rabbi Moshe Langer of the Chabad of San Francisco: free trolley tours of the diverse and beautiful city. But unlike other Chabad marketing–free iPods in exchange for enrolling in Hebrew classes, “spa day for the soul”–the trolley rides are not about getting people to become traditionally observant or join Chabad. All that the bearded Rabbi Langer asks is that all his passengers, Jewish or not, perform one mitzvah (good deed) that day.
It’s what the Jewish Outreach Institute calls “Public Space Judaism,” whereby the Jewish community engages the global community wherever they are: grocery stores, coffeeshops, even trolleys on Powell Street. I particularly admire the Chabad Cable Car because it doesn’t sound like Rabbi Langer is pushing his religious agenda. By “soft-selling” Judaism and showing people of all creeds how welcoming and friendly a strongly Jewishly identified person can be, he’s making Judaism appealing to unaffiliated Jew and non-Jew alike. That can send a powerful message to interfaith couples.
Turns out, though, that Rabbi Langer is only following in his dad’s footsteps. His father, Rabbi Yosef Langer, has been dubbed “Rally Rabbi” after blowing the shofar during the San Francisco Giants’ Jewish Heritage Night. At this year’s Jewish Heritage Night in August, the Giants will be giving out Rally Rabbi bobbleheads.
I returned from San Francisco today, where I attended the 2007 conference of the American Jewish Press Association, the professional association of Jewish publications and websites. This was the fourth conference I attended and the sessions tend to be similar from year to year. There’s always one or two on how to make your print publication work on the Internet, there’s always one where everybody bemoans their inability to reach young readers and there’s always one on media coverage of Israel. The irony in the perpetual inclusion of the first two sessions is that few significant Jewish websites are members of the AJPA and almost none of the few Jewish media outlets that have had some success reaching young Jews–Heeb, American Jewish Life, Jewcy or Jewschool, for starters–are members either. So the conversations about web presence and youthful audience occur in a vacuum, led by old media print editors.