So I have to apologize for the long layoff. Thanksgiving, combined with site overhaul business and preparing our report on the 2007 December holidays survey, has kept me away from the blogosphere for several weeks. I make no promises of a return to daily blogging until 2008, but here’s a grab bag of goodies that have been collecting in recent weeks:
Perhaps this is obvious, but living in Jackson Heights is a lot like being intermarried. In many ways, these situations make it much harder to live a Jewish life–I can’t be Jewish by osmosis or accident. But they also mean that I don’t take Judaism for granted, that I am often more conscious of my Jewish identity and more motivated to seek out Jewish things.
The second discusses how Jewish outreach to the intermarried needs to improve. The Jewish community offers outreach to the intermarried on the assumption that their intermarriage is a “problem.” But the intermarried families themselves rarely see their relationship as a problem. Like everyone else, they respond to activities and communities that fit their needs, that are fun, that are convenient:
[Activities] have to inspire and educate–or at least entertain. And that’s a tall order for any nonprofit institution, particularly those–like most synagogues–run primarily by overextended (and often elderly) volunteers without much of a budget at their disposal.
- A blog post by another friend, Hannah Farber of Jewish Funds for Justice, reflects on Joelle Berman’s (yes, she is also a friend. Aren’t I popular?) essay for Reform Judaism magazine on being the proudly Jewish child of an interfaith marriage. In the essay Berman relates her shock the first time she was told that she wasn’t Jewish because her mom’s not. Like Berman, Farber is the child of a non-Jewish mother and grew up in the Reform movement. But unlike Berman, she is a bit annoyed that nobody in the movement ever told her that other parts of the Jewish community wouldn’t see her as Jewish; she feels that she wasn’t given the proper tools to counter Conservative and Orthodox Jews’ claims. She feels that she was unnecessarily sheltered, not unlike Haredi Jews who express profound culture shock when entering the secular world.
- I’m a huge Dylan fan, so my interest is piqued by the new movie I’m Not There, a strange biography of Dylan that stars six actors as Dylan–including Cate Blanchett and a black teenage actor, Marcus Carl Franklin. The approach makes sense for an artist as inscrutable and shape-shifting as Dylan. Even his religious journey has been bizarre: he grew up as a non-participating Jew, became an evangelical Christian during the ’70s and has recently been reported to be fraternizing with Chabad. The movie is directed by Todd Haynes, whose mother was Jewish. In the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, he has a number of interesting things to say to George Robinson about his own Jewishness–and Dylan’s.
This summer, we began asking wedding couples, through a follow up questionaire, if our rabbinic and cantorial referrals were helpful for their weddings. One of our goals in providing this referral service, and the follow up questionnaire, is to help foster connection between interfaith couples and the Jewish clergy who officiate at their weddings. We hope that the rabbis and cantors we refer are welcoming and help foster a greater connection between the couple, their wedding ceremony, and other Jewish choices they may make in their journey as a family. And with every response to our six-month follow-up with the couples, we learn a little more about who is using this service and what their real needs are.
With a sample of responses in, here are some of my unscientific findings thus far. It appears that more and more couples are requesting holding wedding ceremonies before the end of the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday night. Almost half of our requests for referrals ask for Saturday weddings. Many more than before are planning a wedding with a co-officiant of another faith, and several have asked for rabbis or cantors who will officiate in a church. It seems that the spectrum of what interfaith couples are seeking for wedding ceremonies is expanding. The ceremonies now range from traditional Jewish ceremonies, with all the ritual, traditions and Hebrew to ceremonies where the Jewish officiant is offering a prayer or blessing, maybe a glass is smashed, and the wedding is in a church.
Reform Judaism Magazine’s winter 2007 issue looks at the so-called “outreach revolution” through the eyes of children of interfaith households and their parents. The term “outreach revolution” is never precisely defined but I assume it is referring to the gradual change in the atmosphere, programming, outreach and membership of Reform synagogues that has changed the movement to the point that a near-majority of its members are from interfaith families. Given that the change did not happen abruptly, and significant outreach programming didn’t start until the early ’80s, it hardly qualifies as a “revolution”–more of an “evolution” really–but what’s an extra r between friends?
The issue has a nice symmetrical feel to it. It includes perspectives from three children of interfaith marriages as well as essays from the non-Jewish parent of each child. Lucas McMahon, a 17-year-old from Marblehead, Mass., talks about what it’s like to have red hair, green eyes and be Jewish and how his mother initially didn’t invite his Catholic grandmother to his bar mitzvah–only to be rebuked by grandma, who said, “Of course I am going to come… I would not miss this for the world.” Meanwhile, Lucas’ father Tim recounts his and his wife’s decision to raise their children Jewish:
In the end our decision to raise our children as Jews came out of a simple realization: I would be more comfortable having my children be Jewish than Mindy would be having hers be Catholic. If we tried to debate which religion was “better” we would have failed.
I was going to write about Reform Judaism magazine’s impressive package of articles on outreach, but I felt the need to respond to the latest instance of Abe Foxman-related controversy.
In the most recent issue of The (Boston) Jewish Advocate, Raphael Kohan reports on Boston Jewish leaders’ reaction to Abe Foxman’s Oct. 24 Q&A with JTA’s Ami Eden. In that Q&A Foxman discusses, among other issues, his position on the pending Congressional resolution calling the Turkish expulsion of Armenians in 1915-17 a genocide, and the Boston Jewish community’s reaction to his position. In the Q&A, Foxman is critical of Boston Jewish leaders’ support of the resolution, saying “What I didn’t realize was to what extent the American Jewish community has reversed Hillel [referring to Rabbi Hillel's famous quote, "If I am only for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?"], or at least in Boston and Massachusetts.” He directly calls out Combined Jewish Philanthropies President Barry Shrage and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston Executive Director Nancy K. Kaufman: “The last thing we need now is for Barry Shrage and Nancy Kaufman to be fighting us.”