The Link Sink

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I’ve been meaning to give a shout-out to our friends at Jew-ish.com for a while, but better late than never. Since February, they’ve had a blog on interfaith marriage called Half-Torah (clever title). It was originally written by a gay man named Brian who was converting to Judaism; since May, it’s been written by a Jewish woman named Becca married to a non-Jewish “Jew-ish” man. I haven’t read every post, but I believe “Jew-ish” means that he doesn’t have any Jewish roots, but he’s so involved in Jewish life that he’s essentially an honorary MOT. Check it out. Becca puts up new posts more frequently than I do, and she’s not even paid for it.

Here’s the latest update on the polls we’ve conducted since July 10, the last time I updated you on our polls. Our July 10 poll asked “Can a person be half-Jewish?” and respondents were almost evenly split: 53% said “Yes, of course” and 47% said “No, you’re either Jewish or you’re not.” The July 31 question also saw a fairly even split. In response to the question “Is divorce harder for an interfaith couple than an all-Jewish couple?”, 55% said for an interfaith couple, 45% said for an inmarried couple. However, in response to our Aug. 14 question–”Is making your partner happy a sufficient reason to convert to Judaism?”–nearly all of the respondents (90%) said No. And most of you (60%) thought that children should not be allowed to decide their religion for themselves, according to our Aug. 28 poll.

In Broward County, Fla., a large Jewish cemetery, the 52-acre Star of David Cemetery and Funeral Home, is adding 31 acres and 10,000 plots for intermarried Jews and their families.

Adam Goldberg, son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, says he is tired of being typecast as a neurotic Jew.

Interfaith, Interracial, International

In a continuation of its series on religion in black America, NPR interviewed Dara and Oded Pinchas, a black-Jewish couple who are expecting twins. Dara is an African-American Baptist while Oded is an Israeli Jew affiliated with the Secular Humanistic Movement.

They avoided the officiation issue by getting married on a beach in Hawaii. Dara says her family embraced Oded, while for his family, “It’s been a growing process… over time we’ve come to accept each other.” His parents, basing their definition of Jewishness on the widely accepted Israeli standard of Jewish maternity, are concerned that his children won’t be Jewish.
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The Link Sink

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  • We’re based in Newton, Mass., and receive great support from Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston’s Jewish federation. One of our biggest fans is Barry Shrage, executive director of CJP. So admittedly I’m a bit biased, but this article in Ha’aretz about Shrage’s recent sabbatical in Jerusalem shows that Shrage “gets it” in a way that few Jewish establishment leaders do. A sample of quotes: “Our obsession with numbers is simply not a good thing.” “Within 10 to 15 years, most Jews will live in religiously intermarried families, and in such a situation, it is no longer possible to rely solely on ethnicity and continue to be relevant to all these Jews.” “For us, Israel no longer has to justify its existence, but it must progress to the next stage, of the joint creation of a perfect Jewish society…”
  • The (London) Jewish Chronicle reports that rabbis in the country’s small Liberal movement (similar to America’s Reform movement) have seen a “sharp rise in requests to give blessings to mixed-faith marriages.” It’s still only a tiny amount: 60 so far this year for the entire country, compared to 30-40 last year. But the increase shouldn’t be a surprise considering recent official census figures from Britain on the increase in interfaith dating and cohabitation.
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    Reaction to Rob Eshman’s Column

    Three weeks ago, Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, wrote a provocative editorial arguing that the Jewish community should encourage single women in their 30s and 40s to interdate–better to intermarry and be happy than be Jewishly pure and miserable.

    Predictably, it inspired a lot of response. Unpredictably, an equivalent number of the letters printed in the Jewish Journal supported his proposal as opposed it. One of the endorsements came from us:
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    Three Little Birds

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    It’s been two weeks since Hurricane Dean left surprisingly little damage in Jamaica, a place filled with shoddily constructed housing and tenuous infrastructure. A few days after the storm, Paul Rockower wrote an essay for The Jerusalem Post about Jamaica’s “small, vibrant Jewish community” of 250-300.

    Despite the community’s microscopic size–down from a one-time high of 5,000-6,000–Rockower reports that 20 people were at the island’s only synagogue, Sha’are Shalom, on Shabbat when he visited. The sounds of the synagogue’s pipe organ filled the room, and the floors were carpeted with white sand. The community’s spiritual leader, Stephen Henriques told Rockower how intermarriage was common but that “nearly all children from those unions were raised as Jews.”

    I’ve always found it interesting how the Jewish establishment in the U.S. makes a stink about intermarriage, while far smaller Jewish communities–such as Jamaica and Nicaragua–accept it as a fact of life, and move on. Better to keep up the important business of living a rich Jewish life and building Jewish community, and whoever wants to participate does so. Even a few days before Hurricane Dean, when water was thigh-deep in the streets of Kingston, nearly 10 percent of Jamaica’s Jewish population came out for services.

    As Bob Marley sang, “Every little thing’s gonna be alright.”

    Better Late Than Never

    The few studies on the Jewish affiliation patterns of children of interfaith families have consistently shown that children of intermarriage have stronger Jewish identities as adults if they are bar or bat mitzvahed.

    This article and video from The Charlotte Observer tells the story of Paloma Wiener, 16, and her brother, Brandon, 15, who are studying for their bat and bar mitzvah together. Their mother is Mexican and their father is Jewish, and they moved to Charlotte from California recently, so they got a late start on studying to become b’nai mitzvah. The fact that they are going through the process at a later age reaffirms their commitment to Judaism, and makes it highly likely their religious identity will remain with them throughout their lives.
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    High Holiday Tickets: High Prices, High Barriers to Involvement

    Across the spectrum, including among the Orthodox, synagogues have done an admirable job in recent years making themselves more welcoming to the unaffiliated, the intermarried and the just plain timid. There’s a long way to go, but between Chabad’s outreach, the Reform movement’s embrace of interfaith families and the Conservative movement’s push for keruv, religious life is more welcoming and more accessible than it’s ever been. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that the practice of charging non-members for High Holiday tickets–and in some cases, barring non-members from attending–persists.

    It’s one of the most shortsighted strategies in modern religion: during the small number of days that Jews actually want (or at least feel obligated) to go to synagogue, congregations charge them exorbitant prices to enter, either through one-off ticket prices or a requirement that the non-member pay dues to join the synagogue. Rather than use the holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah as an occasion to show non-members how welcoming they are, they use it as an occasion to show how restrictive–and expensive–they are.
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    That Thing We Do

    I need an intervention. No matter how much I try to move away from writing about Noah Feldman’s The Orthodox Paradox, I keep getting called back by the tantalizing aromas of fresh opinions. The way it makes me feel part of something bigger than myself, the way it makes my worries wash away, the way it builds my self-confidence… My name is Micah and I am an Orthodox-Paraholic.

    But maybe one last taste?

    Andrew Silow-Carroll, the ever-insightful editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, wrote a follow-up to his op-ed “The way we do the things we do.” In that essay he argued that the Feldman essay–and a recent volley of intellectual fireworks between Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Conservative movement’s rabbinical seminary, and Joey Kurtzman, editor of Jewcy–demonstrated the growing schism between the “particularists” and the “universalists.” The particularists, like Wertheimer, see Judaism first and foremost as a culture and view Jewish strength in inverse relationship to Jewish assimilation. The universalists, like Kurtzman (and to a lesser extent, Feldman), see Judaism as a universally accessible philosophy that is compromised by the obsession over communal boundaries. Silow-Carroll is more sympathetic to the first position–indeed, he lives his life by the rules of the particularist–but in this new column, he wonders whether his “choices will ensure the survival of anything.”
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    Ay, There’s the Snub

    Leave it to Julie Wiener of The Jewish Week to come up with an original take on Noah Feldman’s The Orthodox Paradox.

    Rather than use her column as an opportunity to critique or praise Feldman, she ponders the value of the snub–both Maimonides School’s snub of Feldman and Feldman’s snub of the school and the Modern Orthodox community. Does the snub work? Does it lead to a desired change in behavior, or does it just piss people off?

    Wiener certainly leans toward the latter option. Feldman’s case provides a double dose of evidence that the snub doesn’t work: Feldman intermarried and was unashamed of his life decisions despite his exclusion from the announcement section of his day school’s alumni newsletter while the Modern Orthodox community has responded to Feldman’s essay not by reconsidering some of its policies but by counterattacking Feldman with often virulent force.
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    Three Stories

    I’ve got three interesting stories today about the quirks of interdating and growing up in an interfaith family. I tried to come up with a clever way to link the three, but I’m at a loss. Here they are:

    • On Jewcy, Jordie Gerson complains that Jewish men have a hard time seeing her as a sexual being after they find out she’s a rabbinical student. She finds she can only have flings with non-Jewish men:

      …the non-Jews, they knew better. They knew that in my world they were not welcome, at least not for long. Well, by me, maybe, they’d be welcome. But not by the places I was going, and in the communities I would someday lead. Non-Jewish men assumed our relationship couldn’t become serious—and after the Jewish men who put me in the serious category automatically, this was an enormous relief.

    • Chris Schwarz, a photographer who opened a museum to honor the heritage of the thriving Polish Jewish community destroyed by the Holocaust, died a few weeks ago. Despite his devotion to Jewish history and remembrance, he was buried in a municipal cemetery in Krakow because his mother was not Jewish. He once said, “I am Jewish enough for the camps, but not for the rabbis.”
    • Also on Jewcy, the daughter of a Korean woman adopted by a Jewish family tells her story: how her mother rebelled against religion and didn’t raise her Jewish, how her grandmother “was always pushing” Judaism, how she went on a birthright israel trip because it was free, how she dated an Israeli soldier who was killed by terrorists. Now, she’s a firefighter in Israel.