Shalom TV: “agonized and worried”

Shalom TV, which bills itself as a “mainstream Jewish television network”, sent us an email entitled “Intermarriage Threatens Jewish Future.”

Oy vey.

The enclosed press release described a roundtable discussion between some of the Jewish communal experts who are most alarmed by interfaith marriage.

In the Jewish community, we generally celebrate diversity of opinion on questions. You know the expression, “Two Jews, three opinions”? You know how the Talmud always cites the minority opinion in discussions of halachah?

Not on Shalom TV, so much. Continue reading

Web 2.0 Gives Us a Look At Some Jewish Art

I started here at InterfaithFamily.com at the end of February, and learned as part of my orientation here that I was going to be responsible for finding images to include with our stories and with my posts here on the blog. I’m not a creator of visual art myself; I can just about draw a picture of a kitty-cat when my son demands one. Perhaps that is why I’m always impressed by visual artists, and why I love the Internet.

floor tiles in Istanbul photographed by David KolkerVisual artists can publish their work on the Internet on sites like flickr.com under a Creative Commons license. The artists can decide to share their images for free, but retain copyright over them. When I find a beautiful artistic photograph with this license, I link back to the site where I found it, so that the artist can get traffic back. It makes me especially happy to do this for artists who are displaying oil paintings and Jewish crafts on their sites, though even accidental Jewish images float my boat.

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Happy Purim

Purim is a silly holiday.

 It’s a deeply spiritually meaningful Jewish holiday, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a holiday whose observance involves a lot of being silly. For example, we have Purim Torah, a sort of high level satirical joking. (Or sometimes not really so high level.) Then there are Purim costumes, which in some communities are very silly indeed. Purimspiel at Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, Mass. Purim plays (also called purimspielen) were some of the first Jewish theater, and to this day there are opportunities for members of Jewish communities to mock each other and the current political situation as they retell the story of the Book of Esther. There are Purim carnivals for children in costume. There are special Purim foods, like hamantashen, the jam-filled pastries that we North American Jews of Eastern European extraction make for this holiday, and, well, alcoholic beverages. (No, alcohol is not mandatory. I’ve been to more than one Purim party where people claim to be drinking when they are really holding cups of alcohol while telling jokes. You should never feel pressure to drink. Or to laugh.)

It’s the perfect holiday for this blog, because:

1. It’s a holiday about a Jewish woman who entered an interfaith marriage, preserved her identity and saved the Jewish people. Enough said.

2. On the internet, no one knows whether you’re wearing a Purim costume. (No, I’m not. For one thing, it’s not Purim yet. Also, I’m at work. In addition, I don’t even wear a costume at the megillah reading. Those are my real nose and glasses.)

3. If you haven’t seen this funny video, you should. Continue reading

Jewish-Irish Cultural Links

My 5-year-old son is really interested in holidays, especially ones that have special costumes. How do you explain St. Patrick’s Day to a Jewish boy–who lives in Boston? We passed people wearing green clothing and sparkly hats on the street yesterday, probably on their way to the famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which is the oldest celebration of Irish heritage in the United States. Being Irish is cool in Boston. But is it a Jewish holiday? Maybe!

Jewish-Irish t-shirt by Daniel GreeneYou can be Jewish and Irish at the same time; it’s not only the stuff of jokes. (I bow to Philologos of the Jewish Forward for having published the aged but still effective Sean Ferguson joke in his column this week–great timing!) Jews have a long history as a tiny minority in Ireland. There was probably a community as early as the 1200s, and unlike the Jews of England, Ireland’s Jews never underwent expulsion. They have had a small, visible and audible presence in the modern period as political and cultural figures.

The Jewish Advocate ran an article this past week in their print edition about Carl Nelkin, recently featured in the documentary Shalom Ireland. Nelkin, a Jewish community leader and a lawyer, is also a musician who has released an album of Yiddish music played on traditional Irish instruments. Jewish-Irish cultural blending goes beyond Leopold Bloom. I now have a small list of Jewish-Irish music CDs I’m going to be forced to acquire. Research for my job here, essential, very important! Continue reading

More Similar Than You Think

One of our central messages has always been that interfaith couples can offer their children just as strong a sense of Jewish identity as their inmarried brethren. But besides our own research, almost no studies have focused on the population of interfaith families raising Jewish children. Until now.

A new report from the Boston Jewish federation analyzing data from its 2005 demographic study shows that interfaith families raising Jewish children are remarkably like typical self-identified Reform Jewish families. They observe Shabbat, light Hanukkah candles and have Bar and Bat Mitzvahs as often as inmarried Reform families. However, they are more likely to have a Christmas tree and less likely to send their children to Israel. They also join synagogues later and leave earlier.

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A Fitting Faith

If you ever wondered why The New York Times is considered home to the best newspaper writing in the country, consider the following introduction from Dana Jennings’ essay “Religion Is Less a Birthright Than a Good Fit,” from last Sunday:

I WAS raised a Protestant in a Rockwellian New Hampshire village that was the proud home to stout, wood-frame churches and Saturday night ham-and-bean suppers.

There were four of us kids, and these days my sister and my middle brother are born-again Christians, and my youngest brother is a Catholic. Me? I’m the Jew.

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American Jews and Israel, Take II

Are American Jews losing their attachment to Israel? Common wisdom and a widely covered report from last year say yes; a new report from the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University says no.

“American Jewish Attachment to Israel: An Assessment of the ‘Distancing’ Hypothesis” is a direct rebuke of “Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and their Alienation from Israel,” co-authored by influential sociologist Steven Cohen. The Brandeis study argues that Cohen’s analysis is flawed because it relies on a hodge-podge of different surveys that don’t ask the same questions from year-to-year and doesn’t compare the same age cohorts over time. What the Brandeis researchers found is that as Jews age, their attachment to Israel increases.

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The Grandmother Clause

In a recent NY Times article about Israeli society, Gershom Gorenberg described the increasingly negative attitude of the Israeli rabbinate toward North American Jews. The story shows how a Jewish Israeli kibbutznik who was the child of an American immigrant had trouble getting the rabbinate to recognize that she was a Jew so she could marry her Jewish partner. It’s a little scary that the rabbinate has stopped assuming that everyone who says she’s Jewish is Jewish. The role of the rabbinate in Israeli society isn’t like the Church of England in the UK. If you are a Jew and you live in the State of Israel, the rabbinate control your ability to get married. Continue reading