Where Do You Stand?

Ready, aim...At the Reform rabbinical convention in late March, the two leading academics in the debate over intermarriage squared off. In one corner was Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University. In the other corner was Steven Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

Saxe was there to talk about a study he co-authored, It’s Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah: Intermarriage and Engagement. Cohen was there to refute it. (Sort of.) I didn’t witness the debate, but I have read Saxe’s study and Cohen’s remarks that followed.

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A Tale of Three Cities

Earlier this year, JDate began offering bulk-rate discounts on JDate subscriptions for rabbis interested in promoting Jewish dating among younger, unmarried members of their congregations. Nothing wrong with that, although the measure is more symbolic than practical, given the small number of young, unmarried people in most synagogues. And the kind of young, unmarried Jews who join synagogues are the type of people who are already dedicated to marrying another Jew. But kudos to anyone who wants to help someone find their beshert–whether he or she is Jewish or not.

Less encouraging have been the explanations that rabbis have given for offering the JDate memberships. From the aforeblogged Newsweek article:

The rabbis say they felt compelled to act because of the gradual dilution of the faith through marriage. Almost half of American Jews marry non-Jews, a rate of exodus that has more than tripled since 1970.

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Intermarriage in Egypt, Moms, Etc.

Consider this a belated cleaning of online hametz:

Slate on the Intermarriage Debate

Lock and load

The prolific Shmuel Rosner gives Slate an overview of the latest exchanges of fire in the Jewish intermarriage wars. It’s nothing earth-shattering, covering studies that have been reported on elsewhere, but the opening anecdote nearly made my head explode. Rosner relays the story of a 30-something Jewish woman married to a Catholic man who walks into a Maryland synagogue:

Maybe, she asked the executive director of this temple, you have a Seder to which I can come with the kids, so that they’ll have a first positive exposure to Judaism?

But the executive director gave her advice she didn’t expect: If this is your children’s first encounter with Judaism, don’t start by bringing them to a Seder. It is long, can be boring at times, and requires a lot of reading. Better start their schooling in Judaism with a lighter practice.

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Inside Baseball

search for hametz--with Google!My five-year-old son is very subtle. The morning after our Havurah Purim party, my son told me, “You know, not everyone knows what a Purimspiel is.”

“But you do, honey, because we saw one last night. It was the play people were acting out, about Queen Esther.”

He nodded. “But not everyone knows what that is.”

Sometimes my son will start using words correctly and then ask me later what they mean. I’m always sliding new words by him and finding out that he’s picked them up when he hands his dad a board book of the Noah’s Ark story with the request, “Read me the abridged version.” My big challenge is to introduce the words in such a way that he gobbles them up like a little Pac-Man and doesn’t shut off his attention.

This is also my challenge at my job. The difference is that I am writing here for adults who are, generally speaking, highly educated. Continue reading

No Longer Greek to Me

I always thought that Tom Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, was a charming woman and a good actress. She met Tom when she played an idealistic Jewish Peace Corps member in the 1985 film, Volunteers. Hanks starred as a WASP playboy who joined the Peace Corps to get out of the country just ahead of some gangsters who wanted to kill him because he could not pay some gambling debts. Of course, the playboy and the Jewish idealist fall in love.

Wilson, who is the daughter of Greek Orthodox immigrants, recently wrote a piece on the joys of Greek Orthodox Easter for the Huffington Post. This year the Greek Orthodox celebrate Easter on April 27.

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“Both Sides” of the Story

Both Sides of the Family publicity photoI saw a very interesting one-act on Sunday. Called “Both Sides of the Family,” it tells the parallel stories of an Episcopalian woman raising Jewish children in a Conservadox community and a twice-married Jewish man with Jewish children from his first wife and Christian children from his second. It was created and produced by the Charenton Theater Company of Ohio, and was sponsored by the Interfaith Collaborative, a group of Boston-area outreach groups of which InterfaithFamily.com is a part. I helped arrange the connection between Charenton and the Collaborative, and I still don’t know what to make of the play.

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Papal Visit

The Pope is coming to the U.S. for the first time next week, making stops in Washington, D.C., and New York on his five-day trip. What does this mean for interfaith families?

Like his predecessor John Paul II (and really, like any mainstream Catholic official), Benedict XVI is pro-life, anti-death penalty, anti-birth control and anti-homosexuality. He also follows the recent trend in papal politics of decrying the excesses and abuses of capitalism and protesting American use of force. Also like his predecessor, he sees moral relativism as an insidious force that sustains evil in secular society. In terms of substance, his views are little different than that of John Paul II–why then is John Paul II viewed as the lovable uniter and Benedict XVI as the reactionary divider?

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More Sweet Stuff

I like any opportunity to show how Jewish culture can be integrated with other cultures and make a beautiful hybrid. I don’t know what culture should take responsibility for marshmallow Peeps, but I think you’ll join me in enjoying Peeps for Passover. Yes! The 10 Plagues, acted out by PEEPS! (No, no, Peeps are not kosher for Passover–for most kashrut authorities, they aren’t kosher at all, being made with gelatin–but Peeps as an artistic medium is clearly an idea whose time has come.) Ooh, there’s also a photo Moses Parting the Red Sea–of Peeps. We are living in some interesting times!

Jenn Forman Orth, Jelly Fruit Slices

Let me know if you figure out anything visually clever to do with the Passover fruit slice candy. (They are

my five-year-old’s favorite candy, so probably we’re just going to eat them–though I was thinking about how awesome they could look in a bento-style kosher-for-Passover preschool lunchbox.) Jenn Forman Orth, who posted this photo on Flickr, says she doesn’t like them. (Is it bad that I hope you start debating the aesthetics of Easter and Passover candy in the comments?)

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Taking it seriously, making it sweet

InterfaithFamily.com has been in the press lately, and I just wanted to share some of the articles and some quotes with you.

Shabbat Candles by Jordan CharkJulie Wiener wrote a column this past week on why her interfaith family is committed to lighting Shabbat candles. She found out she’s not unusual:

Interestingly, there are quite a few of us die-hard candle-lighting interfaith families. A recent study by Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies found that (at least in the Boston area) 54 percent of interfaith families who are raising Jewish children light Shabbat candles “all of the time” or “usually,” compared to 36 percent of Conservative families and 20 percent of Reform families in which both parents are Jewish.

As Ed Case, the publisher of InterfaithFamily.com, explains it, “many intermarried families take Jewish involvement more seriously, and try harder than in-married families who may take their Judaism for granted.” Continue reading