Sometimes when something feels familiar, it’s not good

When I heard that there was a shooting at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, I thought about the shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation. I didn’t consider for a second that this was something random–I thought that the shooter must be targetting these people because of what he thinks they believe. It’s scary to think about people being unsafe practicing religion in the United States, where we take pride in our freedom to speak and to worship. My heart goes out to the survivors.  

“Code”: Read

As a member of the Jewish Outreach Institute’s Big Tent Judaism, we recently received JOI’s newest outreach tool, a business-card sized glossary to common Jewish terms. This little pamphlet, called “Cracking the Code,” defines words familiar to insiders–like Shabbat, minyan, Reform Judaism, Hillel–but often bewildering to outsiders.

It’s a great little resource; I gave one to a non-Jewish woman who has been working for a Jewish organization for more than a year. “This is fantastic,” she practically squealed. She’s had to pick up the terminology as she’s gone, but never knew what Kabbalah was (“Something to do with Madonna?”) and had no clear idea about the differences between the major movements. She plans to put it up in her cubicle.

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Meet the “New Jews,” Same As the Old Jews

In The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago, Larry Derfner wrote about how both of his friend’s sons are marrying children of Asian immigrants. Part elegy, part rant, the piece explores why “old-fashioned, secular unrich” Jews like his friend’s sons are coupling with Asian women rather than Jewish ones.

His answer?

The simplest reason … is that both couples met at UCLA, a gigantic university loaded with Jewish and Asian students. The less simple reason is that my friend’s two sons received an old-fashioned, secular, unrich Jewish upbringing in America, and for people like them, there aren’t many American Jews of similar background and outlook to marry anymore. For people like them, there are more opportunities to find suitable spouses among Asians and other studious, hard-working, family-oriented American immigrants than there are among American Jews.

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Jews and Catholics Agree: Something Is Not Kosher In Iowa

Sometimes the most Jewish thing a person can do is to send a donation to a Catholic church.

I’ve been following the Agriprocessors scandals since they first broke. The largest kosher meatpacker in the United States in Postville, Iowa first made the news in 2000 with Steven Bloom’s book Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America. More recently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent undercover inspectors–observant Jews–into the plant to monitor their treatment of animals. Though there is a general Jewish legal prohibition against causing suffering to animals, the PETA documentary makers found many instances of ill-treatment.

At the beginning of May, the Postville plant was the target of the largest United State Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid ever. ICE arrested hundreds of people for violating immigration laws. The Jewish community has reacted, some by boycotting the meat. Several organizations, both Orthodox and Conservative, have spoken out–as one Orthodox rabbi explained, “kosher to eat is not the same as kosher to buy.” The owners of the plant have acquitted themselves disgracefully; they hired a PR firm that apparently impersonated the rabbis who had criticized them on the internet.

Jews and Catholics have allied to help the immigrant families in Postville. Immigration reform advocates from Jewish and Catholic groups plan a rally on immigration policy in Des Moines on July 27. A Jewish charity called The Good People Fund organized a huge food and humanitarian relief donation to a food pantry in Postville. The Jewschool blog helped organize Jews to donate $40,000  to St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church in Postville, where dedicated church staff and clergy have been helping the families of those arrested. Continue reading

The Blame Game

Back in April, I read “The Missing” in the World Jewish Digest, and found it absolutely amazing. (The title has been changed: it was “A Jewish Man is Hard to Find.”)

The article was advocating that single Jewish women should “panic” if they hadn’t found a Jewish man to marry. (Click the link, I’m not Ubiquitous t-shirtexaggerating!) One problem, the article asserted, was that Jewish women were too dominant in Jewish religious life, leaving Jewish men feeling sidelined. This was based on a recent sociological study from Brandeis on intermarriage and involvement in Jewish life.

Astonishing, eh? An anti-intermarriage article was effectively blaming Jewish women for being too involved in the Jewish community. Katha Pollitt, the feminist columnist for The Nation, and herself the daughter of an interfaith marriage, just came out with a response to the idea that maybe Jewish men were intermarrying because Jewish women outnumber them in Jewish institutional life.  Her pithy analysis:

The study is full of unusually frank references to Jewish men’s dislike of Jewish women—too aggressive, demanding, ethnic—but instead of challenging this as sexist and anti-Semitic, it accepts it as a fact of life that women must accommodate for the sake of the community: “For those who find the synagogue’s world of our mothers too overwhelming, it is possible that dating non-Jews becomes a way to escape from the ubiquitous Jewish woman.”

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A Troubled Daughter and an Atheist Mother

Yesterday I wrote about the fictional story of a successful man whose child inexplicably descends into self-destruction in her teens. Today, my friend Nate Bloom alerted me to a similar story in The New York Times. The big difference is that the story in the Times is true.

In Sunday’s edition, Julie Schumacher, a novelist and English professor, writes painfully and poignantly about her daughter “who has fallen apart.” Schumacher was brought up Methodist but is a long-time atheist; her husband once said she was “the least spiritual person he had ever met.” But she finds herself in a Jewish women’s support group after being invited by the mother of a girl her daughter had met in treatment:

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Philip Roth on Intermarriage

American PastoralI recently finished reading Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, which won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1997. Roth of course has written extensively about Jewish men who fall in love with non-Jewish women–and the parents who disapprove–and American Pastoral is no different. Except when it is.

Unlike most of his other protagonists, the central character in American Pastoral is not a Roth-surrogate. The hero of American Pastoral (and to be sure, a hero is what he is), is a tall, athletic, endlessly optimistic blonde businessman and former high school sports star nicknamed “the Swede.” In short, he is the anti-Roth. But like Roth’s typical parade of Zuckermans and Portnoys, he is Jewish, and he is from New Jersey.

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