Real, Not Ideal

I wish life was perfect.

I think we can all agree on that! For example, I wish I were size 2, a lottery winner and that all the world’s Celtics lottery tickettroubles were solved. But life is not perfect.

In the November 28 edition of the Jewish Advocate, Rebbetzin Korff, the wife of the the Rebbe of Zvhil-Mezhbizh and a descendent of the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century founder of the Hasidic movement, responded to a question in her column ,“Why is Judaism concerned when a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man?”

Rebbetzin Korff does a wonderful job of explaining how complicated it can be to raise a Jewishly observant child when one parent is not Jewish. (A sentiment many of our readers can agree with.) Remarkably, in the end, Rebbetzin Korff does concede that is possible to raise a well-educated, Jewishly-oriented and responsible observant child when one parent is not Jewish. She then stresses it is not a Torah ideal.

One could hardly read Rebbetzin Korff’s column as a ringing endorsement of interfaith marriage, nor even a lukewarm one, but I hope she does agree with InterfaithFamily.com’s mission of encouraging families to make Jewish choices. Like Rebbetzin Korff, I agree that interfaith marriages are not always perfect. For that matter, nor are many marriages between Jews. Life is not ideal. After all, I am still not a size 2 or a lottery winner. Based on my morning check on Google News, there is still a lot of trouble in the world.

Every day interfaith families are engaging in Jewish life and we are all enriched by the richness interfaith families bring to the Jewish community. After work today, I am going to the gym and will be buying a lottery ticket.

More December Holiday Links

Ellyn Bache, author of eight novels including Safe Passage, which was made into a movie with Susan Sarandon, sent us anholiday miracles cover email yesterday. She’s put Holiday Miracles, a novella she wrote about Christmas and Hanukkah in an interfaith family, on the web as a downloadable .pdf file. We put a link to the book at our brief review of it from when it was first published. I’m hoping that if you download the book, you’ll come back to our review page to leave your own review in the comments there.

Another more serious holiday priority for a lot of people is giving charity. I have been following the growing scandal attending the arrests of hundreds of undocumented workers at Agriprocessor’s, the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. As a Jew I have found it hugely distressing–and I’m not the only one. Many Jews have wanted to donate to St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville because they have done the most to help the families of the arrested workers. Jay at the Modern Mitzvot blog posted a link to a Jewish charity that is helping hungry people in Postville, including providing kosher food to the Jewish employees of the slaughterhouse who have been left destitute. The Jewish Daily Forward has recognized the priest of St. Bridget’s, Paul Ouderkirk, in its Forward 50. If you have Catholic in-laws and you are trying to figure out what to get them for Christmas, how about a letter acknowledging your donation to this Catholic church?

Lights On PBS

I just saw a notice that there will be a Hanukkah special on PBS this week, and it features some Jewish musicians whose work I really like. It’s called Lights and you can find the local listings for your PBS station on Craig Taubman’s website. The most exciting to me is the Klezmatics, who are going to sing one of the songs from Woody Guthrie Hanukkah album that they did, Happy Joyous Hanukkah. Other performers include a well-known African-American Jewish gospel artist, Joshua Nelson, the adorable Brooklyn singer-songwriter Michelle Citrin, and a famous Sephardic cantor, Alberto Mizrachi. Continue reading

“Next Year in Jerusalem” or could it be “New Hampshire”?

I officiated at two interfaith weddings this past Thanksgiving weekend. One wedding I co-officiated with a Catholic priest; the other was a Jewish wedding for an interfaith couple that I officiated by myself. Both weddings included many of the rituals of Jewish tradition as well as the words and presence of Christianity. Doing this is important enough to me that I gave up having Thanksgiving with my own family–it’s very rewarding Jewish work.

New Hampshire White MountainsI wish my rabbinic colleagues who frown on interfaith officiation could witness these weddings as the families and guests do. After most interfaith weddings where I officiate or co-officiate, guests approach me to tell me how much the ceremony touched them. I am uncomfortable with the personal compliments–that’s my problem–but my spirits always get a lift from the expressions of the positive feelings that congregations have for Jewish ritual and blessing.

Our rabbinic fears of losing something in the mix of Jewish ritual and interfaith congregations, both those assembled only for life cycle events and those who share a whole life together, is “holy” (intentional homonym) unfounded. My experience has been that Jewish ritual, done right, offers something of value to everyone of this world … not just Jews. Continue reading

“Sing, Sing a Song…”

I am blogging from a Holiday Inn on the road to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. I had a great time interviewing Judy Caplan Ginsburgh over the phone this week for a piece our site. Judy is a singer who has led many children and their parents in song over many years. She does a lot of work with interfaith families so that moms and dads who weren’t raised with Jewish music can sing with their children. We talked about why she sings in Hebrew in an American accent instead of trying to do a fake Israeli one.

By coincidence, my best friend from high school sent me a link to Brian Eno’s essay on NPR about why singing is the key to a long life.

I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor.

You know, it’s kind of funny when someone who all but invented synthesized music is telling you that you should be singing a capella–old Elvis Presley songs, no less. Continue reading

Because He’s Jon Stewart

Many on the internet are so filled with glee about this Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Hanukkah song that they are making comparisons with Adam Sandler. Here it is, hope you think it’s funny. If not, at least you were among the first to find it on the internet:

House Fire and Warm Memories

This has been a crazy week for me.  My parents’ house had a huge fire.  Do not worry, they made it out in plenty of time and no one was hurt. 

My dad just called while he was standing in what used to be our family home wanting to know what he could take for me.  Everything was under mud and insulation; the house is no longer structurally sound.  The first thing I thought of was Zayde’s siddur–my great-grandfather’s prayerbook.  Clothing can be replaced and homes can be rebuilt, but what I can’t recreate is the worn pages of this book or the times that prayerbook saw him through.

I think everyone has objects they relate to family tradition.  I hope as we move into the Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, Chinese New Year holiday season,  everyone can  create memorable traditions for our diverse families which transcend our differences and celebrate our spirit. We at InterfaithFamily.com are proud of our role in helping people create new holiday traditions.

As we look forward to Thanksgiving dinner, which is always a great experience in my family, I am full of gratitude. Even though my parents’ house is gone, I have memories of family events and late night chats in the kitchen.  This year I am thankful for those memories, and so much more for the new ones my family will create.

Breaking New Ground with Jewish Leaders

Last week the United Jewish Communities (UJC) held its annual convention, called the General Assembly (GA). Something different and potentially very significant happened: there was talk about intermarriage, in a positive way.

Adam BronfmanSince I got involved in the professional Jewish world nine years ago, I think I’ve been to every GA except for two that were held in Israel, including last week’s. There are probably more Jewish leaders gathered at the annual GA than at any other time or place.

For many years I have lobbied the UJC, usually  unsuccessfully, to devote  convention sessions to the subject of outreach to the intermarried. (Like most conventions, there are big “plenary” sessions where most participants attend, and then there are multiple competing sessions over many time slots that attract smaller groups.)

I’ve actually spoken on panels at at least two GA’s, but the sessions were always about inclusivity generally, not outreach to interfaith families in particular. At last year’s GA in Nashville, there was nothing about intermarriage on the program. A GA visitor who didn’t know better, based on the absence of discussion at GA’s, wouldn’t be aware that outreach to interfaith families was the biggest challenge and opportunity the Jewish community faces.

I’m sorry I couldn’t go to Jerusalem this year, because finally things changed. I urge you to watch a video blog posted by Jacob Berkman of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which is embedded below. Berkman reports that Edgar Bronfman and Adam Bronfman broke new ground by bringing the subject of welcoming interfaith families to the front stage of the Jewish world. Continue reading

Very naughty

I do not know how things have come to this pass, but somehow, I have figured out an excuse two very good reasons to embed a Monty Python video on my work blog:

1. Monty Python has just announced their own Youtube channel. They are going to post all of their own material. So this is based on BREAKING NEWS, people!

2. Monty Python created one of the best-known stories about a young man growing up in an (admittedly dysfunctional) interfaith family, Life of Brian. Of course, Life of Brian is also, to many many people, one of the most offensive movies of all time. That’s why I’m going to post the embedded video under a cut. Beware of the blasphemy, bad language and blasphemous bad language. I am serious–this movie offended Christians and Jews alike.

My first-year college roommate, raised Catholic, was very upset when she saw this movie. She thought she was an ex-Catholic, but people hang on to things from their religious upbringing longer than they think. I had sent her to see it and had to apologize.

(Goodness, the Wikipedia article about the movie says that there was an oratorio based on the movie called Not the Messiah. Be still my geeky heart.)

I saw Life of Brian when it came out in Jerusalem in 1981. I was on a teen program in Israel that taught Jewish history, so I got every joke. My two geeky girlfriends from the program and I laughed louder than anyone else in the audience. I think the Israelis knew the history but couldn’t hear through the accents. Or maybe they were just offended and didn’t think it was funny. Not like my later experience of seeing Yellow Submarine in Tel Aviv in 1994, with everyone around me singing all the songs.

Anyway, this isn’t my favorite scene from the film, but the Pythons haven’t posted the most apposite one. (You know, the one with the line about being a Red Sea pedestrian? Oh well.) Here it is below the cut. Continue reading

Civil Marriage to Arrive in Israel?

Civil marriage in Israel may have a new (sort-of) champion in Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, one of the two leading candidates for prime minister of Israel.

Last week, The Forward reported that Livni promised that if she wins in February, she will allow civil marriage for the 350,000 Russian-speaking immigrants and their children who are caught in the so-called “marriage trap.” In Israel, only the religious authorities have the legal authority to solemnize marriages. Because so many Russian Jews are unable to prove they have Jewish mothers, the chief rabbinate will not marry them.

Continue reading