Follow-Up on Yesterday’s Post on Catholic-Jewish Relations

I really liked Leyna Krow’s shorter version of my post on the Jew-ish.com blog out of Seattle.

Today, Ha’aretz ran the story that the Vatican spoke officially against Williamson’s Holocaust denial. (Hat tip to Rebecca Lesses.) I think this is going to unfold in some interesting ways for Catholics and Jews.

By a weird coincidence, the day after I read so much about Catholic Traditionalists who didn’t like Vatican II, I got a book for review from Norton. It was a memoir called Waiting for the Apocalypse by Veronica Chater, all about growing up in a Catholic family that had rejected Vatican II. It looks like an interesting read.

Pope Lifts Excommunication of Anti-Semitic Bishop

On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI announced that the Catholic Church would reintegrate four bishops that the church had excommunicated in 1988 because they were ordained by Archbishop Michel Lefebvre, the founder of a breakaway Traditionalist Catholic sect, Society of St. Pius X. Jewish groups around the world have protested the reinstatement of Richard Williamson, a Briton who denies the historical truth of the Holocaust. Liberal Catholics in the US are also waking up to the fact that Williamson apparently denies that terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It’s one of the many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to which Williamson subscribes. For a comprehensive run-down on Williamson’s anti-Semitism, see Professor Rebecca Lesses’ blog, which has a translation an article from the German newspaper Der Spiegel on some of the scary things that Williamson has said, including suggesting that conservative Catholics arm to fight other Catholics.

Though Williamson is the most colorfully, scarily anti-Semitic (and also anti-gay and apparently just generally prone to saying wildly offensive things) of these four bishops, it’s not surprising that followers of Archbishop Lefebvre hold extreme right-wing positions. The Catholic Church is not a monolithic body, any more than Judaism is a monolithic body. Even within a single country, leaders in the Church can take left, right or centrist positions. Lefebvre supported the Vichy collaboration with the Nazis, the right-wing neo-fascist politician Jean-Marie Le Pen and right-wing dictatorships in other countries as well. His Society of St. Pius X has long been a source of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

It’s difficult for me as a Jew to figure out why this Pope, who is the first to visit a US synagogue and only the second to visit a synagogue at all, would make such a decision. One would think that he would be eager to distance himself from his past, apparently forced, membership in the Hitler Youth. My guess is that he decided that it was more important to have unity within the Church, and possibly to have support for other traditionalist positions on gender and sexuality, than it was to maintain the positive relations with the Jewish community that he and his predecessor had so carefully fostered.

One Catholic blogger points out that though the bishops’ excommunication was reversed, the Pope has not reinstated them to “exercise their ministry,” and also has not said that the original excommunication was wrong. Still, it looks to those of us outside the Church like the Pope is throwing his relationships with Jews under a bus in order to promote Church unity.

I don’t regard this position as reflecting anything about the Catholic leaders here in the United States who have reached out to the Jewish community, nor indeed does it have anything to do with centrist Catholic clergy in other countries. I’m going to continue to forge alliances and build friendships with the devout Catholics in my life who have consistently reached out to me as a Jew.

A Bad “Practice”

This past summer, the San Diego Jewish Journal published a nice cover story on intermarriage that prominently featured Ed Case, our CEO. Unfortunately, this month the magazine–where I was the founding editor–published a silly, insulting and misinformed column by their singles columnist titled “Shiksas Are for Practice.”

Here is the letter I sent to the Jewish Journal yesterday:

“Practice” Ain’t Perfect

According to the 2003 Jewish Community Study of San Diego, more than 30,000 non-Jews live in households with Jews. I wonder how they felt about Natalie Benjamin’s singles column, “Shiksas Are for Practice” (January 2009), which variously calls non-Jewish women “shiksas” and “Barbie” and says Jewish men who date them are looking for a “tall, skinny blonde with perky boobs, no butt and no brains.”

Of course, they were probably no less insulted than Jewish men–who “want a women who reminds them as little as possible about (sic) their mother”–or Jewish women, who were actually lauded for their ability to sniff out sales and dial caterers. If any of this were actually funny, one might forgive Ms. Benjamin, but it’s not–she’s simply recycling stereotypes that have been stale since before Adam Sandler first released the “Chanukah Song.”

On top of being insulting and unfunny, Ms. Benjamin’s column has its facts wrong. She references a 2001 survey that reportedly “found the Jewish population in the U.S. decreased by half a million people due to an interfaith marriage rate of 50 percent.” The survey that she is most likely referring to–the National Jewish Population Study 2000-01–has long been discredited as a reliable source for the total number of Jews in the U.S. Subsequent reports and meta-analyses of other population studies show that the American Jewish population actually increased by as much as a million people in the decade leading up to 2000. Is it possible that all that intermarriage actually led to an increase in the Jewish population? As Benjamin would say, “Go figure.”

-Micah Sachs
Director of Web Strategy
InterfaithFamily.com

A Great Moment to Reflect

Here at InterfaithFamily.com, one of our missions is to encourage the Jewish community to be welcoming to people in interfaith families.

A key issue that we don’t often discuss in this connection is race, and this hopeful, inclusive moment seems like a great time to do it. Because the majority of Jews in the United States are descended from the large wave of Eastern European immigration from roughly 1880-1920, we feel safe assuming that all Jews look about the same. Well, that’s not a good assumption. All Jews do not look the same, and all Jews are not white. Continue reading

Jewish Mourning in Mexico–A Comedy?

I’ve been meaning for some time to write about my Twitter pal, Rabbi Joshua Kullock, the rabbi of Guadalajara, Mexico. He blogs at Kol Ha-Kehila. If you are looking for Spanish-language resources to share information about Judaism with Spanish-speaking extended family, Rabbi Kullock does a regular online class on the prophet Amos in Spanish, and you can watch the class after it as aired as a recording, though you have to register. (I’m posting this now in part because I finally registered and figured out how to listen to it.)

I thought of Rabbi Kullock when I saw this crazy movie trailer. This is the second movie trailer I’ve seen about a shivah, the Jewish traditional week of mourning after a funeral–but this one is a comedy. Continue reading

Black Jews at the Inauguration

A number of Jews from racially mixed backgrounds are attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama, according to the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

One of them is Lacey Schwartz, who is now the New York regional director of Be’chol Lashon, the Institute’s initiative for Jews of racially diverse backgrounds. She also made a documentary called Outside the Box, about Jews of mixed-race backgrounds. We blogged about her a few years ago.

Another is Rabbi Capers Funnye, the spiritual leader of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian synagogue in Chicago. Funnye is First Lady Michelle Obama’s cousin; his mother and Michelle’s paternal grandfather were siblings.

According to the Institute, 20% of the U.S.’s Jews are of racially or ethnically diverse backgrounds. While that number is quite a bit higher than other estimates, there is no question that young people from mixed-race backgrounds are becoming more visible in the American Jewish community. Apparently they will be visible at the Inauguration too.

Martin Luther King Day, 2009

Today is Martin Luther King Day and I am thinking how amazing it is that tomorrow, a President with an African father and a white mother from the American Midwest will be sworn into office. I have to admit that I am a little bummed out to be in the office this week and not with all of my friends in Washington DC, busy going to concerts and inauguration balls. At least one of the three Jewish-sponsored inaugural balls still has undistributed tickets.

Through the presidential campaign and afterward, I kept seeing the same unattributed phrase, “Rosa sat so Martin could walk, Martin walked so Obama could run, Obama ran so our children can fly!” This beautiful phrase reminded me of the photos of Dr. King walking in the famous Selma to Montgomery March Among the white allies who walked with Dr. King was the major Jewish American theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. (In the photo at right, Rabbi Heschel is the white-bearded man one person over from Dr. King.) Heschel wrote of the march,  ”I felt my legs were praying.”Selma March with Heschel

Rabbi Heschel’s daughter, Professor Susannah Heschel, movingly recalled the reasons her father marched for civil rights. Like many American Jews, I’m proud of my community’s participation in the civil rights movement.

So tomorrow I am going to celebrate our new president and how many communities working together helped the United States elect a President with such a diverse heritage.

Inside-Outsiders?

Many progressive Jewish organizations have made great strides in recent years in creating a welcoming environment for intermarried members and visitors, but what of those who work for the organizations themselves? Does the same attitude of welcoming apply to the organization’s intermarried employees?

There is no definitive answer. But the Jewish Outreach Institute is starting an email discussion forum for intermarried workers in the Jewish communal world who want to talk about the issue. It’s a good idea, and a good start. In the Jewish communal world, it seems to me there is a (sometimes not so) subtle peer pressure to prove one’s Jewish bona fides. It can sometimes be easier to let people think you go to synagogue more than you do or not to mention that your partner is Christian. I certainly see this tendency among young adults from interfaith families who are working in the Jewish world; whenever I go to a conference with other Jewish organizational professionals, these impassioned young people seek me out to talk about their background. They don’t hide their past exactly, but they certainly don’t broadcast it.

I hope this small step will help Jewish organizations become more comfortable with the intermarried individuals working for them–and help those intermarried workers become more comfortable with themselves.

American Heaven

As a North American Jew, I’m accustomed to reading the endless kvetching of Jewish traditionalists about how American Judaism is inauthentic, assimilated or corrupted. It’s our default position as a community. We often bewail each other’s creativity and spirituality in the process. What I like is learning that all the other religions in the United States are similarly Americanized, unruly and individualistic, and similarly annoying their religious authorities. It makes me think of Whitman’s Song of Myself in Leaves of Grass.

When I read Charles M. Blow’s New York Times column, Heaven for the Godless, it lit me up inside. Here’s a good summary:

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life.

This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. [...] [They] complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they?

So in August, Pew asked the question again. (They released the results last week.) Sixty-five percent of respondents said — again — that other religions could lead to eternal life. But this time, to clear up any confusion, Pew asked them to specify which religions. The respondents essentially said all of them.

And that’s not all. Nearly half the respondents thought atheists would go to heaven, and most thought that people with no religious faith could also go. Continue reading