Especially in This Economy

A new game that has amused me and my friends in recent days is adding “…especially in this economy” to the end of any opinionated statement. The more ridiculous, the better.

Let’s take some examples from friends’ Facebook status updates (all names changed to protect the guilty): “Lisa Martin is really going to miss ‘Lost’ this summer, especially in this economy.” Not bad. “Richard Poe is struggling to stay awake, especially in this economy.” Decent. ”Trader Joe’s gazpacho is delicious, especially in this economy!” Nice. “Susan Portnoy is amazed by the logic a 4 year old will use not to take medicine, especially in this economy.” We have a winner!

I bring this up because just as this economy is leading people to question all kinds of political and economic assumptions, it’s also leading the Jewish community to question assumptions about some of its most enconsced institutions.

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Generation Y Defining Jewishness

Steven M. Cohen and Lawrence A. Hoffman’s recent study confirmed that Generation X and the Millienial generation of Jews, currently young adults, are more spiritually inclined than their baby boomer parents. Even so, attracting young Jewish adults into traditional synagogue membership has been a challenge. Generation X and the Millenials do not necessary feel like they have to join the synagogue down the block to be part of a community. Many are creating lay led communities which do a good job of blending modern values with ancient traditions.

A recent Washington Post article talks about the Moishe Houses, a network of group houses where young adults live and organize worship and social gatherings. Young Jews are also expressing their spiritual values through an organization called Jews in the Woods, which meets in rural settings, and in independent minyanim like Tikkun Leil Shabbat. These new organizations often blur denominational lines and focus on creating communities where diversity is valued.

There is an upcoming one-day conference for the children of interfaith families, an often overlooked demographic in the Jewish Community. InterfaithWays and Birthright Israel NEXT are cosponsoring this event in Philadelphia on Sunday May 17th. The goals of this program are for children of interfaith families to connect, and to make sure that their voices are heard and needs are met by the larger Jewish community. This conference can go a long way in helping the mainstream Jewish communities understand the potential of children of interfaith families.
If you go, send me an email and let me know how it was!

Rabbinical School and the Interfaith Marriage

New Voices, the National Jewish Student Magazine published a well-reported story on The Coming of the Intermarried Rabbi, mainly about David Curiel, a friend of ours. Curiel forwarded us the URL to the article. Here’s an excerpt:

His path to rabbinical school was roundabout indeed. It started in 2003, when he met Amberly Polidor, who grew up worlds apart from Curiel in a conservative Christian family. Polidor had left the church, and soon after they started dating, the couple began attending services regularly at Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Beyt Tikkun, a synagogue in Berkeley, California. It was there, Curiel says, that he “found God.” Continue reading

Pop Culture Link Roundup

Yeah, I know, I’m not exactly up to date on pop culture. I know everything that’s happening in a certain corner of the internet, but it’s an awfully geeky corner. Sometimes, though, the goodies come to me.

Hillel, The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, ran a short interview with Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg, the child of an interfaith family. Everyone in my office informed me that they didn’t like Rosenberg’s behavior on the reality television program. I never saw the show, and I thought he looked kind of cute–but where are the recipes?

There was a review of the new Star Trek movie in Variety and it looks like a total InterfaithFamily.com plot: Spock’s childhood choice to identify with his Vulcan side when the humans teased him too much. I guess it’s a requirement of my job to go to both this movie and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince–two bicultural heroes who have to choose to identify with one side or the other of their heritage. (Oh, come on, that is not a spoiler, the entire world read that book.)

Here’s a useful link for IFF readers:  an online guide to Jewish wedding traditions. How is that pop culture? Well, I got it from a friend on Twitter. Twitter is pop culture, right?

Here’s a link that might not be useful but you won’t be sorry if you follow it:  Maira Kalman added another page to her blog with art at the New York Times, And The Pursuit of Happiness. In her description of a visit to the US Supreme Court, Kalman writes:

And then I meet Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is petite and elegant. I think, move over Jane Austen as my imaginary best friend forever. Make room for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who would have gone to my high school for music if her parents had let her. Whose favorite artist is Matisse. (I rest my case.)

Maira Kalman is my imaginary BFF.

Remembering the Shoah

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I learned while I was doing the research for our Jewish Holidays Cheat Sheet that the reason it falls now is that the Israeli government wanted the commemoration of the Holocaust to be tied to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I just read a beautiful book about Catholic Poles who hid Jews in Warsaw during the war, The Zookeeper’s Wife, and another, more recent book about the heroic effort of archivists to preserve a record of the Warsaw ghetto, Who Will Write Our History? by SamuOut of Faith stillel Kassow. The story of something as huge and overwhelming as the Shoah is only accessible in small piece, individual stories.

Such a story is contained in the film Out of Faith, a documentary about the life of a Holocaust survivor and her relationship with her grandchildren in interfaith marriages. When the film was first released, we published a review of the film, an essay by the director of the film, Lisa Leeman and an essay the producer of the film, L. Marc DeAngelis. They had contrasting perspectives on interfaith marriage and how the Jewish community should deal with it. Leeman is herself the child of an interfaith marriage. Continue reading

Emancipation of the Non-Jewish Partner

During Passover–which began Wednesday night–Jews are commanded to make a “mishna,” or commentary, on the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. The rabbis who drew up the Passover rituals demanded that each successive generation find ways to connect the ancient story of enslavement and freedom to their lives.

One of today’s parallels has less to do with restrictions of freedom on Jews than it has to do with restrictions on their partners of different religious backgrounds. Perversely, other Jews are the ones restricting their freedom.

In yesterday’s The (New York) Jewish Week, Kerry Olitzky, director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, and Adam Bronfman, managing director of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, wrote an op-ed urging the Jewish community to reconsider its restrictions on synagogue membership and ritual involvement for non-Jews:

… it was not Moses but his non-Jewish wife Zipporah who took into her own hands, quite literally, the task of circumcising their sons.

Today, we know of many intermarried households where the partner who is not Jewish is an equal contributor in raising Jewish children. In many cases the non-Jewish partner has the greatest influence over the children’s Jewish identities. Yet it is not difficult to imagine that if Moses and Zipporah were alive today, some synagogue administrator would be sitting them down to explain why their household of four is eligible for an individual membership because only Moses can join, and that only Moses’ name will appear on temple mailings to their home.

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Happiness Is…

Pearl Sun and Robert Petkoff in

What was the happiest moment of your life?

It’s a question a new musical at the Lincoln Center, appropriately titled “Happiness,” poignantly asks.

Written by the Tony-winning writer of “Assassins” and “Contact” (John Weidman), with music by the team behind “Grey Gardens” (Scott Frankel and Michael Korie), “Happiness” tells the story of nine New Yorkers stuck on a subway car. They reflect on the fondest memories of their lives, told partly through monologue, partly through flashback.

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Attracting Interfaith Families Through Jewish Spirituality

Synagogue 3000 (S3K) has released a fascinating new study by Steven M. Cohen and Lawrence Hoffman, How Spiritual Are America’s Jews? Narrowing the Spirituality Gap Between Jews and Other Americans. Given some of Mr. Cohen’s previous writings on intermarriage, both the tone and the substance of this report are noteworthy for highlighting an important path to more Jewish engagement by interfaith families and their adult children. Continue reading

A Terrible Message from the “God Squad”

We got a Google alert about an April 3 “God Squad” column that appeared in the Edmond Oklahoma Sun. In the column, Rabbi Marc Gellman responds to a young Jewish woman who wrote to him in pain, seeking advice because of her parents’ rejection of her Catholic boyfriend, even though she says she intends and her boyfriend accepts that their children will have the same connection to Judaism as she had. His response is a classic example of the wrong way for Jewish parents (and leaders) to speak to young adults about their interfaith relationships: Continue reading

Let My People…Laugh

Tis the season for matzah, wine and sometimes really bad food–unless you make one of our excellent staff recommended recipes, of course. As Passover approaches, so do the parodies of the holiday. Over the years I have seen many versions of the haggadah, the book of songs, stories and prayers read during the Passover seder (meal). This year it was taken to a new level when I was forwarded the Facebook Haggadah. For those of you on Facebook –this is hysterical. For those of you not on Facebook, you may find it slightly humorous but I have some other great links for you.

I found this video on YouTube and it made me smile. I’m particularly excited to share it with my non-Jewish husband who, while having attended many Passover seders over the past six years may find it useful in explaining what’s going on. (It’s after the cut.) Continue reading