An American Girl

An article in the New York Times about the latest American Girl doll caught my eye in the blog Anti-Racist Parent. (I subscribe to their RSS feed because I aspire to be that.) It’s an interesting story — the latest in this line of historically-based dolls is Jewish.

Just to give you the background, if you don’t know: American Girl dolls are not generic baby dolls for open-ended play, nor are they fashionable ladies to act out being mathematicians or mommies; each doll comes with a pre-written background historical fiction. The dolls alone sell for $95. Accompanying story books, sold separately, place the characters of each of the dolls in her time and region of the United States, and there are also accessories for each doll that may be purchased separately. (This is the kind of racket that makes me really happy to have a little boy.)

The New York Times piece discusses how previous African-American and Latina dollies attracted criticism. Which you can understand, I think — you don’t want to give children the message that their ethnic identity is bound up exclusively in oppression, and choosing to have the one African-American doll be born in slavery could be seen to do that. As a Jewish parent I do want my child to know the history of anti-Semitism, of the Shoah and the pogroms and the expulsions. But it’s not the first thing I want him to learn about himself, that he’s a target. I’d rather have him learn that musicians and scientists he admires are Jewish, first, and that there are Jewish people, who look different from each other, living all over the world, and then Jewish food and Jewish songs and Jewish jokes. There’s plenty of time to learn about the other stuff. In any case, the company went to great lengths this time to get it right, including consulting with, among others, Jewish historian Paula Hyman at Yale.

If you were going to write a story about an American Jewish girl set today, what would she look like and what would her story be?

New Parenting Resource in Time for Shavuot

This Thursday evening is the beginning of Shavuot, the Jewish holiday when we celebrate the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is actually quite a fun holiday. One tradition for the holiday is to stay up all night studying Torah at a community event called the Tikkun Leil Shavuot. There is also a custom to eat dairy food on this holiday. One reason I’ve heard for this custom is that prior to the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people did not know the kosher laws. Once they learned them, they realized that they weren’t eating meat properly, so they had to eat meatless meals. Perhaps that’s why we eat dairy meals today.

This year I am struggling with how to make this holiday meaningful for my family. I do not have the energy to stay up all night and I certainly don’t want to give my two year old son any such idea! So far, I am planning to retell him the story of Ruth and Naomi, which is chanted on Shavuot morning at the synagogue. We will make a lasagna and chocolate milk together. We are also going to our neighbors for a dairy dinner. Other great ideas for Shavuot with children are available on Jewish Everyday website.

I was recently introduced to Jewish Everyday and its creator, the Bible Belt Balabusta. I am much impressed with its multi-denominational approach and the way it offers ideas from different bloggers and Jewish organizations — including ours — on how to introduce Jewish living to your children not only on Shabbat and holidays, but every day. I have already book marked it.

An Exciting Israeli Supreme Court Decision? Not Really.

If you are a Jew by choice or a person who is married to a Jew who would like to become Jewish, it’s a pretty crazy time to live in Israel. On the one hand, Jews by choice, no matter who performed their conversions, are eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. The Law of Return also includes relatives of Jews or people with Jewish  ancestry.

If you want to get married in Israel, to use a Jewish cemetery to bury your relatives there, or to enroll your children in religious school, you have to be Jewish according to the Orthodox Israeli rabbinate, and this has nothing to do with the Law of Return. This has gotten a little more complicated in the last year or so. It was just a little over a year ago when the Israeli High Rabbinic Court ruled that Israel’s own (Orthodox) conversions were invalid. Specifically, they ruled that the head of the state conversion ministry did not preside over kosher conversions. Later, they also invalidated the Jewishness of the son of a famous Jewish theologian on the grounds that his Orthodox conversion at birth was invalidated by sloppiness in observance of Jewish law later in his life. Most believed this decision, like the previous one, was motivated by political animus toward other rabbis. Still, it threw into doubt the Jewish status of any person converted for adoption who might appear before the rabbinical court.

All of these cases throw into doubt the common assumption in the Jewish community that an Orthodox conversion is what’s required for acceptance into the Jewish community.

These strange cases might have had some impact on a recent Israeli Supreme Court decision that non-Orthodox religious movements should have equal government funding for conversion preparation programs to the funding Orthodox programs receive. The secular court ruled that there was no reason to prefer Orthodox conversion education programs. Continue reading

Lamm, of God? Hardly.

A week and a half ago, Norman Lamm, the chancellor of Yeshiva University, gave an interview with the Jerusalem Post that is so full of insults for every Jew who’s not like him that it could pass as anti-Semitism.

In the interview, Lamm says, “With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements,” a statement as incorrect as it is condescending. It actually gets worse, much worse, from there.

For our purposes, we’ll only focus on the vitriol he directs at the Reform movement’s policy of recognizing the Jewishly raised children of non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers as Jews. Discussing population growth in the progressive movements, he says, “The Reform Movement may show a rise, because if you add goyim to Jews then you will do OK.” We wrote a letter to the editor about this particularly revolting quote, reprinted below:

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Why Do You Think?

This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard that non-Jews sign up for JDate, the internet’s oldest and most prominent Jewish dating service. In an article that ran in last week’s Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, we learn that 2 percent of the people signing up for JDate aren’t Jewish.

At least, they aren’t yet. The 2 per cent in the article are those who checked off “willing to convert” as their religious affiliation in their profile.

image of dating coupleIf you’re reading this and you aren’t Jewish, probably you’re saying, “So? They like Jews. What’s so weird about that?”

While my Jewish readers, at least some of them, are saying, “They like Jews? What? That’s so weird!”

In fact, the reporter on the piece thought the same thing:

It’s true: While I was hoping for a more insidious answer — “Jewish girls are better in bed; Jewish boys love non-Jewish girls!” — the truth just happens to be … banal. Kate (daters’ names have been changed to protect their privacy), a JDater who is not Jewish, said, “I guess I chose JDate because I knew a lot of people who had done it, and I think it’s one of the older and bigger sites out there.” No secret plot to infiltrate the Zionist clubhouse. Kate is just casting a wide net, trying to cover her bases.

Non-Jewish JDaters say things like, “I have wonderful relationships with Jewish people and have dated quite a few.” Maybe in the current US society, Jewishness is just another flavor, and this is a sign of our acceptance.

Either that, or maybe some people really like JDate. No one I know who has tried has great things to say, but perhaps my sample is skewed!

Why do you think non-Jews are trying JDate?

May Is Jewish-American Heritage Month

Hey! It’s Jewish-American Heritage Month! Apparently President Obama declared it yesterday! I didn’t know that was coming, even though I follow the White House blog feed. The president called on all Americans to recognize Jewish American contributions to society.

And I’ve had to come back and edit myself here because–we have this every year! I trained as a historian and I didn’t even know that. In fact, according to the Library of Congress, the first president to declare Jewish American Heritage Week was Jimmy Carter in 1980. I was already bat mitzvah by then. I’m very surprised that we didn’t get any heads-up at the time, at Hebrew school.  (Mom? Nu?) I got such a kick out of the announcement in Ha-Aretz that I’m kind of sorry I didn’t hear about it back when I was 14.

The Jewish Women’s Archive is celebrating–it’s a great place to learn more about Jewish women’s history. I’ll add more links as I find them. Feel free to comment with your favorite website, book or other resource for learning about American Jewish history and heritage.

Extra! Extra! Star Trek’s Director Is Intermarried

Scary monster
We were going to use a picture of the slick new Starship Enterprise, but this still from the original series is indescribably cooler.

BREAKING NEWS!

A new Star Trek movie comes out today!!!!

Wait? You already knew that? Darn. The Internet just can’t keep up with newspapers and TV. (Especially in this economy.)

Even if you knew about the movie, I’ll bet you didn’t know the director is Jewish? (Oh. You knew that too? I feel small.) BUT. I bet you didn’t know J.J. Abrams is in an interfaith marriage!

Yup, the newly appointed Geek Lord and Overseer is married to a Catholic woman, as he told the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles:

JJ: I don’t want to make any assumptions — because being Jewish in Hollywood means lots of different things — so I’ll just ask why people think you’re Jewish.
JJA: My name is Jeffrey Jacob Abrams — it’s a tough one to get around. My family wasn’t very religious, but I’m very proud of my heritage. My wife is Irish Catholic and it’s a fascinating thing having married someone who’s of a different religion, because you get to understand and see and respect another way of growing up and believing. That to me is interesting and healthy. I do consider myself Jewish, and I take my kids to services on holidays because that is something really important to me.

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Rabbinical School and the Interfaith Marriage, Part 2

Last week Ruth Abrams blogged about an important article by Jeremy Gillick in New Voices, The Coming of the Intermarried Rabbi, about men and women seeking to attend and be ordained by rabbinical schools that will not accept them because they are intermarried.  Shortly before the New Voices article came out, we published Why I’m Not A Rabbi, in which Edie Mueller explained her experience of this rejection 15 years ago. I’d like to now explain our position on this issue, prompted in part by a parallel discussion that is taking place on the Jewish Outreach Institute‘s JOPLIN listserv. Continue reading

Watch Your Language: On Shibboleths, Ghettoes and Bageling

If you want to welcome people to your community, whether your Jewish community, your workplace or your secular institution, you have to talk to them in a friendly way. Sometimes this is very simple–you just hold out your hand, say hello and it’s all good. Sometimes, however, your language can get in the way. It can convey unaware assumptions that are offensive or just not inclusive. On the internet, where everything is words and there are no physical handshakes, language is paramount and there are so many different ways to convey assumptions that could hurt someone.

talking silouettesHere at InterfaithFamily.com, we have a big challenge. We’re a Jewish organization providing Jewish resources to families with members who are and are not Jewish. So what do we call the people in the families who are not Jewish? We do not use the denotatively neutral but connotatively negative Hebrew term goyim, unless we are quoting someone, nor do we use the more negative shiksa or shaygetz. But that’s easy to figure out. Can we use “gentile”? Well, it’s not pejorative, but it does make some people’s skin crawl. We generally use non-Jew a lot, but lately there has been a sense that calling someone a non-Jew is defining them by what they are not. We can’t say “Christian” though, because some spouses and family members come from other religious backgrounds, and also, some people only call themselves Christians if they are active believers in a sect of Christianity. It’s a puzzle.

In the wider world, there has been a movement to stop using language that assumes some kinds of people are normal and some aren’t.

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