More Portman


One of the people interviewed by Abigail Porgrebin for her 2005 book, Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk about Being Jewish, was Natalie Portman.  Hillel’s website has a long and very interesting excerpt from the book.

Portman’s father is an Israeli physician, her mother an American artist. She lived in Israel until she was 3, then in the US, but visited Israel frequently. She attended a day school until eighth grade, but her parents weren’t religious; they didn’t belong to a synagogue and she didn’t become Bat Mitzvah, but she goes to services on the High Holidays if she is in Israel. She has close relatives who were murdered in the Holocaust. “The first time I felt comfortable in an American religious institution was in college, because [Harvard] campus Hillel was inclusive. And it’s nice having Shabbat dinner every week with everyone.” She wrote a letter to the editor of the Harvard Crimson challenging an article alleging Israeli racism.

Here is the source of all of the media comment so far on her views on intermarriage:

When it comes to Portman’s own romantic life, she says she’s not necessarily looking for a Jewish husband. “A priority for me is definitely that I’d like to raise my kids Jewish, but the ultimate thing is just to have someone who is a good person and who is a partner. It’s certainly not my priority.” She says her parents don’t push her one way or another. “My dad always makes this stupid joke with my new boyfriend, who is not Jewish. He says, ‘It’s just a simple operation.’” She laughs. “They’ve always said to me that they mainly want me to be happy and that’s the most important thing, but they’ve also said that if you marry someone with the same religion, it’s one less thing to fight about.”

According to this interview, Portman said she was comfortable using her celebrity on behalf of Israelis causes. Perhaps if she is going to have an interfaith marriage, she’ll be willing to use her celebrity on behalf of the cause of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life?

Ending the Year with Another Celebrity Intermarriage


News broke today that actress Natalie Portman, just nominated for a Golden Globes Best Actress award for her starring role in Black Swan, is pregnant and engaged to Benjamin Millipied. We found out in a blog post from our friend Rabbi Jason Miller, who asks, Is Benjamin Millipied Jewish? I haven’t seen a definitive answer to that question; if Rabbi Jason is correct that Mr. Millipied is not Jewish, then this could be the next celebrity intermarriage to get a lot of attention.

It’s an interesting way to end a year that saw perhaps the most popular interest in any intermarriage ever, that of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, and intimations that another intermarriage that will attract tremendous public interest may be coming, for Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.

For me the importance of these weddings and relationships is that if the couple makes Jewish choices, that may influence many of the non-celebrity, regular folks couples to think about doing that themselves. So I was glad to read an ABC News report on an earlier interview where Portman said “A priority for me is definitely that I’d like to raise my kids Jewish.” I’ve been a fan of Israeli-born Portman for a long time, and recall other interviews where she has discussed her Jewish involvement. Whether it turns out this is or isn’t an intermarriage, we’ll send her and her fiancé an early Mazel Tov!


For more news on Jewish and intermarried celebrities, see Nate Bloom’s Interfaith Celebrities.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town


Christmas time in our family is spent with my in-laws. Church for a 4:30 p.m. mass on Christmas Eve and then back to my in-laws’ house for an extended family, buffet-style, Christmas dinner, complete with Portuguese-style cocktail weenies and finger sandwiches. We eat around the Christmas tree while the kids (5 of them – all boys!) run around downstairs. For the past couple of years, Santa has visited after dinner, ringing the doorbell and coming inside with gifts for the kids. They seem to love this and are in awe of the large man in a red suit. While I never grew up with Santa, and I don’t have the nostalgic feeling that comes from a visit from him, it is neat watching the kids get all excited. And it’s fun to look forward to their reactions.

This year, however, I’m worried.

About a month ago, my six-year-old said, out of the clear blue, “I think Cousin Johnny is Santa.”

Shocked and stunned, I had no idea how to respond. “Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Well, he’s never around when Santa comes to the door.” Again, I am shocked. I can ask my son 100 times to put his dirty clothes in the laundry room and not drop them on the floor, and he is incapable of doing this. But he’s perceptive enough to realize that Cousin Johnny is not in the room when Santa comes and remembers it 11 months later!

I’m not worried that by answering this I’m going to ruin Christmas for my son. I’m worried that my response is going to be repeated to my nephews and end up ruining Christmas for them. I never had to answer questions about Santa or the Easter Bunny before! I can’t check in with my mom and see how she responded. What do I do?! 

I ended up mumbling something under my breath and changing the topic. This worked for the time being, but I needed to nip this one in the bud before I single-handedly ruined Christmas for my extended family.

As soon as possible, I consulted the expert, my sister-in-law. After all, her kids were the ones who would be potentially scarred for life (depending on my answer). She helped me out by telling me how she responded when her kids got confused when they saw Santa standing in front of the grocery store ringing a bell after they had just taken pictures with him at the mall. “I tell them Santa has a lot of helpers around Christmas in order to get everything done. But, he’s always watching to see if you’ve been naughty or nice.”

The threat of the omnipresent Santa looking down on the kids aside, I think the “helping Santa out” response may work. For now, I’m hoping that the question doesn’t come up again. And, if it does, maybe I can quickly shove a cocktail weenie in my son’s mouth as Santa comes in the door this year…

To the Future – And Bedtime


As we head into the New Year, I thought I would share Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s vision for the Jewish Community of 2025, as printed in the Jewish Week. It’s a reality which I know those of us who work with interfaith families are working towards. Rabbi Yanklowitz describes a post-denominational, social action-based, Torah-educated community which includes interfaith families (see #7 especially). Great!

The rest of this blog post is for the mothers of preschoolers out there looking for ways to spice up their good morning and good night rituals. 

As a New Yorker, who has lived in the Midwest and now Boston, I have learned to appreciate a good bagel as part of my morning routine. In recent years, the routine has come to include breakfast and kids’ Jewish music in the car to daycare and work. Amy Meltzer, of the homeshuling blog, has just posted a bagel recipe that I may just have to try.

When night comes, calls for bedtime can be met with cries of “I’m not tired” or the like. A lullaby may prove to be the perfect segue into a nightly story. In our house, many of our books come from the PJ Library and we always recite the Shema. Learn more about reciting the Shema and other Jewish bedtime rituals in ourbooklet, “Goodnight, Sleep Tight.” 

Kveller has come out with a top ten of Jewish lullabies.

I listened to a few and was pleased by the diversity of tradition offered including English, Yiddish and Ladino. They come from more than just the typical children’s CDs. Anyone can enjoy Mandy Patinkin’s rendition of Oyfn Pripetshik, a Yiddish folk song.

An Appreciation of Richard Goldman


Richard Goldman, a founder with his wife of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, died a few weeks ago. The Goldman family is extraordinarily generous; the New York Times obituary reports that the Fund has given away over $680 million. is one of the grateful recipients of his and the Goldman family’s generosity. In fact, when started operating as an independent non-profit in 2002, we had exactly two foundation backers – the Goldman Fund, and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. So it isn’t an exaggeration to say that IFF wouldn’t even have gotten started if it weren’t for Richard Goldman.

Mr. Goldman is famous for starting the Goldman Environmental Prize, which has become the most prestigious award in that field. The first time I submitted a funding request to the Goldman Fund, I wanted it to look good, and I put it in a plastic binder with a clear plastic cover and plastic tabs; I will never forget being clearly told that that was not done, the Goldman Fund wanted no plastic or metal wasted in submissions it received.

My understanding is that the Goldman Fund has a policy of funding an organization for a number of years, then taking a break, then funding for another set of years, and usually stopping its funding at that point. That was IFF’s experience – except that when we had a strategic opportunity to expand by adding Karen Kushner and her resources and training capabilities to our offerings, it was once again Goldman (and Haas) that made it possible.

I never had the privilege of meeting Richard Goldman. From my personal experience I can say that he hired outstanding professionals to run his foundation, including Bob Gamble, Amy Lyons, and Debbie Findling. I can also say that he was a leader who was not hesitant to go where others had not. Engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community has never been a popular funding area, and that was even more true back in 2002 when IFF was getting started. That apparently did not deter the Goldman Fund’s staff, or Mr. Goldman from ultimately approving our funding. For that, we are deeply appreciative.

12 Days of Hodgepodge


Let’s just call this a random hodgepodge. A bunch of stuff came across my desk (or over the series of tubes that make up the internet) this week that were too interesting not to share:

Step aside Chelsea Clinton and Mark Mevinsky, here comes Lauren Bush and David Lauren! Yup, the grandaughter of former President George H. W. Bush, and niece of former President George W. Bush, is marrying David Lauren, son of the famous Jewish fashion designer Ralph Lauren. The Jewish press has run plenty of headlines proclaiming that she’ll become “Lauren Lauren” but, really, let’s hope she keeps her birth-name.

Remember that General Assembly that Ed’s mentioned a few times? Well, our friends at Keshet were there too. And they made a great video while they were there:

After seeing one of our tweets, Rachel Barenblat wrote a blog post expanding on her reply to our tweet, “Having a Christmas tree doesn’t make you “less Jewish” – or does it?” And it isn’t just about conifers. And in response to that blog post, MiriyaB posted her thoughts as well.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a survey today that showed that Americans are divided over what greetings businesses should use during the December holidays. This time of year, do you prefer a generic “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas”?

A contributor to our website blogged about a teachable moment: teaching children about God. How do you teach your children about God?

The San Francisco Chronicle offered up a list of 11 musicians who “found religion.” I enjoyed the photo of rapper Shyne Moses Levi in his Breslover garb.

If you’re visiting a church this Christmas for the first time, the Old First Reformed UCC church of Philadelphia has some helpful hints.

And our friends at suggested that this is the “most” Jewish of Christmas songs:

Bonus: Have you ever wondered, “Jew, or Not?” Given how many of you read our interfaith celebrities column, I’m guessing you have. You’re welcome.

Chrismukkah in Vegas


I was on the radio yesterday! KNPR’s “State of Nevada,” a show on the NPR station in southern Nevada, did a program that you can listen to: “Chrismukkah, anyone? How Interfaith Families Celebrate the Holidays.”

I enjoyed doing the program because it was an opportunity for dialogue with Ron Gompertz, who is not the creator of the Chrismukkah idea, but has created a website and a line of greeting cards around it. Back in 2004, I wrote an article for, “Chrismukkah” Is a Bad Idea. A year later, I invited Ron Gompertz to writeImagine! It’s Chrismukkah Time Again! And I responded with, I Still Say “Chrismukkah” Is a Bad Idea.

After doing the program, I have to say, I still think “Chrismukkah” is a bad idea. Basically, for interfaith couples who are raising their children as Jews, mushing Hanukkah and Christmas into one hybrid holiday blurs and eliminates the meaning and integrity of each holiday, and risks confusing children. In our recent December Holiday Survey, 89% of these respondents said they planned on keeping their holiday celebrations separate, or mostly separate.

But doesn’t pass judgment or tell people that what they are doing is wrong. Ron Gompertz and his wife, who is not Jewish, are active members of a synagogue community in Bozeman, Montana, and they are raising their daughter as a Jew. Ron is a very thoughtful person and I’m not worried that his daughter will be confused. But if any interfaith couple asked for advice, our advice at would be – keep the holidays distinct.

The program also included Karen Boyer, the executive director of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, who was raised Jewish by a Jewish mother and a father who was not Jewish, now also practices Buddhism, and was married to a Muslim from West Africa, and Imam Aslam Abdullah, the director of the Islamic Society of Nevada. Dr. Abdullah’s description of his response to interfaith marriage among Muslims and others sounded similar in many ways to our approach – especially in his expression of hope and invitation to such couples to raise their children with one religious identity.

Outdated and Offensive Views


You might be wondering how much mileage we can get from Ed’s session at the GA. Ed recently blogged about it, and we’ve told you about the video of his session.

But there’s just so much to say… And we’re not the only ones who think so.

In her latest Jewish Week column, Steven M. Cohen Promotes “Meaningless Jewish Associations”, Julie Wiener looks at the arguments against intermarriage. And, specifically, how outdated (and “offensive”) the arguments are. Click on over, it’s worth the read.

The bottom line? The message to Jews should not be a “just say no” approach to intermarriage. Rather, recognize that the point is for Jews to marry someone who “is supportive of them living a full Jewish life and raising Jewish children,” whether they are Jewish or not.

Take a Break


It’s that busy time of the year (is there ever not a busy time of the year?). Hanukkah’s over but we’re still celebrating the December holidays with friends and family, colleagues and communities. You need a break, we need a break, time for a hodgepodge of links. Happy reading!

Take a break…


And now back to the holidays…

Until the next hodge podge…

More Attitude About Intermarriage


I’m pleased to tell you that Shalom TV has made available an edited video of my GA session, Can We Encourage In-marriage and Welcome Interfaith Families? It’s even on the front page of the Shalom TV site! The video is 44 minutes long, and it may take a while to download. (If your cable provider carries Shalom TV, you can watch the program on On Demand, until January 2.)

I’ve previously blogged about how I felt about the session, and now I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who watches the video. Did I successfully convey in my presentation that every Jewish community could extend explicit welcoming messages to interfaith families, and offer relatively low cost programs and services that will attract and engage interfaith families in Jewish life and community? Do you agree with my observation that it seemed that Steven M. Cohen expressed his default position that intermarriage is “bad bad bad?” Did my message come across that Jews and Jewish leaders should stop talking about intermarriage as bad; we should promote Jewish experiences not as preventing intermarriage but as building identity and desire to have Jewish families; and we should encourage young adults to choose partners who will support their Jewish engagement – whether or not the partner is a Jew.

Coincidentally, Julie Wiener had a great article this week in a special section on singles in the New York Jewish Week: A Secret Love No More. She interviewed a number of people – including’s own Board member from Atlanta, Rebecca Hoelting – and recounts her own experiences, about whether or not there is growing acceptance of interdating. It’s definitely worth reading. Most interesting to me was Julie’s conclusion, which seems consistent with my main point at the GA session:

Whereas ending up with a Jewish partner, regardless of his or her level of observance or commitment, used to be non-negotiable for those who wanted to live a Jewish life, the new priority increasingly seems to be finding someone, Jewish or not, who is supportive of one’s Jewish pursuits.

If you do watch the GA video, please let us know what you think.