Young Jewish Leaders Less Concerned About Intermarriage

“Jewish leaders younger than 40 aren’t as bent out of shape about intermarriage as their older colleagues.” That’s how Sue Fishkoff, for the JTA, introduced for blog post about a recent finding in the study Generation of Change: How Leaders in their Twenties and Thirties are Reshaping American Jewish Life.

Fishkoff continued, summarizing the finding as:

In keeping with the millennial generation’s non-exclusivist ideology, these younger Jewish leaders don’t see intermarriage in quite the same light as Jewish leaders over 40 do: “Older establishment leaders tend to view intermarriage as a threat to Jewish life and as a violation of long-standing communal norms. During interviews, younger nonestablishment leaders described intermarriage as an obstacle to Jewish participation, but felt it could be overcome with genuine commitment and involvement. Moreover, they tended to believe that the Jewish community is unwise or not entitled to take a stance on personal choices such as marriage.”

If that is how young Jewish leaders feel, you can imagine how non-leaders feel.

If you want the rundown on the study, but don’t have the time to read through all of it, allow me to offer some highlights:
[list][*] • More than twice as many of the older establishment leaders are very worried about intermarriage (43% to 17%) than younger non-establishment leaders.
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[*] • “Jewish leaders of all ages and sectors preponderantly oppose the intermarriage of their own offspring, with younger nonestablishment leaders lagging behind others but still half would be upset if a child of theirs would intermarry.”
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[*] • These young Jewish leaders in their 20′s and 30′s are committed to “creating a particular type of Jewish community, one that helps their peers find meaning in being Jewish and that is welcoming and inclusive.”
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[*] • These young leaders prefer to avoid us-them distinctions. “For this reason, they claim a fair amount of indifference to intermarriage, and instead want to focus on making Jewish life meaningful, including for their non-Jewish friends, who attend all kinds of Jewish events.” … ”Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, the founder of Encounter, explained why young nonestablishment leaders recoil from ‘us/them’ thinking, observing that they do not wish ‘to be restricted to the tribe,’ desiring instead to ‘identify with other groups, serving other groups, or being in community with other groups.’”[/*]
[*] • “The ways young leaders think about the relationship between Jews and non-Jews, their desire to include the latter in programs, and their openness to intermarried Jews suggest a major shift is under way in how Jews think about the boundaries of Jewish life. Indeed, the very notion that there ought to be boundaries may further erode. This trend is likely to deepen the chasm separating the Orthodox from all other types of Jews. For those who are about that divide, serious thought will have to be devoted to bridging those worlds.”[/*][/list]

In other words…

The ways these young leaders think about the relationship between Jews and non-Jews, their desire to include the latter in programs, and their openness to intermarried Jews will further erode previously held boundaries of Jewish life. Indeed, the importance of maintaining boundaries between Jews and non-Jews is already being questioned. This new outlook poses particular challenges to some of the denominations, but more generally will require institutions to consider how to approach boundary issues.

It sounds, to me, like this could be a shift in the right direction for all Jews, and their not Jewish friends and family, who are looking for inclusive and welcoming, innovative and meaningful communities.

Welcoming All Jews

My colleague, Heather, sent me a rather… disheartening link today. Seems the folks over at the Yeshiva World News are wondering, “Are the Reform and Conservative Still Jewish?

Working for an organization that largely serves Reform, Conservative, and unaffiliated Jews (though we certainly are a resource to some Orthodox too), she wondered what happens when the types of Jews we serve, and non-Jews too, come across discussions like these. Is there a way to let our demographics know that not all Jews are so hateful or judgmental? Is there a way to let those who are new to, or outside, the Jewish community understand that the extreme perspective demonstrated on discussion boards like YWN‘s are not how all Jews feel? (Not to mention that the majority of Jews are Reform, Conservative and unaffiliated, not Orthodox. The Orthodox folks in this conversation need to recognize that the people they are discussing are Jewish and follow a Judaism they hold as real and legitimate, even if some of the Orthodox do not.)

It reminded me of the struggle that the Muslim community has, whether or not they need to constantly distance themselves from Muslim extremists and remind the world that not all Muslims think/feel that way. While those extremists are violent, ours are just exclusionary, which is harder, in some ways, to combat. Do we as progressive Jews need to take up a similar PR campaign? Hang a banner, so to speak, somewhere to remind folks that we’re not all closed-minded and hateful?

So let’s just put it here: We are a welcoming, open, community for all types of Jews!

Interfaith Couples on the BJFF Big Screen

The Boston Jewish Film Festival is right around the corner – November 3-14. There are a couple screenings of particular interest to interfaith families, or those interested in interfaith and/or intercultural issues.

The first is the film Me and the Jewish Thing, a documentary about, and by, Ulrik Gutkin. Through conversations with his wife, Signe, we learn that Ulrik, who is Jewish, and Signe, who is Christian, do not share the same opinion about the need for circumcision. Ulrik, a 4th generation Danish Jew, feels strongly that their son should be circumcised. Signe, however, sees circumcision as a “medieval” act of mutilation and cruelty.

The film covers four years of the couple’s life, spanning from the last weeks of Signe’s pregnancy, through the first few years of their son Felix’s life. Interwoven with Ulrik and Signe’s ongoing debate, we learn about Ulrik’s Jewish history, his attachment to his religion and culture. In addition to questioning the physical purpose of circumcision, Signe wonders why it’s important to Ulrik to become more Jewish, make a film about this Jewish topic, when Judaism wasn’t a big part of Ulrik’s life prior to having kids.

Ulrik struggles to articulate why he feels strongly in favor of circumcising their son. As it becomes clear to him that their son won’t be circumcised, he looks for other ways to impart Judaism on Felix, though he and Signe again feel differently about those efforts.

While this documentary demonstrates a difficult issue that many interfaith couples are faced with, we at InterfaithFamily.com encourage couples to discuss potential conflicts in advance. We have plenty of resources about circumcision, if that’s the specific topic in question; we’re also offering an online group for interfaith couples to learn how to make decisions while still respecting both partner’s religion.

Screening with Me and the Jewish Thing is a short documentary called Michal, Matthias and the Unborn Child. Unlike Ulrik and Signe, Michal, an Israeli Jew, and Matthias, a Christian German, start discussing what their religious life would look like were they to have children together in the future.

They visit a Jewish day school in Berlin, where they live, and meet with another local Jewish Israeli and German couple who are raising their children as Jews. Michal and Matthias are able to see these children, and their father, who is not Jewish, participate fully in lighting the candles, making blessings over the wine, and sharing a Shabbat dinner together.

This process is open, respectful, and proactive. We definitely approve of their early dialogue!

See Ulrik and Signe, Michal and Matthias (along with a third short film, Hasan Everywhere) on Thursday, November 11 at 4:15pm at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Stay tuned for more reviews!

Slingshot, Hero, Online Group, Quite a Week at InterfaithFamily.com

It has been quite a week here at InterfaithFamily.com.

As we reported yesterday, scooped by Julie Wiener in a very nice post, InterfaithFamily.com has once again been included in the Slingshot guide to the fifty most innovative Jewish organizations. We are one of only nine organizations that have been in Slingshot in each of the past six years (see list below).

Even better than being included in the guide, InterfaithFamily.com was one of nine organizations (see list below) to receive $40,000 grants from the Slingshot Fund, which pools contributions from young funders and then makes grants to organizations included in the guide.

InterfaithFamily.com has received a Slingshot Fund grant in three out of the four years that grants have been made. This generous funding is very helpful to our ongoing efforts to expand the reach of our helpful information and welcoming message – and it makes a statement that the cause of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life is important to the next generation of Jewish funders.

We are very grateful to Melissa Brown Eisenberg for her words in announcing the grant to IFF. It means a great deal to all of the staff at IFF to hear this kind of praise for our efforts and to be described as “crucial to the future strength and vitality of the Jewish community:”

Since 2001 InterfaithFamily.com has been the destination for individuals, couples, families and their children seeking information on how to make Jewish choices in their everyday lives.  The website itself is a resource for information-seekers on how to live Jewishly, be married Jewishly, celebrate Jewish holidays and raise Jewish children.  The site also connects interfaith families to each other for support, to local organizations that are inclusionary, and advocates for inclusive attitudes, policies and practices in the wider Jewish community.

With the intermarriage rate hovering at around 50%, the sheer number of non-Jewish partners, spouses and interfaith offspring is too large to ignore.  Our generation, the Slingshot generation, salutes the effort by interfaith families to see themselves as part of the Jewish community.  We believe in the significance of the work InterfaithFamily.com does to keep Judaism in the lives of those who could easily not identify as Jewish.  Between its website, referral services and ability to connect people, we see InterfaithFamily.com’s existence as crucial to the future strength and vitality of the Jewish community. 

Congratulations to Ed Case and the entire InterfaithFamily.com team on receiving a 2010 Slingshot Fund grant.  Ed, you are certainly one of Slingshot’s Jewish Community Heroes.

Melissa’s last comment was a reference to the second big news of the week – I made it into the top twenty vote getters in the Jewish Federations of North America’s Jewish Community Heroes contest. In fact I ended up at number 18, what I hope will turn out to be an auspicious number. Now a panel of judges picks one winner and four honorees, each of whom gets a grant for his or her non-profit.

We made a concerted effort to get out the vote, and I’m very grateful to the people who responded to the many email and Facebook voting reminders and the big orange pop-up on our home page. I hope it wasn’t too annoying – thank you to all for putting up with it. I didn’t seek the nomination and I’m not interested in personal glory – but it surely would be great if the federation world, at its important annual meeting, got a message from first the voters and then the judges that the cause of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life deserves recognition and priority. That’s what I hope the result of the contest is.

We were invited to submit a one-minute video explaining what an award would mean, and if the JFNA makes that publicly available, we’ll provide a link to it.

The last and perhaps most important development of the week isn’t a grant or an award – it’s the debut on Wednesday night of Love and Religion – Online, our first online group for couples to discuss how they can have religion in their lives. Four pioneering couples have signed up for an online version of a workshop Dr. Marion Usher has offered for 16 years at the Washington DC JCC. We had some technical difficulties to work out, but it was a great session.

It was reassuring and reaffirming to me to see bright, articulate, serious, dating or newly-married young couples thinking about important questions in their lives: whether they will be able to find a Jewish religious community where they will feel comfortable and welcomed, how they will incorporate celebrations of holidays, how the partner who is not Jewish will feel about raising Jewish children, how the Jewish partner will feel at his or her partner’s holiday times and religious services.

I have been involved in interfaith family issues for over forty years now, first personally, then as a lay leader in the Reform movement, then professionally for the past thirteen years. I call the issues that the couples in our online group raised this week “eternal” in the sense that every pair of interfaith partners who are interested in having religion in their lives need to address and resolve these questions. They’re not “eternal” in the sense that they never get resolved, but the issues that came up forty years ago are still coming up today. Every community should offer discussion groups for couples to address these issues, and we are really pleased to make the option available on an online basis.

I feel very honored this week because of the Slingshot listing and grant and making it into the Jewish Community Heroes semi-finals, but what was most gratifying about this week was offering another resource that will help interfaith couples learn about and connect with Jewish life and community. That is what I really love about this work.

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Organizations included in Slingshot for six straight years in addition to IFF: Advancing Women Professionals, Hazon, Ikar, JDub, Jewish Funds for Justice, Jewish Milestones, Reboot, and Sharsheret.

Organizations that received Slingshot fund grants this year in addition to IFF: JDub, Jewish Funds for Justice, Reboot, Encounter, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, Institute for Curriculum Services, Moishe House, Project Chessed, and Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists.

Slingshot: InterfaithFamily.com Named One of Most Innovative Jewish Nonprofits

InterfaithFamily.com Selected to Receive Capacity Building Grant from Slingshot Fund in Recognition of Innovative Accomplishments

InterfaithFamily.com has been named one of the nation’s 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits in Slingshot ’10-’11, a resource guide for Jewish innovation. Since 2005, Slingshot has become the definitive guide to identifying path-finding and trailblazing organizations grappling with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, tradition, and basic needs. InterfaithFamily.com is also one of only ten organizations to receive a capacity building grant from the Slingshot Fund.

As the premiere web based resource for interfaith couples exploring Jewish life, InterfaithFamily.com empowers these couples to engage in Jewish life and make Jewish choices and helps their families embrace the choices they make.

“We are thrilled not only to be included in the Slingshot guide for the sixth straight year, but also to have received our third Slingshot Fund grant,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. “This represents a very important statement that the next generation of Jewish funders recognize the importance of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life, a field that has not been significantly funded in the past. This grant, and the additional funding it will help us raise, will enable us to reach many more people with our welcoming and helpful resources.”

According to Will Schneider, the Director of Slingshot, “2010 was the most competitive year that Slingshot has experienced.” Jonathan Raiffe, the Chairman of the Slingshot Fund Committee which set the policies for the Slingshot Fund shares, “The organizations in Slingshot have really challenged my views about what it means to be involved in Jewish non-profits and provide me with a strong sense of pride in my Jewish identity.”

Slingshot ’10/’11 was unveiled on October 18 at the second annual Slingshot Day launch event in Manhattan. Over the years, Slingshot‘s role in the national and international community has increased dramatically, which is evidence of the growing community of innovative nonprofits and the funders who support them.

About Slingshot
Slingshot was created by a team of young funders as a guidebook to help funders of all ages diversify their giving portfolios with the most innovative and effective organizations and programs in North America. This guide contains information about each organization’s origin, mission, strategy, impact and budget, as well as details about its unique character. Now in its sixth edition, Slingshot has proven to be a catalyst for next generation funding and offers a telling snapshot of shifting trends in North America’s Jewish community. The book, published annually, is available in hard copy and as a free download at www.Slingshot.org.

About InterfaithFamily.com
InterfaithFamily.com is the premiere web based resource for interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and making Jewish choices, and the leading web based advocate for attitudes, policies and practices that welcome and embrace them. Visit www.InterfaithFamily.com.

Community Inclusivity

In recent weeks, the Jewish Standard received more publicity than they probably ever expected. And rightly so: they hurt, and excluded  from their newspaper/community, part of our Jewish community.

It’s refreshing to be able to report on another Jewish community newspaper that not only has come out with their inclusive policies but has had their policy since 2004. And it’s also explicitly welcoming and inclusive of interfaith families:

JTNews Editorial policy – Lifecycle announcements:

The mission of JTNews is to be inclusive of the entire Jewish community. Therefore, the policy of the JTNews is to accept marriage, commitment ceremonies, engagement, B’nai Mitzvah, birth and obituary announcements from all couples — including interfaith and same-sex couples — as long as at least one of the members of the couple is Jewish.

While the Jewish community continues to come together, pledging to make ours a more inclusive (and safe) community now, it’s great to see that for some community organizations (ours included), inclusivity has long been the standard.

Julie Wiener, Mayyim Hayyim, Joseph Reyes

I’ve been preoccupied lately with the Jewish Community Heroes voting contest, which ended today. (I think I made it into the top 20 vote getters and am eligible for an award, but more about that another day, after the official results are announced.)

I’m catching up on what’s been published lately and it occurred to me: if there were to be a voting contest on who is the best writer about interfaith family issues today, Julie Wiener should clearly be at or near the top of the list.

Julie has two great blog posts this week. In Harboring Boston Envy, she writes about many of the features that make Boston a great Jewish community (full disclosure – I’m a Boston loyalist), and especially about our wonderfully welcoming community mikveh, Mayyim Hayyim. A great example of Julie’s perceptive sensitivity is this:

More important than the aesthetic is the facility’s warm, welcoming and nonjudgmental approach, with volunteer mikveh guides trained to be sensitive not just to the needs of men and women, liberal and Orthodox Jews, first-timers, converts, grieving Jews, joyous Jews and those about-to-be married (including lesbian and gay couples), but also to interfaith families.
In one of the four preparation rooms hung a beautiful framed photo and certificate of sorts that not only commemorated a family’s conversion of their baby but that explicitly acknowledged that while the baby’s non-Jewish mom is not herself converting, she plans to be supportive of and involved in the child’s Jewish upbringing.

I’ve seen that photo and certificate, it is stunning, and Julie is exactly right about Mayyim Hayyim’s warm, welcoming and nonjudgmental approach.

A Message from Joseph Reyes is about the divorced father who at one point was ordered not to take his daughter to church, raising all kinds of publicity that we covered months ago. Julie writes about a message she received from Mr. Reyes. To me he sounds more than a little paranoid, but her take on the complexities of interfaith divorces is well worth reading.

From Mormon to Jew

New kid on the block blog Kveller has a new post up, written by Mayim Bialik. You might remember her from Blossom – she played the title role. You might now notice her on The Big Bang Theory, playing the deliciously nerdy (and stealthily modestly dressed) girlfriend to Sheldon.

She’s written about her husband Mike’s conversion to Judaism. He was raised a Mormon:

Yes, you heard me right: my husband was raised Mormon. How Mormon? Well, let’s see… Sunday school, accepting the priesthood, baptizing the dead, family in Utah who don’t drink hot beverages and strongly disapprove of “Big Love.” Should I stop now? Yes. Very Mormon.

So how did his family react?

Mike’s decision to convert to Judaism after five years of dating “SuperJew” (that would be one of my nicknames) was welcomed by his family. They saw his identification with any religion better than the identification with none  that he had happily had since he left the Church due to disbelief and disinterest at the age of 12. In addition, an understanding and appreciation of Judaism is integral to the Mormon religion, and the Jews are regarded as a people chosen by G-d to receive the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament.

Really, you should just head over and read the full article on Kveller.

On Perceiving God…

Our good friend, Rabbi-Jamie-Korngold-on-MSNBC-Oct-8-2010.htm">Rabbi Jamie Korngold, was on MSNBC’s Jansing and Company on October 8th discussing perceptions of God with David Campbell, co-author of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. Rabbi Korngold is author of God in the Wilderness and the Executive Director of Adventure Rabbi, the Boulder-based organization which offers amazing and innovative local and national programs that are inclusive of interfaith families and take advantage of the natural inspiration of the outdoors.

David Campbell did an excellent job describing how Americans perceive God and how these perceptions can shape how one votes. He looks at how the “growing inter-mingling” in our relationships (read: interfaith relationships) also impacts our understandings of God and how we vote. Rabbi Korngold talked about how the Jewish view is that God does not directly intervene in a single act but rather inspires us to make the world a better place. Repairing the world, or tikkun olam, is an essential part of the traditional Jewish covenant with God. The hope is that those who relate to the idea of tikkun olam, that there is a divine responsibility within all of us to repair the world, will keep that in mind when seeking out candidates and will vote for those with similar beliefs.

Spiritual Journeys

An interesting article appeared in the most recent edition of our local Jewish newspaper, The Jewish Advocate, outlining the interfaith, interreligious, intercultural practices of one of our community members.

Friday afternoon he goes to the Mosque for the Praising of Allah on Shawmut Avenue in Roxbury for the Jumu’ah prayer. By 6 p.m., he is at Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, throwing on a tallis to drum for the Shabbat services. He returns to TBZ on Saturday morning for Torah study and services. Sunday he begins the day at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Roslindale and then heads to his own church, the Unitarian Universalist First Church of Roxbury.

[Reverend Ronald] White, 66, said he has been doing the same routine for the past three years, and over time he has become more than a visitor at each place of worship. On Friday night during Sukkot, TBZ congregants clapped their hands to the beat as White pounded the drum and shook his tambourine from his seat in the front row of the sanctuary. After services, he schmoozed with congregants in the sukkah before getting on his bike to ride home to Jamaica Plain.

Wow. That’s quite a commitment!

He and his interfaith family are members at Temple Israel in Boston, where his three daughters, who were raised Jewish, all had bat mitzvahs.

Possibly of interest to our readers in the Boston area,

For a class at TBZ, Rabbi Waldoks asked White to draw on his personal experience. On four Tuesdays beginning Oct. 19, he will teach a class at TBZ called “Spiritual Journeys: Sharing Our Personal and Communal Narratives.”

It sounds like it will speak to those of us who continue to grow and wrestle with our Judaism – and those who are in interfaith families/relationships.