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.

Do Not Stand Idly By

For the past several years I have tried to keep my family out of my professional work in order to respect their privacy. Today I’m going to deviate a little from that rule.

Two weeks ago one of the happiest occasions in my life took place in my home: the bris of my first grandchild. A grandchild is a wondrous creature — I keep saying that he is like an entire universe of possibilities, and we have no idea how they will play out.

While I was making a few remarks at the bris, I noticed a young adult guest starting to cry. She came up to me afterwards and said that as a lesbian she had been overcome by my choice of pronouns in my remarks. All I had said was the following to my son-in-law and daughter: “We just said a prayer that we hoped that Jonah had huppah, a loving partner, in his life. I hope that 25 or 30 years from now the two of you are talking to each other about who Jonah is going out with, do you like the person, is the person good for him, is the person ‘the one.’”

It would have been easy for me to have said “is she the one,” and I did chose my words carefully, but I was quite taken aback that what I said had such an impact. It left me wondering how many times the young woman had experienced expressed assumptions of sexual preference that left her feeling different and disfavored.

I tell you this because I wonder whether casual expressions of assumed heterosexuality lead directly to the homophobia playing out in the news. You may have heard that a Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Standard, printed an announcement of a same sex wedding, then apologized after members of the Orthodox community objected, then kind of retracted the apology when others objected to it. Our friend David Levy has been blogging about that at Jewschool, which also has a follow up story.

Much more tragic is the recent spate of teen suicides due to homophobic bullying. I am very proud that InterfaithFamily.com is a co-sponsor of Do Not Stand Idly By: A Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives originated by our friends at Keshet. The pledge states a commitment to end homophobic bullying or harassment, to speak out when anyone is being demeaned due to sexual orientation or gender identity, and to treat every person with dignity and respect. You can sign the pledge on Keshet’s website. I hope that you will. if the commitment becomes more of a reality, my little grandson’s world will be that much of a repaired place.

Mark Zuckerberg Is Not In Love With A Stereotype

I’m afraid that the Jewish world is about to blow it again with interfaith couples and families, as happened just two months ago with negative reactions to the wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky. This time, it’s about Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook.

Apparently the soon-to-be-released movie, The Social Network, written by Aaron Sorkin, suggests that Zuckerberg created Facebook so he could meet non-Jewish girls. This according to a piece by Danielle Berrin in the Huffington Post yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg Created Facebook To Get Non-Jewish Girls, that is disturbing on many levels.

Berrin writes that the movie assumes that “for some Jewish men, and perhaps Mark Zuckerberg, being a Jewish woman is a turn-off.” Apparently there is a scene in the movie where Zuckerberg and his friends are looking at a group of Asian women dancing and one comments that Jewish guys connect with Asian girls because they are not Jewish.

I don’t deny that there are stereotypes in culture of Jewish women. As Berrin says, young Jewish women are depicted as Jewish American Princesses and adult Jewish women are depicted as the Overbearing Jewish Mother. To her credit, Berrin says that these stereotypes “obviously, are egregiously unfair.”

But Berrin offends when she suggests that it is not “pure fiction” when Sorkin suggests that in Zuckerberg’s eyes “one of the best things about being an Asian woman is that she isn’t a Jewish woman” on the basis of the fact that Zuckerberg is in a serious relationship with Priscilla Chan, a Chinese-American medical student, whom he started dating in college. She also ends her piece by saying that Jewish women aren’t the problem, the problem is that Jewish men like Zuckerberg are hanging out with the wrong ones.

The notion that Mark Zuckerberg is in love with Priscilla Chan because she is not Jewish, and that he wouldn’t be with her if he had hung out with the “right” Jewish women, is, with all respect, ridiculous. And offensive.

Do you know anyone who is in love with a stereotype as opposed to a real person? Do you know anyone who fell in love with a person because he or she was a stereotype – or was not a person who fit some negative stereotype?

There’s no explaining why Mark Zuckerberg or anyone else is in love with who they are in love with. But I’m pretty confident that people don’t fall in love based on whether a person they are attracted to fits one stereotype or doesn’t fit another.

Berrin offends for another reason: She says a profile of Zuckerberg in the New Yorker gave “the Jewish world yet another reason to fret over the its future by suggesting Zuckerberg is on the road to intermarriage.” Can I ask why that is a reason for the Jewish world to fret? This is the same kind of backward thinking that recently led Jewish leaders to declare the wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky  “not a Jewish event.”

It’s too bad that this movie, judging from Berrin’s comments, is probably going to generate many more comments complaining that Jewish men aren’t interested in Jewish women and are on the road to intermarriage. It would be a lot smarter if the Jewish reaction to Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan would be a great big “mazel tov, welcome to our community.”

Starting the TV Season with Interfaith Couples

I admit that ever since the dramatic season finales of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, with its disgruntled widow shooting spree, and its spin-off Private Practice, with the  death of Dell Parker by a drunk driver, I was wondering how they would begin the new seasons. I was happily surprised to find both episodes dealt with life-cycle events for interfaith couples on last Thursday’s season premiers.

On Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Christina Yang (Sandra Oh) married Dr. Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd). As described on Judaism/2009/08/Jewish-TV-Characters.aspx?p=2">BeliefNet, Christina considers herself Jewish; the character converted as a child when her mother married a Jewish oral surgeon, Dr. Saul Rubenstein. Christina has, from time to time, brought up her Jewish background. Both of Dr. Yang’s engagements were to non-Jews; it would have been great to see her plan/have an wedding that reflected her Jewish identity.

Dr. Yang’s first wedding, which was planned, but never happened, was to happen in a church with no Jewish clergy present. This wedding was planned by Dr. Yang herself, and not by a future mother-in-law, which gave Christina the perfect opportunity to have included a local rabbi in her ceremony. (InterfaithFamily.com has several rabbis and Jewish professionals in the Seattle area to whom we could have referred her.) I am disappointed that the recent season premier episode completely ignored her faith as well. This was a missed opportunity to portray how meaningful an interfaith wedding could be.   

On Private Practice, Drs. Cooper Freedman (Paul Adlestein) and Charlotte King (Kadee Strickland) start the season making love while discussing how Charlotte’s pastor wants to talk to Cooper’s rabbi.  I hope the powers that be take the opportunity to explore the dimensions of an interfaith wedding for them!

Looking forward to where the season will take these shows… And hoping to see some interfaith issues explored by the two couples!

Conversion for Children at Mayyim Hayyim

Our friends at Mayyim Hayyim have produced a wonderful video of the conversion of an infant. The film was made by a terrific film maker, Jennifer Kaplan. We’ve added it to our Conversion Resource Page; you can watch the video on our site.

Please check out my comments on the video on Mayyim Hayyim’s new blog.

While you’re at it, consider attending Mayyim Hayyim’s international conference October 10-12.

The project was supported by funding from two of InterfaithFamily.com’s supporters CJP, the Boston federation, and the Natan Fund.

I Want To Be Your Jewish Community Hero — But It Is Not Personal

If you come to this website, by now you must know that I have been nominated to be the Jewish Community Hero. It would be hard to miss, since when you come to the site a big pop us box asks you to VOTE in large orange letters. I hope that isn’t too annoying.

If you’re one of my 550 closest friends, you’ve been getting regular emails reminding you that you can vote for me every 12 hours. I hope that isn’t too annoying, either.

I’d like to explain why we’re taking the risk of being annoying. The Jewish Federations of North America sponsors this contest. The top twenty vote getters are evaluated by a panel of judges that picks one winner and four honorees. All five are recognized at the JFNA’s annual meeting, called the “General Assembly,” and all five receive grants for their organizations from the JFNA.

The General Assembly is the place where representatives of all of the local federations get together, along with most of the major Jewish family foundations. It is probably the most important Jewish communal gathering of the year. Especially if you are a non-profit looking for recognition and needing funding.

The cause of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life is terribly under-funded. A few years ago I calculated that the Jewish community gave less than one tenth of one percent of all of its communal spending to outreach to interfaith families – the total was less than $3 million for interfaith outreach against total spending of over $3 billion.

The federations at the time were responsible for spending close to $1 billion of that $3 billion. But very few local federations were spending anything for interfaith outreach – Boston and Atlanta being the notable exceptions.

If I can stay among the top 20 vote getters – I’m currently number 14 – and if the panel of judges takes an enlightened approach to what causes are important (in my opinion) and makes me one of the five honorees – then the cause of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life will be highlighted in front of the entire federation world. That kind of recognition could lead to funding from local federations – after all, InterfaithFamily.com serves people in every Jewish community – and help with the family foundations, too.

The grant from the JFNA would just be gravy – I don’t know how big the grants are, but frankly any amount would help.

I’m not looking for personal honor. I didn’t even seek to be nominated, a wonderful colleague at the Boston federation did that on her own. But being an honoree would be an important boost for our cause – so I want that very badly.

The first step is to be in the top 20 – and I figure that the higher I am in the list, the better my chances with the judges. I’d like to be in the top 10.

Right now at number 14 I have 2,120 votes. The person who is number 10 has 3,391 – so I have a long way to go to get into the top 10.

So please vote early – and vote often!

Love and Religion: An Online Discussion Group for Couples

It’s no secret that, on top of all of the usual issues that come up in relationships, interfaith couples have the extra joy/challenge of navigating additional conversations about identity, heritage, culture, religion, and more. We have many sections of articles dealing with these very topics.

These discussions can feel, at times, overwhelming; some couples choose to ignore the topics all together. In the spirit of increasing dialogue, we would like to invite couples to participate in an online discussion group. If you are dating, engaged or newly married, and interested in exploring the issue of religion in your relationship, and:
[list] [*] – want to have a religious life and are unclear how to discuss this issue in your relationship;[/*]
[*] – want to be with other couples who are struggling with the same issues;[/*]
[*] – and want answers to your questions about religious life together, including:
[list]

  • Where can we find Jewish clergy to marry us?
    [*]Can our children be Jewish if my wife does not convert? [/*]
    [*] Can our children be Jewish if my wife does not convert? [/*]
    [*] What does a conversion require?[/*]
    [*]How can we respect both our religions if we decide to have Judaism as the “lead religion”? [/*]
    [*]How can we approach our parents to help us with these dilemmas? [/*]
    [*]Can our children go to Hebrew school if they are not converted at birth?[/*][/list][/*][/list]

    then our discussion group is for you. You do not need to find the answers to the challenges of being part of an interfaith couple alone.

    For 16 years, Dr. Marion Usher has offered a four-session workshop at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center that has been a model to guide couples in openly discussing issues they face as partners from two different backgrounds. The workshop offers you a safe environment to work on creating your religious lives together. You can make Jewish choices while still respecting your partner’s religion.

    InterfaithFamily.com is now pleased to pilot the Love and Religion workshop, facilitated by Dr. Usher herself, using an online video conferencing system. Love and Religion – Online meets each Wednesday for four weeks, October 20 and 27 and November 3 and 10, from 7:30 to 9:00pm eastern time. The cost is $36 per couple.

    To register for the workshop and for more details, click here. I hope you will want to participate in this pioneering, pilot effort. If it is successful, we’ll offer the online discussion group many more times.

    Question: Can Jews Encourage In-Marriage AND Welcome Interfaith Families

    A proposal I made for a workshop at the annual convention of the Jewish Federations of North America has been accepted. In November, I will be speaking before an audience of important Jewish leaders on this question: Can We Encourage In-Marriage and Welcome Interfaith Families? The session will involve presentations by me and my ideological nemesis, Steven M. Cohen, and then responses by some of the top federation executives in the country – Barry Shrage from Boston, Jay Sanderson from Los Angeles and Steve Rakitt from Atlanta. The panel will be moderated by Alisa Doctoroff, Chair of the UJA Federation of New York.

    I’ve decided to seek help in shaping my presentation from InterfaithFamily.com’s community of readers. I have fifteen minutes to convey our position on a complicated question. I don’t want to spend a lot of time citing statistics, I want to tell stories – your stories – about how expression of preference for in-marriage affects interfaith couples. So please post your comments below.

    I’d like to give three reference points for background. In an article I wrote for IFF then years ago, How to Talk to Your Kids about Interfaith Dating, I basically took the position that it was OK for Jews to say the following to young adults: We would like to see you live a Jewish life; if you want to, the statistics show that your chances are far greater if you marry someone who is Jewish; it is possible, but it isn’t so easy, to have a Jewish family and to raise Jewish children in an intermarriage. I’ve also said many times that it is not OK for Jews to say that intermarriage is wrong, or bad, or a violation of Jewish norms, because that message won’t deter the half of young adults who will intermarry anyway, but it will deter them from engaging Jewishly because people won’t go where they feel disapproval. So I’ve said in the past that it is possible to encourage in-marriage, but only in a very careful and limited way.

    Recently Paul Golin, associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, took the position that Jewish leaders should fully shed the preference for in-marriage. He said that “preference for one type of family over another inevitably must lead to a lesser welcoming for intermarried families. You simply cannot say, ‘We welcome everybody equally, but we prefer one kind over another.’” Paul did add, however, that “This is not to say that we can’t discuss the challenges of raising Jewish children when one parent is not Jewish; what I’m talking about is the open preference for one type of couple over another, even when both may choose to raise Jewish children.”

    Finally, I blogged recently about a report that  Steven M. Cohen had said that Jews and Jewish organizations are already plenty welcoming of interfaith couples. In response, I received a very powerful message from an individual that I posted on the blog (scroll down to July 21, 2010 comment). Here is part of what she said:

    For all practical purposes, I am the ideal interfaith partner. I gave into everything, gave up all the religious traditions of my family and my childhood, and accepted that I was always going to be fundamentally different and separate from my children. And yet, the message that I get is that it is never enough, that I am simply wrong for not being Jewish, and I am a threat and a second class citizen. When I hear rabbis stress the evils of interfaith marriage in synagogue, how does Dr. Cohen think I feel? How do my children feel, knowing that their father was considered wrong, and that he married an unacceptable person? Is it so much to ask that yes, they soft pedal the admonitions and prejudice against intermarriage, given that we are advocating and living Jewish choices?

    So now it’s your turn. What do you think? Should Jews and Jewish leaders fully shed the preference for in-marriage because it is not possible to welcome the non-preferred intermarried? Or is it possible to state a preference and still be welcoming – and if so, how? And if you were the person with fifteen minutes to make our case, what would you say?