Volunteering and Children of Intermarriage

There’s an interesting story in the Jewish Week, Is Volunteering Jewish?. Repair the World commissioned a “first of its kind” study of the attitudes and behaviors of young Jewish adults when it comes to volunteering. What jumped out to us was the rare finding in studies of this sort of something positive about intermarriage: “children of intermarriage are more likely than are the children of two Jewish parents to volunteer.”

One of the study authors, Fern Chertok from the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, speculates:

“We spent some time thinking about why that might be,” says Chertok. “It could be that having a non-Jewish parent and non-Jewish family members leads you to see that your needs and those of people from very different groups are not so different,” she says. “As a result, your sense of obligation is more expansive.”

Another possibility is that intermarried parents who want to encourage religious and moral development may see volunteering as something that is easy to agree on and to encourage their kids to do, she says. “It’s a nonreligious avenue to encourage passion about moral responsibility. Helping others — that’s in every religion.”

A key finding of the report is that young Jewish adults do not have a strong Jewish perspective on volunteering — they don’t see it as an extension of Jewish values and shy away from volunteering with or through Jewish organizations. Children of intermarriage reportedly are less likely to have a strong Jewish perspective on volunteering. I’m still glad to see more volunteering with less Jewish perspective by children of intermarriage, than the alternative.

Birthright and Intermarriage

An article hit the internet today that’s sure to ruffle some feathers. Written by Kiera Feldman, a “baptized child of intermarriage” who went on a Birthright trip in February of 2010, the article, “Operation Birthright,” supported by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and appearing in this week’s Nation magazine, examines the mission of Birthright trips.

Of relevance to our readers are the discussions about Birthright’s creation, with goals that included ending (combating?) intermarriage.

The story of Birthright begins with the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey. The findings unleashed a panic within the halls of American Jewish institutions: 52 percent of Jews were marrying outside the faith. Steinhardt, a legendary hedge-fund manager, was among the Jewish community leaders who rallied to confront what soon became known as the “crisis of continuity,” characterized not only by intermarriage but by the weakening of Jewish communal ties such as synagogue membership and a waning attachment to Israel. A Goldwater Republican turned chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, Steinhardt wanted to make Jewish institutions more appealing to the young. He enlisted Yitz Greenberg, a well-known Orthodox rabbi and educator, as director of the foundation that would incubate Birthright. Reflecting on that 1990 survey some years later, Greenberg said, “I felt I’d been asleep at the switch as this disaster was coming.” Birthright trips, he hoped, would shore up a social order in decline.
The originator of the Birthright idea was Yossi Beilin, a Labor Party stalwart and an instrumental figure in the Oslo Accords. Widely considered an archliberal and reviled by Israel’s right, Beilin is an unlikely figure to boast the moniker “godfather of Birthright.” In a recent phone interview, Beilin compared his worries about intermarriage and Jewish identity to “the personal feeling of an old man who wants to see that his family is still around.” Among Beilin’s top goals for Birthright: “to create a situation whereby spouses are available.” An ardent Zionist and longtime friend of Bronfman, Beilin unsuccessfully pitched Birthright to him and Steinhardt in the mid-1990s.

Have you been on Birthright? What do you think?

Mazal Tov, Natalie and Benjamin!

Ok, so the details are vague, but I know you’ve been holding your breath since the Golden Globes, if not earlier, waiting, sitting on the edge of your seat… So here you go:

According to The Telegraph and other sources, Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied have had their baby!

People magazine, which broke the news, gave no details of where the baby was born or when. A publicist for Portman was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

Natalie Portmand and fiancé Benjamin Millepied are “celebrating” the birth of their baby boy. I’m guessing we’re still within the first 8 days of his life, as the couple have not yet shared the name with me (or the rest of the press). My theory, in part, is based on some of the other Jewish traditions Portman followed during her pregnancy:

She admitted she stuck to tradition when it came to babies’ births.

” think it’s a Jewish thing to be kind of superstitious,” she said in April. “You don’t do any of the baby stuff before the baby arrives.”

Natalie and Benjamin, if you’re looking for a mohel who’ll work with an interfaith family, just fill out our Clergy Officiation Referral Service form!

Mazal tov to the new family!

UPDATE: June 16 For more, check out Rabbi Jason Miller’s blog post (on his blog or on Huffington Post).

UPDATE: June 20 Feeling a little cheeky, Crushable offers up some name suggestions for Li’l Portman. The bris is scheduled for June 22. We’ll have to wait until then to find out his name…

UPDATE: July 6 We have a name!

Pride in Welcoming the Stranger

For some, June is known as “Pride Month.” The Stonewall Riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village, June 1969, were the catalyst for the gay (and, now, LGBTQetc) rights movement both in the US and around the world.

Here in Boston, there was both a Dyke March on Friday night (complete with a Shabbat dinner picnic potluck) and the rainy Pride Parade on Saturday. Around North America (and many other regions of the world), parades and activities happen throughout the month in recognition of Stonewall and LGBTQ rights (achieved or desired).

Following the month’s trend, the Reform Judaism blog has a post today called “On Being Straight in the World’s First Gay Synagogue.” And though it’s up there to mark June as Pride month, I think there’s more to it than lessons on LGBTQ inclusion. The author, Maggie Anton Parkhurst, a member of Beth Chayim Chadashim, the world’s first gay synagogue (founded in 1972), writes:

We are diverse in more ways than sexual orientation. Yes, we are a Reform congregation, but our members have all sorts of Jewish backgrounds, from converts and Workman’s Circle yiddishists, through mainline Conservative to Orthodox yeshivah bochers. Despite these differences, we share a commitment to gender neutrality and equality at services, along with lots of singing.

We also represent Los Angeles’s varied ethnicities, which is abundantly clear when members read from the Book of Esther in fourteen different languages at Purim. Tolerance and embracing the stranger are BCC’s hallmarks, especially the latter, as everyone walking in on Shabbat receives a warm welcome. Even and especially people who feel excluded, or worry about feeling excluded, at other synagogues.

At first, all this diversity was uncomfortable compared to the suburban temple where our children grew up….

This is key. Whether welcoming individuals or families who are LGBTQ or interfaith, something as simple and easy as welcoming each and every person goes a long way. Have a greeter at the door to say “welcome” and “Shabbat shalom” to each person – be they regulars or newcomers. Every congregation – Reform or not, LGBTQ or not – can take a lesson from Beth Chayim Chadashim to ensure that all of us, strangers all, feel embraced and welcomed.

If your congregation has a welcoming practice that you’d like to share with others, leave a comment! And for more resources on making your synagogues welcoming and inclusive, check out our Resource Center for Program Providers and Resource Center for Jewish Clergy.

The Shavuot Hodgepodge

Getting ready for Shavuot, which starts tomorrow night, I thought I’d share some of the interesting, amusing, and helpful tidbits I’ve found online in the last little while. That’s right, it’s time for the Shavuot Hodgepodge!

One of my favorite Storahtellers, Naomi Less, teamed up with G-dcast to bring us The Ten Commandments – A Song for Shavuot:

If a musical ten commandments isn’t your speed, you might prefer the Butter Ten Commandments, which combines the “eat dairy yumminess” of the holiday with the ten commandments, resulting in butter sculptures of each commandment. (Seriously, who comes up with this stuff??)

On DovBear (a blog I’ve been reading for, oh, 8 years now?), there are two interesting looks at the story of Ruth. The first examines how, in the Book of Ruth, the betrothal story does not follow the pattern of other biblical betrothals. The second follows up on this premise, wondering if the reversed betrothal is in response to the story of Judah and Tamar. Interesting. And something new to bring to your up-all-night learning sessions Tuesday night…

Over on Jewschool, a video “about revelation” called “Mountain Day” by the posted, but titled Shavuos on YouTube, was posted. It didn’t seem too popular with their readers (check out the comments) but the universal ties between the revelation of the Torah at Mt Sinai (one of the themes of Shavuot) and other revelations (like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) might speak to some of you:

Tablet has a bunch of great stuff for Shavuot. There’s the Field Study of why Shavuot is such an ignored holiday in America:

“They used to say that Jewish holidays needed mazel,” or luck, Sarna says. Hanukkah and Passover—located next to major Christian holidays that Jews want an alternative to—have mazel. Shavuot, marooned in the long stretch between Passover and the High Holidays, has the opposite. “Passover is the last Jewish gesture of the year before you disappear into summer camp, Memorial Day, et cetera,” Bachman says.

And At Sinai, an article about why a recent convert to Judaism loves Shavuot. It also includes this great line:

“Shavuot!” she said scornfully. “Of all the Jewish holidays! It’s like the ugly girl at the party that everyone feels obliged to dance with.”

Then there’s Mother’s Little Helper, on holidays and raising a Jewish child; Got Milk, looking at the complicated history of Jews and dairy; and All Night Long, an audio interview with novelist Nathan Englander, musician Alicia Jo Rabins, Rabbi Phil Lieberman, and theologian Avivah Zornberg about what they’ll be studying this Shavuot.

Now you’re armed with all sorts of fun to kick the holiday off tomorrow (Tuesday) evening. Chag sameach!

Another Step Towards a Changing Judaism

My friend and wonderful writer Judy Bolton-Fasman’s most recent column is a great one, and not just because of the shout-out to InterfaithFamily.com. In An Interfaith Family with a Jewish Heart, Judy writes about the bar mitzvah of the son of one of her oldest friends, Vicki, and her Lutheran-raised husband, Kurt. It’s a very moving account.

[The bar mitzvah boy] talked about how his beautiful mother and his generous father supported his Jewish learning. His non-Jewish grandparents read the Schechehiyanu… I took Kurt aside during the weekend and thanked him for being a beloved companion of the Jewish people.

Judy’s column, which I read in hard copy in the Jewish Advocate of Boston, reminded me of a blog post from a year ago describing a similar situation. J.J. Goldberg, senior columnist for the Forward, had written a column titled “Our Changing Judaism” about his experience at a family bar mitzvah where the father was not Jewish. I wrote at the time that “It is heartening to me for a thought leader of J.J. Goldberg’s stature to say that it felt natural and necessary for a non-Jewish parent to be an integral part of the celebration of raising a Jewish child” and concluded:

When more Jewish leaders recognize that Goldberg’s cousin’s family — with an unconverted non-Jewish parent participating in raising a Jewish child — is not sub-optimal, but instead is a positive Jewish outcome equal to any other — then we will have a truly “changing Judaism.”

I welcome Judy’s piece as another step in that direction.