Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
Attention all Beatles fans! That favorite of all tween and teen girls of the 60’s (confession: that would be me!) has chosen to be a Jew.
PAUL MCCARTNEY, baptized Roman Catholic but admittedly never very devout, quietly told pals after his marriage to socialite NANCY SHEVELL – who’s Jewish and takes her religion seriously – that he’s studying Judaism and promised his new bride he’ll convert, reports a friend of the star. The former Beatle’s first wife, LINDA EASTMAN, came from a prominent Jewish family and McCartney had talked about converting after they married, but just never got around to it. Paul told pals he’ll complete his conversion studies next year.
Dare we hope that he starts to write songs with Jewish themes?? I don’t usually care about what stars of stage, screen and music are doing, but this is different. (And we can trust the National Enquirer with this story, right?)
You know what? Maybe I’ll go out of my way to buy a really expensive lemon, keep it in a box as I walk around town, just to use it as garnish for the fish I’m going to cook.
I want to buy a lovely bouquest for my partner, but flowers are just so cliche. I know, I’ll buy some branches and a palm frond instead!
Ok, snarky, yes, but that’s what some members of the press wrote about photos of Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, walking to/from synagogue with their lulav and etrog for the festival of Sukkot. (If anyone needed proof that Jews don’t actually control the media, here it is: we wouldn’t have made those mistakes!)
The media’s interpretation of the photo is that of a celebrity launching a new hat style and her husband carrying flowers that he bought for her.
At InterfaithFamily.com we’ve always believed that programs designed and marketed explicitly as “for interfaith families” — sometimes called “targeted” programs — are very effective in engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community. We’ve argued that the Boston Jewish community sees 60% of interfaith families raising their children as Jews in part because it is one of the few local communities that offers targeted programs. We’ve been dismayed at how little targeted programming is offered around the country, and with our InterfaithFamily/Chicago initiative we are piloting an approach that could turn that situation around.
We think that one of the reasons so little targeted programming is offered is that too many people have the notion that interfaith families are not interested in targeted programming, that they don’t want to be “segregated,” that they prefer to attend general programs for everyone. We’ve always believed that while some interfaith families don’t want to be singled out and prefer general programs, many others are interested in programs designed specifically for them, or in attending programs where they will find others like them. We’ve always believed that when couples first put a toe in the water of Jewish life and community, they are likely to be more comfortable with others like them, while later on they may no longer feel that need. These beliefs have often been dismissed as mere “anecdotes.”
Two years ago, we started adding questions to our annual December Holidays and Passover/Easter surveys, in an effort to get some data on what interfaith families really do prefer. We finally analyzed the data in four surveys, and the responses of just under 500 intermarried parents raising their children as Jews confirm what we believed: significant percentages of interfaith families are interested in targeted programs and are attracted to organizations that offer them.
We’re issuing a press release tomorrow, and posting it below. You can find the full report on the surveys here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Newton, MA) – October 19, 2011 – Jewish communities and organizations offer very few programs that are designed and explicitly marketed as “for interfaith families.” Many Jewish professionals say that interfaith families do not want to be “singled out” and prefer to attend Jewish programs that are for everyone. New surveys by InterfaithFamily.com (IFF) reveal for the first time that in fact, interfaith families are attracted to Jewish organizations and synagogues that offer programs marketed as “for interfaith families” and prefer to attend programs targeted to them as well as general programs for everyone.
Respondents to InterfaithFamily.com’s annual Passover/Easter and December Holidays Surveys starting in December 2009 were asked whether they preferred to attend programs described as “for interfaith families” or programs for everyone, and what attracted them to Jewish organizations and synagogues.
“Our survey responses are illustrative of the attitudes and behaviors of interfaith families who are interested in Jewish life: significant percentages of them are interested in programs that are marketed as ‘for interfaith families’ and are attracted to synagogues and Jewish organizations that offer such programs,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. Respondents explained the reasons behind their preferences:
The need for explicitly targeted programs at a wide range of Jewish organizations and especially at our gateway portals like Jewish Community Centers has increased and will continue to increase as interfaith relationships continue to grow and the population of adult children of interfaith marriages of the 80’s and 90’s reaches maturity and considers their religious choices. “This is an opportunity that the Jewish community ignores at its peril,” said Karen Kushner, the director of InterfaithFamily.com’s Resource Center for Program Providers. “Attracting interfaith couples and families to Jewish programming successfully will determine the Jewish future of the children of today and tomorrow.”
[sup]We're excited and honored to be recognized as a “Standard Bearer” by Slingshot. We just sent out a press release, and thought we'd share it here too, below:[/sup]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Newton, MA) – October 18, 2011 – For the seventh consecutive year, InterfaithFamily.com has been included in Slingshot, the resource guide that features the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations in North America. This year, InterfaithFamily.com is one of just ten organizations to be named a Standard Bearer as a leader within the community and a mentor to other organizations. The Standard Bearers, listed in at least five editions of Slingshot were chosen not only for sustainability but also because they continue to achieve Slingshot’s core criteria of innovation, impact, leadership and organizational efficacy.
Slingshot is used by philanthropists, volunteers, not-for-profit executives, and program participants to identify path-finding and trailblazing organizations grappling with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, and tradition. Organizations are selected from among hundreds of nominees by a panel of 36 foundation professionals from across North America.
As the premiere web based resource for interfaith couples exploring Jewish life, InterfaithFamily.com empowers 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 seventh straight year, but to be one of ten organizations to be honored as a Standard Bearer,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. “Efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life have not been well funded in the past. Recognition of the importance of those efforts by Slingshot, which represents the next generation of Jewish funders, will influence the community’s attitudes to change in a positive direction. Being named a Standard Bearer can only help InterfaithFamily.com to grow our capacity and take our programming to the next level.”
According to Will Schneider, Executive Director of Slingshot, “Seven editions of Slingshot ago, Jewish innovation was still largely undefined and unexplored, and 66% of the organizations listed in this year’s guide weren’t even founded yet. Over the years, the Standard Bearers consistently set, exceeded and reset the high standards that emerging organizations and projects in Jewish life aspired to match. In truth, we had trouble selecting a name that would set them apart as examples of ongoing excellence without placing them on an “emeritus” list or implying that their innovative days were behind them. We settled on Standard Bearers because these groups set benchmarks for the field and led by example with ongoing innovation and relevancy.”
Jonathan Raiffe, the Chairman of Slingshot shared, “The Slingshot guide makes a statement to the Jewish community and beyond that next gen funders embrace change, innovation, and evaluation when meeting the needs of our community. Slingshot promotes organizations that hold themselves accountable to all their stakeholders and up to the same scrutiny as for-profit organizations, while pushing the boundaries of how to solve the most pressing issues. Slingshot is about making a statement as to what we believe are the greatest needs and what organizations are doing the best job to fulfill those needs.”
Slingshot ’11/’12 was released on October 18, 2011. The community will meet on March 14 in New York City at the annual Slingshot Day, where over 250 not-for-profit leaders, foundation professionals, and funders of all ages will engage in candid conversations about philanthropy and innovation.
There is a new novel out that strikes me as significant. It is A New Song by Sarah Isaias. It is about an interfaith relationship between a Jewish doctor and a Muslim poet and it is a relationship not only of warmth and respect between those two individuals but of their two families.
Growing up in a Jewish enclave in Detroit and spending my adult life fully involved in the Jewish world, I knew next to nothing about the Koran and very little about the practice of Islam before reading this fast paced novel.
Sarah Isaias has written a story that held me through 400 pages taking me to the libraries of Cambridge, to Jews in Spain before the expulsion, Egypt, Israel, Palestine and through the steps of the Haj. As the characters explore the origins of a legend in both their Abrahamic traditions that tells of a poem that could redeem the world, they share passages in the Koran and contrast them to passages in the Hebrew bible.
Their quest isn’t only academic. As they travel the world together there are shadowy conspirators and extremists who intend to stop them at any cost.
This story is such a wonderful model of an interfaith relationship between two religions and cultures that are most often portrayed in the media as enemies. In a delicately portrayed love story with authentic Jewish and Moslem characters we can see how their openness to each other and to each other’s cultures helps them discover a truth that is powerfully simple and never more urgent.
One of my heroes died last week, on October 7, erev Yom Kippur.
Leonard Wasserman was unique in my experience. He is the only Jewish lay leader I’ve ever known who became passionate about engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and then created an organization that works to do just that – Interfaithways.
I first met Leonard when the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly was last held in Philadelphia, in 2002. Rabbi Rayzel Raphael was escorting Leonard around the GA; he was on a mission to learn as much as he could about what was being done around the country to engage interfaith families. I don’t know exactly how old Leonard was, but even back in 2002 he appeared to be pretty elderly, and he was quite hard of hearing, but he was insatiably curious about our field.
That was a common theme over the nine years that I knew him – he always wanted to be current, to know if anything new was happening that could be put into use in Philadelphia. I think he attend every JOI national conference on outreach. He regularly wanted to take a train up to New York to meet with me there. A year or two ago Leonard asked if I could set up a meeting for him with Barry Shrage, head of the Boston federation and the most visionary leader in the federation world when it comes to engaging interfaith families. Probably well into his 80’s by then, Leonard flew to Boston with his wonderful colleague Rabbi Mayer Selekman, and continued to ask what the best practices were and how he could bring them to his home town.
I asked Leonard once why he cared so much about engaging interfaith families. The amazing thing to me is that none of Leonard’s four children were intermarried. He told me that he and his beloved wife Dorothy were honored one year by Philadelphia’s Jewish Family & Children’s Service. He said, smiling, that of course when one is honored, one is expected to give more money. He asked what the JF&CS needed, and the executive director at the time, Drew Staffenberg, said they wanted to get into providing programming for interfaith couples. So Leonard and Dorothy agree to fund the program that eventually grew into Interfaithways, housed for several years at the JF&CS, and then as an independent non-profit.
Leonard was unique in that he didn’t come to the issue out of personal experience – it was suggested to him, he studied it, he realized how important it was, and he took it way beyond the expected initial gift, to many years of supporting the organization that he created. And, sadly, he was unique in that I’m not aware of any other Jewish lay leader who single-handedly created and largely funded an organization dedicated to the cause of engaging interfaith families. It is too bad that there haven’t been any other leaders like him.
Over the years Leonard had some wonderful people working at Interfaithways. He did attract some foundation and individual support, but he was disappointed that the cause of engaging interfaith families did not attract significant funding from the Philadelphia community as a whole. Despite those setbacks, he never gave up and was determined to keep Interfaithways going.
This summer when I learned Leonard was failing I sent him a note. I told him I was sorry that the progress towards engaging interfaith families had been so slow, but that I was confident that we would get there some day, and when we did, he would have played an important role.
On a personal level, Leonard was a kind and gracious and generous man. I remember very well visiting him at his homes in Florida and in Bala Cynwyd, and I remember him driving me to lunch at the nearby Jewish deli– I don’t know if it was Hymie’s, or Murray’s, or Katz’s, but it was good. I will miss him very much.
Earlier this fall, I blogged about a rift between Howard Stern and Andy Dick. Last night, I was drifting to sleep, listening to SiriusXM, and I heard a recent interview with Andy Dick. In a blur, I heard him say that his father was Jewish. Seriously? If that is the case, then Andy Dick is the product of an interfaith family. So, this morning, I did a little more research and found an interview with Dick online where he elaborates on this. (Please note that the interview is for adult eyes only!)
As it turns out, Dick was adopted by a family as a child – his father was Jewish and his mother was not. In addition, Dick had children with a Jewish woman, so, in fact, he continues to be part of an interfaith family.
Now, for the anti-semitic remarks, that’s a whole other can of worms….
I just read my friend Julie Wiener’s latest blog post put up just before Yom Kippur, Bad Day at the Mikveh, Good Day at the Beach. I usually agree with Julie but I’m not sure in this case.
Jessica Langer-Sousa, a Jewish woman who was intermarrying, wrote in the Huffington Post that she was rebuffed by a mikveh lady who told her that her marriage would not be recognized in the eyes of God.
I don’t think Julie let the mikveh lady off too easily – she says the mikveh lady “no doubt behaved inappropriately and rudely: she could easily (and with no compromise to her own morals) have politely explained her concerns, then referred Langer-Sousa elsewhere” and she says that “Representatives of Jewish institutions do need to be welcoming and respectful.”
But I think she shifts blame to Langer-Sousa or tries to equalize blame when she says that “respect also has to be a two-way street. It’s not fair to expect everyone to agree with you, particularly when you are on their turf and your behavior violates something they hold sacred” and “I think it’s also important for individual Jews to give others the benefit of the doubt and not overreact to a single negative encounter.”
That doesn’t sit right with me. It’s like the editors of the Jerusalem Post in today’s editorial saying that intermarriage “plagues” the Diaspora and that there is declarative value in legislation to prevent it. Interfaith couples who are seeking Jewish connection and engagement – people like Langer-Sousa, who remember was wanting to go to a mikveh in advance of her wedding – shouldn’t have to experience the judgmental condemnation of the editors of the Jerusalem Post, or people like this mikveh lady.
When I was in sixth grade I won my Hebrew school’s essay contest by writing that Yom Kippur was my favorite Jewish holiday. I figured — correctly, because I won — what kid would choose Yom Kippur?
But Yom Kippur was and still is my favorite holiday and it was a good one for me. The services and community at temple-shalom-of-newton/">Temple Shalom of Newton were meaningful and sustaining for me.
I woke up this morning still hungry, made my favorite breakfast, opened my computer, and found a lovely — I’m being sarcastic here — editorial from the Jerusalem Post, Debating Civil Marriage, with this lovely (sarcasm again) quote:
Though according to recent surveys of Jewish Israeli opinion, this is no longer the case, there was once a strong consensus that Israel, as the sovereign nation of the Jewish people, has an obligation to fight intermarriage through legislation that encourages Jews to marry other Jews. Intermarriage and assimilation plague Jews of the Diaspora. The State of Israel should reflect through its laws the desire of the Jewish people to maintain continuity. Admittedly, preventing Jews from marrying non-Jews through legislation or a lack thereof will not stop intermarriage. Love will overcome any obstacle. But the fact that the State of Israel does not officially condone intermarriage has some declarative value.
This is so wrong on so many levels. “Intermarriage plagues Jews of the Diaspora” and runs counter to maintaining continuity? Israeli leaders continue not to understand intermarriage in North America, that many interfaith families are engaging in Jewish life and are actively creating continuity. My op-ed in the Jerusalem Post to that effect two years ago apparently didn’t impress the editors (at least they publish contrary opinions).
“Love will overcome any obstacle;” legislation won’t stop intermarriage? The editors got that right — but they support that legislation any way — because it has “some declarative value”? What “declarative value” does it have exactly? If it won’t stop intermarriage, the declarative value is that it will alienate the interfaith couples who have to work around it in Israel. And worse, from my point of view, it will discourage interfaith couples in North America, especially the partners who are not Jewish who do want to be involved in Jewish life and community. Who would want to be part of a community whose intellectual leaders do not want them?
At my services at Temple Shalom yesterday, I saw at least seven interfaith couples, and those are just the ones who I know well, and I saw several parents whose intermarrying children have used InterfaithFamily.com’s Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service. Yesterday, Yom Kippur, two couples, one in California and one in Pennsylvania, made requests for rabbis to officiate and to co-officiate at their weddings. The central lesson of Yom Kippur, as I understand it, is to “choose life.” For me, those interfaith couples at services and seeking Jewish clergy for their weddings are choosing Jewish life. The editors of the Jerusalem Post – they aren’t.
I try to be hopeful, especially at the start of a new year. There is a glimmer of hope in the editorial – apparently there is no consensus among the Israeli public that legislation aimed at preventing intermarriage makes sense. My hope is that that point of view grows and ultimately prevails.
I wasn’t expecting to find many (read: any) Yom Kippur parody music videos.
For better or worse, Yom Kippur is seen by many as a solemn, somber, serious holiday. Upbeat spoofs of top 40 songs don’t tend to match that theme.
But, and here’s the kicker, the Talmud (a canonical text of Judaism) actually describes Yom Kippur as the most joyous day of the year! Here’s what it says:
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel says, “There were never happier days for the Jews like the fifteen of [the Hebrew month of] Av and Yom Kippur, for on those days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out wearing borrowed white clothing so that they should not embarrass those who did not own such. These dresses required immersion in a mikvah. The daughters of Jerusalem would go and dance in the vineyards and say, ‘young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose. Do not look for beauty, look for family as it is stated in Proverbs (31) ‘grace is deceitful and beauty is vain, a woman that is God fearing is to be praised'”…
Today, in some communities, people still honor this joyous tradition by wearing all white to synagogue on Yom Kippur. But for many of us, the haunting Kol Nidre service (Max Bruch’s arrangement for cello is played here), chanting the words of “who by fire, who by water” (as sung, in English, by Leonard Cohen), fasting for 25 hours and sitting in synagogue all those hours is far from joyous. So how might we see Yom Kippur as joyous this year? I polled some friends and colleagues and received these answers:
You might be a little puzzled at this point. Did he just mention dancing, during services, on Yom Kippur?!? Yes! Going back to that excerpt from the Talmud, the women would don their white dresses and dance on Yom Kippur. Some (admittedly, few and far between in North America) communities honor this tradition by dancing. The services I’ve attended that have included dancing put it during the afternoon Musaf service, during the Avodah section, to the Mareh Cohen (this tune, minus the accordion).
All of which is to say that Yom Kippur can indeed be a joyous day. In other words, this Lady Gaga parody is totally acceptable:
And, yes, I might just have pulled some Talmud out in order to post some Gaga…