A group of âconcerned Jewsâ in response to the Pew survey propose to take concerted action to encourage Jewish leaders to encourage in-marriage. Julie Wiener writes that âthe intermarriage debateâ has âreignitedâ in a JTA article that was picked up by the Forward. Jodi Bromberg, InterfaithFamilyâs new President, and I wrote an op-ed for eJewishPhilanthropy, Promote Jewish Engagement, Not In-Marriage. Paul Golin from JOI also had an op-ed in the New York Jewish Week.
To us the key point is that all of the actions any proponent of in-marriage proposes â increased Jewish education, social networks, Israel trips â are worthwhile because they promote Jewish engagement, which is what everyone on all sides of this debate wants. We say encourage those actions for that reason â because they promote the Jewish engagement we all want, regardless of who people marry. Encouraging those actions because they promote in-marriage is self-defeating â it will alienate the majority of the audience who will intermarry regardless of what Jewish leaders recommend.
Ironically, perhaps coincidentally, yesterday was the day of the very moving memorial service for Edgar Bronfman. One very subtle comment stood out to me: Hilllary Clinton expressed gratitude to Edgar and Jan Bronfman for the friendship and support they provided to Chelsea Clinton when she married a Jewish man. Edgar Bronfman, who will be sorely missed, understood the importance of genuine acceptance and welcome much more than the group of Jewish leaders who want to encourage in-marriage.
Thereâs an uproar in Israel because a son of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is dating a Norwegian woman who is not Jewish. Daniel Treiman at JTA reports that some religious Knesset members are voicing dismay at the âbig problemâ of the son of the Prime Minister possibly intermarrying.
Almost every public statement that comes out of Israel about intermarriage equates it with assimilation and loss of Jewish identity and engagement. They just donât get that many interfaith families are engaging in Jewish life.
It would behoove Jewish leaders to extend an embracing welcome to prominent couples who intermarry. We live in a culture crazed with celebrity â if celebrity interfaith couples engage Jewishly, that may increase the interest of others. Thatâs why we urged Jewish leaders to extend a big mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton a few years ago.
Speaking of mazel tov, Liel Liebovitz had it right in Tablet:
Let us say the only thing one ought to say to a young woman who has chosen to âŚ move to Israel instead, which is shalom and welcome and so nice to have you here. And let us do whatever we can to make sure that should this young woman ever wish to become Mrs. Netanyahu Junior, she could either live comfortably and without harassment as a non-Jewish citizen of Israel enjoying equal rights and responsibilities, or, should she so wish, undergo a meaningful and beautiful conversion, a far cry from the censorious process currently offered by the imperious chief rabbinate. Until then, nothing but mazal tov to the young couple.
I was recently giving a presentation about being sensitive to interfaith families and we talked about how Judaism has changed. I compared Judaismâs motivations to “the carrot or the stick.” Many of us were taught that we must follow the commandments or elseâŚ(the stick). I felt like scare tactics were part of the education. How many people hated their Hebrew school? And now, how many people really want to put their children through a rite of passage that they despised?
But now, in a society where we can do anything with just a few clicks, there needs to be an alternate approach showing the positive side of Judaism. Judaism teaches us a structure to lifeâhow to celebrate, how to mourn, how to be healthy. There are also so many wonderful aspects about Judaismâthe joy of decorating a sukkah, the peace of a beautiful Shabbat dinner, the joy of singing and cheering for a couple after their wedding.
One of my favorite childrenâs books is The Runaway Bunny. In this story, the bunny talks about running away from his mother and the mother replies each time that she will be there for him no matter where he goes. At the end, he gives up. The motherâs response is âHave a carrot.â âHave a carrotâ is a wonderful metaphor for Judaism. No matter where we go, our ancestors have provided us with the sustenance to go forward. It may not be super sweet but it will be nourishing. Indeed, the positive carrot (rather than the stick) will sustain us and give us energy and nourishment for the future. Negative motivations may work in the short term but are unlikely to work for future generations.
I want my kids to enjoy Hebrew school and learning about Judaism. I am proud to say that through Jewish camp, and a lot of active parents in the religious school, the kids are having a good time.Â My husband and I also incorporate fun stuff relating to Judaism into our lives whenever possible. My kids enjoy learning when itâs fun. I hope that all children who are getting a Jewish education are enjoying it on a regular basis; perhaps through fun songs, Jewish cooking, a quiz bowl or a Hanukah party. If not, it is our responsibility to insist that their education be pleasant and not torture. Surely, religious education (in any religion) isnât all joy and play but it should provide us sustenance for our future as human beings.
I love when my kids come home from school with inspirational materials. This week, with MLK day on everyoneâs mind, it was to honor the great Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Found inside my 1st grader Eliâs backpack was a scholastic news weekly reader called âBefore and After Dr. King,â emphasizing how MLK had helped change unfair laws in his lifetime. This little flyer highlighted three topics featuring before and after photos: Buses, schools and water fountains which clearly and visually showed the inequality and horrific level of prejudice in daily life in the south in the â50s and â60s.
So we had a kitchen table discussion, and I found myself getting teary-eyed, as I often do at the thought of being separated and judged for who you are by the color of your skin or boxed into feelings of shame for what you were born into. My kids are blown away that people were treated so unfairly. Eli found it fascinating that I was born in 1969, âway back then only one year after Martin Luther King died.â We talked about how hard it is to believe that people couldnât sit together or learn together or share the same water fountain; things I did not have to witness in person, thank God, being way up north and born after the civil rights movement had a chance to flourish.
âJews were treated unfairly too back then,â I explained to Eli.
âWhy does it always have to go back to the Jews?â my wife bemoaned, âCanât we just stick with MLK?â (Itâs got to be tough to be married to a Jewish educator with every topic coming back to Judaism at his kitchen table.)
âIâm just saying,â pointing to the picture with the separate seating on the buses, âthere were also signs back then that said, âNo Jews Allowed.â Of course, it was nothing compared to the horrors that faced the Southern black community at the time, but there are similarities. Deb gave me that âLets not bring this back to the Holocaustâ look, knowing all too well where it was heading. I got the message. âYou will learn more details about this every year as you get older.â I tried to conclude my digression before Shalom Bayit had been compromisedâagain.
Mavis Staples, created one of the best civil rights songs of all time (and albums for that matter titled Weâll Never Turn Back in 2007), called âEyes on the Prize,â telling us to âhold on,â and to keep our âeyes on the prizeâ of freedom.
We have come a long, long way as a more inclusive society (thank God) and prejudice needs to be fought wherever it strikes. There are many issues to hold on to as we keep our eyes on the prize. Kingâs vision to change the world began with color (or rather I should say a dream of not judging people by the color of their skin) and continues to grab our hearts and attention on opening our minds to all people who suffer and have been marginalized by society, âstill vastly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.â (MLK, I Have A Dream speech, April 28th, 1963)
As of this writing, 17 states have legalized same sex marriage (starting with my home state of Massachusetts in 2004). And intermarriage is a fascinating because it is not an issue of legality from state legislation, but rather in issue of relational acceptance by denominations or complex family dynamics.
Going through the list of rabbis who are willing to officiate marriages on this website, I am struck by their level of heroism to stand up for change and inclusiveness, despite the slowness of many congregations and some of their peers.
Things are evolving and getting better, no doubt. It is wonderful to see same sex marriages continuing to be recognized and officiated by rabbis in synagogues. But somehow, interfaith marriage has a bigger hurdle to overcome in acceptance on the institutional level. For example, the Conservative movement has a doctrine to not allow their rabbis to even attend an interfaith marriage, let alone officiate one.
You have probably heard about the small, but still existent, ultra-Orthodox factions that are pushing for separate buses for men and women. Oh Dr. King, how did some of us get so far off? It is deeply embarrassing to see people miss the mark in respecting othersâ differences.
In the meantime, this year I will be watching for more synagogues to be more inclusive and welcoming to more intermarried couples. I want my children to grow up witnessing synagogues and Jewish institutions working to make a stronger community of unity and respect.
Yesterday my husband asked for my advice about how to help a friend of his. His friend wanted to know how he could motivate his wife to attend services and other Jewish events at our synagogue. They are empty nesters and he wants to grow their Jewish practice. My husband turned to me because I am the family psychologist, a.k.a., the in-house armchair analyst. While I am sympathetic to our friendâs situation, my answer may not have been the one he was looking for: âHe canât.â
For most of my life, I engaged with Judaism to please my family, not because it was something that I wanted or because it was my idea. It was easier for me to participate than it would have been to explain why I did not âfeel it.â I always experienced a strong attachment to the music, the food and to Israel but these are not religious motivations, they are cultural. Sometimes I wonder where the line is between culture and religion.
Spirituality is personal. I am not sure how the flame gets going. Some have it from birth, others find it as a result of a life changing experience, and for me it appeared during my first visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem a few years ago. My internal flame was lit near midnight on a warm summer evening in Jerusalem.
When I returned home from Israel, I went looking for a Jewish community to join and I found one in San Francisco. From that first Shabbat morning, I always felt welcome and never self-conscious about showing up alone. There were always plenty of other people who came alone, just like me. Some were single, some with partners who chose not to go or who stayed home with their children or aging parents. We sat together at services and saved seats at the table for each other at events. Not once did I ever feel the awkward loneliness that can creep into oneâs consciousness while going solo in a group setting. The positive experience I had the first time motivated me to try it a second, and then a third, and so on, until I joined the community as an official member.
Since then, I have married and my husband and I go to synagogue together. I no longer go alone but I know that I can, any time I want or need to. A while ago I heard a fellow congregant speak at a panel discussion about how, as a divorced parent, she has found her village in our community. She no longer feels awkward about attending as a single parent and comes to temple events a lot now. She even comes alone when her children are with their father. I have another friend who is always at Shabbat morning services and is rarely accompanied by his partner who works too hard and desperately needs the âDay of Restâ for actual horizontal rest.
I suggested to my husband that his friend could try joining us once or twice without his wife to see how he feels about walking in alone. Once he is inside, he will be joined by friends, swept away by the gorgeous opening song, and carried through the morning by Rabbiâs calm guidance of our prayers. Our friend may find out that his inner flame of spirituality can be nurtured through the warm and uplifting embrace of our community in San Francisco. He may also discover that the impression he walks away with is contagious.
To learn about what to expect at a synagogue, watch this video.
As our booklet on baby girl naming ceremonies explains, names are the beginning of identity formation. Choosing your babyâs name helps to shape the kind of person you are hoping the baby will become. By selecting a Hebrew name, you connect your child to the generations that precede him or her, a community and a system of values. The Ashkenazi (Jews descended from Eastern Europe) have a tradition of naming a baby after a parent or grandparent who has died. This custom dates back to the 6th century B.C.E and naming children after their familiesâ ancestors remains the custom today.
Sephardic Jews (descendants of Spain and Portugal) often name their children after relatives that are alive. Because most American Jews are descendants of Ashkenazi Jews, parents often name their children after a family member who has died. Stories about the remembered relative bring a powerful emotional connection to the past and link to your hope for the future.
Some couples choose to have their sons circumcised in the hospital and opt for a Hebrew name ceremony later. Others choose to have a bris (brit milah: ritual circumcision) at eight days old during which the baby will be given his Hebrew name (even if the mother is not Jewish, if a couple wants to keep this ancient Jewish tradition and intends for their to child to be raised with Judaism, Reform mohelimâdoctors with special training to perform a brisâwill come to the home to perform the circumcision). Others choose not to circumcise and to have a naming ceremony later. For girls, parents often want to hold a ceremony to give her a Hebrew name.
Sometimes couples go back to the rabbi who married them to create a naming ceremony with them. Sometimes couples have found a synagogue and want the naming to take place in this community. However couples decide to publically âgiveâ their child their Hebrew name, this can be a very special time for the family. For interfaith couples, it can be a time when the parents talk about the religious decisions they have made and to celebrate the arrival of their child and the sacred task of parenting.
Even though many couples have the naming ceremony when their baby is young, others hold the ceremony at the first birthday or another time. It is never too late to meet with Jewish clergy (a rabbi or cantor) to select a Hebrew name for a child.
Ari, right, with the Vickermans
Here are Nora Vickermanâs words which she spoke at the recent naming ceremony we had for her daughter, Chloe. What joy it was for me to have stood with this couple under the chuppah at their wedding and then to be able to bless their baby.
Chloe was born of parents who have a deep love for one another, a joy in our traditions and a commitment to Chloe, our daughter, to share and blend together as a family the beauty of both of our traditions. It is with this shared sense of commitment to all that is good and to all that is beautiful in our religions that we are here today to celebrate with our friends and with our family the first of many of our family traditions.
The naming of a Jewish child is a most profound spiritual moment. The sages said that naming a baby is a statementÂ of her character, her specialness, and her path in life. For at the beginning of life, we give our child a name, and at the end of life, a âgood nameâ is all we take with us. It is also the Jewish custom to name your child after a relative who has passed away. It is a great honor, keeping the name and memory of a deceased lovedÂ oneÂ forever alive, and in a metaphysical way, forms theÂ bond between the soul of the baby and the relatives that she will be namedÂ for. My JewishÂ tradition calls for the naming of a baby with an English name as well asÂ aÂ Hebrew name, or names. Matt and I want our daughter to share inÂ the richness ofÂ herÂ heritage.
Chloe RoseÂ shares a connection toÂ her greatÂ grandfather Charles and hence her first name Chloe. Matt and I immediately knew that this would be her first name. My great grandfather came to this country from Russia.Â HeÂ brought with him theÂ drive to succeed in a new land as well as aÂ commitment to his Jewish religion and his love for tradition. He is honored in a book that described the History of the Jewish people in Beckley, West Virginia. HeÂ helped to establishÂ the first Reform synagogueÂ inÂ the city.Â His courage, strength, andÂ commitment toÂ tradition and family are the traits that we wish for our Chloe.Â Her second English name is Rose.Â We also loved that name. She was given the name Rose to honor my great Aunt Roselyn, myÂ great grandmothersâ oldest sister.Â She was a kind, intelligent, and beautiful lady who believed in the goodness ofÂ giving of oneself and toÂ charity.Â The name Roselyn meansÂ a beautiful rose befitting our beautiful daughter.
Matt and I choseÂ ChloeâsÂ first HebrewÂ nameÂ to express our love for two familyÂ members whoÂ are no longerÂ with us.Â We choseÂ the Hebrew nameÂ Shira,Â when translatedÂ means song and light.Â How appropriate for our Chloe. She discovered the joy of song very early and has sungÂ her sweetÂ songs ever since the age of three months.Â And as you all may know ChloeÂ isÂ the light of our life.Â The SÂ letterÂ inÂ ShiraÂ honorsÂ MattâsÂ grandfather Samuel, and the HebrewÂ letterÂ ShinÂ inÂ ShiraÂ honorsÂ my motherâs motherÂ Shirley, mayÂ their memories shine forever. May our beautifulÂ daughter Chloe know that she will forever be connected in love to them as well asÂ connected by familyÂ tradition.Â Chloeâs second Hebrew name isÂ Yehudeet- aÂ womanÂ of great strength and fortitude (or in English, Judith). Yehudeet was given after my fatherâs father,Â Jacques.Â Our hope for Chloe is that as she grows she willÂ always have the strength andÂ convictionÂ to do what is just andÂ what isÂ right throughout her life.
If you would like to connect with a rabbi or cantor to hold a naming ceremony, please fill out this short form and we will be in touch shortly.
In an unfortunate convergence, some of the leading Jewish journalists have almost simultaneously published more counter-productive negative messages about intermarriage.
The first piece is by Gary Rosenblatt of the New York Jewish Week. Here is the letter to the editor I just submitted:
I applaud Rabbi Rick Jacobsâ comments at the URJ Biennial and to Gary Rosenblatt (âA Call For âAudacious Hospitalityâ,â Jan. 15). Rabbi Jacobs is right that âfinger-waggingâ is a turnoff for intermarried Jews and their partners who might otherwise make Jewish choices. Mr. Rosenblatt professes not to think of intermarriage as a âdisease,â but that is the message that he and Messrs. Cohen, Bayme and Wertheimer convey. The communal intervention they seek to encourage in-marriage would be a roadblock to the âon-ramps to Jewish lifeâ that Rabbi Jacobs rightly wants to build for the majority of the next generation who will be the children of intermarriages.
The second is an editorial in the Forward. Hereâs my letter to them:
I applaud Rabbi Rick Jacobsâ comments to the editors (âIntermarriage Rorschach Test,â Jan. 16) that âJewish living, values, commitmentsâŚ can be upheld in interfaith familiesâ and not the âexclusive province of Jewish-Jewish couples.â By questioning âhowever Jewishâ those individuals who choose to live lives of Jewish depth and meaning âactually are,â the Forwardâs editors become part of the problem. Characterizing intermarriage as âdiminishmentâ and in-marriage as âessentialâ is a self-fulfilling prophecy that will lead to more interfaith families who might otherwise make Jewish choices not doing so.
The people in these positions of Jewish leadership ought to stop to think about the impact of what they say about intermarriage on young interfaith couples â the Jewish partner or the partner who isnât Jewish â who are exploring Jewish life, considering making Jewish choices, and quite naturally looking for welcome, acceptance, and embrace.
We were sorry to learn that Jennifer Gorovitz will be stepping down as CEO of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.
Most of the commentary has focused appropriately on the small number of women who have lead federations â Jennifer was the first woman to head a large city Federation in North America â and expressed hope that many more will follow in her footsteps.
Weâre feeling a loss more personal to InterfaithFamily in particular and the field of engaging interfaith families more generally. Jennifer was a leader among Federation leaders in championing the importance of Federations taking action to engage interfaith families. She was instrumental in making funding possible for InterfaithFamily/San Francisco Bay Area, and spoke about the project with us on a panel at the 2012 General Assembly (the Federation systemâs annual conference).
We truly appreciate Jennifer saying in her own statement that she was âparticularly proud of transformative grants to Keshet and InterfaithFamilyâ and describing them as among âthe many inspiring ways that the Federation is building Jewish lives and deepening and broadening its reach.â And she is exactly right in saying that for Jewish Federations and organizations to maintain their relevance and thrive into the future, âwe will all have to embraceâŚ substantive and meaningful engagement of Jews of all ages and backgroundsâŚÂ including interfaith JewsâŚâ
Fortunately IFF has a lot of strong support in the San Francisco Jewish community â and that community has a lot of strong leaders. We wish the Federation well in their search to replace Jennifer and hope they find someone who shares her passion for engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community. And we especially wish her well as she builds the next chapter in her life.
Perhaps you have heard this old joke about an elementary school boy who comes home very excited to share some news with his parents. âI got a part in the school play!â
âThatâs wonderful!â his mother replies, âwhatâs the part?â
âI play the Jewish father,â the son beamed.
His mother sat up, alarmed and with full sternness, âYou go back and tell your teacher that you want a speaking part!â
In light of so much talk about the recent Pew study, I would like to turn our attention to an equally fascinating study prepared by CJP,Â The 2005 Greater Boston Community Study: Intermarried Families and Their Children.
First, the good news for intermarried Bostonians who want to raise their kids Jewish: According to this study, 60 percent of intermarried families in the Greater Boston area are raising their kids as Jews. This is good news compared to the more recent Pew study that found the national average in the rest of the country around 25 percent. If 2005âs survey was any indication (and I know this is a rough comparison of two different studies), Boston is faring stronger for raising Jewish children than the rest of the country. Why is Boston doing so much better? Well that is a whole other blog to write about.
But hereâs an interesting part of the CJP analysis that I want to get to: If the mom is Jewish, so the survey says, there is an 80 percent likelihood that the children will be raised as Jews. If it is the father thatâs Jewish, only a 32 percent chance (p.19).
Why is this? Dads see themselves as lacking the time? The passion? Are we lazy on Sundays? Whatâs the deal?
I am proud of our long and storied history of the classic, strong Jewish mom who runs the household, but why are so many of our âclassic dadsâ so complacent? The world is changing fast and our children are growing even faster. I must confess that the reason why my daughter makes it on time to Hebrew School on Sundays is because of my wifeâthe not Jewish counterpart of my interfaith relationship. So I must be the exception, more than the rule. I lucked out that my wife understands commitment and once we made up our mind to raise our kids Jewish, she is exceptionally committed.
But if she were not so on the ball, I can see how easy it is to fall behind the eight ball. Many of us didnât love our Hebrew School experiences, and are indifferent. Our parents followed their role models of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, who were anxious to lose their authentic ethnic backgrounds and fit in. To be fair to my assimilated ancestors, there was horrible anti-Semitism back then that I did not have to suffer through as they did. Although anti-Semitism is not gone by any means and has a deep decoy of anti-Zionism (thatâs another blog too), it is safer to be “publicly Jewish” now.
But there still comes a time in everyoneâs life when they need to stand up for what they believe in. Everyone is so very busy these days and our children are as over-programmed as the adults. I get it. It can feel like a real schlep to get to Hebrew School on the weekends, but if we engage in some Jewish education ourselves, it need not be such an effort. It can be downright joyful. So as we enter a new year, ask yourself, âAm I a lazy dad?â or better yet, âWhat do I really care about?â Judaism has so many answersÂ and there are tons of amazing opportunities to learn in Boston.Â Why walk away from the most amazing education you can give your family. Just try it out. Start the year our right and get involved.
Getting back to that old joke about the speaking part. There are many plays that could use a re-write, and there is no reason to continue putting all of the pressure on one spouse to do everything. Get involved and speak up, Dads. Your future is counting on you and if you get involved just even a tad more, a whole world of beauty and wonder from Judaism will open before you.