Let’s Stop Using the Word “Problem” When Talking About Interfaith Marriage

  

Recently I read two thought-provoking articles in the Jewish press: Rabbi Elliot Cosgove’s article in the New York Jewish Week, “Mikveh Can Solve Conversion Problem” and Rabbi Shaul Magid’s article in The Forward “Why Conversion Lite Won’t Fix The Intermarriage Problem.”  Like so many articles dealing with issues related to interfaith marriage, the headlines of both articles contained the word “problem.”

I realize that, when someone writes an article, the headline they propose often isn’t the one ultimately used. I have written several articles which have then been published with different headlines than the ones I proposed—in fact, I often don’t know what the article is going to be called until I see it online or in print. Editors give headlines to articles that they think will attract readers. And so, I presume that it wasn’t Rabbi Cosgrove or Rabbi Magid who decided to use the word “problem” in the headline of either of their articles about interfaith marriage (though in the first sentence of his article Rabbi Magid stated that intermarriage is “arguably the most pressing problem of 21st century American Jewry”). But, the editors of the articles did choose to use the word and I find that disturbing.

For too long, the Jewish community has referred to interfaith marriage as a problem. It implies that the people in those marriages—the Jewish partner as well as the partner from a different background—are also problems for the Jewish community. As a community, we’ve been talking out of both sides of our mouth. On the one hand, we spend our resources (both time and money) trying to figure out how to engage people in interfaith relationships in Jewish life, and on the other hand, we tell these people that they’re a problem. So, here’s a statement of the obvious: If we want to engage people in interfaith relationships, let’s stop referring to their relationships, and thus to them, as a problem.

Throughout the four years that I’ve been working for InterfaithFamily, a national organization whose mission is to support interfaith families exploring Jewish life and to advocate for the inclusion of people in interfaith relationships in the Jewish community, I’ve been especially sensitive to the language that’s used in the Jewish community to speak about people in interfaith relationships. I’m constantly struck by the negative nature of the language we use, even today, with an intermarriage rate of over 71 percent for Jews who aren’t Orthodox. We hear about the “problems” and “challenges” of interfaith relationships and we see classes on “the December Dilemma” and so forth. The focus is almost exclusively on the negative.

I’m proud to work for an organization that seeks to reframe the discussion and change the language we use when talking about intermarriage. Language doesn’t just reflect the way we think; it also shapes the way we think. At InterfaithFamily, we speak about the challenges *and* blessings of being in an interfaith relationship and we offer classes on “the December Dialogue” or “the December Discussion.”

We at InterfaithFamily also advocate for framing discussions about interfaith marriage not as how we can solve a problem, but rather as how we can view interfaith marriage as an opportunity—an opportunity not simply to increase our numbers in the Jewish community, but also for the Jewish community to evolve in a rich and meaningful way, with people who did not grow up Jewish bringing new insights and perspectives as they choose to engage in Jewish life.

I ask the editors of the Jewish press and others in the Jewish community to join us in our effort to reconsider the language being used to discuss interfaith marriage. Please, whether you see interfaith marriage as an opportunity or not, stop calling it a problem. At the very least, why not just name it as what it is, and what it’s sure to remain in the future: reality. Once we accept this reality, and stop referring to it as a problem to be solved, we can surely have a more productive conversation about how to best engage people in interfaith relationships in Jewish life in a way that’s meaningful for them and for the future of Judaism and the Jewish community.

Meeting People Where They Are

  

This post originally appeared on www.edumundcase.com and is reprinted with permission

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, a leading Conservative rabbi whose essay in March explained why he thought Conservative rabbis should continue to not officiate at weddings of interfaith couples, has a new essay arguing that “the Conservative movement should be the movement of conversion.” He wants to “meet people where they are,” and as I understand it make the conversion process easier, in particular not requiring converts to be “fully observant.”

I have always felt that conversion is a wonderful personal choice and I don’t have any issues with making the process easier including for some couples who are getting married. But the idea that making conversion more inviting and “doable” will enable Conservative rabbis to meet young couples who are getting married “where they are” is sorely misguided. Because neither partner is thinking that the partner who is not Jewish needs to make a fundamental change in who he or she is in order to be marriageable.

As David Wilensky and Gabriel Erbs have just written in A Taxonomy of Stupid Shit the Jewish Establishment Says to Millennials:

We really don’t understand how any thinking person believes an intra-communal breeding program will be a convincing appeal to young people. Jewish millennials chafe against this pearl-clutching because we embrace, overwhelmingly, progressive values about gender, sexuality, and marriage. To us, baby-boomer chatter on intermarriage sounds alarmingly like what a lot of “polite society” said at the advent of racial intermarriage….

If Jewish boomers are really anxious about generational continuity (a phrase that verges on eugenics in its subtext), they should stop their hardline rhetoric, which simply pushes millennials out of the communal fold. For interfaith Jewish families who wish to build their family life within the Jewish communal context, this kind of talk constantly reminds them of their second-class status – so they leave.

Shaul Magid writing in The Forward also disagreed with Rabbi Cosgrove, though for different reasons:

I do not think it is fair, or spiritually refined, to ask the non-Jew to become a Jew in order to solve a Jewish problem [intermarriage]. Or to allow us, as rabbis, to sleep at night. To do so is to make conversion into an instrument and the convert into a tool to benefit us.

Rabbi Cosgrove advances other interesting ideas. Since Conservative rabbis do not recognize patrilineal descent, he recommends that all marrying couples go to the mikveh before their weddings, which would “level the playing field of Jewish identity” – and, as I understand it, enable Conservative rabbis to officiate at those weddings. He also recommends that all b’nai mitzvah children go to the mikveh, which would confirm the Jewish identity of patrilineal children.

But these are band-aids that don’t address a much bigger issue. Rabbi Cosgrove has said we must be “passionate in creating a culture of warm embrace for Jew and non-Jew alike.” Not recognizing patrilineal descent, not allowing partners from different faith traditions to participate in Jewish ritual, and not officiating at weddings of interfaith couples – all of these undermine any possible warm embrace.

My Favorite Passover Song Parodies – 2017 Edition

  

Passover is coming, which means that Passover-themed parodies of pop songs are showing up on my Facebook news feed, and possibly yours too. I love watching these videos—they’re a nice break from cleaning out the chametz (leavened products) from my kitchen and thinking about what I’m going to serve at my seder.

Last year, I wrote about my Top 7 Passover Song Parodies. This year, I’ve got another list—with some new parodies as well as some that I’ve discovered since last year.

1. In the final paragraph of my blog post last year I wrote, “With Passover less than a month away, I’m disappointed that I still haven’t seen any good 2016 Passover pop song parodies. Maybe the Maccabeats…will release a video before Passover. I can hope…” Well, my hope was fulfilled. The Maccabeats DID release a music video before Passover in 2016: A “Justin Bieber Passover Mashup,” which was a parody mashup of Beiber’s “Love Yourself,” “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean?”

 

 

 

2. Another great parody that was released for Passover 2016 was by a group called the Y-Studs, an all-male a cappella group from Yeshiva University. The Y-Studs’ “Seder – Passover” was based on Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking “Thriller” video. I, for one, can’t resist anything based on the “Thriller” video.

 

 

 

3. Congregation B’nai Shalom and Friends also released a fun video in 2016, “Now We’ve Got Matzo,” a Passover-themed parody of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”

 

 

 

4. The catchiest Passover song parody of 2016? In my opinion, it was Six13’s “God Split the Ocean (2016 Passover Jam),” based on “Cake by the Ocean” by DNCE. Warning: Be careful if you listen to this song…it’s hard to get the catchy tune out of your head.

 

 

 

5. Just as Passover 2014 was all about parodies of “Let It Go” from the Disney movie Frozen (for example, see here, here and here), not surprisingly, in 2017, Disney’s Moana served as inspiration for a Passover parody. Congregation B’nai Shalom and Friends’ “Why Seders Are Slow” is based on the movie’s “How Far I’ll Go.”

 

 

 

6. If you’re a fan of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” you’re sure to love Six13’s “Seder Crew (2017 Passover Jam).” I’ve already listened to it countless times, and Passover is still several days away.

 

 

7. My favorite movie in 2016 was La La Land and my favorite Passover parody video of 2017 is definitely the Y-Stud’s “La La Passover,” which I can’t seem to get out of my head…and I don’t even mind!

 

Hang on: one last video. It’s not a parody, but it’s a great video. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it. It’s a creative multi-genre twist on the classic Passover seder song “Dayenu” recorded by the Maccabeats in 2015.

 

 

 

Chag Sameach! Have a happy Passover! And let us know: What’s your favorite Passover song parody?