Privilege

Robin Margolis, an activist for children of interfaith marriage in the Jewish community who has written for us at IFF, has been posting about the issues adult children of intermarriage face in the community on Jewcy.com. In her latest piece, Why Many Jewish Outreach Workers Ignore Half-Jewish People, she creates a list of all the ways and all the reasons the Jewish community doesn’t offer explicit welcome or programming to adult children of intermarriage.

The list is comprehensive, but I think it misses the point. Most outreach workers are ignoring adult children of interfaith marriage because they don’t think adult children of interfaith marriage have a problem being accepted into the Jewish community. They really just don’t know, and when individuals try to explain, they think these individuals are exceptional. It’s the ignorance of privilege and it’s more intractable than active hostility.

I’m speaking for myself now, here, too. I remember the first time I met a Jewish woman of color, in college. She was an amazingly cool person and I had not known she was Jewish. I was very excited to learn we had Jewishness in common. She explained that because her mom was Jewish and her dad was African-American, Ashkenazi Jewish kids where she grew up told her she couldn’t be Jewish.

“But that’s not right,” I said, and went off into a pedantic explanation of the Jewish law, blah blah blah, to cover my distress. I wanted us to be connected by this identity that was important to me, and she had been pushed away from it. (We were still friends anyway, though she was considerably cooler than I. When I finish writing this I’m going to look her up on Facebook.) It was years before I saw that her experience was not an unusual one.

It’s not that committed Jews, whether we have one Jewish parent or two, don’t like people with complicated Jewish identities. We’ve seen all kinds of complication. It’s that we can’t accept our community could be rejecting. We think we’re good at accepting, and we aren’t. We have to wake up and realize our personal experiences of being Jewish aren’t the only ones.

Children of Interfaith Marriage, We Love You, Come Over for Lunch

Robin Margolis wrote a fantastic blog entry for Jewcy.com, What Do Half-Jewish People Want From the Jewish Establishment? It’s an eye-opener. Well, not to me, actually, because I’ve been working here at InterfaithFamily.com and it’s finally started to dawn on me after reading repeated shocking stories that the Jewish community is doing a terrible job integrating and retaining children of interfaith marriage.

Why?

Because we assume that they are all already either with us in the community, or not. We don’t realize that even after children of interfaith families have grown into adulthood, it’s not too late to welcome them into our synagogues and our communities. We’re way too worried about the Jewish legal status of children of interfaith marriage and not worried enough about losing these members of our tribe. (Which they are, no matter what their Jewish status is.)

I think the biggest problem is insisting that people of dual heritage can’t find ways to be Jewish and to honor their other parent’s cultural background. I believe this stems from a fear of syncretistic blending of Christian and Jewish practices. But when people say, “I’m half Jewish and half Swedish,” they aren’t trying to tell you, “half the time I want to practice Christianity.” They want you to say, “That’s cool, it must be neat to have family in two cultures, I’ll bet you bring a lot to our community.”

I get why some people with one Jewish parent call themselves half Jewish, and I respect it–but I’m not going to call them that. I don’t believe in people being half Jewish. If a person has a Jewish parent, we share something–we share it 100%, not 50%, just like I share some things with every other person with Jewish heritage. If they are religiously and culturally Jewish, and also culturally something else, they aren’t Jewish 50% of the time. They are Jewish all the time, and also a part of their other culture of origin, all the time. (And maybe also 100% Canadian, all the time, 100% Star Trek fan, 100% vegetarian–whatever serious and trivial identities a person might bring with them to your community.)

If you want them to have both feet in the community, don’t push one half out the door.

Latino Jews

One of our writers, Franklin Velazquez, started a new group on InterfaithFamily.com’s network for Latino Jews. I thought this was a good excuse to point you to some articles and resources we have on the site for Latino Jews, and maybe to attract members to the group and writers for the site.

Velazquez wrote The Lonely Journey of  Puerto Rican Jew for us, about being a Jew by Choice in an interfaith relationship, and we still get a lot of comments to that story from people who are looking to connect.

We also have some beautifully-written memoir articles with kosher, authentically Puerto Rican recipes from Teresita Levy. My friend Ruby Velez also wrote for us about food in A Surprising Challenge in an Intercultural Relationship. Aliza Hausman, who blogs under the handle La Jewminicana, wrote for us on creating a multi-cultural Dominican Jewish wedding, blending cultures in her household and coping with racism in the Jewish community.

We republished Ruby Marez video monologue about being the child of a Jewish and Puerto-Rican Catholic couple. I am always looking for more ways to feature the voices of adult children of interfaith marriage–this one had a sweet energy to it.

The Latino Jewish experience is varied. It includes people who learn their families were crypto-Jews and want to return to Judaism, people who choose Judaism out of conviction without any idea that they had Jewish heritage, children of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews who immigrated to Latin America and children of interfaith marriages in which one partner was Latino. I hope InterfaithFamily.com can be a resource to all of these groups as part of our overall mission of creating a more welcoming Jewish community.

First, the good news

I have a backlog of interfaith-family related news stories to cover on the blog, but I think I’d like to do the pleasant stories first. Sue Fishkoff published a new feature with JTA, Jews of Color come together to explore identity. It discusses a recent gathering sponsored by Bechol Lashon, a San Francisco organization for ethnically and racially diverse Jews and their families, and The Jewish Multiracial Network, which meets on this coast at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

I follow the Jewish Multiracial Network on Facebook, but I didn’t know that in June, they elected their first African-American president. Fishkoff explains:

The group was started by Ashkenazim who adopted multi-racially, and for the past several years Bowers says there has been “some tension between these well-intentioned Jewish parents and the people of color in the organization, a lot of control issues.” By this summer the parents were ready to let go, and Bower stepped forward.
“We still want the parents involved,” she says. But the agenda is being set by the new generation. The summer retreat was the first to boast a separate track for Jews of color, along with the previous tracks set up by the group’s founders.

It’s a very hopeful sign when the generation of the founders gets to step aside in favor of younger leaders.

This is not my only happy news for you. If you are in a multiracial Jewish family right now, the Jewish Multiracial Network has a resource for you, a Welcoming Synagogues List. It’s “a list of synagogues where we as multiracial families and individual Jews of color have personally attended, felt comfortable, and are now recommending to others.” Aliza Hausman (who writes for IFF)  is seeking more recommendations from Jews of color and people in multiracial Jewish families. Contact her through her page here if you are a member of our site, or at jewminicana1@gmail.com. She needs to know the synagogue’s name, a link to the synagogue website and the city, state and country where the synagogue is located.

One more piece of good news: Rashida Jones, an African-American Jewish actress, singer and model has exceeded her coolness quotient by writing a graphic novel, Frenemy of the State which she’s now adapting for the big screen. Hat tip to Adam Serwer, who mentioned it on Twitter.

Black Jews at the Inauguration

A number of Jews from racially mixed backgrounds are attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama, according to the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

One of them is Lacey Schwartz, who is now the New York regional director of Be’chol Lashon, the Institute’s initiative for Jews of racially diverse backgrounds. She also made a documentary called Outside the Box, about Jews of mixed-race backgrounds. We blogged about her a few years ago.

Another is Rabbi Capers Funnye, the spiritual leader of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian synagogue in Chicago. Funnye is First Lady Michelle Obama’s cousin; his mother and Michelle’s paternal grandfather were siblings.

According to the Institute, 20% of the U.S.’s Jews are of racially or ethnically diverse backgrounds. While that number is quite a bit higher than other estimates, there is no question that young people from mixed-race backgrounds are becoming more visible in the American Jewish community. Apparently they will be visible at the Inauguration too.

New leadership and refreshing attitudes!

On December 7th, I was one of the 100 plus Young Jewish Leaders who took part in the PLP SkillsSummit in NYC to develop young talent so the leadership of the Jewish community can be turned over to the next generation. This conference was also designed to give young Jewish leaders the opportunity to network with each other and build partnerships which can help us transform the Jewish community for our generation. I met a lot of great people I am looking forward to seeing at the next PLP event.

Attending as a professional from InterfaithFamily.com was an amazing experience because almost everyone I spoke to told me about how they were in an interfaith relationship themselves or how an interfaith relationship effected their life. Some compared being a Jewish professional in an interfaith relationship like being “gay and in the closet.” When two people used this expression independently of each other, I was shocked, saddened and dismayed how these people who have dedicated their lives to the Jewish community did not feel like they could be themselves within their own community. But there is good news, too. Continue reading

The Tribe

Bar Mitzvah BarbieI loved this short film The Tribe on Jewish identity when I saw it online last week. It’s funny–all that stuff about Barbie, and the animation–but I think what it has to say about Jewish identity will resonate with our readers. I liked the poetry-slam style poem by Vanessa Hidary at the end of the film. I’m happy to say that I found the full text of the poem here–apparently what was in the film was just an excerpt. The film is embedded below the cut. Continue reading

Taking it seriously, making it sweet

InterfaithFamily.com has been in the press lately, and I just wanted to share some of the articles and some quotes with you.

Shabbat Candles by Jordan CharkJulie Wiener wrote a column this past week on why her interfaith family is committed to lighting Shabbat candles. She found out she’s not unusual:

Interestingly, there are quite a few of us die-hard candle-lighting interfaith families. A recent study by Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies found that (at least in the Boston area) 54 percent of interfaith families who are raising Jewish children light Shabbat candles “all of the time” or “usually,” compared to 36 percent of Conservative families and 20 percent of Reform families in which both parents are Jewish.

As Ed Case, the publisher of InterfaithFamily.com, explains it, “many intermarried families take Jewish involvement more seriously, and try harder than in-married families who may take their Judaism for granted.” Continue reading

The Art of (Speaking About) Intermarriage

Esther Kustanowitz, the prolific blogger, columnist and editor of PresenTense, has written a column about her experience speaking about intermarriage–or more accurately, serving as “session artist” for a workshop on intermarriage at a conference for young Jewish leaders.

At the session, Kustanowitz read an essay from her book-in-progress about her own thoughts on intermarriage:

(To ruin the ending, I decided intermarriage wasn’t for me, and to this day I restrict my dating pool to Jews who are interested in living a traditionally Jewish life.) Continue reading

Rabbis, Weddings and Churches

This summer, we began asking wedding couples, through a follow up questionaire, if our rabbinic and cantorial referrals were helpful for their weddings.  One of our goals in providing this referral service, and the follow up questionnaire, is to help foster connection between interfaith couples and the Jewish clergy who officiate at their weddings.  We hope that the rabbis and cantors we refer are welcoming and help foster a greater connection between the couple, their wedding ceremony, and other Jewish choices they may make in their journey as a family.  And with every response to our six-month follow-up with the couples, we learn a little more about who is using this service and what their real needs are.

With a sample of responses in, here are some of my unscientific findings thus far.  It appears that more and more couples are requesting holding wedding ceremonies before the end of the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday night.  Almost half of our requests for referrals ask for Saturday weddings.  Many more than before are planning a wedding with a co-officiant of another faith, and several have asked for rabbis or cantors who will officiate in a church.  It seems that the spectrum of what interfaith couples are seeking for wedding ceremonies is expanding.  The ceremonies now range from traditional Jewish ceremonies, with all the ritual, traditions and Hebrew to ceremonies where the Jewish officiant is offering a prayer or blessing, maybe a glass is smashed, and the wedding is in a church.

Continue reading