When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
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.
That’s the question posed by a study published in the September 2007 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, reports Christianity Today:
The authors noted studies confirming positive effects of religious participation on the lives of children in the form of higher self-esteem, overall satisfaction, higher grades, and reduced usage of drugs and alcohol. Given the likelihood that mixed-faith marriages would tend to reduce religious participation and cause marital conflict, the authors hypothesized that children would be negatively impacted by these marriages.
The study produced surprising results. Children of religiously unmatched parents did not manifest lower grades, lower self-esteem, or lower satisfaction. But they were far more likely to use marijuana and engage in underage drinking.
Hunter Baker of Christianity Today interviewed Richard Petts, the Ph.D. student at Ohio State who co-authored the study. I can’t tell for certain–the study is subscription-only–but the tenor of the interview suggests that the study looked at mixed-faith marriages among different Christian groups rather than Jewish-Christian intermarriages.
When Alex Schindler pioneered outreach in the early ’80s, the focus was on interfaith couples. It was all about getting those who had intermarried to feel welcome in the Jewish community, and feel like the Jewish community was something they wanted to be part of.
But what about their children?
According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, there are 360,000 Jews aged 18 to 29 whose parents are Jewish and something else. While some of these children benefited from the outreach revolution of the ’90s, most did not. Yet the Jewish community’s outreach efforts remain mostly focused on interfaith couples.
Not much time to blog today, but I need to mention these two great articles from The Jewish Week that are now a few days old:
Rabbi Beth Nichols, the daughter of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, writes about her experience as an interfaith child in the rabbinical seminary. On Christmas day 2001, she was in Jerusalem at Hebrew Union College, attending a class on intermarriage:
I found it both ironic and disconcerting to be discussing intermarriage on Christmas Day. That morning I approached my professor to express my apprehension for the day’s class: “I know we’re talking about intermarriage, and, well, this is my first Christmas away from home.” Registering his look of surprise, I explained, “My Dad’s not Jewish, and Christmas was a really important time in his childhood, so it became an important time in my family. I’m Jewish, obviously, but Christmas has a lot of wonderful family memories attached to it.”
I’ve been meaning to give a shout-out to our friends at Jew-ish.com for a while, but better late than never. Since February, they’ve had a blog on interfaith marriage called Half-Torah (clever title). It was originally written by a gay man named Brian who was converting to Judaism; since May, it’s been written by a Jewish woman named Becca married to a non-Jewish “Jew-ish” man. I haven’t read every post, but I believe “Jew-ish” means that he doesn’t have any Jewish roots, but he’s so involved in Jewish life that he’s essentially an honorary MOT. Check it out. Becca puts up new posts more frequently than I do, and she’s not even paid for it.
Here’s the latest update on the polls we’ve conducted since July 10, the last time I updated you on our polls. Our July 10 poll asked “Can a person be half-Jewish?” and respondents were almost evenly split: 53% said “Yes, of course” and 47% said “No, you’re either Jewish or you’re not.” The July 31 question also saw a fairly even split. In response to the question “Is divorce harder for an interfaith couple than an all-Jewish couple?”, 55% said for an interfaith couple, 45% said for an inmarried couple. However, in response to our Aug. 14 question–”Is making your partner happy a sufficient reason to convert to Judaism?”–nearly all of the respondents (90%) said No. And most of you (60%) thought that children should not be allowed to decide their religion for themselves, according to our Aug. 28 poll.
The few studies on the Jewish affiliation patterns of children of interfaith families have consistently shown that children of intermarriage have stronger Jewish identities as adults if they are bar or bat mitzvahed.
This article and video from The Charlotte Observer tells the story of Paloma Wiener, 16, and her brother, Brandon, 15, who are studying for their bat and bar mitzvah together. Their mother is Mexican and their father is Jewish, and they moved to Charlotte from California recently, so they got a late start on studying to become b’nai mitzvah. The fact that they are going through the process at a later age reaffirms their commitment to Judaism, and makes it highly likely their religious identity will remain with them throughout their lives. Continue reading →
I’ve got three interesting stories today about the quirks of interdating and growing up in an interfaith family. I tried to come up with a clever way to link the three, but I’m at a loss. Here they are:
On Jewcy, Jordie Gerson complains that Jewish men have a hard time seeing her as a sexual being after they find out she’s a rabbinical student. She finds she can only have flings with non-Jewish men:
…the non-Jews, they knew better. They knew that in my world they were not welcome, at least not for long. Well, by me, maybe, they’d be welcome. But not by the places I was going, and in the communities I would someday lead. Non-Jewish men assumed our relationship couldn’t become serious—and after the Jewish men who put me in the serious category automatically, this was an enormous relief.
Chris Schwarz, a photographer who opened a museum to honor the heritage of the thriving Polish Jewish community destroyed by the Holocaust, died a few weeks ago. Despite his devotion to Jewish history and remembrance, he was buried in a municipal cemetery in Krakow because his mother was not Jewish. He once said, “I am Jewish enough for the camps, but not for the rabbis.”
Also on Jewcy, the daughter of a Korean woman adopted by a Jewish family tells her story: how her mother rebelled against religion and didn’t raise her Jewish, how her grandmother “was always pushing” Judaism, how she went on a birthright israel trip because it was free, how she dated an Israeli soldier who was killed by terrorists. Now, she’s a firefighter in Israel.
BRATZ’s movie debut last week was no match for the Transformers–it made $4.2 million in its opening weekend vs. $155.4 million for Transformers–but when it comes to toy sales, it’s no contest. BRATZ has generated more than $2 billion in revenue, and its sales are closing the gap on the most successful girl’s toy in history, Barbie.
So what–or who–are Bratz? They’re the anti-Barbie, large-headed, wide-eyed, multiethnic dolls who wear skimpy clothes and are supposed to be teenagers, unlike the mature, demure 20-something Barbie. Like Barbie, they were created by a Jewish entrepreneur and like Barbie, they reflect the ethos of the time. When Barbie debuted in 1959, the ideal of feminine happiness was white, blonde, rich and monogamous; in 2007, the ideal is younger, more racially diverse, sassier and independent. Continue reading →
This is the other side of the coin of those who define themselves as half-Jews while the Jewish community insists on defining them as Jews or non-Jews. Susser considers herself Jewish, while society in general considers her half-Jewish and the traditional parts of the Jewish community consider her not Jewish at all.
I knew I was Jewish enough that the other kids at school made jokes about picking up pennies and told me I was going to hell, Jewish enough that my first “boyfriend” at summer camp had broken up with me when I told him my religion. “I hate Jews,” he’d said simply.
This sense of being both on the inside and outside of the Jewish community made affiliation difficult for her. In college, she worried that she would be “outed” at Hillel events. At synagogue, she cried. When she got engaged to a Jewish man, her Reform rabbi told them theirs was a mixed marriage. The amazing thing is, despite her bad experiences, she still identifies strongly as a Jew, lighting Shabbat candles and sending her daughter to Hebrew school.
For years, people have been saying they were half-Jewish, but the Jewish establishment never gave the moniker any credence. The different denominations are divided on what makes someone Jewish–the Orthodox and Conservative say only a Jewish mother can have a Jewish child, the Reform and Reconstructionist movements say a Jewish father can have a Jewish child provided the child is raised Jewish–but they are united in their opposition to the notion of divided identity. You can’t be half-Jewish. You either are Jewish, or you’re not.
But a growing number of grass-roots efforts are looking to gain acceptance for those who identify themselves as half-Jewish: Continue reading →
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