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 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 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, 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.

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Do Children of Intermarriage Do Worse?


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.

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The Forgotten 360,000

j cover

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.

The latest cover story for j, the Jewish news weekly of northern California, explores this untapped population of children of interfaith couples. It’s a very diverse population, ranging from children who grew up with no religion, to children who grew up with too much religion, to children who were raised solidly in one faith.
Continue reading

The Rabbi Formerly Known as Half-Jewish


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.”

Continue reading

The Link Sink


I’ve been meaning to give a shout-out to our friends at 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.

In Broward County, Fla., a large Jewish cemetery, the 52-acre Star of David Cemetery and Funeral Home, is adding 31 acres and 10,000 plots for intermarried Jews and their families.

Adam Goldberg, son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, says he is tired of being typecast as a neurotic Jew.