This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
Romemu (roh·meh·moo) seeks to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice. This is a Judaism that will ignite your Spirit. We are a progressive, fully egalitarian community committed to tikkun olam, or social action, and to service that flows from an identification with the sacredness of all life.
A Light Through the Ages tells the meaning of Chanukah through story and song. With musicians from Zamir Chorale of Boston, Joshua Jacobson artistic director and original story by Rabbi Howard A. Berman of Central Reform Temple, this event concludes with a dramatic candle light ceremony. A festive reception follows.
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.
We are very pleased to announce that, thanks to a generous new grant partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, InterfaithFamily will be launching InterfaithFamily/Boston this fall. This will be our fourth InterfaithFamily/Your Community, joining Chicago, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area in our growing network of local community programs.
InterfaithFamily/Boston will have a full time Director, a 10 hour per week âambassadorâ to focus on activities and connections in the North Shore area, and 10 hours per week of marketing and project management support. This initial staffing will enable us to focus on key objectives of our IFF/Your Community model:
People in interfaith relationships will connect with Greater Boston Jewish community resources as well as with others like them, through an active âinterfaith ambassadorâ working on engagement and relationship building, resources and referrals for supporting life cycle events, a Greater Boston Community Page and robust listings of organizations, professionals and events on the online IFF Network, active social media, and traditional PR and marketing.
Jewish professionals and organizations will learn to attract, welcome and engage people in interfaith relationships, through inclusivity and sensitivity trainings, and resources on the IFF Network.
We have begun the hiring process; links to the Director and North Shore Ambassador positions are http://www.interfaithfamily.com/directorboston and http://www.interfaithfamily.com/nsambassador. Stacie Garnett-Cook, National Director of InterfaithFamily/Your Community, will supervise the Director of IFF/Boston. Deb Morandi, our Connections Coordinator, and Lindsey Silken, our Managing Editor, initially will be providing marketing and project management support.
Going forward, we are immediately seeking additional funding not only to continue the new staffing beyond July 2014, but also to expand it to a full time Project Manager, which will enable us to expand the above activities and add other key objectives of our model: helping new couples learn how to talk about and have religious traditions in their lives together, and helping people in interfaith relationships learn how â and why â to live Jewishly, through an array of consultations, workshops/group discussions, and classes.
We are extremely grateful to CJP for making this growth of the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative possible.
Leading up to and during my vacation there have been three big intermarriage stories in the media. They all revolve around whether, and how, Jewish communities are going to open their gates and draw in interfaith couples and families.
First came a JTA story by Uriel Heilman, The War Against Intermarriage Has Been Lost. Now What? The title pretty much tells the content of the article: Jewish institutions and in particular religious denominations are not âfighting against intermarriageâ so much any more; the question now is how to react to the intermarriages that are going to happen; the overall strategy appears to be to engage with the intermarried in an effort to have them embrace Judaism; the denominations differ in how far to go in that embrace, and how strongly to push for conversion. Heilman says there has been a shift in attitudes so that intermarriage is viewed as âa potential gain, in the form of the non-Jewish spouse or children who may convert.â
I’m not sure how widespread the shift in attitudes is â there have been lots of recent anti-intermarriage comments from Jewish leaders â and I think itâs unfortunate to see gain only when there is conversion. But the real issue is, what are Jewish institutions and denominations going to do to engage with the intermarried. I would be more interested in seeing a JTA article on the efforts that are underway to do exactly that.
Second was a series of three essays on MyJewishLearning.com about patrilineal descent. A Conservative rabbi, Alana Suskin, in The Non-Jewish Rabbi? The Problem of Patrilineal Descent, tells how badly she feels about not recognizing patrilineal Jews as Jewish in large part because itâs easy to convert. Then an Orthodox rabbi, Ben Greenberg, in Patrilineal Jewish Descent: An Open Orthodox Approach, also feels badly, and says that a child of Jewish patrilineal lineage, must be respected greatly for their identification with the Jewish people, their love of Judaism and of IsraelâŠ people of patrilineal descent [should] be referred to as Jews who need to rectify their status vis-a-vie Jewish law.â But Greenberg says that the Reform rabbisâ decision on patrilineality was a mistake from a âbalcony perspectiveâ because of the impact the decision had on recognition of people as Jews by other denominations.
I would say, from what I would respectfully suggest is perhaps a more important âbalcony perspective,â what about the impact the decision had on the thousands of patrilineal Jews who are now engaged in Jewish life and community? I couldnât help but make this connection when reading the Forwardâs profile of Angela Buchdahl, First Asian-American Rabbi, Vies for Role at Central Synagogue. Rabbi Buchdahl is an amazing Jewish leader â and yes, a patrilineal Jew. (At least, that is, until her college years; we proudly reprinted Rabbi Buchdahlâs essay originally in Shâma, My Personal Story: Kimchee on the Seder Plate, where she says she went to the mikveh at that time to âreaffirm her Jewish legacy.â)
[T]his is a red herring. The truth is that such questioning exists along a continuum that exists even within movements. Within the Orthodox branches of Judaism, only certain rabbis are recognized by the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel as performing accepted conversions. So yes, I agree with my colleagues that we have a responsibility to make our converts and our patrilineal Jews aware of the larger context, although I admit to doing so apologetically because I donât find these explanations to make Judaism very appealing.
Rabbi Gurevitz then focuses on what I would agree is most important:
[T]he individuals whose lives and identities we are talking about. Hereâs the bottom line. The reality is that if someone is observing Jewish practice, celebrating in Jewish time, identifying with the Jewish people, or perhaps doing none of these things but, when asked, makes a claim to be Jewish or âpart Jewishâ because of their ancestry, it is largely irrelevant to them whether you or I agree or approve. When it does become relevant is when they seek access to our institutions, and especially our synagogues. At that point, we rabbis become the gatekeepers. And we are entitled to abide by whatever formulation of what makes a Jew that we, or our larger denominations, decide. We all have our requirements. And we all have good reasons for those requirements that we can articulate to those seeking entry. But let us recognize that what we are doing is gate-keeping, and let us be mindful of how and when we act as gatekeepers and what our purpose in those moments is. And let us celebrate and be proud of sustaining and sharing a religious heritage that others wish to claim as their own and live by.
The third major story was an excerpt of a âlive discussionâ on interfaith marriage on Huffington Post, where Rabbi David Wolpe, widely-regarded as one of the most influential rabbis in America, explains why he wonât officiate at weddings of interfaith couples. Contrary to Uriel Heilmanâs perceived shift in attitudes towards seeing intermarriage as a potential gain, Rabbi Wolpe actually says (I donât have a transcript but I made notes when listening to the video) that âinvariably,â in an intermarriage, the chances that the children will be raised as Jewish are much less, and that intermarriage âalmost alwaysâ results in a diminishment of Judaism. That is the first reason he gives for not officiating at weddings of interfaith couples. I would respectfully suggest that the chances of the children being raised as Jewish and the chances of the intermarriage not resulting in âdiminishmentâ would be increased if interfaith couples could find officiating rabbis for their weddings and be spared from hearing Rabbi Wolpeâs rationale.
Rabbi Wolpe also says that he doesnât officiate because a Jewish wedding involves a marriage according to Jewish law and a person who isnât Jewish isnât subject to Jewish law. I canât argue with any rabbi who takes that position, although I think he goes too far when suggesting that itâs âbad faithâ for a rabbi to officiate because he or she isnât representing Jewish tradition. He says that is true âat least for meâ but it comes across as a cheap shot at all of the serious committed rabbis who do officiate for interfaith couples
The common thread of all of this press is, how open are our gates going to be â in our efforts to engage interfaith couples and families, in who we recognize as Jews, and in for whom we officiate. Those are the key questions. Iâm for wide open gates.
I recently had the honor of meeting five women who are due with their first babies in the fall (one brought her four week old). While none of them grew up Jewish, they are married to Jews and they want to create a home with Judaism (traditions, holidays, values) for their growing families. They all felt that their spouses did not have the literacy or resolve to accomplish this goal alone. They are seeking fellowship among other women in the same boat, and they are eager for their own Jewish learning and for ways into Jewish communal life.
Sitting with these women reminded me of a core truth of the work we do: Intermarriage is not the end of Judaism. Intermarriage does not mean the Jew is abandoning Judaism. Partners who arenât Jewish are often open and ready to take on aspects of Jewish living, even though the learning curve is often so darn steep.
One of the moms-to-be said that they are ready to join a synagogue but that she âheardâ the membership dues were $3,000. Someone else chimed in that there must be a lower rate for a new family or first time members. The first mom seemed hesitant to call the synagogue to find out.
On the High Holidays, synagogues will be filled with non-members. This is not a great term. InterfaithFamily suggests trying to avoid ânonâ in any kind of description about someone. We advocate saying ânot Jewishâ verses ânon-Jew.â The people who are not dues paying members may be friends and family of members or they may have no connection to the congregation other than they bought a ticket. How can we tell all of these people that they already âbelong?â
One idea is to have members say aloud the following words and to write them on literature that is handed out and on the homepage of every synagogue website: If you are interested in learning more about this open and warm community, please call (give the name and title of the membership person with his or her direct line and email). It is helpful to have a real person to call rather than have to search a website for membership information which is anonymous. We want our words to reflect a sentiment of welcome. If I were writing something, I would say:
If you are on this website looking for information about a place to come for Shabbat, to celebrate holidays, for classes and religious school, to meet friends or to do social justice work, join us. If you want to build a relationship with clergy who care about you, join us. Joining us isnât about writing a check. It is about showing up when you want inspiration and fellowship, support and grounding. Whether you grew up with Judaism or not, whether you want introductory classes or higher level learning, whether you can read Hebrew or have never been to a synagogue, join us. We are a diverse group and this gives us strength and purpose. All are welcome. You can help support our congregational efforts at every level and means of giving.
I know there are lots of people studying new dues structures. This is not about a dues structure–fee for service, voluntary donations, etc. This is about the feeling of what it means to be a âmember.â
Each of these five women and the new faces in synagogues over the next few weeks will make great synagogue members.
Straddling two worlds, feeling like an outsider, taking on the identity of your family but still retaining your ownâthese are all difficult positions to be in, but familiar to many. In a recent blog post on Huffington Post, Rev. Eleanor Harrison Bregman talks about being a minister married to a Jew and raising Jewish children. She is often in the minority, but as she points out, she is just as uncomfortable when she is among other Christians, because of the lack respect for other religions she sometimes witnesses.
The author was recently at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York state. She found herself among many religious leaders, discussing topics of inclusiveness. There, post yoga-session, she found herself getting a very spiritual reminder of âwhat is possible when we can be confidently rooted in our own traditions enough to reach out, embrace, and learn from âthe other.â”
Finkelman says that liberal American Jewry has a lot to gain from embracing LGBT married Jews, but that embracing intermarried Jews is an âuphill climbâ that will âdepend on a huge investmentâ that he clearly thinks is not worth making.
This analysis is misguided on many levels, but what immediately comes to mind is the very small numbers of people who would be impacted by embracing LGBT married Jews. Please donât get me wrong, Iâm all in favor of including LGBT Jews â and their partners â in Jewish life and community. But it is well known (perhaps not to Finkelman) that the rate of interfaith relationships is much higher among LGBT Jews than among straight Jews. The 2011 New York community study, for example, found (at 249) that while 22% of married Jews there were intermarried, 44% of LGBT married Jews were intermarried.
These wedge-driving arguments are really troublesome; many lay Jews are already upset with rabbis who will not officiate for interfaith couples but will officiate for LGBT couples if both partners are Jewish. I canât imagine that advocates of Jewish LGBT inclusion would agree with Finkelmanâs analysis and encourage more attention to the LGBT community at the expense of efforts to engage the intermarried. There has to be room in our communal efforts to do both.
Now, I have never met Adam Levine or Behati Prinsloo, and I donât know much about either of them. But I do know that all too often when interfaith couples get engaged I hear conversations like the one I quoted above between the mother and her sonâconversations disparaging the couple and their relationship.
I think that if we in the Jewish community continue to speak like thatâto insult people who marry out of the faith by using derogatory terms and referring to their marriage as a sinâthen itâs unlikely that they will want to become part of the Jewish community and to raise children that they may have as Jews. Like the Jewish Journal, I would rather wish these couples well. Rather than treating interfaith marriage as a threat, isnât it better to treat it as an opportunity for the Jewish people to grow, evolve and thrive?
Would I like to see Adam Levine and every other Jewish man out there marry a Jewish woman? Sure I would. But thatâs not always the way things work. And the fact is that Adam Levine didnât ask me who he should marryânor have any of the Jewish men at whose interfaith wedding ceremonies I have officiated. Instead, theyâve come to me already in love, asking me to officiate at their wedding ceremoniesâasking me, in essence, to accept their choices and to be welcoming toward the women with whom they have fallen in love and chosen to spend the rest of their lives. Iâm honored to be approached by these couples, and I embrace the opportunity not just to bless their unions but also to teach them about Judaism and to serve as a welcoming representative of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people.
I hope that the two of you will have honest conversations about the role religion plays in your lives, even if it isnât always easy. And if you have children, I hope that you will seriously explore the option of raising them as Jews. For now, know that we here at InterfaithFamily, and many people in the Jewish community, are happy for you and we would love to welcome both of you into our midst.
*The terms shiksa (woman who is not Jewish) and goyim (people who are not Jewish) are sometimes, as in the case of this conversation, used by Jews in a pejorative manner.
** After I came home and Googled Adam Levine, I learned that his father and maternal grandfather were Jewish and he considers himself Jewish, but his mother is not Jewish. This means that according to traditional Jewish law, which requires that the mother be Jewish in order for the child to be Jewish, Adam isnât Jewish. So while I, as a Reform Jew, accept the idea of patrilineal descent and I recognize him as Jewish, ironically, the woman having the conversation with her son would not even consider Adam to be Jewish if she were aware of his lineage.
When I was ordained as a Reform Rabbi in 2000 I was certain that I would never officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies. I felt that as a rabbi, my role was to preside over ceremonies only for Jews. I was fully comfortable welcoming interfaith couples into the congregation where I worked and recognized that this could be beneficial for both the couple and the congregation. I accepted patrilineal descent (meaning that if the father is Jewish and the mother is not Jewish, their child is recognized as Jewish if he or she is raised as a Jew; in contrast, traditional Jewish law recognizes only matrilineal descent, insisting that the mother be Jewish in order for the child to be considered Jewish) and so I recognized the children of all interfaith marriages as Jewish.
When a couple with one Jewish partner and one partner of another faith tradition would come to me and ask me to officiate at their wedding ceremony, I would say something to the effect of: âNo. But I will fully welcome you into my community after your wedding and I hope that you and any children you may have will be active participants.â
For years, I was comfortable with this positionâwhat I now think of as my âNo. ButâŠâ stance. Over time, however, I came to realize that what many of these couples heard me say was simply the âNo,â and not anything that I said after the âBut.â While I thought I was being welcoming, I only looked at the situation through my own eyes, rather than from the perspective of the couple that I was, in essence, turning away.
I eventually came to see that the Jewish partner, who was coming to a rabbi and asking for acceptance and for a rabbi to be part of this major event in his or her life, could feel very hurt by my stanceâas if he or she was being rejected by me (and by implication by the Jewish community) for having fallen in love with someone who was not Jewish. And for the partner who was from another faith tradition (or perhaps did not feel connected to any tradition), for whom this was sometimes his or her first contact with a member of the Jewish clergy, the first thing they were told was âno.â No matter what came after my âBut,â it was often the ânoâ that resonated most loudly.
Fortunately, I live in an area where there are many wonderful rabbis and cantors who have officiated at interfaith wedding ceremonies for years, so the couples that I turned away were able to find other Jewish clergy to officiate at their weddings. To this day, I have remained in touch with some of the couples at whose weddings I had refused to officiate, and I have seen what the power of being welcomed by other rabbis and cantors from the very beginning has meant to them. I only hope that there are not any couples I declined to marry who were so turned off by the perceived rejection that they did not seek out other Jewish clergy to officiate at their wedding, and then did not seek out further involvement in the Jewish community.
For me, there was not any great epiphany that caused me to start officiating at interfaith weddings, but rather it was a slow evolution. My evolution came about as I saw many couples where one partner was not Jewishâand families where one parent was not Jewishâbeing actively engaged in Jewish life and the Jewish community. It came about as I learned that things are not always âblack and whiteâ and that real life is about the âgreyâ areasâthe complicated family dynamics, the fact that someone who practices one religion can fall deeply in love with someone who practices another religion, and so on. This is the complicated, messyâand often beautifulâreality of life. And I decided that rather than view it as a threat, I would view it as an opportunity.
About four years ago, I began for my first time to work with an interfaith couple in preparation for their wedding. I loved working with them and having the opportunity to discuss all of the challenges and blessings of their relationship. I wondered, though, how I would feel as I stood under the chuppah(wedding canopy) with this couple. After all, this would be a new experience for meâsomething outside of my usual comfort zone that would mean doing something that for years I had professed I would never do. And you know what? Lighting didnât strike me as I stood under the chuppah!
In fact, when the ceremony was over and I had a chance to reflect on my emotions, I felt great. I had participated in a sacred moment with this couple. I had honored their differences and celebrated their union. And hopefully, on their journey toward marriage, I had exposed them to some of the richness and beauty of Judaism and made them feel TRULY welcome.
In the last few years, Iâve been blessed to work with a number of terrific interfaith couples as they have prepared for their weddings. In each case, I have welcomed the conversations of complex issues of identity and belonging, honoring and sharing, feelings of gain and of loss. I feel that I have grown as a rabbi and a person from my connections with these couplesâfrom embracing the complexity of life and the beauty of their relationships. I hope that they too have grown from our working together, both as individuals and as a couple.
My stance toward interfaith couples is no longer âNo. ButâŠâ Now it is âYes. AndâŠâ In essence, I now tell couples: âYes, I will marry you. And I hope that you and your family will feel welcome and become involved in the Jewish community.â
I think that after hearing âYesâ from me, they are a lot more likely to hear what comes after the âAndâŠâ I believe with all my heart that if a couple sees the door to Judaism as wide open and welcoming, they are more likely to cross over the threshold. Rather than shut that very first door in the face of an interfaith couple, I now hold it open for them and accompany them as they walk through.
As the new managing editor at InterfaithFamily, I want our blog to be a place where our readers can find out about the âinterfaith conversationâ thatâs happening when it happens in the Jewish and secular media. Yesterday, 21-year-old Rachel Cohen wrote an informed piece on The Daily Beast, âWhy Jews Should Stop Worrying About Intermarriage,â challenging Jewish communal leaders to essentially, be less offensive. She speaks to the inclusion we at IFF are working toward much more succinctly than I could, and she speaks directly for her generation:
âWe want to live in a society where people can and should marry whomever they love. Consequently, we want those partnerships to be welcomed with open arms by our government, and by our communities.â
Cohen is getting clear messages from the Jewish community. But theyâre not the ones she wants to hear: We support you, as long as you marry another Jew.
Interfaith marriage is not the problem, as Cohen sees it. Alienating Americaâs Jewish youth from Jewish communal life is.
In discussing interfaith marriage, language matters. I was reminded of this truth in watching the play Invasion of Skokie. The play pivots on the 1978 Nazi march in Skokie, Illinois. At the time, Skokie had a very high percentage of Holocaust survivor residents. The American Nazi party petitioned the city of Skokie for the right to hold the march there.
When the city granted the motion on the grounds of free speech, the city erupted in tension. Jews were on both sides of the issue. Some strong free speech advocates contended that no matter how heinous and offensive the Nazi message was, the First Amendment guaranteed them the right to march. A larger group, including many survivors, condemned the march and, according to the play, took up arms as a means of defense.
The play revolves around one family in which this tension plays out. The father opposes the march and works with a group arming themselves to fight the Nazis. His daughter supports the rights of the marchers, even as she finds their message horrible. The third character is known as the “ShabbosGoy,” playing on an ancient (and to our ears, a very offensive) designation of a non-Jewish person who turns lights and stoves on and off in a Jewish home or synagogue on Sabbath when observant Jews are forbidden from doing so.
As I led a discussion group after the play, I realized the importance of language in speaking to interfaith couples. Had the father not dismissed the potential marriage or focused immediately on conversion, I think the couple would have responded differently. Their relationship with him would have played out differently. We would have experienced a more honest and open discussion.
That is one of the lessons we teach at InterfaithFamily. When we see the issues of Jewish identity and family in black and white terms; when we think that conversion is the only way to have Judaism in the home, we often close the doors for future Jewish life.
The play brought up many feelings some still hold. If we care about passing on Judaism to the next generation, then we have to listen, accept and love. We fill find that there will be openings for Judaism to live vibrantly for couples and families who have been welcomed and supported.
When you fall in love and decide that your partner is going to be the person you want to share your life with, life can seem blissful. If you start thinking about children, the future seems rosy and exciting. Some of you might be aware that the Jewish population may be at risk for certain genetic diseases. When a couple is from two different religious backgrounds, a they may think they are in the clear. A mix of genes from a variety of cultures should lead to a more robust gene pool, they think. Remember we learned in high school that both parents have to carry the gene for the child to be at risk. So an interfaith couple should be unlikely to produce a child with genetic issues, right? Maybe not.
I recently saw a news story that members from the Irish community were having children with Tay Sachs (a genetic disease that can occur with people from eastern European descent). This got me thinking. Do allÂ of us truly know who our great, great, great grandparents were? Is there a chance that our ancestors left Spain in 1492? Is there a chance that one of our ancestors was born to Jewish parents but decided to become another religion to avoid religious persecution? I realized, this entire country was founded upon the basis of freedom of religion! Obviously, throughout the world, the freedom to practice oneâs religion has been (and in many places continues to be) at risk. So chances are high that one of our ancestors could have been from a different religion or culture. With such a possibility, it makes sense that we might not truly know our genetic makeup. When I think about it further, anti-Semitism has been around for thousands of years. So the chances that an ancestor was Jewish and then converted to another religion to avoid persecution is possibly quite high.
At the Victor center, statistics say that one in four Jews is a carrier for at least one of 19 preventable Jewish genetic diseases. The mission of the Victor Center for the Prevention of Jewish Genetic Diseases is to ensure ongoing access to comprehensive genetic education, counseling services and screenings. This is accomplished through Jewish community education programs and screening programs for healthy individuals at risk for being carriers of a gene mutation for any one of these diseases. The Victor Center recommends that the Jewish partner be tested first. If the Jewish partner has no issues, then there is no need for additional genetic testing.
It is obviously a scary proposition to think about âwhat ifâ and what decisions that might need to be made if there is a problem. That is the point of testing. Then you know and can move forward. More important, once you know that you are in the clear, you can stop worrying about genetic diseases. Genetic counselors can explain all the issues, risks and options. Genetic testing is a simple blood test but it can provide peace of mind. With peace of mind, you can start focusing on the other exciting aspects of upcoming parenthood.
If both are carriers, what are the reproductive options?
There are many reproductive options available to carrier couples, including prenatal diagnosis (chorionic villus sampling and amniocentesis), pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, gamete donation and adoption. Genetic counseling is recommended to learn more about all of the reproductive options. To speak with the genetic counselor at The Victor Center, please call (215) 456-8722. Additionally, your rabbi or other clergy may be able to provide insight and help in making these decisions.Everyone is different and every couple is different. The point is this: You and your partner should just think about being tested. It is a good discussion to have and there are genetic counselors ready to help no matter what you decide.