New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
I recently got introduced to a childrenâ€™s book called Zero by Kathryn Otoshi. Itâ€™s a book aimed at preschoolers, but adults will also love it. In the book, Zero feels left out of the counting that all the other numbers get to do. They have value as counted numbers, but Zero doesnâ€™t. She tries to impress those numbers with little success and even tries to look like them. Zero then realizes that she can convince the other numbers that if they add her on, they will count as a higher number. With Zero, they became 10, 20, 30, 100 and more. After reading this book, my kids and I were prompted to a discussion about how it feels to be left out and how sometimes we want to dress like someone else or act like someone else to fit in.
As the story of Zero unfolded, my interfaith family inclusion buzzer went right off! (This happens to me quite often.) It reminded me of a talk I heard earlier this year at Temple Sholom that was sponsored by A Wider Bridge. The talk was given by the leaders of The Aguda, an Israeli NationalÂ LGBT Task Force.Â They shared about a tour they did in LA of one of the largest LGBTQ agencies in the world. When they asked an agency executive about where their work would be headed in the next 10 or 15 years, the executive responded that maybe they can work themselves out of a job in the decades to come. The Aguda leaders thought this was a sad answer because they believe it will take years to win legal equal rights across all areas that touch LGBTQ people in America and internationally. It might take just as long to bring about cultural acceptance including ending homophobic and transphobic discrimination. The Aguda leaders hope that when that day comes, there would be many more agencies and organizations devoted to LGBTQ people because communities around the globe would feel incomplete without the overt contributions that queer people would bring. In other words, queer people and their varied lenses of life would add essential value to leadership positions, boards and councils in all professions.
To me, the same is true when it comes to interfaith family inclusion in Jewish life. Congregations need to find ways to support couples around lifecycle events, especially weddings. They may also need to translate Hebrew so that people reading their website or sitting in services will have a more meaningful experience. Classes should be offered so that people who need a refresher or a first-time explanation have ways to learn. Rabbis need to share stories during family Shabbat gatherings that represent same-sex parents, single parents, interfaith families, gender non-confirming children and racially diverse families.
Congregations should look at membership forms, school enrollment materials and written ritual policy statements to make sure they are inclusive and sensitive. It will go far when congregants acknowledge the gift a parent who didnâ€™t grow up with Judaism is giving to help raise children with Judaism. It is wonderful when the parent who isnâ€™t Jewish can be referred to in the positive (rather than just â€śnon-Jew,â€ť) as someone who is Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, secular and so forth, along with the other parts of their identity like activist, volunteer, their profession, etc.
For families like mine, where both partners are Jewish, and for Jewish professionals, the main lesson from Zero is that we need to realize people from different backgrounds in our communities enrich our expression of Judaism. Inclusion of people who didnâ€™t grow up with Judaism should be seen as equal to those of us who did grow up with Judaism, and the gazillions of complicated amalgamations in between help us all count more. A diverse community adds energy, creativity, beauty and depth to this ancient and always dynamic civilization of Judaism.
Thank you to Zero for reminding me of this sacred goal.
This post originally appeared onÂ www.edumundcase.comÂ and is reprinted with permission
News in the past few weeks highlights the issue of where interfaith families might find genuinely welcoming Jewish communities.
First, I was so pleased to learn that Rev. Eleanor Harrison Bregman and Peter Bregman are being honored by Romemu, a thriving emerging spiritual community in Manhattan where Eleanor, an ordained United Church of Christ minister, works as Director of Multi-Faith Initiatives.
Thatâ€™s right â€“ an ordained Protestant minister on staff at a Jewish spiritual community, which Eleanor describes as committed to radical hospitality and inclusivity: â€śAt RomemuÂ theÂ diversity of traditions, voices, and practices in our midst is considered a gift that can support us all in living holy lives.â€ťÂ I first met Eleanor when she was a well-received speaker at the Interfaith Opportunity Summit in October 2016; she talked about the â€śStrangers No Moreâ€ť program she created to support interfaith families, couples, and those who are not Jewish at Romemu, and to expand the centrality of deep respect for all faith traditions there.
But thereâ€™s more to that story, because I first met Peter Bregman in July 2004, when he was trying, unsuccessfully, to find a seminary where he could be ordained as a rabbi despite being intermarried. What an amazing arc of developments over the thirteen years since then. Now, Peter could be accepted at the trailblazing Reconstructionist Rabbinical College if he were applying at this time, and now, a trailblazing Romemu is demonstrating genuine welcoming of interfaith families by putting a minister on staff.
Second, and about the same time, the JTA ran an important and I think related story by Ben Sales, Outside the Synagogue, Intermarried are Forming Community With Each Other. He writes that interfaith couples are finding Jewish connection through a range of initiatives aimed at intermarried or unaffiliated couples, mentioning Honeymoon Israel and Circles of Welcome at the JCC Manhattan, among others.
Julie Wiener just wrote a great short history of the intermarriage debate for MyJewishLearning.com â€“ one of her subtitles is â€śFrom Taboo to Commonplaceâ€ť â€“ that alludes to interfaith families finding community in new and alternative forms of organization when discussing resources for interfaith families.
As quoted by Sales, one participant in a program says â€śIt was nice to go to a group where everyone was in the same sort of boat. Thereâ€™s a real dialogue rather than someone telling you their opinion of what your situation is.â€ť One program creator says she wanted to enable couples that come from mixed religious backgrounds â€śto ask questions in a safe space.â€ť
Sales quotes Jodi Bromberg, CEO of InterfaithFamily, as explaining that interfaith families that want to experience Jewish life have had to use other resources â€śbecause of the history of interfaith families not being welcoming and not being accepted.â€ť (He could have added that InterfaithFamily/Your Community rabbis in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC are offering meet-ups, discussion groups and reunions that are attracting hundreds of interfaith couples.)
Sales also quotes Avi Rubel, co-CEO of Honeymoon Israel, as saying that â€śWhen it comes to building community and meeting other people, people want to bring their whole selvesâ€¦ in America that means being inclusive of [those who are not Jewish] and other friends.â€ť I certainly agree with that. (The Pew Research Center coincidentally released a new report today about increased positive feelings Americans have for various religious groups, with Jews scoring the highest; Americans express warmer feelings toward religious groups when they are personally familiar with someone in the group, and 61 percent of Americans now say they know someone Jewish.)
Rubel also says that interfaith couples are â€śuncomfortable with settings that, by their nature, are not meant for [those who are not Jewish]â€¦.â€ť â€“ and thatâ€™s more complicated, and raises a profound question, and brings me back to Romemu.
The profound question is whether Jewish organizations, including synagogues and emerging spiritual communities, â€śare not meant for [those who are not Jewish]â€ť or, to eliminate the double negative, are meant for just Jews. Romemu obviously would not say â€śwe are not meant for [those who are not Jewish];â€ť Eleanor says the diversity of traditions there is considered a gift that supports all. Romemu equally obviously would not say that is it meant only for Jews.
I believe that there are some synagogues that genuinely welcome interfaith families, and certainly that many more are trying to. But even Steven M. Cohen is quoted by Sales as acknowledging that the people who feel most welcome in synagogues are â€śthe people who fit the demographic of the active groupâ€ť â€“ referring to inmarried Jews with children. Moreover,
It follows from the fact that the new groups of intermarried couples by their nature are not â€śmeant for Jewsâ€ť that they are welcoming spaces for interfaith couples, who are comfortable with other people like them. I believe that it is important for mainstream Jewish organizations, including synagogues and emerging spiritual communities, to decide that they are not â€śmeant for Jewsâ€ť but instead are â€śmeant forâ€ť Jews and their partners and all people who want to engage in Jewish traditions with other similarly engaged people. They are Jewish organizations not because they are â€śfor Jewsâ€ť but because Jewish traditions are engaged in there. Starting from that perspective would naturally lead to taking steps to making those who do not come from a Jewish background not feel intimidated or like a minority, and being less dogmatic and open to contributions from different traditions. That must be what is happening at Romemu, and what needs to happen at many more Jewish organizations, and I believe is the kind of thinking behind the Reconstructionistsâ€™ decision to ordain intermarried rabbis, too.
Thereâ€™s an interesting exchange at the end of the JTA story. Rabbi Miriam Farber Wajnberg, who runs the Circles of Welcome program (and was another well-received speaker at the Interfaith Opportunity Summit) says intermarried Jews wonâ€™t remain forever separate, and sees her program â€śas a stepping-stone to a time when the larger community is more open to non-Jewish spouses.â€ť She hopes her program wonâ€™t need to exist in the future.
But the couple quoted in the story says they feel a sense of belonging to the intermarried groups that have formed: â€śthese are the people who get usâ€¦ [t]his is our community.â€ť The challenge for mainstream and emerging Jewish organizations is to make intermarried people feel about them, the way they feel about their intermarried groups. The starting point for that to happen is for organizations to decide they are for all who are interested, and then to demonstrate radical hospitality and inclusion.
Eleanor and Peter will be honored at Romemuâ€™s benefit, â€śAwaken Your Voice,â€ť on April 6, 2017. I hope the event will be a great success â€“ it deserves to be.
The extreme weather conditions and the long dark nights of the winter months can be harsh for many of us. But from Thanksgiving until around Valentineâ€™s Day, itâ€™s also a popular time when couples get engaged. It can also be a time when couples who are getting married in the spring and summertime are knee-deep in wedding planning. Whether youâ€™re dating, engaged, already married, considering or expecting children, winter can be a good time to hunker down, get cozy and talk about your vision for your partnership.
There have been many articles in recent years about questions for interfaith couples to discuss before getting married, like this one. Sometimes, interfaith or intercultural couples have more considerations. For example, if both partners come from very different cultural or religious families there is a lot to learn. If one is religious and the other isnâ€™t, if one has a large family and the other doesnâ€™t, or if one has a very tight knit family and the other doesnâ€™tâ€”any of these things can be an adjustment for both partners. There will need to be negotiation around which side of the family you celebrate which holidays with and about making sure everyone feels included, especially if both are religious, have strong cultural ties or close families. But let me be clear, these discussions are good for all couples. For every couple, there are family dynamics and personalities to navigate.
I often suggest to couples I work with that they create a vision for themselvesâ€”a vision for your life together, for the home you want to create, for the family you build together. If youâ€™ve never considered creating a vision before, here are some questions to consider. Each partner should write down their own responses before sharing with the other partner.
Questions to Define Your Interfaith Family Vision:
Once each partner has had a chance to think about these questions for themselves, they should discuss with their partner. If you dread these kinds of big conversations or decision making, make this fun by doing it over your favorite meal or as a special date. Bring openness and curiosity to the process. You may surprise yourself or your partner. Be realistic about what your life looks like now but how it may look different in the future. If youâ€™ve dropped a lot of your religious practices during your dating years but want your child to have a bar or bat mitzvah down the road, think about what that really meansâ€”likely getting back into your observance or joining a congregation and providing an education for your kids. If youâ€™re partner has agreed to raise children in a faith different from their own, talk about what entails.
If you find this brings up more issues or your think you might need some help, consider taking the Love and Religion Workshop through InterfaithFamily, doing an Imago Therapy couples workshop or retreat or finding a couples counselor or coach. Any of these resources will give you more tools for your relationship and help in creating your interfaith family vision.
By Jodi Bromberg and Ed Case
A significant upcoming convening may lay the groundwork for something missing from the liberal Jewish community for the past twenty-five years: concerted action by funders and community leaders to engage more interfaith families in Jewish life and community.
InterfaithFamily, in partnership with the Jewish Funders Network and the Jewish Federations of North America, is sponsoring theÂ Interfaith Opportunity Summit: Embracing the New Jewish Reality, on Wednesday October 26, 2016 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.
The goal of the Summit is to explore â€“ with funders, federations, leaders of Jewish organizations and interfaith family engagement practitioners â€“ the issues that need to be addressed to have more interfaith families engage in Jewish life and community, and begin to build consensus for increased efforts towards that end.
Jewish leaders have repeatedly expressed concern since high intermarriage rates were announced in the early 1990â€™s. In most fields â€“ day schools, camps, teen engagement, Israel trips, social justice â€“ funders and professionals have joined together to plan, support and execute major programmatic activities to strengthen organizations and expand recruitment.
The field of engaging interfaith families, however, is different, distinguished by the lack of concerted action by funders and professionals. Individual organizations â€“ notably the Reform movement, Big Tent Judaism, and InterfaithFamily â€“ have developed and offered successful programmatic efforts, and generous foundations, federations and individuals have made those efforts possible with financial support. But there has never been concerted action like that in other fields, apart from a proposal for joint action by several foundations in 2008-2009 that failed because of losses dues to Madoff and the economic downturn.
It is interesting to speculate on the reasons why arguably the single most important issue for the liberal Jewish community has not attracted concerted action. It may be that intermarriage is still viewed so negatively by so many that funders and professionals are discouraged from supporting any related efforts that are not designed to discourage or prevent it. Or, that there is simply too wide a chasm between those who wish to prevent or discourage intermarriage and those that seek to embrace and welcome interfaith couples and families â€“ and therefore, no shared understanding of the way forward.
Recent signs, however, indicate a growing shift in attitudes that could support significant concerted action to engage interfaith families â€“ most notably, the award of the Genesis Prize to Michael Douglas in order to highlight the importance of welcoming intermarried families, followed by the Jewish Funders Network/Genesis Prize matching grant initiative to attract increased financial support for those welcoming efforts. In addition, there has been increased attention from organizations like Hillel, and the Union for Reform Judaismâ€™s â€śAudacious Hospitalityâ€ť work.
The Interfaith Opportunity Summit will now bring together everyone interested or potentially interested in engaging interfaith families Jewishly â€“ foundations, federations, Jewish organizations and interfaith family engagement practitioners. The initial response to the Summit is another sign of shifting attitudes; in addition to partnering with the JFN and the JFNA, participants in theÂ Summit programÂ include:
Because of the importance of understanding the lived experiences of interfaith families, Summit participants will also hear from millennial children of intermarriage, young interfaith couples, and interfaith families with young children. The grantees of the JFN/Genesis Prize matching grant initiative, and other interfaith family engagement programs, have all been invited to participate and discuss their programs with interested attendees at tables over an extended lunchtime.
The Summit will provide a rich discussion of the issues that need to be addressed to have more interfaith families engage in Jewish life and community. How can Jews and their partners from different faith traditions experience the value of Jewish wisdom, express their spirituality in Jewish settings, and feel included in â€śthe Jewish people?â€ť How can we effectively reach the spectrum of interfaith couples, from those who are seeking to those who are not, through messaging and marketing to interfaith families, and relationship building/community organizing approaches to them? What services and programs are effective entry points and ways to facilitate progress into more engagement, and what promising trends are emerging? How can we address difficult attitude and boundary issues surrounding intermarriage: privileging in-marriage, wedding officiation, ritual participation, and conversion? Can those who say they are â€śdoing bothâ€ť be included in Jewish life and communities?
The concluding plenary will tie together the preceding sessions and address what a local Jewish community needs to offer to engage interfaith families, and the appropriate roles of general programs aimed at and marketed for everyone, and programs targeted at people in interfaith relationships.
By bringing together funders and organization leaders â€“ people in a position to make things happen â€“Â with practitioners in the field, we hope to build consensus on what increased efforts need to be taken to engage interfaith families and to facilitate the possibility of concerted large-scale action towards that goal. We hope that youâ€™ll be there to join the conversation.
Jodi Bromberg is the CEO ofÂ InterfaithFamily. Ed Case, the founder of InterfaithFamily, is an independentÂ writer, speaker and consultant. More information about the Interfaith Opportunity Summit program is availableÂ here, and registration is availableÂ here.
In college, I was a Jewish representative on the student Multi-Faith Council. I have always been fascinated by other religious traditions, cultures and belief systems, while feeling strongly rooted and passionate about my own.
Like many in the more liberal branches of religion, I do not believe that Judaism is the one right religion, but rather, that there are multiple ways of living righteously and of reaching God or a higher power.
I picture a large mountain, with many paths up to the summit. Some paths meander by mountain lakes. Others offer wonderful vistas of the valley below. They all have rougher and smoother patches, and some are steeper than others. They all offer opportunities to challenge ourselves and rejoice in the beauty of the world around us. So why pick just one?
For me, I choose the path of Judaism for many reasons.Â It is the path that my parents and some (not all) of my grandparents walked before me. I have felt a sense of kinship and connection with other Jews who come from all over the world. I love the songs that echo through the hills and the teachings on signposts along the way. And I have found comfort and meaning on this trail at those key moments in my lifeâ€”after my father died, on my wedding day and in sharing Jewish holidays with my son.
Being in an interfaith marriage adds another layer to this metaphor. I see paths that intersect my own, perhaps merging for a while to diverge and wander off again; maybe looping back on each other at different times. My husband walks his own path, although he does not adhere to another particular religion at this point in his life. (He was raised Protestant and drifted away.) And our paths definitely join together for certain stretches, particularly around holidays that we share as a family, and the core values we want to pass on to our son who we are raising Jewish. But I am walking on a deeply grooved part of the trail, while in this vision he is sometimes on the grassy edge.
Then I think about families who want to incorporate both religions into their homes and family life. Can one path be wide enough to actually overlap with other paths? What do you gain in experience and what might you lose in that image?
I also think about the fellow travelers I have invited to walk with me, my mother-in-law in particular. Even when we are walking together, I expect that her perspective on the view is a little different than mine. Her history is different, and maybe I havenâ€™t done as good a job as I could explaining the different rituals and holidays that weâ€™ll encounter on the way up.
I always love to hear stories from hikers on other trails, and maybe Iâ€™ll join them on their path for a while to take in a special sight or moment, but I keep coming back to Judaism. My path is right for me, and I hope my son will find meaning in it, too.
But I like to think about intersecting trails. Interfaith families help form a bridge between paths.Â We donâ€™t have to shout across the chasms at each other, but can walk together for all or part of the way. This mountain has many sides, and all invite us to look with wonder, appreciation and amazement at the world around us and at the people who share in this journey.
What does your path look like?
Two years ago, I was sitting at a table on a warm summer evening with five young couples. They were the newest cohort of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphiaâ€™s â€śLove and Religionâ€ť workshop for interfaith couples.Â None of the couples had ever met before, and everyone listened quietly as we went around the table and each couple introduced themselves, sharing how theyâ€™d met and what had originally attracted them to each other.
Then I asked each couple to share when the issue of religion first came up in their relationship. Sarah (all names have been changed) said: â€śIt was the first December. Weâ€™d just moved in together. He really wanted to have a Christmas tree and I made it very clear that I would never have a Christmas tree in my home.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m with you!â€ť said Joan, who was sitting across from Sarah. â€śIâ€™d never allow that!Â Itâ€™s just wrong for a Jewish person to have a Christmas tree in their home!â€ť And with that, Sarah and Joan high fiveâ€™d across the tableâ€¦ newly bonded by their refusal to let their significant others have Christmas trees.
Meanwhile, I watched another couple, Amy and Dan, squirm uncomfortably in their seats.Â It was Amy and Danâ€™s turn to share next and I happened to know that after much discussion Dan had agreed to Amyâ€™s request to have a Christmas tree in their home the prior December, even though it made Dan, whoâ€™s Jewish, uncomfortable. Realizing that I needed to jump in as facilitator, I reminded the couples of one of the â€śground rulesâ€ť of our group: That we werenâ€™t discussing what was â€śright or wrongâ€ť or judging each other, but creating a safe space for discussion for all of the couples to communicate openly and figure out what was best for them. Fortunately, we were able to move on, and the five couples bonded over the following weeks, sharing openly about the challenges and blessings of their interfaith relationships.
Iâ€™ve been thinking back to that summer evening a lot in recent weeksâ€”as the topic of Christmas trees has come up multiple times in my meetings with interfaith couplesâ€¦ even though itâ€™s July!
What is it about Christmas trees? Why are they so often such a big source of conflict for interfaith couples? Hereâ€™s some of what Iâ€™ve learned from working with many Christian/Jewish couples.
For the Christian partners:
-Some of their best childhood memories are of Christmas. Christmas trees remind them of family togetherness and warmth. They often want to have a Christmas tree not just for their own sake, but so that their children can experience the magical feeling that they had when they woke up on Christmas morning and found lots of presents under their tree. So many families have special traditions and rituals for decorating their trees, opening presents, etc. Parents who have wonderful memories of Christmas as a child often want to be able to re-create their experiences for their own children, even if their children are being raised as Jews.
-Many (though certainly not all) parents who grew up celebrating Christmas say that they donâ€™t think of a Christmas tree as â€śreligious.â€ť They canâ€™t understand why their Jewish partner is uncomfortable having something in their home that to them is all about family togetherness and fond memories, and doesnâ€™t have religious significance.
For the Jewish partners:
-They often see having a Christmas tree as â€śselling outâ€ť their Judaism;Â the final step to full assimilation into the majority Christian culture. No matter what Jewish practices they do or donâ€™t follow, they view having a Christmas tree in their own home as a boundary that theyâ€™re not comfortable crossing.
-Many Jews are concerned about what other Jews (often their own parents) will think or how theyâ€™ll feel coming into their home if it has a Christmas tree.
Recently, Sue and Mark, an interfaith couple, shared with me the frustration theyâ€™re both feeling as they discuss whether or not to have a Christmas tree in their home this December. Sue lamented: â€śItâ€™s July, and we find ourselves sitting on the beach arguing about Christmas.â€ť She said that every time they start to discuss whether or not theyâ€™ll have a Christmas tree, they both start talking over each other and just shut each other out. Mark looked at me and wondered: â€śWhat should we do? Whatâ€™s the right solution?â€ť
Of course only Sue and Mark can determine whatâ€™s right for them as a couple, and whatâ€™s right for them this December may not be whatâ€™s right for them next Decemberâ€”and it certainly may not be whatâ€™s right for a different couple.Â But thereâ€™s one thing I could tell them is right for sure: to take the time to truly listen to each other and to each try to understand the emotions behind what their partner is saying.
Whether or not theyâ€™ll have a Christmas tree may be something that they finally resolve and come to agree on over time, or perhaps the issue will be a source of conflict for years.Â But if they can each respect where the other is coming fromâ€”and discuss the issue from a place of love and respect rather than anger and intoleranceâ€”then their relationship will be much healthierâ€¦ in Julyâ€”and in December.
If you are an interfaith couple where one partner is Jewish and one is Christian, do you plan to have a Christmas tree? Has having/not having a tree been a source of conflict in your relationship?Â Do you have other reasons than the ones Iâ€™ve mentioned above for having/not having a Christmas tree?
Because I have tweens in my house (today that means 7- and 9-year-olds), I have pop songs playing in the soundtrack of my brain all day. As I write the title for this blog, I am thinking of Demi Lovatoâ€™s â€śWhatâ€™s Wrong with Being Confident?â€ť My question is: Whatâ€™s wrong with saying “Jewish community?”
Youâ€™ll hear some Jewish leaders talk about the Jewish community as if itâ€™s one enterprise that needs saving and fixing. Even here at InterfaithFamily, we want the people we work with to feel connected to the â€śJewish community,â€ť to feel part of it and to know how to access it. We are open to the idea that â€śJewish communityâ€ť can be your dining room table with friends or a synagogue sanctuary or a soup kitchen with volunteers if itâ€™s sponsored by a Jewish organization. However, I have a problem with the language.
If we start with the word Jewish then some of the people at these events automatically may feel other or not included. Jewish modifies the word community. It is a community in this case because itâ€™s Jewish. I donâ€™t believe we can have an inclusive communityâ€”a community that respects, honors, sees and appreciates everyoneâ€”if we start with what some of the people are not.
Can we start with community and modify that with Judaism? A community is made up of the people coming together for a shared purpose. Maybe they are coming together for comradery around Shabbat or for social justice inspired by religion or for prayer or holidays. Judaism is a civilization that everybody can experience, learn about, try, be inspired by, commit to, carry on, speak about and support. Some of the people who take part in Judaism will be Jewish by upbringing and continue to make the choice to engage and affirm. Others will be Jewish through a conversion process, meaning that they made a decision to identify as Jewish. Others in the community cast their fate with the larger Jewish enterprise and are aligned with their Jewish family through marriage and partnership but do not call themselves personally Jewish.
I want people to engage with Judaism: a living, dynamic civilization with a land, language, history, texts, foods, cultures, music, rituals, traditions, customs and more. I want people to engage with community around these aspects of Judaism because Judaism is done with people. I hope people will call themselves Jewish with pride and raise children who see themselves as connected to Judaism and as the next link in the chain of tradition. But, if we keep saying â€śJewish community,â€ť I feel we are putting the emphasis on the wrong thing. We become ethnic and exclusive more than open and diverse.
Maybe you say that people know that the phrase â€śJewish communityâ€ť means a community gathering for the pursuit of Jewish living and learning more than a community of Jews. I say language matters and by catering to inclusion, we will emphasize that each person who shows up to engage with Judaism is equal and good enoughâ€”and a blessing. Â
As I have admitted before, I see the whole world through an interfaith family lensÂ (see my past blog postÂ HERE). I am so uber-saturated in this work that I am always thinking about the experience of the partner who isnâ€™t Jewish who is connected to someone Jewish and what it means to have interfaith families as full members of congregations. So, when I was on a four-hour flight to meet with the other seven rabbis who direct InterfaithFamily offices around the country, I saw an ad that stopped me in my tracks. It is the new Kraft Macaroni & Cheese adÂ (which might understandably be torture to watch mid-way through Passover!).
The tag line is, â€śItâ€™s changed, but it hasnâ€™t.â€ť
What does mac & cheeseÂ have to do with supporting interfaith families exploring Jewish life, our tag line at IFF? When interfaith families are truly part of a community doing Jewish (notice I donâ€™t say Jewish communityâ€”this will be the subject of my next blog post), will the community and the experience of Judaism change? Will there be anything recognizable about Judaism in the generations to come? Will the recipe have changed so much that it becomes a different thing altogether? To continue the food analogy, will interfaith families be a sweetener and add something healthier for the overall enterprise of Judaism?
I hope that when interfaith families are members and leaders of their communities, everything will change for the better. We will frame liturgy and worship in new ways, cognizant that we need to give meaning because many people there are still learning (yesâ€”this should always be the approach, but interfaith families dictate this approach). We will continue to adapt and change liturgy as it feels outdated and offensive to our diverse communities.This has been the Reform tradition since the beginning. We say what we believe.
Much of prayer is poetry and isnâ€™t literal but is evocative. Our language will change and it should feel palpable. Those who visit a congregationâ€™s website should sense change and it should feel inspiring and positive. We can look to the experience and narratives of those who didnâ€™t grow up with Judaism to enrich the context and lens by which Judaism is now taught and lived.
What do you think? When interfaith families are truly part and parcel of a community, do you sense that their inclusion changes the community over time? Can you point to the changes? Is it so normative at this point that we have a diverse community that we take this fact for granted and have moved past it in some way? As always, more questions than answers and lots of right answers.
We love Mo Willems books in our house! My little one just brought home one of his gazillions of titles called, I Really Like Slop. As I have written before, I now see the world through interfaith family lenses. When we read this story, all I could think about was interfaith couples at Passover! How in the world did I make that leap?
The book tells the story of Piggie presenting her friend Gerald, the elephant, with a pot of her slop. Gerald looks at the smelly concoction with trepidation. He asks some questions about the make-up of the slop. Piggie begs him to try some. She explains that itâ€™s part of Pig culture! Gerald touches his tongue to the slop and chokes and gags. Piggie asks Gerald if he likes it. Gerald explains that he does not like it, but he does like Piggie. And he is happy he tried it.
As are all of Mo Willemsâ€™ books, this story is precious and even poignant. It made me think about someone who didnâ€™t grow up with, letâ€™s say, gefilte fish, being presented with it for the first time at a Passover seder. This person is no doubt sitting with a significant other at their parentsâ€™ house, surrounded by family and trying to fit in and make a good impression. This person is trying to avoid any cultural faux pas. They may be worried that the haggadah (the book read during the Passover meal) will be read aloud going around the table and that there will be unfamiliar words and transliterated Hebrew to navigate (on four cups of wine, no less). And, now this person is presented with this foreign, kind of smelly food, with a gel-like substance wiggling around on top.
If you were brought up with this food and donâ€™t like it, it is easier to dismiss it. But, for a newcomer, how does one politely excuse themselves from trying it? (Especially if is homemade. This usually makes it a lot better than if itâ€™s cold from the jarâ€”although some people love that. Who am I to yuck your yum, as my childâ€™s feeding therapist implores.)
What Piggie and Gerald teach us is that we donâ€™t have to like our partnerâ€™s cultural things. They donâ€™t have to become ours. We donâ€™t have to feel comfortable eating the food or donning certain garb. We donâ€™t automatically have to feel comfortable with the language, traditions or dances. Maybe after experience and time, we will come to like things. We will make them our own. But, maybe we never will. And, thatâ€™s OK. Showing respect, asking questions, learning about and even trying aspects important to our loved ones is what matters.
Happy prepping for Passover!
I had a very interesting day yesterday.
It started with a phone interview with a graduate student in journalism writing a story about Jewish-Muslim relationships. She had a Jewish parent and a Muslim parent herself, and was involved with a group of young Jewish-Muslim couples. She told me that some of them had decided to raise their children with Judaism and some hadnâ€™t decided. I told her that at InterfaithFamily we are always interested in what influences some interfaith couples to get involved in Jewish life or not.
She said she thought that Jews were â€śexclusivistâ€ť and told me that one couple in the group approached a rabbi, I think she said about conversion, and the rabbi made a comment about Arabs and breeding that was so derogatory I donâ€™t want to repeat it here. She couldnâ€™t see it, but my jaw dropped, it was such an insulting and ignorant comment.
But sadly I shouldnâ€™t have been surprised. I immediately thought of a good friend in the San Francisco Bay Area, not Jewish herself but active in her Reform synagogue, who reported last year that a woman at the synagogue said in her presence â€śwe Jews are dumbing ourselves down by intermarrying.â€ť My friend â€“ herself at the highest level of anyoneâ€™s intelligence scale — was so shocked at how insulting the comment was that she couldnâ€™t immediately respond. And then I thought of a survey that a major city federation asked me to analyze a year or two ago in which one couple said that at a Reform synagogue someone who learned they were interfaith said â€śmaybe people like you would be more comfortableâ€ť at some other synagogue. Itâ€™s hard to believe that these comments are true â€“ yet they keep on happening.
After the phone call I went to a terrific event at the Brown-RISD Hillel co-sponsored by the Genesis Prize, Hillel International and the Jewish Agency for Israel that featured Michael Douglas and Natan Sharansky talking about their Jewish journeys. I sat next to a man who asked me what I did and then told me his story. He grew up Orthodox, had a child with his first wife, got divorced, and then married a woman who is not Jewish. His wife doesnâ€™t intend to convert but she keeps a strictly kosher home and his grandchildren call her â€śbubbe.â€ť But after he re-married his synagogue told him he couldnâ€™t have an aliyah (recite blessings before and after the Torah is read) any longer, so he left the synagogue.
This morning the Good Morning America team was talking about new variations of the Barbie doll and one of the correspondents said that her young children â€śdonâ€™t see colorâ€ť meaning they donâ€™t distinguish other children based on race. Iâ€™m not sure how widespread it is that people see people of other races as â€śnormal.â€ť I do think that young children see different constellations of parents as â€śnormal;â€ť I recently asked my 5-year-old grandson if one of â€śJoeâ€™sâ€ť two mothers wasnâ€™t a police officer, and I am quite sure he doesnâ€™t think twice about his classmates who have two mothers or two fathers.
All of this made me wonder if Jews will ever see â€śnon-Jewsâ€ť and Jews marrying â€śnon-Jewsâ€ť as â€śnormal.â€ť At InterfaithFamily we try very hard not to use the term â€śnon-Jewâ€ť which is why I put it in quotes; itâ€™s off-putting and people donâ€™t identify as â€śnon-â€ś anything. We prefer to say â€śpartners from different faith traditions.â€ť But we keep on hearing people say â€śnon-Jewâ€ť and itâ€™s very use appears to support viewing the other as not â€śnormalâ€ť â€“ an Arab who breeds â€¦ or â€śnon-Jewsâ€ť who arenâ€™t smart â€“ as well as penalizing Jews who marry them.
The last thing that happened yesterday was hearing Michael Douglas tell his story again. As he said last night, and in a great story in the Jewish Week last week, Michael Douglas was told his whole life that he wasnâ€™t Jewish because his mother wasnâ€™t Jewish. When the people from the Genesis Prize came to him and said they wanted to award him the Genesis Prize as an outstanding Jew, he said â€śthis is a mistake, Iâ€™m not Jewish.â€ť But his son has gotten the family interested, and became bar mitzvah, and they traveled to Israel, and the Genesis Prize people very wisely recognized the importance of making a statement that the Jewish community needs to recognize and welcome people who are the children of intermarriage or are intermarried themselves but engaging in Jewish life.
Dare I say that the Genesis Prize being awarded to Michael Douglas is a statement that Jews need to not only recognize and welcome, but normalize intermarriage, the children of intermarriage, Jews who intermarry and most important, the partners from different faith traditions married to Jews? It was a ray of hope to end a very interesting day.