It Happens In the Best of Families

There’s an uproar in Israel because a son of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is dating a Norwegian woman who is not Jewish. Daniel Treiman at JTA reports that some religious Knesset members are voicing dismay at the “big problem” of the son of the Prime Minister possibly intermarrying.

Almost every public statement that comes out of Israel about intermarriage equates it with assimilation and loss of Jewish identity and engagement. They just don’t get that many interfaith families are engaging in Jewish life.

It would behoove Jewish leaders to extend an embracing welcome to prominent couples who intermarry. We live in a culture crazed with celebrity – if celebrity interfaith couples engage Jewishly, that may increase the interest of others. That’s why we urged Jewish leaders to extend a big mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton a few years ago.

Speaking of mazel tov, Liel Liebovitz had it right in Tablet:

Let us say the only thing one ought to say to a young woman who has chosen to … move to Israel instead, which is shalom and welcome and so nice to have you here. And let us do whatever we can to make sure that should this young woman ever wish to become Mrs. Netanyahu Junior, she could either live comfortably and without harassment as a non-Jewish citizen of Israel enjoying equal rights and responsibilities, or, should she so wish, undergo a meaningful and beautiful conversion, a far cry from the censorious process currently offered by the imperious chief rabbinate. Until then, nothing but mazal tov to the young couple.

 

Growth at Israel in the Gardens

Booth at eventFor the first time InterfaithFamily/San Francisco Bay Area had a booth at the Jewish Community Federation’s annual Israel in the Gardens event. The event, which draws 15,000 people, once again took place at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, next to the Metreon and across the street from The Contemporary Jewish Museum. Israel in the Gardens brings together folks from across the community, Jews, their friends and allies, and sometimes just a passerby. There are also those who do not support Jewish causes and/or Israel, and they can be found picketing just outside Yerba Buena, easy to ignore once you pass through security.

Before the event, we prepared ourselves to respond to individuals who may not agree with what we do. Thankfully, we had only one individual who challenged our work (or their perception of what we do). The conversation remained cordial and he walked away.

Israel in the Gardens logoMany visitors signed up for our bi-weekly eNewsletter and an online profile on our Network. They discovered the classes and workshops that we offer, including: Raising a Child with Judaism, Preparing for Bar/Bat Mitzvah with your Interfaith Family, and Love & Religion – Online. They were pleased to find out that we offer a clergy referral service for couples getting married and those looking for Jewish clergy to officiate at lifecycle events.

The highlights were the many great conversations with interested folks. One person walked by and just gave us a thumbs-up sign. He didn’t need to stop and talk, but wanted to show his support. Another individual walked by, stopped momentarily to say “thank you for doing what you do.” One person stopped at our table to tell us his story of getting married to a wonderful woman 40 years ago, and the challenge they faced of finding a rabbi (back then). His wife was not raised Jewish and theirs was an interfaith wedding. They did find a rabbi, and were scheduled to get married at Glide Memorial Church with an Episcopalian Priest co-officiating. At the last minute, the priest’s diocese would not allow him to officiate, so they were married by a rabbi in the church. Forty years later, they are still happily married. I wish the same happiness for all couples and InterfaithFamily is here to help you succeed!

Grow with us seedsVisitors took home Forget-Me-Not seeds so that they can “Grow with us” as InterfaithFamily/SF Bay Area continues to impact the community. We look forward to growing with you!

Israel Doesn’t Want Reform Converts?

There is a very powerful op-ed in the New York Jewish Week today, Israel Doesn’t Want a Reform Convert Like Me by Rabbi Heidi Hoover who serves as rabbi of Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr Progressive Shaari Zedek in Brooklyn.

Jewish status in Israel is controlled by the Chief Rabbinate, and conversions by non-Orthodox rabbis – and now even under by some Orthodox rabbis – are not recognized. Because Rabbi Hoover converted to Judaism under Reform auspices, her conversion is not recognized, and she concludes, “Israel doesn’t want me.”

I think Rabbi Hoover is exactly right when she says,

One of the messages that American Jews receive relentlessly is that we need to support Israel. There is much hand wringing over the perceived lessening of American Jewish connection to Israel among teens and young adults, and even among rabbinical students. I believe this lessening of connection is in part due to a growing number of American Jews who cannot fully live as Jews in Israel because their status as Jews is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate….

The question of Jewish status depends on who you are asking, or whose opinion you care about. Rabbi Hoover tells people in her congregation who are converts under liberal auspices, and people who identify as Jewish whose mothers were not Jewish, that “they are, in fact, Jewish,” but she wants them to be prepared that there are those who will not recognize them as such. That’s important, especially for the many young adults raised as Jews in interfaith families whose Jewish status would be questioned by others.

I think Rabbi Hoover also is exactly right when she concludes,

It is crucial that American Jews of all denominations join to support religious pluralism in Israel, and in the United States as well. We need to find ways to respect and recognize each other’s conversions and life-cycle rituals. There are not so many of us that we can afford to be divided, and if Israel continues to disenfranchise American Jews, she cannot expect their support to continue indefinitely.

Israelis Should Not Marry Americans, the Netanyahu Edition

Oh, Israel… Seriously? Ed just came into my office to ask if I’d seen Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest post for the Atlantic.

I immediately looked it up, and, well, OY.

Basically, the Israeli government wants to convince its citizens to remain in, or return to, Israel. That’s not so bad – most countries likely share that desire. So the government has launched a campaign, targeting Israelis living in the US. Jeffrey makes some suggestions for great campaign slogans:

How about, “Hey, come back to Israel, because our unemployment rate is half that of the U.S.’s”? Or, “It’s always sunny in Israel”? Or, “Hey, Shmulik, your mother misses you”?

Unfortunately, this isn’t the route taken by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. Instead, they’re running ads that claim Israelis will lose their Jewish identities if they stay in the US too long. Worse,

The Ministry is also featuring on its website a series of short videos that, in an almost comically heavy-handed way, caution Israelis against raising their children in America — one scare-ad shows a pair of Israeli grandparents seated before a menorah and Skypeing with their granddaughter, who lives in America. When they ask the child to name the holiday they’re celebrating, she says “Christmas.” In another ad, an actor playing a slightly-adenoidal, goateed young man (who, to my expert Semitic eye, is meant to represent a typical young American Jew) is shown to be oblivious to the fact that his Israeli girlfriend is in mourning on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day.

So here are the videos. The translation of the Hebrew text at the end is mine.


They always remain Israeli.
Their children do not.
Help them return to Israel.


They always remain Israeli.
Their spouses do not always understand what that means.
Help them return to Israel.

I watched the videos, read the article, and was amazed and disgusted. Forget intermarriage, these ads seem to be saying that Israeli Jews shouldn’t marry American Jews!

I wasn’t sure what else to say about it. Thankfully, Jeffrey came to the rescue there too:

The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik (if you don’t mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.

Gross. Shame. Shonde.

Birthright and Intermarriage

An article hit the internet today that’s sure to ruffle some feathers. Written by Kiera Feldman, a “baptized child of intermarriage” who went on a Birthright trip in February of 2010, the article, “Operation Birthright,” supported by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and appearing in this week’s Nation magazine, examines the mission of Birthright trips.

Of relevance to our readers are the discussions about Birthright’s creation, with goals that included ending (combating?) intermarriage.

The story of Birthright begins with the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey. The findings unleashed a panic within the halls of American Jewish institutions: 52 percent of Jews were marrying outside the faith. Steinhardt, a legendary hedge-fund manager, was among the Jewish community leaders who rallied to confront what soon became known as the “crisis of continuity,” characterized not only by intermarriage but by the weakening of Jewish communal ties such as synagogue membership and a waning attachment to Israel. A Goldwater Republican turned chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, Steinhardt wanted to make Jewish institutions more appealing to the young. He enlisted Yitz Greenberg, a well-known Orthodox rabbi and educator, as director of the foundation that would incubate Birthright. Reflecting on that 1990 survey some years later, Greenberg said, “I felt I’d been asleep at the switch as this disaster was coming.” Birthright trips, he hoped, would shore up a social order in decline.
The originator of the Birthright idea was Yossi Beilin, a Labor Party stalwart and an instrumental figure in the Oslo Accords. Widely considered an archliberal and reviled by Israel’s right, Beilin is an unlikely figure to boast the moniker “godfather of Birthright.” In a recent phone interview, Beilin compared his worries about intermarriage and Jewish identity to “the personal feeling of an old man who wants to see that his family is still around.” Among Beilin’s top goals for Birthright: “to create a situation whereby spouses are available.” An ardent Zionist and longtime friend of Bronfman, Beilin unsuccessfully pitched Birthright to him and Steinhardt in the mid-1990s.

Have you been on Birthright? What do you think?

What They Brought Back

We’re on a bit of a Birthright kick today.

Have you seen this new anthology, What We Brought Back?  Edited by Wayne Hoffman, it’s a collection of essays by folks who have gone on Taglit-Birthright Israel trips. And it’s not just a look at what happened during their 10-day trip. Rather, it looks at what was happening in their lives that made them think that a 10-day trip would be a good idea and what’s been happening since they returned.

In other words, we’re looking at the impact:

Where the trip came in their Jewish journeys. Was it a turning point, was it a confirmation, was it a change, was it an about face on their Jewish journeys as young people?

Unsurprisingly, as Birthright accepts all young Jews with at least one Jewish parent, some of the contributors to the book are from interfaith families.  They, along with all of the contributors, wrote personal essay and poems and shared photographs.

One story is of love, conversion and wondering how a Jew by choice feels about claiming a “birthright.” Another reflects on how laughter is a common thread between the Jewish and Catholic sides of a family. A third sets the tone by sharing, with amusement, the difficulty Midwesterners have when they see the author’s name in writing.

An author (performer) familiar to us at InterfaithFamily.com is also included, Ruby Marez.  She reflects on her interfaith and interracial background, and what it means in terms of Jewish identity.

Anyway, it’s worth a read. Pick it up.

And if I haven’t convinced you, check out the book reading at Strand Bookstore on Youtube:

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(Click for parts 2, 3, and 4.)

Just say no

I’ve been working for weeks on a blog post to put all the conversion hysteria in the Jewish world into some kind of context. Yesterday I spent an hour trying to work the latest news from Israel into the whole complicated, world-wide, cross-denominational mess. I realized it’s taking too long and I just need to tell you this:

There’s a bill before the Knesset in Israel to change the Law of Return to bar converts from being integrated into Israeli society as Jews and we have to act now.

At the moment, any convert, no matter who has converted him or her, can make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) under the Law of Return–even people whom the Chief Rabbinate would deny the right to marry a Jew. Israeli law also dodges the problem of excluding people who are Jewish by patrilineal descent through a 1970 amendment that allows relatives of Jews to come on the same basis as Jews.

Now the right-wing secular party Yisrael Beiteinu has put forward a new bill to exclude converts to Judaism from the Law of Return–catering to the Chief Rabbinate, whose officials have declared hundreds of Orthodox conversions performed in the State of Israel invalid. (We’re not even talking about Reform or Conservative conversions done in the US or elsewhere.)

If you think this is pushing Israel toward theocracy, you are dead wrong. At least, if it is a theocracy, it’s not a Jewish one, because declaring converts to have a different status is not based on Judaism. Jewish religion says that a Jew is a Jew and there’s no distinction between converts and people who are born Jewish. This is a scary piece of legislation designed to cut off the rest of the Jewish people from the State of Israel. On JewsByChoice.Org (a fantastic web resource that seems to be back in business!) I found this plea from the Conservative movement to act immediately on the Knesset bill. The Reform movement, through its Zionist organization Arza, is also urging action. 

This is not the solution to the problems of interfaith families in Israel, as Yisrael Beiteinu seems to believe. Jewishness is not a racial category and we can’t resolve our communal differences over how to do conversion by taking from converts one of the major tokens of belonging to the Jewish people. The bizarre and anti-halachic campaign of the Chief Rabbinate to undermine conversions in Israel has had widespread impact here in the Diaspora. It’s time to tell them no.

It’s All In the Delivery

So there’s this famous joke about this guy who goes to visit his dad in a nursing home and everyone is getting up and shouting numbers. They get up and say, for example, “27!” and everyone cracks up. The dad explains that they’ve all heard the jokes so many times that they don’t have to tell them anymore. They just refer to them by the numbers. So the guy gets up and says “73!” but no one laughs. His dad says, “It’s all in the delivery.”

Tonight I found out about a new web project, Old Jews Telling Jokes.  It’s just what it sounds like: there will be 20 videos of Jewish people who are over 60, telling their best old jokes. Three of the videos are up so far.

You can tell that the guy who came up with the idea, Sam Hoffman, is in the movie business. I’m guessing he’s the same Sam Hoffman who worked on all these movies in the Internet Movie Database. I’m very happy about this project, because it captures something in Jewish culture that I don’t want to lose.

Very naughty

I do not know how things have come to this pass, but somehow, I have figured out an excuse two very good reasons to embed a Monty Python video on my work blog:

1. Monty Python has just announced their own Youtube channel. They are going to post all of their own material. So this is based on BREAKING NEWS, people!

2. Monty Python created one of the best-known stories about a young man growing up in an (admittedly dysfunctional) interfaith family, Life of Brian. Of course, Life of Brian is also, to many many people, one of the most offensive movies of all time. That’s why I’m going to post the embedded video under a cut. Beware of the blasphemy, bad language and blasphemous bad language. I am serious–this movie offended Christians and Jews alike.

My first-year college roommate, raised Catholic, was very upset when she saw this movie. She thought she was an ex-Catholic, but people hang on to things from their religious upbringing longer than they think. I had sent her to see it and had to apologize.

(Goodness, the Wikipedia article about the movie says that there was an oratorio based on the movie called Not the Messiah. Be still my geeky heart.)

I saw Life of Brian when it came out in Jerusalem in 1981. I was on a teen program in Israel that taught Jewish history, so I got every joke. My two geeky girlfriends from the program and I laughed louder than anyone else in the audience. I think the Israelis knew the history but couldn’t hear through the accents. Or maybe they were just offended and didn’t think it was funny. Not like my later experience of seeing Yellow Submarine in Tel Aviv in 1994, with everyone around me singing all the songs.

Anyway, this isn’t my favorite scene from the film, but the Pythons haven’t posted the most apposite one. (You know, the one with the line about being a Red Sea pedestrian? Oh well.) Here it is below the cut. Continue reading

Ronna and Beverly

Have you read You’ll Do A Little Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage and Remarriage for Jewish Singles? No? Never heard of it? It’s written by Beverly Ginsburg and Ronna Glickman, two Massachusetts-based Jewish mothers. Watch this video (courtesy of Jewcy) to see them harass an intermarried record store clerk. “We’ll talk you through the divorce,” they tell him.

Full disclosure: Ronna and Beverly are fictional. For more of their exploits, visit ronnaandbeverly.com.