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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HDOoeZMF_I ">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HDOoeZMF_I " type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400" height="325">

(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.

Adam Sandler = Israeli Super Spy

  

I’m not much of an Adam Sandler fan, but for the first time in well over a decade, I saw a trailer for a Sandler movie that looks genuinely funny. Called You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, it stars Sandler as an Israeli Mossad agent who goes to New York to become a hair stylist–and Rob Schneider as a Hezbollah terrorist/cab driver.

How Jesus Made Jeremy a Better Jew

  

Jeremy Greenberg, a stand-up comic, has written an amusing, albeit perplexing, essay on “How Jesus Made Me a Better Jew” for American Jewish Life magazine. “Jesus first came to me in sixth grade through my friend’s older sister’s breasts,” he says.

Breasts aside, I was a prime candidate for receiving a Christendectomy. As a kid, being a Jew meant going to Sunday school instead of playing with my friends. It meant missing football practice and games during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Until I graduated high school, Judaism was a religion based on separating me from my friends — me from who I wanted to be.

Continue reading

The Perils of Intermarriage–’70s-Style

  
justmarried150.jpg

Let me paint a picture: It’s the age of lava lamps and rollerskates. Lynyrd Skynyrd rules the airwaves. America has yet to discover the gritty urban raps of the Sugarhill Gang. It’s an innocent time, the ’70s, a time before intermarriage was commonplace, a time when a Jewish man and a Catholic woman would have to be crazy to fall in love. Can their passion survive the anti-Semitic glares of their neighbors? The disapproving tweed jackets of their fathers? The confused sideburns of their friends?

Eli Valley, Jewcy.com’s talented humorist, has the answer.

In his recent post, “When Jewish David Met Irish Eileen,” Eli analyzes a 9-part series from the obscure ’70s comic book series “Just Married.” The storyline? An Orthodox Jew–who never wears a yarmulke but is partial to turtlenecks–falls in love with a devout Catholic woman. A typically hilarious passage from his analysis:

Although they have already eloped, David and Eileen get remarried, twice, to please their parents – first in a church, and then in a synagogue. In the storyline’s solitary visit to a Jewish house of worship, we glean fascinating insights into Orthodox Jewish customs – the burning incense, the rabbi wearing a circular necklace, the resemblance of the rabbi to Jesus, the prayer book inscribed with a Jewish Star drawn to resemble a Pentagram. It is as if the comic book is asking, are not all religions the same? Especially if they all look like Christianity? Finally, the comic book reveals that in Orthodox Jewish weddings, it is customary for the rabbi to make out with the bride, particularly if she is a Gentile.

Now, if in the wake of the Don Imus affair, you’re wondering what is acceptable to joke about and laugh at, and what is not, Peter Moore, a self-described “half-Jewish” (“I always tell people that I’m not really one of the Chosen People, but I am an Alternate.”) actor and director, created a list of guidelines for telling jokes in the PC age, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune.

Encouraging Jewel-ish Choices?

  

Purim, often called the “Jewish Halloween,” is on Sunday. But it’s more than that–it’s also the Jewish April Fools’ Day. It’s become a bit of a tradition for some papers to publish fake news for Purim.

The intermarriage debate comes in for some parody by our friend Julie Wiener at The (New York) Jewish Week, as excerpted on the Jewish Outreach Institute’s blog, in a post by Kerry Olitzky. For the 25 of us who know all the players parodied in the article, it’s pretty amusing.