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I’m reading the short excerpt from Elie Kaunfer’s book Empowered Judaism in the New York Jewish Week of April 9. The excerpt begins with this:
The false crisis — declining Jewish continuity, caused by assimilation and an intermarriage rate of 52 percent — has become the rallying cry of institutional Judaism. But fundamentally, it is a red herring. The real crisis is one of meaning and engagement. For the first time in centuries, two Jews can marry each other and have Jewish children without any connection to Jewish heritage, wisdom or tradition.
My first reaction to Kaunfer’s argument that the key is peer engagement and intellectually rigorous study is “Right on!” After all, that’s been my life in the Jewish world. Though I did train as a Jewish academic, my main Jewish experiences have been informal study in a
But then I realize that Kaunfer isn’t speaking for all Jews. When he says “Even people who are in-married by and large have little connection to Torah, Jewish practice and values,” I think that “even” is too much of a concession to the (strictly biological) continuity fallacy. I’ve seen in this work how many intermarried Jews and their partners become more engaged with Jewish life because they have to do something different in order to raise Jewish children. (Not that there’s only one experience of interfaith marriage, of course.) I agree that who we marry isn’t the sole determinant of what we have to pass down as Jewish religion and culture to our children–it’s only one piece. That “even” sticks out, a little pebble in my shoe.
Further, though, for all of us who love a good group of people sitting around with texts and dictionaries arguing over what some words mean, there are people who aren’t so interested in words. They want to bake bread, or dance, or do something with their hands. They like to sing or they like the gossip in the hallway or the kitchen of the synagogue. (Well, who doesn’t? That’s where you find out everything important.) I remember when my havurah did a lot of “movement midrash,” dance interpretations of the Torah portion. I found it uncomfortable and felt silly trying to do it, but it drew in some people who became very committed Jews–because they liked to dance.
In essence, I agree with Kaunfer–we shouldn’t dumb down Judaism, we need more empowered Jewish education and the best way to make sure that we have a very stimulating Jewish life is to take it into our own hands. I like Kaunfer’s model of the do-in-yourself, small, modular minyan; that’s how I’ve chosen to live. I’m just not ready to believe that everyone in the Jewish community has the same background, needs, learning style or tastes as I do.
“I’m a positive person,” my 6-year-old told me. He is! During this month of Elul before Rosh Hashanah, I’m working on being more positive, too. Sometimes it feels good just to point out all the great things Jewish organizations are doing to reach out to people from interfaith families, and all the great things people in interfaith families are doing in the world.
On Wednesday we published a great feature on Jewish healing rituals for interfaith families. Many of the organizations we mentioned wanted further contact with us, and I had a chance to speak with Rabbi Eric Weiss, the director of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center. I think I persuaded him to join our network, since he’d like to do more outreach to people in interfaith couples and families, but I wanted to be sure to announce the Healing Center’s Grief and Growing Weekend, because it’s this weekend, September 11-13. If you know someone who just suffered a catastrophic loss, this program is to support them. I liked the way the web page explicitly welcomed non-Jewish participants in the Jewish programming.
Later this week we’re going to run an article by Jeffrey Grover about his experience developing a play on interfaith marriage, but just in case you live in Cleveland and don’t know about Thursday’s performance at the Ratner School of “Both Sides of the Family”, I wanted to give you a heads-up. The cool thing about this program is that the audiences demanded the discussion period after the show, by sticking around in their seats. I’m from Cleveland and I have to tell you, that’s pretty unusual!
I also wanted to give a shout-out to Matthew Scott, who wrote a story for us about cooking Jewish food in an interfaith relationship. He’s started a new job teaching fourth grade in the Baltimore City Public Schools. Isn’t that cool? I would love to update people on the great things our authors are doing–would you like to hear more about that? I don’t mind a little kvelling in the comments, you know.
InterfaithFamily.com is a member of the American Jewish Press Association, which sponsors an annual conference and a journalistic competition, the Simon Rockower awards, every year. The staff at the AJPA let us know we would be receiving a Rockower Award months before I went to the AJPA conference in Chicago last week, but we didn’t know which item we’d submitted for consideration had won. Was it one of the two personal essays, Letting Go: A Lesbian Mom Brings Her Son to the Mikveh by Johanna Hammer or Back Talk by Alina Adams, or was it the website as a whole? No one on our team at IFF could decide. At first the Hammer piece was a heavy favorite, but when I asked the staff to bet on the day I left for the conference, we were evenly divided.
Everyone at IFF was very pleased to win the first place award for the best website. Here’s what they said about us:
We competed with other website-only publications; it was the second year the prize was awarded. Continue reading
Allow us to gloat: a week after making the New York Times, we were featured in a front-page story in the Boston Globe. Philanthropic Shift: Young Jewish donors go beyond traditional groups, by Sacha Pfeiffer, focuses on efforts by 20- and 30-something Jewish philanthropists to give money to different causes and organizations than their parents and grandparents:
We were specifically noted because we were one of 50 innovative Jewish non-profits chosen for inclusion in Slingshot, a guidebook for young philanthropists. We were also one of the first eight recipients of grants from the Slingshot Fund.
On Tuesday of next week, we’re publishing the 200th issue of our Web Magazine. It also happens to coincide almost exactly with our fifth anniversary as an independent non-profit. For a history of the organization–and an explanation of the differences between the anniversaries–here’s the article we’re going to run next week on our history and accomplishments.
The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles published this brief today about the 200th issue, and Julie Wiener at The Jewish Week plans on running a story about the milestone next week.
I’ve only been here for a small part of InterfaithFamily.com’s history, but even in that time I’ve seen us grow and expand our influence and impact. Here’s a little recap/preview of some new features we’ve recently added or are going to add soon:
A little catch-up on some relevant stories from the last two weeks or so:
One of the small but important ways IFF advocates for making the Jewish community more welcoming is by writing letters to the editor of papers that run stories on intermarriage. Sometimes we are able to congratulate newspapers and writers for shedding light on important issues and talking about them in a fair, sensitive manner. Other times we’re forced to set the record straight.
Susan Jacobs has an article on interdating in today’s issue of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. She treats the issue sensitively, although the general impression left by the article, that it is possible for parents to effectively discourage their children from interdating (and intermarrying), is not realistic, in my view.
I’ve explained my own views on this subject in How to Talk to Your Kids about Interfaith Dating: For Those Married to Jews or in Interfaith Marriages.
Because the Pittsburgh article did not express my views fully, I wrote the following letter to the editor:
There are a couple of great links today: