Recognizing that going to synagogue for the first time can be a challenge, we offer you our booklet, What To Expect At A Synagogue. In it, you will find an overview of what Shabbat is, and how it is celebrated in synagogues. Language is explained, the prayer services are broken down, and many common questions are answered.
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It’s been a while since I last blogged in hodgepodge style. With the fall holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, sukkot/Sukkot_and_Simchat_Torah.shtml">Sukkot and SimchatTorah) behind us, a new year begun and so many interesting things happening the the Jewish community and wider communities around us, it seemed like a great time to share some interesting articles and blog posts that I’ve come across. Let me know what you think!
1. In the Creation story in Genesis (the first book of the Torah), we read that a snake tricked Eve into tasting a “forbidden fruit” (and she, in turn, gave it to Adam to eat). On DovBear, they wonder what the unnamed fruit might have been. With 125 comments so far, this is far from an easy question to answer. Apple? Maybe. Figs? Perhaps. What about a pomegranate?
4. Many organizations, including ours, examinestatistics, look to data to know if we’re having an impact. One such source was the last national Jewish population survey, done in 2000-2001. Over ten years later, another study hasn’t come along to update those numbers. Gary Rosenblatt, in The Jewish Week, asks, How Many U.S. Jews, And Who Cares?
5. You know who cares? Pat Buchanan. And he seems to have it all figured out. “In his new book, Suicide Of A Superpower, Pat Buchanan takes a look at the Jewish population of the United States and concludes that Americans Jews are disappearing because they decided, as a group, to have lots and lots of abortions.” Seriously. He blames the Jewish women who were among the leaders of the feminist movement and… oy, just read about it all here.
6. And in Israel a campaign has been launched, encouraging “parents of non-Jewish children to inform them of their [non-Jewish] status in childhood.” This stems from patrilineal descent, largely among Israel’s Russian population. And the implication, according to the campaign, is that patrilineal descent Jews are finding out that they’re “not Jewish” as adults, which means they need to convert to Judaism in order to get married. I wonder if this is a common issue or discovery in North America, where the Reform movement also holds by patrilineal descent?
We’ve seen these articles before, or heard the rumblings from co-workers or friends. “Did you hear that [famous person] is Jewish?” In our own celebrity column, the famous are “outed” as having Jewish ancestors on a fairly regular basis.
Every time another celebrity is surprised with the news that they’re Jewish — Madeleine Albright, Senator George Allen, playwright Tom Stoppard, John Kerry (on his father’s side) — the same series of perplexed shrugs ripple through the media. Did they really never know? What made the Jewish parent turn away? Anyway, what’s the difference? Are you Jewish if you never practiced Judaism? And why is this even in the newspaper?
Ralph Branca, 85, the onetime Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher best known for throwing the most notorious homerun ball in baseball history, the “Shot Heard ’Round the World,” which lost his team the 1951 National League pennant to the New York Giants. A lifelong Catholic, he learned of his mother’s Jewish origins earlier this summer from a journalist who then turned it into a 1,900-word front-page story in the August 15 New York Times. The usual reactions followed: What is he now, a Jewish athlete? Why does anyone care? And why 1,900 words of this trivia in the world’s leading newspaper?
Why are there so many such cases? If there are this many among the famous (and this list is very partial), how many more are there who aren’t famous? How many never find out because they’re not famous enough for journalists to poke through their family secrets? Are there any discernable [sic] patterns? Is anyone’s life changed afterward? Can we — should we — learn anything about Jewish life from these dramas?
There are some answers in the article, if you want to click on over.
But I think the other unasked question, of relevance to readers of InterfaithFamily.com, is: if celebrities or other famous people are so readily declared Jews, after their parents turned away from Judaism, or after a couple generations have not practiced Judaism or even known they were Jewish, why aren’t the same standards applied to the rest of us, the non-famous? If Celebrity X can be proclaimed Jewish in the media, a couple generations after their last relative practiced Judaism or identified as a Jew, why can’t Regular Citizen Y get the same treatment? Why are so many descendants of interfaith families struggling to have their Jewish identities acknowledged by the community, when the press seems so willing to hand it over to athletes, politicians and actors?
What does all this mean? Heaven only knows. And precisely because Heaven only knows, we shouldn’t expect to find all the answers. The best we can do is to keep our minds and hearts open and leave the welcome mat out for wandering kinfolk who find their way home.
I would suggest instead, “The best we can do is to keep our minds and hearts open and leave the welcome mat out for those already in our midst and for wandering kinfolk who find their way home.”
At least once a week, we will be tweeting about something from their encyclopedia that we find interesting. I’m trying to keep the content relevant to the scope of InterfaithFamily.com.
So, for the first entry…
In the last three decades of the twentieth century, scores of film and video makers gave voice to enduring Jewish themes of historic oppression, resistance, immigration and exile. Some independent feature films have reached much broader audiences, especially when they situate specifically Jewish characters in romantic and/or comedic stories. But what may characterize independent Jewish cinema most, including those works made by Jewish women, is its lack of unifying discourse. While the major signifiers of Jewish life in the post-World War II era continue to be Judaism as religion, the Holocaust, and Israel, independent American Jewish cinema seems to subvert that triumvirate with images of hybrid identities, interfaith romance, oppositional politics, and jump-cut collective memories.
I enjoy that the entry on “Filmmakers, Independent North American” points out that there isn’t just one way to do/be Jewish in Jewish films. And that one of the variances among our communities, that’s reflected on the screen, is that interfaith relationships can be a norm.
Have you seen a film that reflected your interfaith relationship? Your interfaith family?
To follow other people and organizations tweeting about this, follow the hashtag #jwapedia.
There’s been a lot of talk, of late, about intermarriage, interfaith Jews and the eternal “who is a Jew” debate. Some of it was spurred by the attack on Rep. Giffords, and the Jewish community’s near unanimous response that, yes, she is Jewish. (See, for example, Julie Wiener’s recent column in The Jewish Week, Is Anyone Jewish Enough?)
But that wasn’t the only source of news this week. So cuddle up with a mug of hot cocoa, stay warm and watch the snowstorms move in while you read another hodge podge:
An article in the Jewish Exponent looked at bullying in the Jewish community, specifically in Jewish schools.
Even if violence is minimal, day school students said that doesn’t make the emotional or mental abuse any easier to bear.
“It’s worse for us because our cliques can’t be based on color or race, so instead, it goes a little bit deeper,” Becca Richman, 16, a junior at Barrack Hebrew Academy, said during a discussion on bullying at an Anti-Defamation League youth leadership conference in late November.
Since everyone shares the same ethnicity, students might discriminate over whether someone is overly observant, not observant enough, from an intermarried family, homosexual, wealthy and so forth, her classmates added.
Meanwhile, the religion blog in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper, linked to a story on Intermarriage, the law of return and the modern Israeli state. It might be interesting to you to read some of the proposals Israel has for dealing with intermarriage, people who are “Jewish enough” to move to Israel but not “Jewish enough” to be considered Jewish for marriage. (I will add the disclaimer that when I read the line, “One brave exception is Rabbi Haim Amsalem, a member of the Knesset from the Shas political party.” I had to fight the urge to stop reading…)
Now, I wouldn’t normally share an article (Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match) that boasts an OU (Orthodox Union) approved dating site, but I how else would I have learned about intermarriage statistics for the Jewish Deaf community?
In the past, the rate of intermarriage among the deaf was close to 60%.
Another article looking at the “who’s a Jew” question in Israel focuses instead on Y.B., a 23-year-old would-be convert to Judaism (he was raised Jewish, has a non-Jewish mother) who is gay.
The soldier’s experience highlights the plight that gay would-be converts to Judaism face in Israel: Because there is no separation of state and religion, and the state religion is regulated by the Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate, it is practically impossible for an openly gay person to convert to Judaism. Under Orthodox Jewish law, a would-be convert who rejects a tenet of the Torah — in this case, the prohibition against homosexual intercourse — cannot join the faith.
An IDF spokesman denied that Y.B. was expelled from the course because he is gay.
“The IDF believes that a person’s origin, gender and sexual orientation cannot have an impact on his or her ability to appropriately complete the conversion process,” the spokesman said in response to a JTA query. “The soldier in question chose to leave the course of his own accord because, as he noted, ‘He did not feel ready to complete the conversion process.’ The soldier was clearly informed he could return to the course when he felt ready to do so.”
Y.B. says that during his meeting with conversion course officials, he signed a form saying he was not ready to complete the process only because he was told he could not continue to study if he indeed was gay. The stipulation given for his return would be based on his agreeing to pursue relationships with women, Y.B. says he was told.
In recent weeks, the Jewish Standard received more publicity than they probably ever expected. And rightly so: they hurt, and excluded from their newspaper/community, part of our Jewish community.
It’s refreshing to be able to report on another Jewish community newspaper that not only has come out with their inclusive policies but has had their policy since 2004. And it’s also explicitly welcoming and inclusive of interfaith families:
The mission of JTNews is to be inclusive of the entire Jewish community. Therefore, the policy of the JTNews is to accept marriage, commitment ceremonies, engagement, B’nai Mitzvah, birth and obituary announcements from all couples — including interfaith and same-sex couples — as long as at least one of the members of the couple is Jewish.
While the Jewish community continues to come together, pledging to make ours a more inclusive (and safe) community now, it’s great to see that for some community organizations (ours included), inclusivity has long been the standard.
Lately I’ve been struggling with how my son’s friends address me and how he addresses his friends’ parents or my friends. I grew up calling all grown-ups by their first names, with the exception of teachers, of course. My parents’ friends were always Bob and Susan, Karen and Rich, Sam and Michelle. My friends’ parents were always Michael and Sarah, Carol and Fred, and George and Harriet. My husband grew up calling everyone Mr. and Mrs. He hardly ever called any adults by their first names.
Now I am finding myself in uncomfortable situations where I am addressing friends by their first names, but they are addressing themselves to my children as Mr. and Mrs. I am also dealing with the issue of how to ask children to address me. While I would prefer to be called Heather, rather than Mrs. Martin, I don’t want to undermine my friends’ desires to have their children address adults with Mr. and Mrs.
It got me thinking – is this difference due to general upbringing or religion? I grew up in South Florida and my husband grew up in New England, so could it be geography? I grew up Jewish, he grew up Roman Catholic, so could it be religion? In my circle of Jewish friends, there was never really a question about how people are addressed–everyone used first names. Today I also move in circles of friends where most are not Jewish and their preferences are more mixed between Mr. and Mrs. and first names.
As a person navigating an interfaith relationship for a relatively short period of time (we’ve been married seven years and together nine) and the mother of young children (2 and 5), I seem to happen onto these things more and more as we embark on each new phase of life. While some of it has nothing to do with religious upbringing, I cannot rule out the role of Jewish religion or culture as a possible reason for our differences. As I mentioned in my last blog post Learning from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, being aware of the differences in upbringing between partners of different faiths can help the Jewish community be more welcoming.
The solution to my issue is, to me, pretty straight forward. I ask parents and friends what they would like my children to call them. I also let them know that I am fine with having their children refer to me by my first name. The answer to whether or not religion is the reason behind these differences, I may never fully figure out.
You may wonder why I’m making a post about the 2010 US Census. As a non-profit organization, InterfaithFamily.com relies heavily on sociological and demographic research to prove that we’re needed and that what we do is meeting our goals as an organization. Probably the research that did the most for our founding was the National Jewish Population Surveys, which persuaded the Jewish community in the United States of the widespread trend of Jews marrying non-Jews. We’ve also used data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and kept abreast of the studies of Jewish sociologists through the North American Data Bank.
The US Census Data hasn’t been that useful to us at IFF, because in the United States, the government hasn’t, for many years, asked questions about religion on the census and doesn’t classify Jewishness as an ethnicity. For Jews, this has been reassuring. In the near historical past, governments that considered Jews an ethnic group nearly invariably discriminated against Jews.
(I should be clear that the US Census, in any case, does not release individuals’ data for a full 72 years after you fill in the census, at which time the documents are archived. My friend who is working for the census bureau told me that she had to take an oath of preserving the confidentiality of the documents. The penalty for breaking the oath is five years in prison or $250,000.)
The Census is going to be useful to you. This is the second census on which individuals can identify with more than one racial category. For people of mixed heritage, this is pretty exciting, because it means that you’ll be helping both sides of your family count. If your dad was an Ashkenazi Jew and your mom had one parent who was African-American and another who was Japanese, you don’t have to pick only one.
There are a lot of reasons to want to be counted accurately–it makes a difference in your congressional representation, and in federal funding your area receives for things like hospitals and roads. It could also change our picture of who lives in the United States–of racial and ethnic identity, what constitutes a household, who has disabilities–who counts. Let’s be counted.
Do you celebrate your birthday on the Jewish calendar? February, in addition to Valentine’s Day and Purim, two great holidays for interfaith couples, happens to contain my son’s and my husband’s birthdays. My son was born on the first day of Jewish month of Adar, the month in which Purim falls, which is traditionally a month of rejoicing.
If you were hurting for celebratory days–and if you are in an interfaith family, I know you aren’t, having at least one or two calendars of them to choose from–it might be nice to celebrate your birthday on the Jewish calendar. (Especially if you aren’t Jewish, that would make it cooler!)
If you want to find out when you were born in the Hebrew calendar, Hebcal.com has this date converter. Just put in your secular calendar birthday (including the year!) and you’ll get your Hebrew birthday.
This is the song I was singing on the day my son was born–I had trouble finding a great recording. It means, “the one who brings in Adar multiplies happiness.” Something like that.
Birthdays are big with first-graders. My son knows that his Gregorian calendar birthday was also Gertrude Stein’s birthday, and the date of the Japanese holiday setsubun. Some of his classmates celebrate their half-birthdays or their name days, which is a Catholic custom that has apparently been secularized. So why not your Hebrew birthday?
How many interfaith families keep kosher? I have no idea, because I’m never sure what “kosher” means in that sentence. I mean, yeah, I know, it means appropriate or fitting, and it refers to food prepared according to laws set forth in Leviticus and enumerated over centuries by the rabbinic legal process. A kosher meal is either meat or dairy, not meat mixed with dairy, and any animal products must be from a selected set of permitted animals. Kosher meat has to be slaughtered in a specific way and drained of blood, usually by salting. (For a vegetarian, I know a lot about kosher meat.) Yes, see, I know about grape products and the special laws that govern them, why some people don’t accept rabbinic supervision from this or that kosher certification agency, what ingredients in cheese [float=left][/float]are problematic and even how to navigate a kitchen with separate dishes.
But when people say “I keep kosher” or “I don’t keep kosher”–I don’t know without asking more questions what that means about what they’ll eat. A lot of Jews who don’t care about mixing milk and meat at the same meal won’t eat meat from unkosher animals.
And some will. Andrew Silow-Carroll blogged last Friday about the ongoing fascination of hipster foodie Jews with bacon, which he noted made interesting reading in articles on Tablet magazine and Jewcy.com. (Jewcy seems to be having temporary technical issues, I’ll come back to post that link later.)
Unlike Andrew Silow-Carroll, I didn’t grow up eating bacon. I had it a few times outside my parents’ house, and even got to cook it once at the food co-op in college. After the experience of cooking the stuff, I was so grossed out that I was not tempted to eat it. (Though not as grossed out as I was when I found a chocolate bar with bacon in it on the shelf at my local gourmet food emporium.) As I’m sure a lot of non-Jewish spouses who read our site can attest, some Jews have food taboos, and even when they don’t keep all the rules of kashrut, they are just grossed out by the thought of some foods in their kitchen, leaving cooties on their plates.
I have mixed feelings about the importance of keeping kosher. I eat vegetarian food in restaurants and other people’s homes (and at my house, too) and that’s my observance. I honor other people who will only eat food prepared on kosher utensils, and I’m also OK with Jewish people who don’t keep kosher at all. I was at a meal at which other Jewish people were eating bacon and snickering uncomfortably, “I’m the worst Jew ever!” I said, “Um, hell no, you aren’t, even if you eat bacon until the cows come home,” and then enlightened them with some of the recent scandals in the Jewish community, in particular the ones about the largest kosher slaughterhouse.
You can’t be a good Jew by only keeping the mitzvot (commandments) that are about your relationship with God, like meticulousness in kashrut–you also have to care the ones that govern your relationship with human beings. I don’t think keeping kosher necessarily makes anyone a better person, though it could if you decided to use it as a way to be more mindful about what you eat. I don’t believe that it hurts God if I eat the wrong thing, but it could hurt other human beings, and what we eat may affirm or violate Jewish ethical principles of not causing pain to animals and not wasting natural resources.
Hazon, a Jewish environmental organization, has started up a Jewish Food Education Network, to talk about food issues. That’s also a hipster foodie posture. Keeping kosher is an opportunity to elevate something we have to do anyway to a level of consciousness and even spirituality. Keeping my people’s food taboos preserves the integrity of my culture in a multi-cultural society. It is important to many people in interfaith families for that reason. I’d love to hear more from people in interfaith households about how they deal with keeping kosher.
Next, let’s talk about the hipster foodie fascination with beets. What’s up with that?
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