Is it Really a Jewish Thing?


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.

Stand Up and Be Counted Part One–US Census 2010


You may wonder why I’m making a post about the 2010 US Census. As a non-profit organization, 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.

This is the first year that the census will allow people in same-sex relationships to identify as married, even if their relationships aren’t recognized as marriages in their state. If your relationship is committed but not a marriage, the census has a category for that too–whether your partner is male or female.

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.

Be Happy


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, 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?

Bringing Home the Bacon


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 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?

Why Do You Think?


This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard that non-Jews sign up for JDate, the internet’s oldest and most prominent Jewish dating service. In an article that ran in last week’s Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, we learn that 2 percent of the people signing up for JDate aren’t Jewish.

At least, they aren’t yet. The 2 per cent in the article are those who checked off “willing to convert” as their religious affiliation in their profile.

image of dating coupleIf you’re reading this and you aren’t Jewish, probably you’re saying, “So? They like Jews. What’s so weird about that?”

While my Jewish readers, at least some of them, are saying, “They like Jews? What? That’s so weird!”

In fact, the reporter on the piece thought the same thing:

It’s true: While I was hoping for a more insidious answer — “Jewish girls are better in bed; Jewish boys love non-Jewish girls!” — the truth just happens to be … banal. Kate (daters’ names have been changed to protect their privacy), a JDater who is not Jewish, said, “I guess I chose JDate because I knew a lot of people who had done it, and I think it’s one of the older and bigger sites out there.” No secret plot to infiltrate the Zionist clubhouse. Kate is just casting a wide net, trying to cover her bases.

Non-Jewish JDaters say things like, “I have wonderful relationships with Jewish people and have dated quite a few.” Maybe in the current US society, Jewishness is just another flavor, and this is a sign of our acceptance.

Either that, or maybe some people really like JDate. No one I know who has tried has great things to say, but perhaps my sample is skewed!

Why do you think non-Jews are trying JDate?

Happiness Is…

Pearl Sun and Robert Petkoff in

What was the happiest moment of your life?

It’s a question a new musical at the Lincoln Center, appropriately titled “Happiness,” poignantly asks.

Written by the Tony-winning writer of “Assassins” and “Contact” (John Weidman), with music by the team behind “Grey Gardens” (Scott Frankel and Michael Korie), “Happiness” tells the story of nine New Yorkers stuck on a subway car. They reflect on the fondest memories of their lives, told partly through monologue, partly through flashback.

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An Orthodox Rabbi Who Does Not Think Intermarriage is the End of the Jewish World


Nearly three years ago I moved to St. Louis. A friend of ours insisted that we join a local synagogue with a rabbi he described as the most thoughtful and knowledgeable he had ever met. It sounded like a plan–the synagogue was a quick walk from our home. The next day was Shavuot, when we celebrate revelation, and I was eager to see why my friend was so enthusiastic. I was shocked. There were Jews from every denomination attending classes taught by rabbis and teachers from every denomination. (This is really unusual in an Orthodox synagogue.)

Over the next two years, I got to know the synagogue’s rabbi, Hyim Shafner, who insisted I call him Hyim and not rabbi, which is also unusual. I was always struck by his spirituality and how he helped everyone who walked into Bais Abe to connect with their Judaism and spirituality. He just concentrated on helping those around him and developing a community of like-minded individuals. He never judged and I rarely saw him criticize. He is also a great counselor.

Rabbi Shafner just finished writing The Everything Jewish Wedding Book . A wedding blogger who reviewed the book interviews Hyim about intermarriage in the context of being an Orthodox rabbi. When asked how he feels about interfaith weddings, Rabbi Shafner puts interfaith weddings into both a historical and spiritual context:

Half the Jews today marry someone who isn’t Jewish. Fifty years ago, people married non-Jews as a way of leaving Judaism and becoming more American. Today, it’s almost the opposite. For some people, the first time they start to think about Judaism is their wedding. For some Jews, intermarriage is a gateway into Judaism.
The goal of Judaism shouldn’t be to have Jews marry other Jews. The goal of Judaism should be to get something out of Judaism. To have a connection with God and to live a spiritual life.
An interfaith wedding can be useful, it can help people re-engage with their religion.

Rabbi Shafner is certainly not advocating interdating or intermarriage, but does not discount the impact a wedding can have on one’s spirituality and connection to their heritage.

Coming Out of the Closet… As Interdating


Holy CannoliIn yesterday’s Huffington Post, one of the original plantiffs in the California Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage, Robin Tyler, wrote about the one thing more shocking than her pending marriage to a woman: her pending marriage to a non-Jew.

Tyler (original last name: Chernick) and her partner Diane Olson plan on being married by Rabbi Denise Eger of Kol Ami, an LGBT-friendly Reform synagogue in West Hollywood, Calif. However, the wedding itself will be held on the steps of the Beverly Hills Courthouse, where Tyler fully expects a mix of drag queens and protesters.

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Bush on Intermarriage


In his (presumably) last trip to the Middle East as president, Pres. Bush joined in the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Israel. But he also, as Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times, “received something else: a little lesson in cultural awareness.”

In a museum garden, where Pres. Bush and his wife Laura were speaking with a group of a dozen young people selected by the American Embassy, he asked if Jews and Arabs dated one another, or went to dances:

“No dances?” he asked, sounding surprised.

There was a slight pause in the discussion, until the American ambassador, Richard H. Jones, stepped in, politely telling the president that society was more conservative here.

As to the dating question, Manar Saraia, a 22-year-old Israeli Arab from Haifa, had an answer. She has Jewish roommates, which is unusual enough. A Jewish boyfriend, she told Mr. Bush, would be too much. “The parents and the children themselves,” she said, “think if we are of different religions, that it’s hard to live as a couple together.”

A Tale of Three Cities


Earlier this year, JDate began offering bulk-rate discounts on JDate subscriptions for rabbis interested in promoting Jewish dating among younger, unmarried members of their congregations. Nothing wrong with that, although the measure is more symbolic than practical, given the small number of young, unmarried people in most synagogues. And the kind of young, unmarried Jews who join synagogues are the type of people who are already dedicated to marrying another Jew. But kudos to anyone who wants to help someone find their beshert–whether he or she is Jewish or not.

Less encouraging have been the explanations that rabbis have given for offering the JDate memberships. From the aforeblogged Newsweek article:

The rabbis say they felt compelled to act because of the gradual dilution of the faith through marriage. Almost half of American Jews marry non-Jews, a rate of exodus that has more than tripled since 1970.

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