This colorful booklet lists all the ritual items needed for the Passover table. The history and significance of each item on the seder plate is explained, as are the customs that have been handed down through the generations.
JScreen provides convenient, at-home, saliva-based genetic carrier screening with the goal of preventing Jewish genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs disease and Canavan disease. JScreen is a national program and is headquartered at Emory University in Atlanta.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
I recently had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Dr. Beth Cousens, a creative and strategic thinker,Â whoÂ works with leaders in Jewish education and in Jewish life to help organizations ensure success. Her focus on strategic thinking, partnership and creative and relevant Jewish educational ideas have helped her to be a respected voice in the field.
She shared with us her insights about engaging and empowering young adults in Jewish life. Our focus was Millennials, ages 22-35, how best to serve them, engage them, and what to expect from their â€śengagementâ€ť with our institutions. For example, she explained that many Jewish young adults donâ€™t know how to be Jewish, as adults. They donâ€™t want to register or sign up. They are very interested in the answer to the question â€śWhat value is added to my life?â€ť and they are very much looking for meaning. They donâ€™t want to be segmented unnaturally; i.e. donâ€™t offer Torah study for singles. Offer Torah study if you want to offer Torah study and welcome the singles! Or, offer a singles event. But donâ€™t try to combine two things that donâ€™t naturally fit together.
They are definitely looking for DIY Judaism. No longer can Jewish institutions and congregations â€śdo Jewishâ€ť for their members. These young adults want to do for themselves! They need our organizations to help them learn how to do it.
She shared 5 calls to action:
Go to them. Help infuse Jewish content into their networks.
Stand for something. Help them live within the context of Jewish ideas. (If they are looking for friends, love, work, etc. they will go elsewhere. They come to Jewish institutions for Jewish content!)
Talk about and teach Jewish adulthood.
Organize around Judaism. (Can we have house meetings to ask them what they are looking for and work with them to create programming for them?)
Open our institutions: Create low barriers with high content.
I love the format of InterfaithFamilyâ€™s classes and workshops. Our mission falls directly in line with what these Millennials are looking for with our Love and Religion and Raising a Child offerings. We offer accessible and non-judgmental information so that interfaith families and those who support them can incorporate more Judaism into their lives. Check out our current offerings and stay tuned for changes to come in 2014!
What would you add to Dr. Cousensâ€™ five calls to action?
We here at IFF talk a lot about insider/outsider language and how those in Jewish life can be sensitive to language that not all who find themselves in the Jewish community may know. So, I thought I would take this chance to make sure you all know how the IFF website works.
InterfaithFamily is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to support interfaith couples and families exploring Judaism. IFF is based in the greater Boston area and has additional â€śYour Communityâ€ť local offices in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. (If you think your city would like a full-time person whose job is devoted solely to engaging interfaith couples and families in Jewish life, contact us for more information). The IFF website is vast! There are articles on every subject related to experiencing Judaism, specifically written with modern interfaith life in mind. There are narratives, videos, ways to learn blessings, recipes, blogs, pop-culture and more.
Each IFF/Your Community has a page devoted to the work being done in that community. I want those in Chicagoland to know about events going on around town that might be of interest and have ways to connect to welcoming congregations and professionals. One category that we have on our Chicagoland page is â€śPeople.â€ť Who are these people? Might you be one of them? They are people who have listed themselves as members of InterfaithFamily. When you become a member (for free) you can pick the subjects that are interesting to you and when a new piece of content is written, it will be suggested on your profile. You can list your zip code so that when events in your neck of the woods come up, you will know. We designed this membership system so that when people â€śjoinâ€ť IFF as members, you can then connect to each other!
Do you ever wonder if other parents of toddlers give presents each night of Hanukkah? Do you wish your 10-year-old could experience a bar or bat mitzvah, but you are not members of a congregation? Do you want to be able to explain your religious decisions better to your in-laws? Did you grow up in a home with two religions/traditions and now have a lot of questions?
You can ask each other about these things on our discussion boards! You can learn from others in similar situations. Community means: a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals. We speak about â€śvirtual communitiesâ€ť a lot. You can be a real virtual community for each other.
If you are already a member in Chicago and want to see your profile, just log in and click on â€śmy personal pageâ€ť at the top right of the screen.
You can see other members in Chicago by going hereÂ and clicking on â€śPeople.â€ť
If you have a question or comment and want others to reply, click on â€śdiscussionsâ€ť and â€śadd a topic.â€ť
I have been slowly but surely looking at member profiles and trying to reach out to see if you have specific areas you want to discuss with me. If you would like to connect, email me at email@example.com.
â€śShe had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.â€ť
â€•Â Shel Silverstein,Â Every Thing on It
Thirty-two percent of Jews born after 1980â€”the so-called millennial generationâ€”identify as Jews of no religion, compared to 19% of baby boomers and just 7% of Jews born before 1927. Overall, 22% of US Jews describe themselves as having no religion, meaning they are much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish.
The analytical side of my brain wanted to know what questions were asked, how they were asked and how the Pew Research Center defined the first layer of the question, â€śof Jews.â€ť Thankfully, there was a sidebar defining who is a Jew.
This diagram is from PewForum.org
I appreciate their stance, to â€ścast the net widelyâ€ť such that if anyone answered yes to any of three statements, then they were considered Jewish for purposes of participating in the rest of the survey:
(a) that their religion is Jewish, or
(b) that aside from religion they consider themselves to be Jewish or partially Jewish, or
(c) that they were raised Jewish or had at least one Jewish parent, even if they do not consider themselves Jewish today
With that information, I was not surprised by the results. Liberal Jewish congregational professionals have long been talking about the decline in religion and what that means for the sustainability of their congregation.
I feel it especially in California where I would say many people (Jewish and not) are â€śnot religious.â€ť People connect with heritage, tradition and culture. This was especially true in our last Love and Religion workshop. It became very hard for spouses/partners who were raised in a faith tradition other than Judaism to understand their partnerâ€™s Jewish identity, when that identity was void of religion.
Rather than looking at the results as Wertheimer describes, â€ś[a] very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,â€ť I prefer to look at it as an opportunity to embrace other aspects of Judaismâ€”beyond sitting in services and praying. I also feel this is an amazing opportunity for our interfaith families, in that there are so many ways they can connect with Judaism!
Jewish educators (including me) are constantly writing about interfaith familiesâ€”how to engage them, what their challenges are, what this means for the current state and future of Judaism. I thought an interesting way into the conversation would be to record quotes I have heard this week. These quotes are taken from different people and were said in different venuesâ€”from adult education, to talking with parents and grandparents on the phone or in person, to capturing what my own child said during bedtime. These comments capture the range of the concerns people have. Some of them go to the heart of the work we do, and others bring up policy and programmatic challenges.
Rabbi Ari Moffic (left) leading a Jewish education discussion
What would your answers be to these questions or what would your follow-up questions be to these statements?
Things people have said to me this week:
â€śOne of the big issues grandparents face when grandchildren arenâ€™t being raised Jewish is our own guilt.â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t want to have to pass a litmus test to get a Jewish education for my children.â€ť
â€śIf God is in my heart, when does God come out? Does God sleep?â€ť (From my four year old)
â€śWe are so busy during the week that we donâ€™t want to be away more from our child on Sunday mornings for drop-off religious school.â€ť
â€śI want to drop off my child on Sundays and go get a coffee and read TheNew York Times.â€ť
â€śThe only way our priest would marry us was if we also had a rabbi and if we promised to pass on Judaism.â€ť
â€śI am very concerned about burial issues that will come up for all of these interfaith couples who arenâ€™t thinking about that yet.â€ť
Twitter challenge for October: Tweet comments you hear other people say about life as an interfaith couple or family, things said at your Jewish programs or by your kids. Your words are the best conversation starters for us at InterfaithFamily!Follow us at @InterfaithFam and tag us in your comments with the hashtag #InterfaithQuotes.
We are very pleased to announce that, thanks to a generous new grant partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, InterfaithFamily will be launching InterfaithFamily/Boston this fall. This will be our fourth InterfaithFamily/Your Community, joining Chicago, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area in our growing network of local community programs.
InterfaithFamily/Boston will have a full time Director, a 10 hour per week â€śambassadorâ€ť to focus on activities and connections in the North Shore area, and 10 hours per week of marketing and project management support. This initial staffing will enable us to focus on key objectives of our IFF/Your Community model:
People in interfaith relationships will connect with Greater Boston Jewish community resources as well as with others like them, through an active â€śinterfaith ambassadorâ€ť working on engagement and relationship building, resources and referrals for supporting life cycle events, a Greater Boston Community Page and robust listings of organizations, professionals and events on the online IFF Network, active social media, and traditional PR and marketing.
Jewish professionals and organizations will learn to attract, welcome and engage people in interfaith relationships, through inclusivity and sensitivity trainings, and resources on the IFF Network.
We have begun the hiring process; links to the Director and North Shore Ambassador positions are http://www.interfaithfamily.com/directorboston and http://www.interfaithfamily.com/nsambassador. Stacie Garnett-Cook, National Director of InterfaithFamily/Your Community, will supervise the Director of IFF/Boston. Deb Morandi, our Connections Coordinator, and Lindsey Silken, our Managing Editor, initially will be providing marketing and project management support.
Going forward, we are immediately seeking additional funding not only to continue the new staffing beyond July 2014, but also to expand it to a full time Project Manager, which will enable us to expand the above activities and add other key objectives of our model: helping new couples learn how to talk about and have religious traditions in their lives together, and helping people in interfaith relationships learn how â€“ and why â€“ to live Jewishly, through an array of consultations, workshops/group discussions, and classes.
We are extremely grateful to CJP for making this growth of the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative possible.
Leading up to and during my vacation there have been three big intermarriage stories in the media. They all revolve around whether, and how, Jewish communities are going to open their gates and draw in interfaith couples and families.
First came a JTA story by Uriel Heilman, The War Against Intermarriage Has Been Lost. Now What? The title pretty much tells the content of the article: Jewish institutions and in particular religious denominations are not â€śfighting against intermarriageâ€ť so much any more; the question now is how to react to the intermarriages that are going to happen; the overall strategy appears to be to engage with the intermarried in an effort to have them embrace Judaism; the denominations differ in how far to go in that embrace, and how strongly to push for conversion. Heilman says there has been a shift in attitudes so that intermarriage is viewed as â€śa potential gain, in the form of the non-Jewish spouse or children who may convert.â€ť
I’m not sure how widespread the shift in attitudes is â€“ there have been lots of recent anti-intermarriage comments from Jewish leaders â€“ and I think itâ€™s unfortunate to see gain only when there is conversion. But the real issue is, what are Jewish institutions and denominations going to do to engage with the intermarried. I would be more interested in seeing a JTA article on the efforts that are underway to do exactly that.
Second was a series of three essays on MyJewishLearning.com about patrilineal descent. A Conservative rabbi, Alana Suskin, in The Non-Jewish Rabbi? The Problem of Patrilineal Descent, tells how badly she feels about not recognizing patrilineal Jews as Jewish in large part because itâ€™s easy to convert. Then an Orthodox rabbi, Ben Greenberg, in Patrilineal Jewish Descent: An Open Orthodox Approach, also feels badly, and says that a child of Jewish patrilineal lineage, must be respected greatly for their identification with the Jewish people, their love of Judaism and of Israelâ€¦ people of patrilineal descent [should] be referred to as Jews who need to rectify their status vis-a-vie Jewish law.â€ť But Greenberg says that the Reform rabbisâ€™ decision on patrilineality was a mistake from a â€śbalcony perspectiveâ€ť because of the impact the decision had on recognition of people as Jews by other denominations.
I would say, from what I would respectfully suggest is perhaps a more important â€śbalcony perspective,â€ť what about the impact the decision had on the thousands of patrilineal Jews who are now engaged in Jewish life and community? I couldnâ€™t help but make this connection when reading the Forwardâ€™s profile of Angela Buchdahl, First Asian-American Rabbi, Vies for Role at Central Synagogue. Rabbi Buchdahl is an amazing Jewish leader â€“ and yes, a patrilineal Jew. (At least, that is, until her college years; we proudly reprinted Rabbi Buchdahlâ€™s essay originally in Shâ€™ma, My Personal Story: Kimchee on the Seder Plate, where she says she went to the mikveh at that time to â€śreaffirm her Jewish legacy.â€ť)
[T]his is a red herring. The truth is that such questioning exists along a continuum that exists even within movements. Within the Orthodox branches of Judaism, only certain rabbis are recognized by the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel as performing accepted conversions. So yes, I agree with my colleagues that we have a responsibility to make our converts and our patrilineal Jews aware of the larger context, although I admit to doing so apologetically because I donâ€™t find these explanations to make Judaism very appealing.
Rabbi Gurevitz then focuses on what I would agree is most important:
[T]he individuals whose lives and identities we are talking about. Hereâ€™s the bottom line. The reality is that if someone is observing Jewish practice, celebrating in Jewish time, identifying with the Jewish people, or perhaps doing none of these things but, when asked, makes a claim to be Jewish or â€śpart Jewishâ€ť because of their ancestry, it is largely irrelevant to them whether you or I agree or approve. When it does become relevant is when they seek access to our institutions, and especially our synagogues. At that point, we rabbis become the gatekeepers. And we are entitled to abide by whatever formulation of what makes a Jew that we, or our larger denominations, decide. We all have our requirements. And we all have good reasons for those requirements that we can articulate to those seeking entry. But let us recognize that what we are doing is gate-keeping, and let us be mindful of how and when we act as gatekeepers and what our purpose in those moments is. And let us celebrate and be proud of sustaining and sharing a religious heritage that others wish to claim as their own and live by.
The third major story was an excerpt of a â€ślive discussionâ€ť on interfaith marriage on Huffington Post, where Rabbi David Wolpe, widely-regarded as one of the most influential rabbis in America, explains why he wonâ€™t officiate at weddings of interfaith couples. Contrary to Uriel Heilmanâ€™s perceived shift in attitudes towards seeing intermarriage as a potential gain, Rabbi Wolpe actually says (I donâ€™t have a transcript but I made notes when listening to the video) that â€śinvariably,â€ť in an intermarriage, the chances that the children will be raised as Jewish are much less, and that intermarriage â€śalmost alwaysâ€ť results in a diminishment of Judaism. That is the first reason he gives for not officiating at weddings of interfaith couples. I would respectfully suggest that the chances of the children being raised as Jewish and the chances of the intermarriage not resulting in â€śdiminishmentâ€ť would be increased if interfaith couples could find officiating rabbis for their weddings and be spared from hearing Rabbi Wolpeâ€™s rationale.
Rabbi Wolpe also says that he doesnâ€™t officiate because a Jewish wedding involves a marriage according to Jewish law and a person who isnâ€™t Jewish isnâ€™t subject to Jewish law. I canâ€™t argue with any rabbi who takes that position, although I think he goes too far when suggesting that itâ€™s â€śbad faithâ€ť for a rabbi to officiate because he or she isnâ€™t representing Jewish tradition. He says that is true â€śat least for meâ€ť but it comes across as a cheap shot at all of the serious committed rabbis who do officiate for interfaith couples
The common thread of all of this press is, how open are our gates going to be â€“ in our efforts to engage interfaith couples and families, in who we recognize as Jews, and in for whom we officiate. Those are the key questions. Iâ€™m for wide open gates.
I recently had the honor of meeting five women who are due with their first babies in the fall (one brought her four week old). While none of them grew up Jewish, they are married to Jews and they want to create a home with Judaism (traditions, holidays, values) for their growing families. They all felt that their spouses did not have the literacy or resolve to accomplish this goal alone. They are seeking fellowship among other women in the same boat, and they are eager for their own Jewish learning and for ways into Jewish communal life.
Sitting with these women reminded me of a core truth of the work we do: Intermarriage is not the end of Judaism. Intermarriage does not mean the Jew is abandoning Judaism. Partners who arenâ€™t Jewish are often open and ready to take on aspects of Jewish living, even though the learning curve is often so darn steep.
One of the moms-to-be said that they are ready to join a synagogue but that she â€śheardâ€ť the membership dues were $3,000. Someone else chimed in that there must be a lower rate for a new family or first time members. The first mom seemed hesitant to call the synagogue to find out.
On the High Holidays, synagogues will be filled with non-members. This is not a great term. InterfaithFamily suggests trying to avoid â€śnonâ€ť in any kind of description about someone. We advocate saying â€śnot Jewishâ€ť verses â€śnon-Jew.â€ť The people who are not dues paying members may be friends and family of members or they may have no connection to the congregation other than they bought a ticket. How can we tell all of these people that they already â€śbelong?â€ť
One idea is to have members say aloud the following words and to write them on literature that is handed out and on the homepage of every synagogue website: If you are interested in learning more about this open and warm community, please call (give the name and title of the membership person with his or her direct line and email). It is helpful to have a real person to call rather than have to search a website for membership information which is anonymous. We want our words to reflect a sentiment of welcome. If I were writing something, I would say:
If you are on this website looking for information about a place to come for Shabbat, to celebrate holidays, for classes and religious school, to meet friends or to do social justice work, join us. If you want to build a relationship with clergy who care about you, join us. Joining us isnâ€™t about writing a check. It is about showing up when you want inspiration and fellowship, support and grounding. Whether you grew up with Judaism or not, whether you want introductory classes or higher level learning, whether you can read Hebrew or have never been to a synagogue, join us. We are a diverse group and this gives us strength and purpose. All are welcome. You can help support our congregational efforts at every level and means of giving.
I know there are lots of people studying new dues structures. This is not about a dues structure–fee for service, voluntary donations, etc. This is about the feeling of what it means to be a â€śmember.â€ť
Each of these five women and the new faces in synagogues over the next few weeks will make great synagogue members.
When I was asked to take the role of Board Chair for InterfaithFamily, the business executive in me weighed costs, benefits, risks and rewards. Ultimately, however, I gladly accepted, knowing that the work of InterfaithFamily is well worth an investment of time, energy and resources.
Iâ€™ve known the InterfaithFamily organization almost from its inception, first as a user of its resources, later on its Advisory Board, and most recently, as a Board member and Treasurer. Iâ€™ve long felt that Ed Case and the IFF management team are incredibly nimble, creative and committed. The team has a relentless focus on getting things done and an aggressive plan to broaden and deepen InterfaithFamilyâ€™s impact.
InterfaithFamily and its Board are deeply indebted to our immediate past Board Chair, Mamie Kanfer Stewart. Her five years of leadership have been a period of incredible growth, increasing organizational maturity and continued innovation. Mamie has always impressed me with her strategic thinking, her insightful approach and personal warmth.Â Working with the Board and IFFâ€™s management, she recently led us in developing a robust strategic plan that provides a clear road map for IFFâ€™s future. I am conscious that she leaves a well-run organization, and very big shoes to fill.
After reflection, however, I realized that my investment in IFF is more personal.Â I remember too well the teary times when my Jewish husband and I used to struggle to reconcile our personal goals and objectives in a way that honored our traditions and faiths.Â When we married, I was not willing to convert to Judaism, but I was willing to learn, to study and to support my husband’s observance.
Now, I am helping our twins grow from bris and baby naming to b’nai mitzvah (this coming spring!) and hopefully, Jewish adulthood. Over time, my family and I have become fully engaged in our local synagogue community. I still have so much to learn, but I think our family is a joy and a “net positive” for the Jewish community.
Intermarriage is a reality in the Jewish world, affecting every community, and extending beyond federation, denomination or geographic boundaries. In the same way, IFF is reaching across boundaries to help interfaith families more fully engage in exploration of Judaism.
For me, the investment proposition is clear: I want all families like mine to have the resources, support and welcome that were such a help to mine. Each family walks its own path, and I am glad that IFF inspires families to greater engagement with Judaism and the Jewish community from wherever they start. It is work of immense value, and as its new Board Chair, I am pleased to have a chance to play a greater part.
A Reform educator in town, Vanessa Ehrlich, wrote an interesting blog post recently. She spoke about how much she has enjoyed the one-on-one tutorial sessions the Apple Store provides. They are a safe space to ask any and all computer and technology questions and receive easy to understand information that is useful and relevant in a friendly and supportive way. She wonders in her post what synagogues can learn from this model.
InterfaithFamily/Chicago will be joining with Philadelphia and San Francisco from November 15-24 to bring Interfaith Family Shabbat to each community. Philadelphia has taken part in this program for over five years with more than fifty congregations and community centers offering a program of interest over this time frame to interfaith couples and families within their community which is open to anybody who wants to join in.Â The programs have told the interfaith families who have made a commitment to that synagogue that their presence is appreciated.
Acknowledging that interfaith families have added to our community and may have questions, concerns and approaches specific to having family who didnâ€™t grow up with Judaism and are now living with Judaism is important and meaningful to many. Some interfaith couples and families come in to a synagogue or community center for the first time as a couple or new family just to attend a unique Shabbat service or workshop because of the special invitation it provides.
Some congregations and the Jewish Community Center in Chicago are already planning their program for our first community Interfaith Family Shabbat. It may be interesting if some congregations offer â€śAsk a professionalâ€ť Â in which Jewish leaders can have a table set up under a tent or in a big room and people can come and ask the right person the questions on their mind.Â From Jewish cooking advice to spiritual parenting to Jewish mediation and ethical and moral questions to current events in Israel, what if there was an open â€śFind your answers hereâ€ť type of day?Â Or at least within Judaism, it might be a â€śGet more questionsâ€ť day as opposed to simple answersâ€”this could be especially true if one expert answers questions about theology!
Check at interfaithfamily.com/chicago for the events that are being planned already for this November (as well as events happening right now in Chicago of interest).
If you have never taken your children to visit the Chicago History Museum, June 9 is your day.Â The Chicago History Museum is a gem for us in Chicago. Visitors of all ages will find Â stories, information about their city, and fun and interactive exhibits.Â The museum is featuring a very special exhibit at this time called Shalom Chicago.
Shalom ChicagoÂ features more than three hundred artifacts and images organized into three main sections:
The early community takes you back to the German Jewish community that began arriving in the 1840s. Rare artifacts from pre-fire Chicago and first-person accounts help tell their inspiring stories to a new generation.
The next phase takes us tothe 1910 garment workersâ€™ strike, a kosher food interactive and a rich array of ritual objects.
The last part called â€śNew Challenges and Opportunitiesâ€ť introduces visitors to Jewish Chicagoans who protested against Hitler and served in World War II. There is a concluding video which features members of todayâ€™s community.
On Sunday June 9, starting at noon, InterfaithFamily/Chicago is partnering with the museum to offer a Family Fun Day. All can enjoy an outdoor barbeque, play games and participate in meaningful craft projects. Whether you come by outside to make a â€śmoon jarâ€ť (come to see what this is!) and grab a slider or feel you have the bandwidth with young children to go through the actual exhibit that day or not, a question to consider is:
This exhibit features the history of Jewish Chicago, but what is the future of Jewish Chicago?
Without a doubt, interfaith families are a major facet of the future of Jewish life in Chicago. As interfaith families, how do you wish our communal organizations from synagogues to community centers to Jewish learning programs looked and felt, and what do you wish they focused on? What do you wish rabbis, educators and Federation leaders knew about your interfaith family and your commitments to bringing Jewish living and ideals to the rhythm of your life? Where could you use support and understanding? You are the future of Jewish Chicago!
We hope to see you Sunday, June 9. Come by and meet InterfaithFamily leadership and enjoy a great family day.