When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?Go To Parenting
About two months ago, the Jewish Outreach Institute presented the findings of its “outreach scan” to Jewish professionals in Morris County, New Jersey. To conduct the “outreach scan,” JOI cold calls and emails, and checks out the websites of, institutions in a particular area. The goal is to determine how welcoming–or unwelcoming–an area’s institutions are to unaffiliated Jews, including the intermarried.
I mention it now because JOI’s executive director, our friend, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, was recently named one of the top 50 rabbis in America by a very unscientific three-man poll published in Newsweek. He ranked 27th, putting him behind such famous rabbis as Harold Kushner and Shmuley Boteach but ahead of such luminaries as Elliot Dorff and Avi Weiss. Rabbis have already started scoffing at the list, but I’m guessing it will draw more attention to the work of many of these rabbis than they’ve ever had before. A few, like Kushner, Boteach and Michael Lerner, already have a well-established presence in the secular non-Jewish world, but many others are names known only to Jewish community insiders. And while the selection process was bizarre (since when do three Hollywood media barons know so much about rabbis?) and the ranking is biased towards the West Coast, all the names that should be on a list like this are on there.
Shaul Kelner, a Jewish studies professor at Vanderbilt University, takes Steven Cohen–and outreach advocates like ourselves, as well–down a notch with his wonderfully sensible op-ed for The Forward.
Essentially, he argues that debating over the value of outreach to the intermarried is misguided because in a pluralist Jewish world, there are spaces where outreach is promoted and there are spaces where it is shunned:
Religious differences are of little concern to many interfaith couples until they’re planning a wedding. All of a sudden a relationship that thrived with little to no religious content must face the question of whether the wedding will be in a church, who will officiate and how much–if any–religious content the ceremony will have. In a sense, it’s when couples with partners from two different religious backgrounds become interfaith couples.
Many outreach organizations, including ourselves, attempt to reach these couples during the beautiful but stressful time that precedes the wedding. A terrific example of outreach for these couples is “A Jewish Wedding Fair,” happening next Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif.
Much like typical wedding fairs, it will showcase caterers and bands and include a fashion show, but it will be from a Jewish bent. The bands will be Jewish wedding bands, the artists will be Judaic artists (designers of ketubahs and the like), and organizations from the Jewish community will share information. The fair will also include workshops, many of which are tailored to interfaith couples, including “What Makes a Wedding Jewish?”, “Two Faiths, One Ceremony: A Guide to Interfaith Ceremonies,” and “Finding Your Perfect Fit… in a Rabbi.”
The event is co-sponsored by Project Welcome, the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. If the high demand for our rabbinic officiation referral service is any indication, interfaith couples are starved for information about how to include Judaism in the wedding.
The coverage of Steven Cohen’s A Tale of Two Jewries continues, with an audio interview with Cohen by JTA editor Lisa Hostein and an op-ed on outreach and intermarriage from Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.
Responding to a question about what the most “frightening impact” of intermarriage is, Cohen says, “The most frightening impact is that we haven’t yet figured out a way to keep the children… and grandchildren of intermarriage Jewish.” He says the communal response to the problem should have two prongs: persuading Jews to marry Jews, and persuading intermarried couples to raise their children exclusively Jewish. He says he has a mixed opinion on outreach. Some outreach, he says, is great because it brings intermarried couples closer to Judaism, but some he says, “advocates a type of lifestyle that blends Judaism and Christianity.” But he also says, “It’s hard to attribute anything, for well or for good, to outreach.” He says there is no evidence that outreach has helped bring intermarried couples closer to Judaism.
There’s some exciting news from Florida today. According to a JTA story by Sue Fishkoff, the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter day schools are considering changing their rules to admit the children of non-Jewish mothers.
It’s not a full sea change in thinking; the schools won’t accept all patrilineals, only those who convert by Bar/
But it is a very positive development, nonetheless, showing there’s some substance behind United Synagogue Executive Vice President Jerome Epstein’s speech last year announcing a movement-wide initiative to welcome and engage intermarried families.
In Jonathan Tobin’s recent column on the debate over outreach, he set up a dichotomy between inreach and outreach, which is a common tactic of outreach opponents and skeptics. But a development like this collapses the categories; it shows that an exalted form of inreach, the Jewish day school, can also be a form of outreach. It simultaneously socializes Jewish kids together while giving the children of intermarried parents a strong Jewish identity.
We will keep you updated on the progress of this story, because it’s not set in stone that the Solomon Schechter schools will decide on the issue. In March, the former head of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, urged the movement’s summer camps to change their policy on patrilineals but no action has been taken.
Sue Fishkoff also wrote a sidebar on how this potential decision would affect Reform and community day schools. The general conclusion? Not much.
Jonathan Tobin, the editor of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, has written a thoughtful but flawed column on the debate over intermarriage and outreach funding for the Jerusalem Post.
I don’t have a lot of time to respond to his arguments–which are well-thought out and well-argued, as all of Tobin’s writing is–but the essential point seems to be that he fears that all the talk of outreach to intermarried families will overshadow the importance of programs that seek to socialize Jews (such as day schools, Jewish summer camps and birthright israel trips), and the Jewish community will suffer. To his credit, he isn’t against outreach and he feels that the recent survey results from Boston suggest that outreach may be successful. The problem is, he seems to see the message of outreach–and its primary purveyors, like InterfaithFamily.com–as an exclusive one, a message that seeks to denigrate efforts to encourage inmarriage.
For the record, IFF has never denigrated inmarriage, encouraged intermarriage or criticized inreach programs like he discusses. Neither have the Reform movement, the Reconstructionist movement or the Jewish Outreach Institute, which Tobin presumable would include in the “outreach lobby” he refers to.
There was a fascinating story two weeks ago by Sue Fishkoff about a new project called Moishe House, a network of subsidized homes for Jews in their 20s who are committed to building a Jewish community with their peers. In exchange for hosting eight to 12 events a month, making weekly reports and maintaining a website, three or four Jews receive a rent subsidy of up to $2,500 for a month, plus $500 for programming. Funding comes from The Forest Foundation, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based philanthropy run by a 25-year-old executive director, David Cygielman.
While they all host regular Shabbat meals, the houses aren’t restricted to hosting only Jewish-themed events. The houses in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, for example, host a lot of poker parties and film nights, while the Boston house focuses more on social action.
Our friends at STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal) issued an interesting press release today on their new survey of rabbis’ attitudes. Over 100 rabbis who are participating in STAR’s programs responded to questions about their goals and views of the future as the Jewish New Year begins.
Of particular interest to us: