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
Thanks to all of you who responded to our Passover/Easter survey.
The results are in! We just sent out the following press release — let us know what you think of the findings.
We are experiencing a “profound demographic shift in American life,” according to Marc Dollinger, the keynote speaker at a Lehrhaus Judaica (non-denominational Jewish studies school for adults that’s open to people from different backgrounds) event last year during which he illuminated the intermarriage rate in the San Francisco Bay Area. National statistics suggest 50% of Jewish families are intermarried. In the Bay Area we have found that rate to be higher and, as demographer Dr. Dollinger states, “intermarriage rates where I live in Marin County are 75%, which is actually artificially low. Adjusted for age, it’s actually 90% for families with young children.”
“The late Gary Tobin of Bechol Lashon offered a critique of organized Jewish life. [Tobin asked,] ‘what percentage of American Jewish families were traditional,’ which he defined as: ‘a mom and a dad, neither ever divorced, both born Jewish, with children, who were not adopted.’ The answer, 5%, and that’s a national number. We can only imagine how much lower that percentage is here in the Bay Area.”
Dollinger continues, “Of my parents’ four kids, we have one Jewish-Jewish family, another Christian-Christian family, and two Jewish-Christian. God bless America! … We [Jews] have integrated ourselves so successfully that the same parents who raised a Jewish studies professor who appears so darn conventional, also raised a Christian convert.”
What did he say? 90% of families are intermarried? What a wonderful opportunity for the Jewish community to reach out to so many families and provide programs specifically designed for interfaith families, welcome interfaith families into the general programming, and listen to the needs of our interfaith families so that we can create new programs for you.
I look forward to the day when all parents can embrace their children and the choices their children make. Jewish-Jewish, Christian-Christian, or Jewish-Christian (or any other religion). Let us all focus on being good people. I encourage you to listen to Dr. Dollinger and discover for yourself what his family’s next generation looks like. America truly is the land of opportunity!
It’s interesting that so many in the Jewish community put an emphasis on Christmas. Specifically, whether or not interfaith families observe Christmas. And the assumption has been that if Christmas is observed, these families couldn’t be raising their kids in a Jewish home. And the focus of these Christmas celebrations has often been the tree.
Two local Jewish community studies (Boston’s from 2005 and New York’s from 2011 (released in 2012)) noted the frequency of interfaith families having Christmas trees. Both studies also noted the lack of data indicating what a Christmas tree means to interfaith families. Wouldn’t you know it? We’ve been asking just that question in our annual December holiday surveys!
To those of you who took our survey in September-October, thanks!
Read on for more about the results of our 9th annual December holidays survey, interfaith families, and the December dilemma:
I’m pleased to report that the New York Jewish Week has published my op-ed, What Draws Interfaith Families to Jewish Life. A considerably longer version is on the Huffington Post, A New Year To Engage Interfaith Families in Jewish Life.
Having just come off Yom Kippur’s intense period of introspection about the past and the future, it feels that the time is now right for this call for a new sustained effort to engage interfaith families in Jewish life and community.
The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent ran a piece on the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s 2009 “Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia.” Apparently Philadelphia’s Jewish community has a high rate of interfaith marriage and a low rate of people in those marriages deciding to raise Jewish children. In the greater Philadelphia area, 45 percent for Jews under 40 marry non-Jews with only 29 percent of intermarried couples of all ages raising their children solely as Jews. In the Philadelphia area, 60 per cent of same-faith Jewish couples affiliate with synagogues, but only 9 per cent of interfaith couples do.
The community then asks two familiar questions: Can we stop Jews from marrying non-Jews, and can we simultaneously welcome interfaith families to stay in the community? The reporter talked with different leaders in the Jewish community, some who advocate doing one, and some the other.
It’s really difficult for people outside of our community to understand this fear, but articles like these make it clear–it’s a fear of disappearing. It’s also clear what direction we should take. The article quotes:
Mindy Fortin, a mother of three, who’s married to a Catholic man and is a former board member of the synagogue, has overseen those efforts, which have included weekly classes with the rabbi for both Jewish and non-Jewish partners in interfaith marriages.
I have been trying to tune out all of the sad news about Michael Jackson passing away. This must be very hard on Michael Jackson’s three children whom he was raising. The two older children’s mother is Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe, who is Jewish. When the couple divorced in 1999, she signed over her parental rights to Jackson but later took him to court to contest the contract and win the right to become more involved in their lives. In 2006, the year after Jackson was acquitted of child molestation, Rowe won her case against Jackson in an appeals court, but later they settled out of court to leave the children in his custody.
The Los Angeles Jewish Journal reported that Ms. Rowe was upset that her children were being exposed to the Nation of Islam through their nanny and Rowe wanted them to exposed to her religion as well. According to the JTA, there are conflicting reports about whether Ms. Rowe will seek custody.
Jackson was a Jehovah’s Witness, as are his parents. He has one brother who converted to Islam. Jackson and his children spent a year in Bahrain in 2005 after his trial for child molestation, during which time he was seen in public in an abaya, a woman’s head covering, in order to maintain anonymity.
To complicate the story further, Jackson was also at one time a close friend and protégé of Rabbi Shmuely Boteach. At the time of Jackson’s death, he had not spoken with Boteach for five years. Boteach has expressed his sorrow for Jackson and his children.
I hope all of Michael Jackson’s children are able to make peace with their father’s death and remember him lovingly. I also wish Jackson’s two older children, son Prince Michael I, 12, and daughter Paris Michael Katherine, 11 are also given the opportunity to explore their Jewish heritage.
An article in the New York Times about the latest American Girl doll caught my eye in the blog Anti-Racist Parent. (I subscribe to their RSS feed because I aspire to be that.) It’s an interesting story — the latest in this line of historically-based dolls is Jewish.
Just to give you the background, if you don’t know: American Girl dolls are not generic baby dolls for open-ended play, nor are they fashionable ladies to act out being mathematicians or mommies; each doll comes with a pre-written background historical fiction. The dolls alone sell for $95. Accompanying story books, sold separately, place the characters of each of the dolls in her time and region of the United States, and there are also accessories for each doll that may be purchased separately. (This is the kind of racket that makes me really happy to have a little boy.)
The New York Times piece discusses how previous African-American and Latina dollies attracted criticism. Which you can understand, I think — you don’t want to give children the message that their ethnic identity is bound up exclusively in oppression, and choosing to have the one African-American doll be born in slavery could be seen to do that. As a Jewish parent I do want my child to know the history of anti-Semitism, of the Shoah and the pogroms and the expulsions. But it’s not the first thing I want him to learn about himself, that he’s a target. I’d rather have him learn that musicians and scientists he admires are Jewish, first, and that there are Jewish people, who look different from each other, living all over the world, and then Jewish food and Jewish songs and Jewish jokes. There’s plenty of time to learn about the other stuff. In any case, the company went to great lengths this time to get it right, including consulting with, among others, Jewish historian Paula Hyman at Yale.
If you were going to write a story about an American Jewish girl set today, what would she look like and what would her story be?
A week and a half ago, Norman Lamm, the chancellor of Yeshiva University, gave an interview with the Jerusalem Post that is so full of insults for every Jew who’s not like him that it could pass as anti-Semitism.
In the interview, Lamm says, “With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements,” a statement as incorrect as it is condescending. It actually gets worse, much worse, from there.
For our purposes, we’ll only focus on the vitriol he directs at the Reform movement’s policy of recognizing the Jewishly raised children of non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers as Jews. Discussing population growth in the progressive movements, he says, “The Reform Movement may show a rise, because if you add goyim to Jews then you will do OK.” We wrote a letter to the editor about this particularly revolting quote, reprinted below:
A new game that has amused me and my friends in recent days is adding “…especially in this economy” to the end of any opinionated statement. The more ridiculous, the better.
Let’s take some examples from friends’ Facebook status updates (all names changed to protect the guilty): “Lisa Martin is really going to miss ‘Lost’ this summer, especially in this economy.” Not bad. “Richard Poe is struggling to stay awake, especially in this economy.” Decent. ”Trader Joe’s gazpacho is delicious, especially in this economy!” Nice. “Susan Portnoy is amazed by the logic a 4 year old will use not to take medicine, especially in this economy.” We have a winner!
I bring this up because just as this economy is leading people to question all kinds of political and economic assumptions, it’s also leading the Jewish community to question assumptions about some of its most enconsced institutions.
It is rare that an event accomplishes two goals at once. The Jewish Family Network helped my family do just that. Last Saturday night, my family headed out to the Children’s Discovery Museum in Acton for a Hanukkah celebration. I am a Jewish professional and my husband is a scientist and our priorities sometimes clash, but last Saturday night they melded beautifully.
Our evening opened with Havadalah and ended with Hanukkah songs and sufganot with Cantor Gaston My 21 month old son was so mesmerized he sat in a chair for 25 minutes clapping along to Hanukkah songs. In between, we spent time in this amazing space where we explored interactive and age-appropriate exhibits focused on scientific inquiry. We also had an opportunity to create our own dreidel.
We liked the way the evening integrated our cultural and scientific exploration and the way it worked for our child and both of his parents.