Lots of Questions For Teens From Interfaith Homes

I had the opportunity to join in a Chicagoland Teen Visioning Meeting, led by the Federation (JUF) with representatives from different youth movements and youth programs in the area. We broke into small groups and spoke about how to better use technology to reach teens, how to keep teens post-bar/bat mitzvah in learning and organized Jewish life, and goals to achieve in five years.

The reason I was invited to this meeting was to facilitate a conversation about how to better serve teens from interfaith homes. Every youth group has teens with a parent who is either not Jewish or a Jew by Choice, or family members who are not Jewish. We wondered aloud whether teens from interfaith homes struggle with their emerging young adult identities in unique ways. The overarching question, however, was how we reach the gazillions of teens in unaffiliated, interfaith homes who are being raised without religion or religious identity, or being raised with holiday celebrations or some Judaism in the home, but have never walked into a synagogue or JCC.

Where are these teens? Are they looking for Jewish experiences? What types of experiences? Are they not actively thinking about Judaism, but when invited, would be open to learning and participation? Who are their parents? Are their parents open to having their children participate in a specifically Jewish program?

As you can see, we left with many questions.

Every two weeks I blog, sharing the experiences I am having as Director of InterfaithFamily/Chicago. I have blogged about religious school teacher workshops. I have shared my thoughts from our first Love and Religion Workshop. But this blog post is open, unfinished, full of more questions than answers.

If you are parents in an interfaith marriage and have teens or pre-teens, please share your thoughts about what types of Jewish experiences your teens are open to and find engaging. Do your teens prefer to go to events that are social and loosely focused on a Jewish theme? Are your teens more apt to attend a program that is based in serious study, in which they can intellectually grapple with issues of ethics and morality and apply an ancient law code to modern times? Are your teens excited about music, sports, technology or film?

Clearly, there have to be opportunities for teens to find a way into Jewish living that touches on lots of different facets of the religion/culture. But for teens whose parents have not found their own way to organized Jewish life, what barriers are there to entry? Is language alone too daunting for teens not familiar with even basic Jewish vocabulary such as “tzedakah”?

The Jewish world wants these teens in our synagogues, in our youth groups, in our summer youth programs. It is not too late for these teens to discover their Jewish roots and heritage. In fact, coming to Judaism as a young adult is in some ways an ideal time to discover the depth of this incredible and challenging way of life.

Where are you? Who are you? How can we invite you in? Let us know!

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2 thoughts on “Lots of Questions For Teens From Interfaith Homes

  1. Have you, or the other organizations represented at the Chicagoland Teen Visioning Meeting, thought of asking pre-teens and teens directly? You’ve asked parents to “please share your thoughts about what types of Jewish experiences your teens are open to and find engaging,” but teens are likely able to articulate their own wants and needs as well.

  2. Dear Rabbi Moffic:

    I read with interest and approval your essay on outreaching teens from interfaith families. I will offer some resources and some thoughts.

    First, if you are interested in what teens and adults from interfaith families think, you are welcome to visit the Half-Jewish Network at:

    http://www.half-jewish.net

    The website contains extensive information on adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage in their own words.

    Second, if you are interested in what teens and other adults from interfaith families actually think, I would not advise contacting our interfaith parents.

    Intermarried parents react very poorly when we depart from the ‘family script’ of how we are to believe and behave. You will do better asking the teens themselves directly what they think and feel, preferably when their intermarried parents are not around.

    Third, I am very gratified by your interest in half-Jewish young people. I hope that it will continue.

    Fourth, I will suggest that there are two some understandable misconceptions in your essay. You state: “The Jewish world wants these teens in our synagogues, in our youth groups, in our summer youth programs.”  Not exactly.

    I know, based on repeated recent experiences in interceding for half-Jewish adults trying to gain entry that the Jewish world, that Jewish institutions only want half-Jewish teens who were raised as Jews from birth. Those half-Jewish people have largely been socialized to identify as ‘real Jews’ and not mention their interfaith parentage.

    Many Jewish institutions raise active barriers to keep the other half-Jewish teens and adults raised outside of Judaism out of Jewish institutions — or they try to shunt half-Jewish people into conversion classes that are not always appropriate for their needs.

    For an explanation, see an essay I wrote for Jewcy.com, “Why Many Jewish Outreach Workers Ignore Half-Jewish People”:

    http://www.jewcy.com/religion-and-belie … ish_people

    In addition to outreaching the half-Jewish teens, you will have to refer them to organizations that will sincerely welcome them to Judaism, not covertly push them away while giving lip service to inclusion.

    So in addition to the usual barriers to entry into the Jewish community – Hebrew language services, clubby cliques, focus on Israel with ideological litmus tests for newcomers – half-Jewish teens are met with a mixed message – they deal with organizations that talk ‘inclusion’ all the time, but don’t always practice it.

    Half-Jewish teens and adults who don’t conceal their interfaith parentage can find themselves repeatedly judged as “Jewish” or “not Jewish” or “not Jewish enough” when they set a tentative foot within a Jewish institution.

    I would be happy to talk with you about the needs and issues of adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage and can be contacted through my website.

    Cordially,
    Robin Margolis
    http://www.half-jewish.net

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