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InterfaithFamily.com, Inc. was incorporated on October 4, 2001 â€“ almost exactly ten years ago. Looking back â€“ appropriate during this High Holiday period â€“ it was an expression of hope. Hope that we could do work that effectively would support interfaith families to find value and meaning in engaging in Jewish life, and influence Jewish communities to welcome them. Looking forward â€“ also timely now â€“ are our goals realistic? Are our efforts needed?
Last night our friend Ron Klain forwarded a great story from The Daily Beast about Meet the Press host David Gregory, who was â€śraised Jewish by his Jewish father and non-Jewish mother.â€ť Gregoryâ€™s wife Beth Wilkinson is not Jewish and decided not to convert but agreed to help educate their children. She â€śencouraged Gregory to understand more about Judaismâ€ť and her questions prompted Davidâ€™s resolve to find answers through serious Jewish learning.
For NBCâ€™s David Gregory, if itâ€™s Sunday, itâ€™s Meet the Press. If itâ€™s Friday night, itâ€™s Shabbat with his wife and three young childrenâ€¦Gregory has committed not just to exposing his children to Judaism, but to making it a part of the air they breatheâ€¦ That includes saying the Shâ€™ma Yisrael prayer with them before bed.
Stories like this one â€“ and we hear many at IFF â€“ renew my conviction that Jewish life can be accessible to interfaith families and can add value and meaning to their lives. Itâ€™s a great way to start a new year â€“ and a new decade for IFF.
On the community side, in a recent op-ed in the New York Jewish Week, Misha Galperin, who wrote a book about peoplehood, is disappointed with the lack of conversation about peoplehood, and thinks the word â€śpeoplehoodâ€ť itself has not caught on, is not warm and fuzzy, and may be to blame. He had hoped the book would spark discussion about â€śwhat we can do to bring people together with diverse Jewish commitments,â€ť but in the book the goals he set for interactions were to:
connect Jews to other Jews; engender the feeling of belonging; make Jewish learning/values part of what we do and relevant to who we are; provide venues for Jewish meaning that raise the threshold of Jewish intensity; advance notions of responsibility; and model warmth and inclusivity.
By making the first goal to connect Jews to other Jews, Misha undermines his nod to people with diverse Jewish commitments â€“ because there are a lot of people with Jewish commitments who are not Jews. Peoplehood is a hard concept for them. I donâ€™t know how Beth Wilkinson feels about this â€“ but many people in her position would say â€śIâ€™m not a Jew so I guess Iâ€™m not part of the Jewish people.â€ť A better word that peoplehood is community â€“ maybe â€ścommunalityâ€ť would be even better. Because I hope people like Beth Wilkinson would say â€śI certainly do feel that Iâ€™m part of the Jewish community â€“ and doing something very important to support it.â€ť
Itâ€™s fine if a program â€śconnects Jews to other Jews,â€ť but making that the explicit or perceived goal is a mistake because it is a turn-off to the many young people in our community who have a parent who is not a Jew or who are in a relationship with a person who is not a Jew. Our goal should be to connect all who are interested in Jewish life, and to connect them all in our community. We have a long way to go to reach that level of inclusivity.
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