A bunch of interesting stuff from the past week or so:
The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reports on a series of mysterious billboards that began popping up around L.A. after the High Holidays. One had a picture of latkes and fries and said simply “Latke or fries?” Another had a pic of bagels and lox and sushi with the message “Bagels and lox or sushi?” Another had a yarmulke and cap.
It turns out they were part of a clever and buzz-generating marketing campaign from L.A.’s Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries, which is trying to market itself to interfaith couples and families. Mt. Sinai gets points not just for a great marketing ploy, but for having the courage to provide a burial spot for the growing interfaith population–it’s one of the emerging problems for the significant number of baby boomers who have intermarried.
Julie Wiener is at it again. Her latest column tells the fascinating story of a couple of rabbinical students whose parents were intermarried, and explores the ways in which their interfaith background was a key factor in their choice to go into the rabbinate.
The Jewish Agency does amazing things throughout the world, but its chairman, Zeev Bielski made some ridiculous comments to The Jerusalem Post while visiting the U.S. for the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities: “One day the penny will drop for American Jews and they will realize they have no future as Jews in the US due to assimilation and intermarriage.”
Almost as soon as he uttered the words, he began to backtrack, which I guess is a good thing. But his comments, and comments made by Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders in the past, show a willful ignorance of the positive ways that interfaith families and children of interfaith heritage are contributing to the Jewish community in North America. No doubt he hadn’t seen the report that 60 percent of interfaith households in Boston aren’t raising their children Jewish. If he had, he would have realized that intermarried families are actually a vital part of America’s Jewish future.
Chabad has been trotting Doron Kornbluth, the author of Why Marry Jewish? around the world, apparently, judging by this press release announcing his tour of Europe and this blog entry on his visit to Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. I haven’t read the book or seen him speak, but it’s clear from the Brandeis blog entry that some students find the approach offensive.
We wrote a letter to the editor of the Detroit Jewish News regarding Editor Bob Sklar’s column where he calls intermarriage one of the “big three threats” to religious identity in young Jews. Here’s the letter we sent:
In his Nov. 2 column “This Linkage is a Keeper,” Editor Robert A. Sklar refers to intermarriage as one of “the Big Three of threats to the religious identity of Jews age 18-39 in America.” It’s a familiar lament, only there’s one problem: increasing evidence suggests that it’s not true.
The just-released study of Boston’s Jewish community study revealed that 60 percent of intermarried families in the Boston area are raising their children as Jews, which means that intermarried families aren’t contributing to the decline of the Boston Jewish community—they’re actually helping to increase its size! It’s also no coincidence that Boston has the best-funded, best-organized collection of outreach programs in the country, and much of the community, from the federation on down, makes outreach a priority. This comes on top of data from the 2004 Jewish Community Study of San Francisco that showed that a greater percentage of interfaith families raising their children Jewish had given their children formal Jewish education than had inmarried families.
Yossi Abramowitz, the founder of JFL Media, from which InterfaithFamily.com was originally borne, recently made aliyah to Israel. In an interview with Zeek, he makes the important point that the Jewish community spends too much time on figuring out who’s part of the community and not enough time on the message:
As the cases of Boston and San Francisco demonstrate, intermarriage need not be a threat to religious identity. With the right attitude and the right programming, it can be an opportunity.
There is way too much obsession in Jewish life about who is in and who is out. We should worry more about what is being transmitted and less about to whom. If we have some of the best stuff on earth, then let’s get it out there effectively and people will make Jewish decisions in their lives. For example, questions of personal status – who is a Jew, intermarriage – receive a lot of communal attention. Judaism’s richness needs to be liberated – we need to reveal the Big Picture and Everyday values with which it is infused. We don’t seem to mind that at Sinai the mixed multitudes accepted the Torah with the rest of us. We are the first generation in modern Jewish history with the opportunity to present our ideas on a level playing field, to compete with any faith community or set of ideas. This should also make us secure enough to learn from others.
It’s an inspiring point, although there’s a good reason why the Jewish community obsesses over issues of survival rather than issues of values. Everyone–Reform or Orthodox, right or left–can agree that the survival of the Jewish people is important, but there is huge disagreement on which Torah values to emphasize; the Reform movement seeks to emphasize issues of social justice, the Orthodox groups seek to emphasize issues of abiding by the mitzvot. But survival-related issues–fighting antisemitism, fighting intermarriage, preserving the memory of the Holocaust, securing Israel–are matters that (almost) all Jews can agree on. In this climate of consensus, issues like “Who’s a Jew?” take priority over questions like “What is appropriate ethical behavior?” and “What is the Jewish view on war?”
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