The Revolutionary Generation

Reform Judaism Magazine Winter 2007

Reform Judaism Magazine’s winter 2007 issue looks at the so-called “outreach revolution” through the eyes of children of interfaith households and their parents. The term “outreach revolution” is never precisely defined but I assume it is referring to the gradual change in the atmosphere, programming, outreach and membership of Reform synagogues that has changed the movement to the point that a near-majority of its members are from interfaith families. Given that the change did not happen abruptly, and significant outreach programming didn’t start until the early ’80s, it hardly qualifies as a “revolution”–more of an “evolution” really–but what’s an extra r between friends?

The issue has a nice symmetrical feel to it. It includes perspectives from three children of interfaith marriages as well as essays from the non-Jewish parent of each child. Lucas McMahon, a 17-year-old from Marblehead, Mass., talks about what it’s like to have red hair, green eyes and be Jewish and how his mother initially didn’t invite his Catholic grandmother to his bar mitzvah–only to be rebuked by grandma, who said, “Of course I am going to come… I would not miss this for the world.” Meanwhile, Lucas’ father Tim recounts his and his wife’s decision to raise their children Jewish:

In the end our decision to raise our children as Jews came out of a simple realization: I would be more comfortable having my children be Jewish than Mindy would be having hers be Catholic. If we tried to debate which religion was “better” we would have failed.

Tim also offers some salient advice for those who are wavering over their choice to raise their children Jewishly.

Rachel Flynn, a 25-year-old living in Washington, D.C., writes about her family’s engagement with Jewish ritual, her adoption by her ex-Jesuit stepfather and her mother’s “private and mysterious” relationship to Judaism. Her stepfather, John Tibbetts, writes about his journey from entering a Catholic religious order to embracing Judaism passionately.

Joelle Asaro Berman, a 23-year-old former editor for JVibe, the magazine for Jewish teens, writes about her bewilderment at being told as an adult that she wasn’t Jewish because her dad’s not Jewish, as well as her family’s melding of its Italian and Jewish sides. Her mother Beverly writes about falling in love with Joelle’s father and how involved she has been in her children’s Jewish upbringing–despite never considering conversion.

Not part of the “Focus on Outreach,” but sticking with the theme, there is also an essay in the issue by William Squier, who writes about the tug-of-war over the family’s Christmas tree with his wife. 

For synagogues on interfaith discussion groups, there is also a useful discussion guide and bibliography.

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3 thoughts on “The Revolutionary Generation

  1. No ‘revolution’. This was going on at the time of the Maccabees, and the Macabees smashed it (literally)-now that December is coming up.

  2. The Reform Movement is a joke and not real Judaism. The fact is that Reform is rapidly declining in numbers because of their acceptance of intermarriage. The vast number of children in Reform will not follow Judiasm as adults and will marry non-Jews, even with the outreach that is basically making their brand of Judiasm more like Christianity. This shows that outreach that waters-down Judaism hurts more than it helps. If Judaism stands for everything than it will ultimately stand for nothing. That is what’s happenning to the Reform Movement.
    Because of this watered down attempt to appease Gentiles real Jews are leaving the Reform Movement in droves and migrating to the Conservative and Orthodox. Those are the real facts about the Reform Movement that interfaith groups don’t want to write about.

  3. You certainly have a right to believe that the Reform movement is a “joke,” as you say, although I imagine that conclusion has nothing to do with spending time at a Reform synagogue or with committed Reform Jews and everything to do with notions inculcated by peers and/or Orthodox rabbis. But you’re completely off-base with your claim that the Reform movement is rapidly declining and “Jews are leaving the Reform Movement in droves and migrating to the Conservative and Orthodox.” The Reform movement is not declining–between 1990 and 2001, it actually increased its share of synagogue-affiliating Jews, from 35% to 41%. And those that do leave are certainly not going to the Conservative movement, which has witnessed a significant drop in numbers over the last decade and a half. There’s no question that the Orthodox are growing, but that has more to do with high birth rates and low assimilation rates than any kind of substantial in-migration. Indeed, a study by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute from last year suggested that the NJPS 2000-01 may have overestimated the number of children in Orthodox day schools while simultaneously undercounting the number of non-Orthodox Jews. That same study showed that 81% of the Orthodox population counted in the NJPS 2000-01 were raised Orthodox, and only 4% were raised Reform. One would hardly call 4% “droves.”

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