Israel, Philadelphia, Detroit

The Nativity Story, about the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, is coming out on Friday. We’re doing something new with this movie and hopefully others with religious content. We are sending an interfaith couple to see the movie to record their impressions of the movie, in the hope of illuminating how pop culture can mean different things to people of different religious and cultural backgrounds. Look for the review in our web magazine next week.

  • Jewish Agency Chairman Ze’ev Bielski’s comments on the American Jewish future–or lack thereof–continue to resonate in the Israeli press. At the United Jewish Communities General Assembly a few weeks ago, he said, “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.” Their only option, in his mind, is to emigrate to Israel.

    You might expect an outcry of opposition to such wrong-headed and hurtful comments. But you would be wrong.

    Instead, you get columns like this one in the Jerusalem Post, from Rabbi Stewart Weiss, the director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana, where he says that Bielski is right, but that his tactics are wrong. Weiss calls assimilation and intemarriage the “‘twin towers of tragedy’” and considers them responsible for a “‘silent Holocaust’ for at least half a century.” Where Weiss differs from Bielski is that he feels scaring American Jews is not the way to get them to come to Israel; better to sell them on the positive aspects of Israel, he says. This is what passes for moderation in a country that has both an instinctive and legalized disdain for intermarriage.

    (It should also be noted that all the leaders who call for mass American Jewish aliyah are ignoring how important the American Jewish community is to the relationship between Israel and the U.S.)

  • Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent wrote a nice editorial about the results of the 2005 Boston Jewish Community Survey, which I will quote from liberally:

    The survey found that some 60 percent of children raised in interfaith households in that region were being raised as Jews.

    That figure reaches far above the national average (in the neighborhood of 25 percent to 30 percent) — far enough to force us to ask what’s so different about Boston. Local activists claim the reason is a larger localized effort to produce programs for interfaith couples and other outreach efforts. While this conclusion has yet to be substantiated by hard research, it certainly makes sense.

    Though similar attempts may not necessarily work elsewhere, those who care about Jewish life cannot afford to ignore the Boston experiment. Whether some of us like it or not, if Boston has found a formula that works, the rest of us had better pay attention and start doing the same thing in our communities.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • The Detroit Jewish News recently published our letter to the editor regarding Editor Robert Sklar’s comments that intermarriage was one of “the Big Three of threats to the religious identity of Jews age 18-39 in America.”
  • Also in Detroit, the Detroit Free Press published a story (online only, I believe) about our brand-new study of interfaith families celebrating the December holidays. There is one significant error, however: the survey specifically looked at interfaith families raising Jewish children, not all interfaith families, as the article states.

    So what did we find out about these families? That they are doing a good job keeping the holidays separate, that they view Christmas as a secular, not religious, holiday, that they take part in Christmas celebrations much more with family and friends than they do at home and that they are confident that their children’s identities won’t be confused by celebrating both. To read the full report, click here. I’ll offer some more details about the report tomorrow.

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