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Keeping with Wednesday’s theme, I’d like to write about two very different recently published articles.
In Thursday’s The (New York) Jewish Week, Julie Wiener writes about an organization that commits “the ultimate taboo”: teaching both Judaism and Christianity to the children of interfaith couples. Going to visit the Interfaith Community’s religious school in Long Island, she was skeptical, “expecting either Jews for Jesus or an all-religion-is-the-same, kumbaya-type gathering.” After all, by the orthodoxy of the progressive Jewish world, raising children in two religions is “naive,” “confusing to children” and “practically criminal.” But she came away from the experience “impressed by the group’s intelligence and seriousness.”
Carefully sidestepping endorsement of the group’s methods (Wiener does work for The Jewish Week after all), she acknowledges that the children weened in its school are better prepared for Jewish engagement than children raised with no religion at all.
In today’s Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Julie Gruenbaum Fax reports on Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz–AKA “Schwartzie”–an Orthodox rabbi who has made outreach to unaffiliated Jews his life mission and is by all accounts a warm, inviting and friendly man… and who also wrote bigoted, sexist and cruel emails to women who interdate. In emails sent to three different women who came to his home for Jewish events, he variously insults the converted Jewish mother of one, accuses another of “trying 2 exterminate Jews” and tells another “U came dressed like a cheap SLUT W/a low cut dress.” Even in an in-person interview with Gruenbaum Fax, he relays this message for non-Jewish women who date Jewish men: “You are a f—ing Nazi. You are killing a Jew and I hate you for that and I’ll piss on your grave. You are not going to kill my Jews.”
And yet, despite this deplorable rhetoric, nobody questions the decades of contributions Rabbi Schwartz has made to engaging Jews with Judaism. His Chai Center in Mar Vista attracts 10,000 to 15,000 visitors a year, he offers free High Holiday services for 3,000 and every Friday night hosts “Dinner for 60 Strangers” in his home.
His son Mendel, who is being groomed to take over the center, makes no excuses for his father’s language, but explains his behavior through his personal history. He lost his entire extended family in the Holocaust. Now, he is extraordinarily sensitive to anything that he perceives to threaten the future of the Jewish people–even though intermarriage and extermination have nothing to do with each other.
More than anything, it’s just a sad story–sad for the women who were threatened and insulted, sad for an organization that does much good and sad for a rabbi whose heart is so filled with hate.
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