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âThe organized Jewish community is nothing more than the mean girls from high school.â
What?! I think I literally stopped breathing for a moment. Could it be true? I knew this lovely person across from me believed what she was saying. So I wondered, âCould this community that brings me so much joy and comfort be unknowingly treating some individuals as though they are lesser than?â
Feeling compelled to learn the truth, I started asking around: Does the community ever look at you with eyes of judgment instead of acceptance; act unwelcoming to otherâs differences; create distinctions and groupingsâwith some in and some out? Holy sh*t! Organized Jewish community can be just like the mean girls to those who don’t fit its idea of what normative participants should look like. And this realization now drives my work as director of InterfaithFamily/Bay Area.
Yes, it might stem from our own inner fears about our future, but the Jewish community can be the worst kind of mean kids. We can make others feel unaccepted, unimportant and unwelcome; and then we pretend itâs all in their minds.
Every day. Every year. We look at interfaith families and, sometimes purposefully and sometimes accidentally, with both verbal and nonverbal ques, we question their presence, their legitimacy and their worth.
Since beginning my work with IFF a few months ago, I have heard several painstaking revelations from a large variety of individuals, some Jewish, some who love Jews and some who are raising Jews. Each of these souls sat with me and shared deep pain. This pain came from the words and actions of clergy, staff, lay leaders and other participants in the congregations, schools and organizations these families looked to for community. One told me, âI had never experienced discrimination until I tried to embed myself in the Jewish community.â And another said, âWhatever I do, whatever I sayâitâs never enough. Theyâll never accept me.â
Obviously, this is hard to hear. Some of you are probably thinking it doesnât apply to you, or your congregation, your organization. If only that were true.
Even while trying to be welcoming, many Jewish institutions still make interfaith families feel as though theyâre lacking. We embrace them, to a point. Welcome them in, but speak about how their choices are flawed or problematic. As one person told me, âConditional welcoming is not welcoming.â Or another who told me that welcoming her, while subtly pushing conversion, made her feel like her congregation was saying she wasnât welcome as she was. Or as she put it, âItâs like they said, go ahead and lose 10 pounds and then weâll hang out with you.â
Or we institute a donât-ask-donât-tell policy inviting everyone in, but offering unwritten rules that things such as Christmas trees should never be spoken about out loud. We say, just come: Everyone is welcome as you are, but then in an effort to not make distinctions between people we fail to provide proper instruction or explanation to the masses. As one mother told me, âItâs like I asked how to get to the kiddie pool and I was thrown into the deep end, with no life jacket.â
I have been blown away by the stories Iâve heard and the judgment some of our families and couples feel. And I am a rabbi who works for a Jewish organization. If people are interacting with me, they are trying. They are choosing to engage with Judaism and Jewish community enough that theyâre at the dinner table with me.
Even a Jewish family, raising Jewish children, embracing Jewish community is accustomed to disrespectful comments and glances if they are intercultural, interracial or if one hasnât formally converted to Judaism. Even though they are committed to Judaism in their home, they may receive strange looks and questions that imply we believe they are secretly turning their children away from Judaism. Let me clarify â they are not.
There are interfaith families in every congregation who are active Jewish community members and who, whether you know it or not, never converted. They are members of our religious school committee and regular service attendees. They are devoted to their familyâs Jewish identity, even if they themselves are from different faith backgrounds. I fear we hurt these incredible souls the most, for they hear all of the unguarded and offhand comments which denigrate interfaith couples. As one person told me, âThe part I donât normally tell people is that it wasnât a stranger who said it to me, it was a friend. A friend. I couldnât respond. I couldnât speak.â
When will these Jewish families feel like theyâre not second-class citizens? Only when we stop treating them as such.
I get that this feels complicated and painful. I understand loving Judaism so much that you only want whatâs best for her future. Hereâs the thingânothing excuses causing another pain. We need to love Judaism enough to know she will offer beautiful and wonderful lessons and rituals that will enrich peopleâs lives. Thatâs how Judaism will thrive through generations, not by shutting doors and creating barriers.
If we really want to be good Jews, weâll remember to welcome our guests (hachnasat orchim), to prioritize love (ahavah) and respect (kavod), to offer respectful communication (shmirat halashon), to support creating peace in the home (shalom bayit) and loving our neighbors as ourselves (vâahavta lâreacha kamocha).
May we always elevate the values of knowing a whole person (kaf zechut), of offering explanations and choosing our words wisely so as not to embarrass or leave anyone out (lo levayesh) and may we never gossip or insult (lo lashon hara), whether we believe they may hear us or not.
If we embrace who our tradition truly wants us to be, the members of the organized Jewish community will transform from mean girls to ambassadors. We will offer guidance, excitement, connection and true community. When we use our hearts for love, true welcome will flow forth.
This post originally appeared onÂ www.edumundcase.comÂ and is reprinted with permission
Itâs been quiet on the intermarriage front for a while; it feels like most peopleâs attention is understandably in the political realm these days. But in the past two weeks there has been interesting news and comment on intermarriage in the more traditional, conservative parts of the Jewish community.
When people talk about intermarriage, for example about the 72 percent rate of intermarriage since 2000 among non-Orthodox Jews, the general understanding is that intermarriage isnât much of a phenomenon in the Orthodox world. A fascinating blog post on intermarriage in the Orthodox world, The Rise of Interfaith Marriage in the Modern Orthodox Community, suggests that that may not be the case. The blogâs creator, Alan Brill, estimates that 7-8 percent of young Modern Orthodox Jews are intermarried, and says that âordinary Modern Orthodox Jews are talking about this topic,âŚâ He also says âcases of full Orthodox conversion âŚ are now quite common.â
Most of the blog post is a guest post by âRuvie,â a Modern Orthodox man, writing about his feelings about his sonâs marriage to someone who was not Jewish â feelings that arenât that different from those of many non-Orthodox Jews.
Ruvie says he is aware of five interfaith marriages in the past year and a half among children of his observant Modern Orthodox friends. âAll parents went through various stages of shame, anger, confusion and guilt.â âThis is something new and growing in the MO community.â He refers to estimates of 5 to 20 percent intermarriage rates in the Orthodox world.
Ruvie complains that there is a taboo about talking about intermarriage that no longer exists in other controversial topics in Orthodoxy, like homosexuality and people abandoning Orthodoxy:
Ruvie describes the reactions of his friends and himself:
It is very clear that Ruvieâs son may have left Modern Orthodoxy but has not left Jewish life. The officiating rabbi recommended that the young woman take an introduction to Judaism course and during the course she decided to undergo a Conservative conversion. Before the wedding the son asked the father to put up a mezuzah at his apartment; after the wedding the son asked his mother where he could ritually immerse their dishes.
It is also very clear that Ruvie prioritizes his relationship with ÂÂÂhis son:
Ruvieâs conclusion: âThere is a lack of open conversation and dialogue on this topic in our community. Letâs begin now.â
The Conservative movement currently restricts synagogue membership to Jews. The recent news, described in a JTA article, “Conservative movement proposes allowing non-jews as synagogue members,” is that the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (the association of Conservative synagogues) is asking the synagogues to vote in March to allow individual synagogues to decide whether to grant membership to those who are not Jewish. Rabbi Steven Wernick, head of USCJ, said that âthe current standards donât make sense in a world where many intermarried couples are active participants in Conservative congregationsâ and that âthe language of âonly Jews can be members of a synagogueâ makes it seem like [someone who is not Jewish] who is connected is not a member of that community.â
Rabbi Wernick also said that the USCJ is not changing the definition of who counts as Jewish: âWhat weâre trying to do with this is distinguish between community and covenant.â But Rabbi Chuck Simon, head of the Federation of Jewish Menâs Clubs and the most outspoken Conservative leader on intermarriage issues, recently created a pamphlet in which he essentially recommends that the Conservative movement adopt patrilineal descent. “The Elephant in the Room: Conservative Judaism and the Patrilineal Question.”
It will be interesting to see movement in the Modern Orthodox and the Conservative parts of the community toward more acceptance and welcoming of interfaith families.
There was also a piece on eJewishPhilanthropy about Hebrew Collegeâs new certificate program in Interfaith Families Jewish Engagement, and a positive comment by Phoebe Maltz Bovy in the Forward.
It was all over the news. âIvanka and Jared can ride in cars on inaugurationÂ Shabbatâ proclaimed the New York PostÂ on Thursday, January 19. âIvanka Trump and Jared Kushner Get Rabbinic Pass to Ride in Car on Inauguration Shabbatâ said a headline in The Forward. All of my friends were talking about this and posting about it on social media. How could Ivanka and Jared say that theyâre modern Orthodox Jews, who observe the Sabbath, and yet theyâd be traveling in a car following Donald Trumpâs inauguration on Friday, after the beginning of Shabbat? Why were they granted special permission by a rabbi to use a vehicle on Shabbat out of safety? After all, my friends would point out, Ivanka and Jared didnât have to go to the inaugural balls and galas. Other friends were saying that they probably got the dispensation because theyâre rich and powerful.
The more I heard people criticize Ivanka and Jared, the more uncomfortable I got. Whether or not I like or support them or the president is irrelevant; I donât think I have the right to criticize Ivanka and Jaredâs Jewish observance.
I often hear people judge interfaith couples and families just as theyâve been judging Ivanka and Jared.
If the Jewish partner truly cared about Judaism, they say, then they wouldn’t have married someone who isn’t Jewish.Â (For my personal thoughts on this issue, see my postÂ ‘Marrying Out is not ‘Abandoning Judaism’.)
If they wanted to have a Jewish home, they wouldn’t have a Christmas tree.
Their children aren’t really Jewish because the mother is Christian and they never took the children to a mikveh (ritual bath) to convert them.
How could they have had both a rabbi and a priest at their wedding?
How can the Christian mom be raising Jewish kids if she herself goes to church?
Many years ago, Rabbi Israel Salanter said, âMost men worry about their own bellies and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls and other people’s bellies.â What a beautiful teaching! Wouldnât it be great if all of us could spend less time focusing on and talking about the ways in which other people practice their religion, and more time trying to bring healing to our fractured world?
I spend a lot of time advocating for interfaith couples and families to be accepted by the Jewish community âas they areâ and encouraging synagogues and Jewish institutions to welcome and embrace all those who want to walk through their doors, rather than judging them. I think that itâs only fair that I speak out in favor of giving that same respect to Ivanka and Jared. Letâs not obsess over the fact that they traveled in a car on Shabbat – itâs not really news. Weâd all be a lot better off, to paraphrase Rabbi Salanter, focusing on our own spiritual and religious lives and concerning ourselves with eliminating hunger and poverty. Now thatâs something to talk about.
Itâs 1972. An off-duty, dark haired young cabbie drives by a young blond woman. Slowing down and noticing that the woman is attractive, he switches his light to âon dutyâ and backs up to pick her up. He drops her off at the school where she teaches, then watches as she walks in. Flash forward to the end of the school day and as the teacher leaves school, the cabbieâs there waiting to pick her up. A montage unfolds: The good looking couple walking over a bridge in New Yorkâs Central Park with their arms around each other; him playfully chasing her; the two of them kissing in the back of the cab; kissing more by the bridge. And then, they finally speak:
Woman: âYou know, this is crazy. I donât even know your full name.â
Man: âBernieâŚ.Steinberg. Whatâs yours?â
Woman: âBridgetâŚ.Bridget â Theresa â Mary â Helene â Fitzgerald.â
Then they both say at the same time: âI think we have a problem.â
So opened the pilot episode of Bridget Loves Bernie (you can CLICK HERE to see it yourself), about the interfaith marriage of Irish Catholic Bridget (played by Meredith Baxter) and Jewish Bernie (played by David Birney).
Bridget Loves Bernie had a primetime Saturday night slot between two very popular shows and it was the fifth highest rated TV show of the 1972-1973 season. But it was cancelled by CBS executives in response to hate mail from viewers who opposed its portrayal of the coupleâs interfaith marriage. To this day, Bridget Loves Bernie is the highest rated TV show to be cancelled after only one season.
I was a young girl when Bridget Loves Bernie was on TV, but I still remember the show. And I remember the atmosphere in which it aired, at least in the Jewish communityâand certainly in the tight-knit Conservative synagogue where I grew up. It was a shonda (a shame, a pity) if you were Jewish and you married someone from another faith. People assumed you didnât care about Judaism. When you âmarried outâ you were seen as âwriting offâ your Judaism. I heard stories of parents who âsat shivaâ (performed the Jewish mourning rituals) for a child who âmarried out.â The parents wondered what they had done wrong. The married children usually cut off ties with the synagogue and the Jewish community. (Can you blame them?)
To a large extent, things have changed. The days when I grew up, when Bridget Loves Bernieâs interfaith marriage was too controversial for primetime television, are fadingâat least in a large segment of the liberal Jewish community. In todayâs worldâa world in which, according to the 2013 Pew Portrait of American Jews, 71 percent of liberal Jews who are getting married are marrying someone who isnât Jewishâitâs not a shock when Bridget loves Bernie (or, for that matter, when Bridget loves Bernice). And now, with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Collegeâs recent decision to allow inter-partnered candidates apply to the school, it may become less of a big deal when Bridget loves RABBI Bernie or Bernice.
If you identify as a liberal (non-Orthodox) Jew you almost certainly have friends, and most likely family members, who are in interfaith relationships. If you belong to a Conservative, Humanist, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal or unaffiliated synagogue, you almost certainly know fellow-congregants who are in interfaith marriages. And you probably know parents who arenât Jewish who are actively involved in the Jewish education and upbringing of their children.
Today, there are lots of real couples like Bridget and Bernie, each with their own unique stories, and we canât just âcancel the showâ and ignore reality. (For years, the Jewish communityâs response to intermarriage was to preach against it.Â Not only did intermarriage rates continue to rise, but people in interfaith relationships often felt alienation from and resentment toward the Jewish community.)
If Bridget and Bernie were real people living today, InterfaithFamily, and many like-minded people in the Jewish world, would see Bernieâs marriage to Bridget not as a threat to Jewish continuity, but rather as an opportunity. Weâd want to celebrate Bridget and Bernieâs marriage (they could even use our free clergy referral service to find a rabbi or cantor to officiate at their wedding), to provide Jewish resources and support and a safe, non-judgmental space to explore the role of religion in their lives and their marriage. If Bridget and Bernie decided to move to Philadelphia (or one of the other cities that has an InterfaithFamily/Your Community office) they could take our âLove and Religionâ workshop and meet with other interfaith couples to discuss how to have religious traditions in their lives together. When they had kids, they could take our online âRaising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Familyâ class to consider âhowâ and âwhyâ to bring Jewish traditions into their lives.
Bridget and Bernie are ready for primetime. And for InterfaithFamily, âprimetimeâ is the month of November, when we celebrate Interfaith Family Month. This is a time for synagogues and Jewish organizations to publicly acknowledge and thank those members of our community who arenât Jewish; to let them know that we donât just tolerate them, but we are grateful to them for their commitment to Judaism and Jewish continuity. Itâs a time to let those Jews who have partners who arenât Jewish know that not only are we not âsitting shivaâ for them, but we hope that they will fully engage in the Jewish community, and that we donât see their choice of a life-partner as a reflection on their Jewish commitment. Itâs a time to declare that rather than fighting against intermarriage, we are working for a vibrant Jewish communityâand we welcome anyone who wants to join us.
Interfaith Family Month is a time to let all of the âBerniesâ out there know that we donât love them any less because they love âBridget.â And for all of the âBridgetsâ out there, we hope that just as you love âBernie,â you will come to love his Jewish community too, because we are committed to building a Jewish community where the two of you can truly feel at home.
Todayâs Statement on Jewish Vitality, advocating strategic responses to respond to the challenges of the Jewish future, is extremely disheartening for what it says and what it doesnât say about interfaith families.
Twenty-five years after continuity efforts began, it is still the case that most of our Jewish thought leaders, exemplified by those who signed on to the Statement, still think that intermarriage is bad, still think that conversion is the âanswerâ to the intermarriage âproblem,â and still oppose programmatic efforts to engage interfaith families.
The Statement says that many children of non-Orthodox Jews will not identify as Jewish when they grow up âowing to intermarriage,â even though the Pew Report found increasing numbers of children of intermarried parents identifying as Jews and even though âowing toâ sounds a lot like saying that intermarriage causes children to not be raised as Jews but all of the surveys show correlation at best and not causation.
The Statement touts Jewish education programs, PJ Library, camps, trips to Israel, youth groups, etc. because they raise the in-marriage rate, instead of because they are critically important for and successful at strengthening Jewish engagement.
Yes, the Statement acknowledges that large numbers of Jews will intermarry, but immediately says âwe must bear in mind that intermarriages can be transformed to in-marriages by the act of conversionâ and advocates for more conversion-oriented courses.
If Jewish leaders wanted to drive away from Jewish engagement the 71% of non-Orthodox Jews who intermarried since 2000, and the majority of college-age Jews who have one Jewish parent, they couldnât do so more effectively than by espousing the response to intermarriage expressed in the Statement. Interfaith couples do not want to participate in a community that describes their relationships as something to be prevented, let alone tells one partner that theyâre welcome if they convert but not as they are.
This fundamental distaste for intermarriage is manifested by the complete absence of any support in the Statement for programs that are targeted expressly at recruiting, attracting and embracing interfaith families. Sure, itâs OK with these leaders if the children of intermarried parents participate in their immersive programs â but G-d forbid that the community do anything that explicitly states, and demonstrates with programmatic responses, that Jews want interfaith families to engage in Jewish life and community.
All of the programmatic steps outlined in the Statement are important and should be supported. But if they are marketed as leading to in-marriage and conversion, and if they are not accompanied by programs for interfaith families, they will amount to just circling the wagons around a continuing diminishing group.
Fortunately, there are other Jewish thought leaders who recognize the importance of efforts to engage interfaith families. Iâm thinking of the Genesis Prize Fund which boldly chose to honor Michael Douglas, and now in partnership with the Jewish Funders Network is offering a matching grant initiative âto encourage the creation of a culture of welcoming and acceptance within the Jewish community of intermarried couples, their families, and individuals who come from these families [and] to energize and strengthen organizations working in this field and to encourage the creation of new programs in that area.â
Iâm thinking of federations and family foundations and community foundations in Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington DC who provide support for InterfaithFamily/Your Community projects in each of those cities, where a full-time rabbi and a project manager build trusted advisor relationships with interfaith couples and families (including by helping them find officiants for life cycle events) and offer a range of Jewish learning and community building experiences for young couples seeking help deciding what to do about religious traditions in their lives and young interfaith families seeking help raising their children with Judaism.
It would have been so smart for the signatories of the Statement to eliminate their anti-intermarriage tone and to include programs for interfaith families among their list of efforts deserving support. I long for the day when the more enlightened view becomes predominant. Because if Jews and Jewish leaders canât overcome fundamental deep-seated antipathy toward intermarriage, weâre going to see not vitality, but decline.
A few weeks ago, I bonked my head while getting ready for bed and got a concussion. This was not my first time experiencing brain damage. I bruised my tender brain two-and-a-half years ago after a small car accident when I was living in Philadelphia. The air bag went off and temporarily knocked me out. It took two years to fully recover from this intense blast. My doctor informed me that I was more prone to âre-concussâ my brain because of my previous accident and wasn’t at all surprised that this recent slight blow to my head was so traumatizing.
My symptoms include mega migraines, difficulty focusing, memory loss and utter exhaustion. The path to healing includes copious amounts of sleep, hours of meditation, brain rest, bed rest, no screen time, asking for help, accepting help, radical acceptance and deep surrender.
As a type-A, physically and socially active 40-year-old in a new city (I moved to Atlanta in May of this year), I find slowing down to be quite challenging. I love being out in the world; hiking in the North Georgia Mountains, biking on the Beltline, yoga-ing at Kashi and exploring various cafes and shops. I also love catching up with friends on social media and reading articles about social justice and spirituality. To lie in bed all day, every day, for weeks without much human contact or brain stimulation is very challenging. Needless to say, practicing radical acceptance and deep surrender donât come naturally to me.
At first, I was in complete denial. âThis is just a really, really bad headache. I feel like an anvil is smooshing my head, but Iâll be OK. Iâm just overtired/dehydrated/stressed out,â I justified.
As the pain and the fuzzy thinking worsened, it became obvious that I had acquired a second concussion and thatâs when I began to suffer. âHow could this happen to meâŚagain?!?!?!? How will I work, make money, make friends, go on dates with my partner, exercise, shop at the farmerâs markets, buy a house? How can I possibly slow down again and survive this intense pain and boredom? Didnât I already go through this a few years ago?WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?â
It can be very difficult for me to accept when things donât go MY way. Iâm fairly certain that I know how my life is supposed to unfold and putting it on hold was not an option. Being present with what is, is countercultural. In a culture that likes to numb out with instant gratification, instant messaging, fast food, home delivery and smart phones, we are trained to avoid discomfort at all costs.
In Mussar, a Jewish spiritual movement that started in the 19th century, there is a spiritual concept called âAccepting Sufferingâ (Kabbalat HaâYissurin). In this practice, we are first asked to explore the difference between suffering and pain. According to Alan Morinis in his book With Heart in Mind: Mussar Teachings To Transform Your Life, âPain is a direct reaction to an invasive stimulus and reflects simple cause and effect. Suffering, on the other hand, arises from interpretation and expectation.”Â In other words, when we experience physical pain and think, âOuch! That hurt!â That is pain. While we try our best to avoid pain, sometimes it is unavoidable. But when we think, âwhy me?â we are entering into the world of suffering.
Once we have discovered our suffering, our challenge is acceptance. We are called to be present with it. It is only when we are present with our suffering that it can pass. How can we be present with the suffering and accept our lack of control?
For me, this is not easy. It is not about pushing it away and stuffing it down. That only allows it to further manifest itself in another way. And it isnât about becoming a victim and allowing everything to happen to me. It is about accepting my powerlessness in life. There are some things that we just cannot change. When we practice acceptance, we are allowing the world to run as it does. We are accepting our reality.
A prayer that has helped me tremendously with acceptance comes from the 12-step recovery model: âG-d/Higher Power, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.â
I cannot change the fact that I bruised my brain a second time. I am powerless over my limited abilities and the speed of my healing process. But what I do have power over is my perspective and attitude. Every day I have a choice: I can choose faith or I can choose fear. When I choose fear, I spiral into panic. âThis. Is. Not. OK.,â becomes my matra and I am only able to see how this is just plain wrong. It doesnât seem right or fair. But, when I move into faith, I feel a deep sense of peace and am able to surrender to what is. I am able to observe my body as it heals and relax my brain. My heart opens as I practice gratitude. When I accept my situation, I ask for help and receive the gifts of living in community.
May this new year of 5776 bring moments of radical acceptance, deep surrender and inner peace.
I went to an edgy opera recently called, Lilith the Night Demon in One Lewd Act. Lilith isnât mentioned in the book of Genesis, but the opera based itself on early Jewish tales of a woman who was created before Eve in the Garden of Eden. Unlike Eve, who was born out of Adamâs side, Lilith was created from the earth at the same moment as Adam. They fought about everything, especially her refusal to assume his desired sexual position. Adam made it clear to God that he didnât appreciate this insubordination and wanted her out. Lilith left in a huff, followed by three angels who implored her to return to the Garden of Eden. When she refused, they told her that she would spend eternity as a demon, bearing and killing hundreds of demon babies daily. With Lilith gone, Eve was created, destined to play the obedient and submissive âgood girlâ to Lilithâs strong-willed and demanding âbad girl.â The legend also provided a rationale for the high numbers of babies and women dying in childbirth. Lilith became the scapegoat for the unexplained mysteries of life and death.
Lilith rose in contemporary times as a model of strength, and has an all-woman folk music festival named for her as well as a Jewish feminist magazine. Treating her as a feminist icon, we often conveniently forget the part of the story when she turns into a baby-killing demon. Or perhaps we quietly recognize that so often women have been metaphorically demonized when they demanded personhood.
But Lilith is also beloved because she is the quintessential outsider, allowing us to easily identify with her. It is an epidemic in Judaism to believe that each of us stands outside of some inner sanctum peeking in. In truth, I have met a handful of Jews who donât feel this way.Â But many more share this uneasy feeling that we are the only ones who donât know enough: We donât know whatâs going on during services, we donât have the right parentage, we donât know the Yiddish or Hebrew that is tossed around in conversation. We arenât wealthy like other Jews. We were not born Jewish, or we are in an interfaith relationship. Like a kid on the school playground, many Jews and people who spend time in Jewish communities see ourselves as the kid left out of the club. Other people are the ones who really belong. If only we knew that most everyone feels this way.
Unfortunately, too many of us have actually been told at one time or another that we donât quite fit an internal stereotypical image of what a Jew should be, or arenât following the rules. This is natural within a community that defines itself both as one people, yet also contains within it many distinct ways of defining itself. Furthermore, throughout our history, Judaism has had to create walls to define who is in and who is out for its own survival and we still struggle over the height of those boundaries. Reality, yes. But it still hurts.
The problem is, I see us âotheringâ ourselves. Once we feel or are told that there is a bias against us, we often glorify our place on the outside. We revel in it. We define ourselves by it. We become Lilith peeking in at what everyone else is doing in the Garden of Eden.
There was a time in my life when I identified strongly with the figure of Lilith. I was a rabbinical student dating someone who wasnât Jewish. I didnât even know if I would finish my studies to become a rabbi. I felt like a boundary-breaker and wanted to own it. Perhaps even to flaunt it. I studied Lilith. I wrote about Lilith. I read every reference to her I could get my hands on. Except for the baby-killing part of the story, I wanted to be her. But I received some good advice from a trusted mentor to be wary of overly identifying with her. She was right. I was basking in my feelings of otherness. If I had stayed there, I wouldnât have been able to see myself as a change-maker from inside Judaism.
Feeling that I was on the outside woke me up to how so many people in Jewish communities feel. And I started to realize what a loss it is for everyone if we accept a seat on the outside. Jewish communities need all of usânot just the ones who fit nicely into a box.
Lilith has a lot to teach us. She teaches us to figure out who we are and stand up for what we believe is right. And she teaches us that if we allow others to cut us out, we canât effect change from within.