New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
Hi, Iâ€™m Rabbi Jillian Cameron, the director ofÂ InterfaithFamily/Boston. While many people have at least some idea of what a rabbi in a synagogue does, my work might seem a bit more mysterious; I thought Iâ€™d provide some clarity, in case what I do could coincide with your work or your life.
InterfaithFamilyÂ is a national organization dedicated to connecting interfaith couples and families to Jewish life in whatever way is comfortable.
Right off the bat, you might be wondering how we define â€śinterfaith.â€ť Well, for our work, â€śinterfaithâ€ť means a couple or family where one person identifies as Jewish and one person identifies as something other than Jewish. As you might imagine, there are a lot of different combinations this loose definition can make, from families who are very connected to their respective religions, to couples who struggle with their connection to religion, to everything and anything in between.
Of course, this adds a complication because not everyone likes and identifies with the term â€śinterfaith.â€ť I often use the words â€śintercultural,â€ť â€śmulti-faithâ€ť and â€śdiverse,â€ť among several more, just in case those better align with a coupleâ€™s identity.
When all is said and done, no matter how a couple or family might define themselves, if they are interested in exploring any facet of Judaism, from just dipping in a toe, to jumping in completely, it is my job and my passion to help them find a way in.
One of the best parts of my work is listening to everyoneâ€™s storiesâ€”I mean everyone, from children of intermarriage, to the couple themselves, to their parents or grandparents, extended family and even friends. While interfaith families and couples are often viewed through the lens of statistics, I have found there is such beautiful and significant diversity in each personal journey and story. So I listen, informally compiling this important narrative of the Boston Jewish community, and then I try to help, using all my resources: knowledge of all that exists here in Boston that could be of interest, welcoming communities, events that coincide with existing interests, other Jewish professionals and organizations who are creatingÂ amazing things, classes to take and more.
Sometimes what a couple needs is just to talk to me, to work through questions they have individually and as a couple about the role of religion in their lives, as they are thinking about moving in together, or are getting married, having children, dealing with loss or great joys. Sometimes interfaith couples are interested in finding other similar couples to talk with, hear how they have made decisions and perhaps not feel like they are the only ones like them out there. This is why I created InterfaithFamily/Bostonâ€™s Coffee & Conversation, a once-a-month informal gathering for interfaith couples at Bostonâ€™s best coffee shops. (For our next date and location, clickÂ here.)
Other times, a couple or family is looking for a rabbi to officiate at a lifecycle event. Helping to connect the right rabbi with a couple or family is another piece of my work. InterfaithFamily has aÂ national clergy referral service, providing information for interfaith-friendly Jewish clergy around the country. In Boston, sometimes itâ€™s me, but there are a wealth of local rabbis and cantors who are proudly on our list and who create incredibly meaningful lifecycle moments for so many interfaith families and couples. While youâ€™re onÂ our website, you can also check out the plethora of resources we have, like guides for lifecycles and holidays, and a whole host of stories from people we have encountered since our creation in 2002.
The Boston Jewish community is a special one, both in its makeup and offerings. Organizations and professionals work together, support each other and create incredible things in partnership. I work to create interesting, fun, creative and intellectual programming with any number of other Jewish organizations, as well as help those same organizations think more deeply about the diverse population that might walk through their door. I want the Jewish community to continue to be innovative, relevant and welcoming and engaging to all.
I love being a rabbi and I especially love being a rabbi who works at InterfaithFamily in Boston. If Iâ€™ve piqued your interest, if you would like to hear more about what we do, if you want to tell me your story, if you want to explore Judaism, if youâ€™re looking for a good cup of coffee and a good listener, Iâ€™m here and more than happy to help in whatever way I can.
Reprinted with permission from JewishBoston.com
The following blog post has been reprinted with permission from Edmund Case, Founder of InterfaithFamily: edmundcase.com.
I think itâ€™s safe to say that we would all have to agree that an awful lot has happened in the past two months. That includes developments in the field of engaging interfaith families Jewishly, which I summarize here.
On October 10, eJewishPhilanthropy published my review of a demographic study of British Jews that I found to be unfortunately negative about intermarriage, given trends indicative of a generational shift in identity and practice that I thought supported increased efforts to engage interfaith couples and families.
The October 26 Interfaith Opportunity Summit marked a watershed moment, putting engaging interfaith families at a high level in the mainstream Jewish communityâ€™s agenda. eJewishPhilanthropy published Jodi Brombergâ€™s and my report on new understandings of how to influence engagement, new efforts to engage interfaith families, and the need for an attitudinal â€śnarrative shiftâ€ť about intermarriage discussed at the Summit.
The Cohen Center at Brandeis on the day of the Summit released a very important study on the impact of rabbinic officiation at weddings of interfaith couples. My op-ed, Are Rabbis Who Refuse to Marry Interfaith Couples Hurting Jewish Continuity?, was published in the Forward and eJewishPhilanthropy. I said that it is no longer tenable for rabbis not to officiate on the grounds that intermarriage is â€śbad for the Jews,â€ť when the new research shows strong association between officiation and interfaith couples raising their children as Jews and joining synagogues.
The Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem released an important report in November on definitions of Jewishness in a time of fluid identity. In my blog post, what I found promising was the apparent consensus, among Â over 700 Jewish leaders from Israel, the US and other countries, on the need to be welcoming to interfaith couples. However, I noted a conflict with an accompanying desire to maintain community standards that express a preference for in-marriage.
In November CJP released the 2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study, conducted by the Cohen Center and Steinhardt Institute at Brandeis. In my blog post, I note that the Study confirms the very large extent of intermarriage in the community, and validates the wisdom of CJPâ€™s welcoming approach, with high rates of intermarried couples raising their children as Jews and promising rates of engagement in many other Jewish behaviors. The Study is also important for creating an Index of Jewish Engagement that recognizes multiple patterns of engagement and supports programmatic efforts targeted towards groups with different needs and interests.
We are clearly in a time of increased interest in the field, with new convenings and research supporting increased efforts. The question that remains is how to make a national coordinated effort to engage interfaith families a reality.
I was almost too old for Harry Potter when JK Rowling introduced her masterpiece to the world in 1997. I may have been almost too old but that didnâ€™t stop me from spending the next 10 years voraciously reading, re-reading and waiting impatiently for the next book to arrive. When the final book was finally published, I was visiting my parentsâ€™ house for the weekend. Obviously, I had pre-ordered the book months in advance and I hadnâ€™t realized that I wouldnâ€™t be home that weekend. Panicked, I went online and changed the delivery location to my parentsâ€™ house, crisis averted. Perhaps I shouldnâ€™t admit this, but I met the UPS driver in my parents driveway with unabashed glee and proceeded to ignore my family for the next 24 hours as I made my way through the final book. It was totally worth it.
These days, my love of Harry Potter lives in my heart as quiet embers, easily fanned into a greater flame when JK Rowling tweets something incredible (which is often) or more recently, when something new is announced. Yes, I have already pre-ordered a copy of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, a West End play beginning this summer, telling the story of an adult Harry and company.
Perhaps it is unnecessary at this point to extoll the virtues of the Harry Potter series; the magic of Harry Potter is different for everyone. In the nine years since the final book was published and the 19 years since the first book, entire other books have been written about every possible angle and theme of the series, not to mention countless articles, blog posts and of course memes. If youâ€™re a Harry Potter lover, youâ€™ve had ample time to analyze the reasons why, and if you could care less about Harry Potter, thank you for getting this far into this blog post.
JK Rowlingâ€™s genius is making the world of Harry Potter seem almost possible. While I begrudgingly accepted my fate as that of a muggle, I still hope that even if I could not be a witch, somewhere someone is. This epic story speaks to those marginalized by society, those whose dreams seem too big, those who want to change their circumstances, those drawn to making the world a better place, to fighting against injustice.
As my life has changed and evolved since I first picked up Book 1 in 1997, so has my reading of the story. I hear the commentary on human nature more loudly. Not everything is always as it seems and rarely is what we see, what we actually get. We meet a wide swath of characters in Harryâ€™s world, not simply heroes and villains, but complex individuals who make difficult decisions in the face of fear, of change, of darkness. Sometimes, those who come from the most â€śperfect, pureâ€ť families choose evil and destruction while those from the most humble, diverse rootsâ€”the â€śmudbloodsâ€ťâ€”are the ones who remind us what is truly important and even save our humanity. And sometimes the heroes make the wrong decisions, while the villains find the light.
I have always cringed at the term, â€śmudblood.â€ť In college, I identified with it acutely when I was told I wasnâ€™t Jewish because my mother wasnâ€™t. How could I not belong in the only community I ever truly felt part of? Why didnâ€™t it matter how I behaved, the choices I made, the way I lived my life? Why did none of that â€ścountâ€ť because my motherâ€™s blood ran through my veins? It threw me into an identity crisis that took years to reconcile.
These days, my life and my work at InterfaithFamily reminds me again of the powerful message of Harry Potter, as we strive to teach our beloved community to not only tolerate the diversity among us, but rather embrace it, learn from it and allow it to change us for the better. After all, where would we be without the most famous â€śmudblood,â€ť Hermione? The more stories I hear, people I meet, families I am honored to learn from, the more I realize that we are all mutts, all a combination of geography, culture, history, and blood. We are all mudbloods. That doesnâ€™t mean we are all the same or should be, but it does mean that the humanity we share can be more powerful than all the Voldemorts out there.
I would feel remiss if I didnâ€™t end with the powerful and yes, magical, words of Professor Albus Dumbledore: â€śDifferences of heart and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
â€śI feel I’m Jewish not just because I’ve chosen Judaism but because Judaism has chosen me.â€ť
You might recognize David Gregory from his time as NBC newsman or as Meet the Press moderator. But he visited Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Boston Federation–a supporter of InterfaithFamily/Boston and leader in interfaith issues–this morning in the role of author, husband and father. He was joined by Dr. Erica Brown, an extraordinary Jewish author and teacher. Gregory and Brown were interviewed by CJP President Barry Shrage about interfaith relationships and Jewish life.
Brown made a good point early on in the conversation: So often, itâ€™s not Jewish ritual or prayer or the organized Jewish community that puts off people who are not Jewish. To a newcomer, itâ€™s the inside jokes, that â€śtribalismâ€ť about Jewish cultureâ€”the very thing that makes many Jews feel prideâ€”that can be so isolating.
Many of us have seen this play out, whether you are the Jewish one, joking about a Jewish stereotype or using insider lingo, or youâ€™re the one hearing it and not quite feeling part of the conversation.
Gregory is in a unique position to speak on the pulse of interfaith relationships having felt like bothÂ insider and outsider. He is the product of an interfaith family (he was raised by a Catholic mother and Jewish father) and it was his wifeâ€™s strong Protestant faith that inspired him to explore his own faith and religion. After a great deal of religious and spiritual exploration, he said, â€śI feel more Jewish than I ever have in my life.â€ť
Itâ€™s time for Jews to change their thinking, Gregory said. As his wife Beth put it: â€śI know what you are but what do you believe?â€ť
Unfortunately, he points out, the idea of appreciating Judaism for its vibrancy, community and spirituality is an â€śelective.â€ť The more powerful conversation on the table is still the endurance of Judaism and Jewish peoplehood, so it can be difficult to steer the conversation toward the richness of what Judaism has to offer; the â€śwhat you believeâ€ť rather than the â€śwhat you are.â€ť
Gregory is by no means saying that it is futile to embrace and share the notion that Judaism has a great deal to offer those who are not already engaged, however. He challenged those in the room from Jewish organizations to think about creating inroads to the Jewish community that have authenticity for interfaith couples. Brown also pointed out that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work, as every person and couple is unique.
What was most compelling about the conversation was hearing Gregory talk from experience. He does not claim to have the answers for anyone else, but he has been on quite a journey with his personal relationship with Judaism. Its importance has the power to bring him to tears and to propel him forward on this intellectual and heartfelt journey with his family.
InterfaithFamily lost a very dear friend, and the broader Jewish world an outstanding leader, when Arthur Obermayer died yesterday.
Iâ€™m not sure what Arthur is best known for in the Jewish world. It could be the Obermayer German-Jewish History Awards, given annually to several Germans (not Jewish themselves) to recognize their efforts to preserve Jewish history and culture in Germany. It could be for his role as a co-founder of Meretz USA, an organization that supported the Meretz party in Israel, or his involvement with JewishGen.
Arthur was deeply involved in secular causes, too. In 2006 I asked him what Boards of Directors he served on and got a list of ten, including the Boston NPR affiliate, the MIT Museum, and Social Venture Partners Boston.
What I am sure of is the impact Arthur had on InterfaithFamily. When I started IFF, I needed to recruit a Board of Directors who were in a position to help the organization get started and grow. I had known Arthur from our involvement in our synagogue, and at some point learned that he was deeply interested in engaging interfaith families in Jewish life, so I asked him to join our Board right when we started operations in 2002. Iâ€™m so glad I did.
Arthurâ€™s biggest impact on IFF may have been with our social media and Internet strategies, which resulted in 2015 in reaching over 1 million unique visitors. Way back in 2004, Arthur spent a lot of time helping us select a vendor for our first website re-design, and he helped again in 2008. He started nudging us to get involved in social networking back in 2008 and often forwarded articles he thought would be helpful.
Arthur was the kind of Board member any non-profit would want to have. He read my (often lengthy) Board updates and reports carefully and often offered thoughtful suggestions. When his high standards were satisfied, he said so; when he congratulated us on one email newsletter graphic re-design, we knew we had done something well. In 2005 Arthur and his wonderful wife Judy, herself a past Board Chair of Bostonâ€™s Jewish Vocational Service and Board member of Bend the Arc, graciously hosted the first parlor meeting IFF ever had.
Arthur was very ill when we had our #ChooseLove Celebration in October, but he called to ask when I would be speaking because if he could make it, he wanted to come and hear what I had to say. He came at just the right time, and Iâ€™m glad I had the chance to publicly thank him not only for making the effort to be there, but for all he had done for IFF and for me. Â He called the next day and left a voice message, which I treasure, saying my work with IFF had been effective to address an issue I really cared about, and that he was proud to know me as a friend.
Arthur and Judy sent a one page, two-sided holiday message every year, and it was one I always looked forward to. I realize now it was because of the balance in each annual report. There was always a part about what Arthur and Judy had been doing with the many organizations they were involved with, there was always a part about the interesting travel and things they had done together, and there was always a proud part about their children and grandchildrenâ€™s latest accomplishments.
Earlier this year we had lunch. I was in the midst of my own transition and I wanted his advice on what I should focus on, on what was really important. This incredibly accomplished man, gravely ill, said â€śwell, you do what you can to make the world better.â€ť The thoughtful and considerate and helpful way Arthur Obermayer conducted himself, the positive impact he had on so many causes, and the balance he always seemed to have with his personal and family life â€” all are an inspiration to me that I will always remember.
I know this will embarrass you (and definitely make you cry) because thatâ€™s who you are, but in the spirit of this month of Thanksgiving, I wanted to say thank you.
Thank you forâ€¦
â€¦saying yes when I was 7 and came home from a visit to Hebrew School and declared that I wanted to go back and learn Hebrew. I often imagine what the conversation was like between you and Dad that evening, but you had the courage to let me follow my heart and we joined a synagogue so that I could. Thereâ€™s no way you or anyone could have known the impact that decision would have on all of our lives. Since you were never really moved by your familyâ€™s Catholicism or any sense of religion, I bet it was scary and uncomfortable at first, but you put me first and have always encouraged me to follow my passions.
â€¦participating in my Jewish life, learning the prayers and the music the best you could, showing up for everything, being so proud of me at my bat mitzvah and then confirmation and encouraging me to make every Jewish choice I wanted. Not only did I want to learn Hebrew, but I also wanted to belong to a community and I wanted you and Dad and my sister, Evyn, to belong too. We were lucky to find a community that embraced us all, found committees for you to add your voice to, made sure you felt comfortable and allowed us to find meaning and make life long friends.
â€¦influencing the person and the rabbi I am today. The odd rude person has asked me through the years if I ever was frustrated that you hadnâ€™t converted or even that you werenâ€™t Jewish. Once I got over my offense at the question, I always answered that so much of who I am is due to the person you are and I wouldnâ€™t change that even if I could. When I became a rabbi, I made sure that your name was on my ordination certificate, transliterated into Hebrew because both you and Dad created me and saw me through those many years of study, struggle and triumph in order for me to reach that particular life long dream. You are the calm voice in my head, reminding me of what I can achieve, telling me sometimes to relax, urging me to stand up for myself, reminding me how proud I make you.
â€¦enduring any ignorance that might have come your way: the people who didnâ€™t understand how you could have a daughter who is a rabbi or those who simply didnâ€™t include you, or even ignored you. You never let it bother you because you knew who you were and you showed me by your example how to be strong in a world where not everyone is accepting or kind.
Thank you for all the ways you choose love, by loving me, accepting me and always being my champion and my most fervent supporter (along with Dad, of course). I wouldnâ€™t be who I am; wouldnâ€™t be doing the work I love; couldnâ€™t live the happy life I doâ€”without your example of a strong woman, your humor, your quiet confidence, your effortless style and your soft heart. There will never be enough words to express how grateful I am for all that you are.
So thanks Mom, for being you.
P.S. Â Writing this made me cryâ€”thanks for that too!
Last week I had a whirlwind trip to Boston for our InterfaithFamily #ChooseLove Celebration honoring our Founder, Ed Case, and President of Combined Jewish PhilanthropiesÂ (Bostonâ€™s Federation), Barry Shrage.
The trip began with a fabulous day-and-a-half long IFF Directors meeting for the local directors of the IFF/Your Community initiative before the big gala, followed by a chance for the directors to participate in the Board of Directors meeting after the event.
Each part of this trip was an opportunity for me to reflect on the impact of our work and our vision for the future. In doing so, I felt grateful for the colleagues I get to work with at IFF and for our partners in the community. Each part of my trip re-inspired me to do this work.
Check out the video we shared at the gala and I think you’ll be inspired too!
During our IFF/YC Directors meeting, we had a chance to really think about what is working in our communities, where there is room for growth and why weâ€™re doing what weâ€™re doing. One of my favorite parts of our meeting involved putting a large dry erase calendar on the wall and filling in big initiatives and ideas for 2016 and seeing how the work weâ€™re doing locally supports our work nationally. I love hearing the ideas of my colleagues since they often come up with ways to think about things that wouldnâ€™t have occurred to me. As the newest IFF/YC Director, it is so helpful for me to learn from my colleaguesâ€™ experiences.
On Thursday night, we all gathered at Hebrew College (my rabbinical school alma mater) for a community conversation with Rabbi David Ellenson (Hebrew Union College), Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz (Temple Emanuel, Newton), Rabbi Joy Levitt (JCC Manhattan), Sheila Katz (Hillel), April Baskin (URJ) and Rabbis Ari Moffic (IFF/Chicago) and Mychal Copeland (IFF/Bay Area).
One comment from Rabbi Joy Levitt in the afternoon panel is still vividly in my mind as I prepare for sessions Iâ€™m offering in November for Interfaith Family Month about how to make our family gatherings more inclusive. She offered the following three outcomes of an all too common phenomenon when a family member brings a partner from another faith or culture (or no faith background) to a holiday family gathering, like a Passover seder.
One outcome is that the family seder doesnâ€™t change and the person coming from another background might feel completely confused about what is happening, doesnâ€™t understand the language or the rituals, and feels alienated, uncomfortable or left out. A second option is that the family changes everything, takes out all of the Hebrew and songs or anything that might be unfamiliar to their guest, thus losing much of the richness of their family tradition. A third option is that the family really thinks about why their family seder came to be the way it is, intentionally incorporates elements that would make it accessible to others, and expands their current seder to include meaningful explanations and teaching moments that touch on both universal and personal themes.
Ultimately it is the third option that we hope can happen. With the right tools and resources, these kinds of experiences can actually be positive and transformative. We hope that the presence of family members from different backgrounds and cultures enrich our family traditions in a way that allows us to share and learn from one another and create something special. Many people in the room that night have been helping families do option three, many were ready to and many felt that there are still people in the Jewish community who arenâ€™t ready for option three. We know there is more work to be done.
The celebration continued with the evening reception with speeches and videos honoring Ed Case and Barry Shrage, and special guest speaker Josh Kraft, Nicholas President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston.
It was incredible to get a glimpse into the past 14 years and see how much InterfaithFamily has expanded and impacted the Jewish community on a personal, local and national level. It was very inspiring to watch and to imagine the potential we have for the future.
InterfaithFamily/DC launched only a few months ago and already organizations are welcoming us to consult, co-sponsor and collaborate. Iâ€™m meeting new individuals, couples and families every week who are so happy to learn that IFF exists. As we enter Interfaith Family Month, I am happy to say thank you to the members of our community who are our partners in this work and look forward to the future.
If you were not able to make it to our event but still want to #ChooseLove by donating to our cause, click here.
The first week of September I was privileged to introduce a discussion at Brandeis University between Anita Hill and Letty Cottin Pogrebin about faith, feminism and race. The discussion was framed by Pogrebinâ€™s new book, Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate.
Without ruining the book for those who havenâ€™t picked it up yet, the main character, Zach, early on in the book promises his mother, a Holocaust survivor that he would marry a Jew and raise Jewish children (you can read more about it here). This promise is made at a young age, before the randomness and magnitude of life has the chance to impact Zach, and he tries to make his choices based on this promise. As you might imagine, it proves difficult and has a long lasting impact on his integrity and morality as the book continues. While the book is heavy with interfaith decision-making, interracial and intercultural issues and a variety of incarnations of feminism, the conversation between these two prolific authors was one devoted largely to generational division.
The question arose, â€śWhat do we really owe our parents?â€ť
Pogrebin and Hill spoke not of interfaith or racial concerns when thinking through this question but rather of feminism. Do the women coming of age today understand what and who came before them that enables them to make the choices they make today? What sort of reverence or respect do second wave feminists deserve even if third or even fourth wave feminists make differentâ€”or Â even oppositeâ€”decisions about their lives, their bodies or their politics. The questions are easier to ask than answer. While I am no feminist scholar I understand the motivation behind these questions and the concerns, especially in the context of the complex and diverse interfaith population.
We do owe our parents and those who came before us respect, not merely for existing, and perhaps in having a hand in our existence, but also because they want to make the world better for us. We benefit from their hand in the evolution of the world. We benefit from what was bestowed upon us: the values, the cultural and/or religious ideology taught, the opportunities provided whether big or small, the love given.
Now I am not too cockeyed optimistic to understand that far too many people donâ€™t have good parents and the evolution of our world has had long reaching negative consequences. But I am not willing to give up and I donâ€™t think you are either. So we can respect and revere those on whose shoulders we stand and take up our own mantle of evolution, perhaps righting some wrongs not yet accomplished. For an inspiring look at this topic, see Dr. Ruth Nemzoffâ€™s recent piece in the Huffington Post advising the next generation about how to promote feminism.
Zachâ€™s life was ruled by what he felt he owed his mother and each of us live with expectations from those who raised us, deserved or not, realistic or not, achieved or not. I spend a fair amount of time counseling parents/grandparents/family members about the expectations they have carried with them for their children, whether it is something they could never accomplish themselves, or a life a bit better than theirs, a higher paying job, security, loving and marrying someone of the same faith background, raising children of that faith, etc. Sometimes children grow up aware of these hopes and dreams, sometimes they arenâ€™t verbalized, but all parents have expectations for their children. Itâ€™s natural, itâ€™s expected, and itâ€™s what should happen. Inevitably though, each person turns out to want, care about, excel at or love different things. The trick is: How do we mourn the loss of our expectations without asking our children to bear the weight of that loss?
For some it comes easier than others; some expectations are easier to let to go; while others linger like heartbreak. Maybe the question becomes: What do we owe our children?
The world is not perfect and neither are we, but I think we owe our children a chance. A chance to make their own decisions, to trust in their capabilities and the opportunities we providedâ€”the values and heritage we taught. We owe our children the love they need from us, to right past wrongs, to continue that evolution, to find fulfillment in ways we never could have imagined, let alone expected.
And together, we owe ourselves a little bit of hope and faith. Hope that each generation can and will achieve more and faith that this achievement reflects the best of humanity. Hope that each of our rich histories and sense of heritage and culture will endure and faith that we will continue to seek and create relevance in them. Hope that we get what we want and faith that we get what we need.
Please join in this conversation with me, there is so much we learn from one another.
When I became a rabbi, my own rabbi at home told me that the most important thing I had as a rabbi was my integrity and Iâ€™d have little left to offer if I ever let that go. I think about that almost daily and certainly when tough decisions come up. Yet what I find the most difficult about maintaining integrity is not knowing what my boundaries are, what I believe in, stand for and represent but rather how to express and enact all those things. Sometimes itâ€™s easy and the choices are obvious but more often than not, the nuance and shades of gray make integrity anything but easy to maintain. Moreover, while integrity can and should be a constant, it does not preclude evolution of practice, thought and boundaries nor does it give us the right to be judgmental or unkind.
I meet with a wide variety of interfaith couples on a regular basis, whether through a simple email exchange or a series of in-person counseling sessions. By far, the most common story I am told breaks my heart every time. It usually starts with the joy of an engagement and ends with the sting of rejection and judgement, whether from family members, community members or more often than not, clergy.
I have the utmost respect for those rabbis and cantors whose integrity, ideology and sense of purpose precludes them from officiating at interfaith ceremonies. I have seen the struggle amongst my colleagues and the true thoughtfulness with which so many make their decision. But I also see the struggle of so many interfaith couples who are less likely to engage in Judaism not simply because a rabbi said no to marrying them but because of the way in which a rabbi said no.
In an effort to practice what I preach and acknowledge the gray, I of course recognize that there will always be a certain number of couples who will only hear the no, no matter how kindly it is given, and will feel rejected. This is our reality. But I think we can do better for those who come to us, wanting a connection, no matter how tenuous. We owe it to ourselves, to our integrity and to the greater Jewish community, to express first the joy, purpose and possibility of Judaism rather than just the boundaries. We know Judaism has so much to offer: Why else would we want to protect it and cultivate it? Why else would we have spent years learning in order to make it our lives work?
Why not start with words of yes even when we have to say no? Â
In the face of what we donâ€™t understand, practice kindness.
Toward that which makes us uncomfortable or worried, practice kindness.
To those who make different choices than we do, practice kindness.
To those who yearn to belong, practice kindness.
Zach Levy, the left-leaning son of Holocaust survivors, promises his mother on her deathbed that he will marry within the tribe and raise Jewish children. When he falls for Cleo Scott, an African American activist grappling with her own inherited trauma, he must reconcile his old vow to the family he loves with the present realty of the woman who may be his soul mate. A New York love story complicated by the legacies and modern tensions of Jewish-American and African-American history, Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate, by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, explores what happens when the heart runs counter to politics, history and the compelling weight of tradition.
On September 10 at the Levin Ballroom at Brandeis University, InterfaithFamily is proud to be a co-sponsor of Faith, Race, Feminism and the Ties that Bind: Professor Anita Hill in Conversation with Letty Cottin Pogrebin with opening remarks from our own Rabbi Jillian Cameron, director of Interfaithfamily/Boston.
This event is a conversation that is set around the release of Cottin Pogrebinâ€™s book, Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate by Feminist Press. These two iconic feminists discuss the movementâ€™s past, present and future, and the imprint of family history on identity and values.
We have two copies of this book to give away in conjunction with this exciting event. Enter to win by August 31 and please join us for this exciting event at the Levin Ballroom on the Brandeis campus. The event is free, but reservations are highly recommended.