An American Royal Wedding?

You might read some articles online claiming that this weekend there will be an American Royal Wedding. Now, I’m not sure if that’s accurate, but there are some amusing lines in one column in particular. My comments in italics for, hopefully, your amusement. Be warned: I’m channeling my innermost gossip columnist for this blog post.

This Sunday, David Lauren, son of legendary designer Ralph Lauren, and Lauren Bush, granddaughter of President George H.W. and niece of President George W., will join forces in holy matrimony.
I’m glad we’re not the only ones who understand that interfaith marriages can still be holy.
The Labor Day weekend event, held at Ralph Lauren’s Colorado ranch, will fuse the fashions of two of America’s famed family dynasties. Think cowboy boots and American flags with a few diamonds sprinkled in.

Fuse… fashion… famed family… Were they paid to alliterate? Also, is the Bush family really known for its fashion? 

Lauren, 27, met her 39-year-old fiance in 2004, when she was still a student at Princeton University. It was the classic tale of boy meets girl at a fashion gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
That’s a classic tale?
Girl faces dilemma of taking boy’s last name, which is the same as her first.
If I had a nickel…
After six years of courtship, David, a VP at his father’s company, proposed to Lauren, a handbag designer and philanthropist, on the steps of the Met. She said yes and settled on being the future Mrs. Lauren Bush-Lauren.
Phew. Not Mrs. Lauren Lauren. Though, Mrs. Lauren Lifshitz has a nice ring to it…

In all seriousness, this should be a lovely wedding. And not just because the dress code is “black tie with a ‘Western twist.” (Does Ralph Lauren make wedding dresses that meet those specifications?) None of the articles have given any clues to how the couple will bring together their two religions for the ceremony, but if we find out, we’ll let you know.

Mazal tov, Lauren and David!

A Jewish Wedding? (SPOILER ALERT!)

One of my indulgences in my free time is USA shows. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve gotten sucked into Royal Pains and In Plain Sight. They are actually wonderful shows to watch while on the treadmill!

In Plain Sight guest stars Josh Malina as Peter Alpert, whom many people know from the West Wing, as Brandi Shannon’s (Nichole Hiltz) fiancé. Watching the show, I didn’t get much of the religion vibe. During the wedding planning clips, they didn’t talk about a rabbi or priest or minister. There was no talk of what color kippot they should be ordering or whether or not they will be stepping on a glass at the end of the ceremony. It didn’t even occur to me that there would be any elements of a Jewish wedding.

So I was pretty taken aback when in the last episode, “Something Borrowed, Something Blew Up”, Brandi and Peter got married under a chuppah; the groom and guests wore kippot; and there was a very funny exchange between Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack), Brandi’s sister, and Marshall Mann (Fred Weller), Mary’s partner, about the pronunciation of the word “chuppah.”

My guess is, given that Hollywood uses traditional stereotypes to get their point across, the characters named Mary, Brandi and their mother Jinx are not Jewish, making this an interfaith wedding.

Many of us who have been through a wedding with two partners of different faiths know that the structure of the wedding doesn’t just happen. You don’t just end up with a chuppah or kippot or a rabbi the way you end up with hors d’oeuvres before a meal. These things aren’t a given. Knowing that incorporating these elements into a wedding takes conversation, debate, discussion and sometimes even outside intervention to figure out how to get them to work for the couple, InterfaithFamily.com has created our Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples and our Wedding resource page, which compiles all the tips, articles and resources you may need to plan a wedding where only one partner is Jewish.

For those of you who watched the show, Brandi did a Julia Roberts-esque move by running away before the actual ceremony so I never did get a chance to see if a glass was going to be broken!

“Outing” Celebrity Jews as Jews

We’ve seen these articles before, or heard the rumblings from co-workers or friends. “Did you hear that [famous person] is Jewish?” In our own celebrity column, the famous are “outed” as having Jewish ancestors on a fairly regular basis.

Every time another celebrity is surprised with the news that they’re Jewish — Madeleine Albright, Senator George Allen, playwright Tom Stoppard, John Kerry (on his father’s side) — the same series of perplexed shrugs ripple through the media. Did they really never know? What made the Jewish parent turn away? Anyway, what’s the difference? Are you Jewish if you never practiced Judaism? And why is this even in the newspaper?

Good questions. Thanks, Jewish Daily Forward.

The latest new-Jew is Ralph Branca:

Ralph Branca, 85, the onetime Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher best known for throwing the most notorious homerun ball in baseball history, the “Shot Heard ’Round the World,” which lost his team the 1951 National League pennant to the New York Giants. A lifelong Catholic, he learned of his mother’s Jewish origins earlier this summer from a journalist who then turned it into a 1,900-word front-page story in the August 15 New York Times. The usual reactions followed: What is he now, a Jewish athlete? Why does anyone care? And why 1,900 words of this trivia in the world’s leading newspaper?

J.J. Goldberg, who wrote Joining the Tribe Late in Life: The Ever-Widening Circle of Celebrity Jews in the Forward, suggests that there are other questions that should be asked, but never are:

Why are there so many such cases? If there are this many among the famous (and this list is very partial), how many more are there who aren’t famous? How many never find out because they’re not famous enough for journalists to poke through their family secrets? Are there any discernable [sic] patterns? Is anyone’s life changed afterward? Can we — should we — learn anything about Jewish life from these dramas?

There are some answers in the article, if you want to click on over.

But I think the other unasked question, of relevance to readers of InterfaithFamily.com, is: if celebrities or other famous people are so readily declared Jews, after their parents turned away from Judaism, or after a couple generations have not practiced Judaism or even known they were Jewish, why aren’t the same standards applied to the rest of us, the non-famous? If Celebrity X can be proclaimed Jewish in the media, a couple generations after their last relative practiced Judaism or identified as a Jew, why can’t Regular Citizen Y get the same treatment? Why are so many descendants of interfaith families struggling to have their Jewish identities acknowledged by the community, when the press seems so willing to hand it over to athletes, politicians and actors?

Goldberg concludes,

What does all this mean? Heaven only knows. And precisely because Heaven only knows, we shouldn’t expect to find all the answers. The best we can do is to keep our minds and hearts open and leave the welcome mat out for wandering kinfolk who find their way home.

I would suggest instead, “The best we can do is to keep our minds and hearts open and leave the welcome mat out for those already in our midst and for wandering kinfolk who find their way home.”

Russian Dolls

23-year-old Diana Kosov, who wears a Star of David around her neck, breaks up with her Latino boyfriend, despite her expressed affection for him and his Maserati, after informing him she would only consider marrying a “Russian.”

According to Moses, “In that scene, everyone understands that Diana means she cannot allow herself to marry a non-Jew, but she uses the code word ‘Russian’ in place of ‘Jew’ or ‘Russian Jew’.”

The Jewish Week has an article out about the Brighton Beach (a Brooklyn, New York neighborhood) Jewish, Russian community. Well, the article is really about a new reality tv show called Russian Dolls, which airs on Lifetime. Variety summarizes the show with:

Apparently, “Jersey Shore’s” crimes against culture will include unleashing a torrent of heavily staged reality programs steeped in me-too ethnic stereotyping. Enter “Russian Dolls,” which has the distinction of show-casing the worst Russian accents since the early Bond movies, or back when Boris and Natasha began trying to kill moose and squirrel. Set in Brighton Beach — described by residents as “One square mile of Brooklyn jam-packed with crazy Russians” — it’s a Vodka-infused taste of Lifetime’s desperation to become hipper and get noticed. Will it work? Probably nyet.

Sounds delightful, eh?

So, back to the Jewish Week article, “Too Much Bling in Brighton Beach.” The second half of the article discusses the Jewish identities of the “characters” and intermarriage.

Arguing that as the percentage of Jews in the Russian-speaking community in South Brooklyn has receded from over 80 percent to 60 percent or less in recent years, even prominent Russian Jews have become more inclined to speak publicly of the community as “Russian-speaking” rather than “Russian Jewish.” (An influx of ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Uzbeks and others accounts for the drop-off.)

Moses observed, “We are seeing an ongoing de-Judaization of this community, and what we see in ‘Russian Dolls’ confirms that it has become politically incorrect to use the word ‘Jew’ in many situations.”

A rabbi that works with the local Russian Jewish community said,

“Any reality show is obviously exaggerated and cannot be taken too seriously,” he said. “Still, it was good that the producers showed the guts to stand up against intermarriage. Yes, Diana called herself ‘Russian’ instead of ‘Jewish’; but the basic concept that one should marry inside one’s own community was upheld.” Rabbi Tokarsky added. “To compare ‘Russian Dolls’ to ‘Jersey Shore’ is like comparing animal life to plant life. ‘Russian Dolls’ is much better.”

Was upholding “intramarriage” the point of that scene? And was it really about a Jew marrying another Jew or was it about a Russian marrying another Russian? Is there a difference, and, if there is, does it matter?

[sup](L to R) Svetlana Rakhman, Anastasia Kurinnaya, Marina Levitis, Anna Khazanova, Renata Krumer and Diana Kosov star in Russian Dolls.[/sup]

Mazal Tov, Chely and Lauren

When our celebrity columnist, Nate Bloom, wrote about the engagement of Chely Wright to Lauren Blitzer, he posited, in an earlier draft, that theirs was the first celebrity, lesbian, interfaith wedding. I wasn’t certain. Much to the amusement of my friend and colleague over at Jewish Boston, David Levy, I started googling for proof. I tweeted,

This is not what feminism looks like: http://ow.ly/4OnQ0 (“Why are so many famous Jewish women lesbians?”)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, googling failed to be helpful. The Google results ranged from highly amusing to pornographic to conspiracy theory meets anti-Semitism and homophobia (the latter can be seen, at your own discretion, by following the link in the above tweet), so I turned to some twitter buddies for help.

Both David and I asked questions to our followers at large, and to specific twitter buddies like Jewish musician Julie Silver and the folks at Keshet and Jewish Womens’ Archive, if they knew of other celebrity lesbian interfaith couples. (I believe Julie’s answer included her and her beloved wife…)

Unable to prove with certainty whether or not Chely and Lauren would be the first lesbian, interfaith, celebrity couple to be wed, the assertion was cut from the celeb column.

So why am I mentioning this now? Chely and Lauren will be married this weekend!

Although few details of the big day have been revealed thus far, Chely dished that it will be an outdoor ceremony with both a reverend and rabbi officiating, as the singer is Christian and her fiancée is Jewish. The reception will have a deejay, and guests would be wise to bring their dancing shoes!

And we, at IFF headquarters, are curious: which rabbi is co-officiating the ceremony? Lauren and Chely, if you’d recommend her/his officiating prowess to others, please recommend that they join our free Jewish Clergy Referral Service. We’re always looking out for rabbis who will officiate for interfaith couples, will co-officiate with clergy of other religions, and are LGBTQ friendly!

Mazal tov to the brides (kallot), whether they’re the first or amongst other happy couples!

The Next Celebrity Interfaith Couple?

It’s uncanny. Almost exactly a year ago – July 31, 2010 – the big news in InterfaithFamily.com’s world was the wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, and all of the following discussion about the Jewish community’s not very embracing reaction. Now, on August 1, 2011, we may have the next big news for interfaith families. Yes – it’s the finale of
The Bachelorette.

I want to make if very clear that I am too busy dealing with important matters to watch low-brow TV shows like The Bachelorette. However, on what is kind of a “date,” I do accompany my wife as she watches the show. As such, I know that this season’s bachelorette, Ashley, is down to two contenders, Ben and J.P., that she’s going to pick one of them this coming Monday night, and that while Ben seems to be a good person, my favorite is J.P., and well, he’s Jewish.

I remember (only vaguely of course because I’m not really watching) that there was one early mention that J.P., at the time one of many contenders, was Jewish, but nothing else was ever said. In a recent episode when Ashley visited the families of the remaining contenders, J.P.’s mother on Long Island came across as a stereotypical very warm and loving but a little intrusive Jewish mother. Interestingly, there was no mention of religions or religious differences in that episode.

Now the Morton Report has surfaced the issue with The Bachelorette: Will One Contender’s Religion Be an Obstacle? The writer, Pat Fish, says:

Why is this important? Well, religion is something people about to embark on a life together do discuss. Also, some Jewish people discourage mixed marriages though they do tolerate them. Interestingly, I’ve never known J.P. and Ashley to discuss their religious differences, at least not on camera.

I will be very interested to again accompany my wife on Monday night to see how this unfolds. If Ashley picks J.P. I do hope they’ve talked about religion or do so soon, and we’ve got lots of resources that can help them have that discussion. If they end up getting married, we’re here to help, with our Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service, our Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples, and lots of other weddings resources. And hopefully the Jewish community will take this opportunity to not tolerate, but to embrace, another interfaith couple.

Celebrity Updates: Ivanka and Gwyneth

Despite the frequency with which I blog about them, I actually have little care about celebrities’ lives. But they keep coming up in the news, saying things of relevance to intermarriage, interfaith families, so I guess I’ll have to keep blogging…

First, mazal tov to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner on the birth of their daughter on July 17.

The AP tells us,

Kushner is the owner of the New York Observer newspaper. He and Trump wed in 2009. She converted to Judaism before the wedding.

They’ve named their daughter Arabella Rose. I’m not quite sure where the name fits on the bizarre-celeb-baby-name chart, though it’s certainly saner than “Alef” (and has been described as “exotic” by Donald Trump).

If you want to follow the goings on in the Trump/Kushner home, Ivanka’s tweeting, starting with this one from Arabella’s second day:

Jared and I are having so much fun playing with our daughter! Arabella Rose is beyond adorable. She’s truly a blessing.

The next update is about Gwyneth Paltrow, a regular feature in our interfaith celebrities column.

An =http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2016674/Gwyneth-Paltrow-Ill-raise-Apple-Moses-Jewish.htmlarticle in the Daily Mail reveals,

She once claimed that she did not believe in religion.

But now Gwyneth Paltrow has revealed she wants to raise her children in the Jewish faith, following an appearance on the ancestry programme Who Do You Think You Are

The American actress, whose late father was Jewish film producer Bruce Paltrow, was moved to discover earlier this year on the show that her family came from a long line of influential East European rabbis.

And this has inspired her to raise daughter Apple, seven, and five-year-old son Moses in a Jewish environment, she told guests of a London event hosted by Jewish charity the Community Security Trust.

Her decision is a far cry from comments she made last year about her experience of being raised as both Jewish and Christian.

‘It was such a nice way to grow up,’ she said, but later added: ‘I don’t believe in religion. I believe in spirituality. Religion is the cause of all the problems in the world.’

Gwyneth, if you need any resources for yourself, your husband or your family, we’re here for you.

Mazal Tov, Natalie and Benjamin!

Ok, so the details are vague, but I know you’ve been holding your breath since the Golden Globes, if not earlier, waiting, sitting on the edge of your seat… So here you go:

According to The Telegraph and other sources, Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied have had their baby!

People magazine, which broke the news, gave no details of where the baby was born or when. A publicist for Portman was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

Natalie Portmand and fiancé Benjamin Millepied are “celebrating” the birth of their baby boy. I’m guessing we’re still within the first 8 days of his life, as the couple have not yet shared the name with me (or the rest of the press). My theory, in part, is based on some of the other Jewish traditions Portman followed during her pregnancy:

She admitted she stuck to tradition when it came to babies’ births.

” think it’s a Jewish thing to be kind of superstitious,” she said in April. “You don’t do any of the baby stuff before the baby arrives.”

Natalie and Benjamin, if you’re looking for a mohel who’ll work with an interfaith family, just fill out our Clergy Officiation Referral Service form!

Mazal tov to the new family!

UPDATE: June 16 For more, check out Rabbi Jason Miller’s blog post (on his blog or on Huffington Post).

UPDATE: June 20 Feeling a little cheeky, Crushable offers up some name suggestions for Li’l Portman. The bris is scheduled for June 22. We’ll have to wait until then to find out his name…

UPDATE: July 6 We have a name!

A Storahtelling B Mitzvah

Last night, I attended a gala celebrating Storahtelling. And it was great*.

If you’re not familiar with Storahtelling, they’re a ritual theatre company, focusing on bringing the Torah, and Judaism, to wider audiences, making it more accessible and relevant today. I didn’t crib that from their mission statement, so allow me to excerpt it here:

Storahtelling restores the Torah Service to its original stature through a revival of the lost craft of the Maven, the traditional storyteller who translated the Hebrew Torah into local language. Rooted in biblical text and ritual practice, Storahtelling uses dramatized interpretations, traditional chanting, orginal music and live interaction to bring Bible off the page and onto the global stage.

The event was great, celebrating Storahtelling’s “b mitzvah,” which, as founding director Amichai Lau-Levie explained, is a “bar mitzvah, a bat mitzvah, a b mitzvah inclusive celebration for all genders.” And what a b mitzvah it was! Storahtelling turned 13, honoring their founding director, their incoming executive director and members of the board.

But what’s a b mitzvah without a little Torah? Jackie Hoffman, Jewish actress and comedian extraordinaire, studied with the Storahtelling staff, learning the Torah parsha that would have been her bat mitzvah parsha when she was a girl (raised Orthodox, Jackie didn’t have the option). She tackled a topic that many shy from: the rape of Dinah.

She broke the story up, making it more palatable, relevant and interesting. She interspersed chanting and discussion – with a healthy dose of humor, of course. (Amichai gave the English translations to Jackie’s Torah chanting on the fly.)

With more than a little (much appreciated) feminism flavoring her words, Jackie gave voice to Dinah. Dinah, the central character of this story, does not have any of her own words in the Bible. So Jackie, channeling Dinah, asked why the women of the Bible were too often chattel, to be swamped and shared amongst the men. She set the scene: Dinah had “two Jewish mothers. Think about that for a moment. And 12 stinky brothers.” She asked why Dinah’s mother was so willing to marry Dinah to the man who had raped her. (“Was she so desperate to see her daughter married, she’d ok a man who would defile her? Oh wait, that’s my mother!”) And she might have relished in her telling of the circumcisions of the men of Shechem: “They were in penis pain for three days!”

But it was an impromptu statement after she finished (and after she accepted her present from the “Sisterhood,” two gay Storahtelling staff) that summarized Storahtelling’s work so perfectly: “I’m a person who hates everything, and I dug this experience hard.”

And that’s just it. For Jackie, it was about bringing in some feminism, giving voice to the silent and suffering Dinah, and wrapping it all up in some jokes. For others, it might be highlighting gay characters or interfaith families, placing the Torah stories in contemporary settings, drawing and singing and acting the stories… bringing them to life. If you have the chance to get to a Storahtelling event, I highly recommend it.

[sub]*The only thing that would have made this night better? Had I gotten my photo taken with the hilarious Jackie Hoffman. And had she performed her Shavuot song, just for me.[/sub]

Why It Matters

We spend a lot of time talking, writing, thinking about the whole “who is a Jew” debate around here. 

It’s important, in the context of an organization that welcomes and advocates for interfaith families in the Jewish community, to encourage inclusivity in the definition. 

Why?

Because when a Jewish person chooses to marry someone who is not Jewish, it does not mean they are less of a Jew. Let me repeat that: who we marry does not add or detract from our Jewishness. Converting to Catholicism detracts from one’s Jewishness. Marrying a Catholic does not. 

So when I read in publications that I like (did you see  The Unlikely Emissary or The Other Rosenbergs? They were really good!), a comment that is hateful, exclusionary and promulgating of the view that doing something can make one less of (or not at all) a Jew, it annoys me. 

In the most recent issue of Moment Magazine, they published a comment about a previous article. The article, “The Best Jewish TV Shows of All Time,” January/February 2011, included The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Should The Daily Show with Jon Stewart have made the list? He is married to a non-Jew, doesn’t belong to a synagogue and doesn’t affiliate with the Jewish community or any Jewish organization. And, as I’m given to understand, his children are not being raised as Jews.

Last time I checked, belonging to a synagogue wasn’t criteria for being a Jew. (If it were, we’d hardly have any Jews in our midst under the age of 40.) And how does the writer know with whom Stewart affiliates?

Allow me to fully own my bias: I’ve been a regular viewer since the early double naughts; there are few episodes I’ve missed. And one of the things I enjoy are Stewart’s Yiddishisms, Jewish jokes and occasional confessions that he doesn’t know much about his religion. (Though his writers clearly do.) His made up Hebrew is fantastic and uber-gutteral. Regardless of the choices he and his wife have made, he is still as much a Jew as any other Jew. And his show certainly deserves to be on a list of great Jewish shows. 

But that’s not really the point (or, at least, the main point). My main point is this: The Jewish community owes it to all of us to be welcoming and inclusive, not to belittle or shame another for how they’ve chosen to practice their religion, and certainly not to claim that folks lose their Jew card if they’re “bad.”

I’d like to see the community working together to squash these views, educating one another on just “who is a Jew,” rather than publishing them.