Celebrity news from Hollywood including an interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal, and an update on Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo.Go To Pop Culture
Lindsey Silken and I recently attended TribeFest which is a conference of the Jewish Federations of North America. It was an entertaining, interactive and educational celebration that drew around 1,500 Jewish young adults (ages 22-45) from across North America to the city of New Orleans. Some of the attendees are professionals at Federations, synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and other Jewish organizations and some are volunteer leaders or involved as young adults in the Jewish community. InterfaithFamily had the pleasure of co-leading two sessions.
Our first session was lead with HIAS. HIAS is an international Jewish non-profit that protects refugees. I am proud that the Jewish community keeps its ancient mandate to protect the vulnerable and the stranger in our midst in this way.
Why were IFF and HIAS paired to run a session? We share the mission of being welcoming and we spoke about what it means to welcome. Whether welcoming interfaith families to Jewish life or helping those fleeing persecution to get acclimated as our neighbors, we need to grapple with insider/outsider mentality, what it means to lower barriers to participation and how to quell assumptions we make about others.
Our second session involved several other organizations including JFNA and the LA Federation, Big Tent Judaism and Keshet, all working, again, to widen the doors of entry to Jewish life for the diverse range of people who may be interested. In the break-out part of the session, we lead a group which went deeper into the conversation of how to be welcoming. What does an organization have to do to be welcoming? Is there a standard formula that can be instituted across the board in Jewish life to yield welcoming success?
The people who joined our group said that in each denomination and in each circle of Jewish life, the institution would have to figure out what criteria they could uphold that would signal the most welcoming culture and climate they could. For some synagogues which are largely interfaith communities, the only way to truly be welcoming may be to have clergy available to officiate and even co-officiate weddings. If there are many in the community who arenât Jewish who are actively invested in supporting a Jewish partner or raising children with Judaism, it may be that the only way to be truly welcoming is to celebrate them when ushering in Shabbat by lighting the candles, for example (a ritual traditionally reserved for Jews because of the language of âbeing commandedâ). In congregations made up of a community cognizant of Jewish law, there would be other examples of being inclusive and welcoming that they would want to specifically enumerate and articulate. (We’ll share more specifics of what we came up with in a future blog post!)
Itâs not enough to say that a congregation is welcoming. The community has to be able to describe what welcoming means to them. When you think about how you welcome people to your home, you know what you do, how you do it, how you feel doing it, how hopefully your guest feels and what you show and teach your children about graciousness. And a congregational family should know how they welcome both newcomers and regulars to the building, to classes and to gatherings.
Although we could scarcely agree on which things a congregation could or should do to be welcoming, everyone thought that one action that indicated âwelcomeâ was that any coupleâinterfaith couples includedâshould be greeted with âmazel tovâ when they announce their engagement.
We also had an interesting conversation about the word âinclusive.â What does it mean to include people in the life of the synagogue? By definition, does that act change the nature of the situation that existed before the person was included? Do we include people by having them join what we are doing or does adding someone to the mix necessitate being flexible and dynamic?
There were few easy answers but lots of good questions and discussion. The attendees care about their Jewish lives and the future of Judaism in America. It could have been because we were in New Orleans, but there was a palpable energy and harmony to the buzz of voices.
The following is my sermon given on March 7, 2014 at Temple Beth El in Munster, IN.
The weekly Torah portions now move into the book of Leviticus. The Five Books of Moses are referred to by Hebrew names which are the first main word in that section of Torah. Leviticus is known as Vayikra which in Hebrew means God called out. God calls out many things to the people throughout the long narrative. Sometimes the people heed Godâs call and sometimes they donât. Sometimes it is Moses or another leader who hears Godâs call and then instructs the people what to do or not to do.
Do we believe God is still calling out? What is God calling? How does the call sound? When and how can we hear it? Some say God calls out through nature saying to stop destroying the environment. Some would say God calls out through people doing social justice work and bringing to our attention the suffering and plight of the vulnerable in society who need more help. Some might say God calls out through our inner voice which helps us calibrate our moral compass. Some say God calls out over and over and in new ways through this sacred textâthrough this scrollâthrough this ever-new message and that is why we read it over and over and over, and read commentaries about it over and over and over and continue to think about our own responses to these words. Do we hear God in the shofar? In the upcoming graggers and laughter of our youth?
What would God call out if God could read this latest Pew study of American Jewry? Most American Jews are not members of a synagogue. Most American Jews marry someone not Jewish. Many liberal American Jews raise their children with another religious tradition in addition to some Judaism. Millennials by and large say they are Jewish of no religion? What is happening here? Where did everything go wrong? How do we get things back on track?
OKâas an asideâwhy must we personify God? It seems true, as Maimonides, the great Jewish, Spanish philosopher and writer in the 1100s thought, that we can only make negative statements about GodâGod is not human. The only positive statement we can make is that God is and even that limits God. So, I am of course speaking in metaphor.
But, there are those who would say that there is something fundamentally broken or off about American, liberal Judaism. Synagogues are outdated and cost too much money to maintain. Our liturgy does not resonate any more. We donât know Hebrew and so prayer in Hebrew does not âworkâ as it once did. Since Judaism is a religion of boundaries and distinctionsâthe difference between the holy and profane, between day and night, between Shabbat and the rest of the weekâwe cannot have a truly inclusive Jewish community.
The nature of the Jewish religion is that it is insular and exclusivist to some extent. Jews can do and say certain things and those not Jewish cannot. Those younger than 13 cannot do certain things. On Passover, we cannot eat certain things. We are a religion of rules and boundaries and these rules have kept us a distinct people for millennia. As Rabbi Mark Washofsky,Â the Solomon B. Freehof Professor of Jewish Law and Practice at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati, our rabbinical school, just said to me, âThere are many in the Jewish community now who straddle the fence and straddling a fence hurts.â
So, this is all bad news and negative. Goodbye American liberal Judaism as we know it. Itâs been a nice run, but itâs over?
Things are better than ever. It is our diverse community that gives us new strengthânew voices, new questions and new insights are good for Judaism. We are pushed to define ourselves, to understand who is a Jew and what makes something Jewish. We are forced to confront our own lack of literacy and to take ownership of our religion and our heritage. When we have a community made up of those who grew up with Judaism and those newer to it, we uncover what it really means to welcome the stranger and to believe in One God of all who is a God of peace and love. We are given the sacred opportunity to perform the mitzvah, the commandment, to love our neighbor as our self because weÂ areÂ our neighbor. We see the most often repeated commandment from the Torah come alive for us: Do not oppress the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Does this always make it easy? Should we have no ritual barriers to full participation in Jewish life? (I kind of think so, but not everyone agrees with this). Should all rabbis officiate at any wedding where a Jew requests Jewish clergy to be with them? Can we find room in our religious schools for children being raised to also learn about and appreciate Catholicism, for instance? There are no easy answers but lots of important questions.
What is God calling to us now? I believe one message that is blatantly obvious and which can bring us closer to one another and God is that we need to open up, not create more rules and tighten our limits. We are a tiny âinâ group and we are, by the way, not a homogeneous group; we are not different from those not in these seats tonight. The majority of liberal Jews are somewhere else. It is not for us to call them in. It is for our Jewish expression, our synagogue structures, and our leaders to open up. We have to act with love, respect, with joy and optimism, humility and inspiration, to individualize, accommodate and include anyone who might come to see that living with Judaism is a rich, vibrant, accessible, authentic way to structure oneâs days.
Kayn Yihi Ratzon. May this be Godâs will.
The staff at InterfaithFamily is feeling grateful, humbled and inspired by the recent grant we received from BBYO. At their International Convention in February, BBYO teens were given the option to participate in a Shabbat learning session hosted by the Slingshot Fund. In this session, they experienced an expedited (but real!) 90 minuteÂ grant giving process.
They were first given the Slingshot Guide, which includes 50 innovative up-and-coming Jewish organizations and 17 âstandard bearerâ organizations, of which InterfaithFamily is one. The Guide states: âInterfaithFamily leads the conversation and demands a place for interfaith families in Jewish communal life.â
BBYOers were then split into groups and each group was assigned a handful of organizations from the Guide to research. After taking all 67 organizations in the Guide into consideration, each group got to pick their favorite and pitch it to the other groups. What a great exercise in philanthropy!
One of these groups chose InterfaithFamily as their grantee. The group membersâone in particular who is in an interfaith familyâfound the work we do to be meaningful to them. When they pitched InterfaithFamily to the larger group, many other kids felt connected to our cause as well. Out of all of the organizations that they could have chosen to fund, the BBYOers chose one: InterfaithFamily!
Here at InterfaithFamily, we spend a lot of time working with parents and couples. We spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the children of intermarried parents, as does the greater Jewish community. But the minority voice in the equation is that of the children themselves. To know that our mission is important to them is extremely validating and adds a sense of responsibility to our daily work.
Going forward, look out for more essays and resources devoted to the children of interfaith families, because I plan to make sure we rise to the challenge of using the BBYO grant to help these kids feel welcomed and supported in the Jewish community.
âBen Zoma asks, âWho is worthy of honor?
My wife and I are always reminding our children that there is nothing more important than being kind. Hearing the âmean talkâ of childrenâs taunts or playground mishapsâwhich of course happens everywhereâmakes our ears perk up. Mess up on your homework, that can be resolved pretty quickly, but if you treat another person with disrespect, the consequences can be devastating.
The Hebrew word for respect is kavod. It is also translated as honor, dignity, and even glory. KavodÂ is a cherished word in Judaism. The Hebrew root of the word, (KVD) likens itself to weight, importance and abundance. Simply stated, kavodÂ is not something to be taken lightly. It is all about how one treats their fellow person. This is ascribed an indisputable holiness that is essential in Jewish philosophy. Right in the heart of the Torah, we are instructed to âlove your neighbor as yourselfâ (Leviticus 19:18).
A psychologist studying the aftermath of a Golden Gate Bridge jumper in 2003 said, âI went to this guyâs apartment afterward with the assistant medical examiner. The guy was in his thirties, lived alone, pretty bare apartment. Heâd written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, âIâm going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.ââ (New Yorker, 2003)
Apparently no one smiled at him and the rest is a tragic moment in the history of the Golden Gate Bridge, and suicide in general. Of course, there was a deep psychological imbalance in his life that led to such a horrific decision. Yet, the fact that people continue to regularly disregard each other is troubling. Admittedly, no one passing by this tortured soul could have known the level of despair he was in, but perhaps back then and even now, people could make an effort to show a stranger in our midst a little pre-emptive kavod. Surely all of us have felt uplifted by the gift of anotherâs smile in passing. How much the more so for people we know!
So what are you doing to show honor and respect to the ones you love? How do you express dignity and kindness to the people you meet? The littlest gesture can make such a difference.
Interfaith relationships offer an incredible opportunity to contribute to Judaismâs enduring strength and diversity. All people should be welcomed and included in Jewish rituals that are such an incredible source of value and meaning to all who participate in them. Perhaps the question when planning life cycle events should not be what are you going to get out of this moment or the person involved in the ritual, but rather, what can you give to the relationship? How can you help break down the barriers and include others?
I invite you to think about this as you peruse our interfaith forums and dialogues here at InterfaithFamily. Letâs open our hearts and minds, for kavodÂ is all around us and it all starts by recognizing the holiness inside you.
There are many things that I am proud of about my background. I am proud of my heritage, my hometown and my family. Being proud helps our self-esteem and drives us to reach for new goals. But from time to time, when speaking about my background, I want to be careful that I am not insulting another personâs background. Sometimes I worry that pride can cross a line and become insulting or even prejudice. Iâm going to put it out there: I am a conservative Jew who likes country music and cheers for Duke and the Phillies. But many people who I adore are Catholic, like heavy metal, are UNC fans and love the Red Sox. OKâI said it. We all make our own choices.
No one would argue that being proud of your family, school, city and heritage is a wonderful thing. Last year, after the Boston Marathon bombings, it was powerful to see the slogan âBoston Strong.â The concept of uniting the city to find the bombers was a crucial first step in the healing process for a city that had suffered such a devastating event. Similarly, I greatly admire people who serve in our military because they love our country so very much that they put their lives on the line. There is nothing worse than the feeling of being attacked, so it makes sense to unify as a community or country to take back a feeling of control.
In the past 100 years there were two World Wars, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few. During the Second World War, Jews were targeted and murdered. As a result, many Jews have had a strong sense of pride as a way of overcoming such a horrific event in history. After centuries of persecution, many Jewish people felt very protective of their religion and culture. Many people dedicated their lives to working for Jewish causes. That sentiment is weakening as younger generations feel a distant connection to the Holocaust. Currently, some Jews do not feel threatened by anti-Semitism and feel very welcomed into American culture.
Hereâs the problem. Pride is a wonderful motivator and generally exudes positive energy. However, sometimes pride comes at the expense of another city, town or culture or religionâand becomes prejudice. It is a very fine line between the two. The risk of misinterpretation or offending someone is constant. (And, there will always be people who are overly sensitive.) Yet, people donât want to have their thoughts censored in their effort to be politically correct. Itâs OK to have an opinion and to express it. But I think it is infinitely important to be aware that pride can easily step over the line and become prejudice.
Here is my recommendation: Think of pride versus prejudice like a sporting event. Everyone can and should cheer for their team. Competition is a great motivator and perseverance leads to wonderful self-esteem. Players and fans should exercise good sportsmanship. Occasionally there is a player or fan who steps out of line. Occasionally a player breaks a rule or there is even a flagrant violation. That doesnât indicate that every player on that team is vindictive. We should exercise good sportsmanship and sensitivity and maintain the balance between pride and prejudice.
The following is a guest post by Gina Hagler, reprinted from her blog, Musings of Ruth
Iâve been part of the interfaith community for many years. Iâve felt comfortable, uncomfortable, welcome, tolerated, and most points between on the spectrum. I can tell you which things left me feeling more or less comfortable. I can even give you a definition-in-progress of what I would consider a welcoming congregation. What I hadnât thought of before last night, is how many aspects of welcome are universal.
Why are we making it so complicated when we sit together as Jews to assess how welcoming our congregations are? Why are we trying to look at ourselves through the eyes of others â especially others who are coming to us from a world view we have not experienced firsthand? Why are we making this such a Herculean task?
Perhaps we should first think about what has made us feel welcome in new experiences. Weâve all been the fish out of water at one point or another. What made it less painful? What eased our introduction? What made us feel we could return? What made us want to return? Why isnât this our simple first step to understanding how to put âstrangersâ at ease.
While I was still shaky in my Jewish identity, I took my kids up to New York several years in a row for winter break. I wanted to take them to services but I certainly didnât know any synagogues in NYC. I wasnât that confident that I would know exactly what to do once I got into the synagogue, but I wanted my kids to see that the services they participated in at our temple had elements in common with services at all synagogues. I did a search on synagogues in Manhattan and foundÂ Central Synagogue.
From the moment the site opened, I knew this was where we would go. The tone of the site, the readily available information, the pride the synagogue had in its history â all lent itself to the implicit expectation that of course we would want to visit and of course we were welcome. We went and sat in the way back â clearly newcomers and clearly not your standard Jews since 2/3 of the kids were Asian. People turned around to smile at us. Someone approached us to ask if we needed a Siddur as he held one up for us to see. He told us we were welcome to join them downstairs after the service for an Oneg made up of simple food.
Within five minutes of entering the building, we had been informally welcomed, given what we needed to participate if we chose to in a way that did not assume we were familiar with the object, and invited to something we may not have known about in a way that explained all we needed to know to feel bold enough to check it out. My kids felt right at home. They were delighted to hear prayers they knew and to be able to join in. They were thrilled to hear tropes that were familiar. There was no way they were leaving without the Oneg. They met some other kids. Several adults made it clear I was welcome to join in their conversations. Ever since, we make it a point to attend services there whenever we are in New York.
This synagogue was not specifically trying to attract interfaith families, or even families from ambiguous or undecided Jewish backgrounds. They were trying to attract those interested in a Jewish life, without making a distinction between faith backgrounds. As strange as it may seem, I felt more immediately welcome at that temple than I have at any other temple Iâve visited. Iâm convinced it is because they were genuinely proud of what they had to offer and genuinely happy to have us.
Maybe when weâre trying to decide how to make someone comfortable at our temple, we should start by thinking about what makes us comfortable and ask ourselves if our congregation is welcoming anyone â Jewish or not â in such a way. Maybe the first step in making people feel welcome is to be welcoming.
The following is reprinted with permission from MyJewishLearning.org. We thank them for their words on this year’s Olympics which we know is weighing heavily on our readers’ minds.Â
By Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz
The more I read and learn about what has been happening in Russia, the more I am afraid for its citizens. The attention that the fairly recently implemented âanti-gay propagandaâ law is getting is certainly high on the list of reasons to be concerned. What begins as fines quickly becomes imprisonment. There is already more than enough evidence that creating an environment of state-sponsored discrimination against a section of the population based on an essential part of their being leads to violence against those individuals. There are numerous accounts of LGBT Russians being attacked by vigilantes and thugs.
We should all be concerned by these stories. As a Jew, and as a lesbian, I cannot help but think about Germany in the 1930s. We teach that history precisely so that we might better recognize the early signs of state-sponsored prejudice that can quickly escalate into something more. I donât think Iâm being reactionary. Iâm truly and deeply concerned.
What does this mean for the Sochi Olympics, and beyond the events of the Olympics themselves. I admit, I find myself at a gut level drawn to the idea of boycott â of simply not watching. But Iâm not convinced that this is an effective or meaningful response at this stage. Â I would have supported the International Olympics Committee if they had made a decision to relocate or cancel the games at an earlier juncture, and I also recognize the logistical, legal, and political complexities of making such a decision.
Even if You Donât Plan To Convert, You Should Learn About Your Partnerâs Religious Heritage: The Value of Introduction to Judaism Classes
When I was in rabbinical school in the late 1990s and in the years following my ordination in 2000 I had the great pleasure of teaching the Reform movementâs 16 week Introduction to Judaism class. I found it incredibly rewarding to have the privilege of exposing my students to the fundamentals of Jewish thought and practice. While a few of the students in my classes were Jews who wanted to learn more about their religious heritage, the vast majority of students were not Jewish but had Jewish partners and they registered for the class because they were considering becoming Jewish. In those days, like today, many Reform rabbis required that conversion students with whom they were working take the Intro class as one of the requirements for conversion.
At the first class session, I would always invite the students to introduce themselves and to share why they had signed up for the class. Often, after saying a few words about himself, a student would say:Â âAnd I plan to convert once Iâve completed this class.â Sometimes, the student who said this had been married to a Jewish person for years, raised Jewish children, been a part of a synagogue community and already knew a lot about what it mean to be Jewish. In those cases, the Intro class was the final step in a long process, and the person speaking truly knew what was involved in choosing to become Jewish.
Other times, the student who said this was someone who was dating or perhaps was engaged to someone Jewish, but he admittedly knew very little about Judaism. In those cases, I would encourage him to have an open mind and to learn as much as possible about Judaismâboth in and out of classâand to defer making any decision until he had a better sense of what it meant to be Jewish. Then, if living a Jewish life was truly compelling to him, conversion would be the right path for him to take.
As a rabbiâand as someone who loves being Jewish and believes that Judaism brings meaning to my life and to the worldâI think itâs wonderful when someone chooses to become Jewish. I have served on many bâtei din (rabbinic courts) for people becoming Jewish, and I have always found the experience to be incredibly powerful. It is truly an honor to be part of a personâs process of becoming Jewishâas long as the person is becoming Jewish for the right reasonâthat is, because she truly wants to be JewishâŠnot because her partner, or partnerâs parents, want her to be Jewish. To me, serving on a bet din where someone is converting for the purpose of making a partner or other relative happy would be a mockery of the conversion process. Which is exactly why I would tell students in my Intro class who were just beginning to learn about Judaism: âTake your time, learn about Judaism and THEN decide if you want to convert.â And even if the student who was dating, engaged or married to a Jewish person never made the decision to convert, they would have learned aboutâand presumably developed a greater respect forâtheir Jewish partnerâs religion in the process of taking the class.
Ten to 15 years ago, when I was teaching Introduction to Judaism classes, there were lots of students in the classes. I think that this was in part due to the fact that the liberal Jewish community put a lot of pressure on Jews marrying people of other faiths to convince their partners to convert to Judaism. For a number of reasons, this has changed. Thanks to the work of many individuals and of organizations like InterfaithFamily, the liberal Jewish community has become more welcoming to interfaith couples and families. Parents who arenât Jewishâeven if they are actively practicing another religionâcan be part of their Jewish childâs religious upbringingâŠnot just driving their children to and from Religious School, but learning alongside their children, participating in synagogue and Jewish communal activities and having a role in their Jewish childrenâs lifecycle events. Perhaps that explains why some of the Introduction to Judaism classes near where I live in Philadelphia are having trouble attracting enough students these days. Conversion to Judaism, and the intro classes that are an essential part of the conversion process are no longer seen in many liberal Jewish circles as the ânecessityâ that they once were.
However, just because someone whose partner is Jewish does not intend to convert, and may intend to continue practicing his or her own religion, I donât think that they should refrain from enrolling in a class such as the Reform Movementâs Introduction to Judaism or other similar class. In Philadelphia, for example, the Conservative Moment sponsors the Rabbi Morris Goodblatt Academy, which offers a 30-week Introduction to Judaism class twice yearly to learn about Judaism. Thereâs tremendous value to learning about the history, beliefs and traditions of your partnerâs religious heritage. For example, in a recent blog, InterfaithFamily wedding blogger Anne Keefe writes about how she, a practicing Catholic, is taking an Introduction to Judaism class not because she is thinking about conversion, but to learn more about her fiancĂ© Samâs religion.
I would encourage anyone who is seriously involved with a Jewish partner to consider learning more about Judaism. Similarly, I would encourage any Jewish person in an interfaith relationship to learn about their partnerâs religion. Regardless of your own religious beliefs or practices, it can only benefit your relationship to learn more about your partnerâs religious heritage.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you are in an interfaith relationship. If you are not Jewish but your partner is, have you taken an Introduction to Judaism or other similar class? If so, what was the experience like for you? If you are Jewish, have you taken a class to learn about your partnerâs religious heritage? What class did you take? What other steps have you taken to learn about your partnerâs religious beliefs and traditions?
I love when my kids come home from school with inspirational materials. This week, with MLK day on everyoneâs mind, it was to honor the great Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Found inside my 1st grader Eliâs backpack was a scholastic news weekly reader called âBefore and After Dr. King,â emphasizing how MLK had helped change unfair laws in his lifetime. This little flyer highlighted three topics featuring before and after photos: Buses, schools and water fountains which clearly and visually showed the inequality and horrific level of prejudice in daily life in the south in the â50s and â60s.
So we had a kitchen table discussion, and I found myself getting teary-eyed, as I often do at the thought of being separated and judged for who you are by the color of your skin or boxed into feelings of shame for what you were born into. My kids are blown away that people were treated so unfairly. Eli found it fascinating that I was born in 1969, âway back then only one year after Martin Luther King died.â We talked about how hard it is to believe that people couldnât sit together or learn together or share the same water fountain; things I did not have to witness in person, thank God, being way up north and born after the civil rights movement had a chance to flourish.
âJews were treated unfairly too back then,â I explained to Eli.
âWhy does it always have to go back to the Jews?â my wife bemoaned, âCanât we just stick with MLK?â (Itâs got to be tough to be married to a Jewish educator with every topic coming back to Judaism at his kitchen table.)
âIâm just saying,â pointing to the picture with the separate seating on the buses, âthere were also signs back then that said, âNo Jews Allowed.â Of course, it was nothing compared to the horrors that faced the Southern black community at the time, but there are similarities. Deb gave me that âLets not bring this back to the Holocaustâ look, knowing all too well where it was heading. I got the message. âYou will learn more details about this every year as you get older.â I tried to conclude my digression before Shalom Bayit had been compromisedâagain.
Mavis Staples, created one of the best civil rights songs of all time (and albums for that matter titled Weâll Never Turn Back in 2007), called âEyes on the Prize,â telling us to âhold on,â and to keep our âeyes on the prizeâ of freedom.
We have come a long, long way as a more inclusive society (thank God) and prejudice needs to be fought wherever it strikes. There are many issues to hold on to as we keep our eyes on the prize. Kingâs vision to change the world began with color (or rather I should say a dream of not judging people by the color of their skin) and continues to grab our hearts and attention on opening our minds to all people who suffer and have been marginalized by society, âstill vastly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.â (MLK, I Have A Dream speech, April 28th, 1963)
As of this writing, 17 states have legalized same sex marriage (starting with my home state of Massachusetts in 2004). And intermarriage is a fascinating because it is not an issue of legality from state legislation, but rather in issue of relational acceptance by denominations or complex family dynamics.
Going through the list of rabbis who are willing to officiate marriages on this website, I am struck by their level of heroism to stand up for change and inclusiveness, despite the slowness of many congregations and some of their peers.
Things are evolving and getting better, no doubt. It is wonderful to see same sex marriages continuing to be recognized and officiated by rabbis in synagogues. But somehow, interfaith marriage has a bigger hurdle to overcome in acceptance on the institutional level. For example, the Conservative movement has a doctrine to not allow their rabbis to even attend an interfaith marriage, let alone officiate one.
You have probably heard about the small, but still existent, ultra-Orthodox factions that are pushing for separate buses for men and women. Oh Dr. King, how did some of us get so far off? It is deeply embarrassing to see people miss the mark in respecting othersâ differences.
In the meantime, this year I will be watching for more synagogues to be more inclusive and welcoming to more intermarried couples. I want my children to grow up witnessing synagogues and Jewish institutions working to make a stronger community of unity and respect.
Yesterday my husband asked for my advice about how to help a friend of his. His friend wanted to know how he could motivate his wife to attend services and other Jewish events at our synagogue. They are empty nesters and he wants to grow their Jewish practice. My husband turned to me because I am the family psychologist, a.k.a., the in-house armchair analyst. While I am sympathetic to our friendâs situation, my answer may not have been the one he was looking for: âHe canât.â
For most of my life, I engaged with Judaism to please my family, not because it was something that I wanted or because it was my idea. It was easier for me to participate than it would have been to explain why I did not âfeel it.â I always experienced a strong attachment to the music, the food and to Israel but these are not religious motivations, they are cultural. Sometimes I wonder where the line is between culture and religion.
Spirituality is personal. I am not sure how the flame gets going. Some have it from birth, others find it as a result of a life changing experience, and for me it appeared during my first visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem a few years ago. My internal flame was lit near midnight on a warm summer evening in Jerusalem.
When I returned home from Israel, I went looking for a Jewish community to join and I found one in San Francisco. From that first Shabbat morning, I always felt welcome and never self-conscious about showing up alone. There were always plenty of other people who came alone, just like me. Some were single, some with partners who chose not to go or who stayed home with their children or aging parents. We sat together at services and saved seats at the table for each other at events. Not once did I ever feel the awkward loneliness that can creep into oneâs consciousness while going solo in a group setting. The positive experience I had the first time motivated me to try it a second, and then a third, and so on, until I joined the community as an official member.
Since then, I have married and my husband and I go to synagogue together. I no longer go alone but I know that I can, any time I want or need to. A while ago I heard a fellow congregant speak at a panel discussion about how, as a divorced parent, she has found her village in our community. She no longer feels awkward about attending as a single parent and comes to temple events a lot now. She even comes alone when her children are with their father. I have another friend who is always at Shabbat morning services and is rarely accompanied by his partner who works too hard and desperately needs the âDay of Restâ for actual horizontal rest.
I suggested to my husband that his friend could try joining us once or twice without his wife to see how he feels about walking in alone. Once he is inside, he will be joined by friends, swept away by the gorgeous opening song, and carried through the morning by Rabbiâs calm guidance of our prayers. Our friend may find out that his inner flame of spirituality can be nurtured through the warm and uplifting embrace of our community in San Francisco. He may also discover that the impression he walks away with is contagious.
To learn about what to expect at a synagogue, watch this video.