This colorful booklet lists all the ritual items needed for the Passover table. The history and significance of each item on the seder plate is explained, as are the customs that have been handed down through the generations.
JScreen provides convenient, at-home, saliva-based genetic carrier screening with the goal of preventing Jewish genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs disease and Canavan disease. JScreen is a national program and is headquartered at Emory University in Atlanta.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
The following post is by guest blogger Jodi Rosenfeld from the Philadelphia area.
I sometimes feel like I am one of many circus performers juggling a variety of hats while the audience watches to see if I drop oneâ€”but the circus is my synagogue and the audience is my fellow congregants. My goal is not to make anyone laugh or watch in awe but simply to maintain the peace while moving the show forward in preparation for the next act.
At my small, century-old, Conservative synagogue in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, I was the facilitator of the Interfaith Work Group, a group that met for many months for the purpose of clarifying and then codifying our synagogueâ€™s policy on membership for interfaith couples and families. This means I had to wear and juggle my many hats at once. And for that, I had to learn about balance.
The Interfaith Work Group was born of a conflict. The conflict began when several interfaith families were preparing for their childrenâ€™s Bâ€™nai Mitzvah and the parent who was not Jewish realized that, according to Conservative tradition, he or she was not welcome to stand on the bimah. Even the father who was not Jewish but whoâ€™d served on several committees, was an active part of the community and had studied Hebrew alongside his son, could not stand at the Torah with his wife when she said the blessings before and after the Torah reading.
And then the backlash began. Some of the elders and more traditional long-time members of the congregation felt slighted at best, rejected and insulted at worst. For decades, they had poured themselves into â€śthe way weâ€™ve always done things.â€ť They felt that these changes were a watering-down of Judaism. Some got angry. Some left.
The Interfaith Work Group was a small cross-section of all of the above constituents that came together to get the facts straight (from the Rabbi about issues of ritual inclusion and Halacha; and from the Board about issues of governance), and then to clearly articulate these policies through the synagogueâ€™s website.
Was I the â€śrightâ€ť person, with all those hats in the air, to lead this group? I am a psychologist, which means I am trained to observe everyoneâ€™s feelings, even those with whom I may disagree. I am a Reform Jew by upbringing, which means I am accustomed to inclusion. I am the granddaughter of an observant, Conservative Jewish man, whose tallis and tefillin I wear each week, which means he is with me, in my synagogue, even today. I am a Jew married to a Jew, which means Iâ€™m one of them. And Iâ€™m an activist who fights discrimination in all forms, which means Iâ€™m one of them. I am a proponent of change yet one who wants to preserve the past.
My learning about balance came from my utter failure at facilitating the Work Group. The facilitator needed to be impartial, to lead the group without taking sides. Despite my many hats, I wanted to forge ahead with change. I wanted both Jews and those who are not Jewish but who are part of Jewish families to feel fully included in all aspects of our community. I wanted all of the young, prospective interfaith families in Chester County to flock to us, to think, â€śNow this is the kind of Conservative synagogue I want to be a part of.â€ť I wasnâ€™t particularly balanced.
What Iâ€™ve learned is that if we want to evolve as a community, we all need to be empathic toward one another. Interfaith families want more inclusion of family members who are not Jewish not because they want to water down tradition, but because they want to be more fully a part of our rich Jewish heritage. Long-timers donâ€™t resist these changes because they want interfaith families to leave, but because they have worked so hard to help the Jewish people thrive and they are afraid that change means loss. Change always means loss. But it also means gain.
Only by listening to one another and allowing ourselves to wear one anotherâ€™s hats for a moment can we truly appreciate that this change is a process of growth for us all. The reality is that we all need to be jugglersâ€”we need to understand one anotherâ€™s many motivations, question the familiar and approach one another with kindness in order to truly facilitate the evolution of our Jewish population.
ThisÂ first blog for InterfaithFamily/Boston is about doors opening and lives filled with new beginnings because we welcome each other. There was a time not long ago when almost all doors were shut on intermarried couples. As you can see in this photo, there is a picture of a door. This is not just any door. Itâ€™s not a stock photo either, but the actual door to my actual office in Newton, MA. I wanted to begin my blog by showing you the door to my office. Itâ€™s open and I guarantee you that it will remain open 95 percent of the time. And on the rare occasion that it might be closed, it is still a glass door, where one can easily knock and see and be seen.
Of course you are probably not surprised that this is not a stock photo as itâ€™s not a fancy picture and itâ€™s not a fancy office for that matter (not that there is anything wrong with it. Itâ€™s a lovely office. I am very happy to be here). The reason I put this photo in is not so much for the door itself but rather for the sign that our COO Heather made for me, which greeted me on my first day as director of our newest Your Community, InterfaithFamily/Boston last week, â€śWelcome Josh.â€ť
I smiled when I arrived. This is exactly what the staff of IFF does: We welcome people. Iâ€™m lucky to be located within the InterfaithFamily Headquarters, and to be joining the national staff to bring InterfaithFamily/Boston to the community in which they have made their home. This organization has a very clear purpose and a very important mitzvah that has been role modeled since the days when father Abraham (really the first Jew by choice) ran to welcome three strangers (that turned out to be angels) and did all he could to help make his guests feel more comfortable. Abe washed their feet and ran around being the host with the most, checking in with Sarah, who was making dinner and getting in on the hospitable action. It was a family affair indeed. Everyone took part. Itâ€™s a big deal in Judaism (and many cultures) when guests come to your door.
And itâ€™s funny, because not that much has changed when you think about what makes a good host (or a good guest for that matter). It is all about appreciation. Let me take it up a notch. We are actually acknowledging that there is a holiness in each other by wanting to help the other. For what is holiness when you get right down to it? Holiness is something special, something apart from the ordinary, somethingâ€¦sacred. You do not need to put on a robe or wave around an object or build an ark to get in touch with what is sacred. There is a beauty inside us that is the best of us, and it is in everyone. It is not even hard to find. You are important. You are loved. You count. You matter. And your family matters. Everyone should feel included. The alternative is to be wellâ€¦left out, a stranger in a strange land. No, no, noâ€¦that will not do. We know what that is like. We remember. We have been taught for thousands of years to welcome people, to help people and be grateful for what we have and to share with others. It is what we do. It is the love of life that makes Judaism so special.
If you are from a religion or culture that has some clear differences of background and ritual from your significant other, that can cause some challenges. We know it and we see it. Itâ€™s not easy to be intermarried sometimes. I myself am intermarried and have been a Jewish educator for 13 years. There are questions to be answered and it can be overwhelming trying to please family members and adhere to the demands of a tribe that constantly asks, â€śWhat will the others think?â€ť Much more to come on that topic and how we deal with that question in future blog posts.
But in the meantime, if you live in the Boston area, and are exploring what it means to be in a family of interfaith, I invite you to come visit me or call me or send me an email.Â In fact, part of my job includes leaving my office and meeting you wherever you are. (How cool is that!?) This is both metaphoric and for convenience. Where you are at, I will come to you. Itâ€™s my job so please donâ€™t be shy. My door is open. I believe that there will come a day when many more doors will be open as will hearts and minds. And it all starts here. Welcome.
I recently attended a think tank talking about how to expand â€śourâ€ť reach to interfaith families, Jews of all hues and LGBTQ individuals, couples and families. This is the visual I made during the sessions.
Who is the â€śour?â€ť Who do â€śweâ€ť want to reach and why? Do people want to be reached in this way and come in? In to what? In to whom?
Is the premise that the â€śin groupâ€ť that wants these unaffiliated, differently engaged people to walk through â€śtheirâ€ť doors not the same as those outside? Thus, the in group has to learn about them and understand them so that they can welcome them better?
Relationships are based on learning about the other person, so in this way, asking questions and gaining insights into what some people in these categories consider offensive or inviting is helpful. Learning about situations that have caused pain and struggle can give sensitivity and background for when they will meet and speak.
Once people are invited in, is it to share the same experience as those already on the inside, or to help mold and shape a new experience based on the new voices and backgrounds present? Is there a core that has to stay consistent and unchanged no matter who comes in?
These were some of the questions we were grappling with. What do you think?
NEWTON, Mass. â€”InterfaithFamily announced today that CEO Edmund Case and the Board of Directors selected Jodi Bromberg, Esq., to serve as the new President of InterfaithFamily, the premier resource for interfaith families exploring Jewish life.
Jodi was chosen following a rigorous search led by a group that included current and past board chairs, a professional human resources consultant, and staff. â€śWeâ€™re delighted that Jodi has joined InterfaithFamily,â€ť said Lynda Schwartz, Chair of the Board of Directors. â€śJodi is a very well-rounded candidate with strong professional skills and intellectual horsepower, a great communicator, and has demonstrated ability to help a small organization thrive in change and ambiguity.â€ť
Prior to joining InterfaithFamily, Jodi ran her own two-person law firm in the Philadelphia area, where she specialized in working with non-profit organizations, including creating and teaching the course â€śLaw for Non-profit Organizationsâ€ť at Temple Universityâ€™s Fox School of Business. Previously, Jodi was an attorney at two large Philadelphia law firms, and before becoming a lawyer, Jodi had a successful career in the publishing industry, as the editorial director and executive editor of two national publishing companies. Jodi received her law degree from the Temple University Beasley School of Law and holds a B.A. in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania.
â€śWe believe that Jodiâ€™s presence will help us build on the progress weâ€™ve made in being recognized as the leading national resource for interfaith families, and professionals and lay leaders who want to reach this important part of the fabric of North American Jewry,â€ť said CEO Edmund Case. â€śShe represents the face of Americaâ€™s growing number of interfaith families.â€ť
InterfaithFamily is the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities. We offer educational content at interfaithfamily.com; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative, providing coordinated comprehensive offerings in local communities, including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area.
An exciting opportunity came across my inbox the other day that I wanted to tell you aboutâ€”in the hopes that youâ€™ll take advantage of it for your own community.
Our friends at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation announced that they just launched their newest microgrant campaign–the #MakeItHappen initiativeâ€”inviting individuals to submit inspiring ideas to create unique and engaging Jewish experiences in their communities, for themselves and their peers.Â Here are the details:
Up to 50 ideas will be selected to receive a micro grant of up to $1,000
5 ideas could receive up to $5,000.
Submit between now and December 6, 2013; event must take place no later than May 31, 2014â€”but the earlier you apply, the better! The Foundation is selecting recipients weekly, beginning the week of October 29.
Lots of ideas? Multiple submissions are permitted.
The idea is to enable specific experiences and events to happen that would not have otherwise occurred. A central part of the experience should include a Jewish element, whether itâ€™s cultural, educational, spiritual or social.
I recently had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Dr. Beth Cousens, a creative and strategic thinker,Â whoÂ works with leaders in Jewish education and in Jewish life to help organizations ensure success. Her focus on strategic thinking, partnership and creative and relevant Jewish educational ideas have helped her to be a respected voice in the field.
She shared with us her insights about engaging and empowering young adults in Jewish life. Our focus was Millennials, ages 22-35, how best to serve them, engage them, and what to expect from their â€śengagementâ€ť with our institutions. For example, she explained that many Jewish young adults donâ€™t know how to be Jewish, as adults. They donâ€™t want to register or sign up. They are very interested in the answer to the question â€śWhat value is added to my life?â€ť and they are very much looking for meaning. They donâ€™t want to be segmented unnaturally; i.e. donâ€™t offer Torah study for singles. Offer Torah study if you want to offer Torah study and welcome the singles! Or, offer a singles event. But donâ€™t try to combine two things that donâ€™t naturally fit together.
They are definitely looking for DIY Judaism. No longer can Jewish institutions and congregations â€śdo Jewishâ€ť for their members. These young adults want to do for themselves! They need our organizations to help them learn how to do it.
She shared 5 calls to action:
Go to them. Help infuse Jewish content into their networks.
Stand for something. Help them live within the context of Jewish ideas. (If they are looking for friends, love, work, etc. they will go elsewhere. They come to Jewish institutions for Jewish content!)
Talk about and teach Jewish adulthood.
Organize around Judaism. (Can we have house meetings to ask them what they are looking for and work with them to create programming for them?)
Open our institutions: Create low barriers with high content.
I love the format of InterfaithFamilyâ€™s classes and workshops. Our mission falls directly in line with what these Millennials are looking for with our Love and Religion and Raising a Child offerings. We offer accessible and non-judgmental information so that interfaith families and those who support them can incorporate more Judaism into their lives. Check out our current offerings and stay tuned for changes to come in 2014!
What would you add to Dr. Cousensâ€™ five calls to action?
We here at IFF talk a lot about insider/outsider language and how those in Jewish life can be sensitive to language that not all who find themselves in the Jewish community may know. So, I thought I would take this chance to make sure you all know how the IFF website works.
InterfaithFamily is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to support interfaith couples and families exploring Judaism. IFF is based in the greater Boston area and has additional â€śYour Communityâ€ť local offices in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. (If you think your city would like a full-time person whose job is devoted solely to engaging interfaith couples and families in Jewish life, contact us for more information). The IFF website is vast! There are articles on every subject related to experiencing Judaism, specifically written with modern interfaith life in mind. There are narratives, videos, ways to learn blessings, recipes, blogs, pop-culture and more.
Each IFF/Your Community has a page devoted to the work being done in that community. I want those in Chicagoland to know about events going on around town that might be of interest and have ways to connect to welcoming congregations and professionals. One category that we have on our Chicagoland page is â€śPeople.â€ť Who are these people? Might you be one of them? They are people who have listed themselves as members of InterfaithFamily. When you become a member (for free) you can pick the subjects that are interesting to you and when a new piece of content is written, it will be suggested on your profile. You can list your zip code so that when events in your neck of the woods come up, you will know. We designed this membership system so that when people â€śjoinâ€ť IFF as members, you can then connect to each other!
Do you ever wonder if other parents of toddlers give presents each night of Hanukkah? Do you wish your 10-year-old could experience a bar or bat mitzvah, but you are not members of a congregation? Do you want to be able to explain your religious decisions better to your in-laws? Did you grow up in a home with two religions/traditions and now have a lot of questions?
You can ask each other about these things on our discussion boards! You can learn from others in similar situations. Community means: a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals. We speak about â€śvirtual communitiesâ€ť a lot. You can be a real virtual community for each other.
If you are already a member in Chicago and want to see your profile, just log in and click on â€śmy personal pageâ€ť at the top right of the screen.
You can see other members in Chicago by going hereÂ and clicking on â€śPeople.â€ť
If you have a question or comment and want others to reply, click on â€śdiscussionsâ€ť and â€śadd a topic.â€ť
I have been slowly but surely looking at member profiles and trying to reach out to see if you have specific areas you want to discuss with me. If you would like to connect, email me at email@example.com.
â€śShe had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.â€ť
â€•Â Shel Silverstein,Â Every Thing on It
Thirty-two percent of Jews born after 1980â€”the so-called millennial generationâ€”identify as Jews of no religion, compared to 19% of baby boomers and just 7% of Jews born before 1927. Overall, 22% of US Jews describe themselves as having no religion, meaning they are much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish.
The analytical side of my brain wanted to know what questions were asked, how they were asked and how the Pew Research Center defined the first layer of the question, â€śof Jews.â€ť Thankfully, there was a sidebar defining who is a Jew.
This diagram is from PewForum.org
I appreciate their stance, to â€ścast the net widelyâ€ť such that if anyone answered yes to any of three statements, then they were considered Jewish for purposes of participating in the rest of the survey:
(a) that their religion is Jewish, or
(b) that aside from religion they consider themselves to be Jewish or partially Jewish, or
(c) that they were raised Jewish or had at least one Jewish parent, even if they do not consider themselves Jewish today
With that information, I was not surprised by the results. Liberal Jewish congregational professionals have long been talking about the decline in religion and what that means for the sustainability of their congregation.
I feel it especially in California where I would say many people (Jewish and not) are â€śnot religious.â€ť People connect with heritage, tradition and culture. This was especially true in our last Love and Religion workshop. It became very hard for spouses/partners who were raised in a faith tradition other than Judaism to understand their partnerâ€™s Jewish identity, when that identity was void of religion.
Rather than looking at the results as Wertheimer describes, â€ś[a] very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,â€ť I prefer to look at it as an opportunity to embrace other aspects of Judaismâ€”beyond sitting in services and praying. I also feel this is an amazing opportunity for our interfaith families, in that there are so many ways they can connect with Judaism!
A few weeks ago, my son was reading Torah at a Saturday evening service. It is a very small service of 15-20 people and a nice opportunity for him to read without a large audience and to practice reading before his Bar Mitzvah next year. My in-laws who live a few towns over decided to attend. They were excited for him. The Rabbi saw them and asked if they wanted to have the aliyah for my sonâ€™s torah reading. They both said no.
At first I thought they were uncomfortable because they were taking an honor from someone else. So I looked at them and said, â€śThere is no one here, go ahead.â€ť They said no thanks again. I was perplexed. They are both Jewish and have participated in synagogue life elsewhere. They are completely comfortable in a synagogue and knew most of the people in the room.
An Aliyah is an honor within the Torah service. It allows the honoree(s) to stand beside the Torah reader (their grandson) and witness his reading. I also always think it is fascinating to be up close and personal with the Torah. (I always am amazed that this beautiful scroll is in every synagogue in the world and created by hand. When you factor in the longevity of the textâ€¦it is really cool.) I thought my in-laws would be thrilled to be up there with their oldest grandson and to watch him read from the Torah. Wouldnâ€™t they want this honor?
The concept of a Jewish person not wanting to accept an honor in a synagogue struck a chord. I recently wrote a blog about the beauty of the blessings given by someone who is not Jewish during a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. In many congregations, someone who is not Jewish cannot say a blessing for their child. My feeling is that the person who is not Jewish and blesses their child and the childâ€™s Jewish learning is making a wonderful statement of support to the community. So why wouldnâ€™t my in-laws want to participate?
Then I remembered my days in high school choir when we were in churches singing our hearts out. Sometimes there would be communion after we sang. Being raised in a strict Jewish household, I would refuse to participate even though I was the only one from the choir that wouldnâ€™t go up to the altar. I had a friend who was also Jewish but she did go up for communion. We spoke of it once and she said she didnâ€™t feel comfortable sitting on the pew when everyone else was kneeling or taking communion. I always remember this conversation and that one personâ€™s comfort is another personâ€™s discomfort.
Now, as I often think about welcoming a person of a different faith inside a Jewish institution, I have to remember: Sometimes people want to participate, and sometimes they want to opt out. Either way, we should do all in our power to make them feel comfortable whatever their preference.
I have been thinking about my in-laws sinceâ€¦we only do what we are comfortable doing. We all have different experiences and influences. Certainly no one should be forced to do something when they are uncomfortable. Religion is obviously a very personal decision and experience. My in-laws were not mentally prepared for an aliyah and this isnâ€™t a synagogue where they are members. I get itâ€”it wasnâ€™t right for them. Still, I know they were very proud of their grandson and his ability and intent to carry on the traditions.
While many synagogues are re-evaluating the role of the family members from various religions during various ceremonies, we must realize that not every person who isnâ€™t Jewish will WANT to participate. Some people think that their synagogue doesnâ€™t need to offer options because, â€śWhy would a person who isnâ€™t Jewish want to participate?â€ťÂ My response is: Let each individual decide what their comfort level is. We all have to remember that welcoming means offering options for inclusion. And, by simply offering the option for participation, the community sends the message of welcoming.
Jewish educators (including me) are constantly writing about interfaith familiesâ€”how to engage them, what their challenges are, what this means for the current state and future of Judaism. I thought an interesting way into the conversation would be to record quotes I have heard this week. These quotes are taken from different people and were said in different venuesâ€”from adult education, to talking with parents and grandparents on the phone or in person, to capturing what my own child said during bedtime. These comments capture the range of the concerns people have. Some of them go to the heart of the work we do, and others bring up policy and programmatic challenges.
Rabbi Ari Moffic (left) leading a Jewish education discussion
What would your answers be to these questions or what would your follow-up questions be to these statements?
Things people have said to me this week:
â€śOne of the big issues grandparents face when grandchildren arenâ€™t being raised Jewish is our own guilt.â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t want to have to pass a litmus test to get a Jewish education for my children.â€ť
â€śIf God is in my heart, when does God come out? Does God sleep?â€ť (From my four year old)
â€śWe are so busy during the week that we donâ€™t want to be away more from our child on Sunday mornings for drop-off religious school.â€ť
â€śI want to drop off my child on Sundays and go get a coffee and read TheNew York Times.â€ť
â€śThe only way our priest would marry us was if we also had a rabbi and if we promised to pass on Judaism.â€ť
â€śI am very concerned about burial issues that will come up for all of these interfaith couples who arenâ€™t thinking about that yet.â€ť
Twitter challenge for October: Tweet comments you hear other people say about life as an interfaith couple or family, things said at your Jewish programs or by your kids. Your words are the best conversation starters for us at InterfaithFamily!Follow us at @InterfaithFam and tag us in your comments with the hashtag #InterfaithQuotes.
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