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Rosner had said that in the absence of definitive studies or any consensus, the debate about whether interfaith marriage will weaken or strengthen us will be decided by trial and error over three or four generations, with some rabbis officiating and some not. I said his was an incredibly non-activist approach and that âarguing that intermarriage weakens us is self-fulfilling. Intermarriage wonât be an opportunity to grow in numbers and vitality if the messages the Jewish community sends â like by rabbis not officiating â disapprove of interfaith couples [and] relationships.â
Rosner now says that I was right, in the sense that a clear and unified message might be better. But he says critics of intermarriage can make the same argument, that âarguing that sticking withÂ in-marriageÂ weakens us is self-fulfilling.Â In-marriageÂ wonât be an opportunity to grow in numbers and vitality if the messages the Jewish community sends â like by rabbis officiating â disapprove of insistence onÂ JewishÂ couples and relationships.â
That is a false equivalency, in my view. There canât be any question that decrying interfaith marriage turns interfaith couples away, or that insisting on “in-marriage” doesnât work. No one is arguing that Jews marrying Jews is bad. Rabbis officiating for interfaith couples does not send a message of disapproval of Jewish-Jewish marriages. Interfaith marriage could be regarded as an equal norm, along with Jews who marry Jews; they can co-exist. Itâs the insistence that there is only one right way thatâs the problem.
Rosner says aÂ Conservative rabbiÂ who refers to âthe naive hope that [a rabbi] standing under the chuppah will have a significant impact on the Jewishness of interfaith couples or the families they buildâ is right. How anyone can hold that position after theÂ Cohen Centerâs latest researchÂ showing the positive impact of rabbinic officiation escapes me. (Rosner cites anÂ article by Roberta Rosenthal KwallÂ that rolls out the tired old, previously failed strategy to âactivelyâ encourage conversion, and an interesting âdescriptive, not opinionatedâÂ analysis by Emma GreenÂ in the Atlantic.)
TheÂ Continued Decay of Jewish Federations, which generated a lot of comment onÂ eJewishPhilanthropy, takes pot shots at intermarriage; the anonymous author says âIf the person I walk down the aisle with isnât Jewish, how much am I really going to care about the [Jewish] folks down the block?â and â72% of non-Orthodox intermarrying is âŠ about Jewish apathy.â Fortunately one comment wagers that the writer âholds outdated views that intermarriageâŠ divorce
Thankfully there has been more positive perspective in the media. Rob Eshman, publisher and editor of the LA Jewish Journal,Â says:
One outstanding example of an answer is Debbie Karl, who tells “How One Interfaith Family Found a Home in a Synagogue“: because a wonderful rabbi agreed to officiate for her and âturned the whole process into a positive experience for both of us.â If she hadnât, âthat could have been the end of Judaism for meâŠ I could easily have written off organized Jewish life, as so many disenchanted Jews choose to do.â This is one of the most persuasive pieces by a lay person that Iâve ever read; I wish every rabbi who doesnât officiate would read it and take to heart what she says about the children of intermarriage:
An outstanding example of a cantor who âgets itâ is Erik Contzius, who says “Letâs Stop Calling It ‘Intermarriage.’”Â He used to not officiate, but âComing to understand how a hostile attitude from clergy turns young couples away from Jewish identity and practice changed my mind.â
Avram Mlotek, a courageous Orthodox rabbi,Â reportsÂ that he âencountered fierce oppositionâ to his op-ed about welcoming interfaith families and â adopting a posture of radical hospitality,â but steadfastly believes that âproviding a space that caters to every Jewâs spiritual needs â even if that Jew is married to someone of another faith â is the most practical way to ensure the future of the Jewish family.â
Two of the smartest thinkers on intermarriage happen to be senior leaders of the secular humanist movement. Rabbi Adam Chalom offers “Intermarriage Agony? Been There, Past That“:
Paul Golin offers two excellent pieces. “Intermarriage is the Wrong Bogeyman”Â (an edited version of a longer piece onÂ Medium) explains that the approach that intermarriage is the cause of declining Jewish engagement is based on
Golin argues that theism is the problem â most people do not believe in the concept held by most of organized Judaism of a God that answers personal prayers. I agree with Golin that âWhen thereâs no magical âJewish geneâ to perpetuate, Judaism must be about meaning and benefit. And if Judaism is meaningful and beneficial, why would we limit it to just Jews?â But while secular humanism may be an approach that would suit many interfaith couples, many others are interested in spirituality, and the religious movements could do a lot of work developing concepts of God and liturgies that express those concepts that contemporary couples would be far more comfortable with.
In hisÂ second piece, Golin uses the terrible situation of government of Israel reneging on a deal for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall to point out that the Chief Rabbinateâs claim that liberal expressions of Judaism are invalid is not unlike liberal Jewish leadersâ claims that intermarriage makes a Jew ânot Jewish enough.â I agree that his as usual trenchant comment: âpolicing of Jewish observance by Jews against other Jews is disastrous regardless of whoâs doing it.â
âI feel I’m Jewish not just because I’ve chosen Judaism but because Judaism has chosen me.â
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, itâs not Jewish ritual or prayer or the organized Jewish community that puts off people who are not Jewish. To a newcomer, itâs the inside jokes, that âtribalismâ about Jewish cultureâthe very thing that makes many Jews feel prideâthat 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 youâre 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 wifeâs strong Protestant faith that inspired him to explore his own faith and religion. After a great deal of religious and spiritual exploration, he said, âI feel more Jewish than I ever have in my life.â
Itâs time for Jews to change their thinking, Gregory said. As his wife Beth put it: âI know what you are but what do you believe?â
Unfortunately, he points out, the idea of appreciating Judaism for its vibrancy, community and spirituality is an âelective.â 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 âwhat you believeâ rather than the âwhat you are.â
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.
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 Pogrebinâs book, Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate by Feminist Press. These two iconic feminists discuss the movementâs 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.
The late great comedian Joan Rivers had many famous lines, but she was probably better known for these three words than for any others. For many of us, we just have to hear this phrase and Joan comes to mind.
Yet perhaps ironically, when Joan Rivers uttered the phrase âCan we talk?â it wasnât that she really wanted to engage with her audience in discussion. She didnât want to talk WITH us. She wanted to talk TO us. What she wanted wasnât for us to RESPOND, but for us to LISTEN. She had something to sayâŠand she wanted our undivided attention.
Many of us like to talk. We have something to say â perhaps a point to make or a feeling or opinion to express. We think of talking as activeâŠit involves doing something.
We tend to think of listening, in contrast, as passiveâŠas if we donât have to do anything to listen. But in fact, truly listening isnât always easy and itâs certainly not passive. As any therapist, chaplain, social worker or member of the clergy will tell you, active listening is a crucial skillâevery bit as important to a conversation as speaking, and often more so. Itâs incredibly powerful for a person to know that theyâre being listened toâthat theyâre being âheardâ (and this often involves much more than just words)âby someone else whoâs taking in what they say without any agenda other than to be present for them.
In Judaism, our central prayer is the Shema. And what does the Hebrew word Shema mean? It means âHear.â Hearing/listening is at the very heart of Judaism.
When I was growing up, there was a wonderful poem in the Friday night prayer book my synagogue usedâit was read before reciting the Shema. The prayer, written by Rabbis Jack Riemer and Harold Kushner, was called âListen.â It began as follows:
Judaism begins with the commandment: Hear, O Israel!
But what does it really mean to hear?
The person who attends a concert with a mind on business,
Hearsâbut does not really hear.
The person who walks amid the songs of the birds
And thinks only of what will be served for dinner, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The one who listens to the words of a friend, or spouse, or child, and does not catch the note of urgency: “Notice me, help me, care about me,” hearsâbut does not really hearâŠ.
I loved this poem (and still do) because it emphasizes the importance of being truly present in the moment âŠ of hearing/listening to what is happening around you, or what another person is saying to you.
Iâm not a poet, but I often wish that I could add some verses to Rabbi Reimer and Rabbi Kushnerâs poem âListenâ and share them with the people I work with (interfaith couples as well as Jewish professionals) in my role as Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia. The verses Iâd add would be:
The person in an interfaith relationship who talks with her partner about religion but cares only about her own religious heritage, and not her partnerâs, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The parent of a child in an interfaith relationship who worries about what other people in his community will say about his child âintermarryingâ as his daughter tells him how much she loves her fiancĂ©, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The parent whose child tells her about his partner of another faith and she thinks only that she would prefer that the partner be of the same faith, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The rabbi who sits with a couple in an interfaith relationship and thinks about how it would be better if Jews only dated other Jews, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The rabbi who talks to a Christian parent of a bat mitzvah student and is convinced that all parents raising Jewish children should themselves convert to Judaism, hearsâbut does not really hear.
The synagogue staff person or lay leader who insists that their synagogue is âwelcomingâ of interfaith families but isnât comfortable with those who arenât Jewish participating in the life of the synagogue, hearsâbut does not really hear.
When it comes to interfaith relationships, many peopleâthose in the relationship, their parents and other family members, clergy and othersâmay have concerns that are legitimate, and that should perhaps be expressed. But just as each person involved might feel like they need time to TALK, each person should also be sure to take time to LISTEN. Listening can be a tremendous gift to others and to yourself as well. If you are able to actively listen to and hear someone else, it just may make it easier for them to hear you.
There are usually two types of Jewish blogs written in connection with Motherâs Day:
1. Those that focus on the commandment to honor your parents and note that in Judaism EVERY day should be Motherâs Day. These blogs almost always make one of two arguments:Â either that Motherâs Day isnât necessary since we should be honoring our mothers every day; or that Motherâs Day is valuable in that itâs a time to re-focus on the importance of honoring our mothers, and to recommit to honoring them throughout the year.
2. Those that focus on the importance of the Jewish community honoring and supporting mothers who arenât themselves Jewish, but are raising their children as Jews.
While I think both of these focuses are very important, as Motherâs Day approaches this year, I want to focus on other mothersâa group of mothers we donât always talk about in the Jewish community: the grandmothers of other faiths âŠ that is, those mothers whose daughters and sons marry someone Jewish and decide to raise their children as Jews. These are the Catholic grandmothers who never have the chance to see their grandchildren christened or to attend a first communion; the Hindu grandmothers who come to their grandchildrenâs Bânai Mitzvah and feel uncomfortable and out of place at synagogueâall those grandmothers of other religions who donât get to watch their grandchildren grow up in their own faith traditions and who may feel like âoutsidersâ at their own grandchildrenâs lifecycle celebrations.
Unlike their own sons and daughters, who fell in love with someone Jewish and made the choice to have a Jewish home and raise their children as Jews (whether or not they themselves became Jewish), these grandmothers never had a choiceâtheyâre bound by their childrenâs decisions.
We in the Jewish community should acknowledge these grandmothers (and the grandfathers) who arenât Jewish. Here are some ways we can do this:
Of course, booklets shouldnât be a substitute for conversation. Ideally, the booklet should be accompanied by an explanation by the grandparentâs own child who is raising Jewish kids, and/or the child-in-law who grew up Jewish. Depending on the age of the grandchild, perhaps the child can be involved in the conversation as well. For example, before a Bat Mitzvah, the granddaughter could talk to her grandparents and explain what will be happening in the service and answer any questions.
The list above is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to get the conversation started. If you have other ideas of how Jewish families and the Jewish community can respect and honor grandparents who arenât Jewish, please share them below.
In March Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, a Conservative rabbi at Ansche Chesed in Manhattan, explaining “Why I Will Not Simply Accept Intermarriage,” wrote for the Forward that âCelebrating interfaith weddingsâŠ [would] diminish a sacred covenantal tradition, and risk making liberal Judaism into a jumble of traditional gestures that might please individuals but demand nothing from them.â I wrote a letter to the editor which appeared in the March 20 print issue of the Forward (it’s not on the Forwardâs website):
Today another Conservative rabbi, Michael Knopf from Temple Beth-El in Richmond VA, had a very important response published in Haâaretz, “Getting over intermarriage: Judaismâs guide to finding the right partner.” Rabbi Knopf says that âJewish leadersâ obsession with discussing intermarriage through the prism of permissibility risks trivializing Judaism as a religion of policies, rather than as a fountain of relevant and enduring wisdom and values.â Stating that Jewish tradition has much wisdom to offer about finding a partner that is just as relevant to those who intermarry, he says âWhat if, instead of trying to finger-wag Jews into endogamous relationships, we offered compassionate and nonjudgmental support to people, drawing from the riches of our tradition, as they seek to couple?â Among his many refreshing comments are, âJudaism teaches that marrying Jewish is not a guarantee of a successful relationshipâ and âpeople of different backgrounds can be oriented to faith in harmonious waysâ and âtwo people of different backgrounds can sharpen each other in myriad ways.â Rabbi Knopf concludes,
We applaud Rabbi Knopfâs novel approach and the welcoming attitude he expresses. But what happens when interfaith couples are brought closer to Judaism, specifically to Conservative synagogues? In March, Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexington, MA, wrote a blot post for The Times of Israel describing a New Conservative/Masorti ceremony for interfaith couples, which is described in greater length on the website of the Rabbinical Assembly (the association of Conservative rabbis).
Rabbi Lerner was a co-chair of the Rabbinical Assemblyâs Commission on Keruv (Outreach), Conversion, and Jewish Peoplehood and he concentrated on creating a ceremony to welcome interfaith couples, âa ritual through which a couple could celebrate their love and the Jewish choices they were making, while including family and friendsâŠ within our understanding of halakhah (Jewish law).â The core of the Hanukkat Habayit ceremony is putting up a mezuzah; the ceremony is described at length in the blog post and on the RA website and it does appear to offer a lovely and meaningful ritual and celebrate the Jewish choices the couple has made. It also comes with a three- to six-month learning period with the rabbi before the ceremony and continuing conversations with the rabbi afterwards, all aimed as supporting the coupleâs Jewish growth.
We applaud this effort to support and recognize interfaith couples who make Jewish choices in a Conservative context, but itâs important to note that very clear Jewish choices are required for the ceremony: It is âfor interfaith couples who have decided to build an exclusively Jewish home and family together;â âif the mother is not Jewish, the children would undergo a halakhic conversion;â âThere should also be the clear expectation that non-Jewish symbols and observances would not be a part of the coupleâs home, such as a Christmas tree.â Many interfaith couples who might want to make Jewish choices in a Conservative context may note be quite as far along in terms of their decision making as is required for the ceremony. And there is continuing tension with those coming from the perspective of tradition â as Rabbi Lerner says, âsomeâ in the movement may be uncomfortable with the ceremony, even with its requirements, âas we seek to straddle the space between our tradition and keruv.â
This will surely be a continuing discussion worth following.
Often couples come from different backgrounds and it can be difficult to find common ground. But usually, if people have similar value systems, couples can work out compromises in their relationship. There are a variety of differences that affect a relationship. These differences make life interesting but sometimes differences cause conflict (and hopefully resolution). My family often says âThatâs why there are so many different flavors of ice cream!â Here is an overview about some of the types of differences couples may face.
Religious Differences: In my large family, each of us siblings observe our religion in a different way. Many people remark that they canât believe we were raised in the same house. As each of us has gotten married, we have evolved so that we have similar practices to our spouses. In fact, now that our society moves around so much more than people did 50 years ago, it makes sense that altering oneâs religious practices to suit our spouse is the norm, not the exception. Indeed, the proximity to oneâs parents may affect the level of practice. For example, if you are hundreds of miles from your parents but around the corner from your in-laws, your householdâs religious practices are likely to evolve toward the practice of your in-laws. Sharing holidays with extended family is going to change your practices as well.
I remember my brother saying that his decisions should not be affected by the decisions of his brother-in-law. The reality is that once the in-laws moved to the same city, celebrations were modified. He adjusted and the family holidays look a bit different. I think my brotherâs anticipation of what potential modifications might be was much scarier than the reality. I once told my kids I didnât just marry Daddy, I married his whole family: his mom, his sister, his dad. If you have any concerns about your future in-laws, think carefully. Especially if kids are in the picture, any differences are magnified.
Geographic Differences: Being from different parts of the country can be another area where a couple needs to find compromise. East Coast, West Coast, Northeast, Deep Southâfinding common ground can be challenging in this area as well. As a Southerner, I have lived in the Northeast most of my adult life. Yet, during a recent cold snap, I mentioned that I wished I lived in the South. A friend commented, âShouldnât you be used to the cold by now?â I responded, âI guess the novelty has worn off.â Celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah in a snowy climate when you are used to never wearing a coat can be an adjustment. Similar adjustments include city vs. suburbs vs. rural living. My husband loves the city and I would be quite happy living in a rural environment. Suburb is the obvious compromise but not all issues can be resolved as easily.
Nationality Differences: For one couple in my extended family, the parents were from Europe and the daughter was born in Israel. She moved to the U.S. when she was a child but always called herself an Israeli. Her parents always referred to themselves as European. She married an American but always made comments referring to her Israeli pride. I think that this difference was a point of contention for the woman and her husband. Attitudes, manners, celebrations were always an issue for them. Both partners were Jewish but the nationality differences were a struggle for them. Ultimately, the couple divorced for a variety of reasons but nationality differences definitely caused some of their disagreement.
Cultural Differences: Some families have a sit-down dinner every night. Other families never eat together because the parents are always working. Some families believe that there should be a stay-at-home parent while other families prefer a live-in caretaker. Differences of opinion regarding parochial school or public school or even boarding school can exist in the same family. Some issues such as school can be worked out with relative ease but other issues can be a huge hurdle in a relationship. Do both partners intend to work? Do you believe in daycare or nannies or neither? Differences in attitudes can rise up. If one parent stays home for a while, will there be resentment? If one parent travels for work, will there be resentment?
Financial Differences: Some people like to spend money, others like to save it.Â If one partner wants to travel to the Caribbean every winter but the financial situation does not allow for that, there should be some discussion. Does one partner want to eat out four nights a week at a sit-down restaurant? Do you agree on savings? Financial issues can be a major point of contention after several years of marriage. It is important to discuss what you and your partner expect regarding savings and debt. Donât be afraid to disagree, but do have these discussions.
While you are dating, âwhat ifâ scenarios are helpful (but not binding because circumstances always change). It is good to discuss these issues to assess whether you and your partner can compromise. As they say, âVive La DiffĂ©rence!â but keep your eyes open. You should be thinking like a team. If you find that you are feeling âaloneâ in your thinking, it might be good to seek counseling. Entering a marriage with confidence is paramount.
Youâre at a social or family gathering when someone starts throwing around a bunch of Jewish gobblygook you donât understand. One guy is talking about a cool, new âminyanâ in town and youâre picturing this guy.
Someone else is talking about her âboobieâ and you wonder if this is really too intimate a conversation for a party (Bubbie = Yiddish for Grandmother). Has this ever happened to you? A few minutes into a conversation among people who are Jewishly identified, and youâre likely to hear a little Yiddish, maybe bits of Hebrew or references to things that would be obscure outside of a Jewish context. Jews love Jewish jargon. Even some who arenât Jewish love it (Check out Ed Begley Jr. turning on the Yiddish in the film, A Mighty Wind).
Some throw around Jewish jargon without realizing it and assume everyone understands. It is just part and parcel of being immersed in a civilization with a particular set of texts, languages, history and cultural terminology. They might feel that a Jewish contextâa Jewish Community Center, synagogue or Jewish homeâis a place where they can let their pent-up inner Jew run free. Jewish jargon can signal in-group solidarity as well. To be honest, though, I think others use it so they sound âin the knowâ or to purposely alienate someone elseâwhich is unfortunate.
Whether intended or not, the result of Jewish insider-speak is that it can alienate people who arenât Jewish and often even those who are. Judaism often seems like a club for the initiated. But we are becoming so diverse that one canât expect even in Jewish places that everyone shares a common knowledge base anymore. And with the growing numbers of intermarried couples involved in Jewish life, there are bound to be a significant portion of people at any given Jewish happening who weren’t raised with Judaism.
I am hearing more and more often that if the Jewish community wants to be truly welcoming of interfaith couples, we need to make sure people donât feel alienated by insider-speak, and that we should eliminate or curb some of our Jewish particularisms. Some even think that since we donât want to create situations that make people stand out as unknowledgeable, we might want to tone down Hebrew in services to make them more universal. I remember speaking with one interfaith couple in which the partner who isnât Jewish felt this way, remarking that heâll never feel comfortable in a space where there is so much Hebrew because itâs not welcoming to him.
To become a truly welcoming Jewish community, do we need to become, well, a little less Jewish? Is it time to junk Jewish jargon?
Absolutely not. Judaism can be both welcoming and uniquely Jewish. My grandparents and parents grew up in the American melting pot era. Anyone âdifferent,â including Jews, tried to play down their uniqueness and blend in. But we live in a very different time. We wouldnât dream of asking any other minority, ethnic or religious group to abandon the very particulars that make it unique. In fact, most of us find these differences among us to be the interesting byproducts of living in a multi-cultural society (and maybe even what attracted us to our partners who come from a different background!).
So why would we rob Judaism of what makes it Jewish? Contemporary Judaism is more and more open to anyone who wants to be a part of it, and we are enriched by the diversity of people who are being drawn to Jewish life. That may mean that we can no longer assume we are all in on the jargon. But it doesnât mean we have to dilute it. Instead, here are a few suggestions to make Judaism more welcoming while retaining its unique flavor, and some others that might help those less knowledgeable about Jewish life navigate Jewish jargon moments.
WHEN YOUâRE FEELING âIN THE KNOWâ:
Translate. Does your mother-in-law talk about the machatenem (the other set of parents-in-law)? Whether youâre speaking at a party or speaking from the bima, take a page from our InterfaithFamily website. We always hyperlink words that might not be known (point in case: bima).Â What if we all talked this way, offering subtle explanations just in case someone needs it? The worst that can happen is that everyone nods as if to say, âWe already know.â Far better than the alternative: making someone feel that he or she is the only one who doesnât.
Explain. You never know if people have the same cultural or religious contexts you do, so itâs always a good idea to explain what you mean when talking about ideas particular to a certain field or group of people.
Transliterate. Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish and Ladino are hallmarks of our rich, Jewish cultures. Letâs not abandon them. Instead, transliterate as a regular practiceâwhether it is a synagogue handout or a wedding booklet.
WHEN YOUâRE NOT FEELING âIN THE KNOWâ:
Ask for help. If you are in need of more contextual information to make sense of something that was said, donât be scared to ask for an explanation. You will be reminding the speaker that not everyone shares her or his knowledge and you may be saving the next listener from the same situation. Donât just continue to nod as if you knowâJudaism is a tradition with thousands of years of history, text and language. No one knows it allâeven the person whoâs speaking.
Donât apologize. You have vast areas of knowledge that others donât possess. There is nothing wrong, embarrassing or shameful about not knowing something!
Be open to learning. Judaism is a rich and complex tradition. Donât assume that something within it isnât meant for you. Delve in and learn something new or try to follow along in the transliterated Hebrew. Give it a try rather than expecting Judaism to cut out the pieces you donât yet understand.
As our society and our families become more diverse, we are in the wonderful position of celebrating rather than diminishing our differences. So go aheadâŠembrace what is yours and learn about what isnât. Itâs a mechiah! (A great relief or blessing.)
A few weeks ago, InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia hosted our first gathering for young adults from interfaith homes and those who are in interfaith relationships: Love, Religion & Cockatils. We were fortunate enough to work with The Jewish Collaborative, a local organization that works with people in their 20s and 30s. In addition, our programming committee was terrific in coming up with the right type of program and the appropriate language for the marketing materials. Lots of organizations have mixers or programs, but this event was a little bit of both. It was an amazing night!
Drinks and appetizers: Everyone was given two drink tickets and there was a table with appetizers so that everyone could snack and mingle. We wanted everyone to have a chance to engage in casual conversation before we broke up into two groups. We served the âLove & Religionâ as our signature cocktail. Weâre pretty sure our participants enjoyed our special concoction.
A unique format: We wanted people to talk casually about their experiences and to connect with one another. The programming committee thought that the best way to achieve this would be to ask lighthearted questions such as, âWhat is your favorite holiday movie and why?â We hoped participants would explain their points of view as to why they liked certain movies, thus sparking conversation about issues such as how childhood memories inform our identity. We know that for many people, there is a lot of passion about their religion that has to do with memories. We asked other fun questions such as âIf you described your family as a food, what would it be?â We heard, âa pizza bagel,â âa potato latke.â The answers were fun and touched upon the backgrounds of each person. One person talked about feelings associated with a Christmas tree. Another person talked about family meals and holidays.
During our conversations, we heard the most fascinating stories. One woman who grew up in America went to Israel and is now engaged to a Muslim from Sudan. Another woman told us about growing up in a Jewish/Puerto Rican household. One of the couples talked about how the rabbi at their wedding was so wonderful and welcoming that the partner who did not grow up Jewish is now considering converting.
A measure of success: we handed out short evaluations and all data indicated that everyone seemed quite happy with the program. The real measure of success in my mind was that people stayed for an hour after the event ended to talk to one another and our staff. Obviously, there is a real need for a forum for folks to connect and share their stories. Iâm proud that IFF/Philadelphia offered that space for them and Iâm pleased to be part of an organization that offers a safe space for people to share and communicate online and in person.
Would you like to attend Love, Religion and Cocktails in the future in Philadelphia or elsewhere? Share your comments and ideas below.
The first Monday of the month from 9-10 am I set up a booth at the Weinger JCC lobby (300 Revere Drive, Northrbook). I channel Lucy from Peanuts and her â5 cents Psychiatry booth.â I have done this twice so far.Â I feel a little awkward but I canât think of a better way to make myself available to meet and talk. (And if someone just wants to go about their business, I certainly wonât get in their way.)
I know that some of you have questions and comments and welcome this way to connect. It is with anticipation and butterflies in my stomach that I wonder who might wander over and what we might discuss.
The first Monday in May someone came over and said, âAsk a Rabbi?â
I said, âIâm a rabbi, do you have any questions?â
She sat down and we talked about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We spoke about her youngest great-grandchildren being raised with Judaism by a mom who is not Jewish and her admiration for her.
Because my friends know I am a rabbi, I often get to field theological issues as they come up. I just got a text from a friend that said that her daughter wanted to know who invented God! And I was supposed to text back and answer! I did. I wrote: Great question! My belief is that God has always been with no beginning and end. One of the mystical names for God is ein sofâwithout end. But if she believes people invented God she is still a good Jew and if she doesnât believe in the supernatural, she may be drawn to secular humanism. When I saw this friend at the park we both laughed about texting this kind of thing. Sometimes when these kinds of questions come up, weâll mull them over, discuss with a parent or friend or handle it in a satisfying enough way without a âprofessional.â
However, if you are around Northbrook the first Monday of the month and want to share something your kids said, or something you have been thinking about, or a question about a holiday or practice, or something you saw at a bar or bat mitzvah or you want advice about speaking with your in-laws about a religious topicâŠ I canât wait to hear about it. I donât have all the answers. My thoughts and approaches are only right if they feel right to you. I wonât tell you what to do. But, if it lends itself we will probably laugh. I can direct you to others in the community if you have a particular interest. I am a mom of two young kids, I think about how to raise mensches (Yiddish for good person), I live a harried life and I love the Shabbat rituals (although they rarely get accompanied by a sit-down family mealâsome of you can share how you accomplish this with me). I would love to learn and talk with you.
My youngest has been asking a lot about where he was before he got into my tummy, what he did in there and where God is now. I yearn to meet other people who can stop for a minute and share our humanity. We can look at each other and see where we overlap and understand each other and sense where our diversity and different backgrounds bring us to our own questions and concerns.
I hope to see you June 2 at 9am in Northbrook. If this location and time doesnât work for you, but you want to philosophize about something or just have a quick question, email me at email@example.com.