Providing quality experiences to enrich the lives of the community at large with award-winning preschool programs, summer camps and a wide array of enriching activities. JCC Chicago provides the opportunities to bring Jewish values to the lives of everyone from infants to adults.
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.
When our celebrity columnist, Nate Bloom, wrote about the engagement of Chely Wright to Lauren Blitzer, he posited, in an earlier draft, that theirs was the first celebrity, lesbian, interfaith wedding. I wasn’t certain. Much to the amusement of my friend and colleague over at Jewish Boston, David Levy, I started googling for proof. I tweeted,
This is not what feminism looks like: http://ow.ly/4OnQ0 (“Why are so many famous Jewish women lesbians?”)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, googling failed to be helpful. The Google results ranged from highly amusing to pornographic to conspiracy theory meets anti-Semitism and homophobia (the latter can be seen, at your own discretion, by following the link in the above tweet), so I turned to some twitter buddies for help.
Both David and I asked questions to our followers at large, and to specific twitter buddies like Jewish musician Julie Silver and the folks at Keshet and Jewish Womens’ Archive, if they knew of other celebrity lesbian interfaith couples. (I believe Julie’s answer included her and her beloved wife…)
Unable to prove with certainty whether or not Chely and Lauren would be the first lesbian, interfaith, celebrity couple to be wed, the assertion was cut from the celeb column.
Although few details of the big day have been revealed thus far, Chely dished that it will be an outdoor ceremony with both a reverend and rabbi officiating, as the singer is Christian and her fiancée is Jewish. The reception will have a deejay, and guests would be wise to bring their dancing shoes!
And we, at IFF headquarters, are curious: which rabbi is co-officiating the ceremony? Lauren and Chely, if you’d recommend her/his officiating prowess to others, please recommend that they join our free Jewish Clergy Referral Service. We’re always looking out for rabbis who will officiate for interfaith couples, will co-officiate with clergy of other religions, and are LGBTQ friendly!
Mazal tov to the brides (kallot), whether they’re the first or amongst other happy couples!
“To have this finally happen for us — especially so soon after Will and Kate — is unbelievable to me,” Rod said in a statement. “I realize there are a lot of broken hearts out there now that Ricky and I are off the market — step back, all you chorus boys! — but I’ve known since day one that Ricky is the husband for me. He’s the furry fellow I want to spend my life with both on and off the stage.” (The Advocate)
But back to real people.
Newsday has a wonderful photo gallery of Kate and Dee preparing for their wedding, then getting married. (All photo credits: Jessica Rotziewicz.) Here are some highlights:
From their home in Patchogue, Dee Smith holds up her phone that has her mother, Randee Smith, of Smithtown, on video chat, so she can talk with Rabbi Lev Baesh via Skype along with her and Kate Wrede. This is the second time the couple is chatting with the rabbi about plans for their wedding ceremony. (July 14, 2011)
Kate Wrede and Dee Smith of Patchogue choose a glass to break at their wedding ceremony, along with a mezuzah, at Unique Judaica in Syosset. Following Jewish tradition, the couple will hang the mezuzah on the doorpost of the entrance to their home. (July 10, 2011)
Hey, Kate and Dee, if you need help putting the mezuzah up, check out our video and booklet!
Kate and Dee Smith look into each others’ eyes as Rabbi Lev Baesh explains how this is more intimate than the kiss at the end of the ceremony at Viana Hotel & Spa in Westbury. (July 24, 2011)
Kate Wrede and Dee Smith wrap themselves in a blanket as part of their wedding ceremony. (July 24, 2011)
That “blanket” is a tallit (sometimes pronounced tallis), which is a prayer shawl. From our Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples: “In some Jewish ceremonies, modeled after Sephardic tradition, the couple may be wrapped in a large tallis during some portion of the wedding ceremony when blessings are recited. It is often used for the final benediction. This ritual is adaptable for any wedding.”
Mazal tov, again, to Dee and Kate (and Rod and Ricky), and to all of the other couples who are now legally able to marry in NY State!
Here’s a video, via Newsday, about the happy couple:
As a bonus, we also have an essay that Rabbi Lev Baesh, director of our Resource Center for Jewish Clergy, and the lucky officiant for Kate and Dee’s upcoming nuptials, wrote about this experience:
You might not guess this, but it can be easier to find a liberal rabbi to officiate a same-sex wedding than to find one to officiate a Jewish wedding for an interfaith couple. This Saturday night at midnight, I will be officiating the first legal gay wedding in the State of NY. The couple found me in Massachusetts through InterfaithFamily.com’s free Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service, after being turned away by several rabbis in the NY area.
What never ceases to amaze me is the dedication some interfaith couples have to finding Jewish connection in this important celebration in their family’s life. It also doesn’t surprise me that a gay interfaith couple, which faces potential discrimination on several fronts, continues to search for that connection as well. Thankfully we have this web based service, and the dedication of its staff to equality, that makes it possible.
I have worked with InterfaithFamily.com for several years, but began officiating and co-officiating interfaith weddings 20 years ago. It was both the high level of acceptance my religious Jewish family had towards people of diversity, and my own struggle as a gay man to find connection in the religious heritage I deeply loved, that moved me to make it easier for people to find connection here as well. Reform Judaism has been full of social justice activities and drive for the world around us, but is only in the past decades seeing the challenge it places on its own committed members and potential members, by not welcoming both GLBT and interfaith couples in a bigger way.
There has been a shift in both the welcoming of GLBT and interfaith families of recent past, but institutional change is slow and haphazard. Gay, lesbian and transgender rabbis are welcome to study for ordination, but the prayer books, religious school materials and social conversations still refer to heterosexual families as primary and desired. Interfaith programming has increased and many of the congregations in our liberal movements are more than 40% interfaith families. However, the leadership of the movement still can’t accept an interfaith married person into the rabbinic school. And, with a nearly 50% or greater number of Jews in interfaith partnerships and marriages nationally, the liberal Jewish movements still see them as a minority when it comes to programming and organizational decision making.
It is both the GLBT and interfaith nature of this wedding, with its high profile status as the first legal gay wedding in NY, that may give us the power to move the liberal Jewish world further in its path toward internal acceptance of all its diversity. With the liberal Jewish world coming around to the reality it faces, of both interfaith and gay families (some living in the same households) making Jewish choices, there can be great strength in changing the nature of acceptance of diversity on a national level. As much as this wedding is a triumph for same-sex families, we still have a lot of work to do to bring national value to acceptance of the full diversity of our populous.
May this wedding be not just the first of many in NY, but the gentle push forward that makes room for other states and other religious movements to open their doors wide to the people who already love so much of what we value as a free and inclusive society.
People who know me know that I am rarely satisfied. When something really positive happens, I am usually immediately thinking of what more could be done.
But I want to pause and say that I am as happy and proud as I could be that InterfaithFamily.com is playing a role in what is being described as the first, legal, gay marriage in New York. I have a lot of personal feelings about this that I want to share.
There was controversy when we started our Resource Center for Jewish Clergy and our Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service. People said we would badger rabbis to officiate for interfaith couples – something we have never done. I felt to a certainty that helping interfaith couples have a positive experience finding a rabbi to officiate or co-officiate at their weddings – something we have consistently done, at a current rate of 175 couples a month – would be a positive factor towards future Jewish engagement of those couples. I’m convinced it was the smartest move our organization ever made.
Ten years ago when IFF was founded I confess that I wasn’t sure how I felt about gay marriage. Then I got to know Sue Edelman and I got to know Rabbi Lev Baesh and thankfully it became a no-brainer to me that same-sex couples deserve marriage equality. I also learned that most people say that even more LGBT than straight relationships involving Jews are also interfaith relationships, and we have always published content aimed at supporting gay interfaith relationships (check out our new LGBT Resource Page), and that was clearly the right thing to do too.
A year ago I made a presentation to the Jewish Federation of North America’s planners group with my friend Idit Klein, the executive director of the leading Jewish LGBT advocacy organization, Keshet. Idit and I had a friendly debate about whether LGBT Jews or Jews in interfaith relationships were more marginalized in the Jewish community. You could say that IFF’s over-arching goal is to not have interfaith couples marginalized in the Jewish community. If IFF can help gay interfaith couples overcome the extra hurdles they face, so much the better.
Last Wednesday when I saw Dee Smith’s officiation referral request and read that they were going to be the first gay couple married in New York I went running out of my office with excitement. We quickly put Lev, who directs our Resource Center for Jewish Clergy, in touch with the couple. We thought he would be the perfect rabbi for the couple and that they would love him, they apparently did, and I am thrilled for Lev that he will be having a role in making history on July 24.
The big deal here is that there is going to be legal gay marriage in New York. I was proud to live in Massachusetts when our state legalized gay marriage, I was proud when my childhood friend Richard Palmer wrote the Connecticut Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in that state, and I was disappointed when the electorate in Maine where I spend a lot of time voted against it. I hope that New York has turned the tide in favor of marriage equality.
But it is also a big deal for the Jewish community that the first legal gay marriage in New York involves an interfaith couple who sought to have a rabbi officiate at their wedding. And I am very happy and proud that our organization was available and able to make that happen.
Like many, I started hearing about the colorful plans for weddings, non-profits and individuals alike doing what they could to prepare for the throngs of couples who will want to take advantage of the new law shortly after it comes into effect. (One of my favorites? The “pop-up chapel” planned for July 30 in Central Park.)
But then, via our free Jewish clergy officiation referral service, we received an email requesting a rabbi to officiate at what will be New York’s “first gay marriage.” Enthusiastically, we jumped on the task. (Not that we’re biased, but the office was maybe slightly more enthusiastic about this request than the hundreds of others we receive – but only slightly, of course, since we’re thrilled to be able to help out so many of you!)
Here in Boston, there was both a Dyke March on Friday night (complete with a Shabbat dinner picnic potluck) and the rainy Pride Parade on Saturday. Around North America (and many other regions of the world), parades and activities happen throughout the month in recognition of Stonewall and LGBTQ rights (achieved or desired).
Following the month’s trend, the Reform Judaism blog has a post today called “On Being Straight in the World’s First Gay Synagogue.” And though it’s up there to mark June as Pride month, I think there’s more to it than lessons on LGBTQ inclusion. The author, Maggie Anton Parkhurst, a member of Beth Chayim Chadashim, the world’s first gay synagogue (founded in 1972), writes:
We are diverse in more ways than sexual orientation. Yes, we are a Reform congregation, but our members have all sorts of Jewish backgrounds, from converts and Workman’s Circle yiddishists, through mainline Conservative to Orthodox yeshivahbochers. Despite these differences, we share a commitment to gender neutrality and equality at services, along with lots of singing.
We also represent Los Angeles’s varied ethnicities, which is abundantly clear when members read from the Book of Esther in fourteen different languages at Purim. Tolerance and embracing the stranger are BCC’s hallmarks, especially the latter, as everyone walking in on Shabbat receives a warm welcome. Even and especially people who feel excluded, or worry about feeling excluded, at other synagogues.
At first, all this diversity was uncomfortable compared to the suburban temple where our children grew up….
This is key. Whether welcoming individuals or families who are LGBTQ or interfaith, something as simple and easy as welcoming each and every person goes a long way. Have a greeter at the door to say “welcome” and “Shabbat shalom” to each person – be they regulars or newcomers. Every congregation – Reform or not, LGBTQ or not – can take a lesson from Beth Chayim Chadashim to ensure that all of us, strangers all, feel embraced and welcomed.
There’s been a lot of talk, of late, about intermarriage, interfaith Jews and the eternal “who is a Jew” debate. Some of it was spurred by the attack on Rep. Giffords, and the Jewish community’s near unanimous response that, yes, she is Jewish. (See, for example, Julie Wiener’s recent column in The Jewish Week, Is Anyone Jewish Enough?)
But that wasn’t the only source of news this week. So cuddle up with a mug of hot cocoa, stay warm and watch the snowstorms move in while you read another hodge podge:
An article in the Jewish Exponent looked at bullying in the Jewish community, specifically in Jewish schools.
Even if violence is minimal, day school students said that doesn’t make the emotional or mental abuse any easier to bear.
“It’s worse for us because our cliques can’t be based on color or race, so instead, it goes a little bit deeper,” Becca Richman, 16, a junior at Barrack Hebrew Academy, said during a discussion on bullying at an Anti-Defamation League youth leadership conference in late November.
Since everyone shares the same ethnicity, students might discriminate over whether someone is overly observant, not observant enough, from an intermarried family, homosexual, wealthy and so forth, her classmates added.
Meanwhile, the religion blog in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper, linked to a story on Intermarriage, the law of return and the modern Israeli state. It might be interesting to you to read some of the proposals Israel has for dealing with intermarriage, people who are “Jewish enough” to move to Israel but not “Jewish enough” to be considered Jewish for marriage. (I will add the disclaimer that when I read the line, “One brave exception is Rabbi Haim Amsalem, a member of the Knesset from the Shas political party.” I had to fight the urge to stop reading…)
Now, I wouldn’t normally share an article (Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match) that boasts an OU (Orthodox Union) approved dating site, but I how else would I have learned about intermarriage statistics for the Jewish Deaf community?
In the past, the rate of intermarriage among the deaf was close to 60%.
Another article looking at the “who’s a Jew” question in Israel focuses instead on Y.B., a 23-year-old would-be convert to Judaism (he was raised Jewish, has a non-Jewish mother) who is gay.
The soldier’s experience highlights the plight that gay would-be converts to Judaism face in Israel: Because there is no separation of state and religion, and the state religion is regulated by the Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate, it is practically impossible for an openly gay person to convert to Judaism. Under Orthodox Jewish law, a would-be convert who rejects a tenet of the Torah — in this case, the prohibition against homosexual intercourse — cannot join the faith.
An IDF spokesman denied that Y.B. was expelled from the course because he is gay.
“The IDF believes that a person’s origin, gender and sexual orientation cannot have an impact on his or her ability to appropriately complete the conversion process,” the spokesman said in response to a JTA query. “The soldier in question chose to leave the course of his own accord because, as he noted, ‘He did not feel ready to complete the conversion process.’ The soldier was clearly informed he could return to the course when he felt ready to do so.”
Y.B. says that during his meeting with conversion course officials, he signed a form saying he was not ready to complete the process only because he was told he could not continue to study if he indeed was gay. The stipulation given for his return would be based on his agreeing to pursue relationships with women, Y.B. says he was told.
Let’s just call this a random hodgepodge. A bunch of stuff came across my desk (or over the series of tubes that make up the internet) this week that were too interesting not to share:
Step aside Chelsea Clinton and Mark Mevinsky, here comes Lauren Bush and David Lauren! Yup, the grandaughter of former President George H. W. Bush, and niece of former President George W. Bush, is marrying David Lauren, son of the famous Jewish fashion designer Ralph Lauren. The Jewish press has run plenty of headlines proclaiming that she’ll become “Lauren Lauren” but, really, let’s hope she keeps her birth-name.
Remember that General Assembly that Ed’s mentioned a few times? Well, our friends at Keshet were there too. And they made a great video while they were there:
In recent weeks, the Jewish Standard received more publicity than they probably ever expected. And rightly so: they hurt, and excluded from their newspaper/community, part of our Jewish community.
It’s refreshing to be able to report on another Jewish community newspaper that not only has come out with their inclusive policies but has had their policy since 2004. And it’s also explicitly welcoming and inclusive of interfaith families:
The mission of JTNews is to be inclusive of the entire Jewish community. Therefore, the policy of the JTNews is to accept marriage, commitment ceremonies, engagement, B’nai Mitzvah, birth and obituary announcements from all couples — including interfaith and same-sex couples — as long as at least one of the members of the couple is Jewish.
While the Jewish community continues to come together, pledging to make ours a more inclusive (and safe) community now, it’s great to see that for some community organizations (ours included), inclusivity has long been the standard.
For the past several years I have tried to keep my family out of my professional work in order to respect their privacy. Today I’m going to deviate a little from that rule.
Two weeks ago one of the happiest occasions in my life took place in my home: the bris of my first grandchild. A grandchild is a wondrous creature — I keep saying that he is like an entire universe of possibilities, and we have no idea how they will play out.
While I was making a few remarks at the bris, I noticed a young adult guest starting to cry. She came up to me afterwards and said that as a lesbian she had been overcome by my choice of pronouns in my remarks. All I had said was the following to my son-in-law and daughter: “We just said a prayer that we hoped that Jonah had huppah, a loving partner, in his life. I hope that 25 or 30 years from now the two of you are talking to each other about who Jonah is going out with, do you like the person, is the person good for him, is the person ‘the one.’”
It would have been easy for me to have said “is she the one,” and I did chose my words carefully, but I was quite taken aback that what I said had such an impact. It left me wondering how many times the young woman had experienced expressed assumptions of sexual preference that left her feeling different and disfavored.
I tell you this because I wonder whether casual expressions of assumed heterosexuality lead directly to the homophobia playing out in the news. You may have heard that a Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Standard, printed an announcement of a same sex wedding, then apologized after members of the Orthodox community objected, then kind of retracted the apology when others objected to it. Our friend David Levy has been blogging about that at Jewschool, which also has a follow up story.
Much more tragic is the recent spate of teen suicides due to homophobic bullying. I am very proud that InterfaithFamily.com is a co-sponsor of Do Not Stand Idly By: A Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives originated by our friends at Keshet. The pledge states a commitment to end homophobic bullying or harassment, to speak out when anyone is being demeaned due to sexual orientation or gender identity, and to treat every person with dignity and respect. You can sign the pledge on Keshet’s website. I hope that you will. if the commitment becomes more of a reality, my little grandson’s world will be that much of a repaired place.
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