Community Inclusivity

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:

JTNews Editorial policy – Lifecycle announcements:

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.

Do Not Stand Idly By

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.

And Baby Makes More

[float=left][/float]I’ve been waiting for this! Susan Goldberg, who has written some beautiful and moving pieces for IFF, edited a book, with Chloë Brushwood Rose, called And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families.  The book has been available in Canada for some months now, and is finally being released in the US. If you live in New York and this is an issue dear to your heart, you should go to the book release party, Tuesday June 8 at 7PM at Bluestockings.

I read the excerpt on the publisher’s website–the introduction and first chapter–and it is great! 

Stand Up and Be Counted Part One–US Census 2010

You may wonder why I’m making a post about the 2010 US Census. As a non-profit organization, InterfaithFamily.com relies heavily on sociological and demographic research to prove that we’re needed and that what we do is meeting our goals as an organization. Probably the research that did the most for our founding was the National Jewish Population Surveys, which persuaded the Jewish community in the United States of the widespread trend of Jews marrying non-Jews. We’ve also used data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and kept abreast of the studies of Jewish sociologists through the North American Data Bank.

The US Census Data hasn’t been that useful to us at IFF, because in the United States, the government  hasn’t, for many years, asked questions about religion on the census and doesn’t classify Jewishness as an ethnicity. For Jews, this has been reassuring. In the near historical past, governments that considered Jews an ethnic group nearly invariably discriminated against Jews.

(I should be clear that the US Census, in any case, does not release individuals’ data for a full 72 years after you fill in the census, at which time the documents are archived. My friend who is working for the census bureau told me that she had to take an oath of preserving the confidentiality of the documents. The penalty for breaking the oath is five years in prison or $250,000.)

The Census is going to be useful to you. This is the second census on which individuals can identify with more than one racial category. For people of mixed heritage, this is pretty exciting, because it means that you’ll be helping both sides of your family count. If your dad was an Ashkenazi Jew and your mom had one parent who was African-American and another who was Japanese, you don’t have to pick only one.

This is the first year that the census will allow people in same-sex relationships to identify as married, even if their relationships aren’t recognized as marriages in their state. If your relationship is committed but not a marriage, the census has a category for that too–whether your partner is male or female.

There are a lot of reasons to want to be counted accurately–it makes a difference in your congressional representation, and in federal funding your area receives for things like hospitals and roads. It could also change our picture of who lives in the United States–of racial and ethnic identity, what constitutes a household, who has disabilities–who counts. Let’s be counted.

No More Outreach?

Why are programs and activities created especially for interfaith families called “outreach”? A blogger whom I’ve been following since I started my job here at InterfaithFamily.com referred to this rhetorical strategy as “symbolic violence”–a way of articulating the idea that good Jews are on the inside and interfaith relationships are on the outside. Why, she asks, are all the programs about the December Dilemma and conversion, with nothing acknowledging how much of the work of Jewish life is actually done by people in interfaith families? Why is the model to have people from in-married families doing outreach to intermarried families?

(Ah ha, I just finished an entire month of December Dilemma articles with a Resource Guide to Jewish Conversion. Nice timing, I now feel maximum defensiveness–though also an enhanced appreciation for January.)

Why do we call it outreach? The way the Jewish community has traditionally dealt with anything it finds scary is through ostracizing. When people talk about  outreach, or in Hebrew kiruv, the implication isn’t only that someone is on the outside and someone is inside, reaching. It’s also that we aren’t actively pushing people who are inside, away.

“We” shouldn’t only mean in-married Jews who are working with intermarried Jews, because in my experience, people in interfaith families, including non-Jewish partners, are in the Jewish community, making good things happen. But I’m afraid the vision is still as my original blogger indicates, in spite of all the Jewish educators, lay and professional community workers and voices of the Jewish community that are children of interfaith families or in interfaith relationships or marriages.

Lately, I’ve seen more use of the word “welcoming” to mean something comprehensive about what kinds of synagogues and Jewish communal institutions we’d like to have. Sometimes we make a list of the groups of people we are explicitly NOT excluding, and sometimes not.

At the same time, the Jewish community is still doing the push-away activities that outreach is supposed to oppose. Unfortunately we still need a good code to communicate to people who want open, friendly Jewish communities, “we aren’t mean rude jerks.”  Or at least, that we don’t mean to be–there are so many ways to fall short. I guess we have to keep listening if we want to achieve a Jewish community with no outreach because no one is out and it’s not a big reach for them to belong.

Parenting Blogs and Hanukkah Presents

Our friend Kali Foxman is editing a new Combined Jewish Philanthropies parenting newsletter and wrote me for more ideas about Jewish parenting blogs. If you live in the Boston area and would like to get a listing of all Jewish family events, plus recipes and book recommendations, please go to CJP Family Connections and sign up!

Kali already had My Jewish Learning, which isn’t exactly a parenting blog, more like a clearing house for lots of great, accessible Jewish information for seekers at every level of knowledge. (We love MJL and have lots of links to them all over our site.) She also had Modern Jewish Mom, which has amazing Jewish parenting resources, and Jewish Everyday, by the fantastic Bible Belt Balabusta.

I added Homeshuling, which I’ve already promoted here because it’s great, Ima On (and off) the Bima, a parenting blog by a rabbi, and in a surprise pick, Metalia. Now the truth is that Metalia isn’t a Jewish parenting blog–it’s a blog by a modern Orthodox Jewish mom about pop culture and lip gloss–but she does occasional, really accessible introduction to Judaism posts that I like, and her children are very cute. (And even though I recently posted a review of a book on Spinoza, I happen to like blog posts about popular culture and lip gloss.)

I wanted to be sure to promote Susan Goldberg’s blog, Mama Non Grata, because without it I would never have found her to write the two lovely articles she wrote for IFF. The book she edited, And Baby Makes More Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families has been published in Canada, and you can read a sampler from it at the publisher’s website.

Hanukkah is still happening, and I think we’re not quite out of presents at our house yet. My child has become materialistic and wants more toys. The best thing he got was Superhero in a Box, if you are looking for a present. The best Jewish present he got was probably the Kippah from Uganda made by the Abayudaya Jews. (Yeah, I know, when are Jews in other countries going to buy “special kippot by the Ashkenazi–is that how you say it?–Jews of the United States. In North America! And they’re from there!” Etc. But it’s a very nice kippah–attractive and it doesn’t need hair clips. Little kids are often not big fans of the hair clips, you know?)

The video isn’t my usual style, but I just loved the sound. My friend Mimi DuPree is fussy about how female singers sound on Jewish liturgical music–well, this is the male singer sound I like–no nonsense, just nice harmony.