Our December Holiday Survey Results Are In!

Thanks to all of you who responded to our December holidays survey.

The results are in! Earlier this morning, we sent out the following press release – let us know what you think of the findings.

Interfaith Families Participate in Secular Christmas Activities While Raising Jewish Children

BOSTON – December 14, 2011 – Interfaith families raising their children Jewish are continuing at high and stable levels to participate in secular Christmas activities, to keep their Hanukkah and Christmas holiday celebrations separate, and to believe that their participation in Christmas celebrations does not compromise their children’s Jewish identity. These trends emerged from the eighth annual December Holidays Survey conducted by InterfaithFamily.com, an independent non-profit.

InterfaithFamily.com has surveyed how interfaith couples raising their children deal with the “December dilemma,” the confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas, annually the past eight years. Some observers of intermarriage have cast a skeptical eye on interfaith families raising Jewish children participating in Christmas activities, arguing that interfaith families can’t impart a strong Jewish identity to their children and celebrate Christmas. The results of InterfaithFamily.com’s surveys suggest that they in fact are doing so.

This year the percentage of interfaith families raising Jewish children who participate in Christmas celebrations increased to 83%, from 76% last year. These families still make clear distinctions between the holidays and are giving clear priority to Hanukkah over Christmas, as both a family celebration and a religious holiday. The overwhelming majority celebrates Hanukkah at home, while less than half celebrate Christmas at home.

Hanukkah is much more of a religious holiday for this population than is Christmas. Only 13% attend Christmas religious services and only 3% tell the Christmas story.  While more families will give Christmas gifts in their own homes this year (60%) compared to last year (53%), and slightly fewer (46%) will have a Christmas tree in their own homes than last year (48%), ninety percent view their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature.

Many families celebrate Christmas at the home of relatives, suggesting that Christmas is largely centered around the extended family.

Eighty percent of interfaith couples who participate in Christmas celebrations keep them separate from their Hanukkah celebrations, and 77% think that their Christmas celebrations do not affect their children’s Jewish identity.

“Interfaith couples raising Jewish children and participating in Christmas is now common,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. “These families see their Christmas celebrations as  secular in nature and not confusing to their children’s Jewish identity. We noted somewhat more Christmas celebrations on a variety of measures this year, but not of a religious nature.”

This year Christmas falls on the fifth day of Hanukkah. Despite this overlap, 62% said their holiday observances would not change. “We find it heartening,” Case said, “that many respondents noted they would bring their Hanukkah menorahs and light them at their Christian relatives’ homes.”

Other key findings on interfaith families raising Jewish children include:

  • Ninety-seven percent plan on celebrating Hanukkah at home, compared to 48 percent planning on celebrating Christmas there. Seventy-one percent plan on celebrating Christmas at the home of relatives.
  • Seventy-seven percent of the respondents participating in Christmas celebrations believe it will not affect their children’s Jewish identity.
  • Only 3 percent plan on telling the Christmas story at home while 48 percent plan on telling the Hanukkah story at home. Only 13 percent plan on attending religious services for Christmas.
  • Ninety-nine percent of respondents plan on lighting a menorah and 93 percent plan on giving gifts as part of their Hanukkah celebrations at home.
  • Forty-six percent plan on putting up a Christmas tree and 60 percent plan on giving gifts at home as part of Christmas.
  • The families are opposed to blending the two holidays. Eighty percent plan on keeping the holidays separate or mostly separate.
  • Six percent of the families will participate in Hanukkah celebrations in the office, versus 25 percent that plan to celebrate Christmas there.

For more information, read the full report online.

About InterfaithFamily.com
InterfaithFamily.com is the premiere web based resource for interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and making Jewish choices, and the leading web based advocate for attitudes, policies and practices that welcome and embrace them.

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Editor’s Note
InterfaithFamily.com has developed a resource page for interfaith families dealing with the December holidays that includes resources such as “Handling the December Holidays: Ten Tips from InterfaithFamily.com” and numerous articles that help interfaith families have a more enjoyable and meaningful holiday season. For more, visit http://www.interfaithfamily.com/decemberholidays.

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Do check out that full report, and let us know your thoughts!

Israelis Should Not Marry Americans, the Netanyahu Edition

Oh, Israel… Seriously? Ed just came into my office to ask if I’d seen Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest post for the Atlantic.

I immediately looked it up, and, well, OY.

Basically, the Israeli government wants to convince its citizens to remain in, or return to, Israel. That’s not so bad – most countries likely share that desire. So the government has launched a campaign, targeting Israelis living in the US. Jeffrey makes some suggestions for great campaign slogans:

How about, “Hey, come back to Israel, because our unemployment rate is half that of the U.S.’s”? Or, “It’s always sunny in Israel”? Or, “Hey, Shmulik, your mother misses you”?

Unfortunately, this isn’t the route taken by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. Instead, they’re running ads that claim Israelis will lose their Jewish identities if they stay in the US too long. Worse,

The Ministry is also featuring on its website a series of short videos that, in an almost comically heavy-handed way, caution Israelis against raising their children in America — one scare-ad shows a pair of Israeli grandparents seated before a menorah and Skypeing with their granddaughter, who lives in America. When they ask the child to name the holiday they’re celebrating, she says “Christmas.” In another ad, an actor playing a slightly-adenoidal, goateed young man (who, to my expert Semitic eye, is meant to represent a typical young American Jew) is shown to be oblivious to the fact that his Israeli girlfriend is in mourning on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day.

So here are the videos. The translation of the Hebrew text at the end is mine.


They always remain Israeli.
Their children do not.
Help them return to Israel.


They always remain Israeli.
Their spouses do not always understand what that means.
Help them return to Israel.

I watched the videos, read the article, and was amazed and disgusted. Forget intermarriage, these ads seem to be saying that Israeli Jews shouldn’t marry American Jews!

I wasn’t sure what else to say about it. Thankfully, Jeffrey came to the rescue there too:

The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik (if you don’t mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.

Gross. Shame. Shonde.

In Case You Missed It…

A few interesting articles that you might have missed:

1. Rabbi Bruce Warshal opined on why interfaith families should raise their children in just one religion. Check out Choose One But Not Two Religions.

2. A clip from Samon Koletkar’s “Mahatma Moses Comedy Tour,” during which he discsusses being a Jew in America. (Warning, he also drops the “r” word, too many times, at the end. To counter that, a PSA from Glee‘s Becky and Sue.)

3. Instead of arguing about how to count the Jewish population, an argument for increasing egalitarian parenting. Why?

Both quantitative and qualitative studies have found that if the intermarried Jew is a woman, the children will more likely be raised Jewish. Further, intermarried Jewish men stand a greater chance of raising children to identify as Jews if the organized Jewish community will count those children as Jews.

Intermarried Jewish men can raise Jewish children as effectively as intermarried Jewish women provided they are able to integrate work and family, currently a national challenge evident by President Barack Obama urging ìTake time to be a dad, today.î Increasing the contemporary understanding of the relationship between gender, religion and culture will be what determines how Jewish is the Jewish population in the future.

4. Effective March, 2010, gay and lesbian couples in Washington, DC were able to legally marry. In what’s believed to be a first, an Orthodox rabbi, Steve Greenberg (who’s openly gay), officiated at the marriage of a gay couple at the synagogue/">Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Mazal tov!

5. Last week, I was unable to go to the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly. (Luckily, Joanna and Ed were able to go and represent InterfaithFamily.com.) There, Rabbi Elie Kaunfer gave the opening address, bravely (given his audience) talking about how “continuity” should not be the Jewish community’s focus. Instead, he suggested, it should be learning. From the op-ed version of his speech:

Jews, like all people, are searching for meaning, substance and connection. The more we are inundated with e-mails, status updates and tweets, the more we want to go deeper. Our souls are calling out for engagement; our hearts are crying out to be opened.

Judaism, at its core, is a response to that yearning, an answer to that call. What are we “continuing” with our calls for “continuity”? Why does Judaism need a future? Because Judaism offers a system, a covenantal language, a heritage and tradition that responds to the human need for meaning, substance and connection. It is our system, our language, our heritage; it is relevant, and that is the reason that we need a Jewish future.

We Jews have a word for the pathway to meaning, substance and connection. It is called Torah. I don’t just mean the Torah scroll that sits alone in the ark, or even just the words of the five books of Moses. I mean the sum total of Jewish sources and texts — the wisdom stored up in our textual heritage.

I agree. The rest of his speech-turned-op-ed is worth reading as well.

October News Hodgepodge

It’s been a while since I last blogged in hodgepodge style. With the fall holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, sukkot/Sukkot_and_Simchat_Torah.shtml">Sukkot and Simchat Torah) behind us, a new year begun and so many interesting things happening the the Jewish community and wider communities around us, it seemed like a great time to share some interesting articles and blog posts that I’ve come across. Let me know what you think!

1.  In the Creation story in Genesis (the first book of the Torah), we read that a snake tricked Eve into tasting a “forbidden fruit” (and she, in turn, gave it to Adam to eat). On DovBear, they wonder what the unnamed fruit might have been. With 125 comments so far, this is far from an easy question to answer. Apple? Maybe. Figs? Perhaps. What about a pomegranate?

2.  You may remember that last year, we were asking you to vote for InterfaithFamily.com’s CEO, Ed Case, for Jewish Community Hero. No, I’m not going to ask you to vote for him again. Instead, I’m going to share a list of nominees you might want to vote for this year, all of whom are “heroes for their justice work combating racism, poverty and injustice.” The list, posted to Jewschool, was compiled by Kung Fu Jew (who admits to wearing “New York-tinted glasses”).

3.  There’s a lot going on with the Occupy movement that is specifically Jewish. First, Keith Olbermann debunks the anti-Semitic charges of Occupy Wall Street (the relevant part starts at the 1 minute mark). Now then, with that settled, let’s look at some of the amazing Jewish practices coming out of the Occupy movement. This long, personal piece by Avi Fox-Rosen examines his reasons for being involved with leading the Kol Nidre service at Occupy Wall Street, and how it played his “incredibly ambivalent” Jewishness and atheism off his enjoyment of ritual and “traditional cantorial a capella singing” (known as chazzanus). And on Jewschool, a bit about how there came to be Jewish practice at Occupy Wall St, Occupy K St and elsewhere.

4.  Many organizations, including ours, examine statistics, look to data to know if we’re having an impact. One such source was the last national Jewish population survey, done in 2000-2001. Over ten years later, another study hasn’t come along to update those numbers. Gary Rosenblatt, in The Jewish Week, asks, How Many U.S. Jews, And Who Cares?

5.  You know who cares? Pat Buchanan. And he seems to have it all figured out. “In his new book, Suicide Of A Superpower, Pat Buchanan takes a look at the Jewish population of the United States and concludes that Americans Jews are disappearing because they decided, as a group, to have lots and lots of abortions.” Seriously. He blames the Jewish women who were among the leaders of the feminist movement and… oy, just read about it all here.

6.  And in Israel a campaign has been launched, encouraging “parents of non-Jewish children to inform them of their [non-Jewish] status in childhood.” This stems from patrilineal descent, largely among Israel’s Russian population. And the implication, according to the campaign, is that patrilineal descent Jews are finding out that they’re “not Jewish” as adults, which means they need to convert to Judaism in order to get married. I wonder if this is a common issue or discovery in North America, where the Reform movement also holds by patrilineal descent?

And there you go. Recent news in a nutshell.

Attention all Beatles Fans!

Attention all Beatles fans! That favorite of all tween and teen girls of the 60′s (confession: that would be me!) has chosen to be a Jew.

PAUL MCCARTNEY, baptized Roman Catholic but admittedly never very devout, quietly told pals after his marriage to socialite NANCY SHEVELL – who’s Jewish and takes her religion seriously – that he’s studying Judaism and promised his new bride he’ll convert, reports a friend of the star. The former Beatle’s first wife, LINDA EASTMAN, came from a prominent Jewish family and McCartney had talked about converting after they married, but just never got around to it. Paul told pals he’ll complete his conversion studies next year.

Dare we hope that he starts to write songs with Jewish themes?? I don’t usually care about what stars of stage, screen and music are doing, but this is different. (And we can trust the National Enquirer with this story, right?)

A Novel of Muslim Jewish Love

There is a new novel out that strikes me as significant. It is A New Song by Sarah Isaias. It is about an interfaith relationship between a Jewish doctor and a Muslim poet and it is a relationship not only of warmth and respect between those two individuals but of their two families.

Growing up in a Jewish enclave in Detroit and spending my adult life fully involved in the Jewish world, I knew next to nothing about the Koran and very little about the practice of Islam before reading this fast paced novel.

Sarah Isaias has written a story that held me through 400 pages taking me to the libraries of Cambridge, to Jews in Spain before the expulsion, Egypt, Israel, Palestine and through the steps of the Haj. As the characters explore the origins of a legend in both their Abrahamic traditions that tells of a poem that could redeem the world, they share passages in the Koran and contrast them to passages in the Hebrew bible.

Their quest isn’t only academic. As they travel the world together there are shadowy conspirators and extremists who intend to stop them at any cost.

This story is such a wonderful model of an interfaith relationship between two religions and cultures that are most often portrayed in the media as enemies. In a delicately portrayed love story with authentic Jewish and Moslem characters we can see how their openness to each other and to each other’s cultures helps them discover a truth that is powerfully simple and never more urgent.

JDate & The Search for Mr. Right

I suppose my desire to rejoin JDate was reinforced yesterday in an InterfaithFamily.com staff meeting while discussing our new 401K plan.  The sign up form was simple – but all I could see were two boxes looming at me:

    “Check here for Married.” 
    “Check Here for NOT MARRIED.” 

It was like a flashing beacon in the room.  I was the only unmarried one (well, unless you count Benjamin, but he’s got one foot down the aisle with his lovely fiancée).  So, I thought to myself, “It’s time to get back on the horse.”

It’s been a while since I’ve been on JDate.  I had taken a breather to move apartments, start a new job at IFF, and you know, smell the roses.

JDate has changed since I first joined (let’s just say….) many years ago.  I think one of the best changes is that it now offers the option for non-Jews to join the site and can choose one of the following as the “religion” option:

It appears that this was an important shift with JDate.  According to its mission, JDate is “deeply committed to Israel and Jewish cultural programs” but also provides “support for numerous non-profit organizations of all faiths.” With about 50% of the population intermarrying, this is an important option for those of us still looking for Mr. or Ms. Right.  For support and more information on interdating, visit here.

I’m off to find my Mr. Right.

Tackling Interfaith Relationships on the Small Screen

I’ll admit it.  I was watching an old episode of Felicity a few nights ago on DVD, and it tackled the issue of interfaith relationships.  The episode, entitled “Kissing Mr. Covington,” included a back story about a couple, Sean and Meghan, who were an interfaith couple. 

Sean has to have cancer surgery and he turns to his Jewish roots for solace.  His girlfriend, Meghan, is not Jewish, and Sean breaks up with her because they don’t observe the same religion.  Little did he know that the man sharing his hospital room was Rabbi Morgenstern, who says that Sean is a fool for breaking it off with a loving woman like Meghan.  Sean reacts by proposing to Meghan, and, while she turns him down, she does say that she’s open to learning more about Judaism.  Sean is thrilled.  The episode concludes with a loving embrace by the couple.

I’ve seen this episode before, when it first aired in 2000, but watching it now had a more profound effect on me.  The writers were quite progressive in bringing interfaith relationships out in the open.  It begins to open a dialogue on the show about budding interfaith relationships, and why it could be important to have this discussion early on (a position we at InterfaithFamily.com fully endorse!).

Watch the scenes from the episode here:


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This Weekend, At Midnight, Under The Chuppah

We excitedly mentioned that we’ve been able to help Dee and Kate, who will be getting married at 12:01am on Sunday, July 24 (the moment same-sex marriage becomes legal in New York State) find a rabbi to officiate at their (Jewish, interfaith) wedding.

Here’s a video, via Newsday, about the happy couple:

Mazal tov!

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.

Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied Picked a Name

I was reviewing my Google Reader before leaving the office this evening, when something caught my eye. Now, at first I thought it was a joke. After all, I’d previously poked fun at the names celebrities give their babies.

UPDATE: June 20 Feeling a little cheeky, Crushable offers up some name suggestions for Li’l Portman. The bris is scheduled for June 22. We’ll have to wait until then to find out his name…

If you haven’t yet, click that Crushable link for some, uh, interesting celebrity names.

But anyway, no, this was for real.

As our friend Julie Wiener reported,

the inter-engaged Natalie Portman has reportedly named her new son Alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. If the Portman-Millepied family’s next child is a girl, will she be named Beth?

And everyone from HuffPo to OK! magazine weighed in, with People.com officially confirming it:

Natalie Portman and fiancé Benjamin Millepied get an A-plus for the name they picked for their baby boy.

Their son’s name is Aleph, a source confirms to PEOPLE.

So what’s in a name? Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, much like alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Aleph is the number 1 in Hebrew and can also be spelled “alef.”

Its esoteric meaning in Judaic Kabbalah, as denoted in the theological treaty Sefer-ha-Bahir, relates to the origin of the universe, the “primordial one that contains all numbers.”

Once more officially confirmed, I guess we’ll find out if it’s Alef or Aleph…

Welcome to the world, Ale(f/ph)!