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This post originally appeared onÂ www.edumundcase.comÂ and is reprinted with permission.
The interfaith marriage news since the High Holidays has continued to be positive for the most part. I was especially pleased to read Rabbi Micah Streifferâ€™sÂ Yom Kippur sermonÂ announcing that he was going to start officiating at weddings for interfaith couples. I say â€śespeciallyâ€ť because Rabbi Streiffer is in Toronto, Canada and as far as I know he is the first Reform rabbi there to officiate. I remember many years when InterfaithFamily was not able to refer people in Toronto to any â€śmainstreamâ€ť rabbis, so this is a welcome breakthrough.
I also say â€śespeciallyâ€ť because Rabbi Streiffer cites the Yom Kippur morning Torah portion in which Moses says that everyone present is entering into the covenant with Godâ€”and Rabbi Streiffer explicitly says that includes â€śtheÂ ger,Â the non-Jew.â€ť Thatâ€™s an argument I first made back inÂ 2000. Itâ€™s very affirming to have a rabbi endorse of that view. Itâ€™s an exemplary inclusive sermon that is well worth reading.
A second great item was an article by InterfaithFamilyâ€™s Stacie Garnett-Cook,Â Interfaith Inclusion: One Year to Lasting Change,Â who asked, â€śWhat should an organization actually do to become more inclusive? Many organizations say that they are welcoming, but do our actions and words match our intentions?â€ť InterfaithFamilyâ€™s new Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative (IILI), modeled on the Keshet Leadership Project and funded by the Covenant Foundation, supports leaders in organizations who create and implement action plans to accomplish those goals. The article describes the program design and underlying theory, as well as the organizations that participated in the first year.
The importance of being truly inclusive in attracting and engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community canâ€™t be over-estimated. I hope many more Jewish organization will seriously consider participating in this initiative.
I was honored to be included in Moment Magazineâ€™s Symposium,Â Is Intermarriage Good for the Jews?Â (If you want to know how I looked at 24, take a look at my wedding photo â€”my 7-year-old grandson said I looked â€śyoungâ€ťâ€”and I assure you that the tie I was wearing was very fashionable at the time!) Marilyn Cooper did a great job putting together very diverse views; reading all of them carefully left me feeling, well, that there are very diverse views. I was the only person who actually said there are many strong arguments why interfaith marriage is good for Jews. Keren McGinity also expressed a positive view:
Provided that intermarried Jews and their families are treated equally as inmarried families, and that Jewish education is accessible and engaging, intermarriage can be an opportunity for Jews and their loved ones to draw closer to Judaism and the Jewish community.
Several contributors, including Bob Davis, A. J. Jacobs and Naomi Schaefer Riley, saw increased tolerance as a positive impact of interfaith marriage. Rabbis Matalon and Lau-Lavie, who are pushing the Conservative movementâ€™s boundaries on officiation, offer very realistic assessments that I thought were optimistic about engaging interfaith families Jewishly.
But there were several expressions of quite negative views. In upholding the movementâ€™s ban on officiation, I respectfully think Rabbi Elliot Dorff, chair of the Conservative movementâ€™s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, is wrong to say that officiating at interfaith marriages does not help the Jewish people, and that â€śReform rabbis have been doing this for quite a while and, for the most part, they have not succeeded in convincing the intermarried couples to be actively Jewish.â€ť I think that is an untenable position givenÂ the research Iâ€™ve mentioned many timesÂ that shows correlation between officiation and later synagogue membership and raising children as Jews.
Two Orthodox perspectives insisted on opposing interfaith marriage, one saying â€śintermarriage is heartbreaking.â€ť Sarina Roffe was most extreme: â€śEvery time someone marries out, a whole generation of Jewish people is gone.â€ť She comes from the Syrian Jewish community, which she says rejects not only those who intermarry, but even those who marry Orthodox converts.
I was puzzled by Elisha Wiesel, son of Elie Wiesel, who says that if he had intermarried, â€śexperiences that I currently derive tremendous meaning from would be missing.â€ť I say puzzled because there is no reason why the experiences he mentionsâ€”saying Kaddish for a parent, preparing a son for his bar mitzvah, and watching a daughter learn Hebrew â€”have to be missing in intermarried families.
TheÂ ForwardÂ also publishedÂ We asked 22 rabbis: Is intermarriage a problem or an opportunityÂ which offered a not dissimilar set of diverse views. Susan Katz Miller had anÂ interesting takeÂ on the piece, criticizing the sample for being half Orthodox rabbis (when the Orthodox are 10% of the population) and only two Reform, and the â€ścorrosiveâ€ť content of many of the responses. She correctly points out that interfaith families reading many of the opinions will not feel welcomed or included.
I was struck, however, by responses from two wonderful Orthodox rabbis, Shmuly Yanklowitz and Avram Mlotek, who did emphasize inclusivity. Rabbi Yanklowitz said, â€śWith the proper inclusive programming and outreach opportunities, there are ways to make interfaith families feel welcome in the community, which will, in turn, spark interest in creating and perpetuating loving Jewish households.â€ť Rabbi Mlotek said, â€śIf our Jewish communities seek to be relevant religious centers for the 70% of American Jews who choose to intermarry, it is incumbent upon us to welcome these families unabashedly and work with them as they strive to build Jewish homes.â€ť
Finally in the continuing discussion about Conservative rabbis and officiation, there is items.Â Letter Reignites Interfaith Officiation DebateÂ refers toÂ a letter by four Conservative leadersÂ that re-affirms the ban on officiating for interfaith couples, but does talk at length about welcoming them.Â Conservative Jewish Leaders Are Endangering Their BrandÂ is an opinion by Roberta Rosenthal Kwall who objects to the letterâ€™s statement that the intermarried should be welcomed with â€śequally open arms.â€ť Kwall wants to retain the Conservative brandâ€™s strong preference for in-marriage â€” thatâ€™s a non-inclusive approach that I believe can only lead to decline.
One of the most difficult aspects of pregnancy for meâ€”especially right now in week 36â€”is the prospect of leaving my other baby: InterfaithFamily. Itâ€™s only temporary, I know, but the idea of dropping everything for several weeks has required more than a bit of office nesting (is that a thing?) over the last several months.
Iâ€™m not paving new ground here. Mothers- and fathers-to-be go through this process every day. While stepping away from a job where there is no backupâ€”no other person who does the same job you do and can simply fill in for youâ€”makes it all the more difficult, I have something that very few other people have. The IFF family.
Iâ€™ve already learned so much from all of our strong, wise parenting writers, especially the new ones, Anna and Anne, who are first-time moms to adorable babies. While my experience will not be from the perspective of an interfaith couple, there are so many big and small decisions to make and questions to work out for all parents before and after having a child. Seeing how our wedding and parenting bloggers approach overwhelming and sometimes incredibly challenging moments with respect, communication and grace is inspiring.
Iâ€™m also blessed to work with some of the most compassionate people I know. It doesnâ€™t hurt that many of them are parents (and grandparents!). One lesson Iâ€™ve already learned is that everything is easier when you surround yourself with a supportive community. My co-workers have been a constant source of insight and understanding throughout this journey. They have been there to kvell (rejoice) with me and to listen to me vent. From giving me their maternity clothes to decorating onesies to sharing their childrenâ€™s favorite books, this family has buoyed me for the last nine months.
I have no doubt that the walls of the editorial department will not crumble in my absence, thanks to the several people who are stepping up to help while Iâ€™m gone. I hope to return a wiser person with new perspectives to bring to the work we do at IFF, albeit a wee bit less rested. If you have a question while Iâ€™m gone? Not to fear: Iâ€™ll get back to you in December (wink, wink).
While Iâ€™m having a hard time letting go of my work baby, my husband and I are filled with awe and anticipation at meeting and getting to know the baby inside me. Thank you to the extended IFF family, and of course my own friends and family, who share in our simcha (joy). We couldnâ€™t do it without you.
This article was cross-posted on HuffingtonPost.com.
As the editorial director at an organization that works toward the inclusion of interfaith couples and families in Jewish life, I read and hear a lot of commentary on the future of Judaism and how interfaith families fit into it. Over and over I hear or read Jewish professionals and rabbis say how much they would like to welcomeÂ non-Jews into the community.
Say for a minute you were thinking deeply about joining an exclusive tennis club. You’ve been wanting to become a tennis player for years and you’re finally taking the steps toward that goal. You found a club that alleges to be welcoming and in need of newcomers, but when you tell them you haven’t learned to play yet, and that you might continue to play basketball even after you join, they suddenly don’t seem as welcoming as you expected. The club members and leadership refer over and over to you as a non-tennis player, making you feel not so much like you will ever be a member of the club but a visitor.
Obviously “joining” Judaism is a much weightier life choice than playing tennis. Perhaps the analogy of “non-man” to describe a woman hits closer to home? Non-meat eater? In any case, the Jewish community’s decision making around welcoming new people into its fold should not be treated as trivial. But assuming you have decided that you do in fact want to welcome newcomers who are not Jewish to explore Jewish life within your organization (or family or neighborhood)–stand by that decision.
If you want interfaith couples and children of intermarriage to feel welcomed by your community I applaud you on your efforts. If you want that aspiration to translate to reality, start by thinking about the person you’re trying to welcome every time you speak on the topic or write language of welcoming or interact with this audience. How will your messages be perceived by that person? Will they hear that you have a policy of welcoming? Or will they also hear that you want them to be there?
These are two different things.
Step one: You intend to welcome.
Step two: You actually welcome.
Let’s start by speaking in terms of who someone is, not in terms of who someone is not. Respect the audience you seek to invite into your fold by treating them as equals to everyone else in your fold. If someone feels that they are being tolerated and not celebrated, they may not walk through your door. Or if they do walk in, they may turn around and leave.
There isn’t a good word for non-Jew. But you can use the words “partner who is not Jewish” or “partner of another faith.”
It’s not just about this one compound noun. It’s about speaking to interfaith families the way you would Jewish-Jewish families. It’s about deciding whether they are your future and if you answer yes, treating them like it.
Our Board member, Lydia Kukoff, in Radical Choices: Conversion and Leadership, concludes:
The issue includes many other points of view and is well worth reading!