This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
Romemu (roh·meh·moo) seeks to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice. This is a Judaism that will ignite your Spirit. We are a progressive, fully egalitarian community committed to tikkun olam, or social action, and to service that flows from an identification with the sacredness of all life.
“A Light Through the Ages” tells the meaning of Chanukah through story and song. With musicians from Zamir Chorale of Boston, Joshua Jacobson artistic director and original story by Rabbi Howard A. Berman of Central Reform Temple, this event concludes with a dramatic candle light ceremony. A festive reception follows.
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.
Many synagogues are holding their programs for Interfaith Family Shabbat this week and weekend. It is exciting to see the variety of programs that synagogues have created for this event. Some synagogues are having special movie screenings, others are hosting beginnersâ€™ services. One local synagogue, Main Line Reform Temple, was very creative and hosted a program entitled â€śInterfaith Family Shabbat Honoring our non-Jewish Spouses, Partners & Family Members: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Services (or anything Jewish) but Did Not Know Who or When to Ask.â€ť This program invited all participants to email the Rabbi with any question prior to the service in which he would do his best to answer them. It was inspiring to see how many synagogues took advantage of the opportunity that Interfaith Family Shabbat provides to create a special program to re-energize their welcoming culture.
Conversely, a few synagogues said that Interfaith Family Shabbat doesnâ€™t apply to their community because they are always welcoming. Without question, it is great to be committed to being welcoming throughout the year, but this is similar to celebrating Motherâ€™s Day. We should always appreciate mothers but it is meaningful to moms everywhere to have one day when they are recognized. For an interfaith couple, a blessing or recognition of interfaith couples and their commitment to Judaism is inspiring to many who have chosen to support their spouse in Judaism.
In a society where we define ourselves with labels, welcoming of various groups will be critical. Some consider themselves â€śJewsâ€ť while others are â€śProtestant,â€ť â€śCatholic,â€ť â€śHindu,â€ť â€śMuslim,â€ť etc. Â As long as we use labels, the need for constant and frequent welcoming will exist. After all, we are talking about walking into a synagogue, considered a haven for Jewsâ€”it makes sense that when a person walks into a house of worship that isnâ€™t familiar, they will feel slightly uncomfortable. Even Jewish people may feel awkward in an unfamiliar synagogue and certainly in any other house of worship.
Hosts should let people know where to sit, what page the Rabbi is on, explain Hebrew references, etc. Guests may not know when it is ok to take a bathroom break or when to stand, so a helpful host could guide them in this. Hopefully, after multiple visits, a visitor will feel comfortable. But those first few visits are always slightly awkward. We hope that there will always be visitors, thus there will always be a need for welcoming!
I attended one of the Interfaith Family Shabbat events. One of the speakers said that he and his wife were greatly hurt when the Rabbi from his childhood Reform synagogue refused to marry them. He said that this interaction was so painful that he now refuses to go to that synagogue. Ten years later, he is still quite emotional about this rejection. I know that this synagogue considers itself welcoming but obviously, this person is scarred from the rejection.
After the service, many people remarked that â€śthis community has always been a welcoming community.â€ť Yet, there were many congregants who seemed to be enlightened when the Rabbi said â€śJust because someone marries someone of a different faith, they are not rejecting their parents. They are not rejecting their childhood. They simply fell in love.â€ť There were congregants who really began to see the other side for the first time and understand interfaith marriage from a more loving perspective. It seemed that during this service, we learned that we should be more than understandingâ€”we should welcome all people into the synagogue with open arms. Welcoming is a constant effort.
Did you attend a program for Interfaith Family Shabbat? Tell us about it in the comments section below!
Learn more about Interfaith Family Shabbat in Philadelphia here, and in other communities here.
I was asked the other day what challenges I anticipate as InterfaithFamily moves forward with our objectives. As the great baseball player Mike Lowell quoted his father saying, â€śThere are many injustices out there. It is what one does with that injustice that will shape a person into the character that he will become.â€ť
Our mission at IntefaithFamily is to â€śsupport interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and making Jewish choices, and to encourage Jewish communities to welcome them.â€ť Sounds pretty good to me. So what could be the challenge?
Sticking with baseball shaping character, let us liken the game of baseball to religion. It is a joyous and meaningful game indeed, filled with thrills and sorrows, wins and losses, struggles to overcome, questionable calls (look out for obstructions) and blessings and prayers (and come to think of it, there is even a God Bless America thrown in sometimes toward the end). But letâ€™s play out this metaphor. Where is the challenge that I anticipate?
If religion is the game of baseball and every team is a religion, who gets to play? Who wants to play? Who â€śdeservesâ€ť to play? Who â€śneedsâ€ť to play? Who watches the game and who is participating? Were you born to play or did you fall in love with the game?
I had the privilege of seeing the movie 42, The Jackie Robinson Story, a few months ago. If you havenâ€™t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It is hard to imagine that professional sports were segregated for so long and it wasnâ€™t until 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke the â€ścolored barrier.â€ť The movie does not hold back in depicting how many players, EVEN ON HIS SAME TEAM were unaccepting and prejudiced at first. Some resented Jackie for making a sport into â€śa political situation.â€ť
One thing that becomes clear is that Jackie just wanted to play baseball. The world had things so very upside down back then. It was revolutionary at the time for an African American to play with whites on the same field. (And just as heartbreaking to see a world filled with segregated seating in the standsâ€”but it was one battle at a time back then). Jackie had courage and valor that we all admire, and the kind of determination one needs to overcome the prejudice of the old world. There was an unaccepting nature of how things were that constantly challenged him.
I am lucky, for interfaith work is not new at all. There are many great leaders before us that started this work and I am lucky to be part of the growing conversation. Boston itself is often at the forefront of innovation and acceptance of interfaith relationships and has offered great interfaith programming for years.
The majority of people do not like to â€śmake waves.â€ť It takes courage to stand up for something that you believe in, even if it is unpopular at the time. Bringing it back to interfaith families, here is the kicker: There are more intermarried Jews than non-intermarried Jews. The obstacle is people who hold back and are so set in the â€śold ways,â€ť that they fail to notice our own Jackie Robinson has joined our team.
It is intermarried couples who want to play ball. Jewish communities are enriched by diversity and a multitude of expressions and practices. Interfaith relationships are an opportunity not a threat to Jewish continuity. Collaboration with others is essential to the work that we do and open communication and education lead to understanding.
I hope that when times get tough and I meet those unwilling to see how Judaism is evolving and growing to be more inclusive and welcoming, that I will always remember good old number 42: Jackie Robinson, a hero to us all. The game has only gotten better and better and it is my prayer that everyone is ready to â€śplay ball.â€ť
The following post is by guest blogger Jodi Rosenfeld from the Philadelphia area.
I sometimes feel like I am one of many circus performers juggling a variety of hats while the audience watches to see if I drop oneâ€”but the circus is my synagogue and the audience is my fellow congregants. My goal is not to make anyone laugh or watch in awe but simply to maintain the peace while moving the show forward in preparation for the next act.
At my small, century-old, Conservative synagogue in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, I was the facilitator of the Interfaith Work Group, a group that met for many months for the purpose of clarifying and then codifying our synagogueâ€™s policy on membership for interfaith couples and families. This means I had to wear and juggle my many hats at once. And for that, I had to learn about balance.
The Interfaith Work Group was born of a conflict. The conflict began when several interfaith families were preparing for their childrenâ€™s Bâ€™nai Mitzvah and the parent who was not Jewish realized that, according to Conservative tradition, he or she was not welcome to stand on the bimah. Even the father who was not Jewish but whoâ€™d served on several committees, was an active part of the community and had studied Hebrew alongside his son, could not stand at the Torah with his wife when she said the blessings before and after the Torah reading.
And then the backlash began. Some of the elders and more traditional long-time members of the congregation felt slighted at best, rejected and insulted at worst. For decades, they had poured themselves into â€śthe way weâ€™ve always done things.â€ť They felt that these changes were a watering-down of Judaism. Some got angry. Some left.
The Interfaith Work Group was a small cross-section of all of the above constituents that came together to get the facts straight (from the Rabbi about issues of ritual inclusion and Halacha; and from the Board about issues of governance), and then to clearly articulate these policies through the synagogueâ€™s website.
Was I the â€śrightâ€ť person, with all those hats in the air, to lead this group? I am a psychologist, which means I am trained to observe everyoneâ€™s feelings, even those with whom I may disagree. I am a Reform Jew by upbringing, which means I am accustomed to inclusion. I am the granddaughter of an observant, Conservative Jewish man, whose tallis and tefillin I wear each week, which means he is with me, in my synagogue, even today. I am a Jew married to a Jew, which means Iâ€™m one of them. And Iâ€™m an activist who fights discrimination in all forms, which means Iâ€™m one of them. I am a proponent of change yet one who wants to preserve the past.
My learning about balance came from my utter failure at facilitating the Work Group. The facilitator needed to be impartial, to lead the group without taking sides. Despite my many hats, I wanted to forge ahead with change. I wanted both Jews and those who are not Jewish but who are part of Jewish families to feel fully included in all aspects of our community. I wanted all of the young, prospective interfaith families in Chester County to flock to us, to think, â€śNow this is the kind of Conservative synagogue I want to be a part of.â€ť I wasnâ€™t particularly balanced.
What Iâ€™ve learned is that if we want to evolve as a community, we all need to be empathic toward one another. Interfaith families want more inclusion of family members who are not Jewish not because they want to water down tradition, but because they want to be more fully a part of our rich Jewish heritage. Long-timers donâ€™t resist these changes because they want interfaith families to leave, but because they have worked so hard to help the Jewish people thrive and they are afraid that change means loss. Change always means loss. But it also means gain.
Only by listening to one another and allowing ourselves to wear one anotherâ€™s hats for a moment can we truly appreciate that this change is a process of growth for us all. The reality is that we all need to be jugglersâ€”we need to understand one anotherâ€™s many motivations, question the familiar and approach one another with kindness in order to truly facilitate the evolution of our Jewish population.
I recently spoke with a couple that Iâ€™ve known for a while. The husband (Iâ€™ll call him Ben; not his real name) is Jewish and the wife (Iâ€™ll call her Rachel; also not her real name) is Lutheran. They are very excited because Rachel is pregnant with their first child. They both grew up in religious households, and each of them take their religion very seriously. They had agreed before they were married that while they would each continue to practice their own religion, they would raise their children in only one religion, but had not decided which one. Not long after Rachel became pregnant with their first child, they together decided that while Rachel would continue to attend her church and practice her religion, they would have a Jewish family and raise their children as Jews.
As a person who values Judaism and Jewish peoplehood and continuity greatly, I was thrilled to hear that Ben and Rachel had decided to raise their children as Jews. I know many families in which mothers who are not Jewish are raising Jewish children while continuing to practice a different religion and finding this to work very well for themselves and their families. I see Ben and Rachelâ€™s decision to raise their children as Jews as a testament to the fact that they were married by a rabbi who was open and understanding as well as to the fact that the Jewish community has become increasingly welcoming to interfaith couples and families. In addition, Benâ€™s family accepted Rachel from the very beginning, embracing her and welcoming her into their family.
I was very happy when Ben and Rachel shared their decision with me. A Jewish family! As a rabbi and as someone who advocates for inclusion of interfaith families in the Jewish community and works to encourage interfaith families to embrace Judaismâ€”and as a Jewish person who greatly values the beliefs, values and traditions of my religion and who knows how wonderful and meaningful it is to be part of a Jewish family and the Jewish communityâ€”I was thrilled, both for Ben and Rachel, as well as for the Jewish community as a whole.
It's important to acknowledge how difficult this decision may be for the partner who is not Jewish
But I also felt a pang of sadness. I realized all that Rachel was giving up. I thought of how meaningful it is for me to say the Shabbat blessings with my children every Friday evening before dinner and how it connects me to saying those very same blessings with my parents on Friday evenings when I was growing up. I thought of how much I enjoy saying the Shema with my kids before they go to bedâ€”just as I said the Shema with my parents before going to bed when I was a child. I love sharing MY rituals and MY beliefs with my children, as I pass them on lâ€™dor va-dor, â€śfrom generation to generationâ€ť and they become OUR way of life.
Rachel, who has committed to raising her children in a religion different from the one in which she grew up, will be able to pass on her values to her children, but she wonâ€™t have the opportunity to pass on her beliefs and traditionsâ€”to share with them the religious rituals she enjoyed as a child and continues to find meaningful today. She wonâ€™t have the opportunity to raise her children in the church in which she grew up. When her kids celebrate Christmas and Easter with her, they wonâ€™t be THEIR holidays, they will be HER holidays. In committing to pass on Judaism, her husbandâ€™s religion, to the next generation, Rachel is giving up the opportunity to pass on her own religion from one generation to the next.
Rachel spoke of the sense of loss that she feels in having decided not to raise her children in the religion in which she grew up and which she still practices. She further spoke of how this loss isnâ€™t felt just by her, but by her family as well. But she also spoke of how she has come to embrace her decision to raise her children as Jews, and how she is excited that she will be able to fully participate in her familyâ€™s Jewish celebrations and observances, while still having a religious life of her own. She knows that this is the right choice for her familyâ€”and for herâ€¦but that doesnâ€™t mean it will always be easy.
Rachel and Ben have made a big decision. They are excited to have reached this decision and Rachel is happy with it. But she doesnâ€™t deny the loss she feels, and neither does Ben. I am optimistic that as their children grow up they will both feel good about their decision to have a Jewish family and that Ben will continue to be supportive of Rachel in acknowledging that it may not always be easy for her. But just because something isnâ€™t easy doesnâ€™t mean it isnâ€™t wonderful. I know first-hand the joy and rewards of raising Jewish children and I am excited for Ben and Rachel that they will know them as well.
I think itâ€™s important for all of us in the Jewish community, when we celebrate a coupleâ€™s decision to raise their children as Jews, to acknowledge how difficult this may be for the partner who is not Jewish. Yes, we can (and we should) be excited that Judaism will be passed on to the next generation and that the children will be blessed to grow up as Jews and that the Jewish community will be blessed to have them in our midst. But we canâ€™t pretend that this will always be easy for the partner who isnâ€™t Jewish and we need to give them the opportunity to feel and express their loss as we respect the sacrifices they have made.
Are you raising your children in a religion different from the religion which you grew up? Has this been difficult for you? What are the greatest challenges? What are the rewards? Respond in the comments section below.
Thirty-two percent of Jews born after 1980â€”the so-called millennial generationâ€”identify as Jews of no religion, compared to 19% of baby boomers and just 7% of Jews born before 1927. Overall, 22% of US Jews describe themselves as having no religion, meaning they are much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish.
The analytical side of my brain wanted to know what questions were asked, how they were asked and how the Pew Research Center defined the first layer of the question, â€śof Jews.â€ť Thankfully, there was a sidebar defining who is a Jew.
This diagram is from PewForum.org
I appreciate their stance, to â€ścast the net widelyâ€ť such that if anyone answered yes to any of three statements, then they were considered Jewish for purposes of participating in the rest of the survey:
(a) that their religion is Jewish, or
(b) that aside from religion they consider themselves to be Jewish or partially Jewish, or
(c) that they were raised Jewish or had at least one Jewish parent, even if they do not consider themselves Jewish today
With that information, I was not surprised by the results. Liberal Jewish congregational professionals have long been talking about the decline in religion and what that means for the sustainability of their congregation.
I feel it especially in California where I would say many people (Jewish and not) are â€śnot religious.â€ť People connect with heritage, tradition and culture. This was especially true in our last Love and Religion workshop. It became very hard for spouses/partners who were raised in a faith tradition other than Judaism to understand their partnerâ€™s Jewish identity, when that identity was void of religion.
Rather than looking at the results as Wertheimer describes, â€ś[a] very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,â€ť I prefer to look at it as an opportunity to embrace other aspects of Judaismâ€”beyond sitting in services and praying. I also feel this is an amazing opportunity for our interfaith families, in that there are so many ways they can connect with Judaism!
Jewish educators (including me) are constantly writing about interfaith familiesâ€”how to engage them, what their challenges are, what this means for the current state and future of Judaism. I thought an interesting way into the conversation would be to record quotes I have heard this week. These quotes are taken from different people and were said in different venuesâ€”from adult education, to talking with parents and grandparents on the phone or in person, to capturing what my own child said during bedtime. These comments capture the range of the concerns people have. Some of them go to the heart of the work we do, and others bring up policy and programmatic challenges.
Rabbi Ari Moffic (left) leading a Jewish education discussion
What would your answers be to these questions or what would your follow-up questions be to these statements?
Things people have said to me this week:
â€śOne of the big issues grandparents face when grandchildren arenâ€™t being raised Jewish is our own guilt.â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t want to have to pass a litmus test to get a Jewish education for my children.â€ť
â€śIf God is in my heart, when does God come out? Does God sleep?â€ť (From my four year old)
â€śWe are so busy during the week that we donâ€™t want to be away more from our child on Sunday mornings for drop-off religious school.â€ť
â€śI want to drop off my child on Sundays and go get a coffee and read TheNew York Times.â€ť
â€śThe only way our priest would marry us was if we also had a rabbi and if we promised to pass on Judaism.â€ť
â€śI am very concerned about burial issues that will come up for all of these interfaith couples who arenâ€™t thinking about that yet.â€ť
Twitter challenge for October: Tweet comments you hear other people say about life as an interfaith couple or family, things said at your Jewish programs or by your kids. Your words are the best conversation starters for us at InterfaithFamily!Follow us at @InterfaithFam and tag us in your comments with the hashtag #InterfaithQuotes.
I love the holiday of Sukkot! As a congregational rabbi, Sukkotâ€”which comes just five days after Yom Kippurâ€”offers me a welcome break after the pressure of High Holy Day sermons.Â Plus, Sukkot is a lot of fun. I always have a great time putting up our Sukkah in our backyard in the days following Yom Kippur and then decorating it with my kids.
And I love inviting guests to our Sukkahâ€”both real guests as well as ushpizin. Ushpizin (Aramaic for â€śguestsâ€ť) are Biblical guests that are symbolically â€śinvitedâ€ť into a Sukkah, a different one each night of the festival. The traditional list of ushpizin includes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. (Other lists include the four matriarchsâ€”Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leahâ€”and other Biblical heroines.) There is a ritual formula for â€śwelcomingâ€ť the ushpizin and it is traditional to learn about and discuss the Biblical guest of the evening.
Many people expand on the custom of welcoming ushpizin and use Sukkot as a time to discuss who they would like to welcome as guests: people who have been part of their own lives or people they have never met, living or deceased.
This year as I prepare for Sukkot I have been thinking about who I would want to invite as ushpizinâ€”that is, who I would want to invite for dinner in my Sukkah. As the Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia, I have been thinking in particular about people in interfaith relationships and people with relatives in interfaith relationships (individuals from Biblical times as well as groups of people from modern times) that I would like to have as ushpizin. Here is my list:
1.Â Tziporah: Tziporah, who we read about in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, was a daughter of a Midianite priest. Tziporah married Moses and was the mother of his two sons. I would ask Tziporah what it was like, as a non-Israelite, being married to a man who went on to become the leader of the Israelites. When she first met Moses she thought he was Egyptian since he had come to Midian from Egypt, where he had been raised in the Pharaohâ€™s palace as the adopted son of Pharaohâ€™s daughter and from where he had fled when it was discovered that he had killed an Egyptian taskmaster. What did she think of this man, quite possibly the first person she had ever met who was not from her own people? Was she concerned when she married him that he was not a Midianite? What was it like in her day to be married to someone from a different culture and who worshipped a different god? Did they ever discuss their different backgrounds and beliefs?
2. Ruth: Ruth, whose story we read in the Biblical Book of Ruth, is often viewed as the first Jew-by-choice since she accepted the God of the Israelites as her God and the Israelite people as her people. In the Book of Ruth, Ruth said to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi: â€śWhere you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my Godâ€ť (Ruth 1:16)
I would ask Ruth why she, a Moabite woman, married an Israelite man in the first place. Then, after her husband (Naomiâ€™s son) had died, why did she choose to leave her homeland of Moab to go to Israel with Naomi? What did it feel like for Ruth to leave behind everything that was familiar to her and did she miss her family when she left? What was it like to give up the beliefs and ways of her people? What was it about the people of Israel and the God of Israel that drew her to them? When she raised the twin sons that she had with Boaz (a relative of her deceased husband, as was instructed by the laws of levirate marriage), even though they were Israelite, did she teach them anything about Moabite culture or tell them about her Moabite family?
3.Â Parents who did not grow up Jewish who are actively involved in raising Jewish children (whether or not they have chosen to become Jewish themselves): I know many parents who grew up practicing other religions (some of whom still practice them, others who do not) who are raising their children as Jews. If I had such a group in my Sukkah, I would ask them to discuss the sacrifices they have made by committing to raise their children in a faith tradition different from the one in which they grew up. How did they come to the conclusion that they wanted to raise their children as Jews? What are the challenges they have faced, as well as the rewards? I would thank them for their commitment to the future of Judaism.
4.Â Jewish parents whose children are in interfaith relationships: I would like these Jewish parents to be able to have an honest conversation about how they feel about their children being seriously involved with someone who is not Jewish. Surely some would feel disappointedâ€”perhaps even hurt or rejectedâ€”and their feelings should not be ignored. Hopefully, though, they would understand that it is their adult childâ€™s choice who they are going to date and/or marry and they would respect their childâ€™s decision. I would encourage all of them to accept their childrenâ€™s partners and welcome them into their family.
5.Â Rabbis and cantors who officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies: I would ask each clergy person to share his or her own reasons for officiating at interfaith weddings. There are many clergy, like myself, who did not officiate at interfaith weddings immediately following ordination, but rather began to do so after some time for a variety of reasons. (Read why I now officiate at interfaith weddings.) I think it would be fascinating to hear about my colleaguesâ€™ personal journeys and to hear from each of them the most rewarding, as well as the most challenging experiences they have had in working with interfaith couples.
6.Â Children growing up in interfaith households: I would love to invite a group of children of all different ages who are currently growing up in interfaith households. I would ask them what they find to be the most rewarding and what they find to be the most challenging about growing up as part of an interfaith family. In what ways, if any, do they find that having a parent who is not Jewish impacts their Jewish identity?
7. Dating, engaged and newly married interfaith couples: I would begin by asking them to share their experiences as interfaith couples. What are the rewards and what are the challenges? Have they discussed how they are going to raise children if they have them? How can they make Jewish choices while honoring the traditions of both partners? Can they discuss these issues with their parents?
Okay, Iâ€™ll admit it: While it is true that I would love to have a group of interfaith couples in my Sukkah, Iâ€™m also plugging InterfaithFamily/Philadelphiaâ€™s upcoming Love and Religion workshop that starts in October. If you and your partner or a couple you know may be interested in discussing questions such as these, then you should find out about Love and Religion here.
Chag Sameach(happy holiday)!Â May this Sukkot be one in which we can all be welcoming and one in which we all feel welcomed!
What about you? Who are your dream ushpizin? If you could spend an evening with any person or group of people (real or fictional, living or deceased), who would you choose? What would you want to talk about?
We are very pleased to announce that, thanks to a generous new grant partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, InterfaithFamily will be launching InterfaithFamily/Boston this fall. This will be our fourth InterfaithFamily/Your Community, joining Chicago, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area in our growing network of local community programs.
InterfaithFamily/Boston will have a full time Director, a 10 hour per week â€śambassadorâ€ť to focus on activities and connections in the North Shore area, and 10 hours per week of marketing and project management support. This initial staffing will enable us to focus on key objectives of our IFF/Your Community model:
People in interfaith relationships will connect with Greater Boston Jewish community resources as well as with others like them, through an active â€śinterfaith ambassadorâ€ť working on engagement and relationship building, resources and referrals for supporting life cycle events, a Greater Boston Community Page and robust listings of organizations, professionals and events on the online IFF Network, active social media, and traditional PR and marketing.
Jewish professionals and organizations will learn to attract, welcome and engage people in interfaith relationships, through inclusivity and sensitivity trainings, and resources on the IFF Network.
We have begun the hiring process; links to the Director and North Shore Ambassador positions are http://www.interfaithfamily.com/directorboston and http://www.interfaithfamily.com/nsambassador. Stacie Garnett-Cook, National Director of InterfaithFamily/Your Community, will supervise the Director of IFF/Boston. Deb Morandi, our Connections Coordinator, and Lindsey Silken, our Managing Editor, initially will be providing marketing and project management support.
Going forward, we are immediately seeking additional funding not only to continue the new staffing beyond July 2014, but also to expand it to a full time Project Manager, which will enable us to expand the above activities and add other key objectives of our model: helping new couples learn how to talk about and have religious traditions in their lives together, and helping people in interfaith relationships learn how â€“ and why â€“ to live Jewishly, through an array of consultations, workshops/group discussions, and classes.
We are extremely grateful to CJP for making this growth of the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative possible.
Leading up to and during my vacation there have been three big intermarriage stories in the media. They all revolve around whether, and how, Jewish communities are going to open their gates and draw in interfaith couples and families.
First came a JTA story by Uriel Heilman, The War Against Intermarriage Has Been Lost. Now What? The title pretty much tells the content of the article: Jewish institutions and in particular religious denominations are not â€śfighting against intermarriageâ€ť so much any more; the question now is how to react to the intermarriages that are going to happen; the overall strategy appears to be to engage with the intermarried in an effort to have them embrace Judaism; the denominations differ in how far to go in that embrace, and how strongly to push for conversion. Heilman says there has been a shift in attitudes so that intermarriage is viewed as â€śa potential gain, in the form of the non-Jewish spouse or children who may convert.â€ť
I’m not sure how widespread the shift in attitudes is â€“ there have been lots of recent anti-intermarriage comments from Jewish leaders â€“ and I think itâ€™s unfortunate to see gain only when there is conversion. But the real issue is, what are Jewish institutions and denominations going to do to engage with the intermarried. I would be more interested in seeing a JTA article on the efforts that are underway to do exactly that.
Second was a series of three essays on MyJewishLearning.com about patrilineal descent. A Conservative rabbi, Alana Suskin, in The Non-Jewish Rabbi? The Problem of Patrilineal Descent, tells how badly she feels about not recognizing patrilineal Jews as Jewish in large part because itâ€™s easy to convert. Then an Orthodox rabbi, Ben Greenberg, in Patrilineal Jewish Descent: An Open Orthodox Approach, also feels badly, and says that a child of Jewish patrilineal lineage, must be respected greatly for their identification with the Jewish people, their love of Judaism and of Israelâ€¦ people of patrilineal descent [should] be referred to as Jews who need to rectify their status vis-a-vie Jewish law.â€ť But Greenberg says that the Reform rabbisâ€™ decision on patrilineality was a mistake from a â€śbalcony perspectiveâ€ť because of the impact the decision had on recognition of people as Jews by other denominations.
I would say, from what I would respectfully suggest is perhaps a more important â€śbalcony perspective,â€ť what about the impact the decision had on the thousands of patrilineal Jews who are now engaged in Jewish life and community? I couldnâ€™t help but make this connection when reading the Forwardâ€™s profile of Angela Buchdahl, First Asian-American Rabbi, Vies for Role at Central Synagogue. Rabbi Buchdahl is an amazing Jewish leader â€“ and yes, a patrilineal Jew. (At least, that is, until her college years; we proudly reprinted Rabbi Buchdahlâ€™s essay originally in Shâ€™ma, My Personal Story: Kimchee on the Seder Plate, where she says she went to the mikveh at that time to â€śreaffirm her Jewish legacy.â€ť)
[T]his is a red herring. The truth is that such questioning exists along a continuum that exists even within movements. Within the Orthodox branches of Judaism, only certain rabbis are recognized by the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel as performing accepted conversions. So yes, I agree with my colleagues that we have a responsibility to make our converts and our patrilineal Jews aware of the larger context, although I admit to doing so apologetically because I donâ€™t find these explanations to make Judaism very appealing.
Rabbi Gurevitz then focuses on what I would agree is most important:
[T]he individuals whose lives and identities we are talking about. Hereâ€™s the bottom line. The reality is that if someone is observing Jewish practice, celebrating in Jewish time, identifying with the Jewish people, or perhaps doing none of these things but, when asked, makes a claim to be Jewish or â€śpart Jewishâ€ť because of their ancestry, it is largely irrelevant to them whether you or I agree or approve. When it does become relevant is when they seek access to our institutions, and especially our synagogues. At that point, we rabbis become the gatekeepers. And we are entitled to abide by whatever formulation of what makes a Jew that we, or our larger denominations, decide. We all have our requirements. And we all have good reasons for those requirements that we can articulate to those seeking entry. But let us recognize that what we are doing is gate-keeping, and let us be mindful of how and when we act as gatekeepers and what our purpose in those moments is. And let us celebrate and be proud of sustaining and sharing a religious heritage that others wish to claim as their own and live by.
The third major story was an excerpt of a â€ślive discussionâ€ť on interfaith marriage on Huffington Post, where Rabbi David Wolpe, widely-regarded as one of the most influential rabbis in America, explains why he wonâ€™t officiate at weddings of interfaith couples. Contrary to Uriel Heilmanâ€™s perceived shift in attitudes towards seeing intermarriage as a potential gain, Rabbi Wolpe actually says (I donâ€™t have a transcript but I made notes when listening to the video) that â€śinvariably,â€ť in an intermarriage, the chances that the children will be raised as Jewish are much less, and that intermarriage â€śalmost alwaysâ€ť results in a diminishment of Judaism. That is the first reason he gives for not officiating at weddings of interfaith couples. I would respectfully suggest that the chances of the children being raised as Jewish and the chances of the intermarriage not resulting in â€śdiminishmentâ€ť would be increased if interfaith couples could find officiating rabbis for their weddings and be spared from hearing Rabbi Wolpeâ€™s rationale.
Rabbi Wolpe also says that he doesnâ€™t officiate because a Jewish wedding involves a marriage according to Jewish law and a person who isnâ€™t Jewish isnâ€™t subject to Jewish law. I canâ€™t argue with any rabbi who takes that position, although I think he goes too far when suggesting that itâ€™s â€śbad faithâ€ť for a rabbi to officiate because he or she isnâ€™t representing Jewish tradition. He says that is true â€śat least for meâ€ť but it comes across as a cheap shot at all of the serious committed rabbis who do officiate for interfaith couples
The common thread of all of this press is, how open are our gates going to be â€“ in our efforts to engage interfaith couples and families, in who we recognize as Jews, and in for whom we officiate. Those are the key questions. Iâ€™m for wide open gates.
I recently had the honor of meeting five women who are due with their first babies in the fall (one brought her four week old). While none of them grew up Jewish, they are married to Jews and they want to create a home with Judaism (traditions, holidays, values) for their growing families. They all felt that their spouses did not have the literacy or resolve to accomplish this goal alone. They are seeking fellowship among other women in the same boat, and they are eager for their own Jewish learning and for ways into Jewish communal life.
Sitting with these women reminded me of a core truth of the work we do: Intermarriage is not the end of Judaism. Intermarriage does not mean the Jew is abandoning Judaism. Partners who arenâ€™t Jewish are often open and ready to take on aspects of Jewish living, even though the learning curve is often so darn steep.
One of the moms-to-be said that they are ready to join a synagogue but that she â€śheardâ€ť the membership dues were $3,000. Someone else chimed in that there must be a lower rate for a new family or first time members. The first mom seemed hesitant to call the synagogue to find out.
On the High Holidays, synagogues will be filled with non-members. This is not a great term. InterfaithFamily suggests trying to avoid â€śnonâ€ť in any kind of description about someone. We advocate saying â€śnot Jewishâ€ť verses â€śnon-Jew.â€ť The people who are not dues paying members may be friends and family of members or they may have no connection to the congregation other than they bought a ticket. How can we tell all of these people that they already â€śbelong?â€ť
One idea is to have members say aloud the following words and to write them on literature that is handed out and on the homepage of every synagogue website: If you are interested in learning more about this open and warm community, please call (give the name and title of the membership person with his or her direct line and email). It is helpful to have a real person to call rather than have to search a website for membership information which is anonymous. We want our words to reflect a sentiment of welcome. If I were writing something, I would say:
If you are on this website looking for information about a place to come for Shabbat, to celebrate holidays, for classes and religious school, to meet friends or to do social justice work, join us. If you want to build a relationship with clergy who care about you, join us. Joining us isnâ€™t about writing a check. It is about showing up when you want inspiration and fellowship, support and grounding. Whether you grew up with Judaism or not, whether you want introductory classes or higher level learning, whether you can read Hebrew or have never been to a synagogue, join us. We are a diverse group and this gives us strength and purpose. All are welcome. You can help support our congregational efforts at every level and means of giving.
I know there are lots of people studying new dues structures. This is not about a dues structure–fee for service, voluntary donations, etc. This is about the feeling of what it means to be a â€śmember.â€ť
Each of these five women and the new faces in synagogues over the next few weeks will make great synagogue members.
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