This colorful booklet lists all the ritual items needed for the Passover table. The history and significance of each item on the seder plate is explained, as are the customs that have been handed down through the generations.
JScreen provides convenient, at-home, saliva-based genetic carrier screening with the goal of preventing Jewish genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs disease and Canavan disease. JScreen is a national program and is headquartered at Emory University in Atlanta.
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.
Even if You Donât Plan To Convert, You Should Learn About Your Partnerâs Religious Heritage: The Value of Introduction to Judaism Classes
When I was in rabbinical school in the late 1990s and in the years following my ordination in 2000 I had the great pleasure of teaching the Reform movementâs 16 week Introduction to Judaism class. I found it incredibly rewarding to have the privilege of exposing my students to the fundamentals of Jewish thought and practice. While a few of the students in my classes were Jews who wanted to learn more about their religious heritage, the vast majority of students were not Jewish but had Jewish partners and they registered for the class because they were considering becoming Jewish. In those days, like today, many Reform rabbis required that conversion students with whom they were working take the Intro class as one of the requirements for conversion.
At the first class session, I would always invite the students to introduce themselves and to share why they had signed up for the class. Often, after saying a few words about himself, a student would say:Â âAnd I plan to convert once Iâve completed this class.â Sometimes, the student who said this had been married to a Jewish person for years, raised Jewish children, been a part of a synagogue community and already knew a lot about what it mean to be Jewish. In those cases, the Intro class was the final step in a long process, and the person speaking truly knew what was involved in choosing to become Jewish.
Other times, the student who said this was someone who was dating or perhaps was engaged to someone Jewish, but he admittedly knew very little about Judaism. In those cases, I would encourage him to have an open mind and to learn as much as possible about Judaismâboth in and out of classâand to defer making any decision until he had a better sense of what it meant to be Jewish. Then, if living a Jewish life was truly compelling to him, conversion would be the right path for him to take.
As a rabbiâand as someone who loves being Jewish and believes that Judaism brings meaning to my life and to the worldâI think itâs wonderful when someone chooses to become Jewish. I have served on many bâtei din (rabbinic courts) for people becoming Jewish, and I have always found the experience to be incredibly powerful. It is truly an honor to be part of a personâs process of becoming Jewishâas long as the person is becoming Jewish for the right reasonâthat is, because she truly wants to be JewishâŠnot because her partner, or partnerâs parents, want her to be Jewish. To me, serving on a bet din where someone is converting for the purpose of making a partner or other relative happy would be a mockery of the conversion process. Which is exactly why I would tell students in my Intro class who were just beginning to learn about Judaism: âTake your time, learn about Judaism and THEN decide if you want to convert.â And even if the student who was dating, engaged or married to a Jewish person never made the decision to convert, they would have learned aboutâand presumably developed a greater respect forâtheir Jewish partnerâs religion in the process of taking the class.
Ten to 15 years ago, when I was teaching Introduction to Judaism classes, there were lots of students in the classes. I think that this was in part due to the fact that the liberal Jewish community put a lot of pressure on Jews marrying people of other faiths to convince their partners to convert to Judaism. For a number of reasons, this has changed. Thanks to the work of many individuals and of organizations like InterfaithFamily, the liberal Jewish community has become more welcoming to interfaith couples and families. Parents who arenât Jewishâeven if they are actively practicing another religionâcan be part of their Jewish childâs religious upbringingâŠnot just driving their children to and from Religious School, but learning alongside their children, participating in synagogue and Jewish communal activities and having a role in their Jewish childrenâs lifecycle events. Perhaps that explains why some of the Introduction to Judaism classes near where I live in Philadelphia are having trouble attracting enough students these days. Conversion to Judaism, and the intro classes that are an essential part of the conversion process are no longer seen in many liberal Jewish circles as the ânecessityâ that they once were.
I would encourage anyone who is seriously involved with a Jewish partner to consider learning more about Judaism. Similarly, I would encourage any Jewish person in an interfaith relationship to learn about their partnerâs religion. Regardless of your own religious beliefs or practices, it can only benefit your relationship to learn more about your partnerâs religious heritage.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you are in an interfaith relationship. If you are not Jewish but your partner is, have you taken an Introduction to Judaism or other similar class? If so, what was the experience like for you? If you are Jewish, have you taken a class to learn about your partnerâs religious heritage? What class did you take? What other steps have you taken to learn about your partnerâs religious beliefs and traditions?
While other voices will surely proclaim that endogamy is the only effective way to have a committed Jewish family, the Reform movement has something altogether different to say: Jewish commitment can be established in a variety of settings, especially with support and increased opportunity for learning and engaging. Falling in love with someone who is not Jewish is not a failure of Jewish commitment at a time when young adult lives are just beginning.
But to Steven M. Cohen and Rabbi Leon Morris, we say âfor shameâ for their Did Moses Intermarry? Who Says He Didâand Why Do They Want To Know? Cohen and Morris certainly are entitled to take the misguided position that Jewish leaders should encourage in-marriage. But it strikes me as twisted and shameful to criticize those who want instead to promote Jewish engagement by interfaith families for holding out Moses and Tzipporah, among others, as Biblical models of interfaith couples who contributed to Judaism. The people in the âpromote in-marriageâ camp profess, however reluctantly, to want to engage in Jewish life those interfaith couples who do marry, but their readiness to take away these positive role models for that engagement reveal the very low priority they would give to those efforts.
A group of âconcerned Jewsâ in response to the Pew survey propose to take concerted action to encourage Jewish leaders to encourage in-marriage. Julie Wiener writes that âthe intermarriage debateâ has âreignitedâ in a JTA article that was picked up by the Forward. Jodi Bromberg, InterfaithFamilyâs new President, and I wrote an op-ed for eJewishPhilanthropy, Promote Jewish Engagement, Not In-Marriage. Paul Golin from JOI also had an op-ed in the New York Jewish Week.
To us the key point is that all of the actions any proponent of in-marriage proposes â increased Jewish education, social networks, Israel trips â are worthwhile because they promote Jewish engagement, which is what everyone on all sides of this debate wants. We say encourage those actions for that reason â because they promote the Jewish engagement we all want, regardless of who people marry. Encouraging those actions because they promote in-marriage is self-defeating â it will alienate the majority of the audience who will intermarry regardless of what Jewish leaders recommend.
Ironically, perhaps coincidentally, yesterday was the day of the very moving memorial service for Edgar Bronfman. One very subtle comment stood out to me: Hilllary Clinton expressed gratitude to Edgar and Jan Bronfman for the friendship and support they provided to Chelsea Clinton when she married a Jewish man. Edgar Bronfman, who will be sorely missed, understood the importance of genuine acceptance and welcome much more than the group of Jewish leaders who want to encourage in-marriage.
Thereâs an uproar in Israel because a son of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is dating a Norwegian woman who is not Jewish. Daniel Treiman at JTA reports that some religious Knesset members are voicing dismay at the âbig problemâ of the son of the Prime Minister possibly intermarrying.
Almost every public statement that comes out of Israel about intermarriage equates it with assimilation and loss of Jewish identity and engagement. They just donât get that many interfaith families are engaging in Jewish life.
It would behoove Jewish leaders to extend an embracing welcome to prominent couples who intermarry. We live in a culture crazed with celebrity â if celebrity interfaith couples engage Jewishly, that may increase the interest of others. Thatâs why we urged Jewish leaders to extend a big mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton a few years ago.
Speaking of mazel tov, Liel Liebovitz had it right in Tablet:
Let us say the only thing one ought to say to a young woman who has chosen to âŠ move to Israel instead, which is shalom and welcome and so nice to have you here. And let us do whatever we can to make sure that should this young woman ever wish to become Mrs. Netanyahu Junior, she could either live comfortably and without harassment as a non-Jewish citizen of Israel enjoying equal rights and responsibilities, or, should she so wish, undergo a meaningful and beautiful conversion, a far cry from the censorious process currently offered by the imperious chief rabbinate. Until then, nothing but mazal tov to the young couple.
In an unfortunate convergence, some of the leading Jewish journalists have almost simultaneously published more counter-productive negative messages about intermarriage.
The first piece is by Gary Rosenblatt of the New York Jewish Week. Here is the letter to the editor I just submitted:
I applaud Rabbi Rick Jacobsâ comments at the URJ Biennial and to Gary Rosenblatt (âA Call For âAudacious Hospitalityâ,â Jan. 15). Rabbi Jacobs is right that âfinger-waggingâ is a turnoff for intermarried Jews and their partners who might otherwise make Jewish choices. Mr. Rosenblatt professes not to think of intermarriage as a âdisease,â but that is the message that he and Messrs. Cohen, Bayme and Wertheimer convey. The communal intervention they seek to encourage in-marriage would be a roadblock to the âon-ramps to Jewish lifeâ that Rabbi Jacobs rightly wants to build for the majority of the next generation who will be the children of intermarriages.
The second is an editorial in the Forward. Hereâs my letter to them:
I applaud Rabbi Rick Jacobsâ comments to the editors (âIntermarriage Rorschach Test,â Jan. 16) that âJewish living, values, commitmentsâŠ can be upheld in interfaith familiesâ and not the âexclusive province of Jewish-Jewish couples.â By questioning âhowever Jewishâ those individuals who choose to live lives of Jewish depth and meaning âactually are,â the Forwardâs editors become part of the problem. Characterizing intermarriage as âdiminishmentâ and in-marriage as âessentialâ is a self-fulfilling prophecy that will lead to more interfaith families who might otherwise make Jewish choices not doing so.
The people in these positions of Jewish leadership ought to stop to think about the impact of what they say about intermarriage on young interfaith couples â the Jewish partner or the partner who isnât Jewish â who are exploring Jewish life, considering making Jewish choices, and quite naturally looking for welcome, acceptance, and embrace.
We were sorry to learn that Jennifer Gorovitz will be stepping down as CEO of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.
Most of the commentary has focused appropriately on the small number of women who have lead federations â Jennifer was the first woman to head a large city Federation in North America â and expressed hope that many more will follow in her footsteps.
Weâre feeling a loss more personal to InterfaithFamily in particular and the field of engaging interfaith families more generally. Jennifer was a leader among Federation leaders in championing the importance of Federations taking action to engage interfaith families. She was instrumental in making funding possible for InterfaithFamily/San Francisco Bay Area, and spoke about the project with us on a panel at the 2012 General Assembly (the Federation systemâs annual conference).
We truly appreciate Jennifer saying in her own statement that she was âparticularly proud of transformative grants to Keshet and InterfaithFamilyâ and describing them as among âthe many inspiring ways that the Federation is building Jewish lives and deepening and broadening its reach.â And she is exactly right in saying that for Jewish Federations and organizations to maintain their relevance and thrive into the future, âwe will all have to embraceâŠ substantive and meaningful engagement of Jews of all ages and backgroundsâŠÂ including interfaith JewsâŠâ
Fortunately IFF has a lot of strong support in the San Francisco Jewish community â and that community has a lot of strong leaders. We wish the Federation well in their search to replace Jennifer and hope they find someone who shares her passion for engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community. And we especially wish her well as she builds the next chapter in her life.
First, the good news for intermarried Bostonians who want to raise their kids Jewish: According to this study, 60 percent of intermarried families in the Greater Boston area are raising their kids as Jews. This is good news compared to the more recent Pew study that found the national average in the rest of the country around 25 percent. If 2005âs survey was any indication (and I know this is a rough comparison of two different studies), Boston is faring stronger for raising Jewish children than the rest of the country. Why is Boston doing so much better? Well that is a whole other blog to write about.
But hereâs an interesting part of the CJP analysis that I want to get to: If the mom is Jewish, so the survey says, there is an 80 percent likelihood that the children will be raised as Jews. If it is the father thatâs Jewish, only a 32 percent chance (p.19).
Why is this? Dads see themselves as lacking the time? The passion? Are we lazy on Sundays? Whatâs the deal?
I am proud of our long and storied history of the classic, strong Jewish mom who runs the household, but why are so many of our âclassic dadsâ so complacent? The world is changing fast and our children are growing even faster. I must confess that the reason why my daughter makes it on time to Hebrew School on Sundays is because of my wifeâthe not Jewish counterpart of my interfaith relationship. So I must be the exception, more than the rule. I lucked out that my wife understands commitment and once we made up our mind to raise our kids Jewish, she is exceptionally committed.
But if she were not so on the ball, I can see how easy it is to fall behind the eight ball. Many of us didnât love our Hebrew School experiences, and are indifferent. Our parents followed their role models of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, who were anxious to lose their authentic ethnic backgrounds and fit in. To be fair to my assimilated ancestors, there was horrible anti-Semitism back then that I did not have to suffer through as they did. Although anti-Semitism is not gone by any means and has a deep decoy of anti-Zionism (thatâs another blog too), it is safer to be “publicly Jewish” now.
But there still comes a time in everyoneâs life when they need to stand up for what they believe in. Everyone is so very busy these days and our children are as over-programmed as the adults. I get it. It can feel like a real schlep to get to Hebrew School on the weekends, but if we engage in some Jewish education ourselves, it need not be such an effort. It can be downright joyful. So as we enter a new year, ask yourself, âAm I a lazy dad?â or better yet, âWhat do I really care about?â Judaism has so many answersÂ and there are tons of amazing opportunities to learn in Boston.Â Why walk away from the most amazing education you can give your family. Just try it out. Start the year our right and get involved.
Getting back to that old joke about the speaking part. There are many plays that could use a re-write, and there is no reason to continue putting all of the pressure on one spouse to do everything. Get involved and speak up, Dads. Your future is counting on you and if you get involved just even a tad more, a whole world of beauty and wonder from Judaism will open before you.
As a rabbi, itâs not unusual for me to get a call from a Jewish parent whose child is engaged to someone who isnât Jewish. The parent usually asks if we can get together to talkâsometimes they want to talk because theyâre having a hard time accepting the fact that their child is going to be in an interfaith marriage and other times they want to discuss a particular issue that has come up. Here is some advice that I often give to such parents (which is really just a variation on advice that I give to parents of adult children in general):
1. Your childâs marrying someone who isnât Jewish isnât necessarily a rejection of JudaismâŠor of you. As I wrote in my recent blog âMarrying Outâ Is Not âAbandoning Judaismâjust because a person falls in love with someone of another religion (or no religion) it doesnât mean that they donât value their Judaism. Many people today donât see loving someone of a different faith and having a strong Jewish identity as being mutually exclusive. Your child can love their partner and they can love being Jewishâand they can love you too!
2. Give your child the time and space to make his/her own decisions. You probably have lots of questions: Will they have a Jewish wedding? Are they going to have a Jewish home? How are they going to raise their children? While you may want to know the answers to all of your questions NOW (if not yesterdayâŠ), your child and his/her partner may not have all of the answers yet, and even if they do, they may not be ready to share them with you. Let them know (through your words, and even more important, your actions) that you respect their right to make decisions on their own time frame and to share them with you when they are ready.
3. Accept that these are your childâs and his/her partnerâs decisions to make. Notice that I didnât say that you have to agree withâor even likeâall of their decisions. It may be very upsetting to you that your daughter has decided not to be married by your rabbi or that she is going to have a Christmas tree in her home. But she is an adult and these are decisions for her and her partner to make, not for you to make. Odds are that she already knows how you feel about these things and if you critique everything she tells you then she may not want to keep sharing with you.
7. Talk to other parents whose children have intermarried. As in many situations, itâs often nice to feel like youâre not alone. It can be helpful to speak with someone who has had a similar experience who can understand how you are feeling and who can provide you with advice and support. If youâre in the Philadelphia area, join our Facebook group and get in the conversation.
What advice would you offer to a parent whose child is intermarrying? If your child is married to someone of a different religion, were you given any advice that you found helpful? Is there advice you found not to be helpful?
Back in 2008 I wrote that InterfaithFamily, which started as an independent non-profit in 2002, had plateaued at a funding level of $375,000 until 2006, and that I had given serious thought to closing IFF because of lack of funding support for our cause. But a tide turned in 2006, and we raised over $500,000 that year, and over $800,000 in 2007. How did this happen? Because Edgar Bronfman was the key catalyst. The Samuel Bronfman Foundation was our first major new funder that year.
We enjoyed support from Edgar and SBF for many years after. Iâve only been to the Jewish Funders Network annual conference (which isnât meant to be a place for grant-seekers to seek grants) once: because Edgar and SBF sponsored a reception at which we spoke about IFF. And I had two memorable lunches with Edgar at what I understood to be âhisâ table at the Four Seasons.
But the sentiments that Edgar Bronfman spoke so explicitly and repeatedly about welcoming interfaith families have sadly been rare among Jewish leaders. Unfortunately, I canât think of anyone of Edgarâs stature who has been willing to forcefully assert the critical importance of engaging interfaith families to the liberal Jewish future. When the Pew Report generated huge discussion in the Jewish world starting this past October, the voices of the leadership of the Jewish community seemed to all be delivering the tired old âstem the tide of intermarriageâ message.
No one comparable to Edgar Bronfman was heard delivering his prophetic message, in Hope, Not Fear:
If we speak about intermarriage as a disaster for the Jewish people, we send a message to intermarried families that is mixed at best. How can you welcome people in while at the same time telling them that their loving relationship is in part responsible for the destruction of the Jewish people? No one should be made to feel our welcome is conditional or begrudging. The many non-Jews who marry Jews must not be regarded as a threat to Jewish survival but as honored guests in a house of joy, learning and pride.
The oft-cited figure that among intermarried families only 33 percent of children are raised Jewish does not take into account the possibility that if the Jewish community were more welcoming, those numbers could grow dramatically.
We can only hope that some Jewish leader somewhere will pick up the mantle Edgar has left behind and continue to champion the cause of engaging interfaith families Jewishly.
We send our condolences to Edgarâs family and to the staff of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation and the non-profit organizations that were closest to his heart.
This is it. That time of year that many intermarried Jews dread: Christmas tree time. Especially if you go as far as getting a tree and stringing it up on the roof of your car and driving to your house as quickly as possible (maybe even ducking as you drive by your shul, so the rabbi doesnât see). It used to feel so wrong, so shameful: âWhat will the others think?â
Where do our values come from? How do these questioning voices appear in oneâs head? Often our values are shaped by our parents and our teachers and our peers. My elementary school upbringing consisted of attending an Orthodox Hebrew Day School and the message growing up was clear: If a Jew has a Christmas tree in his house, he has gone âtoo far.â If you bring a tree into your house, you might as well put a swastika on top for you have betrayed the Jewish people.
My mother would mourn for the Jewish people if she saw it, and fear I would have lost focus on my roots. Oy, assimilation-1, Jews-0. My environmentalist friends would moan the betrayal of the earth, to drag a tree into oneâs house for one week of the year. How horrifying! Donât get me started on the gifts. The commercialism of Christmas is horrendous and the wrapping paper and packaging is tantamount criminal. The spoiling of kids with gift after gift. The plastic. The cookies. The elevated levels of acidity in oneâs blood sugar as one holiday party bleeds into another. The drinks. The decadence.
But of course, I went to Hebrew School. My brother and sister and I would watch all of the holiday Christmas specials and feel like outsiders. We loved the cartoons and the stories of spreading cheer and goodness and charity. Charity and community service that we were taught to do regularly were emphasized on one special day for the majority of Americans, and we were on the fringe and couldnât (or didn’t know how to) really participate at all.
And there I was 30 years later, a grown adult making decisions of my own. Itâs true, if both people in a relationship are of the same religion, these kinds of things are rarely a problem. The best we could hope for would be to go out for Chinese food and play cards, which was the running joke of many of our childhoods, the thing that all American Jews do on that holiday.
But things have changed. These are different times. Would I choose to get a tree for my family like my friends from Baltimore? No. Not in a thousand years. Is it a ritual that I embrace and make my own filled with meaning? No, not that either. So what changed? For me, it is about respecting my wifeâs background. Deb pointed it out like this: We have a very Jewish household. We light Shabbat candles, do Kiddush and blessings, make challah, send our kids to Hebrew school, sing Hebrew songs, have mezuzot on our doorways, give Tzedakah regularly, celebrate all the holidays, engage in Chevurah groups, the list goes on and onâŠ But there is just one thingâjust one thingâfrom her past tradition that she wants to keep and it shouldnât be too much to ask.
She never converted, and to her, Christmas had nothing to do with religion (I know, I know, that one is really tough for me), but was about hot chocolate and sleigh rides and getting cozy and thankful and making snowmen and caroling and decorations and parties with friends and family and creating magic for the children. Time to relax as a family.
Well when you put it that way, it shouldnât be too much to ask. So I go along for the sake of Shalom Bayit (peace in the house). I assure you that itâs not easy. And I still have a hard time with it since I am a committed Jewish educator (who is coming out of the closet with the confession to having a tree over the years). But relationships are about giving to the other and not ruling with an iron fist. Would I recommend that Jews have Christmas trees in their houses? Do I buy into the commercialization and environmental waste associated with Christmas? Not at all on either count.
But do I love my wife? Yes! Is this tradition really important to her and her family? Yes! If I grin and bear it for one week of the year, will my kids continue to go to Hebrew School and have bar and bat mitzvahs and identify as Jews throughout their lives? Yes! So all that was stopping me was closing my mind to honoring what my life partner wants. And that was no longer acceptable to me.
I am not the only Jew who struggles with this. So I wrote this blog to allow people to open up and share with their partners what they care about. There is more than enough evidence that children who grow up in committed Jewish households survive the Christmas Tree thing just fine and live their lives as committed Jews.