Our updated booklet, Weddings For The Interfaith Couple, walks you through all of the traditions for the big day, starting with two to think about in advance (choosing a wedding contract known as a ketubah and topics to consider when meeting with your wedding officiant).
The Voices & Visions program elicits the power of art to communicate great Jewish ideas. The project aims to inspire conversation, instill pride, and spark creativity among diverse audiences and ages. It is co-sponsored by the PJ Libraryź program.
As parents, we have expectations about what our children will be like when they grow up. Sometimes it's hard to accept our children's choices, especially when they fall in love with and decide to spend their life with someone who grew up in a different faith tradition.
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.
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.
RabbiSimchah Green, a veteran Modern Orthodox rabbi and graduate of Yeshiva University sees intermarriage as an opportunity for the Jewish people. He recently wrote for InterfaithFamily: âNow is not the time for us to bury our heads in the sand. Now is not the time for us to bemoan the situation. Now is not the time to sound off against this phenomenon.â
âAnd without question I shall not consider that an intermarriage represents the END OF THE LINE, BUT RATHER THE BEGINNING OF A JOURNEY.â (See his full essay here.) Rabbi Green is right! Intermarriage is not the end of the Jewish people. Intermarriage is not a time for us to hem and haw or say âwoe is meâ about the future. We must look at intermarriage as an opportunity. An opportunity to embrace those around us who are interested in learning more about Judaism and participating in Jewish life with those they care about.
Carol, my sisterâs mother-in-law, demonstrates this fully and completely. She recently asked me, âWhere can we go to learn more about Judaism?â She explained that she (who was not raised Jewishly) wanted to be fully involved in helping to raise my newborn niece with a Jewish identity. Carol is amazing! Even before her granddaughter was born, she reached out to learn more, to become more educated about Judaism, the holidays and the values.
I was excited to help educate Carol. I first led her to the free booklets from InterfaithFamily, formatted for online reading and printing: interfaithfamily.com/booklets. I also suggested that she may be interested in signing up for an upcoming Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family class. And, as I would offer to everyone in the community, staff at InterfaithFamily/Bay Area are always available to answer your questions.
I hope that all grandparents, parents and partners are welcomed by those around them. Let us all help each other explore Jewish life in a way that feels comfortable and may that exploration be supported by those we love as well as the leaders of the Jewish community.
Jews donât live in ghettos anymore, and I think most of us would agree that this is a good thing. In our daily lives we interact with all sorts of people who are different from ourselvesâpeople with different political views, people from different socio-economic backgrounds, people of different races and people of different religions. This exposure to diversity makes our lives varied and interesting. I for one donât know of many people who would want to give this up.
We donât live in a world of arranged marriages, and the simple fact is that people fall in love for all kinds of reasons, many of them inexplicable. Sometimes you just know when you have met âthe oneââeven if that person is someone totally different from you, and even if that person is totally different from what you had imagined for yourself.
Many people, before finding their mate, have a âchecklistâ of what theyâre looking for in a partner. One of my friends always said sheâd marry someone blonde, very physically fit andâmost importantâJewish. So when she met a man at work who had dark hair, was chubby and didnât like to work outâand was Methodistâshe wasnât concerned when they started to spend a lot of time together as friends. Sure he was smart, interesting and funnyâbut he wasnât her âtype.â But eventually their connection become deeper and they fell in love. It stopped mattering to her that he wasnât blonde and fit. What mattered was that she loved him. And though she didnât value her Jewish identity any less after falling in love with him than before falling in love with him, she was determined to find a way to make their relationship work since he was âthe oneâ she loved. Eventually, they got married.
For my friend, âthe oneâ is a Methodist. For Rabbi Michal Woll (who co-wrote the recently published book Mixed-Up Love with her husband Jon Sweeney) âthe oneâ is a Catholic author. For me, âthe oneâ happens to be another rabbi. But just because my friend and Michal married Christian men that doesnât mean that either of them values Judaism less than I do.
Iâve met numerous people who grew up with strong Jewish identities and who care deeply about the future of the Jewish peopleâmany of whom spent much of their lives certain that they would never even date, let alone marry, someone who was not Jewish but who simply fell in love with someone they knew, like a college classmate, a work colleague or a best friend. Some of them shared with me that they went through deep soul searching and many tears after having fallen in love with someone of a different faith, but ultimately they came to the conclusion that they could spend their life with the person they loved as well as live a committed Jewish life and raise a Jewish family.
These people didnât see themselves as having to make a choice between EITHER the person they loved OR the religion and community that they loved. Rather, they made the decision to BOTH spend their life with the person they loved AND to live a Jewish life and raise a Jewish family. Most people Iâve talked to who have made this BOTH/AND decision have acknowledged that there are challenges to being in an interfaith relationship (just like there are challenges in any relationship, especially one in which there are fundamental differences between the partners), but they would rather deal with those challenges together with their mate than having to choose EITHER/OR between their mate and Judaism, and they find meaning and often joy in facing those challenges TOGETHER.
The fact is that in todayâs world, in most of the liberal Jewish community, having a partner who is not Jewish and living a committed Jewish life arenât seen as necessarily mutually exclusive. As Michal and Jon share in Mixed-Up Love, faith and religion are VERY important to BOTH of them; thatâs a large part of what attracted them to each other. It just happens that in their case they each have a DIFFERENT religion. Together they are raising a Jewish daughter and making it work for themselves and their family.
So donât just assume that because a Jewish person is in a relationship with or married to someone who is of a different faith that their Judaism, the Jewish community and Jewish continuity arenât important to them. Rather than EITHER/OR, perhaps they have chosen to commit to BOTH/AND.
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 âInterfaith 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 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 doesnât 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 Motherâs 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 âJewsâ while others are âProtestant,â âCatholic,â âHindu,â âMuslim,â 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 Jewsâit makes sense that when a person walks into a house of worship that isnât 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 âthis community has always been a welcoming community.â Yet, there were many congregants who seemed to be enlightened when the Rabbi said âJust 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 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 understandingâwe 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.
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