When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?Go To Parenting
Let’s just call this a random hodgepodge. A bunch of stuff came across my desk (or over the series of tubes that make up the internet) this week that were too interesting not to share:
Step aside Chelsea Clinton and Mark Mevinsky, here comes Lauren Bush and David Lauren! Yup, the grandaughter of former President George H. W. Bush, and niece of former President George W. Bush, is marrying David Lauren, son of the famous Jewish fashion designer Ralph Lauren. The Jewish press has run plenty of headlines proclaiming that she’ll become “Lauren Lauren” but, really, let’s hope she keeps her birth-name.
Remember that General Assembly that Ed’s mentioned a few times? Well, our friends at Keshet were there too. And they made a great video while they were there:
After seeing one of our tweets, Rachel Barenblat wrote a blog post expanding on her reply to our tweet, “Having a Christmas tree doesn’t make you “less Jewish” – or does it?” And it isn’t just about conifers. And in response to that blog post, MiriyaB posted her thoughts as well.
The Public Religion Research Institute released a survey today that showed that Americans are divided over what greetings businesses should use during the December holidays. This time of year, do you prefer a generic “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas”?
If you’re visiting a church this Christmas for the first time, the Old First Reformed UCC church of Philadelphia has some helpful hints.
And our friends at JewishBoston.com suggested that this is the “most” Jewish of Christmas songs:
But there’s just so much to say… And we’re not the only ones who think so.
In her latest Jewish Week column, Steven M. Cohen Promotes “Meaningless Jewish Associations”, Julie Wiener looks at the arguments against intermarriage. And, specifically, how outdated (and “offensive”) the arguments are. Click on over, it’s worth the read.
The bottom line? The message to Jews should not be a “just say no” approach to intermarriage. Rather, recognize that the point is for Jews to marry someone who “is supportive of them living a full Jewish life and raising Jewish children,” whether they are Jewish or not.
Recently, Israel created civil unions as a marriage option. However, they’re only an option if neither partner is Jewish. Which means that, for the first time in Israel, people without religious affiliation can get married.
According to the Jerusalem Post, civil unions have
…given rise to a worrying push, led by Knesset Law Committee Chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), to extend the right to a civil marriage to all Israelis, regardless of religious affiliation – thus potentially making Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, a facilitator of intermarriage.
Currently, Israelis intermarry by getting married abroad (often in Cyprus) then returning to Israel.
In a country that has government-backed (and funded) Orthodoxy as the norm, is there a way to modernize marriage? Is there a way to accept intermarriage? Would ending the Orthodox-controlled chief rabbinate’s authority over marriage in Israel be a realistic solution?
And while we’re on the topic of marriage in Israel… We were recently contacted by a graduate student who is doing research in Israel for their Master’s thesis at the University of Zürich, Switzerland in Social Anthropology and Political Science. The research is on inter-religious/inter-ethnic couples living in Israel — where one partner is Jewish Israeli and the other is Arab Palestinian (Muslim or Christian). If you are in such a couple, or know folks who are, and would be interested in helping out in this unique study, please [email@example.com]contact us[/email] and we will put you in touch with the researcher.
The Boston Jewish Film Festival is right around the corner – November 3-14. There are a couple screenings of particular interest to interfaith families, or those interested in interfaith and/or intercultural issues.
The first is the film Me and the Jewish Thing, a documentary about, and by, Ulrik Gutkin. Through conversations with his wife, Signe, we learn that Ulrik, who is Jewish, and Signe, who is Christian, do not share the same opinion about the need for circumcision. Ulrik, a 4th generation Danish Jew, feels strongly that their son should be circumcised. Signe, however, sees circumcision as a “medieval” act of mutilation and cruelty.
The film covers four years of the couple’s life, spanning from the last weeks of Signe’s pregnancy, through the first few years of their son Felix’s life. Interwoven with Ulrik and Signe’s ongoing debate, we learn about Ulrik’s Jewish history, his attachment to his religion and culture. In addition to questioning the physical purpose of circumcision, Signe wonders why it’s important to Ulrik to become more Jewish, make a film about this Jewish topic, when Judaism wasn’t a big part of Ulrik’s life prior to having kids.
Ulrik struggles to articulate why he feels strongly in favor of circumcising their son. As it becomes clear to him that their son won’t be circumcised, he looks for other ways to impart Judaism on Felix, though he and Signe again feel differently about those efforts.
While this documentary demonstrates a difficult issue that many interfaith couples are faced with, we at InterfaithFamily.com encourage couples to discuss potential conflicts in advance. We have plenty of resources about circumcision, if that’s the specific topic in question; we’re also offering an online group for interfaith couples to learn how to make decisions while still respecting both partner’s religion.
Screening with Me and the Jewish Thing is a short documentary called Michal, Matthias and the Unborn Child. Unlike Ulrik and Signe, Michal, an Israeli Jew, and Matthias, a Christian German, start discussing what their religious life would look like were they to have children together in the future.
They visit a Jewish day school in Berlin, where they live, and meet with another local Jewish Israeli and German couple who are raising their children as Jews. Michal and Matthias are able to see these children, and their father, who is not Jewish, participate fully in lighting the candles, making blessings over the wine, and sharing a Shabbat dinner together.
This process is open, respectful, and proactive. We definitely approve of their early dialogue!
See Ulrik and Signe, Michal and Matthias (along with a third short film, Hasan Everywhere) on Thursday, November 11 at 4:15pm at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.
Stay tuned for more reviews!
I admit that ever since the dramatic season finales of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, with its disgruntled widow shooting spree, and its spin-off Private Practice, with the death of Dell Parker by a drunk driver, I was wondering how they would begin the new seasons. I was happily surprised to find both episodes dealt with life-cycle events for interfaith couples on last Thursday’s season premiers.
On Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Christina Yang (Sandra Oh) married Dr. Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd). As described on Judaism/2009/08/Jewish-TV-Characters.aspx?p=2">BeliefNet, Christina considers herself Jewish; the character converted as a child when her mother married a Jewish oral surgeon, Dr. Saul Rubenstein. Christina has, from time to time, brought up her Jewish background. Both of Dr. Yang’s engagements were to non-Jews; it would have been great to see her plan/have an wedding that reflected her Jewish identity.
Dr. Yang’s first wedding, which was planned, but never happened, was to happen in a church with no Jewish clergy present. This wedding was planned by Dr. Yang herself, and not by a future mother-in-law, which gave Christina the perfect opportunity to have included a local rabbi in her ceremony. (InterfaithFamily.com has several rabbis and Jewish professionals in the Seattle area to whom we could have referred her.) I am disappointed that the recent season premier episode completely ignored her faith as well. This was a missed opportunity to portray how meaningful an interfaith wedding could be.
On Private Practice, Drs. Cooper Freedman (Paul Adlestein) and Charlotte King (Kadee Strickland) start the season making love while discussing how Charlotte’s pastor wants to talk to Cooper’s rabbi. I hope the powers that be take the opportunity to explore the dimensions of an interfaith wedding for them!
Looking forward to where the season will take these shows… And hoping to see some interfaith issues explored by the two couples!
It’s no secret that, on top of all of the usual issues that come up in relationships, interfaith couples have the extra joy/challenge of navigating additional conversations about identity, heritage, culture, religion, and more. We have many sections of articles dealing with these very topics.
These discussions can feel, at times, overwhelming; some couples choose to ignore the topics all together. In the spirit of increasing dialogue, we would like to invite couples to participate in an online discussion group. If you are dating, engaged or newly married, and interested in exploring the issue of religion in your relationship, and:
[*]Can our children be Jewish if my wife does not convert? [/*]
[*] Can our children be Jewish if my wife does not convert? [/*]
[*] What does a conversion require?[/*]
[*]How can we respect both our religions if we decide to have Judaism as the “lead religion”? [/*]
[*]How can we approach our parents to help us with these dilemmas? [/*]
[*]Can our children go to Hebrew school if they are not converted at birth?[/*][/list][/*][/list]
then our discussion group is for you. You do not need to find the answers to the challenges of being part of an interfaith couple alone.
For 16 years, Dr. Marion Usher has offered a four-session workshop at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center that has been a model to guide couples in openly discussing issues they face as partners from two different backgrounds. The workshop offers you a safe environment to work on creating your religious lives together. You can make Jewish choices while still respecting your partner’s religion.
InterfaithFamily.com is now pleased to pilot the Love and Religion workshop, facilitated by Dr. Usher herself, using an online video conferencing system. Love and Religion – Online meets each Wednesday for four weeks, October 20 and 27 and November 3 and 10, from 7:30 to 9:00pm eastern time. The cost is $36 per couple.
To register for the workshop and for more details, click here. I hope you will want to participate in this pioneering, pilot effort. If it is successful, we’ll offer the online discussion group many more times.
The other day I blogged about an article about intermarriage that got a lot of recent attention. Three Jewish women’s non-Jewish husbands didn’t participate in raising their children Jewish. I said it was a sad story, but not typical.
Another article about intermarriage, this one in the Huffington Post, also elicited a lot of comment recently: Interfaith Families: Can You Be Jewish and Christian at the Same Time, by Kate Fridkis. I won’t say this one is sad, but again, it’s not typical, and it’s problematic.
The article starts off with the provocative question, “Can someone identify as a Jew and a Christian simultaneously?” and says that people involved with The Interfaith Community
I know and respect Sheila Gordon, the founder of The Interfaith Community, as a serious and well-intentioned person. Sheila persuaded me years ago to list the IFC on InterfaithFamily.com’s Network, even though the Network is primarily meant to connect interfaith families with welcoming Jewish organizations, by contending that the Jewish identity of the Jewish partners was strengthened by their involvement with IFC.
After that InterfaithFamily.com still didn’t want to have much to do with IFC, although our thinking has evolved. We now would be happy to present, to people who gravitate to the IFC’s approach, the Jewish perspective and the model of interfaith families choosing Jewish identity for their children while learning about and respecting the other religious tradition in the family.
I’m sure that there are some number of interfaith couples for whom the IFC’s approach resonates. At IFF we would not presume to pass judgment on them or suggest they were making a mistake. But educating children in both traditions is not the approach we recommend.
Fridkis writes that “a growing number of people are unwilling to give up their religious tradition just because their partner has a different one.” I question whether she has any data to back up that statement. She may be right that there is a trend in that direction – but I hope she isn’t.
I also question what “giving up a religious tradition” means in this context. When IFF does holiday surveys, for example, we consistently find that high percentages of couples who are raising their children as Jews participate in Christmas and Easter celebrations, but not as religious holidays involving affirmation of the divinity of Jesus. Have the parents who are not Jewish in those families “given up their religious traditions”? Other than the theological beliefs – no.
I don’t like the imagined conversation Fridkis scripts in her article. She suggests that most interfaith couples are not observant “so maybe they can just flip a coin” and has the partner who is not Jewish describe Easter as “the most bored I’ve been in my life” and the partner who is Jewish saying “I eat bagels and lox ALL the time, though.” This depiction remains demeaning of interfaith couples even after Fridkis says “OK, so maybe people don’t really talk like that.” I hate to come off as humorless, but it isn’t funny.
The serious point Fridkis makes is the argument that educating children in both traditions allows for “more in-depth future exploration” and leaves them “better prepared to make their own choices.” Here is the brief counter to that: I once heard a young adult woman express the great sadness she felt when her parents left her to pick a religious identity and community – she felt like she was choosing between, not her mother and her father, but between her two grandmothers. And there are numerous personal narratives and “expert” opinions on InterfaithFamily.com to the effect that being grounded in one religious identity and feeling part of one religious community is important for children and young adults.
What motivates the Board and staff of InterfaithFamily.com is the firm belief that engaging in Jewish life can be a source of profound meaning and value for interfaith couples and their children. It’s a shame that Jewish leaders and institutions have neither presented Jewish life in compelling ways nor genuinely welcomed interfaith couples to engage in it. If that were to happen more of the folks who are attracted to the idea of “doing both” might decide that the identity of their family and their children is Jewish while one parent’s is not, and that the non-theological traditions of that parent can still be part of the family’s life.
A recent article in Tablet Magazine has elicited a lot of comment:
Cohen’s article is very sad. Three Jewish women meet for Shabbat dinner with their young children. Their non-Jewish husbands don’t participate. Turns out that each keeps her Judaica hidden away in a drawer, a box, a cabinet. Turns out they don’t discuss or mention Jewish topics with their significant others. The “cancellation [of Judaism] through silence and storage.” A grim picture.
But wait – all of their children are “enrolled in the same Jewish day school. Their Hebrew is impeccable. Their understanding of Torah … is profound for grade-schoolers. And it was they who led our Shabbat, singing prayers aloud, blessings as second nature as those their grandparents uttered.”
For me, this article doesn’t hang together. Sending children to Jewish day school is an expensive and serious commitment to Jewish life. Some of the comments on the article also question whether there are other issues in the relationships or the personalities of the author and her friends.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned at InterfaithFamily.com, it’s that every family is different, but there are patterns. I’m sure there are families where the partners who are not Jewish don’t participate in the Jewish life of their partner and children. From my point of view that is an unfortunate situation. But I wouldn’t want this article to be taken for more than it is, as representative of intermarriage in general. Some of the comments on the article would do just that – one suggests that the article be required reading in every Hillel. As Cohen herself recognizes, “It isn’t always like this, of course. There are plenty of mixed marriages where the spouse gets involved, shares the traditions, looks on with something like admiration, maybe even converts.”
I read the blog On the Main Line, even though I can never figure out how to justify it. It’s not like this Jewish history blogger who posts such diverse reproductions of primary sources is ever going to cover interfaith marriage, right? Most of my Jewish blogs eventually have posts I can use on this one.
The whole blog is a repository for nifty stuff. The blogger, who uses an alias, has an admirably omnivorous mind and must know some crazy number of languages. If you don’t know much Jewish history and can’t place any of the primary sources in context, it might be overwhelming.
But if you took a course like Me’ah, an adult ed program in Jewish history that started here in Boston and has been replicated in other cities, you might be ready to dive into some of these posts.
Anyway, check out the blog, because it’s cool even if not to all of our readers’ tastes. A piece like Where did Chad Gadya Come From Anyway?, discussing a famous song from the Passover seder, might be just your speed. If you’ve seen anything Jewish on the web that you think we should be linking for interfaith families because it’s cool, let me know.
Julia Gutman wrote two articles about her intercultural relationship for InterfaithFamily.com, Does OK Really Mean OK? and Momo and Matzoh: Our Tibetan-Jewish Marriage. She sent me a press release that begins:
I spoke with Julia on the phone. First she explained: Lhakpa is her husband! She said she was surprised at how supportive her Russian Jewish relatives were of his quest to publicize the plight of Tibetans. They saw a parallel between his people’s situation and what had happened to their families in the Second World War.
This is a good interfaith story for Passover, when Jews celebrate emerging from slavery to freedom. In this case, the 40 years in the desert are going to be eight months on a motorcycle.