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Todayâs Statement on Jewish Vitality, advocating strategic responses to respond to the challenges of the Jewish future, is extremely disheartening for what it says and what it doesnât say about interfaith families.
Twenty-five years after continuity efforts began, it is still the case that most of our Jewish thought leaders, exemplified by those who signed on to the Statement, still think that intermarriage is bad, still think that conversion is the âanswerâ to the intermarriage âproblem,â and still oppose programmatic efforts to engage interfaith families.
The Statement says that many children of non-Orthodox Jews will not identify as Jewish when they grow up âowing to intermarriage,â even though the Pew Report found increasing numbers of children of intermarried parents identifying as Jews and even though âowing toâ sounds a lot like saying that intermarriage causes children to not be raised as Jews but all of the surveys show correlation at best and not causation.
The Statement touts Jewish education programs, PJ Library, camps, trips to Israel, youth groups, etc. because they raise the in-marriage rate, instead of because they are critically important for and successful at strengthening Jewish engagement.
Yes, the Statement acknowledges that large numbers of Jews will intermarry, but immediately says âwe must bear in mind that intermarriages can be transformed to in-marriages by the act of conversionâ and advocates for more conversion-oriented courses.
If Jewish leaders wanted to drive away from Jewish engagement the 71% of non-Orthodox Jews who intermarried since 2000, and the majority of college-age Jews who have one Jewish parent, they couldnât do so more effectively than by espousing the response to intermarriage expressed in the Statement. Interfaith couples do not want to participate in a community that describes their relationships as something to be prevented, let alone tells one partner that theyâre welcome if they convert but not as they are.
This fundamental distaste for intermarriage is manifested by the complete absence of any support in the Statement for programs that are targeted expressly at recruiting, attracting and embracing interfaith families. Sure, itâs OK with these leaders if the children of intermarried parents participate in their immersive programs â but G-d forbid that the community do anything that explicitly states, and demonstrates with programmatic responses, that Jews want interfaith families to engage in Jewish life and community.
All of the programmatic steps outlined in the Statement are important and should be supported. But if they are marketed as leading to in-marriage and conversion, and if they are not accompanied by programs for interfaith families, they will amount to just circling the wagons around a continuing diminishing group.
Fortunately, there are other Jewish thought leaders who recognize the importance of efforts to engage interfaith families. Iâm thinking of the Genesis Prize Fund which boldly chose to honor Michael Douglas, and now in partnership with the Jewish Funders Network is offering a matching grant initiative âto encourage the creation of a culture of welcoming and acceptance within the Jewish community of intermarried couples, their families, and individuals who come from these families [and] to energize and strengthen organizations working in this field and to encourage the creation of new programs in that area.â
Iâm thinking of federations and family foundations and community foundations in Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington DC who provide support for InterfaithFamily/Your Community projects in each of those cities, where a full-time rabbi and a project manager build trusted advisor relationships with interfaith couples and families (including by helping them find officiants for life cycle events) and offer a range of Jewish learning and community building experiences for young couples seeking help deciding what to do about religious traditions in their lives and young interfaith families seeking help raising their children with Judaism.
It would have been so smart for the signatories of the Statement to eliminate their anti-intermarriage tone and to include programs for interfaith families among their list of efforts deserving support. I long for the day when the more enlightened view becomes predominant. Because if Jews and Jewish leaders canât overcome fundamental deep-seated antipathy toward intermarriage, weâre going to see not vitality, but decline.
In March Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, a Conservative rabbi at Ansche Chesed in Manhattan, explaining “Why I Will Not Simply Accept Intermarriage,” wrote for the Forward that âCelebrating interfaith weddingsâŚ [would] diminish a sacred covenantal tradition, and risk making liberal Judaism into a jumble of traditional gestures that might please individuals but demand nothing from them.â I wrote a letter to the editor which appeared in the March 20 print issue of the Forward (it’s not on the Forwardâs website):
Today another Conservative rabbi, Michael Knopf from Temple Beth-El in Richmond VA, had a very important response published in Haâaretz, “Getting over intermarriage: Judaismâs guide to finding the right partner.” Rabbi Knopf says that âJewish leadersâ obsession with discussing intermarriage through the prism of permissibility risks trivializing Judaism as a religion of policies, rather than as a fountain of relevant and enduring wisdom and values.â Stating that Jewish tradition has much wisdom to offer about finding a partner that is just as relevant to those who intermarry, he says âWhat if, instead of trying to finger-wag Jews into endogamous relationships, we offered compassionate and nonjudgmental support to people, drawing from the riches of our tradition, as they seek to couple?â Among his many refreshing comments are, âJudaism teaches that marrying Jewish is not a guarantee of a successful relationshipâ and âpeople of different backgrounds can be oriented to faith in harmonious waysâ and âtwo people of different backgrounds can sharpen each other in myriad ways.â Rabbi Knopf concludes,
We applaud Rabbi Knopfâs novel approach and the welcoming attitude he expresses. But what happens when interfaith couples are brought closer to Judaism, specifically to Conservative synagogues? In March, Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexington, MA, wrote a blot post for The Times of Israel describing a New Conservative/Masorti ceremony for interfaith couples, which is described in greater length on the website of the Rabbinical Assembly (the association of Conservative rabbis).
Rabbi Lerner was a co-chair of the Rabbinical Assemblyâs Commission on Keruv (Outreach), Conversion, and Jewish Peoplehood and he concentrated on creating a ceremony to welcome interfaith couples, âa ritual through which a couple could celebrate their love and the Jewish choices they were making, while including family and friendsâŚ within our understanding of halakhah (Jewish law).â The core of the Hanukkat Habayit ceremony is putting up a mezuzah; the ceremony is described at length in the blog post and on the RA website and it does appear to offer a lovely and meaningful ritual and celebrate the Jewish choices the couple has made. It also comes with a three- to six-month learning period with the rabbi before the ceremony and continuing conversations with the rabbi afterwards, all aimed as supporting the coupleâs Jewish growth.
We applaud this effort to support and recognize interfaith couples who make Jewish choices in a Conservative context, but itâs important to note that very clear Jewish choices are required for the ceremony: It is âfor interfaith couples who have decided to build an exclusively Jewish home and family together;â âif the mother is not Jewish, the children would undergo a halakhic conversion;â âThere should also be the clear expectation that non-Jewish symbols and observances would not be a part of the coupleâs home, such as a Christmas tree.â Many interfaith couples who might want to make Jewish choices in a Conservative context may note be quite as far along in terms of their decision making as is required for the ceremony. And there is continuing tension with those coming from the perspective of tradition â as Rabbi Lerner says, âsomeâ in the movement may be uncomfortable with the ceremony, even with its requirements, âas we seek to straddle the space between our tradition and keruv.â
This will surely be a continuing discussion worth following.
Steven M. Cohen and Rabbi Joy Levitt have written an extremely important op-ed for JTA: “If You Marry a Jew, Youâre One of Us.” For the past 14 years, we at InterfaithFamily have been advocating for Jews to welcome, embrace and fully include interfaith couples and families into Jewish life and community. We have always maintained that the attitudes Jews have toward intermarriage need to change from negative or ambivalent, to seeing the potential for positive Jewish engagement by interfaith families.
It is wonderfully affirming to now hear Jewish leaders like Levitt, the brilliantly successful director of the JCC in Manhattan, and Cohen â until recently one of the most vociferous critics of intermarriage â espouse the same views.
The crux of their essay (I am quoting what I feel are the most important points):
We know that where both parents identify as Jews, nearly all their children identify as Jews as well. And when only one parent sees himself/herself as Jewish, only a minority of their children grow up as Jews. Aside from raising the inmarriage rate, how can we create more households where both partners see themselves as part of the Jewish people?
One answer is for all of us to change the way we think of, and treat, those who love and marry our children, family members and friends. Basically we should agree and fully internalize the idea: If you marry a Jew, youâre fully part of our community until proven otherwise.
Born Jews would undergo a subtle but critical shift in the way they relate to family members and friends not born Jewish. It would mean fully including them in holiday practices, life-cycle ceremonies, and Jewishly centered social action and political activities.
[F]or those who choose to be part of our community without formal conversion â who come to the Passover seder and drive their children to Hebrew school, who sit shiva with us, or who bring their sons into the community at a brit milah, who shep naches at their daughtersâ bat mitzvah and who go to Israel on vacation â we say welcome. Itâs a pleasure to know you. Come learn. Youâre one of us if you want to be.
We couldnât have said it better ourselves.
March 31, 2015 is a big day in my life and the life of InterfaithFamily, the organization I founded in 2001 and have led for the last fourteen years: Jodi Bromberg, IFFâs President for the last year and a half, will become CEO, and I will transition to a new Founder role.
I hasten to add that I am not retiring and will continue to work for IFF. I will be focusing primarily on certain fundraising relationships and IFFâs advocacy work, subject to Jodiâs direction. My passion for engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community is unabated, and there is much work to do.
But I wonât be the person in charge.
This transition is a milestone in a carefully thought out plan developed over the past three years with InterfaithFamilyâs Board of Directors. Â In 2012, spurred largely by the rapid growth of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community model (see more below), I told our Board that while I wanted to continue to work with IFF, it was time for new leadership and to find a successor to be in charge of the organization. After an extensive search, we found Jodi to be the perfect combination of passion for the issue, and great leadership and interpersonal skills. Our expectation was that Jodi would learn about and take on responsibility for our operations and fundraising activities over a period of up to two years, and if successful in that interim period would be elected CEO by the Board. Jodi has done so well that last October, after only a year as IFFâs President, Jodi and I proposed that she become CEO on March 31, and the Board enthusiastically agreed.
We are well aware that the accepted business school and consultant wisdom is that founders of non profit organizations should âget outâ when successor CEOs take over. Itâs called the âgraceful exitâ strategy. We are following a minority view, whatâs called the âmutual successâ strategy, based on successful cases of founders staying on and working productively under the direction of their successors.
Many people say that I should be very proud of what InterfaithFamily has accomplished in the last fourteen years. When we started in 2002 it was me and a half-time editor, Ronnie Friedland, with a budget of about $200,000. Fast forward to 2015, and we have 24 on staff and three open positions, with a 2015 budget of $3.2 million.
IFF started as a web-based resource. We expanded organically in response to âcustomerâ demand, from personal narratives of people in interfaith relationships, to how-to-do-Jewish resources, listings of welcoming Jewish organizations and professionals, our Jewish clergy officiation referral service, and advocacy writing. By 2008, we had 282,000 unique visitors to the site.
I always felt that local services and programs for interfaith families were badly needed, and always thought about InterfaithFamily filling that void. In 2008 and 2009, our then Board chair Mamie Kanfer Stewart and I spent a lot of time working with a group of Jewish family foundations who were developing a plan to âchange the paradigmâ on intermarriage to the positive. That funder group said that three things were needed: a âworld classâ website, training of Jewish leaders to be welcoming, and a range of local services and programs. Because of Madoff and a downturn in the economy, their plan was never funded. But it laid out a road map that I was determined to follow.
The original plan was to run IFF/Chicago as a pilot for two years, refine it, and then seek to expand to other communities. But when Jeff Zlot, a lay leader in San Francisco, heard about the pilot, he said, âI want that in the Bay Area.â Coincidentally, the leaders of InterFaithways, a Philadelphia non profit founded by one of my heroes, Leonard Wasserman, expressed interest in merging with IFF. As a result, by mid 2012, I was waking up in the middle of every night with my mind racing with details of the Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia projects. That was the point I decided that we needed someone other than me, someone much better suited to manage a rapidly growing organization, to be our CEO.
Since Jodi joined IFF in October 2013 we have continued to expand, opening IFF/Boston in 2013, an affiliate relationship with Cleveland in 2014, IFF/Los Angeles in 2014, and securing funding to open IFF/Atlanta by mid-2015; another major city federation told us just this week that they expect to fund our next IFF/Your Community starting this year. We have a strategic plan to be in nine communities by the end of 2016. My personal hope for the organization is to be in twenty communities over the next five years.
I believe that the InterfaithFamily/Your Community model is the single best available opportunity the liberal Jewish community has to engage significant numbers of interfaith families in Jewish life and community. No one else is offering or proposing to offer anything that compares to our synergistic, national and local, top-down bottom-up approach of national web-based and training resources, and a comprehensive range of services and programs on the ground in local communities.
We are executing well on our very ambitious offerings â traffic to our website grew by 30% in 2014 to over 864,000 unique visitors, and if we grow at half that rate we will reach 1 million visitors in 2015. We have developed a resources and training capability that can now help organizations all over the country be more welcoming, and we are demonstrating impact in our local communities, with thousands of interfaith couples becoming aware of what is available to them in their local Jewish community, building trusted relationships with our staff, and engaging in Jewish learning experiences that build community with other Jewishly-engaged interfaith families. Because of what we do, thousands of young Jews with one Jewish parent are engaging in camps, youth groups, Israel trips and other Jewish learning experiences.
I am highly confident that Jodi Bromberg will lead IFF on this path of continued growth. She has a wonderful way of working with people and working through process that is not my strong suit (to put it mildly). She understands the need to put mechanisms and procedures in place so that the high level of activity and expansion can be controlled and managed well (I would tend to want to do everything myself). She has her own compelling personal story underlying her passion for our cause. IFFâs future will be very bright with Jodi in charge. I look forward to continuing to contribute as best I can.
I have a very long list of people to thank for their part in making InterfaithFamilyâs success and growth possible. Iâm looking forward to doing that on October 22, when IFF is having an Afternoon of Learning and a reception at which I will be honored, along with another of my heroes, CJP President Barry Shrage. But I would be remiss not to mention Heather Martin, IFFâs Chief Operating Officer, who has put up with me since 2004. Whatever I went out and promised to funders and partners, Heather always made it happen. It would not be an overstatement to say that none of IFFâs growth would have been possible without her involvement. Fortunately, Heather and Jodi have developed a great relationship, making me even more optimistic about IFFâs future.
Have you or a loved one ever had the experience of overhearing or being told something point blank that was anti-Semitic because the speaker didn’t think they were in the company of someone Jewish? Michael Douglas did.
Raised without formal Jewish religion by father Kirk Douglas (Jewish) and his mother Diana (not Jewish), Douglas began to connect with his Jewish heritage as an adult, after his son Dylan began connecting with Judaism through his friends.
“While some Jews believe that not having a Jewish mother makes me not Jewish, I have learned the hard way that those who hate do not make such fine distinctions,” wrote Douglas, who recounted his first experience with anti-Semitism (in high school during a conversation with a friend who did not know he had a Jewish background) in a recent op-ed in the LA Times.
Unfortunately, his son Dylan also learned the hard way through an unprovoked encounter while on vacation in Southern Europe. Dylan was wearing a Star of David, which his father realized must have been the trigger for the encounter.
After defending his son, Douglas decided to use the power of his voice to speak out on a broaderÂ platform. “Anti-Semitism, I’ve seen, is like a disease that goes dormant, flaring up with the next political trigger,” he wrote. Simply put: “It is time for each of us to speak up against this hate.”
We’re glad to see that Douglas is inspired byÂ the honor of this year’s Genesis Prize to take a leadership role in the Jewish community and to make his voice heard. He appeals to all of us to challenge ourselves to stand up to anti-Semitism.Â “Because if we confront anti-Semitism whenever we see it, if we combat it individually and as a society, and use whatever platform we have to denounce it, we can stop the spread of this madness.”
In Downton Abbey, Lord Sinderby is the disapproving Jewish father who opposes his sonâs interfaith marriage to Rose. In Lord Sinderbyâs time, there were virtually no opportunities for interfaith families to engage in Jewish life, unless Rose were to convert.
Fortunately, we donât live in that time anymore. Today, many interfaith families can live active Jewish lives â and many do. The Reform and Reconstructionist movements consider children to be Jewish if there is one Jewish parent (regardless of whether it is the mother or father) and they are raised as Jews. They can be married by a rabbi and join a synagogue.
While Jane Eisner defends Lord Sinderby (âDefending Lord Sinderby,â The Forward, March 1, 2015), I cannot. Too many Jewish professionals and communities still think that Jews are âthrowing it all awayâ, to paraphrase Lord Sinderbyâs words, when they marry someone who isnât Jewish. With a different approach, however, we can see interfaith relationships as an opportunity to invite more people in to the Jewish community. Rose, although naĂŻve, is already eager to learn about the faith. And wouldnât it be beneficial to have Lord Grantham as an ally?
I do agree with Eisner on a few points, though. We do need to ask the difficult questions, not only of interfaith families, but also of Jewish institutions. If we want to ask the spouse who wasnât raised Jewish âto commit to doing her part to carry on a precious tradition,â as Eisner says, then canât we ask Jewish institutions to welcome them and provide opportunities for learning and community?
What would happen if we shifted the focus from who someone marries to helping all families â interfaith and in-married â find their place in the Jewish community? I bet we would see a myriad of beautiful Jewish traditions being passed on to the next generation. That points to a bright Jewish future indeed.
Contact:Â Liz Polay-Wettengel, National Director of Marketing and Communications
INTERFAITHFAMILY RECEIVES $250,000 GRANT FROM THE JEWISH COMMUNITY FOUNDATION OF
(Newton, MA)âInterfaithFamily is honored to be the recipient of a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. The grant of $250,000 over three years enables InterfaithFamily to start a new project, InterfaithFamily/Los Angeles, to coordinate and provide a range of services and programs aimed at engaging local interfaith families Jewishly.
âWe are delighted to support this innovative program connecting families to resources that will enable them to incorporate Jewish traditions and engage in Jewish life,â said Marvin Schotland, President and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation.
âWe believe the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative is the single best opportunity we have to engage significant numbers of interfaith families in Jewish life and community,â said Lynda Schwartz, IFF Board Chair. âInterfaithFamily/Los Angeles will be a âcrown jewelâ in our growing network of local communities working on this most important issue for the Jewish future. We are deeply grateful to the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles for making this possible.â
About The Foundation
The Chancellor of the Conservative Movementâs Jewish Theological Seminary wrote a recent article which appeared in the Wall Street Journal titled âWanted: Converts to Judaism.â In the article, Eisen writes, âI am asking the rabbis of the Conservative movement to use every means to explicitly and strongly advocate for conversion, bringing potential converts close and actively making the case for them to commit to Judaism. I am asking Jewish leaders to provide the funding needed for programs, courses and initiatives that will place conversion at the center of Jewish consciousness and the community’s agenda.â
I can just see it now: When you enter a Conservative synagogue, there will be billboards that will say, âHave you considered conversion to Judaism?â Partners who are not Jewish but are part of a Jewish family and raising children with Judaism may want to run the other way or hide for fear of being encouraged to convert when they have not expressed a desire or openness to do so.
Today I spoke with someone whose husband describes himself as âJew-ish.â He has no other faith or religion in his life today in his mind or heart or soul. He is raising a Jewish son and is enjoying the journey immensely. He leaves work early each month for a family Shabbat experience at our local JCC. He already dreams about his sonâs bar mitzvah. He does not want to convert at the present time. He feels that it would hurt his family to become a different religion. He feels it is too much of a break from his family of origin and too drastic. He loved his upbringing and feels close to his extended family and this seems like it would cause unnecessary pain to them.
Instead of using âevery means to explicitly and strongly advocate for conversion,â why not explicitly and strongly say that when an interfaith family joins a congregation, then the partner who isnât Jewish has become a âmember of the community.â Being a âmember of the communityâ would be a status granted because this person is making a statement that the majority of American Jews are not making any more. That statement is that Judaism is best lived in community and that for the community to exist we need structures that can house and support learning, worship, life cycle events, pastoral care and social justice work. When an interfaith family joins a congregation, the surveys indicate they behave similarly to in-married families.Â The synagogue is a vehicle for Jewish behavior and Jewish continuity.
When someone becomes a âmember,â he or she will hopefully be enticed to want more learning and may even want the spiritual experience that most liberal Jews have not enjoyed of immersing in a mikveh. I would encourage any liberal Jew to immerse in a mikveh when they as adults have chosen Judaism by supporting a congregation or raising children with Judaism.
Joining a congregation can be a prohibitive financial pursuit and thus there are people who want to join who canât. Our money should be going to creating different synagogue financial structures, not toward funding programs aimed at conversion. This looks at people in only two categoriesâJewish or not Jewish. The statement Eisen is making is that we want all those in our community to be âJews.â This doesnât take into account that for a partner who is not Jewish to join a congregation, it means that they are more than ânot Jewish.â And they donât need to be changed in order to live as Jews and to enrich the Jewish community.
I just read your article in the Wall Street Journal, Wanted: Converts to Judaism, in which you advocate for âthe rabbis of the Conservative movement to use every means to explicitly and strongly advocate for conversion.âÂ Considering that you are the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of the Conservative Movement, your words carry great weight.Â And because of this, I am asking you to reconsider your position.
I of course agree with you that there is much beauty and deep meaning in living a Jewish life.Â I am overjoyed when someone comes to me and says that she has decided to pursue the path toward conversionâwhether it is because she has lived with a Jewish partner and raised Jewish children and now wholeheartedly desires to become a Jew; she has fallen in love with a Jewish person and thinks that living as a Jew could elevate her own life; or because, independent of any personal relationships, she has found Judaism and has come to believe that she is meant to be a Jew.
It is incumbent upon those of us who are rabbis as well as all people and institutions that are committed to Jewish continuity that we let all people, and especially those family members in our midst who are not Jewish, know that they are always welcome to become Jewish if that is what their soul desires, and that our doors are open wide.Â As a rabbi, there are few things I have done that are more rewarding than accompanying someone on their journey to becoming a Jew. Conversion, when done for the right reasons, is a blessing for the new Jew as well as for the Jewish community.Â But conversion isnât the only option, and it isnât always the right option.Â And while I am sure you in no way intended this, I greatly worry that by advocating for conversion, the Jewish community will give the impression that any conversion is OK, even without the sincerity of conviction and belief that a genuine conversion would require.
I agree with you that we should ensure that âopportunities for serious adult study of Judaism and active participation in Jewish lifeâ are always available.Â Over the years, I have seen many family members who are not Jewish take Jewish learning very seriously, and I have seen such family members actively participating in Jewish communal life. Â I am sure you have witnessed this as well. Sometimes family members who are not Jewish decide over time to become Jewish themselves (often before a significant life-cycle event, such as a childâs Bar or Bat Mitzvah).Â Others choose not to become Jewish but to remain part of the community.Â Their reasons for not becoming Jewish are as diverse as individuals themselves â including the fact that they may believe in and practice another religion; they may not want to convert out of respect for their own parents or other family members; or they may simply not believe in God, thus feeling that conversion to any religion would be insincere.
While I believe that family members who are not Jewish should always know that they are welcome to explore becoming Jewish and that we would be honored to have them as converts if this is what they truly want and believe, I worry that ifÂ âJewish institutions and their rabbisâŚactively encourage non-Jewish family members in our midst to take the next step and formally commit to conversion,â as you suggest we do, we will not only encourage conversions for the wrong reasons, but that we will also be putting undue pressure on family members who are not Jewish.Â Rather than bringing them into the fold, as you desire, I fear that we could turn them away.
Instead, I think we need to send the message that we welcome family members who are not Jewish as part of our community just as they are (rather than trying to turn them into what we want them to be).Â Rather than âexplicitly and strongly advocat[ing] for conversionâ as you suggest, I believe that we should let family members who are not Jewish know that we would be honored to help them become Jewish if that is what they wish for themselves, and we would be equally honored if they do not convert but make the commitment to raise their children as Jews.Â What we really need to do is to ensure that resources are available for parents who did not grow up Jewish (as well as those who did grow up Jewish) to raise their children with Judaism in their lives, whether or not they themselves convert.
Toward the end of your article, you make reference to the biblical character Ruth, the âmost-famous convert in Jewish tradition.âÂ While we often refer to Ruth as a âconvert,â using such a term is anachronistic, since âconversionâ as we now know it did not exist in Biblical times.Â But, more important, as I point out in my blog Re-reading Ruth: Not âRuth and Her Conversionâ but âRuth and Her Interfaith Marriage,â we cannot ignore the timing of Ruthâs conversion.Â As I noted in my blog, by the time Ruth made her famous declaration of commitment to her mother-in-law Naomi and to the people and God of Israel, Ruthâs Israelite husband, Noamiâs son Machlon, was already deceased.Â This was already after Ruthâs marriageânot before it.
Ruth may have found, as you point out, âcommunity, meaning and direction by entering deeply into her new identity,â but this didnât happen because Naomi or anyone else in her family encouraged Ruth or advocated for her to take on a new identity.Â In fact, the Book of Ruth explicitly informs us that after Machlon had died and Naomi was leaving Ruthâs homeland of Moab to return to Bethlehem, Naomi repeatedly urged Ruth to âturn backâ (Ruth 1:11-15) rather than accompany Naomi on her journey.Â Ruth uttered the words âWherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my GodÂ (Ruth 1:16) not because Naomi âactively encouraged herâ but because Naomi had already accepted her for so many years for who she wasâa Moabite, an âoutsider,â that was married to her son.Â It was because of Naomiâs unconditional love for Ruth that Ruth linked her future with that of Naomi, her people and her Godâand ultimately went on to become the great-grandmother of King David.
Chancellor Eisen, you note in the first paragraph of your article that âJudaism needs more Jews.âÂ I agree with you that the high rate of intermarriageÂ âpresents the Jewish communityâŚperhaps, with a unique opportunity.âÂ But where we disagree is on what that opportunity is.Â In my view, the opportunity we have is not to necessarily convince those who are married to Jews to convert.Â Instead, like Naomi, we can help to ensure our Jewish âtomorrowsâ by unconditionally welcoming spouses and partners of Jews into our Jewish community and making it as easy and meaningful as possible for them to raise Jewish children.
Rabbi Robyn Frisch
Like everyone in the Jewish world, we at InterfaithFamily are deeply concerned about recent developments in Israel.
IFF does not take positions on the Israel-Palestinian issue, what the Israeli government or the Palestinian authorities should or shouldn’t do. We have staff and stakeholders who represent different views on this highly charged topic.
We do feel strongly, however, that exposure to Israel is a very positive experience for people in interfaith relationships. We have always encouraged content representing Israel in a positive and welcoming light, whether it is a story about a Birthright Israel participant who has one Jewish parent, or a story about an intermarried parent taking his family to Israel. These types of stories have always had a home at InterfaithFamily.
This December InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia is sponsoring a trip to Israel for interfaith families. We believe this trip will be an incredible experience for our participants. We are also in the process of exploring our role in the efforts to send newly married interfaith couples to Israel on a wider scale in the future.
We also feel strongly that Israel is threatened by negative opinion and vilification around the world, and that it is important to express support for Israel and for efforts to peacefully resolve conflict there. We are hopeful that steps will be taken in that direction speedily. Our hearts and minds are with our friends in Israel who are currently dealing with violence at this time.