Intermarriage in Egypt, Moms, Etc.

Consider this a belated cleaning of online hametz:

Slate on the Intermarriage Debate

Lock and load

The prolific Shmuel Rosner gives Slate an overview of the latest exchanges of fire in the Jewish intermarriage wars. It’s nothing earth-shattering, covering studies that have been reported on elsewhere, but the opening anecdote nearly made my head explode. Rosner relays the story of a 30-something Jewish woman married to a Catholic man who walks into a Maryland synagogue:

Maybe, she asked the executive director of this temple, you have a Seder to which I can come with the kids, so that they’ll have a first positive exposure to Judaism?

But the executive director gave her advice she didn’t expect: If this is your children’s first encounter with Judaism, don’t start by bringing them to a Seder. It is long, can be boring at times, and requires a lot of reading. Better start their schooling in Judaism with a lighter practice.

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Inside Baseball

search for hametz--with Google!My five-year-old son is very subtle. The morning after our Havurah Purim party, my son told me, “You know, not everyone knows what a Purimspiel is.”

“But you do, honey, because we saw one last night. It was the play people were acting out, about Queen Esther.”

He nodded. “But not everyone knows what that is.”

Sometimes my son will start using words correctly and then ask me later what they mean. I’m always sliding new words by him and finding out that he’s picked them up when he hands his dad a board book of the Noah’s Ark story with the request, “Read me the abridged version.” My big challenge is to introduce the words in such a way that he gobbles them up like a little Pac-Man and doesn’t shut off his attention.

This is also my challenge at my job. The difference is that I am writing here for adults who are, generally speaking, highly educated. Continue reading

More Sweet Stuff

I like any opportunity to show how Jewish culture can be integrated with other cultures and make a beautiful hybrid. I don’t know what culture should take responsibility for marshmallow Peeps, but I think you’ll join me in enjoying Peeps for Passover. Yes! The 10 Plagues, acted out by PEEPS! (No, no, Peeps are not kosher for Passover–for most kashrut authorities, they aren’t kosher at all, being made with gelatin–but Peeps as an artistic medium is clearly an idea whose time has come.) Ooh, there’s also a photo Moses Parting the Red Sea–of Peeps. We are living in some interesting times!

Jenn Forman Orth, Jelly Fruit Slices

Let me know if you figure out anything visually clever to do with the Passover fruit slice candy. (They are

my five-year-old’s favorite candy, so probably we’re just going to eat them–though I was thinking about how awesome they could look in a bento-style kosher-for-Passover preschool lunchbox.) Jenn Forman Orth, who posted this photo on Flickr, says she doesn’t like them. (Is it bad that I hope you start debating the aesthetics of Easter and Passover candy in the comments?)

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IFF in New York Times

easterbunny200.jpg

I was going to write about some other things today–namely, a new JTA article on the conversion of patrilineal Jews–but when your organization gets mentioned in the New York Times, everything else becomes a second priority.

Sam Freedman, author of Jew vs. Jew, wrote a column about an interfaith couple where both partners are committed to their religion, and the difficulties they face during Passover and Easter. Freedman argues, not entirely convincingly, that for religious couples, the Passover-Easter conflict is greater than the “December Dilemma”:

The religious aspects of Christmas and Hanukkah were long ago buried under commercialism and seasonal festivity. Passover and Easter remain deeply theological in ways that underscore both the nearness and distance between Judaism and Christianity.

On the one hand, Jesus came into Jerusalem for Passover, and the Last Supper with the disciples was a seder; the wafer in communion harks back to the Jewish holiday’s matzo. On the other hand, beyond celebrating Jesus’ divinity, Easter has historically been the occasion for anti-Semitic passion plays and pogroms, motivated by the belief that the Jews killed Jesus.

It’s a good theory, but I have a hard time imagining any more than a few interfaith couples find the Passover-Easter conflict more significant than the Christmas-Hanukkah conflict. Easter may be more religiously significant than Christmas, but Christmas is still the second most important day on the Christian calendar. Hanukkah may not be a major Jewish holiday, but religious Jews celebrate it just as much as secular Jews. Moreover, religious Jews are more acutely aware of the real message of Hanukkah, which celebrates a small band of ideologues who rejected the assimilation of their Jewish countrymen. Passover, at least, provides a more welcoming space for the non-Jewish guest. And religious or not, no couple can get around the month-long onslaught of Christmas-related media that comes out in December. There is no comparable “season” surrounding Passover and Easter. Nonetheless, Passover and Easter can prove a time for conflict and negotiation, as our recent survey revealed.

The Link Sink

kitchen sink

I know you’re supposed to clean house before Passover, but here are some interesting links that have piled up in the last week or two:

  • Tamara Podemski is an unknown in the U.S. but she’s starred on a handful of Canadian TV shows and recorded three albums. Her father is Israeli and her mother is Ojibwa (a native Canadian tribe). She proudly refers to herself as a “fully functional half-breed,” and appears to take great pride in her mixed heritage–which, incidentally, produced a gorgeous woman. For more on here, read this profile in the Canadian Jewish News.
  • An educational publisher agreed to withdraw and destroy the remaining copies of a reference book on Israel after a major Orthodox organization objected to the book’s characterization of Orthodox Jews, according to The (New York) Jewish Week. Agudath Israel of America was upset over a passage in the book that said that “some ultra-Orthodox Jews” want to limit Israel’s Law of Return to exclude Reform and Conservative Jews because “they are not really at all because they are not strict in their observance of all the religious laws.” There’s no question the passage is wrong, but it contains a kernel of truth. It is not uncommon for ultra-Orthodox Jews to ridicule and denigrate more progressive streams of Judaism, especially Reform, because they doesn’t fit their strict definitions of what Judaism is. It also taps into the larger issue over conversions and the fact that Israel’s acceptance of converted Jews is hamstrung by bureaucracy, corruption and political subservience to the Orthodox.
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The Orthodox on Intermarriage

No one expects the Orthodox to be particularly friendly towards interfaith families or intermarriage. Their approach to intermarriage can range from the insulting to the downright vindictive. But every so often a little bit of sense shines through, as in the case of this smart piece from the Canadian Jewish News detailing the religious justification for inviting non-Jewish guests to the seder.

Nowhere in Jewish liturgy are non-Jews barred from attending the seder, and Rabbi Maurice Lamm, an Orthodox rabbi, promotes inviting non-Jews, especially if their family members, because excluding them “will create rancor, even enmity,” according to Rabbi Wayne Allen, a Conservative rabbi in Ontario (In Canada, Conservative is often closer to Modern Orthodox than American Conservative). Plus, says Allen, opening doors to non-Jewish guests is a way of debunking the medieval claims that Jews ate matzah made out of Christian blood.

From our standpoint, Passover may be the best opportunity to involve non-Jews in Jewish life because the seder is by its nature adaptable, and the home is a much less intimidating religious space than the synagogue.

April Aggravation? The Spring Situation?

Sue Fishkoff calls it “April aggravation.” We call it the “spring situation.” Whatever you call it, there’s something to it. It’s the annual conflict between Easter and Passover in interfaith families, and the JTA’s Fishkoff has written a story about our survey of interfaith families juggling the two holidays.

The survey specifically looked at interfaith families raising their children exclusively in Judaism, and we found results both familiar and surprising. Generally, they negotiated the holidays in the same way they negotiated the December holidays: they celebrated more Jewish rituals, kept the holidays separate and saw the Jewish holiday as more religious than the Christian one. But once we started slicing up the population, we found some interesting results. There was no difference in Passover behaviors between families where the woman is Jewish vs. families where the woman isn’t Jewish, but there were significant differences in the Easter behaviors, especially “secular” rituals like decorating Easter eggs and participating in an Easter egg hunt. There were also significant differences between Jewish and Christian respondents on their level of comfort with, and anticipation of, Easter.

Balancing the Spring Holidays

The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel has a well-thought-out piece on the potential pitfalls of planning a Passover or Easter dinner for interfaith guests. The kosher dietary laws, and the even stricter kosher-for-Passover laws, are of course one constraint, but so is the Catholic prohibition on eating meat on Fridays during Lent. The article includes some helpful suggestions on how to make a meal that will please–or more importantly, won’t offend–everybody.

The article reminds me of a great story from our Archives about a Puerto Rican woman’s menu for a Latino-tinted kosher dinner for Easter.