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I hope your Jewish holidays this year were good. Despite all of the bad news in the world, my holidays were excellent. They ended with the first grade consecration of my oldest grandchild on erev Simchat Torah at Temple Sinai in Brookline, Massachusetts. The rabbi had all of the children present at the service sit cross-legged on both sides of the center aisle of the sanctuary and rolled out two Torah scrolls with the children holding them off the floor while the end of one and the beginning of the other were read; the look of awe on my grandsonâ€™s face was wonderful to see. I wish all of the people who say that the grandchildren and children of interfaith marriages wonâ€™t be Jewish could have seen it.
My holidays began on an equal high, and thatâ€™s saying a lot. Rabbi Allison Berry of Temple Shalom in Newton, Massachusetts gave a truly wonderful sermon,Â The View From Mt. Sinai â€“ Building Our Inclusive Community. Recalling Jewish tradition that the people gathered at Mt. Sinai included generations past and future, she said â€śI was at Mt. Sinai. I was there, and so were you.â€ť She said â€śall of us were part of the â€¦ chain of tradition.â€ť And then she made explicit who she was talking about, mentioning first by name the parents and children of an interfaith family (before mentioning her adopted Korean-American sister, an upcoming bat mitzvah who uses sign language, seniors and transgender people). Noting that nearly half of the Templeâ€™s religious school students come from interfaith families, she said â€śyou are part of us. We appreciate the many ways you expand what it means to be Jewishâ€¦. We are honored you have chosen this community.â€ť
Rabbi Berry is a rabbi who â€śgets it.â€ť I wish the critics of interfaith marriage who say the Jewish community is already plenty welcoming to interfaith families would take this to heart: â€śIâ€™ve learned from experience there is a tremendous difference between being a welcoming community and being a community that actually includes. We need to allow our perceptions and assumptions to be challenged. We need to be vulnerable and sometimes uncomfortable. We need to be aware that language has the power to include or exclude.â€ť
I was especially moved when Rabbi Berry quoted Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as saying â€śThe Jewish people is a living Sefer Torah [Torah scroll], and each of us is one of its letters.â€ť While Rabbi Sacks is a brilliant Jewish scholar and teacher, he is a harsh critic of interfaith marriage; one of his many books,Â Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren, suggests he would be surprised that my grandson was just consecrated, and I donâ€™t think he would say there are letters in the Torah for partners of an interfaith marriage from different faith traditions, or for the children of mothers who are not Jewish. But Rabbi Berry does. She said that â€śSomewhere embedded on the scrolls behind me, in our ark, is the letter containingâ€ť the story of the interfaith family she first mentioned;
We need more rabbis like Rabbi Berry whose deep-seated attitude is that there are letters in the Torah not just for every Jew, but for every Jewishly-engaged person.
It was quiet on the intermarriage front during the holidays. I was very pleased to be quoted in a greatÂ JTAÂ story aboutÂ How Mark Zuckerberg Is Embracing His Judaism; I had said in my last blog post, after Zuckerbergâ€™s Facebook post that he had given his grandfatherâ€™s Kiddush cup to his daughter, that â€śThe fact that such a super-influential couple clearly are making Jewish choices for their family is the best news with which to start the new year. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan could really change the course of Jewish history if they got involved in efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life.â€ť Iâ€™d like to think there are letters in the Torah for Priscilla Chan and her children.
Before the holidays there was a lot of news aboutÂ developments in the Conservative movement. The leaders of the movement just today came out with aÂ statementÂ that affirms the movementâ€™s invitation to partners from different faith traditions to convert, its prohibition on rabbis officiating at weddings of interfaith couples, and its desire to honor and include them:
There is a lot that is positive in this language. But with all respect, the stated reasoning behind the officiation prohibition â€“ â€śHonoring the integrity of both partners in a wedding, and for the sake of deepening faithful Jewish livingâ€ť â€“ is misguided, in my view. The partner from a different faith tradition who wants a rabbi to officiate isnâ€™t dishonoring his or her integrity, and I believe it is clear that officiation leads to more faithful Jewish living, not less. They are saying, in effect, that that partner doesnâ€™t have a letter in the Torah unless he or she converts.
This post originally appeared onÂ www.edumundcase.comÂ and is reprinted with permission.
The following is a guest blog post by Dina Mann, National Marketing and Outreach Coordinator forÂ Reboot, an organization thatÂ engages and inspires young, Jewishly-unconnected cultural creatives, innovators and thought-leaders who, through their candid and introspective conversations and creativity, generate projects that impact both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.
Traditionally, this is a day of celebration. Dancing, music and even some drinking is quite common. The question is: Whatâ€™s everyone so happy about? Or a better question: How can we bring the spirit of creativity, excitement and joy from Simchat Torah and spread it throughout the year?
Enter Unscrolled. Itâ€™s a reinterpretation, a reimagining, a creative celebration: 54 leading Jewish writers, artists, photographers and screenwriters, plus actors, an architect, a musician and others grapple with the Torah, giving new meaning to the 54 Torah portions.
What is Unscrolled? First and foremost, it is a book that sums up the weekly Torah portion and then goes even further by creating interpretations that no medieval rabbi would think possible. More than a book, Unscrolled is a project that seeks to create a conversation around the Torah. With Unscrolled, we hope to give people who have never read the Torah, people who read the Hebrew Torah portions every week and people who think itâ€™s a whole lot of brisket an opportunity to engage with the text in a fun, entertaining and offbeat way.
Want to get in on the action?
B’reishit (“In the beginning…”) is the first portion. Take some time to:
Bring your diverse voice to the conversation and get Unscrolled.
The â€śfall holidaysâ€ťâ€“Rosh Hashanah, followed ten days later by Yom Kippur and then just four days later by the week-long festival of Sukkot, which concludes with Simchat Torah at the end of this weekâ€“it feels like a marathon. In less than a month weâ€™ve packed in quite a bit. Happy, sad, reflective, apologetic, celebratory, history-based and forward thinking. Of all the holidays at this time of year, Simchat Torah is one of my favorites. As a child we would dance with the Torah scrolls and then the rabbi would have all the adults make a LARGE circle as we unrolled an entire scroll around the room.
â€śTurn it and turn it for everything is in it.â€ť Ben Bag Bag shares these words of wisdom about Torah. As a child I laughed at his name, but as an adult I appreciate the depth of this rather simple statement. Ben Bag Bag referred to the Torah, the ancient scroll on which the first five books of Moses and the beginning of the Jewish bible are written. Each year Jews around the world read a segment of these stories until this week when they (finally) reach the endâ€¦only to return to the beginning again with the word bâ€™reishit (in the beginning).
Itâ€™s such a natural cycle to turn and return. We cycle through the seasons, the yearly holidays and the cycle of life. Ben Bag Bag informs us that if we look deep into the words of the Torah we can find â€śeverything.â€ť
Cain and Abel teach us that we are responsible for and cannot hide our own actions. Abraham shows us (and God) the importance of mercy when God wants to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah. Jacob and Esau demonstrate sibling rivalry while Joseph and his brothers take it one step further demonstrating the weakness of family relationships that can be restored by the strength of forgiveness. Moses teaches us that even with physical limitations, we can still do great things.
Throughout the Torah we are reminded to treat others with respect and dignity. We are also reminded to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger among us. Commentary on the Torah takes these guidelines even further and extrapolates how we treat those who work for us and our animals. For example, one must be paid for his/her work in a timely fashion, so as not to cause unnecessary strife on his/her life. We must also feed animals and pets before we feed ourselves.
The guidance one can glean from the Torah can apply to all people. Those who practice Judaism and those who do not. I think every person should strive to be a good person and I find stories from the Torah provide good examples of how to (and sometimes how not to) act.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Torah and/or Bible stories and start reading. Discuss what you read with your family and discuss what everyone thinks. How might you want to incorporate examples into your life? What stories will you choose to use as examples of what not to do?
A personal favorite is the JPS Illustrated Childrenâ€™s Bible. The Bible stories included in this volume include fifty-three Bible stories (Torah and additional books), retold by Ellen Frankel. Each story is only a few short pages, so you can read one each night or each week. The full-color illustrations by Avi Katz help bring the stories to life!
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and insights! Please share what you think in the comment section below.