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?
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.
I met Wyman Brent on Twitter–he’s a librarian, which already biased me in his favor. Today he posted to tell his Twitter followers, “Tomorrow at 12 I sign agreement for Vilnius Jewish Library. 1st real Jewish library in Lithuania since war.” In an article in the Baltic Times, “Making the Vilnius Jewish Library a Reality,” he explained,
“It’s kind of strange because I’m not Jewish and I’m not of Lithuanian descent,” said Brent.
As Brent describes it, it’s not so much a project as a labor of love.
“I’ve always loved libraries, I’ve been volunteering in them for years. I love reading, that’s something my parents gave me, and I’m fascinated with Jewish culture. I fell in love with Lithuania when I went there the first time in 1994. So it was kind of like, I love libraries, I love Jewish culture and I love Lithuania, so let me put this all together into this Jewish library,” explained Brent.
There is still a small Jewish community in Vilnius, once called the Jerusalem of Lithuania. (In Yiddish, it’s called Vilna.) This is very interesting to me as a person working for an organization that serves interfaith Jewish families, since most of the small remnant of the formerly vibrant and large communities in Eastern Europe are in such families. And also — it’s Vilna, where Hirsch Glik wrote the stirring song of resistance with the chorus, “Mir zaynen doh” — we are here.
Another web resource about small Jewish communities is the Small Synagogues website, http://www.smallsynagogues.com/. It contains the sweet stories of synagogues in small towns like Abilene, Texas and Sheboygan, Wisc. I really liked the warm tone of Sherry Levine Zander’s articles. That, too, has overlap with the lives of a lot of children of interfaith families who grew up as the only Jews in small towns.
Last week, a British Court of Appeals ruled that an individual’s Jewish beliefs, not birth or conversion, determines Jewishness, and that to deny a child admission to a Jewish school due to the circumstances of his birth is racism. This was in response to a British court case in which the parent of a child was denied admission to JFS (formerly known as the Jews Free School), a publicly-funded Jewish school, because his mother’s conversion to Judaism was through an independent progressive synagogue that the Orthodox United Synagogue didn’t recognize. This is the second time that the case has been heard. JFS has said that it will appeal the case to the House of Lords, which functions like the US Supreme Court in being Britain’s court of last appeal.
If the appeals court decision stands, the 97 Jewish schools in Britain, all of which are Orthodox, will have to create new criteria to determine who is eligible for admission into Jewish day schools. A spokesperson from the British Board of Deputies (the equivalent of the United Jewish Communities in the US) told Haaretz that Jewish schools could be compelled to use “faith tests” similar to those done by publically-funded church schools in Britain. These faith tests could include home visits and attendance checks at the local synagogue. I can envision it now, desecrate the Sabbath, get kicked out of school!
We have a constant editorial dilemma chosing articles for InterfaithFamily.com. Converts to Judaism are part of our natural constituency–conversion creates an instant interfaith family, after all–and yet if we feature too many articles by or about conversion, we could make people in interfaith marriages feel pressured to convert. We want to be welcoming to people who choose Judaism, but at the same time we don’t want to proselytize. There are both important cultural and religious reasons for this. Religiously, many believe that proselytizing can invalidate a conversion. Culturally, Jews have a memory of being pressured or coerced to convert to other religions, and so don’t think Jews should do anything remotely like that. In this we’re in pretty much the same boat as the rest of the Jewish community–always struggling to be welcoming without exerting any pressure.
Many people who choose conversion to Judaism do so because they come from families with a Jewish grandparent or earlier ancestor. A recent article about a small Jewish community in Peru captures some of the issues facing both individuals and communities who become cut off from the rest of the Jewish people. The small community in Iquitos, Peru thought of themselves as Jews even when the Ashkenazi Jewish community in Peru wouldn’t recognize them. Descended from 19th century Sephardi merchants, the families had intermarried with local people and they look like them. At the same time, they retained some Jewish practices, beliefs and identity. This has to sound familiar to a lot of my regular readers! Continue reading →
Why didn’t I take statistics in graduate school? Who knew that instead of teaching history I’d be working for a non-profit where statistics are vitally important and constantly contested. Take the recent flurry of posts from major bloggers about Jewish and African-American attitudes toward intermarriage.
I suppose I should also mention that I am an ethnic Jew engaged to a gentile, and that I have at various times in the past dated non-Jews who are also non-white. However, my case is just one of many examples of the point I made in the post. Although I am ethnically Jewish, I am not religious, and my engagement will not actually lead to an interfaith marriage because our attitudes towards religion are actually very similar despite the ethnic difference.
Oh yeah, right. People are always telling me that they aren’t really in an interfaith marriage because they aren’t religious, but I generally assume that’s because I’ve buttonholed them in the supermarket and am trying to get them to write for our website. I think the problem is the word “interfaith” which makes it sound like every day of your marriage you sit down in a circle, sing “Kumbaya” and discuss comparative religion. A non-religious ethnic Jew marrying a non-religious gentile still has to make identity decisions when he or she has children. For the Jewish community’s purposes, that’s an interfaith marriage, even if it looks like an inter-no-faith marriage. Continue reading →
Hey! It’s Jewish-American Heritage Month! Apparently President Obama declared it yesterday! I didn’t know that was coming, even though I follow the White House blog feed. The president called on all Americans to recognize Jewish American contributions to society.
And I’ve had to come back and edit myself here because–we have this every year! I trained as a historian and I didn’t even know that. In fact, according to the Library of Congress, the first president to declare Jewish American Heritage Week was Jimmy Carter in 1980. I was already bat mitzvah by then. I’m very surprised that we didn’t get any heads-up at the time, at Hebrew school. (Mom? Nu?) I got such a kick out of the announcement in Ha-Aretz that I’m kind of sorry I didn’t hear about it back when I was 14.
The Jewish Women’s Archive is celebrating–it’s a great place to learn more about Jewish women’s history. I’ll add more links as I find them. Feel free to comment with your favorite website, book or other resource for learning about American Jewish history and heritage.
Nearly three years ago I moved to St. Louis. A friend of ours insisted that we join a local synagogue with a rabbi he described as the most thoughtful and knowledgeable he had ever met. It sounded like a plan–the synagogue was a quick walk from our home. The next day was Shavuot, when we celebrate revelation, and I was eager to see why my friend was so enthusiastic. I was shocked. There were Jews from every denomination attending classes taught by rabbis and teachers from every denomination. (This is really unusual in an Orthodox synagogue.)
Over the next two years, I got to know the synagogue’s rabbi, Hyim Shafner, who insisted I call him Hyim and not rabbi, which is also unusual. I was always struck by his spirituality and how he helped everyone who walked into Bais Abe to connect with their Judaism and spirituality. He just concentrated on helping those around him and developing a community of like-minded individuals. He never judged and I rarely saw him criticize. He is also a great counselor.
Half the Jews today marry someone who isn’t Jewish. Fifty years ago, people married non-Jews as a way of leaving Judaism and becoming more American. Today, it’s almost the opposite. For some people, the first time they start to think about Judaism is their wedding. For some Jews, intermarriage is a gateway into Judaism.
The goal of Judaism shouldn’t be to have Jews marry other Jews. The goal of Judaism should be to get something out of Judaism. To have a connection with God and to live a spiritual life.
An interfaith wedding can be useful, it can help people re-engage with their religion.
Rabbi Shafner is certainly not advocating interdating or intermarriage, but does not discount the impact a wedding can have on one’s spirituality and connection to their heritage.
Most European Jewish leaders support liberalizing their approach to intermarriage and conversion, a new survey shows.
As the JTA reports, 85 percent of the 251 respondents to a pan-European survey of Jewish leaders felt it was “not a good idea to strongly oppose intermarriage and bar intermarried Jews and their spouses from communal membership.” Further:
… fewer than 27 percent of respondents felt that only those who were born to a Jewish mother or who have undergone an Orthodox conversion should be allowed to become a member of the community. Even among those describing themselves as Orthodox or Modern Orthodox, 43 percent believed that those who have undergone conversion under rabbinic supervision from any denomination should be allowed to join. Similarly, 46 percent of Orthodox respondents agreed that one Jewish parent was enough to justify membership in communal organizations.
Though Williamson is the most colorfully, scarily anti-Semitic (and also anti-gay and apparently just generally prone to saying wildly offensive things) of these four bishops, it’s not surprising that followers of Archbishop Lefebvre hold extreme right-wing positions. The Catholic Church is not a monolithic body, any more than Judaism is a monolithic body. Even within a single country, leaders in the Church can take left, right or centrist positions. Lefebvre supported the Vichy collaboration with the Nazis, the right-wing neo-fascist politician Jean-Marie Le Pen and right-wing dictatorships in other countries as well. His Society of St. Pius X has long been a source of anti-Semitic rhetoric.
It’s difficult for me as a Jew to figure out why this Pope, who is the first to visit a US synagogue and only the second to visit a synagogue at all, would make such a decision. One would think that he would be eager to distance himself from his past, apparently forced, membership in the Hitler Youth. My guess is that he decided that it was more important to have unity within the Church, and possibly to have support for other traditionalist positions on gender and sexuality, than it was to maintain the positive relations with the Jewish community that he and his predecessor had so carefully fostered.
One Catholic blogger points out that though the bishops’ excommunication was reversed, the Pope has not reinstated them to “exercise their ministry,” and also has not said that the original excommunication was wrong. Still, it looks to those of us outside the Church like the Pope is throwing his relationships with Jews under a bus in order to promote Church unity.
I don’t regard this position as reflecting anything about the Catholic leaders here in the United States who have reached out to the Jewish community, nor indeed does it have anything to do with centrist Catholic clergy in other countries. I’m going to continue to forge alliances and build friendships with the devout Catholics in my life who have consistently reached out to me as a Jew.
I’ve been meaning for some time to write about my Twitter pal, Rabbi Joshua Kullock, the rabbi of Guadalajara, Mexico. He blogs at Kol Ha-Kehila. If you are looking for Spanish-language resources to share information about Judaism with Spanish-speaking extended family, Rabbi Kullock does a regular online class on the prophet Amos in Spanish, and you can watch the class after it as aired as a recording, though you have to register. (I’m posting this now in part because I finally registered and figured out how to listen to it.)
I thought of Rabbi Kullock when I saw this crazy movie trailer. This is the second movie trailer I’ve seen about a shivah, the Jewish traditional week of mourning after a funeral–but this one is a comedy. Continue reading →
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