NY: First Gay Marriage!

It was with great excitement that I heard the news from the New York Senate a few Shabboses ago: in a vote of 33-29, the state passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage! The bill would come into effect on July 24, 2011. In honor of NY State, we updated our homepage’s news section linking to our newly updated LGBT Resource Page.

Like many, I started hearing about the colorful plans for weddings, non-profits and individuals alike doing what they could to prepare for the throngs of couples who will want to take advantage of the new law shortly after it comes into effect. (One of my favorites? The “pop-up chapel” planned for July 30 in Central Park.)

But then, via our free Jewish clergy officiation referral service, we received an email requesting a rabbi to officiate at what will be New York’s “first gay marriage.” Enthusiastically, we jumped on the task. (Not that we’re biased, but the office was maybe slightly more enthusiastic about this request than the hundreds of others we receive – but only slightly, of course, since we’re thrilled to be able to help out so many of you!)

Our own rabbi Lev Baesh will be in NY to officiate at their interfaith, Jewish wedding. The couple, Dee and Kate, want their wedding to be a wonderful celebration. As such, they’re inviting everyone, even you.

We’re thrilled for the couple, Dee and Katemazal tov!

Updated to add: For more, please read Ed Case’s blog post, Happy and Proud. Stay tuned for more details as we get them…

Event Planners: Take Note!

Very excited to be writing my first blog post for InterfaithFamily.com.  It’s officially my 2nd week as IFF’s new Director of Development, and so far, everything is going extremely well!

My co-worker, Benjamin Maron, sent me a link to a great article on CNN’s website, focusing on intercultural and interfaith weddings.    Recently, I was meeting with an event planner from an upscale hotel in Boston and I told him I was joining the staff at IFF.  He immediately jumped up and said, “Wow, that’s a fabulous idea for an organization!”  He mentioned that, as a wedding planner, he is often looking for officiants for interfaith marriages, and could use a resource like IFF to share with his clients.  It hadn’t occurred to me that IFF could be a great resource for event planners.   So, when I met with another event planner a few weeks later, I proactively mentioned IFF and its potential usability for him and his fellow event planners.  He, too, was hooked. 

I think it’s a good start – a few more key people now know about this website, and can share it as a resource for interfaith couples embarking on that next step in their life: marriage.

We Can Help…

Sarah Silverman, if the unicorn wasn’t Jewish, we could help you.

Do you know someone who’s looking for a rabbi for their interfaith wedding? Let them know about our clergy officiation referral service, matching couples, individuals and families with Jewish clergy for weddings, bris or baby namings, bar or bat mitzvahs, conversions, counseling*, funerals, and more.

[sub]*Sarah, you and your unicorn might be most interested in this…[/sub]

Do Interfaith Couples need Genetic Testing?

I met Randy Yudenfriend-Glaser recently at the convention for Reform Rabbis in New Orleans and she opened my eyes in a new way to the issue of testing for genetic diseases.

I had always thought that testing for the genetic diseases most common in Ashkenazi Jews was a waste of time for interfaith couples as clearly one partner wasn’t Jewish and couldn’t be a carrier. I have been corrected.

The nineteen devastating genetic diseases found most commonly in the Ashkenazi Jewish population are not only found in Jews. They are found in other ethnic groups as well, just less frequently. This means that even a non-Ashkenazi Jew, even a  non-Jew, can be a carrier of one or more of these 19 very serious diseases.

The Jewish Genetic Disease Consortium strongly recommends that if only one grandparent of the couple was of Ashkenazi background, the simple blood test screening is necessary.

The protocol is: the member of the couple with the Ashkenazi background is screened first. If he or she is found to be a carrier, a genetic counselor will be able to recommend the proper screening for the spouse/partner. If both members of the couple are carriers of a mutated gene for the same genetic condition, there is a 25% chance – with each pregnancy – of having an affected child, a 50% chance that a child will be a carrier of the disease, and a 25% chance the child will be neither a carrier nor affected.

For more information, please visit jewishgeneticdiseases.org.

Take a Break

It’s that busy time of the year (is there ever not a busy time of the year?). Hanukkah’s over but we’re still celebrating the December holidays with friends and family, colleagues and communities. You need a break, we need a break, time for a hodgepodge of links. Happy reading!

Take a break…

 

And now back to the holidays…

Until the next hodge podge…

Marriage in Israel: Civil Unions and Couples Sought!

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.

Critics of Israel’s present marriage registration policy, which does not recognize marriages between non-Jews and Jews conducted here, argue that this is a violation of democratic principles of equality. The state, they say, has no right interfering with the individual liberties of its citizens, one of which is the right to choose one’s partner regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

In contrast, those who argue in favor of maintaining the status quo are faithful to the idea that Orthodoxy is the only legitimate form of Judaism.

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 ZĂĽrich, 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=network@interfaithfamily.com]contact us[/email] and we will put you in touch with the researcher.

The Mixed Marriage of the Century

I didn’t think the wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky would be eclipsed so soon, but here comes the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton. People everywhere are just fascinated by the British royal family. Through our lens here at InterfaithFamily.com, we can’t help but focus on the “intermarriage” aspect of the relationship. No, Kate Middleton isn’t Jewish – now wouldn’t that be an interesting situation! – but she is a “commoner” and, well, you can’t be much more “royal” than William, the future King of England.

The Jewish community’s response to interfaith marriages might take a lesson or two from the British aristrocracy’s response to its own kind of mixed marriage. Their attitudes have certainly adapted over the years towards a welcoming approach. It isn’t all that long ago that King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a commoner (and divorcee to boot). But Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles have publicly expressed their complete delight with Prince William’s choice.

The British don’t have any qualms about the status of the children of a royal-commoner marriage: any child of William and Kate will be not merely royal, but, well, the heir to the throne. That goes further than the Reform movement’s approach, where a child of an interfaith marriage is at least presumptively potentially Jewish if raised Jewish.

The British also make it easy for someone marrying in to acquire royal status. I’m no expert on this. I’m not sure if by reason of the marriage, Kate becomes a Duchess or a Princess, or that happens by the Queen just conferring that status on her. Either way, she becomes part of the royal family. It would be nice if the Jewish community considered our partners who aren’t Jewish part of the family in the same easy way.

The press has focused on how solicitous William has been of Kate. After all, he’s lived his entire life with what I’m sure are peculiar or at least particular “rituals” of the royal family, and she’ll have to get used to all of that. William reportedly promised her father that he would help her to adjust. Wouldn’t it be great if the Jewish partners in interfaith couples took the same kind of approach with respect to sharing Jewish traditions with their partners?

Here at InterfaithFamily.com we’re positive about the potential for couples from different backgrounds to build fulfilling lives together and to decide to affiliate their family with the tradition of one partner while honoring and respecting the tradition of the other. We’re happy to see that at least at the outset, it looks like Prince William and Kate Middleton have a good chance of doing just that. So we’ll send them an early mazel tov!

Starting the TV Season with Interfaith Couples

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!

Reform Movement Task Force on Intermarriage Reports

Our CEO Ed Case is attending the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) in San Francisco. The CCAR is the rabbinic association of the Reform movement. I look forward to his opinions on the presentation of the CCAR task force on intermarriage. News reports, including this one in the New York Times suggest a slight shift on the issue. The panel proposed that Reform rabbis work on encouraging interfaith couples to stay in the Jewish community instead of trying to prevent interfaith marriage.

The task force did not suggest any change on rabbinic officiation at interfaith weddings. Currently, Reform rabbis can choose to officiate at interfaith weddings according to their conscience, though the Reform movement formally opposes rabbinic officiation at interfaith weddings.

Since 1983, the Reform movement has recognized children of interfaith families as Jewish if their parents raise them as Jews–whether the Jewish parent is the mother or the father. This has brought many more interfaith families into Reform congregations, making it the largest of the Jewish denominations in the United States, which is the largest Jewish community in the world. Reform congregations have been working for years on integrating interfaith families and their children and finding ways to honor non-Jewish spouses who support Jewish family members’ practice of Judaism.

If you’re a member of a Reform congregation, what has your experience been? Does your rabbi make your whole family feel welcome? How about the rest of the community?

Chelsea Clinton may not need help finding a rabbi for her wedding, but…

Chelsea Clinton’s engagement to Marc Mezvinsky is big news; Ruth Abrams’ blog post here yesterday
was picked up by the Atlantic’s blog, the Atlantic Wire.

Ruth said it would be interesting to see how the famous couple handles the interfaith aspects of their relationship. One aspect of that of course is whether they will want to have a rabbi officiate, or co-officiate with other clergy, at their wedding.

One blogger speculated that Mezvinsky is affiliated with the Conservative movement based on the couple’s attendance at High Holiday services at the Jewish Theological Seminary. If the couple do want to have a rabbi officiate at their wedding, Conservative rabbis aren’t allowed to do so; they’ll have to look elsewhere.

I’m sure that such a well-connected couple should not have any trouble finding a rabbi. But that isn’t the case for everyone. One of the most important services InterfaithFamily.com provides is our Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service. So far this year, we’ve responded to 1,135 inquiries from couples all over the country asking for help to find a rabbi or cantor to officiate or co-officiate at their wedding. (In fact, we’re running a “promotion” right now – couples who request a referral are eligible for a drawing for a $500 gift card – that’s quite an engagement present!)

If it were easy for couples to find Jewish clergy for their weddings, we wouldn’t be experiencing demand for our service. We’d actually be glad if, some day, our service was no longer necessary. But officiation is still controversial among rabbis, so we don’t see that happening any time soon.

The reason we offer our referral service is simple. Recent research confirms that the negative experience many interfaith couples have seeking Jewish clergy to officiate at their weddings is a “huge turnoff” (Intermarriage and Jewish Journeys, National Center for Jewish Policy Studies 2008). Through our officiation referral service, and our work with rabbis, we hope to make that experience one that leads to more Jewish engagement, not less.

So if Chelsea and Marc do want to have a rabbi participate in their wedding, we hope their experience is positive, and we hope it leads to more Jewish engagement – we think Chelsea Clinton would be a great addition to the Jewish community in whatever way she chooses to participate. And the former President and the Secretary of State wouldn’t be too shabby as grandparents for Jewish grandchildren, if that’s the direction the couple decides to take.

And if by any chance they would like help finding a rabbi for their wedding, we have some great ones on our list, both  in New York, and ones who travel to Martha’s Vineyard too.