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New Organization to be Voice of Interfaith Families

This article originally appeared in, and is reprinted with permission of, The Forward. Visit www.Forward.com. For subscription information, call 1-866-399-7900.

Interfaith families just got a new ally: A membership organization that hopes to push rabbis to officiate at mixed wedding ceremonies and pressure Jewish organizations to adopt more liberal intermarriage policies.

The new non-profit organization was launched last week by Edmund Case, publisher of the Web site InterfaithFamily.com. Mr. Case said that about 20 people have pledged $36 to join what is being called The InterfaithFamily.com Network.

A retired attorney, Mr. Case has butted heads with several prominent academics in the past year who decry what they describe as the growing acceptance of intermarriage and the increasing assertiveness of intermarried couples wishing to enter Jewish communal life on their own terms.

"Encouraging interfaith families to engage in Jewish life will not be successful if Jewish leaders and institutions are critical or rejecting," Mr. Case said in the official statement announcing the new organization. "The Network will expand on previous advocacy work by developing recommended policies and practices, publicizing them, and working to persuade Jewish leaders and organizations to adopt them."

The creation of an organized lobby, one critic said, represents an unprecedented attempt to drive a final stake through the intermarriage taboo, to remove prohibitions against rabbis officiating at interfaith weddings and eliminate ritual restrictions on non-Jewish family members.

"This is the conscious creation of a national lobby," said Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary and an ardent opponent of efforts to soften the intermarriage taboo. "That's ominous."

Mr. Wertheimer and other critics have complained that Mr. Case, through his Web site and other writings, effectively promotes an agenda that blurs the line between Judaism and Christianity in intermarried homes. Mr. Case and his defenders have countered that the Web site--which he purchased last week from his former employer, Jewish Family & Life, Inc.--urges families to make "Jewish choices," but does so without meting out heavy-handed lectures.

Mr. Case said that his goal for the new organization was to sign up 2,500 members during the next year, and that his organization would probably hold off on adopting a platform for at least six months to a year. Mr. Case received an $80,000 grant from the San Francisco-based Walter and Elise Haas Fund to help establish and market the new membership organization.

In addition, Mr. Case has secured a $95,000 grant from another Bay-area foundation, The Richard & Rhoda Goldman Fund, about a third of which is dedicated to expanding the Web site to include localized listings for activities and services geared toward intermarried families across the country. The Web site, which Mr. Case said attracts 10,000 individual users and 25,000 visitor sessions a month, already provides listings for the Boston and San Francisco areas.

The Web site and the organization will have the same board of directors, and will continue to rent space in Newton, Mass., from Jewish Family & Life, Mr. Case said.

Mr. Case's new organization appears to be on a collision course with a recently created coalition of 25 academics, rabbis, lay leaders and Jewish organizational leaders initially organized by the American Jewish Committee to reinvigorate the push for endogamy. The coalition received a great deal of attention shortly after its formation last February. Since then, however, AJCommittee officials say they are no longer heading the controversial coalition, which some criticized for being insensitive and futile. But Mr. Wertheimer said his hope is that the pro-endogamy coalition would grow and become more active, but declined to elaborate on any future plans.

"There is a battle of ideas and a battle of values going on in the Jewish community," Mr. Wertheimer said. "We are not attacking individuals, but there is an issue that needs to be faced. The need for a counter group will grow all that much greater. I believe support for such a counter group exists across the denominational spectrum."

Ami Eden

Ami Eden writes for the Forward.

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