Everything We Know about What Jews Look Like Is Wrong

By Karen Kushner


Story: Four in the water or Funny You Don’t Look Jewish

One morning I went with Jonathan and his partner to the mikvah (ritual bath) for the blessing of their youngest child which would bring the boy into the covenant with his brother and his parents. Picture this: All four were in the mikvah together, two gay dads and their two biracial adopted kids. The two dads joyously aware of the newly recognized place for them made possible in the Jewish community, and the ability to bring two sons into the Jewish world. Outside in the hall we stood as witnesses bonded by the purity of their joy as they submerged together in the water. When the rabbi finished blessing them with the Birkat HaCohanim (priestly blessing), we all felt blessed. Some of us wept.

These dads want to feel at home in your synagogue.

Here is what they tell me they look for to decide which synagogue to join.

  • Will every form I have to fill out say: “Husband and Wife or Mother and Father”?
  • Will I see a photo of a family anything like us in your bulletin? Will my kids see any families that look like them in the textbooks, posters or DVDs used in the school?
  • Will the rabbi and the teachers in your school speak about families without assuming every family is heterosexual?


Did you realize that 15-20% of children being adopted by Jewish families today are non-white and 10% of Jewish families are gay or lesbian?

Story: Not who is a Jew but what is a Jewish family?

Carol is single and went to a Taste of Judaism class to find out about the religion of the grandparents she never knew. Her mother intermarried in the 60s and became a Unitarian. Carol loved what she saw and heard in the Taste class and then went on to take the Introduction to Judaism class. Carol converted the next year. But now, she is lonely and feels awkward at services.

“I don’t get the jokes. The transliterations are so confusing. Everyone seems to have family at holiday times. The interfaith group is all couples and they don’t understand how difficult it is to live a Jewish life as a single woman. I wonder if I made a mistake. I’m thinking of going back to being a Unitarian.”

The National Jewish population study reported that only a little more than half of Jewish adults are partnered. Let me repeat that: only a little more than half of Jewish adults are partnered.

Ozzie and Harriet are dead. Why are we still stuck in a 1950’s mindset? There is no request that I receive more often than from singles looking for programs. A few thoughts:

  • Many temples have a dues category for singles but they also need school fees that do not assume two earners for single parents.
  • Single people need to be chairing committees and on the board of directors.
  • We need a Shabbat ritual for singles when everyone else is blessing their partner.


Being welcoming will decide whether the Jewish world grows or shrinks. It is our choice.

We must bring in Jews of color and the gay and lesbian community. We must acknowledge that single Jewish adults are a majority and not a minority, that Jewish families can have one parent.

We are blessed to have a generation of adult children of the Jews-by-choice of the last generation who are not named Greenberg and Lefkowitz but are fiercely identified as Jews. They bring new meaning to the definition of Jewish nose, Jewish hair, or Jewish eyes. Indeed, with their very bodies, they abolish the category! Our strength will be in our increasing diversity.


About Karen Kushner

Karen Kushner is a consultant to, and past Chief Education Officer for, InterfaithFamily. She is known for the workshops, trainings and booklets of the Jewish Welcome Network, which provided outreach consultation and resource to synagogues, Jewish schools and agencies of all denominations and affiliations.