Sunset in Tel Aviv

Sunset in Tel Aviv

Are you worried about whether there is a two state solution in Israel? So is Rabbi Milder of Beth Emek. He sent this message to his congregation. (Thank you to Rabbi Milder for letting me reprint this.)

The Two State and the One State

I watched the press conference held by President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu this past Wednesday.

The first question asked of Trump by an Israeli reporter was, “Are you giving up on the two-state solution?” His answer was “I’m looking at the two state and the one state. I support whatever the two parties like the best.”

This is a change in policy that should be of concern to all of us. For the past 15 years, each of the past three Presidents has explicitly endorsed a commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That means that they have favored a secure Israel as well as an independent Palestinian state.

When Trump says that a one-state option is under consideration, our country is no longer advocating a vision of two states for two peoples.

I share the concern of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Association of Reform Zionists of America, who responded to the President’s shift in policy this way:

We continue to envision Israel thriving as a Jewish State, living in peace and security alongside a Palestinian State that would fulfill the legitimate national aspirations of its people.

Reform rabbis and Reform Zionist leaders are dismayed that President Trump has backed away from decades of bipartisan US policy supporting the two-state solution. The President opined that a one-state solution might also bring peace. However, given demographic realities in the region, one democratic state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River would eventually bring an end to Israel’s character as a Jewish State. The alternative, Israel’s rejecting democracy, should be unthinkable.

I believe it is more urgent than ever to recommit to the vision of a two-state solution, and to articulate that vision in the public sphere. It is, I believe, the only way to ensure the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Rabbi Larry Milder

Posted by admin under In the News, Israel
No Comments

iff-opportunity-summit

The Bay Area Interfaithfamily Facebook group shared the photo above and this quote from a discussion panel taking place at the Boston conference they are sponsoring on interfaith topics:

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie of Lab/Shul: “Judaism can be experienced as living in forts (walled off, closed off, frightened) or in ports (open, porous). (Quoting Rabbi Louis Jacobs). We can make Judaism more like a port – a place of openness and fluidity – so it is accessible and meaningful to all members of all backgrounds of a Jewish family. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

It’s interesting to read this while sitting on the opposite coast in California. I am reminded of how very different Jewish communities in America are. Here in the San Francisco bay area there really aren’t any “forts or walled off” Jewish communities. Given our stereotypical views of Jews, one would expect such a community to consist of Orthodox Jews. But the bay area Orthodox synagogues are as embracing as their Conservative, Reform and Renewal neighbors.

Pondering Rabbi Lau-Lavie’s statement made me think about my own concept of Jewish community.

Here’s how I see Judaism Writ Large:

Judaism is a living organism – constantly changing. Think of it like a living cell. In order to survive it must have a porous membrane. Stuff needs to come in and go out in order for it to live. But it must also have a membrane; without a boundary, a definition, an in and an out, the cell will die.

In fact, Judaism is multiple cells, different communities with different boundaries. Like a body it needs all of its different kinds of cells in order to thrive. We can’t expect heart cells to do what lung cells do. But we can be happy that we have both kinds (many kinds!) of cells and Jews. In the bay area our Jewish community is made up of Jews, many kinds of Jews. AND also the people who love Jews, and people who just want to hang out with the Jews.

Want to be more engaged? Just contact me and I’ll brainstorm with you about finding the right place for you.
dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org

Posted by admin under In the News
No Comments

Religious Action Center

Many synagogue congregants are receiving emails from their clergy about the tragedy in Orlando. I am confident that many church members are getting similar messages. I share with you the one that Peninsula Temple Sholom‘s clergy, Rabbi Dan Feder, Rabbi Lisa Delson, Rabbi Molly Plotnik and Cantor Barry Reich.

****

Over the weekend, the Jewish people celebrated Shavuot, the festival of receiving Torah at Mount Sinai. However, instead of waking to the wholeness and peace that comes with accepting our sacred stories, we awoke to news of devastating human destruction. We mourn the 50 lives that were cut short at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, a place where LGBT folks came to enjoy themselves in a comfortable and life-affirming place. Our thoughts are also with the more than 50 who were injured as well. Just like last week when we mourned the deaths of four people who were killed in Tel Aviv, once again we are reminded that we live in a broken world.

It is becoming clear that it is not only enough to pray. We must speak out against extremism and join together with the vast majority of our Muslim brothers and sisters who reject violence in the name of their religion. We must speak out against homophobia and spread the message that love is love. And finally, we must join together and advocate against gun violence and promote gun control laws to keep guns out of the hands of those who wish to cause harm.

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20). Judaism offers us a framework for how we should act in the world. Prayer and study are important, but so is action. Let us cry and mourn over the lives lost and then transform our tears and fear into creating a more just and peaceful world.

To take action, visit rac.org/gvp and share your thoughts with our elected officials.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Community, In the News
No Comments

It can be hard to hear another person when the words in your head are drowning out their voice.

Definition of "shema"

Definition of “shema”

Everyone deserves to be heard out. If someone else’s experience is being blotted out by your own pain you may need to be heard out before you can listen to that person. Try to sort out what is YOUR reaction from what the other person is talking about.

A thoughtful man wrote to me about a letter I’d published regarding a young person who chose to have an Orthodox conversion. That decision was up to the young woman, but this man’s pain made it hard to differentiate between her choice and his distress.

Though you tried to respond to the woman’s angst about her not-kosher-enough conversion in your March 11 column (“Conversion didn’t grant ‘born-Jewish privilege,’”), I am saddened by your seemingly bland acceptance that these basically bigoted ultra-Orthodox are the sole and final arbiters of who is a Jew.

If one is truly interested in “building Jewish bridges,” these folks are certainly terrible obstructionists, and in my opinion should be called out on every occasion possible.

This issue really came home to me — a 100 percent Jew, son of a Reform rabbi — when our elder daughter went to Israel with her confirmation class 28 years ago. My wife is half-Jewish — the wrong half — though American Reform congregations now recognize patrilineal descent. We have raised our children to embrace their Jewish identity. My daughter, then age 16, was invited to a home Shabbos dinner where she was told in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t really Jewish, and if she should ever want to make aliyah (which she doesn’t) that she would have to beg the indulgence of a rigid old man (my characterization) and have a “real” conversion.

Although I have mostly enjoyed your columns and generally admire your work, you can sign me — Very Disappointed

I’m so glad he wrote because he clearly has valid pain also.

Read my reply here.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Conversion, In the News, In their own words, Mixed & Matched, Parenting
No Comments

grieving teen

Here’s a question I got from a teenager:

My mom is Jewish, my dad is Catholic, and my brother and I were raised Jewish. Last month they told us they had recently written their ethical wills and each plan to be buried in the cemetery of their own faith. I was so stunned that I said nothing. I just assumed my parents would be buried side by side! I’m mad at them, even though I know it is their decision. I’m hurt and feel like they didn’t even consider how this could impact their children. My brother is upset, too, but he is very quiet and would never speak up. What should I do? — Hurt Daughter

My reply:
Dear Hurt Daughter: I’m so sorry you learned this in such a startling way. It’s hard to think about losing parents, and their news complicates your pain. Yes, your parents do get to make their own end-of-life plans, but I suspect they didn’t think about it from your perspective. It sounds like they simply announced their plans with the intention of giving you and your brother a heads-up. Since you did not respond in the moment, they probably assumed everything was fine.

You should definitely discuss this with them, and it would be best if you and your brother did so together. You could use the moral support, and he could use the practice speaking up about his feelings. I suggest the two of you share with each other how you feel and what is most painful about this news. Then consider what you wish would happen. Hard as it is, imagine what you would want at that difficult time when one of your parents dies. Do you both hope a rabbi would be there to give comfort? Would a rabbi be a comfort to your dad if your mother should go first, or would he want Christian clergy?

read more here

I got an immediate response from an adult who wanted me to tell this young person that she needed to respect her parents’ wishes. It sounded to me like a knee jerk response of an individual who is afraid they might be somehow in the wrong and they couldn’t bear it. Of course this young woman’s feeling matter. This is not a question of her respect for her parents, it is about her love and fear of losing them. I encourage interfaith couples to talk to their children — especially about things that are potentially painful – like death.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, In the News, In their own words, Mixed & Matched
No Comments

traditional_irish_music_concert

A Jewish woman wrote to me asking about how to include something Irish in her wedding to reflect her fiancé’s Irish heritage. Here’s what she asked.

My fiancé and I are starting to plan our wedding for next spring. Neither of us is particularly religious. I’m proudly Jewish and he is Irish and was raised Catholic but doesn’t consider himself Catholic anymore. He is fine with a Jewish wedding and understands that I want to be married by my childhood rabbi. I think we should include something from his side for his parents’ sake. We don’t know what we should be considering. What do you suggest? — Happily Engaged

My reply is here.

Posted by admin under In the News, Non-Jewish family, Weddings
No Comments

2 rings small size

I received this inquiry recently:
Some gay friends wanted a “fully multifaith ceremony.” They felt rejected when no rabbi would agree to co-officiate, but Christian clergy would. I’m not sure how to help them address their feelings in the aftermath. — Sympathetic Friend

I answered the question in my monthly Mixed and Matched column for the J-weekly.

Here’s my reply:
Your friends’ desire was to find a rabbi to co-officiate. Any rabbi they spoke with should have first explained that they don’t need a rabbi to have a Jewish wedding.

A Jewish wedding requires four things, according to halachah (Jewish law), and none of them are a rabbi. Many modern couples focus not on the four legal requirements but on the minhag (custom). Most want the chuppah, breaking the glass, dancing the hora — all of which can be incorporated into any wedding. My guess is that your friends wanted a rabbi to represent the Jewish spouse’s heritage simply by his or her presence, and to make the couple feel that Judaism validated their marriage.

Since your friends are gay, the emotional stakes became much higher. From the start it was the rabbi’s responsibility to have a kind conversation that drew out the couple’s longings and needs, before addressing the rabbi’s boundaries. Beginning like this would have allowed the couple to identify aspects of the wedding — special food, music, symbols — that they controlled and could integrate into their ceremony. That would have met their first need for the wedding: representing the Jewish spouse’s heritage.

Second was the need for Judaism to validate their wedding. American rabbis from liberal branches of Judaism are rapidly moving toward embracing same-sex marriage, and your friends told you that they were not rejected as a gay couple. Perhaps the rabbis they spoke with did not clearly affirm the authenticity of their relationship as a beshert (destined) match, something they could have done even if they did not plan to co-officiate at the wedding.

The rabbi could have opened the conversation about boundaries with an I-statement: “Since you have come to me, I must tell you my personal stand on co-officiation and multifaith ceremonies.”

All Jews, rabbis included, have the right and responsibility to study Jewish tradition and their personal values to develop a meaningful relationship with their faith. Just as your friends chose to create a relationship they hope will never be dissolved, the rabbi is in a permanent relationship with tradition/God/ethics that he or she does not desire to dissolve.

If one rabbi could not perform the wedding, so be it. But your friends apparently were turned away by many rabbis. Now they must go beyond the hurt and try to understand: What happened here, and why does Judaism generally seem so unresponsive to a “fully multifaith ceremony”?

First, our understanding of the world is often from an American, not Jewish, viewpoint. As America’s dominant faith and culture, Christianity doesn’t fear the loss of its existence. Not so for Judaism, Zoroastrianism or Native American traditions. Many Jews readily understand the Zoroastrian’s rejection of the dominant religion because we support the underdog. We forget that Judaism is right there with these minority faiths.

Most rabbis are not willing to participate in a ceremony that does not feel Jewish and in fact feels threatening. One rabbi said to me, “I don’t want to be the only Jewish thing at the wedding.”

Second, it is important to understand that religious adherents of a particular faith are making heartfelt decisions based on their own spirituality, not on our personal desires. Mixing in another religious tradition may feel expansive to us, but it may feel disrespectful to those for whom the religion is a way of life. Just as we want rabbis to respect our choices, we need to respect theirs.

This moment of rejection hurt. But now it is time for your friends to move on and grow from the experience.

Spouses will not agree with each other at every turn; they can still love each other. They can love and respect a rabbi while not agreeing. For their own sake, the couple might determine that this experience will open their eyes to how others differ from them, what their boundaries are, where those boundaries can stretch and where they cannot.

You can listen to my podcast on how to find a rabbi here.

Posted by admin under In the News, Intercultural, Jewish Culture, Weddings
No Comments

Star necklace horizontal

Another question from my Mixed and Matched column in the J-Weekly.

I’m a 26-year-old Conservative Jew and celebrate the major Jewish holidays, although I’m not terribly religious. I’ve been dating a Korean girl who is Catholic but also not very religious. We are getting serious and I’m scared. I do love her, she’s my best friend, and I think about what would happen if we got married. She is open to raising our kids Jewish but still would want to celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter. I think this would cause identity issues for our kids, and obviously they won’t look Jewish. Do you have any thoughts on whether it’s possible to successfully raise mixed children with a Jewish father and Asian mother without the children feeling confused or left out? — Uncertain

Dear Uncertain: You are asking the right questions, and answering them will clarify your options. There are two primary concerns: your kids being multiracial (can Jews be Asian?) and your home being interfaith (can we do two sets of holidays and have the kids feel Jewish?).

You are correct that a biracial child is more likely to be “questioned” about his or her Jewish identity. Don’t let starry-eyed liberals tell you that race doesn’t matter. Young biracial Jews report that it is harder when their parents don’t address racial assumptions about “what does a Jew look like” and racism in general. You can build your children’s confidence by making sure they have a Jewish community — typically a synagogue — that doesn’t just accepts them, but affirms their Jewish identity. There are many such children; I suggest you pick a synagogue that has a noticeable multiracial membership.

A biracial or multiracial child in an interfaith family faces additional concerns. First is the American assumption that Asians can’t be Jewish. Many only consider someone to be Jewish if he or she has a Jewish mother. A young biracial woman whose mother is Jewish and father is Vietnamese told me, “I can’t get the words ‘My mom is Jewish’ out of my mouth fast enough.”

In the eyes of the Conservative movement, your children would not be considered Jewish unless you convert them. Typically, a Conservative Jewish man in your situation takes his infants to the mikvah for conversion. This is something you should think about and discuss with your sweetheart. For some young people, knowing that they were taken to the mikvah is tremendously important. They tell me, “My parents made sure I went to the mikvah. I’m Jewish and have been since before I have any memory.”

Otherwise, I suggest you go to a Reform congregation where they accept patrilineal children as Jewish. But be aware that even if your children are raised Jewish, they will still come into contact with people who do not accept patrilineal descent, and you must be prepared to deal with that in a calm and supportive manner.

Before you go any further, you need to have a discussion about what is involved in raising children as Jews. You are right that a number of Jewish kids who grow up with Christian holidays often feel a sense of dual loyalty. The truth is that this is a compromise, and it does affect the children. This isn’t to say they don’t end up Jewish. But it means you have to be sensitive to how they are taking it in. If you do decide to celebrate Christian holidays, decide in advance which ones and how your partner wants to observe them. Then be sure that you are truly “doing Jewish” the rest of the year.

Ask yourself how important it is that your children self-identify as Jewish. If it is extremely important, then ask your sweetheart if she is willing to have a dialogue about what that would involve. Chances are she has no idea and you have only a sketchy one. She must be given the opportunity to find out what she is getting into before marriage.

No one can promise that your children will be Jewish if you marry a non-Jew. But no one can promise that you will ever feel this strongly about another woman. I would highly recommend that the two of you go to a couples discussion group to sort things out. You’ll get a chance to hear from other interfaith couples and make your decision together. If you can’t get to a group then consider doing individual sessions with me to assess where you and your girlfriend agree and disagree. (I often do these via Skype so you will be in the comfort of your own home.)

You can read the original letter with readers’ responses here.

Posted by admin under Children, In the News, Jews of Color, Mixed & Matched, Parenting
No Comments

Henry Robinson age 6 mo

March 2014 column of Mixed and Matched in the J-Weekly

The question:

I am Jewish and my husband is not. We adopted a girl, 8 months old, whose birth mother is not Jewish. We belong to a Reform synagogue and our rabbi said if we raise our daughter with Jewish lifecycle events and synagogue life, she is considered Jewish by the Reform movement. My problem is I don’t feel like that’s enough to make her Jewish. My daughter is Korean and I think people will question her Jewish identity. I would like to have her converted but I can’t do that without my rabbi, right? And what do I tell my husband? — Happy to Be a Mother

My response is here.

Posted by admin under Conversion, In the News, In their own words, Jews of Color, Mixed & Matched, Parenting
No Comments

Divorce w-ring

The High Holy Days can bring up some intense feelings for every Jew. One young man called me with a unique issue around the Holidays – his interfaith parents’ divorce and the subsequent lack of clarity about his status.

My September column (Mixed and Matched) in the J-Weekly addressed his feelings.

Here is his question to me:

My dad is Jewish and my mom converted before they got married. Her conversion was Conservative, but after they divorced my father began to go to an Orthodox shul. I have always known that I’m not seen as really Jewish when I’m at my dad’s synagogue. If my mom had continued to raise me as a Conservative Jew, I think I would have been OK, but she stopped practicing Judaism. So I went back and forth between a secular Christian home and a quasi-Orthodox one. I’m back in the Bay Area now, post-college, and living with my mom. The High Holidays are the worst. My dad wants me to go with him and I want to be Jewish and at shul, but not at his shul. The members are nice to me, but I know how I am perceived. My mom doesn’t do anything Jewish anymore. I want to fit in as a Jew. What should I do?
— Torn Apart

Read the rest of the article on the J-weekly page here.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Divorce, High Holidays, In the News, Rosh Hashanah
No Comments

Next Page »