Meeting People Where They Are

|

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, a leading Conservative rabbi whose essay in March explained why he thought Conservative rabbis should continue to not officiate at weddings of interfaith couples, has a new essay arguing that “the Conservative movement should be the movement of conversion.” He wants to “meet people where they are,” and as I understand it make the conversion process easier, in particular not requiring converts to be “fully observant.”

I have always felt that conversion is a wonderful personal choice and I don’t have any issues with making the process easier including for some couples who are getting married. But the idea that making conversion more inviting and “doable” will enable Conservative rabbis to meet young couples who are getting married “where they are” is sorely misguided. Because neither partner is thinking that the partner who is not Jewish needs to make a fundamental change in who he or she is in order to be marriageable.

As David Wilensky and Gabriel Erbs have just written in A Taxonomy of Stupid Shit the Jewish Establishment Says to Millennials:

We really don’t understand how any thinking person believes an intra-communal breeding program will be a convincing appeal to young people. Jewish millennials chafe against this pearl-clutching because we embrace, overwhelmingly, progressive values about gender, sexuality, and marriage. To us, baby-boomer chatter on intermarriage sounds alarmingly like what a lot of “polite society” said at the advent of racial intermarriage….

If Jewish boomers are really anxious about generational continuity (a phrase that verges on eugenics in its subtext), they should stop their hardline rhetoric, which simply pushes millennials out of the communal fold. For interfaith Jewish families who wish to build their family life within the Jewish communal context, this kind of talk constantly reminds them of their second-class status – so they leave.

Shaul Magid writing in The Forward also disagreed with Rabbi Cosgrove, though for different reasons:

I do not think it is fair, or spiritually refined, to ask the non-Jew to become a Jew in order to solve a Jewish problem [intermarriage]. Or to allow us, as rabbis, to sleep at night. To do so is to make conversion into an instrument and the convert into a tool to benefit us.

Rabbi Cosgrove advances other interesting ideas. Since Conservative rabbis do not recognize patrilineal descent, he recommends that all marrying couples go to the mikveh before their weddings, which would “level the playing field of Jewish identity” – and, as I understand it, enable Conservative rabbis to officiate at those weddings. He also recommends that all b’nai mitzvah children go to the mikveh, which would confirm the Jewish identity of patrilineal children.

But these are band-aids that don’t address a much bigger issue. Rabbi Cosgrove has said we must be “passionate in creating a culture of warm embrace for Jew and non-Jew alike.” Not recognizing patrilineal descent, not allowing partners from different faith traditions to participate in Jewish ritual, and not officiating at weddings of interfaith couples – all of these undermine any possible warm embrace.

***

In other news, the Reform Movement’s Vice President of Audacious Hospitality, April Baskin,  has announced the piloting of an Audacious Hospitality Toolkit, a “suite of resources” that will “enable [Reform Jewish leaders] to engage and lead the diverse facets within our community more effectively, as well as enhance all aspects of synagogue life – from programming, worship, governance, staffing, and more – to increasingly reflect that diversity.” It will be interesting to see what the Toolkit says about engaging interfaith families when it is released – the movement’s description of audacious hospitality does not give particular emphasis to that audience:

Jewish populations such as Jews by choice and those exploring Judaism, Jews of color, Jews who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer, Jews who live with physical, mental, or intellectual disabilities, multiracial families, millennials, the aging Jewish population, Jews who are unaffiliated and uninspired by Jewish communal offerings, and of course, the evolving needs of interfaith and intermarried couples and families, requires our focused attention.

Widely Diverse Views: Passover, Officiation, Selling Judaism

|

Attitudes about intermarriage – and Jewish “stuff” in general – seem so far apart at times, are we riding on the same bus?

Passover

Here’s a timely example, with Passover approaching. The Boston Jewish Advocate is owned by Grand Rabbi Y. A. Korff, a Hassidic rebbe. His wife writes a weekly column, Ask the Rebbetzin. In the March 24, 2017 issue, someone asked if a Christian friend who is curious about Judaism could attend her Passover seder. The Rebbetzin said that many rabbinic authorities say that “it is not appropriate (and many say forbidden) to have non-Jews at the Pesach Seder.”

Twelve years ago, in April 2005, I wrote a letter to the editor saying I was mortified when the Rebbe made the same statement in the same newspaper. I asked whether he meant to suggest that intermarried parents from different faith backgrounds should be exiled from their own families’ seders, and questioned how many of those parents would want to raise their children with Judaism if Jewish leaders took that position.

This time around I had a respectful email exchange with the Rebbetzin. She explained that traditional Halachah (Jewish law) states that people who are not Jewish should not participate in the seder; that traditionally observant Jews are bound to follow it whether they agree or not; and that others may take a different approach.

I want to be respectful, and I’m in no position to say that members of a Hassidic community should welcome people who are not Jewish to their seders. But on the other hand, when Jewish leaders from that kind of community make a statement in the broader Jewish community that would serve to repel intermarried parents from Jewish life, it contributes to a general negative attitude about intermarriage that isn’t helpful.

At perhaps the other extreme, I loved Kate Bigam’s piece on ReformJudaism.org, Our Non-Traditional, Interfaith Seder: A Little Creativity and a Lot of Love, about her preparations for her first seder with her soon-to-be husband, who grew up Catholic. She wanted to “show him a good one” and focused on assembling what goes on the seder plate; then he arrived with a beautiful seder plate as a gift (shades of the famous O. Henry story The Gift of the Magi). They enjoyed working through the haggadah, but as she hadn’t prepared dinner, they planned to go to a taco place to eat, but ended up at a Thai restaurant instead. I loved her conclusion:

Traditionalists will say we didn’t do Passover right, and maybe that’s true. My Judaism is not perfect, but it’s genuine and passionate and important to me, even when I get a little creative about it. I’ll always remember Mike’s and my first seder together, and I look forward to many more to come.

I had to wonder what the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin would say about that non-traditional seder! There is something core about the seder ritual and more fundamentally about the meaning of the holiday to which both the Rebbetzin and Kate Bigam are very dedicated, but circling around that core are very divergent approaches. It’s easy to say that because they are in such different communities that are so far apart, it doesn’t matter what they think of each other. But I would like to hope that the Rebbe and Rebbetzin could respect the non-traditional approach the way I try to respect their traditional one; that would mean being more careful about statements they make to the broad Jewish community.

Officiation, and Conservative Judaism

Last week I blogged about the Conservative movement allowing synagogues to allow people who are not Jewish to be members, with a reference to the relatively new and apparently increasing discussion among Conservative rabbis about changing the prohibition against their officiating for interfaith couples. Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, a thoughtful and highly-regarded Conservative rabbi, has weighed in with To Officiate or Not at Intermarriages. Rabbi Cosgrove reveals that there was a “special off-the-record session” at the recent convention of the Rabbinical Assembly (the Conservative rabbis’ association) indicating that “as a movement we clearly are squirming.” I have good reason to believe the session was a presentation by people from the Cohen Center at Brandeis about their game-changing study showing that interfaith couples who have a rabbi officiate have a higher rate of Jewish engagement.

Rabbi Cosgrove says that if the data shows that officiation has positive impact, and if it is not at all surprising that if rabbis turn their backs on couples the couples will turn their backs on Judaism, then the argument that Conservative rabbis should serve the couples is a forceful one. But he is not persuaded. He says couples who are pre-disposed to be engaged might be more likely to have a rabbi – but the study found that controlling for childhood Jewish background and college experiences, intermarrieds who had sole Jewish clergy officiation were still more Jewishly engaged. He says that although Jewish law “can, and oftentimes should, change,” Jewish law has the right to limit what it validates. And he says that he “unapologetically want[s] young Jews to marry other Jews;” officiation at intermarriages “send[s] the message that all choices are equal, a message that I do not think wise given the undisputed place in-marriage has as the single most important determinant in ensuring Jewish continuity.”

I respect Rabbi Cosgrove’s position but think it is misguided. Once he acknowledges that Jewish law can and oftentimes should change, it’s no longer a debate about Jewish law, it’s about the consequences of the positions taken – which brings us right back to couples turning their backs on Judaism when rabbis turn their backs on them.

Rabbi Cosgrove says he wants the Conservative movement’s message to be: we want you to marry Jews; when you don’t the path to conversion is warm and embracing and doable; if that’s not an option, we will help you build a Jewish family and future while respecting your spiritual integrity. Unfortunately this is the same message that the Conservative movement has been sending for the past twenty years, with no positive results to show. Rabbi Cosgrove says that when an intermarriage occurs, “we must be … passionate in creating a culture of warm embrace for Jew and non-Jew alike.” Refusing to officiate seriously undermines any warm embrace. Daniel Solomon had a great story in the Forward about the Conservative movement’s recent change in membership rules, and his title says it all: Conservatives Welcome Non-Jews – But Will They Be Second-Class Citizens In the Synagogue? Solomon quotes Rabbi Steven Wernick, head of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, as saying they wanted to “deepen the sense of welcome for those married to people of another faith,” but Solomon told me that Rabbi Wernick said the USCJ is going to be issuing guidelines that say non-Jews can’t serve on a synagogue board and the membership resolution will not change prohibitions adopted by the Rabbinical Assembly that do not allow people who are not Jewish to handle the Torah during services.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue wrote what I found to be a stunning explanation of The Power of ‘Yes’ on Interfaith Officiation. Rabbi Buchdahl did not officiate for the first ten years of her rabbinate. She learned that:

[S]aying “No” often leads to a profound alienation from the Jewish community. It pains me now, looking back, to think of the many children of my congregation who came to me with their non-Jewish partners, committed to having a Jewish home, and how I turned them away. Many of them left synagogue life permanently. I could no longer bear the hypocrisy I felt in refusing to stand with them for one of the most important days of their lives, but then inviting them to become synagogue members the next day. This could not be the right decision for our Jewish future.

Rabbi Buchdahl says she is now an “impassioned supporter of rabbinic officiation for a couple who commits to the creation of a Jewish home (the very same standard I apply when asked to officiate at a wedding between two Jews).” Rabbi Buchdahl finds power in saying “yes” in part because of the deep relationships couples build with their officiating rabbis. “Then, on their wedding day — one of the most consequential and memorable days of their lives — Jewish ritual becomes the vehicle for their transformation into a family.”

Over the years, I’ve talked to many rabbis who balked at saying the traditional phrase that consecrates a marriage, “under the laws of Moses and Israel,” for interfaith couples. But in what is to me a great advance in thinking on the issue, Rabbi Buchdahl says that “if a non-Jewish partner is willing to live in a home ‘under the laws of Moses and Israel,’ to study Jewish laws and practice, and to raise any future children as Jews, then a rabbi can consecrate that commitment with integrity.” In another great advance to my mind, she says that those who take Central Synagogue’s Exploring Judaism course, but chose not to convert, may not become “b’nai Yisrael” (children of Israel), but they become “bonei Yisrael, builders of Israel and our communities.” She says both b’nai Yisrael and bonei Yisrael are deserving of our blessing under the chuppah.

Of course there is a further end to the spectrum: some would say that officiating only when an interfaith couples commits to the creation of a Jewish home does not go far enough. Rabbi Buchdahl says that she will not “co-officiate with a leader from another faith; if the wedding is marking the end of a couple’s connection to Judaism, instead of a new beginning, then I have no proper place there.” It’s not clear that she meant that co-officiation does mark the end of a couple’s connection to Judaism, and I don’t believe that to be the case. But I’m very grateful to Rabbi Buchdahl for her thoughtful explanation of a position that I believe will clearly engage more interfaith couples in Jewish life than Rabbi Cosgrove’s.

Selling Judaism

Lastly, InterfaithFamily had a mention in the unlikely venue of BloombergBusinessweek, Selling Judaism, Religion Not Included. The article starts out with someone not Jewish celebrating Shabbat – Shabbat is “poised to become the new yoga practice.” Then it moves to Danya Shults, an intermarried Jew who started Arq, “a lifestyle company that seeks to sell people of all faiths on a trendy, tech-literate, and, above all, accessible version of Jewish traditions” that include holiday planning guides. The mention of InterfaithFamily quotes Rabbi Ari Moffic from InterfaithFamily/Chicago as saying “You can do Jewish … even if you’re not Jewish. You want to unplug? It’s called Shabbat, and we’re the experts on it.” The article also mentions Honeymoon Israel, which sends “nontraditional (interfaith, same-sex)” couples on trips to Israel. Everything is referred to as “cultural marketing.”

I’m just not sure that celebrating Shabbat and other Jewish holidays and traveling to Israel isn’t “religious,” as the article title suggests. Of course it depends on what “religious” means – and I’ll have to leave that for other posts. And I’m not saying that cultural marketing is a bad thing, far from it. To me, what related this article to the Passover and officiation issues is the very big factor of welcoming and inclusion, and those who are interested in perpetuating “religious” traditions should take notice. Because what motivated Shults and her Presbyterian husband to look for something different and to start Arq was that “We never really found a [religious] community that matched what we were looking for, especially for” him. “Many of the synagogues that purported to be inclusive turned out to have an agenda, such as trying to get [him] to convert or cultivating the couple’s political support for Israel.” We’ve got a long way to go on the welcoming and inclusion front.

Best wishes for a meaningful Passover – when, after all, we are charged to remember to welcome the stranger, because we were strangers ourselves.

Hybrid Identity, Every Person Counts, Shifting Boundaries and Intermarriage on TV

|

Rabbi Darren Kleinberg has written a very important essay published in eJewishPhilanthropy this week, Hybrid Judaism: The Transformation of American Jewish Identity. Kleinberg was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi in 2005 but describes himself as no longer Orthodox. He writes that identity is not a psychological category that describes who one “is,” but rather a sociological category that describes one’s affiliations, the product of social interactions. As our interactions have become more complex, so does our identity, which he says is best described as “hybrid.”

Given this reality, it is fair to state that the binary distinction between Jew and non-Jew is an increasingly ineffective way to describe those people found in and outside of the American Jewish community.

[W]hat matters is whether people wish to be affiliated with the Jewish community, not how, or to what extent, they choose to identify themselves – after all, affiliation is identity. If we are able to do this, our Jewish communities will grow, even as their constitution will likely undergo significant change.

One practical consequence: Kleinberg recommends that synagogues that are not bound by Jewish law should remove all distinctions among participants so that those who do not self-identify as Jewish but affiliate with the Jewish community through a synagogue (for example, a spouse from a different faith tradition) should have full access to all ritual and leadership opportunities.

This is an essay that is well worth reading.

Rabbi Mychal Copeland, Director of InterfaithFamily/Bay Area, wrote How Reporting Made Me a Better Rabbi for eJewishPhilanthropy also this week. She writes that tracking and recording interactions reflects that every person is important and every encounter can be profound. Keeping track reminds her to follow up, and people are shocked and overwhelmingly grateful that she gave them time and followed up with them.

Many of us profess a commitment to radical hospitality, but are we living it? When I am compiling my reports, I ask myself: Did I go above and beyond what I needed to do to make sure this individual I am “counting” feels embraced? If they were to reflect on our encounter, would they feel they had been respected and seen as a holy being? Did they leave the interaction feeling more connected to Judaism and our community? If they are outside the scope of my organization’s mandate, have I done all I can to connect them elsewhere? Did anyone fall off my radar?

Mychal writes that an “every person counts” mentality is “our best shot as a Jewish community to speak to younger generations yearning for connection and individual attention. In the end, everyone wants to feel like they matter.”

She also writes that InterfaithFamily “strive[s] to be the Jewish organization that says ‘yes’ after people have heard too many ‘no’s.’ That doesn’t mean we don’t have our own boundaries as individual professionals or as an organization. It means that we say ‘yes’ to having a deep interaction regardless of what someone seeks.”

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has passed a resolution to “allow individual congregations to decide whether to grant membership to non-Jews.” Some Conservative synagogues were already accepting as members people from different faith traditions, but the practice has now been officially sanctioned. Rabbi Stewart Vogel, treasurer of the Rabbinical Assembly (the Conservative rabbis’ association) and vice chair of USCJ’s Commission on Community and Covenant which considers ways to engage interfaith couples, said “The Rabbinical Assembly believes in the idea that synagogue life should be open to those who wish to be part of the Jewish community and we are enriched by their presence.” The JTA article on the membership change noted,

The Conservative movement prohibits its rabbis from marrying or attending the wedding ceremonies of interfaith couples, though some of its synagogues celebrate intermarriages before they occur and welcome the couples afterward. In recent years, several Conservative rabbis have protested the intermarriage prohibition.

Two articles in February in the New York Jewish Week and the New Jersey Jewish News describe tensions in the Conservative movement over interfaith issues.

Finally, the TV show Switched at Birth has a new story line involving a Jewish woman married to a Christian man, and the man’s mother. The mother-in-law wants her new grandchild baptized, the mother doesn’t, the father is in between.  ‘Switched at Birth’ gets an interfaith marriage dilemma just right.

Hoping to convince Lily to agree to the baptism, Katherine [the mother-in-law] invites her minister to explain the details of the ritual. It backfires. “I just sat there growing more and more uncomfortable. Hearing that reverend say ‘Christ’ a million times, I have never felt more Jewish in my life,” Lily tells Toby afterwards.

Even though she isn’t religious, Lily realizes Judaism is an important part of her identity and she wants that for her son as well. “Jews are defined by being other than. Not Christian. For me you’re either Jewish different from the rest of the world and proud of it or you’re not. And I’m Jewish,” she says….

Lily perfectly explains the cultural bond Jews feel towards each other: “We have our own history. Our own language. Our own food. Our own sense of humor. And everyone who is Jewish is bonded by that and I want my son to be in that little circle with me.”

Toby and his parents eventually come to terms with Lily raising Carlton Jewish. but they acknowledge they have a lot of learning to do. Toby says he will be taking some classes in Judaism, and Katherine responds that she will also.

There are of course different patterns of behaviors that interfaith couples follow to resolve issues like how to raise their children with religious traditions. The review makes this couple sound very unambiguous, and the mother-in-law very tolerant. But it sounds worth watching.

Where Might Interfaith Families Find Welcoming Jewish Communities?

|

News in the past few weeks highlights the issue of where interfaith families might find genuinely welcoming Jewish communities.

First, I was so pleased to learn that the smiling couple in the photo, Rev. Eleanor Harrison Bregman and Peter Bregman, are being honored by Romemu, a thriving emerging spiritual community in Manhattan where Eleanor, an ordained United Church of Christ minister, works as Director of Multi-Faith Initiatives.

That’s right – an ordained Protestant minister on staff at a Jewish spiritual community, which Eleanor describes as committed to radical hospitality and inclusivity: “At Romemu the diversity of traditions, voices, and practices in our midst is considered a gift that can support us all in living holy lives.” I first met Eleanor when she was a well-received speaker at the Interfaith Opportunity Summit in October 2016; she talked about the “Strangers No More” program she created to support interfaith families, couples, and those who are not Jewish at Romemu, and to expand the centrality of deep respect for all faith traditions there.

But there’s more to that story, because I first met Peter Bregman in July 2004, when he was trying, unsuccessfully, to find a seminary where he could be ordained as a rabbi despite being intermarried. What an amazing arc of developments over the thirteen years since then. Now, Peter could be accepted at the trailblazing Reconstructionist Rabbinical College if he were applying at this time, and now, a trailblazing Romemu is demonstrating genuine welcoming of interfaith families by putting a minister on staff.

Second, and about the same time, the JTA ran an important and I think related story by Ben Sales, Outside the Synagogue, Intermarried are Forming Community With Each Other. He writes that interfaith couples are finding Jewish connection through a range of initiatives aimed at intermarried or unaffiliated couples, mentioning Honeymoon Israel and Circles of Welcome at the JCC Manhattan, among others.

A growing number of initiatives are giving intermarried couples a Jewish framework disconnected from synagogue services and outside the walls of legacy Jewish institutions. Instead of drawing them to Judaism with a preconceived goal, these programs allow intermarried couples to form community among themselves and on their own terms.

Julie Wiener just wrote a great short history of the intermarriage debate for MyJewishLearning.com – one of her subtitles is “From Taboo to Commonplace” – that alludes to interfaith families finding community in new and alternative forms of organization when discussing resources for interfaith families.

As quoted by Sales, one participant in a program says “It was nice to go to a group where everyone was in the same sort of boat. There’s a real dialogue rather than someone telling you their opinion of what your situation is.” One program creator says she wanted to enable couples that come from mixed religious backgrounds “to ask questions in a safe space.”

Sales quotes Jodi Bromberg, CEO of InterfaithFamily, as explaining that interfaith families that want to experience Jewish life have had to use other resources “because of the history of interfaith families not being welcoming and not being accepted.” (He could have added that InterfaithFamily/Your Community rabbis in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC are offering meet-ups, discussion groups and reunions that are attracting hundreds of interfaith couples.)

Sales also quotes Avi Rubel, co-CEO of Honeymoon Israel, as saying that “When it comes to building community and meeting other people, people want to bring their whole selves… in America that means being inclusive of non-Jews and other friends.” I certainly agree with that. (The Pew Research Center coincidentally released a new report today about increased positive feelings Americans have for various religious groups, with Jews scoring the highest; Americans express warmer feelings toward religious groups when they are personally familiar with someone in the group, and 61% of Americans now say they know someone Jewish.)

Rubel also says that intermarried couples are “uncomfortable with settings that, by their nature, are not meant for non-Jews….” – and that’s more complicated, and raises a profound question, and brings me back to Romemu.

The profound question is whether Jewish organizations, including synagogues and emerging spiritual communities, “are not meant for non-Jews” or, to eliminate the double negative, are meant for just Jews. Romemu obviously would not say “we are not meant for non-Jews;” Eleanor says the diversity of traditions there is considered a gift that supports all. Romemu equally obviously would not say that is it meant only for Jews.

I believe that there are some synagogues that genuinely welcome interfaith families, and certainly that many more are trying to. But even Steven M. Cohen is quoted by Sales as acknowledging that the people who feel most welcome in synagogues are “the people who fit the demographic of the active group” – referring to inmarried Jews with children. Moreover,

[O]rganizers of the independent initiatives, and intermarried couples themselves, say even a welcoming synagogue can still be an intimidating space. The couples may not know the prayers or rituals, may feel uncomfortable with the expectation of becoming members, or may just feel like they’re in the minority.

It follows from the fact that the new groups of intermarried couples by their nature are not “meant for Jews” that they are welcoming spaces for interfaith couples, who are comfortable with other people like them. I believe that it is important for mainstream Jewish organizations, including synagogues and emerging spiritual communities, to decide that they are not “meant for Jews” but instead are “meant for” Jews and their partners and all people who want to engage in Jewish traditions with other similarly engaged people. They are Jewish organizations not because they are “for Jews” but because Jewish traditions are engaged in there. Starting from that perspective would naturally lead to taking steps to making those who do not come from a Jewish background not feel intimidated or like a minority, and being less dogmatic and open to contributions from different traditions. That must be what is happening at Romemu, and what needs to happen at many more Jewish organizations, and I believe is the kind of thinking behind the Reconstructionists’ decision to ordain intermarried rabbis, too.

There’s an interesting exchange at the end of the JTA story. Rabbi Miriam Farber Wajnberg, who runs the Circles of Welcome program (and was another well-received speaker at the Interfaith Opportunity Summit) says intermarried Jews won’t remain forever separate, and sees her program “as a stepping-stone to a time when the larger community is more open to non-Jewish spouses.” She hopes her program won’t need to exist in the future.

But the couple quoted in the story says they feel a sense of belonging to the intermarried groups that have formed: “these are the people who get us… [t]his is our community.” The challenge for mainstream and emerging Jewish organizations is to make intermarried people feel about them, the way they feel about their intermarried groups. The starting point for that to happen is for organizations to decide they are for all who are interested, and then to demonstrate radical hospitality and inclusion.

Eleanor and Peter will be honored at Romemu’s benefit, “Awaken Your Voice,” on April 6, 2017. I hope the event will be a great success – it deserves to be.

Change May Be Afoot in the More “Conservative” Communities

|

It’s been quiet on the intermarriage front for a while; it feels like most people’s attention is understandably in the political realm these days. But in the past two weeks there has been interesting news and comment on intermarriage in the more traditional, conservative parts of the Jewish community.

When people talk about intermarriage, for example about the 72% rate of intermarriage since 2000 among non-Orthodox Jews, the general understanding is that intermarriage isn’t much of a phenomenon in the Orthodox world. A fascinating blog post on intermarriage in the Orthodox world, The Rise of Interfaith Marriage in the Modern Orthodox Community, suggests that that may not be the case. The blog’s creator, Alan Brill, estimates that 7-8% of young Modern Orthodox Jews are intermarried, and says that “ordinary Modern Orthodox Jews are talking about this topic,…” He also says “cases of full Orthodox conversion … are now quite common.”

Most of the blog post is a guest post by “Ruvie,” a Modern Orthodox man, writing about his feelings about his son’s marriage to someone who was not Jewish – feelings that aren’t that different from those of many non-Orthodox Jews.

Ruvie says he is aware of five interfaith marriages in the past year and a half among children of his observant Modern Orthodox friends. “All parents went through various stages of shame, anger, confusion and guilt.” “This is something new and growing in the MO community.” He refers to estimates of 5% to 20% intermarriage rates in the Orthodox world.

Ruvie complains that there is a taboo about talking about intermarriage that no longer exists in other controversial topics in Orthodoxy, like homosexuality and people abandoning Orthodoxy:

Rabbis are afraid to be publicly associated with this topic. Parents are reluctant to talk to friends, Rabbis, and extended family. They first are embarrassed and in denial then hope and pray it goes away as a phase not wanting to alienate their children – or they fight and alienate their children.

Ruvie describes the reactions of his friends and himself:

On a personal level, for myself and others, there was a certain amount of: shame in being in this situation – didn’t discuss with my closest friends until later, anger at our ourselves (as failures) and our educational system, confusion – how could this have happened and where is my allegiance – son, family, community and Judaism? [A]nd lastly a certain amount of guilt.

It is very clear that Ruvie’s son may have left Modern Orthodoxy but has not left Jewish life. The officiating rabbi recommended that the young woman take an introduction to Judaism course and during the course she decided to undergo a Conservative conversion. Before the wedding the son asked the father to put up a mezuzah at his apartment; after the wedding the son asked his mother where he could ritually immerse their dishes.

It is also very clear that Ruvie prioritizes his relationship with ­­­his son:­­­

My son’s happiness and ascent from loneliness is an important factor in the equation. I realize that being supportive leads to possible normalization of interfaith marriage. As a parent the best interest and wellbeing of my child supersedes other considerations that are communal in nature.

Ruvie’s conclusion: “There is a lack of open conversation and dialogue on this topic in our community. Let’s begin now.”

The Conservative movement currently restricts synagogue membership to Jews. The recent news, described in a JTA article, Conservative movement proposes allowing non-jews as synagogue members, is that the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (the association of Conservative synagogues) is asking the synagogues to vote in March to allow individual synagogues to decide whether to grant membership to non-Jews. Rabbi Steven Wernick, head of USCJ, said that “the current standards don’t make sense in a world where many intermarried couples are active participants in Conservative congregations” and that “the language of ‘only Jews can be members of a synagogue’ makes it seem like a non-Jew who is connected is not a member of that community.”

Rabbi Wernick also said that the USCJ is not changing the definition of who counts as Jewish: “What we’re trying to do with this is distinguish between community and covenant.” But Rabbi Chuck Simon, head of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and the most outspoken Conservative leader on intermarriage issues, recently created a pamphlet in which he essentially recommends that the Conservative movement adopt patrilineal descent. The Elephant in the Room: Conservative Judaism and the Patrilineal Question.

It will be interesting to see movement in the Modern Orthodox and the Conservative parts of the community towards more acceptance and welcoming of interfaith families.

There was also a piece on eJewishPhilanthropy about Hebrew College’s new certificate program in Interfaith Families Jewish Engagement, and a positive comment by Phoebe Maltz Bovy in the Forward.

 

Late 2016 Round-up: Major Convening, Major Research… What’s Next?

|

I think it’s safe to say that we would all have to agree that an awful lot has happened in the past two months. That includes developments in the field of engaging interfaith families Jewishly, which I summarize here.

On October 10, eJewishPhilanthropy published my review of a demographic study of British Jews that I found to be unfortunately negative about intermarriage, given trends indicative of a generational shift in identity and practice that I thought supported increased efforts to engage interfaith couples and families.

The October 26 Interfaith Opportunity Summit marked a watershed moment, putting engaging interfaith families at a high level in the mainstream Jewish community’s agenda. eJewishPhilanthropy published Jodi Bromberg’s and my report on new understandings of how to influence engagement, new efforts to engage interfaith families, and the need for an attitudinal “narrative shift” about intermarriage discussed at the Summit.

The Cohen Center at Brandeis on the day of the Summit released a very important study on the impact of rabbinic officiation at weddings of interfaith couples. My op-ed, Are Rabbis Who Refuse to Marry Interfaith Couples Hurting Jewish Continuity?, was published in the Forward and eJewishPhilanthropy. I said that it is no longer tenable for rabbis not to officiate on the grounds that intermarriage is “bad for the Jews,” when the new research shows strong association between officiation and interfaith couples raising their children as Jews and joining synagogues.

The Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem released an important report in November on definitions of Jewishness in a time of fluid identity. In my blog post, what I found promising was the apparent consensus, among  over 700 Jewish leaders from Israel, the US and other countries, on the need to be welcoming to interfaith couples. However, I noted a conflict with an accompanying desire to maintain community standards that express a preference for in-marriage.

In November CJP released the 2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study, conducted by the Cohen Center and Steinhardt Institute at Brandeis. In my blog post, I note that the Study confirms the very large extent of intermarriage in the community, and validates the wisdom of CJP’s welcoming approach, with high rates of intermarried couples raising their children as Jews and promising rates of engagement in many other Jewish behaviors. The Study is also important for creating an Index of Jewish Engagement that recognizes multiple patterns of engagement and supports programmatic efforts targeted towards groups with different needs and interests.

I added a new “Reports” section on this site with summaries of important studies, including the officiation research, the JPPI definitions of Jewishness report, and the 2015 Boston Study.

We are clearly in a time of increased interest in the field, with new convenings and research supporting increased efforts. The question that remains is how to make a national coordinated effort to engage interfaith families a reality.

Continuing Promising News from Boston

|

Every ten years since 1965, Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), the Boston federation, has conducted a community study. The 2005 study electrified the Jewish media with the finding that 60% of interfaith couples in Boston were raising their children as Jews. The 2015 Study, conducted by the Cohen Center and Steinhardt Institute at Brandeis, reveals a wealth of information that strongly supports continued programmatic efforts to engage interfaith families Jewishly. The Study is also important for creating an Index of Jewish Engagement that identifies five groups with distinctive patterns of engaging in Jewish life and community; the Index is promising as a basis for future targeted programmatic efforts.

A detailed review of the 2015 Study can be found here. The highlights on the extent of intermarriage include:

  • there are 248,000 Jews in Boston, making it the fourth largest community in the US as defined by federation service area (after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago), representing 7% of the area population, and having increased 4.6% since 2005.
  • 47% of couples in Jewish households are interfaith couples, 53% are two-Jewish couples (of the latter, 5% include a convert).
  • Of Jews in Boston, 8% are Israeli, 7% are Russian born or speaking, and 7% are LGBTQ; 70% of married Russian Jews are in interfaith relationships, 20% of Israeli Jews and 69% of LGBTQ Jews.

The highlights on the impact of intermarriage include:

  • 69% of children of intermarried couples are raised with Judaism, 57% exclusively Jewish, compared to 94% of children of inmarried couples:
    • 42% are Jews by religion, compared to 65% of children of inmarried
    • 15% are Jews not by religion, compared to 28% of children of inmarried
    • 12% are Jewish and another religion, compared to 1% of children of inmarried
    • 21% have no religion, compared to 5% of children of inmarried
    • 10% are another religion
  • 27% of the intermarried (37% of the intermarried with children) are synagogue members, compared to 57% of the inmarried (64% of the inmarried with children).
  • 21% of children of the intermarried are getting part-time (19%) or day school (2%) Jewish education; 83% of the intermarried with children attended services in the past year, 100% list Hanukkah candles, 93% attended a Seder, 59% light Shabbat candles sometimes, 22% follow some Kosher practice; 60% of the intermarried donate to Jewish causes; 86% are concerned with worldwide anti-Semitism; 72% feel very much (16%), somewhat (34%) or a little (22%) emotionally connected to Israel.
  • Interestingly, the intermarried score higher than the inmarried on volunteering for all non-Jewish causes, including education, poverty/social justice, medical/health, arts/culture and political activism.

The Study notes comparisons between intermarried and inmarried Jews on numerous other Jewish behaviors and attitudes, all summarized in a table in the detailed review.

The Study creates an Index of Jewish Engagement based on a statistical “cluster analysis” of fourteen Jewish behaviors, and identifies five patterns: the Minimally Involved (17% of all Jews) and the Immersed (15%) at the ends of the spectrum, and three middle groups: the Familial (24%) who engage primarily through family and home-based behaviors, the Affiliated (26%) who engage through family and communal organizations, and the Cultural (18%) who engage through family and cultural activities. Of the intermarried, 27% are Minimally Involved, 30% are Familial, 28% are Affiliated, 11% are Cultural, 5% are Immersed.

The apparent motivation for creating the Index was the feeling that dichotomies like “engaged/not engaged” and “religious/not religious,” and comparisons between denominations, “are inadequate descriptors of contemporary Jewish behavior.” “Boston Jewry is characterized by diverse ways of being involved in Jewish life…”  The Index was designed to identify opportunities for increased engagement that can be targeted towards groups with different needs and interests.

The Boston Jewish Community, led by CJP, has been probably the most welcoming to interfaith couples and families of any American community; CJP has been funding programs targeted to engage interfaith families since the late 1990’s. The 2015 Study, like the earlier one in 2005, confirms the very large extent of intermarriage in the community, and validates the wisdom of the welcoming approach, with high rates of intermarried couples raising their children as Jews and promising rates of engagement in many other Jewish behaviors.

Of course more needs to be and can be done, and the Study suggests several opportunities. One is the high percentage of intermarried Russian born and speaking Jews at which programming might be directed. Another is the relatively low percentages of intermarried couples who send their children to Jewish pre-school (12%, compared to 27% of inmarried), overnight camp (7%, compared to 27%) and on Israel trips (8%, compared to 37%). The growth market that these programmatic efforts need to focus on clearly is the children of the intermarried.

The percentages of intermarried couples in the various groups identified by the Index of Jewish Engagement, and the behaviors associated with those groups, also suggest avenues of opportunity. If the community wanted to move intermarried couples from the Minimally Involved group (27% of the intermarried compared to 17% of all Jews) and the Familial group (30% of the intermarried compared to 24% of all Jews) towards the Affiliated and the Cultural, then the organizations (around which the Affilated are involved) and the cultural activities (around which the Cultural are involved) could focus on efforts to attract and welcome more intermarried couples.

The Study doesn’t flesh out much about what some important categories mean. For example, 3% of Jewish adults are Jews “of multiple religions” and 12% of the children of intermarried couples are Jewish “and another religion.” The Study doesn’t report on any data that might illuminate what those labels mean or the behaviors of the people so described. Hopefully, more will be forthcoming.

Finally, the Study reveals some promising data on changing attitudes. The percentage of Jews who feel it is very important that their grandchildren are raised Jewish is 46%, higher than the percentage who feel it is very important that their children marry someone Jewish (31%). Even in the Immersed group, only 63% said it was very important that their child marry someone Jewish – but 85% want Jewish grandchildren. By welcoming and providing programming designed to attract and engage interfaith families Jewishly, the Boston Jewish community clearly is helping to make that desire an increasing reality.

Are Rabbis Who Refuse To Marry Interfaith Couples Hurting Jewish Continuity?

|

published by The Forward and on eJewishPhilanthropy
reprinted with permission

The Cohen Center’s new study, Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage, is a game-changer. The many rabbis who don’t officiate at weddings of interfaith couples because they think those couples won’t engage in Jewish life no longer have that leg to stand on.

Addressing the issue of rabbinic officiation at intermarriages was a major focus of InterfaithFamily’s (IFF) work since it started fifteen years ago. In the early years, IFF published many first-person accounts of the hurt and rejection couples experienced; one of the most striking articles from 2002 is titled Why I Am a Unitarian – you can guess the reason why. But no one seemed to pay much attention.

In early 2008, a study by the National Center for Jewish Policy Studies, Intermarriage and Jewish Journeys, confirmed that the negative experience many interfaith couples had seeking Jewish clergy to officiate at their weddings was a “huge turnoff.” Finally, I thought, people would pay attention to research by a respected academic – but it didn’t happen.

In March 2010, the CCAR, after three years of study, released a report that acknowledged the opportunity to engage interfaith families Jewishly through rabbinic outreach, and said that a range of practices, including officiation under certain circumstances, was “respected.” But it also said that encouraging in-marriage was important because of the greater likelihood of continuity, and left standing the CCAR’s 1973 resolution that officially disapproves of officiation because intermarriage is “should be discouraged.” To my knowledge, no one knows how many Reform rabbis officiate for interfaith couples; most published comments say “about half.”

InterfaithFamily never argued with rabbis who said that their position on officiation was based on their relationship with Jewish law. But it’s clear that the opposition of many to officiation is based not on theology but on demographics: the belief that intermarriage is “bad for the Jews.” I vividly remember meeting a Reform rabbi on the North Shore of Chicago who told me she didn’t officiate for interfaith couples because of Steven Cohen’s research showing that intermarried couples were not Jewishly engaged. When prominent Conservative rabbi David Wolpe explained in 2013 why he didn’t officiate for interfaith couples, the first reason he gave was that “invariably” in an intermarriage the chances that the children will be raised as Jewish are much less. That’s why the new research on the impact of officiation is so important.

When Len Saxe discussed the new study at the recent Interfaith Opportunity Summit, one of his slides generated an audible gasp among the attendees: 85% of intermarried couples who had only Jewish clergy officiate at their wedding are raising their children Jewish, compared to 94% of in-married couples who have Jewish clergy officiate, and 23% of intermarried couples who have other officiants. Moreover, 34% of intermarried couples with sole Jewish clergy officiants are synagogue members, compared to 41% of in-married couples, and 7% of intermarrieds with other officiants.

As careful researchers, Saxe and his team don’t claim definitive causation, but the association between officiation and later Jewish engagement is striking. “Interactions with Jewish clergy in preparation for the wedding may serve to welcome the non-Jewish partner into Judaism, establish the groundwork for a continuing relationship, and affirm the couple’s prior decision to raise a Jewish family. However, the opposite may also be true. Rejection by Jewish clergy may serve to dissuade couples from pursuing other Jewish commitments and connections.”

After this research, Reform rabbis who don’t officiate are refusing to take action they are permitted by their association to take that leads to interfaith couples raising their children as Jews and joining synagogues. That can’t be a tenable position any longer, and it’s time for the CCAR to change its official position.

But this isn’t just a Reform issue. At the Interfaith Opportunity Summit, several Conservative rabbis expressed deep concern about their association’s position on officiation. One said, “we massage the message but at the end of the day we are saying ‘no’ and it is real and painful.” A prominent Conservative rabbi earlier this year said it’s time to allow Conservative rabbis to officiate at weddings of interfaith couples. The new research supports efforts to change the RA’s policy from within.

It’s time for Judaism’s religious leaders, instead of making interfaith couples feel that their relationships are disapproved, to truly embrace them. What could be more welcoming than a rabbi embracing an interfaith couple at the nodal moment of the wedding? Rabbis should be leading the effort to change the dominant narrative away from ambivalence about intermarriage and the legitimacy of the intermarried.

With 72% of non-Orthodox Jews intermarrying, efforts to engage interfaith families Jewishly are essential. They cannot succeed without a dramatic shift in attitudes towards the positive.

Welcome Intermarried But Maintain Norms Preferring In-marriage? A Review of the Jewish People Policy Institute’s Exploring the Jewish Spectrum in a Time of Fluid Identity

|

logoThe Jewish People Policy Institute has issued a rather amazing report, Exploring the Jewish Spectrum in a Time of Fluid Identity, a project headed by Shmuel Rosner and John Ruskay. The report is based on the 2016 Jewish World Dialogue, which involved surveys and discussions in which 715 highly engaged Jewish leaders from around the world participated. The JPPI is a prominent Jerusalem-based think tank chaired by Stuart Eizenstat, Dennis Ross and Leonid Nevzlin.

I describe the report as amazing because of the realistic and somewhat positive tone with which it describes intermarriage, and because of the great emphasis it places on being welcoming. At the same time, the report expresses a profound conundrum: whether it is possible to be genuinely welcoming of intermarried families, and also maintain communal norms that prefer in-marriage over intermarriage. I don’t think the Dialogue participants or the authors of the report go quite far enough to support the genuine welcoming that I believe is needed.

The Importance of Welcoming

The main finding of the report sets up the conundrum: there is remarkable consensus among engaged Jews regarding the need for the Jewish world (1) to be inclusive and welcoming toward all those who seek to participate in Jewish life, but also (2) to maintain selective communal norms. (emphasis added)

“Twenty-five years after the American National Jewish Population Study revealed the substantial increase in intermarriage in an open society, most Jewish leadership groups strive to seed, nurture, and strengthen a broad range of quality Jewish cultural and educational programs and a communal environment that welcomes all who seek to participate.” (emphasis added) (9)

The main recommendations of the report include striking support for programmatic efforts to welcome and engage interfaith families:

  • to “seed and support programs that reach out to Jews with weak identities and/or those whose Jewish status may be uncertain but still seek to learn and engage in Jewish life.”
  • “[T]he government of Israel, Jewish federations and philanthropies should continue to invest, both to encourage as many Jews as possible to intensify their engagement with Judaism, and also to create a welcoming environment.”
  • to “acknowledge those who have cast their lot with the Jewish people, in terms of behavior and self-identity, but have not yet undergone conversion and become fully fledged members of the Jewish people.” (10-12)

The endorsement of the need to be welcoming to people in interfaith relationships is extremely heartening, especially considering that the report is a product of an Israel-based think tank and involved many Israeli participants. Even in the area of Israel-Diaspora relations, the emphasis on welcoming is striking: “Jews around the world expect Israel to offer a welcoming environment to all those wishing to participate in Jewish life and identify with the Jewish people.” (9)

Attitudes and Norms

The rub with being welcoming comes with what communal norms are to be maintained, and whether that can be done while still being welcoming. “[N]orms are needed to maintain the Jewish people as a collective, and prevent it from disintegrating into a fragmented and diffuse collection of groups and individuals.” (10)

The key chapter “Jewishness Meets Intermarriage” starts with a brief review of statistics showing high rates of intermarriage, such that “[M]ost Jews understand that the Jewish community, except in Israel, is gradually becoming one for which interfaith marriage is normative…,” together with surveys showing that intermarried families have a weaker connection than in-married families to the Jewish community and to Judaism. (67-68)

Dialogue participants were asked a series of questions that ascertain their attitudes towards intermarriage. The first question was whether the Jewish community should encourage Jews to marry other Jews, whether because doing so might succeed, or to make a symbolic declaration that in-marriage is preferable. Even though the participants expect intermarriage will continue to be a significant feature of Jewish life, more than 80% believed the community ought to encourage in-marriage.

The authors note that these participants “want the community to invest in measures that according to their [own] assessment are not going to completely alter the trend of intermarriage (some might still hope that the trend can be somewhat reversed).”  (68-69) The authors also note that it is not clear what the programmatic implications of encouraging in-marriage would be: “after trying to promote it for many years, no magic bullet has been found for this endeavor – only maintaining a certain communal norm, welcoming all people, and providing opportunities for Jewish learning and living. Essentially, doing everything possible to encourage distanced Jews to intensify their involvement with Judaism.” (69-70)

Dialogue participants were also asked whether intermarriage could be a blessing for the future of Judaism. The authors aptly summarize the argument: If non-Jews intermarry and agree in higher numbers – “as they do” – to raise Jewish children, the Jewish community no longer “loses” Jews to intermarriage, it “gains” non-Jews and their children who become part of the community. But again, “Even as they see a reality that cannot be reversed, and even as they hear the many success stories of integration of intermarried couples into the community, and even as they hear some of their leaders celebrate intermarriage as an opportunity for growth – they remain doubtful.” (72)

The authors locate the source of this hesitation in the studies that show lesser engagement among intermarried families. Many of them cannot overlook the studies that repeatedly show that intermarriage leads to a lesser engagement with Judaism and are not certain that is it within the community’s capabilities to bring interfaith families to the level of engagement of in-married families. (72)

Dialogue participants were not asked whether being Jewish requires a commitment to Jewishness alone (whether religious or peoplehood exclusivity). The authors say this is a question in need of exploration, as there is a growing share of Jews who do not see their Jewishness as exclusive. (75)

The one communal norm the report addresses is Jewish leadership: while many Jews want intermarried families to be full participants in Jewish life, they still have an inclination to preserve some symbolic features that point to the advantage, from a communal viewpoint, of in-marriage over intermarriage. (75) Thus, “Jews want their religious leaders to be unquestionably Jewish, and most of them want their communal leaders to be Jewish.” There is less agreement on whether a communal leader must have a Jewish spouse. (86)

The authors make an interesting comment about the “leader as role model” argument: “The question of ‘leader as role model’ becomes significant… only when the encouraged ‘model’ is an in-married Jewish family. Clearly this is what most Dialogue participants believed to be the case.” This is a very clear example of an underlying attitude that supports maintaining a norm.

The Conundrum

I have argued elsewhere that it is extremely difficult if even possible to encourage in-marriage and at the same time genuinely welcome the intermarried. Expressions of preference for in-marriage risk making those who intermarry feel that their relationship is sub-optimal and disapproved. The authors recognize this when they raise the question, “What if encouraging in-marriage alienates intermarried couples – an alienation that Dialogue participants were acutely worried about.” “Obviously, a strong desire to be ‘welcoming’… could be complicated by a campaign to encourage in-marriage.” (70) Similarly, if leaders don’t see the potential benefit from intermarriage, they will be less inclined to make efforts to engage interfaith families. The authors suggest that Jewish leaders can argue in favor of the model of the in-married Jewish family “without it implying the justification of criticism of Jews who made the personal decision to marry a non-Jew” (89); I don’t think that is the case.

Relying on studies showing lesser engagement of intermarried families is suspect when the community has not been welcoming and when very little effort has been made to “invest in interfaith families” with programming targeted to engage them. Again, the authors recognize this: “[P]roponents of outreach policies [argue] not that intermarriage is a blessing, but rather that with the right policies (being more welcoming, investing in interfaith families etc.) the potential is there for a beneficial effect on the community.” (73)

These expressions of attitudes of Jewish leaders are extremely important; as the authors note, “[C]onnected Jews make the communal rules. It is highly engaged and connected Jews who grasp the challenges, and attempt to tackle them. These Jews, participants in our groups, seemed somewhat readier than we had expected to make definitive assertions concerning the value of in-marriage to the community and its long term interests.” (72) The authors say “It is fair to suspect that had the Dialogue included more Jews of no religion, more disconnected Jews, and more unaffiliated Jews, the answers … would have been different.” (71-72) I suspect the same would be true if more less- and moderately- engaged Jews and their partners were included; the leaders may be behind the rest of the community. In the report’s recommendations, the authors say that the community “accepts the fact that many Jews who are important to the larger community marry non-Jewish spouses;” “acceptance” in my opinion is not a warm enough response to achieve the engagement that the community appears to want to achieve.

I do see promise if one of the recommendations of the report is implemented: to create communities of practice that will develop “best practices in dealing with the broad range of contemporary Jews and Jewish groups,” “leadership training programs so leaders can deepen their understanding of the new milieu,” and welcoming language and messaging in organizational materials. (11)

Definitions of Jewishness and Interfaith Families

The report includes a fascinating discussion of definitions of Jewishness that have implications for engaging interfaith families Jewishly, which I have summarized separately. One part of the discussion is particularly important.

The report identifies four aspects of Judaism as primary components of Jewishness: in the order in which they were ranked in surveys, they are culture, nationality/peoplehood, religion, and genealogy. The authors note that putting less emphasis on genealogy “fits nicely with … understanding that intermarriage is an irreversible part of Jewish life and with the cautious optimism some have concerning ‘the community’s ability to turn this challenging trend into an opportunity.’” But they also note that as Jews emphasize nationality/peoplehood, comfort with intermarriage could seem to rest on shaky ground, because intermarrieds currently show less connection to other Jews and Israel. One of the report’s recommendations is to “create initiatives that consciously seek to enhance the understanding of the Jewish peoplehood component among all who participate in Jewish life (Jews and non-Jews who affiliate with the community).” I would only note that efforts to influence non-Jews who affiliate with the community, and their partners, will be hindered to the extent that maintaining a norm of in-marriage makes interfaith couples feel second rate.

 

What Happened at the Summit

|

November 6, 2016

I’m pleased to say that the program at the Interfaith Opportunity Summit on October 26 was very well received.

InterfaithFamily has put up a Summit Resource Page with links to presentations by Alan Cooperman, Len Saxe, Yehuda Kurtzer, Wendy Rosov, Archie Gottesman, Honeymoon Israel, Congregation Rodeph Shalom and Kerry Olitzky. The plenaries and program sessions were videotaped and I hope that InterfaithFamily will make the videos available online.

My summary of the Summit highlights, written with Jodi Bromberg, was published by eJewishPhilanthropy today: What We Learned at the Interfaith Opportunity Summit.

The New York Jewish Week published an excellent article about the Summit.

The Forward published an op-ed about the Summit by InterfaithFamily/Atlanta Program Manager Laurel Snyder, It’s Amazing How Much the Jewish Interfaith Conversation Has Change in a Decade.

You can see tweets from throughout the Summit by speaker Susan Katz Miller here.

JTA ran a story about the Cohen Center’s rabbinic officiation study discussed for the first time at the Summit.

I felt that Steven M. Cohen tried to divert attention from the Summit’s positive agenda by publishing Which of Our Grandchildren Will Be Jewish in This Age of Intermarriage two days before the Summit. The Forward published my letter to the editor here.

Additional coverage added November 11: a positive article in Arutz Sheva, an Israeli new site associated with Religious Zionism, and another in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

Additional coverage added November 30: Atlanta Embraces Interfaith Engagement by Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder in the Atlanta Jewish Times.