Shabbat Surfing: What’s New?

Suze Orman thinks you should be going to a cool Jewish summer camp.
Image (c) suzeorman.com

Shana tova!

We’re days away from the Jewish New Year and it seemed the right time to focus on all things both Jewish and new.

Because it’s hard to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Suze Orman just making lanyards…
New Camp: Four new Jewish summer camps are gearing up to create more memorable overnight camp experiences for underserved populations, thanks to the Foundation for Jewish Camp, in the areas of business and entrepreneurship, health and wellness, sports, and science and technology.

Because it’s about time…
New Name: “Jew Pond” in New Hampshire, named as a pejorative in the 1920s when the hotel to which it was connected was bought by two Jewish businessmen from Boston, has been officially renamed Carleton Pond.

Because sexism and agism are so passe…
New Shofar Blowers: DC Congregations, including Adas Israel and Tifereth Israel, are seeing more and more women, plus young and older adults who want to blow the shofar, and are learning for these High Holidays.

Because we notice when one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Middle East is denied the right to worship…
New Place Without a Minyan: “For the first time in some 2,000 years, Alexandria [Egypt] will not have a minyan,” as Egyptian authorities cancel services at Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue and deny visas.

Because welcoming all Jewish families is a core value…
New Info on Interfaith Families: With interfaith relationships making up a not-insignificant amount of the Jewish community, new survey data helps Jewish organizations engage these families, who are looking for outlandish things like a welcoming attitude, invitations to learn about Judaism, and events for interfaith families.

 

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Shabbat Surfing: Feeling Good

Earlier this week, NPR aired a story about the new Pakistani Muslim owners of Coney Island Bialys and Bagels. A family business started in 1920 by a Polish immigrant from Bialystock, the shop claims to be the oldest bialy bakery in New York City.  The new owners have promised to keep everything the same: the ingredients and suppliers, hand-rolling and properly boiling the bagels, and the kosher supervision.

In the Bronx, an Islamic Center has opened its doors to a  Chabad synagogue so that they have a place to hold Shabbat services. The two houses of worship have a history of supporting each other and  have formed a deep bond.

The New York Times  took its sports section readers to Kiryat Shmona, one of Israel’s smallest cities, in a feature about its professional soccer team. The small club beat power team Hapoel Tel Aviv to capture the Toto Cup and sits atop Israel’s Premier League with an 11-point lead. The club is full of promise  and on the course for its first league championship. If Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona captures the championship, it will certainly be well-deserved.

Ten Steps to a Successful Interfaith Wedding from a Brand-New Bride:

  1. Get excited—it’s the best way to have fun with what may otherwise be a super stressful process:)
  2. Have a good foundation—talk about everything you can, learn about everything you can, explore ALL the issues; attending things like the Interfaith Couples Workshop, Intro to Judaism and Tying the Knot really helped
  3. Pin down your officiant(s) as early as possible, and keep ‘em in the loop (if you don’t have any yet, contact Jean Graubart at the 16th Street J and she’ll point ya in the right direction)
  4. Don’t be afraid to make it your own—interfaithfamily.com has some great sample ceremonies
  5. The most important thing to remember isn’t compromise, its respect—and as long as you’ve got that, you’ll make the right decisions
  6. Make programs so your (and his) family can follow along—it helps to have phonetics of the “heblish” translations so people don’t congratulate you on the beautiful “choopa”
  7. There are a million different meaningful explanations for everything (especially Jewish traditions!) mix and match, cherry-pick what fits you best or combine a few different interpretations—with so many options, no one’s ever wrong!
  8. There are also a million different ways to do a Ketubah (if you decide you want one) and some great interfaith texts out there (check out modernketubah.com for examples)—just don’t wait ‘till the day-of to print it!
  9. Plan away, but remember, “it’s the little imperfections that make the day so special” (this is from the Brand-New Groom)
  10. Finally, don’t forget to have fun!! Enjoy all the little things, big things and the in-betweens; there are sure to be ups and downs, but in the end, you’ll have created memories—and a partnership—to last a lifetime.

Why “Will Chelsea Convert?” Is the Wrong Question

It drives me crazy.

No sooner had word of Chelsea Clinton’s engagement to Marc Mezvinsky hit the news, than the question, like a mah-jongg tile gone supernova, exploded sending shockwaves across the internet and into the hearts of our communal neuroses.

So let me say this right now: I don’t care if Chelsea Clinton converts. Her spiritual decisions are not some ethno-religious trophy we should seek to display like a white rhino head next to Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Ivanka Trump. If you need this point underscored take a stroll through The Daily Beast’s slide-show of converts and celebrity flirtations with Judaism (kicking-off with an always-classy nipple shot of Britney Spears). The accompanying article matches this level of sophistication with a plumb of a quotation from Ed Koch suggesting that Chelsea Clinton acquaint herself with Chinese take-out menus. Although to be fair, it does get some slightly more thoughtful comments from the likes of Ruth Wisse, Rabbi David Wolpe and Joyce Antler (who was here a few years back with her book You Never Call! You Never Write! A History the Jewish Mother). Yet it still misses the point entirely.

The question is not whether Chelsea will convert, but how important is living a Jewish life to Marc Mezvinsky? And to be really honest, I don’t truly care how important it is to Marc Mezvinsky specifically, as I do to the thousands of Marc Mezvinskim who are going to marry non-Jews in the coming years, most of whom will not be presidential offspring. Despite all the progress that has been made in how the Jewish community deals with intermarried couples, we still view a conversion decision as a make or break moment. While that decision is an important, and often desirable one, it is but one on a spectrum of decisions an individual and then a couple make in relation to Judaism in his or her life.

It is great that Chelsea went with Marc to Yom Kippur services. But if that was the only Jewish connection Marc was going make this year, either with or without Chelsea, then it doesn’t really matter if she converts. However, if Chelsea never feels like taking a dip in the mikveh, but they light Shabbat candles, observe the yearly rhythms of the Jewish holidays, make themselves knowledgeable in Jewish history and practice, and decide to communicate these values and practices to any children they might have… then I think we as a people will still come out ahead.

What about halachah you ask? If Chelsea doesn’t convert then any children of that marriage will not have a Jewish mother and thus not be Jewish. You’re right. There are parts of the Jewish community that will not accept that child as Jewish. But the same would be the case if Chelsea does convert, but does so through the Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist movements. And there are growing sections of the Jewish community that will welcome that child, and contrary to the doomsday predictions of some, the Jewish community will be stronger for it.

So let’s stop acting like this is 1959 and the acceptance of the Jewish community by the “mainstream” needs whatever help it can get — and if that help comes in the form of Eddie Fisher marrying Elizabeth Taylor so be it. That was 50 years ago, and while tolerance and pluralism can never be taken for granted, neither should we be overly impressed when the elite of the elite decide to marry the elite of our elite. The kid is the son of two former members of Congress — it’s not like she’s marrying Motel the tailor.

I presume Marc and Chelsea will be setting-up shop in New York, but they should know if they decide to get digs in DC that they can come to our Pre-Marriage workshop beginning in January. If they don’t have the time to commit to that, then they should consider coming to the Washington Jewish Film Festival screening of Love and Religion: The Challenge of Interfaith Relationships this coming Sunday, December 6. The film is by Dr. Marion Usher who has been running our Interfaith Couples groups for the past 15 years. She’s been way ahead of the curve in reaching-out to intermarried couples and encouraging them to make Jewish choices, while still respecting the beliefs of the non-Jewish partner.

Chelsea. Marc. Dr. Usher is awaiting your call.

Rosh Hashanah: Mixed Faith Families, Mix-and-Match Honey and Apples

Some interesting things from around the interwebnet-tubes today as the countdown to Rosh Hashanah rolls on.

The first item that was brought to my attention by the ever-devoted Dr. Marion Usher, who runs our interfaith couples workshops, is an advertisement from last week’s Washington Jewish Week. 

adas ad -jpeg -contrast

The ad is your typical “Shana Tova” listing from Adas Israel, the largest conservative congregation in-town, except for two details, both of which, I think are very encouraging. First, the ad announces that no tickets are required to attend Erev Rosh Hashanah services on Friday, September 18 at 8:00 pm. Which is nice. More shuls should try and break-through the pay-for-pray perception (which to some extent is reality) which plague large congregations with “no ticket required” High Holiday services. More remarkable is the text underneath which reads,

“Rabbi Gil Steinlauf will usher in the High Holy Day season with a major address on Keruv (outreach) to dual faith families. All are welcome.”

 I don’t know that I recall the last time I saw a rabbi’s sermon topic advertised as a “major address” on a specific topic — kind of like the President addressing Congress on healthcare. But I kinda like it. And the implication is that Rabbi Steinlauf will be using one of the most high-profile nights of the Jewish year to both welcome dual faith families to his congregation, as well as to make the case that this kind of outreach is crucial to the future of his synagogue and the Conservative Movement. It is a commendable act, and I hope it finds a wide and receptive audience. In the meantime, if you’re between 21-35 years-old and are still looking for a service for the Holidays, visit EntryPointDC/Gesher City’s comprehensive marketplace (insert irony) of free and cheap tickets.

The second item comes from the good folks at Tablet who went to the trouble of scientifically combining apples and honey to find the ideal combination. The results, are not kind on the Bear Squeeze Bottle-variety honey — which now makes me self-conscious about my own Yogi & Boo-Boo Bear-inspired purchases. I’m not surprised I could do better, but somehow I feel like we owe the Bear Bottle honey some respect for its uncomplaining work-a-day reliability. Are they abusive to bees or something? Where’s the love?

The Meeting of the Interfaith Couple and their Teacher: A Most Unlikely Rendezvous!

Worlds Collide

Interfaith Meet-Up in Siena

by Marion L. Usher, Ph.D.

(Dr. Usher has been conducting interfaith couples workshops at the Washington DCJCC for nearly a decade. For more information about her fall workshop click here. )

It was a beautiful night. There was a cool breeze in the air, we had just finished a sumptuous dinner, and had consumed an indulgent amount of smooth red wine. I could still taste the lingering tangy flavor of the lemon sorbet which finished off the meal. The evening light was amber and luminous. My husband and I were strolling back to the hotel holding hands and enjoying this magnificent place. This is what vacations are all about!

And then I hear someone calling in the dark, “Dr. Usher, Dr. Usher is that you?” Before I turned around to find the voice, a couple approached me with “I can’t believe it’s you!” And there they were: Jessica and Shanon, a couple who had just participated in my last interfaith couples workshop. What a wonderful reunion and what a coincidence to meet in this idyllic Italian town! Shanon’s parents had rented a villa nearby and they were in Siena for the day. Introductions were made all around. I met Shanon’s sister, his brother and their partners, and his parents who were generous in their praise of the workshop. Shanon and Jessica had told them all about the sessions and they were incredibly supportive of their attending the group. I took a picture of the whole family. Hugs all around and we said our goodbyes.

This was truly a most unlikely and totally incredible rendezvous!

PS. When I sent this vignette to Shanon he reminded me of another coincidence; the family picture was taken in front of the shop of a Hebrew calligrapher artist, something of a rarity in the tiny town of Siena with its infinitesimal Jewish population!

Shabbat Surfing: Spitzer-Free Links

Are we done with Client #9 yet? Can we stop with the references to Alexander Portnoy? Can we stop with the ruminations on the male Jewish id? And by the way, why doesn’t anyone compare the soon-to-be-former Governor’s exploits to more WASPy forerunners like British sex-fiends Anthony Lambton or John Profumo; or 2-dimensional Brenda Starr (courtesy of the City Desk)! And remember, Senator David Vitter, who is accused of similar offenses (although he has denied them) still sits in the US Senate. Then again, he’s from the Big Easy.

Moving on…

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