The Forward is launching The Seesaw, a new advice column which will focus on the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families.
While the Jewish establishment wrestles with the communal implications of interfaith relationships, a growing number of American Jews are simply living in one. For them, intermarriage isn’t a problem or a solution but a day-to-day, Hanukkah to Christmas, bubbe to grammy, brisket to pork chop reality. Like a seesaw, life in an interfaith relationship involves a lot of back and forth and up and down, with no expectation of ever reaching an equilibrium. This is what makes it challenging, and also what makes it interesting.
When the Forward started its legendary advice column “A Bintel Brief” in 1906, it was to help Jews navigate the foreign world that was America. In this tradition, we hope to continue to help American Jews and their partners, families and friends navigate the foreign terrain they live in now, even if it happens to be in their homes.
Starting in March, we will bring together a panel of people who have gone through it themselves: writers, experts and all-around well-meaning yentes to answer questions submitted by our readers about life in an interfaith world. Every week, we will post your questions — anonymously — along with answers from three or four of our columnists. It’s a diverse group, from James Ponet, who officiated at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding to Susan Katz Miller who wrote a book about “being both” to Jim Keen, a non-Jewish father in the midwest who is raising his kids Jewish and Laurel Snyder, author of “Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to be Kosher” — and many more.
We aim to offer a mix of insights and opinions on everything from whether you should get a Christmas tree to how best to explain circumcision to your wife’s Swedish family.
The Seesaw won’t be driven by one particular agenda or point-of-view about interfaith relationships. This isn’t about getting more people to convert, or convincing your Aunt Sharon that your kids are fine attending both Hebrew school and Sunday mass. Instead, we want to create a conversation that represents the diversity of feelings and ideas found in the Jewish community — ambivalence included.
We invite you to submit your questions about interfaith life to email@example.com. And don’t hold back! Remember, answers will be posted anonymously, so hit us up with the strange, the silly, and the altogether embarrassing. We only want to help.
A man stands beside a military oven in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine. / Getty Images
Over the weekend, the Forward contacted Ukraine’s chief Reform rabbi, Alexander Dukhovny, to ask him about how he felt seeing the months of protests on Kiev’s central square lead to a clear resolution in the president’s ouster. This is his response.
Every citizen of Ukraine including Jews has his or her right to express their position. Those Jews who came to support the protestors were blamed that they were in collaboration with nationalists. Yes, there are some marginal groups in Ukraine whose views are anti-Semitic, and some of those people were among the protestors. However, the protestors’ main focus was on changing the corrupted presidency, government and unjust courts, and on getting rid of oligarchs.
At the moment, Ukraine’s Jewish communities and all Ukrainian people are confronting the uncertainty over our country’s political future. The protestors and many Ukrainian people throughout Ukraine want to establish in their country the Western/European standards of life, social security and a better future for their children. We want to introduce all the qualities of a person who “can dwell in God’s tent” (Psalm 15).
Young British Jews who support the Sign on the Green Line Campaign. / YouTube
Throughout our history, young Jewish voices have played a vital role in shaping the Jewish story. Young people lead and teach other young people and take on significant leadership roles. Youth empowerment is highly valued, and it was with this feeling of empowerment that a group of 16 young British Jews — of which we are a part — stood up and asked British Jewish communal organizations to “Sign on the Green Line.”
Education is a core Jewish value, and we are simply asking for a fair and balanced education in regards to Israel. We, the members of the Sign on the Green Line Campaign, are asking for Jewish schools, synagogues, youth movements and Jewish communal organizations to only use maps that show the 1949 armistice lines. Why? Because we believe that our community is presenting us with inaccurate maps of Israel, which are ill-informing us as to the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Jewish community often worries about young Jews and their lack of Israel involvement. But how can we possibly expect young people to get involved with a country about which we do not properly teach them?
Back in May 2011, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which I serve as president, co-sponsored an international conference in Kiev together with the Ukrainian Jewish Committee to fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Ukraine and around the world. During the conference, I met many wonderful Jewish and Muslim Ukrainians — mainly from the Crimean Tatar community — all of whom told me that despite long and bitter histories of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim violence in that country, they were committed to remaining in Ukraine and forging interfaith coalitions together with leaders of the majority Christian churches dedicated to building a pluralistic and democratic Ukraine.
The horrifying explosion of violence in Kiev and around Ukraine this week, that has apparently left as many as 100 people dead and many more wounded, has obviously put that noble dream at grave risk. There is growing concern that the very territorial integrity of the country could be endangered — with the country potentially fracturing into a pro-European western Ukraine and a pro-Russian eastern Ukraine — unless both the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition coalition manage to pull back from the brink. Amidst the specter of chaotic civil war, there is also ample reason for concern for the wellbeing of Ukraine’s approximately 300,000 Jews and 500,000 Muslims, the majority of whom are Crimean Tatars.
As I write, there is seemingly hopeful news that President Yanukovych, whose support has hemorrhaged even within his own party in the wake of the government-instigated bloodbath on February 19-20, has agreed to a tentative deal with the opposition involving a devolution of some presidential powers to Parliament and the holding of early elections. Yet the President has made similar conciliatory noises on several occasions since the political crisis began last November, only to return abruptly to efforts to crush the opposition through violent repression.
Gathered here today are hipsters, con men, Orthodox Jews and at least one Yenta. What could possibly go right?
Yesterday in these pages Mira Sucharov explored the concept of qualified Diaspora Jewish citizenship in Israel. She was responding to Naftali Bennett’s floating of the idea (he called it “semi-citizenship”), but she seems open to the notion. However vague, both Bennett and Sucharov meant more than just the ability of ex-pats to vote in “homeland” elections.
Talk about dual loyalty. I cannot think of a worse idea for either Israel or Diaspora Jewish communities.
We Diaspora Jews like to think our connection with Israel is special, outside the normal bounds of host-kin country relationships that mark all other ethno-national communities. (Israeli Jews hardly think of the connection at all.) Our bond, we contend, is of an ancient people committed to a particular piece of territory by history and religion. Jews revived their old sovereignty by dint of blood, sweat and tears — including the blood, sweat and tears of Diaspora Jews who went to Mandatory Palestine and early Israel to volunteer in agricultural work, industry and war. Though the specific nature of our activities vis-à-vis Israel have changed over the years, we still see ourselves as intimately connected to the land and to its (Jewish) people.
But we aren’t special in this regard. Diaspora Armenians, Palestinians and Greeks — to name only a few — feel a similar connection to their mythological-historical homelands and kin networks. If every Diasporic community — most of which, like the Jewish Diaspora, were born in “foreign” lands — is allowed to claim citizenship and participate in the homeland’s politics, there would be no need for separate states. And again, Jews aren’t so special that only they would be considered for such status.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish volunteer to the Israeli Army’s Nahal Haredi brigade. / Getty Images
Plans to draft ultra-Orthodox men to Israel’s army are moving ahead — complete with a surprise.
There has been lots of tough talk regarding the need for universal service, but there was a widespread expectation that the government would stop short of criminalizing yeshiva students who refuse to serve. However, yesterday a committee formatting the draft law decided that draft refusers could face jail.
This has proved intensely controversial — and not only with Haredim, who are determined that they won’t be forced into the army. That’s because it raises a question mark about how realistic it really is to get Haredim into uniform.
(JTA) — The scenes from Kiev are reminiscent of Cairo in 2011— or perhaps the Battle of Stalingrad or revolutionary Paris.
A ring of burning barricades surrounds the stage on which opposition leaders, European Union parliament members and protesters speak. Images in the news are filled with blood and smoke, burning cars, streets denuded of bricks that have been hurled by one side or another as protesters clash violently with police in the Ukrainian streets.
For me, the shocking images carry an additional weight: having lived in Kiev for a year, I watch with disbelief as a square where I bought ice cream and strolled around dissolves into violent chaos.
I spent a year in Kiev to delve more deeply into my Jewish roots; I was there on a Fulbright grant and spent some of my time translating a novella, written in Odessa in early modern Hebrew.
A still from the Woody Allen film “Annie Hall” represents a fading paradigm of intermarriage.
These days, more American Jewish women than men are marrying out, as the Forward’s Josh Nathan-Kazis recently reported. The story’s headline, “Jewish Woman Is New Face of Intermarriage, Pew Study Data Reveals,” led me to wonder: If Jewish women have become the demographic “face” of the phenomenon, will we soon become its cultural face as well? Will “intermarriage” now imply a Jewish bride? Will we be hearing from Alexandra Portnoy?
As it stands, there’s no cultural stereotype about Jewish women intermarrying. We find individual representations, but no consistent script. We might think of the cringe-inducing plot line in “The Brothers McMullan,” involving an Irish-Catholic man’s broken engagement to a rich Jewish woman. And, if we go back further to “The Way We Were,” there’s Barbra Streisand falling for Robert Redford, as one does, and marrying him, as one does if presented with the opportunity. “The Nanny” comes to mind. Also “Rhoda.” But there are too few examples for a cliché to have formed.
Stereotypes of Jewish women — and there are plenty — have historically related to how (some) Jewish men see Jewish women, rather than how Jewish women are seen more broadly. The general culture doesn’t seem all that curious about what, if anything, goes on between Jewish women and non-Jewish men.
“Intermarriage,” unless otherwise specified, refers to men marrying out. A 2012 New York Times article about Jewish-Asian intermarriage mentioned seven such couples, all Jewish men married to Asian women, yet made no reference to gender. For those of us who grew up with Philip Roth, Woody Allen, and “Seinfeld,” this default can feel eternal.
Things weren’t always this way. In 19th-century France, depictions of Jewish intermarriage typically involved Jewish women. Jewish wives or fiancées appear in countless works, often with “juive” in the title: plays like Théophile Gautier and Noël Parfait’s 1846 La Juive de Constantine and Hippolyte Lucas’s 1849 Rachel ou la belle Juive, and fiction including Petrus Borel’s 1833 Dina, la belle juive.
Art historian Meike Hoffmann speaks to the media regarding the seizure in 2011 of 1,500 paintings from Cornelius Gurlitt in Germany. / Getty Images
It looks like the German lawmakers will be too late.
Cornelius Gurlitt’s spokesman, Stephan Holzinger, announced today that Gurlitt’s lawyers filed a complaint at an Augsburg court, arguing that tax authorities’ seizure of the Gurlitt art collection was disproportionate and asking for the immediate return of the reportedly Nazi-looted works.
“In light of the immense public interest and political debate, we have a reasonable concern about the legality of this process,” defense attorney Derek Setz said. Is it irony or intent that this complaint was filed last Friday — the same day that a bill proposing retroactive abolition of the statute of limitations for claims on Nazi-looted art was filed and accepted to be discussed by the Upper House of the German Parliament?
In September 2010, customs officers caught Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Nazi-dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, on a train from Zurich to Munich, carrying €9,000 in cash. Nothing illegal there. But the fact that he had traveled to Zurich the same morning, together with his nervous behavior, initiated a court-ordered tax investigation in 2011, which led to the 2012 search of Gurlitt’s home and the seizure of about 1,400 works of art by the authorities. The case became public in November 2013 through a leak to the German magazine Focus.
Supporters of Naftali Bennett celebrate in Tel Aviv in 2013. / Getty Images
When I heard that the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency were spearheading a three-day “Online Brainstorming Marathon to Plan the Future of the Jewish People,” the international crowdsourcing initiative instantly grabbed my attention.
Partly, it was because I’d heard that Israel’s Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs minister Naftali Bennett has been working with the Jewish Agency to launch a global dialogue that will, I believe, promote a healthy shift: from viewing Diaspora Jews simply as bankrollers of Israel, to seeing how Israel and the Diaspora can help each other in securing their respective and mutual identities. The “Government of Israel and World Jewry Joint Initiative,” which kicked off last November, will see the Israeli government earmark 1.4 billion towards this goal. More recently, Bennett even went so far as to float the idea of granting Diaspora Jews “semi-citizenship.”
The other reason I wanted to join the Jews around the world who have been participating in this online forum for the past three days had to do with something I’d written years ago. In a column about attending a Tel Aviv peace rally, I had puzzled over the question of whether or not participating in such protest marches was my right as a non-citizen. I suggested that perhaps we Diaspora Jews can consider ourselves quasi-citizens of Israel as we engage and wrestle with the Jewish state and its policies.
So I went sleuthing online, where I eventually found the Securing the Jewish Future discussion board. After signing in with my name and photo, I was invited to watch several minute-long, upbeat videos on topics including Israel and peoplehood, Israel on campus, Jewish engagement, experiencing life in Israel, immersive experience, and serving the global good.
(JTA) — Earlier this week, Jewish news outlets ran reports on American ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis winning Olympic gold. All these outlets reported — based on previously published articles — that White was Jewish.
It appears we were all misinformed.
The Detroit Jewish News — which initially report White’s supposed Jewishness a couple years ago — is issuing the following correction (based on the follow-up work of its staff and the dogged research of syndicated Jewish celebrity-beat columnist Nate Bloom):
Olympic Champ Has Jewish Family, But Is Not Jewish
After a phone call four years ago from what was thought to be a reliable source, the Detroit Jewish News erroneously reported that Olympic Gold Medal ice dancer Charlie White is Jewish.
The Jewish News later received a phone call from Charlie’s mother, Jacqui White, saying that neither she nor Charlie is Jewish.
The Jewish News can now clarify after a conversation with a reliable source close to the family that the new Olympic champion had a Jewish step-grandfather, a Michigan-based physician, to whom Jacqui White’s mother was remarried for 37 years until his death in July 2013. Their blended family included his Jewish sons from a previous marriage.
Charlie White’s mother, Jacqui, and her birth siblings were raised Catholic. While Jacqui and Charlie, who also was raised as a Christian, were exposed to Jewish traditions and holidays, they are not Jewish by religion, birth or identification.
The Detroit Jewish News regrets the error and congratulates Charlie White and Meryl Davis on their Olympic championship.
You don’t have to fly all the way to Moscow to view the Schneersohn Library.
After almost a century in the bowels of Russian’s state library, the Schneersohn books are available online for anyone around the world to see.
You can view the books in a web browser or even, in many cases, download them as a pdf.
Because the Russian State Library’s website is clunky in Russian — and even clunkier in English — I thought it might be helpful to give non-Russian speakers a few tips.
To view the complete catalogue of the Schneersohn books follow this link.
To view a book, click on the number on the left of the screen.
In the next window, click on the link next to the words «Эл. адрес»
Next, you need to click the box on the bottom left of the screen to continue.
On the next screen, select “Онлайн-просмотр” to view the book online or “Acrobat Reader” to view the book as a pdf.
Finally, click the “открыть документ” button at the bottom of the screen to view your book!
Pro-Palestinians activists demonstrate in 2010 in Paris, France. / Getty Images
No. It’s not.
The Prime Minister of Israel and the Grand Poobah of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Marching Band can say it as much and as loudly as they want. But the BDS movement is not, as Grand Poobah Malcolm Hoenlein put it yesterday, the “21st century form of 20th century anti-Semitism.” And despite what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday, when “people on the soil of Europe [talk] about the boycott of Jews,” they are not “classical anti-Semites in modern garb.”
No. Stop it.
Though I boycott the settlements, I don’t personally support BDS, for reasons that Bernard Avishai once expressed perfectly in The Nation, and I do not doubt that some members of that movement are unrepentant anti-Semites — just as some members of the Greater Israel movement are unrepentant racists and Islamophobes. Yesh ve’yesh, as we say in Hebrew. There are all kinds.
But there is simply nothing inherent to a call to boycott/divest from/sanction the modern nation state of Israel that is — inherently — an expression of (and here I quote the dictionary) “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.”
Racheli Ibenboim chats with writer Tuvia Tenenbom./Photo by Isi Tenenbaum
I may not be a dyed-in-the-wool feminist by any stretch of the imagination. But I have a strong sense of the rights of women to take agency in their own lives and a repulsion for the oppressive nature of men who harass women for their own reasons. That is why I was completely taken aback by Tuvia Tenenbom’s latest article “Everything He Wanted To Know About Sex Among the Orthodox.”
How this tabloid-worthy work of voyeurism could ever be considered a legitimate work of journalistic inquiry is beyond me. Which is a shame, because there is a so much to explore here.
Racheli Ibenboim’s story is fascinating. Here is a women, seemingly pious and observant, in love with her Hasidic lifestyle, but dedicated to being a change-agent in her community. She may have taken a step back due to internal pressures, but it seems that she has not stopped in her mission.
Yet instead of focusing on her deeds and actions, we’re given what amounts to some sort of voyeuristic look at a man who must fetishize women in thick stockings and wigs. The reader sits and reads with increasing shock as we witness the literal recreation of catcalls on the street. Tenenbom pushes her to a place no man that respects women ever should.
Denmark denounces kosher slaughter as animal cruelty. Yet the Scandinavian nation allows mink farming for fur./Getty images
Ritual slaughter, performed according to Islamic and Jewish tradition, is considered a humane method of slaughter under the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act (HMSLA), the United States federal law designed to decrease animal suffering. In ritual slaughter, the trachea, esophagus, carotid arteries, jugular veins and vagus nerve is cut with a swift action using an extremely sharp blade, resulting in quick death.
But a growing number of countries, including Poland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, have restricted ritual slaughter, under the guise of animal welfare.
Now, starting Monday, by order of Agriculture and Food Minster Dan Jorgensen, Denmark bans ritual slaughter, claiming, “Animal rights come before religion.”
The ban would require stunning, a method of slaughter not permitted under kosher shechita and Islamic hallal restrictions (some authorities permit reversible stunning, such as electro-stunning, prior to the cut).
Claiming animal welfare as a basis to restrict humane Jewish and Islamic slaughtering practices is wrong, and is a further erosion of religious liberties in a country already attacking other religious rituals, including circumcision.
Israeli Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett / Getty Images
The Israeli minister with the Diaspora portfolio believes that “what used to work as the Israel-Diaspora relationship doesn’t work,” he told the Forward.
Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett said that Israelis need to start deferring to Diaspora Jews regarding their needs, and the needs of the Israeli-Diaspora relationship. “I live in Israel, I don’t understand the Diaspora perfectly; the Diaspora understands itself much better,” he said.
Israel has traditionally looked at the Diaspora largely as a source of funds and immigrants, but the relationship needs to be more reciprocal, he said. Bennett made his comments ahead of a global online consultation process taking place this week, in which all Jews are being invited to voice their opinions about what provision should be made for the “Jewish future.”
One of the main questions on the table will be how the Israeli government should spend a new $140 million annual budget which it is investing in programming for Diaspora communities, in addition to its existing investment in Birthright trips.
Bennett said that the objective of the funding is to deepen Jewish identity and attachment to Israel in the Diaspora, but “we don’t know how” in Israel. “The process of building a plan is going to be a collaborative process,” he said, going on to add: “The lesson is that we [Israelis] are not the smartest people in the world and we don’t have all the answers here.”
John Kerry with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at the State Department in Washington / Getty Images
What is J Street going to say if, after urging American Jews to support the Kerry peace mission, that mission wins the support of the right-wing Netanyahu government — but not that of the Palestinians, who view it as the terms of their surrender? And what will J Street say if Western liberal opinion, and even much of Israeli liberal opinion, decides that the Palestinians are right?
This is a question that J Street and all American Jewish liberals supporting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts should ask themselves now, because all indications are that within a few weeks, Kerry is going to present a “framework agreement” for a peace treaty that the Israeli government would be crazy to reject and the Palestinian Authority crazy to accept.
This week, Israel’s Channel 10 news ran a report saying “the emerging framework document is so unthreatening even to Israeli hardliners that it is unlikely to prompt any kind of coalition crisis.” At the same time, the report, citing sources close to the negotiations, said “Kerry would now face an even greater challenge to persuade the Palestinians to accept it.”
To anybody who’s been following the news of the peace talks, the story made perfect sense. Kerry reportedly has given in to Netanyahu’s demands to the point that the framework agreement is shaping up to be not only more “pro-Israel” than the 2001 Clinton parameters, but even more so than Ehud Barak’s offer to the Palestinians at the 2001 Taba talks or Ehud Olmert’s at the 2008 Annapolis talks.
A night-time scene in the historic district of Córdoba, Spain. / Josh Nathan-Kazis
It’s only been a week since Spain’s cabinet approved a law offering citizenship to Sephardic Jews, but Israelis are already tripping over each other in their race to apply. Between 700 and 800 have sent email inquiries to Maya Weiss-Tamir, an Israeli lawyer who deals with European citizenship applications, according to a report published Thursday in The New York Times. “It doesn’t stop; the response has been crazy,” Weiss-Tamir said. Apparently, Israelis just can’t wait to become Spanish.
As exciting as this news may be for individual Israelis, for Israel itself, it’s downright embarrassing. Because when you put Spain’s new law next to Israel’s current policy, the latter looks pretty bad by comparison. The Spanish law — which won’t become official until it makes it through the Parliament — is murky on a lot of points, but it clearly takes an inclusive approach to determining Jewish status. In fact, it specifies that you don’t even need to identify as Jewish to claim citizenship as a Sephardic Jew; the application in no way hinges on your “ideology, religion or beliefs.” Meanwhile, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate — which accepts or rejects the Jewish status of those who have converted abroad, and so impacts many of the state’s potential immigrants — is notoriously exclusionary.
The timing of this Spain business is particularly awkward. Earlier this winter, controversy erupted over the Chief Rabbinate’s decision to reject determinations of Jewish status made by New York’s Rabbi Avi Weiss. That decision was overturned in January, thanks in part to pushback from an outraged American Jewish community. But that didn’t stop Weiss from penning a scathing critique of the Rabbinate for the Times opinion page. And it didn’t quell Jews’ mounting frustration with the Rabbinate’s strict, intrusive and coercive dictates.
Against this backdrop, the new Sephardic citizenship law presents Israel with some supremely bad optics: It makes it look like Spain is actually more inclusive and welcoming to world Jewry than the Jewish state.
It’s not easy being me, Daniel Friedman. On top of the cares of delightful family, domestic finance and the Jewish Daily Forward, there’s the existential angst of living in a world of doppelgangers — whole crowds of Daniel Friedmans swarming around me. It’s like living in Charlie Kaufman’s “Being John Malkovich” except instead of everyone looking like me, everyone just has my name.
Dave Gorman once made a cult stage and then TV show out of finding everyone in the world with his name and visiting as many of them as possible. “The Dave Gorman Collection” was his story of finding them all. But there’s a difference between on the one hand going out and finding your homonyms, and on the other having them slowly surround you in the twitterverse. As a dream it’s nightmarish and as a television show it’s less of a comedy and more like a reality show based on Dostoyevsky’s “The Double.”
I blame social media because I’ve never actually met any of these so-called Daniel Friedmans and their proliferation has speeded up with the explosion of the interactive internet. Growing up in the north of England, I was safe from the worldwide cohort who are predominantly found in North America. The first of the Judgment (the collective noun I am coining for a group of Daniel Friedmans, based on the forename’s etymology — “Judged by God”) was in college. He was involved, if memory serves, with drama and translation and, though we shared many friends, we never met. Our interaction, as far as I am aware, extended only to my demurring from any credit for the well-received modern-day Ramayana put on at St. John’s College Cambridge in the early ’90s.