In The Mix

Jewish Outreach In Lean Times

Posted in Uncategorized by intermarried on March 19, 2009


The Audacity of Tikvah

Posted in Uncategorized by intermarried on January 14, 2009

This month I write about the best little interfaith-family-friendly synagogue in the world : mine! (I’m not biased at all, of course, and it’s conveniently blogrolled on the side of this page.)

The Audacity of Tikvah

Intermarried Dreidel Diva

Posted in Uncategorized by intermarried on December 23, 2008

This month I write about Jennie Rivlin Roberts, an entrepreneur who
invented “No Limit Texas Dreidel” with her non-Jewish husband, Webb
Roberts, and has launched a uniquely accessible Judaica business.

Same Sex, Different Faith

Posted in Uncategorized by intermarried on November 21, 2008

This one has already generated a lovely e-mail to me from a Mr. Alan Korn: “Julie, I thing [sic] you are the most mixed up person in the world.”

I neglected to post last month’s column, about intermarriage guilt, and now those lovely Jewish Week Internet archives seem unable to retrieve it. However, I’m pasting the text below. And I want to remind all readers that if there’s any column listed here that you are unable to access, feel free to e-mail me, as I have a Word version of everything.

Who By Intermarriage? (published in The New York Jewish Week, Oct. 24, 2008)


Julie Wiener

Special To The Jewish Week


On Yom Kippur this year, I held a Torah scroll for the first time.

As I stood on the bima during Kol Nidre, the covered Torah cradled in my right arm, it occurred to me that this experience was not so different from carrying a small child.

My 2-year-old daughter Sophie weighs about the same as a Sefer Torah and while at this stage in her development it would hardly be life-threatening if she were accidentally dropped, not so long ago I handled her (and her older sister, before her) with the same nervousness and enormous sense of responsibility I recently felt toward this sacred bundle swaddled in worn velvet.

I’m sure I’m not the first to observe the many similarities between a Torah and a small child: their holiness, their role as a link between generations, their lengthy gestation period — not to mention the fact that neither is capable of dressing itself.

The Torah and my two daughters have also played parallel roles in my life. As I become more knowledgeable about the Torah and its contents, and as I raise children, I find myself feeling more confident about my place in the Jewish community.

While many readers of this paper complain that I am too glib in writing about intermarriage, for several years I actually felt quite guilty for my out-of-the-Tribe nuptials.

About 10 years ago, a few months after our wedding, I came home in tears from my job at the Detroit Jewish News and wailed to my husband Joe, “Maybe our marriage was all a big mistake.” I no longer recall what specific incident had triggered this bout of remorse and doubt. The office lunch ‘n learn with the fervently Orthodox rabbi who referred to intermarriage as a “silent Holocaust” and said the angels cried each time a Jew married a gentile? One of the many interviews I had, as an education reporter in the late 1990s, with a communal leader decrying the Jewish continuity crisis and intermarriage “epidemic?”

Unlike many intermarrieds, I cannot blame my deeply ingrained sense of guilt (at least about intermarriage) on my family. My parents welcomed Joe from the beginning, and this was hardly a surprise since they’d never objected to intermarriage or inter-dating when I was growing up. Indeed, my mother once came home horrified to report that her good friend Joyce had said it was more important that her children marry Jews than that they marry Democrats.

My insecurities came more from within. Raised secular and unaffiliated, I always had this outsider-pressed-against-the-glass-and-looking-in feeling about Judaism. As a child of divorce, I’m sure some of this came from a yearning to belong to an intact family with a long history. Perhaps also it was simply curiosity about what I was missing. In any event, from an early age I felt an attraction to all things Jewish and a desire to be fully accepted by the Tribe.

Since I’d never had a formal Jewish education, one of the few things I knew about Judaism was that intermarriage was a big no-no. So in college, when I joined Kosher Co-op, began studying Hebrew and planned a semester at Tel Aviv University, I resolved to become a Good Jew-Marrying Jew.

In Tel Aviv, I threw myself into a problematic relationship with an Israeli video store clerk in hopes that his Sabra authenticity might somehow rub off on me. After graduating, I fell hard for an American who wore Young Judaea T-shirts and Israeli sandals almost every day, who’d had a Conservative bar mitzvah and whose mother was president of her regional Hadassah. Again, I hoped to passively become Jewish by association. My enthusiasm for him was not reciprocated, however, and a few months after that became obvious, my quasi-rebound fling with Joe turned into something serious.

Early on, Joe promised we could raise any future children as Jews, but I was nonetheless riddled with uncertainty. Was I, as numerous communal leaders insisted, breaking the chain, letting the flame die out, allowing our people to fade out of existence? Could I really defy The Statistics, the oft-repeated studies linking intermarriage to the all-but-death of Judaism?

Like many American Jews, I felt a deep-seated obligation to keep Judaism alive, without being entirely certain why.

Nonetheless, over the years my intermarriage guilt has gradually disappeared. Part of this had to do with growing older and more comfortable with myself in general, as well as less all-or-nothing in my outlook. Having children has made a big difference.

Raising a Jewish family is no longer theoretical but real. Both girls had Jewish naming ceremonies, and at Yom Kippur this year 5-year-old Ellie complained because she “didn’t get to kiss the Torah.” Each eagerly anticipates our family’s weekly Shabbat dinner and enjoys a personal relationship with our rabbi, Regina Sandler-Phillips, who Sophie excitedly calls “Rabgina.”

Throughout this all, Joe’s been supportive, with the exception of my (quickly abandoned) efforts to convert him and make our kitchen kosher.

As an agnostic, I continue to struggle with Judaism, and I am still not always sure why being Jewish feels important to me. What I do know is that it gives me a sense of belonging and community and that, while I may not believe in God, I do believe that the wisdom accumulated from centuries of scholarly Jewish arguments about God and ethics make life more meaningful and satisfying.

When our daughters grow up will they identify as Jewish? Will they raise their own children as Jewish? I hope so, but I don’t know. None of us, whether intermarried or not, can predict how our children will turn out, or even what will happen in the next year.

By the same token, I can’t guarantee that the Torah I held at Yom Kippur will last forever. All I can do is treat it with respect, learn what I can from it and pass it on, intact, to the next generation.

Women And Men, Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by intermarried on September 19, 2008

Jewish Men Are From Mars…

Posted in Uncategorized by intermarried on August 28, 2008

This one has gotten a lot of response, both favorable and not so. Feel free to add your own thoughts….

The Jewish-Catholic Connection

Posted in Uncategorized by intermarried on July 17, 2008

Why are so many Jews, like myself, married to Catholics?

Immigrating To Judaism

Posted in Uncategorized by intermarried on June 26, 2008

This month I talk to people who convert to Judaism many years after they marry a Jew:

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Jewish-Gentile In The Jewish State

Posted in Uncategorized by intermarried on May 14, 2008

This month’s post, in honor of Israel’s 60th anniversary, explores what happens when interfaith couples go to the Promised Land:

Strangers At A Strange Meal

Posted in Uncategorized by intermarried on April 17, 2008

Happy Passover!

The first time Melinda Young went to a Passover seder, the hosts put an individual seder plate at each place setting.
Assuming this arrangement of symbolic foods comprised the entire meal, Young, a lapsed Catholic who lives in Austin, Texas, remembers looking at the plate thinking, “OK, there’s a piece of matzah, a boiled egg — and I don’t think there’s any meat on that bone.”
When the matzah ball soup came she downed two portions, convinced it would be the last food she’d see for hours.
Which, of course, it was not. “There’s more food at a Jewish celebration than anywhere else in the world!” exclaims Young, who has been married to a Jewish man for 11 years, is raising her

three sons as Jews and jokes that she now considers herself “half-Jewish.”
Unless we have especially dysfunctional families or are, like my daughter Ellie this year, the child asking the Four Questions for the first time, Jews don’t usually find attending Passover seders all that nerve wracking. (As opposed to the notoriously stressful experience of hosting a seder, especially for those who first make their homes fully kosher for Passover.)
But for gentile guests who’ve never before donned a kipa or opened a Haggadah, the holiday — with its numerous rituals and lengthy list of forbidden foods — can be intimidating. Especially if, like Young back when she was a Passover newbie, you’re trying to make a good impression on future in-laws.
Since young Jews tend to socialize more with gentiles than their forbearers did and since virtually every Jewish family is touched by intermarriage, few seders today, at least outside Orthodox circles, are exclusively Jewish affairs. I can think of only a handful of Tribe-only seders I’ve attended in my lifetime — most of them in Israel. And my best friend Stacy, who will be hosting her non-Jewish boyfriend’s parents this year, says that over the years she has invited far more gentiles than Jews for Passover because “they’re the ones who don’t already have plans.”
With a little sensitivity, it’s fairly easy to make gentile newcomers feel comfortable at Passover. But they may need some extra reassurances and should definitely be told that asking questions is not just OK, but encouraged.
Elizabeth Hendler, another lapsed Catholic married to a Jewish man and raising Jewish children in Austin, remembers how self-conscious she initially felt at her first seder.
“I was aware that everyone else knew the words and prayers, that everyone else kind of knew everything and I didn’t,” she recalls.
Nonetheless Hendler ended up enjoying the holiday so much she decided to have one in her home the next year. One aspect that helped make the experience more meaningful and inclusive: each guest was assigned to research one aspect of the Exodus story (Hendler’s was the role of the midwives Shifra and Puah) before they came, and then at the seder they took turns sharing what they learned.
She urges hosts to assure gentile guests that “no one is sitting there judging you if you mess up” and no one cares “if you know the prayers.”
Some guidelines about the family’s pre-meal nibbling rules may also be in order. My friend Mike Kim, who participates in my daughter’s Tot Shabbat with his Jewish wife and daughter, recalls at his first seder he was not sure whether it was OK to nosh on the dipping vegetables and matzah during the Haggadah reading.
“I gauged the level of nibbling I could do — as I was starving — by my father-in-law’s nibbling,” he says. “The more he nibbled, the more I did. When he took a break, so did I.”
My friend Gavin Chuck fondly remembers the efforts his hosts made at the first seder he attended.
“They hid two afikomen: one for the kids and one for me, the first-timer,” he says. “I thought that was a great welcoming gesture.”
Thanks to her role as volunteer coordinator of an international student hosting program, Rhona Goldman of Stony Brook, L.I., has introduced scores of gentiles to Passover.
Goldman has written her own Haggadah that includes “a lot of quotes from American history so that people who are not Jewish can understand the universality of it.”
She also tries to keep the Hebrew readings and blessings to a minimum and gives guests “the opportunity to participate if they choose and talk about customs in their country that they find to be similar.”
Passover’s universal themes — liberation, remembering the stranger since we were strangers in Egypt, inviting all who are hungry to eat — make the holiday easy for people of virtually all backgrounds and political persuasions (at least on the leftist spectrum) to relate to and make their own. The Haggadah used at my husband’s first seder — hosted by grad students at the University of Michigan — even referenced (approvingly) Ho Chi Minh.
Once they get over the initial learning curve and the self-consciousness, many non-Jews, even those not married to Jews, become regular and enthusiastic seder-goers.
My afikomen-hunting friend Gavin, who was raised Catholic in Jamaica and is single, but has many Jewish friends, says Passover impresses him with its “free-flowing mix between ritual and contemplation — especially coming from a background that emphasized the former over the latter.”
Jimmy Tierney, a Catholic (yes, every gentile I know seems to be Catholic) who has been married to a Jewish woman for 19 years, enjoys Passover’s “combination of togetherness, historical tradition and ritual, great food, good conversation, stories with intelligent people, and of course the wine and the fresh horseradish.”
Young, who once assumed the seder plate was dinner, says Passover has edged out Christmas as her favorite holiday.
“It’s good family-centered time, and the meaning behind it is so wonderful. There’s nothing commercial about it, and the kids aren’t waiting to get presents.” (Although they may demand a steep ransom for the afikomen.) n
“In The Mix” appears the third week of the month. For past columns go to E-mail