Jewschool: USY Changes Expectations for Youth Leaders

Originally published on Jewschool.

USY, the youth group of the Conservative Movement, has long had policies demanding that kids in regional and international leadership positions follow particular standards. Three of these standards have always risen to the top of the list of those that are the most enforced and the most discussed: keep kosher, keep Shabbat, don’t date outside of the faith. These standards were adopted by youth leaders for youth leaders, although they were generally adopted by kids of a previous generation. This week, at USY’s International Convention, the board debated reframing the standards around both Shabbat observance and interfaith relationships. They voted to retain the Shabbat standard as is and reword the dating standard to encourage (rather than require) endogamous dating while also adding important language about teens treating those whom they date with respect. Although JTA reported this as USY dropping the ban on interdating, USY leadership asserted that is not the case.

As a former USY regional president (who didn’t really date at all in high school, due in no small part to my decision to stay in the closet thanks to a different set of Conservative Movement rules that made me sure a gay kid wouldn’t be welcome in USY leadership), I want to publicly applaud the current teen leaders of USY for taking this step. (I wish they had gone further and dismantled the entire concept of standards, but that’s a post for another day.)

Apparently, USY alumni have been up in arms about these proposals for weeks. I didn’t hear about them until after the JTA article came out, which caused another wave of USY has-beens freaking out. I don’t think my take on this is going to surprise any long-time Jewschool readers, but I’m going to lay it out anyway. Continue reading

Advertisements

Jewschool: December Without Drama

Originally published on Jewschool.

Interfaith CardsLast year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths. Alexis Gewertz and Chelsea Scudder, two New Englanders from interfaith backgrounds with divinity school educations, aim to change that. They are the creators of Happy Challadays, a new line of greeting cards for those looking to celebrate the holidays without the drama of the “December Dilemma.”

The idea grew out of Alexis’s own experience as both the daughter of an interfaith marriage and as the Jewish partner in a Jewish-Catholic relationship. “It was a Christmas home growing up,” she told me, “but we started celebrating Hanukkah when my parents got divorced. My mom wanted to send me Christmas cards because we really do celebrate with both families, but she spends the whole year searching for interfaith cards that she can send to me and [my partner] Steve together. In the past she’s found maybe three really awesome ones.”

It turns out, greeting cards are sort of a passion for Alexis. “I love capturing my thoughts and the vibe of the moment when I’m writing a card and putting it in the mail,” she said, “knowing that a few days later, whenever the recipients check the mail, they’re going to get this message. These days people are used to getting email instantly. I love with cards the old-school mystery of ‘is it going to take one day or three days?’ not knowing at what point they’re going to check that mail. I love getting cards because I love knowing that someone is thinking about me, and I feel that connection across the miles in a way that isn’t the same with virtual connections.” Continue reading

Jewschool.com: When Images of Mohammed Showed Up in My Facebook Feed

Originally published on Jewschool.com

Today has been a frustrating day on many levels, and surprisingly, at the top of my frustration is two Conservative rabbis who are Facebook friends of mine who have chosen to share an Islamophobic cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed. I’m not going to link to it here because I don’t want to have a hand in further distributing the cartoon.

I wrote to each of them

I am disappointed to see the rabbis of my generation circulating a cartoon that flagrantly disrespects someone else’s religion, not to mention perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Is this the spirit in which you hope to enter 5773?

And to my surprise, instead of saying something like, “You’re right, I got carried away. I’m frustrated but this wasn’t the right way to express it,” both dug their heels in and defended their right to mock Islam in a way they both know specifically insults Muslims.

One of these rabbis is a chaplain with the US armed forces. The other holds a significant post in the Conservative Movement in the United States.

I have spent too much time and far too much emotional energy engaging with them and their followers, pointing out over and over again that both our tradition and common sense says that one does not achieve anything by inflaming the fires of hate or provoking those with whom we disagree. They refuse to hear me. Part of me wants to just unfriend them and be done with it, but I don’t want to contribute to my own retreat further into a bubble of people who share all my opinions. But I won’t back down because I believe this is an important discussion to have, and I know Jewish tradition expects us vigorously pursue justice. The quote from Mishnah that I’ve plastered on my social media channels today sums it up for me: “In a place where no one is behaving like a human being, be the human being.”

I have long since disavowed any affiliation with the Conservative movement that was once my home, but incidents like this confirm for me that I’ve made the right choice. I know, I shouldn’t judge an entire stream of a religion based on a couple of vocal leaders, but, well, you see the irony there.

Interfaith Family: Review of Reflections of a Loving Partner: Caregiver at the End of Life

Originally published on InterfaithFamily.

Death is much like the famous aphorism about opinions: everyone will have one. Unlike opinions, we tend to keep our thoughts about death to ourselves. On one level, this makes sense: death is scary and it’s a downer, sure to put a damper on any conversation. But on another level, it is our avoidance of the topic that makes death scary. In Reflections of a Loving Partner: Caregiving at the End of Life, author C. Andrew Martin not only makes the case for a healthy discussion of death, he models how to talk about death and offers exercises to assist the reader in considering the inevitable.

Reflections is equal parts memoir and self-help book. Martin became an expert on death and dying in the worst way possible — through the AIDS diagnosis and eventual loss of his partner Gil Victor Ornelas in the mid-1990s. Rather than passively watch his beloved slip away, Martin took action, enrolling in a hospice volunteer-training program so that he could become a more effective caregiver.

Today, Martin is a certified nurse specializing in hospice and palliative care, and his knowledge and sensitivity informs every page. Despite his current expertise, Martin ably recreates the sense of floundering helplessness as well as the desire to learn from his early days. As readers, we accompany Martin in his education about hospice, benefitting from his education as well as the provocative questions his hospice teacher posed at the end of each training session. These questions, along with additional questions Martin includes in the appendix, provide opportunities for the reader to examine one’s own assumptions and beliefs about death and dying. As Martin makes clear, this process is valuable whether one is struggling with someone dying at the moment or not. After all, it is inevitable that at some point in everyone’s life, death enters the scene, and we’re better off having some preparation.  Continue reading

InterfaithFamily: Review of The Choosing by Andrea Myers

Originally published on InterfaithFamily.

I am one of those people who grew up bombarded by messages from the mainstream Jewish community denouncing intermarriage as the worst plague affecting the Jewish people. Often, when whoever was railing on was feeling charitable, their rant would include a parenthetical reminder that converts were considered fully Jewish, so marrying a convert to Judaism wasn’t intermarriage.

Andrea Myers’s memoir, The Choosing: A Rabbi’s Journey from Silent Nights to High Holy Days, reminds us that there’s more than one way to create an interfaith family. Although Myers’s wife is Jewish, her own conversion to Judaism created many of the same dilemmas in her relationship to her parents and extended family that many interfaith couples confront. Her parents, themselves a mixed marriage of Catholic and Lutheran, are supportive and even eager to embrace their daughter’s new faith — at times with hilarious results. You mean the Jewish new year isn’t celebrated with midnight noisemakers? It’s not appropriate for a woman to thank an Orthodox Judaica seller for a discount with a big bear hug?  Continue reading

Jewschool.com: The Anxiety of Influence

Originally posted on Jewschool.com.

Last week, Kung Fu Jew’s post about multifaith families stirred up a lot of activity in the comments section. KFJ ended his post soliciting for other posts from intermarried Jews and products of intermarried Jews. I am neither. And, in fact, as a product of the Conservative Movement’s indoctrination program youth group, I entered adulthood believing that intermarriage was the worst sin one could possibly commit.

A couple of things happened to change my point of view. A big factor, naturally, was experience. I saw my friends who came from intermarried families grow into Jewishly committed adults. I saw my cousins figure out how they could create authentic Jewish identities for their children in partnership with their non-Jewish spouses. I got involved in Jewish education and met hundreds of families doing the same thing. And I heard from dozens of people with multifaith backgrounds about how the hardest part of Judaism was getting in the door, even when they desperately wanted to. I started to think that maybe if we weren’t so busy building up the fences around who gets to learn and practice, we might notice a whole lot of people anxious to get in. (And this year, I was pleased when my Federation published a study that implied just that.)

In truth, dayeinu, that would have been enough. But as I myself have continued to study and learn about the development of Judaism through history, I’ve learned that this whole business of tightening our borders has changed quite a bit over time. And when the discussion around KFJ’s post started getting into a fight over what kind of “influence” non-Jewish religions might have on Judaism, should (or shouldn’t) have on Judaism, I felt like a big piece of the story was being ignored, namely the influences that other religions and cultures have already had on Judaism over the last couple of millennia. Continue reading