February 27, 2009

Letters

Published February 18, 2009, issue of February 27, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Conservative Judaism’s Intermarriage Thing

J.J. Goldberg provides fascinating and insightful analysis of the challenges facing any future Conservative movement leadership (“Conservative Movement’s ‘Vision Thing,’” February 20).

However, I found it equally interesting for what was not mentioned. Nowhere in his piece does the topic of intermarriage appear, even when pointing out that the movement’s slide from the largest denomination began “sometime in the 1980s” — just as the effects of skyrocketing intermarriage rates were first being felt by the entire Jewish community.

If the omission is reflective of the lack of conversation about intermarriage within the Conservative movement itself during the search for new leadership, that will not bode well for the movement’s future. As much as I agree that issues of geographic migration and transdenominationalism are relevant, they’re not the elephant in the room. It’s the inability to effectively welcome significant numbers of intermarried families that is the single most important factor in the Conservative movement’s decline, and it’s one that can be fixed.

Many Jews like me who grew up in the Conservative movement tacitly understand that if we intermarry, we shouldn’t bother coming back to the congregations where we celebrated earlier simchas. This is not about our loyalty to the movement (“transdenominationalism”), it’s about the movement’s loyalty to us. Many of the unwelcoming policies still on the books are cultural rather than religious decisions based on unfounded fear. Hundreds of thousands of intermarried families raising Jewish children over the past two decades prove that intermarriage in and of itself is not the end of Jewish continuity.

Through my work I’ve met many Conservative rabbis and leaders eager to change perceptions and begin proactively welcoming intermarried families. But I have yet to hear bold statements of inclusion from the top leadership positions mentioned in Goldberg’s article, even as the movement has made important strides on gay and lesbian rabbinic ordination and has begun to define Conservative Judaism by what it stands for (like ethical hechsher) rather than against. I hope the search committee for the next executive director of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is asking candidates, “How will you help our movement better welcome intermarried families?”

Paul Golin
Associate Executive Director
Jewish Outreach Institute
New York, N.Y.


Lessons Learned When Dinner Isn’t Free

Regarding the February 20 article “Staple of Campus Life Now Comes at a Price,” here at Stony Brook University we too have had to reconsider the free Shabbat dinner practice in our Hillel.

While the program is among our most successful, it is also very expensive, and in a year when contributions are down, we viewed this as a teaching moment for our students. The economic crisis must be faced by all of us, and if our college students are to learn how to be Jewish adults, they too must step up and help find a solution.

For this semester we have initiated a program called SOS: Save Our Shabbatons, in which students are asked to voluntarily utilize points on their campus meal card to help pay for Shabbat dinners. Through an arrangement with our campus dining program, which operates our kosher dining venue, we enable students to themselves support this program, often with meal points they would have been left over at the end of the year anyway.

In addition to asking our students to take responsibility for helping to fund their own Shabbat meals, we also want them to recognize that there are Jews off campus who have lost their jobs and are also struggling. For each student who participates in SOS we are making a cash contribution to a charity that provides Shabbat meals to those who cannot afford them.

The economic crisis has forced us to rethink many of our assumptions, but it can also be a valuable lesson in social responsibility if we use it for that purpose. It is our hope that our students learn that everyone has a responsibility, no matter how great or small, to support our communal endeavors and not always depend upon the largesse of others.

Rabbi Joseph Topek
Director
Stony Brook University Hillel Foundation
Stony Brook, N.Y.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.