A new challenge to Reform?

Many things that materialise in the USA eventually find their way into Australia years later. I hope and pray that this phenomenon does not. The Australian Jewish News has had a number of letters from Reform/Progressive apologists claiming that their communities enjoy the largest affiliated numbers. If affiliation is anything like the description below, then God help us. [Hat tip Reuven]

But in a growing number of intentional interfaith communities, parents are raising children who are deeply engaged with religion. Let me describe our family’s Jewish engagement, which strikes me as anything but “weak.” We always host a Passover Seder, light Hanukkah candles, go to High Holy Day services. We also light Shabbat candles, and celebrate other holidays like Purim and Sukkot. My children learned Hebrew, recited the blessings over the Torah when they turned 13, and know and use essential Jewish prayers. They have a warm and personal relationship with more than one rabbi. They are quick to identify themselves as Jewish when they encounter anti-Semitism. Oh, and we have shlepped our children to Jewish Museums on more than one continent (visiting Jewish museums is one of the forms of Jewish engagement measured in the New York study).

But we also embrace our entire family tree. We celebrate Christian holidays, go to church with extended family. And we put our children through nine years of study about both Judaism and Christianity — about the common ground and the essential differences and the points of historical connection.

It is true that my family feels alienated from the state of Israel, since none of us would be legally accepted as Jews there, and there is a troubling correlation between religious identity and civil rights in Israel. And Birthright will not take my children on a free trip to Israel unless they sign away their right to interfaith identity.

And it is true that our family would score low on connections to institutional Judaism. My children aren’t accepted as Jews by many of those institutions, and that, frankly, decreases our desire to belong to them. Our insistence that our children be educated about Christianity, our openness to the possibility that our children will get spiritual sustenance from Christian traditions, and that they have the right to choose a Christian (or for that matter Buddhist or Hindu) identity someday, is wholly unacceptable to most Jewish institutions. Interfaith families that seek to educate their children in more than one religion are expressly barred, by policy, from most synagogue classrooms.

Nonetheless, I am cautiously optimistic that this new acknowledgement of our existence represents progress towards understanding that many interfaith children both want to stay connected to Judaism and also want access to learning about both of their ancestral religions. I am hopeful that researchers will now seek to understand all that is positive about interfaith education for interfaith families. We engage the whole child, the whole family, and embrace our bothness. We don’t mind being called unconventional. We embrace that label, too.