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February 24, 2012

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PAGE 2A I HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 24, 201 ] Interfaith families find comPlicated journey to joining community, Rachel Levy--with her family, from left, Olivia, Steven and lsabel--said she considers her religious identity something that extends beyond herself. By Johanna Ginsberg New Jersey Jewish News Madison. N.J., resident Mary Fernandez. a Roman Catholic. always went to church on Sundays. After marrying a Jewish man and giving birth to their first child, she "made peace" with separating from the church and committing to running a Jewish home. Now she recites the Sh'ma with her children at nigh t . Diane Katz of Livings- ton. N.J.. who was raised a Presbyterian. sings in her synagogue choir and lights candles on Friday night. but coritinues each year to decorate her house for Christmas. Grace Yeung of Short Hills, N.J., places the can- dles in the menorah for Cha- nukah, but only listens as her son recites the blessings. A growing number of non- Jewish parents who have no plans to convert are marry- ing Jewish spouses, building Jewish homes, raisin g Jew- ish children, and playing active, even leadership, roles in the Jewish com- munity. But without plans to join the faith officially, establishing their place in the Jewish community can be complicated. "I didn't convert initially bec-ause of my parents." said Katz, who married a Jewish man over 25 years ago. In addition to singing in the choir, she recently served on the social action committee of Temple Emanu-El of West Essex in Livingston. where she also sat on the youth committee. There are mezu- zot on the doorposts of the family's home and Judaica on the walls. She said her synagogue is so inclusive and accommodating that "the need for me to convert lessened" over time. "I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing from a Jewish perspective," she said, adding, "I guess it's a good thing because it kept us involved in the temple and Judaism." Rachel Levy's husband has never asked her to convert. "In a sense, I know it would make him happy if I converted. But he has never asked or expected it of me." said the Summit. N.J., resi- dent with Filipino heritage who was raised a Catholic. When people ask about her religious identity, she usually says, "I am-raising By Helen Chernikoff New York Jewish Week It's the Saturday ritual of Vladimir Kozlov and his granddaughter, Nomi, to snuggle up with a book, but only after Kozlov has gone through it with a dictionary close at hand. That's because while the two love to read together, they are also study partners. He is a Russian migr, and 4-year-old Nomi speaks Russian at home. With picture books, they are helping each other learn English. About 10 months ago, their Jewish literacy got an extra boost when they were among the first Russian- speaking families to become subscribers to the PJ Library, a program that gives free Jewish books and music to children my children Jewish." To her. that means leaving work early to celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish holidays, attending the Conservative Summit Jewish Community Center. sitting on the reli- gious school committee and getting involved in Zehava, the young women's arm of the synagogue's sisterhood. She was present, she said. when her children were converted. Because she is not Jew- ish. she said, "I feel more pressure to accept when honors are offered to me during services because I feel it's a grander gesture" than when such honors are offered to Jews. Some of the mothers interviewed by the Jewish News feel welcomed by the Tracy Lobel, who grew up Methodist, tray to spend Christmas with her family. Her are shown with their 91-year-old great-gn lighting a menorah on a table covered wa cloth. (Great-Grandma "s sweater reads "God Jewish community; others, however, feelunderappreci- ated for the sacrifices they are making. Lisa Halpern of Randolph, N.J.. who is Christian, said people sometimes share a little too much of their own opinions. "Sometimes I meet some- one and they say, 'Oh, you're Jewish!' And I say, 'Oh, my kids are Jewish.' And they say, 'As a matter of fact, you know. your kids are not Jewish'" -- referring to matrilineal descent, the traditional Jewish law that says someone is Jewish only if he or she is born Of a Jew- ish mother or undergoes a formal conversion. "I find that to be very rude." Halpern said. "Here I am doing what I consider a good deed. And it's so rude[ I don't respond. I'm So taken aback. Better they shouldn't be Jewish? I'm rai sing three Jewish kids who will grow up and have Jewish kids." Still. she said. she feels welcome at her synagogue, Temple B'nai Or. a Reform synagogue in Morristown. N.J. Since 1983. the Re- form movement accepts "patrilineal" descent, which considers Jewish the chil- dren born of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers as long as the parents make a commitment to educate and raise the children in the religion. Rules and choices A decade ago, 31 percent of married American Jews had non-Jewish spouses, accord- ing to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, the last one undertaken. The study a one-third o to intermar raised Jewi, Withmos involving J, non-Jewish of non-Jew heading Jev In both t Conservati, individual o their own [ ing which to non-Jew: Conservati sets limits o from offeri tions on an riage to p non-Jewisl family mei gogue cele result, Refo tend t6 be r Typicalb form and synagogues permitted 1 that is not mandment- parents ma pulpit duril or bat mitz but do not ings over some Refor permit non- in every ritt Vicky Farh specialist f( Reform Jud In Conse gations, n( cally may and one mt to hold sy: But beyond very few "re by the move said Rabbi special assi ..led to Michigan .vo oldest boys rndmother after th a Christmas loves quilters.') so showed that ! children born :ied couples are h. :intermarriages '.wish men and women, a lot sh women are ,ish families. he Reform and ,e movements, mgregations set olicies govern- ituals are open .. However, the ve movement issues ranging ag congratula- interfaith'mar- rticipation of L parents and abers in syna- brations. As a rm synagogues rare inclusive. in both Re- Conservative , non-Jews are o do anything positive com- -non-Jewish V stand on the lg a child's bar ah. for example. 'ecite the bless- he Torah. But n congregations Iews to take part al, according to , lead outreach r the Union for ism. rvative congre- n-Jews techni- ot be members. st be a member mgogue office. that. there are lines" dictated ment hierarchy, Paul Drazen, ;tant to the CEO The Katzesfrom left, Spencer, Diane, Harrison and Da- vidon a recent vacation in the Grand Canyon. The family home has a mezuzah on the door but a tree at Christmas as well. who was actively involved in the Roman Catholic church before becoming a mother, said "It has been a real privilege to have lived fully in two religions." With her are, c.afrOnt to rear, Shira Bu- urn, Elena Buchsbaum and Adam Buchsbaum. of United Synagogue of Con- servative Judaism. "Each congregation re- flects the community within whidh it is found." he said. "At he same time." he add- ed. spch inconsistencies can be "inconvenient and con- fusing." Last year the move- meat's Rabbinical Assembly reconstituted its keruv, or outeach, committee, ex- amining best practices on weleoming intermarried couples within the move- mert's synagogues. Tacy Lobel found Temple Shalom. a Reform congrega- tionl in Succasunna. N.J., welcoming and forthcoming from the outset. In fact, when she walked into the synagogue for the first time the Hanukkah Goblins" and "Dear Tree." "In the Soviet Union, we didn't have access to Judaism or traditions. We're secu- lar. but the books give us a push," Kozlov said through an interpreter, adding that when the family celebrated Chanukah this year, they chanted both the blessings and the holiday poems one for each candle--from a PJ Library book. Alongwith the GenesisPhi- lanthropy Group,which funds projects that aim to build Jew- ish identity among Russian speakers, PJ is conducting a pilot in the heavily Russian Jewish South Brooklyn. The hope is to expand the program to Russians in other cities and even in the former Soviet Union, said Tamar Remz, who A Russian storybook romance I up to age 8, like "Hershel and runs The Grinspoon Founda- thoritarian egime, Russians distrusted qrganizations in any form. TOe concept of tze- Russian community. dakah was freign to them as well, becaus no independent philanthrop in the forint Russian., graphic th dressed like graphic," R also a huge munity aco quarter of t metropolita Wajnberg. Russians shy away fr( natural PJ I "For Rus implies m ritual, and things to w relate," said director of one of the ic sector existed :r Soviet Union. are "a demo- t can't be ad- any other demo- mz said. They're group. The corn- rants for about a ae Jews living in n New York, said ,specially tend to m synagogues, a ibrary partner. darts, synagogue .mbership and these are two ich they cannot Leonard Petlakh, :he Kings Bay Y, hree community organizations that are the PJ Library's local partners in the That's where the Kings Bay Y and two other, similar community agencies the Shorefront Y and the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Com- munity House--came in. Kozlov, for example, found out about the PJ Library be- cause he takes English classes at the Marks JCH. The PJ Library's emphasis on books also turned out to be a great fit for Russian Jews, said Ilia Salita, executive director of the Genesis Phi- lanthropy Group: "Libraries were always a point of pride for Russian families." So now "Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken" and "Estie the Mensch" are sit- ting next to Dr. Zhivago on the Kozlov's bookshelf, but tion's New York office. When the PJ pilot launched last January, 1.500 subscrip- tions were available, but by June, there was a waiting list of more than 800 families. A $54,000 donation from a PJ Library family in Westchester supplied the Brooklyn families on the list with subscrip- tions. By next month, 2,3.02 South Brooklyn families will be receiving PJ materials in the mail. The demand demonstrated a desire for Jewish connec- tion on the part of New York City's Russian Jews, but for decades, the organized Jewish community and the Russians have struggled to reach each other, said Lilly Wajnberg, who runs the Russian Division at the UJA-Federation of New York. After escaping an au- Grace Yeung, even after her divorce from her Jewish husband, insisted their son Justin continue to participate in Jewish life after his bar mitzvah. several years ago to enroll her oldest son. who is now 12. in religious school, she was greeted warmly and invited to join the religious school committee. She de- clined, explaining that she isn't Jewish. "They said. 'Oh. that's OK. Maybe it's even better because you will bring a different opinion from the rest of us,'" she said. The rules can still be hard to swallow. As she looks for- ward to her son's upcoming bar mitzvah, her excitement ismuted by what she may not do according to the rules of the congregation. "I'm allowed to go on the bima. but I'm not allowed Interfaith on page 7A getting junior Jewish classics into Nomi's little hands is not the end of the story. The Kings Bay Y hosted a Chanukah program for PJ families, is expanding Sngo- ing programs to make room for interested PJ families and is using PJ books to start an entirely new program featur- ing an Israeli educator who sings, reads and puts onpup- pet shows. "We have thousands of kids who come swimming [at the Y]; what's the next step?" said Petlakh. "The book is the en- try portal and that enables us to use it as a marketing tool, as an opportunity to getthem engaged." Helen Chernikoff is a staff writer for The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission.