“Bourbons & Boundaries”: Discussion on Intermarriage in Classical Jewish Texts

"Bourbons & Boundaries" had a great turn-out on Sunday
“Bourbons & Boundaries” had a great turn-out on Sunday

The other night, I led an in-depth textual exploration of the prohibition of intermarriage in Judaism.  It was the fourth and final  event in a series to combine a spirits-tasting alongside a deep textual exploration of a topic in Jewish tradition in the 2013-2014 (5774) year.

One of the more salient points to emerge was that the Biblical texts have a concern about being led astray after other gods and practices if one marries out.  However, this concern then changes upon the return from the Babylonian exile.  Moreover, the classical concerns were not the same as the concern nowadays about the Jewish status of the offspring of such unions.

Bourbons: Before and After
Bourbons: Before and After

With the featured spirit being bourbon, I was glad and thankful that the turn-out was high, with over 25 people in attendance, about as many as the previously most attended event, “Scotches & Separation”.  I want to thank Farley Herzek, who sponsored two bottles, as well as Ken Schlesinger, who brought two bottles, as well as Ira Siegelman, Seth Groder, who also brought bottles.  Thank you.

Now on to considering how to move forward with this program 🙂

Celebrating a Bar Mitzvah

Rabbi Drew speaking about tallit and tefillin at bar mitzvah
Rabbi Drew speaking about tallit and tefillin at bar mitzvah

Last week, I joined with a family (and their friends and family) to celebrate their son becoming a bar mitzvah. A question I got frequently was, “Where is the Torah-reading?”

When this family initially reached out to me in the summer of 2012, they indicated that they wanted to do something to celebrate their son becoming a bar mitzvah, but did not want to have it in a synagogue or do a Torah-reading service. So, we set about coming up with a type of event that would mark his becoming a bar mitzvah and having it to be an intimate celebration with friends and family.

After all, there is no specific celebration laid out to commemorate one’s being a bar mitzvah – that is, someone who is now part of those who are obligated in the performance of the commandments of the Torah. So, we had the father of the young man say the birkat shepatarani, we had the young man lay tefillin and wear a tallit – the first time he had done so in public.  The bar mitzvah boy also read out a nice speech about the process and about where he stands with his Jewish identity.  The parents also wanted to have close family members light candles at the celebration, since candles are a nice touch. And, throughout, I spoke, describing what was going on and why.

In the end, the bar mitzvah boy and his family ended up enjoying their time.  And both they and their guests were glad to have the explanations throughout, as it provided a sense of what was going on and the meaning behind it.

Young Adult Jewish Communal Professionals Conference?

A session at TribeFest on spirituality led to a lot of comments from young adults, that was the genesis of this post
A session at TribeFest on spirituality led to a lot of comments from young adults, that was the genesis of this post

One of my takeaways from having attended TribeFest last month is that many young adult Jewish communal professionals are really looking for something [that is not yet being offered to them] (when speaking about young adults, for the context of the organized Jewish community these days are 20s-30s (for some, it also includes early 40s)).  

Yes, they want to serve the Jewish community in a full-time capacity – perhaps they dedicate their lifework/career to working at it – and, many times, are not getting financially remunerated to what they should be for their talents and efforts.  In many cases (most?all?), they are also looking to grow and to stretch with their Jewish identities, as well as to wrestle with it.  Yet, how many opportunities are given to them to do so?  I think many young adult Jewish communal professionals (henceforth, YAJCPs) were attracted to TribeFest for a variety of reasons – perhaps for professional development, for professional networking, for a great time, sure – but also to struggle and to think and to be inspired in their own Jewish identities.  This became evident at one particular session in which several of the participants – who also happened to be YAJCPs – voiced their struggles and desires to be Jewishly enriched, while also working as a part of the organized Jewish community.

Lest one think that YAJCPs’ quest in their Jewish identity is a selfish reaason to come and to spend time on, one of the special aspects of TribeFest is the energy and inspiration to refuel one’s Jewish life.  This then feeds into one’s professional life and into the communities they are serving.  clearly, a worthwhile communal investment that should be returned manifold.

It would be great if such a thing were to come to reality.  However, such a national (or North American) event would most likely need to gradually build up and develop interest.  If such a conference were to be held, it would need to start small.  Maybe it could be a regional gathering, which expands each year.  Alternatively, it could be something that has multiple regional gatherings that build up to (and perhaps even continue into) a national/continental conference.

I don’t know either who/which organization would want to convene it (JFNA?) or, more importantly, who would want to fund it.  Who knows?  Maybe it could be a grassroots thing and get crowd-funding, perhaps through Jewcer.

Also, it will have to develop not only interest, but also buy-in from the YAJCP’s supervisors, since the money would come from their organizations (unless it is crowd-funded).

Of course, one question that inevitably pops up with such a huge endeavor as this is why expend the resources – be they mental, emotional, chronological, intellectual, financial, social, etc. – when there are other burning issues for the Jews, especially when it comes to money for young adults?  Maybe even having that money going into using these YAJCPs to tap into their peer networks, perhaps even those who are not that involved with the organized Jewish community.  But the most important reason is that YAJCPs are not only the future of the Jewish community, but they’re also very much involved in the present.  Furthermore, by energizing them and helping them become better Jews and Jewish communal professionals, they will be better at their current and future jobs, and the Jewish community will stand to benefit.  Moreover, the types of conversations and ideas that emerge will be incredibly fruitful, as the types of people who come will contribute to a great atmosphere.

Here are some further elements, ideas, etc.:

Who: 20s-30s working in Jewish organizations
When: Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday conference

Where: Big enough city that is easily reachable by all
What: Some Potential Topics:

  • dealing with older people {managing up. dealing with donors, etc.}
  • dating as a YAJCP
  • raising kids as a YAJCP
  • developing one’s jewish identity as a YAJCP
  • problems…
  • working as young people in a culture that is not thinking in current ways
  • getting our peers involved in the organized jewish community