Category Archives: Russian Half-Jewish People

December 2013 Half-Jewish Network Blog/Newsletter

December 30, 2013

Dear Friends:

I hope all of you who celebrate Christmas and the Christian New Year are having a good holiday.  Greetings to all of you observing Mawlid al-Nabi (the birthdate of the Prophet Muhammad) on Jan. 13, 2014, and Tu B’Shevat (the Jewish New Year for Trees, also an Jewish environmental holiday) on January 16, 2014.

News Items of Interest

1. The Association for the Rights of Mixed Families (AMF)  (in Israel) has lost its funding and been disbanded.

Folks, this was hard for me to hear. The AMF of Israel was our closest organizational “buddy” in Israel.  Under the guidance of their admirable and committed leader, Dr. Ludmilla Oigenblick, the organization fought tenaciously for the rights of Israeli half-Jewish people for many years against laws and social policies that have made them second-class citizens.

AMF  had a special mission to the thousands of half-Jewish Russian adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage. They did research on them, provided counseling on how to navigate the obstructive Israeli bureaucracy and Orthodox rabbinate,  and advocated for them with Israeli government agencies.

Here’s an example of the valuable research AMF did on the problems of half-Jewish people living in Israel, a paper (translated into English), “Problems of Mixed Families in Israel”:

http://www.il.boell.org/downloads/Mixed_families_booklet.pdf

I frequently interacted with Professor Oigenblick and one of her assistants, Yona Triestman. They were always friendly and helpful. They posted information about the Half-Jewish Network on their website.

The organizations that had been funding the AMF were the Israeli Ministry of Absorption and the New Israel Fund. I do not know why they withdrew the financial support of the AMF. I also gather that the Reform movement in Israel and the United States refused to help the AMF.

I think these organizations made a serious mistake in defunding the AMF.

If you visit the Internet Archive Wayback Machine:

https://archive.org/web/

and then input:

http://www.mixedfamilies.org.il/english/about.php

and then click on “March 21, 2012” — it will be shown on a calendar — you can see the AMF website before it was taken down.

There are other organizations in Israel that sometimes work on half-Jewish Israelis’ issues, but these organizations also have other priorities, and Israeli half-Jewish people are only of many of their constituencies. They cannot really take over the AMF’s work.

The Half-Jewish Network will continue to monitor and advocate for the half-Jewish people of Israel, including the adult children of Jewish/Arab intermarriages, but we are not an Israel-based organization and will feel the loss of the AMF very much.

Thanks again to Dr. Oigenblick, Yona Triestman and their co-workers for all of their efforts for half-Jewish people in Israel!

2. “In Italy, a Traditional Jewish Lifestyle is Disappearing,” talks about how the traditionally Sephardic Italian Jewish community used to accept interfaith families and children of intermarriage very easily, but the arrival of a more stringent Ashkenazi Orthodoxy in recent years is causing these families to be pushed away:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/12/13/in-italy-a-traditional-jewish-lifestyle-is-disappearing.html

What is interesting about the article is the clear evidence that Orthodox communities have in the past absorbed interfaith families fairly easily, and could do so again if they wished.

3. “Religion and Hybridity: Can Someone Be Jewish and Christian?” — The “Zeek” article talks about the growing mixed religious identities of people within the U.S. Jewish community and outside of it. Some of the people mentioned in the article are half-Jewish people marrying other half-Jewish people:

http://zeek.forward.com/articles/117272/#idc-cover

4. “Ten Reasons Why Conversion to Judaism Has Failed” — the “Haaretz” article describes why the conversion process in Israel — which is supposed to make adult children of Jewish fathers and grandfathers into ‘real’ Jews — has become so cumbersome and user-unfriendly:

http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-features/ten-reasons-conversion-to-judaism-has-failed.premium-1.524157

5. Actor Peter Segal discusses being half-Jewish and his newest movie:

http://blogs.forward.com/the-arty-semite/189867/how-to-get-de-niro-and-stallone-in-the-ring/

6. Master Chef Tony Pina of Majorca discusses being half-Jewish and a descendant of anusim (hidden Jews) of Spain:

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Majorcas-master-chef-returns-to-the-Jewish-people-332167

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and subscribe.

Cordially,

Robin Margolis

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Seventh Half-Jewish Network Blog/Email Newsletter

November 20, 2013

Dear Friends:

I wish all of you a “Happy Thanksgivukkah” — Thanksgiving and Hanukkah both fall on Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 28) of this year. Hanukkah starts on the previous evening (Wednesday, November 27).

I also wish everyone a Merry Christmas (Wednesday, December 25).

Belated greetings to all Shiite Muslims on the Day of ‘Ashura ( November 13 on this year’s Christian calendar), the anniversary of the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and his followers at Karbala in Iraq in 680 A.D., the founding day of Shiite Islam.

Here are some news items that I hope will interest all of you:

Pew Report on American Jewish Population

1.  The respected, non-partisan Pew Research Center has done a study of the American Jewish population, and the results have been explosive.  Here is a link to the study and some of the responses:

http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/

You will be especially interested in their analysis of the adult children of intermarriage:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/11/12/what-happens-when-jews-intermarry/

2. Among the findings which shocked the Jewish community:

a. The Conservative (Masorti in America) Judaism movement is declining very rapidly in numbers. Unless this trend is halted, it may cease to exist in any real way within two decades.

(Robin notes: I’ve repeatedly had half-Jewish people ask me to contact the Conservative Judaism movement over the last decade and offer to help them recruit half-Jewish people. I sympathize with this goal, as I admire many aspects of the Conservative movement’s achievements. I have tried to offer modest suggestions to the Conservative movement, but at the moment, they’re not really listening.)

b. Jewish-identified adult children of intermarriage are now half of all Millenial generation Jews. Most of them are not affiliated with the Jewish community, confining their involvement to identifying as Jewish and reading Jewish books and websites.

(Robin notes: Now this was no surprise to me, as I have been predicting for several decades that Jewish-identified half-Jewish people would be half of all U.S. Jewish young people by 2020.  I have also pointed out repeatedly that Jewish institutions were so unresponsive to them that their involvement was largely on the edges of the Jewish community.)

c. Approximately 25 percent of all interfaith parents raising young children with some Jewish identity today report that they are raising them as “both.”

3. The mainstream Jewish community has tried to “spin” these and other findings in the Pew report in several ways, mostly contradicting each other.

Commentary on the Pew Report in the Jewish media has stated:

a. Some Jewish communal leaders have said: These statistics on Millenial Jewish-identified half-Jewish people prove that Judaism must be getting better at retaining adult half-Jewish people! Even if they don’t join Jewish institutions and confine their involvement to Jewish websites and books!

(Robin notes: I know many of you will laugh heartily, given that they do little or no outreach to us, and sometimes actively rebuff us. The welcoming synagogues and Jewish institutions don’t make up for the blank indifference — when it is no worse — of many of the other Jewish institutions.)

b.  Some Jewish communal leaders have said: The reluctance of half-Jewish people to become involved with Jewish institutions is proof that intermarriage is “bad for the Jews,” and the Jewish community should stop investing efforts in outreach to interfaith couples.  

(Robin notes: In other words, make our intermarried parents and grandparents feel even less welcome! They are certainly not doing any real outreach to half-Jewish people, so there’s nothing to cut back on there.)

c. Some Jewish communal leaders have said: Some interfaith couples are raising their children as “both”? The Jewish community should drop — literally overnight — its decades-long opposition to this option and begin embracing these families!

(Robin notes: Few things can be more startling than to see than these statements.)

d. Some Jewish communal leaders have said: Greater efforts should be made to involve half-Jewish people with Israel trips! The Israeli government has announced it will be funneling more money to American Jewish groups to involve American Jews more deeply with Israel!

(Robin notes:  Israel has negative laws and policies against half-Jewish people. Greater exposure to Israel for most half-Jewish people is not likely to increase their involvement with Judaism, quite the contrary.)

e. Some Jewish communal leaders have said: The Pew Report shows that the intermarriage rate has stabilized at 50 percent! Nothing to worry about! The intermarriage rate is stable!

(Robin notes: If 50 percent of all Jews marry people who aren’t Jewish each year — what will happen to the Jewish community? That’s one of the highest intermarriage rates in Jewish history!)

4. If you’d like to see more Jewish communal responses, just input “Pew report Judaism America” into your Google search engine.

5. What should our response to the Pew Report be as members of the Half-Jewish Network? Let’s wait and see.

A 1990 American Jewish population survey foreshadowed many of these findings, as did a 2000 Jewish population survey, which contained similar alerts.

After both surveys were released, the Jewish community went into panics similar to their responses to the Pew study. I became hopeful for outreach to half-Jewish people. My hopes proved erroneous.

In the decade following 1990, most Jewish institutions stuck by their anti-intermarriage policies. In the years following the 2000 survey, most of the American Jewish community responded by declaring the survey’s research to be inadequate and erroneous, and began increasing outreach to young Jews with two Jewish parents and trying to get them to marry each other.

So let’s wait and see if the 2013 Pew survey actually generates real outreach to adult half-Jewish people. Real outreach would be the same outreach interfaith couples and their parents currently receive: books, movies, DVDs, CDs, books, discussion groups, listserves, becoming a recognized, written priority of Jewish outreach groups and Jewish institutions, welcoming language in Jewish policy statements and synagogue websites, etc.

I’d like to see such outreach treat courteously half-Jewish people who are “undecided,” “other,” “both,” or who belong to Christian, Muslim and other faiths and secular cultures and listen to their stories, as well listening respectfully to Jewish-identified half-Jewish people.

We have asked for this for decades. We should accept nothing less.

Israel and Its Half-Jewish Population

1. Israel has dropped support to the remaining Ethiopian Jews in Ethiopia, most of whom are patrilineal — they have an Ethiopian Jewish father and an Ethiopian Christian mother or other patrilineal descent:

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/142440/left-behind-in-gondar?all=1

2. But Israel is importing the “B’nai Menashe” — group of people from India — whose Jewish history only goes back a century, when they switched from Christianity to Judaism on their own:

http://www.jta.org/2013/10/17/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/lost-indian-jews-immigration-continues-despite-skepticism-over-their-claims

(Robin notes: I believe that the B’nai Menashe are being brought to Israel because they are lighter-skinned than the Ethiopian Jews and perceived as less bother to the Israelis than the deeply unhappy Ethiopian Jewish Israeli community.)

3.  But Israel isn’t terribly nice to patrilineal white Jews — here’s what happened to some enrolled in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Orthodox Judaism conversion class:

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4443687,00.html

What the article does not mention is that the soldiers involved are most likely Russian patrilineal Jews with a Jewish father and a Christian mother.  One way they can achieve status as “real” Jews in Israel is to convert via the IDF’s “Nativ” course, taught by the Orthodox.

The Nativ classes were intended by the IDF senior command as a friendly and respectful gesture to patrilineal half-Jewish soldiers, an effort that would help them get Orthodox conversions more easily than stringent classes for civilians taught by Orthodox rabbis outside of the IDF.

But the IDF has begun to fall increasingly under the control of the Orthodox, as the number of officers graduating from Orthodox schools increases and the Orthodox rabbis in the IDF — only Orthodox rabbis are allowed in the IDF — become increasingly conservative politically and religiously.

For more information on this, see our “Who Is A Jew” essay at:

http://half-jewish.net/who-is-a-jew/

and our “Israel” essay at:

http://half-jewish.net/israel/

4. Continuing harassment of Jewish-Arab interfaith couples in Israel:

http://972mag.com/idf-soldier-passes-ids-of-jewish-girls-who-socialize-with-arabs-to-anti-assimilation-ngo/79349/

and

http://972mag.com/jewish-women-cant-volunteer-at-night-to-avoid-contact-with-arabs/80527/

and

http://www.hartman.org.il/Blogs_View.asp?Article_Id=1174&Cat_Id=275&Cat_Type=Blogs

The Freedom Theater, founded by Jewish-Arab activist Juliano Mer-Khamis, has continued to produce plays and follow its policy of peaceful “cultural resistance” to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank:

http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org/

For those of you not familiar with Mer-Khamis — he was an Israeli citizen with an Arab father and a Jewish mother, who fought tirelessly for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  He spoke often of being “100 percent Palestinian” and “100 percent Jewish.” There were segments of both the Israeli Jewish public and the Palestinian Muslim public who disliked him intensely.

He was assassinated by traditionalist  Palestinians who objected to a modern play about teenagers and sex that his theater produced. I was only surprised by his death because I thought Israel’s Shin Bet would kill him first. I admired him greatly for his courage.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juliano_Mer-Khamis

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julian-schnabel/juliano-mer-khamis_b_849235.html

5. Continuing refusal to bury patrilineal Israeli Jewish IDF soldiers with other Jews:

http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Non-Jewish-IDF-soldiers-to-be-buried-in-same-section-as-Jews-319003

(Robin notes: I have had a decades-long commitment to getting patrilineal Jewish-identified half-Jewish people buried with other Jews in all Jewish settings. The IDF has buried them in the “non-Jewish” sections of IDF cemeteries with Christian and Muslim soldiers. Well,  in the future, patrilineal Jewish-identified half-Jewish soldiers will be buried in the “Jewish section” of the IDF cemeteries — which are run by the Orthodox Jews — but they will be buried in separate rows of their own.  I am not satisfied with this ‘compromise,’ and I hope you will speak up against it also.)

Newly-Released Literature

1. Poetry by Aaron Samuels on growing up biracial (Jewish mother, African-American father):

http://aaronsamuelspoetry.com/portfolio/yarmulkes-and-fitted-caps/

2. Book by Susan Katz-Miller on raising children in both Judaism and Christianity:

http://www.susankatzmiller.com/

Note: Katz-Miller is herself the child of an intermarriage. She’s been an activist on the “raise in both” front for many years and her book deserves respectful attention.

Half-Jewish People In The News

1.  Media has confirmed — after years of rumors — that Muammar Gaddafi, the former dictator of Libya, who died in 2011, had a Sephardic Jewish mother and a Muslim Arab father:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/gadhafis-mother-was-jewish-his-protocol-chief-says/

2. Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, head of the Church of England and the Anglican communion, recently discovered that he had a German Jewish paternal grandfather:

http://kiwianglo.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/the-telegraph-interview-with-the-archbishop-of-canterbury/

3. Troubled half-Jewish baseball player, Ryan Braun, berated by Jewish fans:

http://forward.com/articles/187662/can-ryan-braun-repent-enough-to-win-back-jewish-fa/

Wishing you good holidays and many blessings,

Robin Margolis

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Fifth Half-Jewish Network Blog/Email Newsletter

March 16, 2012

Dear Friends:

Greetings to everyone celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), Palm Sunday (April 1), Good Friday (April 6), Erev Pesach – First Seder (Passover – April 6),  Pesach  – Second Seder (Passover – April 7), Easter Sunday (April 8), Easter Monday (April 9), Yom Ha-Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day – April 19), and Earth Day (April 22).

You’ll notice that Passover and Easter fall on the same weekend this year.  We know this creates conflicts in some of our families — best of luck in dealing with them!

1. Conference on Half-Jewish People (April 20th, Evanston, Illinois):

Dear Friends: We have been asked to publicize this conference and hope to have a speaker present. If any one living near Evanston, Illinois sees this notice and attends this conference, please let us know what you thought of it.

The organizer, Rabbi Adam Chalom of Humanistic Judaism, has always been friendly to the Half-Jewish Network and displayed concern about the adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage.

Conference Information: Upcoming Colloquium of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism: “Half Jewish?” The Heirs of Intermarriage.

Our Colloquium will be held April 20-22, 2012 at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL in cooperation with Newberger Hillel at the University of Chicago and Fiedler Hillel at Northwestern University.

How will the heirs of intermarriage change Judaism? Can you be “Jewish and” rather than “Jewish or”? Can the Jewish world handle “half Jewish”? Or is being “half Jewish” no big deal anymore?

For two decades, half of the marriages involving Jews have been intercultural. Their children are now young adults, choosing their own identities.

Online registration at http://halfjewish.eventbrite.com has the program details. Participating speakers and panelists will include voices from the Jewish Outreach Institute, Newberger Hillel, Birthright-Israel NEXT, the Half-Jewish Network, Jews in all Hues, The Society for Humanistic Judaism and Interfaith Family.com, as well as from the world of academic Jewish Studies and from Israel.

2.  Here is a funny interview with rapper Drake (African-American father, Jewish mother).

3. Henrique Capriles y Radonski, candidate for President of Venezuela, has a Christian father and a Jewish mother:

This article — click on Radonski’s name to view it — has the same error about Radonski’s family that I have seen in many publications, in that it implies that Radonski is fully Jewish by parentage and converted to Catholicism.

Radonski is half-Jewish, not fully Jewish by ancestry, as the article incorrectly implies. He’s the child of an intermarriage.

His father had Dutch ancestry and his mother was Jewish. His full surname is “Capriles y Radonski” — Capriles would be his father’s name and Radonski is his mother’s name. He became seriously Catholic after a very nasty time as a political prisoner. Capriles Radonski himself has always been very open about being half-Jewish and a practicing Catholic.

I’m guessing that the anti-Semites want to claim him as fully Jewish ethnically so they can target him, and that Jewish groups want to claim him as fully Jewish ethnically due to anti-intermarriage bias.

It would be more respectful to him to acknowledge his Christian family as well as his Jewish family.

4. St. John of the Cross, a prominent 16th century Roman Catholic mystic, who wrote a book on the concept of the dark night of the soul, was apparently of mixed Jewish-Christian descent on one side of his family, and possibly partly-Muslim on the other side:

5. Aish article attacking intermarriage cites to the Purim story in the book of Esther in the Bible without once mentioning that Esther’s intermarriage with the Persian ruler is what saved the life of her Jewish community.

Can we say chutzpah (outrageous gall)? I think we can. Consider leaving a comment on the article pointing this out.

6. Humorous essay on views of American half-Jewish, half-Russian young woman in “My Russian Girl Problems.” If you like the article, you may want to leave the author a supportive comment.

7. What happens to half-Jewish people who make aliyah (immigrate) to Israel?

American patrilineal half-Jewish woman refuses to convert via Orthodox Judaism, forbidden to marry Israeli Jew and leaves Israel.

American matrilineal Jewish woman fights to marry Israeli Jew in Israel.

American patrilineal Orthodox guy allowed to marry Orthodox convert in Israel.

Folks, I’m glad that the Orthodox Jewish couple was allowed to marry, but I don’t think half-Jewish people who are not interested in becoming Orthodox Jews should have to fight to marry Israelis.

8. Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue), an American organization for Jewish multiracial outreach, has asked that we publicize the trailer of a film they have made about an Ethiopian Jew who was kidnapped on his way to Israel and sold into slavery, “400 Miles“:

I’d be interested in your opinions of it.

9. The New York Jewish Federation has protested to the Israeli government about the discrimination against Ethiopian Jews within Israel.  We are monitoring this issue because many Ethiopian Jews currently trying to make aliyah are half-Jewish and obstacles are put in their way due to being descendants of intermarriage.

Here is an earlier issue of our newsletter that covers the difficulties of the Ethiopian half-Jewish people in greater detail — see especially the comments that were posted by an expert in the field on our website.

Cordially,

Robin

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Second Half-Jewish Network/Blog Email Newsletter

November 16, 2011

Dear Friends:

You see that the Half-Jewish Network keeps its promises — we are contacting you only once a month! <internet smile>

Here are some news items that I thought might interest you.  (I wish to thank Al and Joel — you know who you are — for sending me some of these news articles!)

1.  In a 9/1/11 article in the American Jewish newspaper, the “Forward,” titled “Last Ethiopian Jews Finally Make Exodus to Israel,” you will see at the bottom of the article some very disturbing news.

Not all of the remaining Ethiopian Jews are apparently being allowed to make aliyah to Israel. Those who have a Jewish father and a mother who is not Jewish — the patrilineal Jews — are being excluded.

You will notice that I have left a comment expressing my disapproval in the “Comments” section. You may wish to leave a comment of your own.

http://forward.com/articles/142154/#ixzz1dsSM0Ri9

2. “Who Isn’t a Jew?” a 10/23/11 article in “The Jerusalem Post” describes how a well-known Israeli writer with two Jewish parents has had himself legally declared a non-Jew.

He is protesting the fact that because he married an American Christian, his daughter and grandson are officially “not Jewish” in Israel.

http://m.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=84242441&cat=2

3. “Outside the Box” — new film being made by Lacey Schwartz on growing up half-African-American and half-Jewish. The author of the film seeks donations to help her complete the film.

http://www.outsidetheboxfilm.com/

4. “Conservative Synagogues Crack Open Door to Intermarried Families,” published in the “Forward” on 8/31/11, discusses how some Conservative synagogues are allowing interfaith couples full membership in their shuls.

http://www.forward.com/articles/142112/#ixzz1dsb38a89

5. There are very few studies of the Holocaust that mention half-Jewish people, so I thought some of you might be interested in “Jews and Intermarriage in Nazi Austria”:

http://books.google.com/books?id=9-TJWTvksGcC&pg=PA10&lpg=PA10&dq=%22steven+beller%22+%22evan+burr+bukey%22&source=bl&ots=bVCxKggNfA&sig=kbwhUlkC2gp7o_jB6lV7Vk7i19o&hl=en&ei=OZWMToSOAoWyhAfS4tGGCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false

6. Some of you have expressed an interest in occasionally hearing about half-Jewish people who lived as Christians. I recommend an excellent essay about the poet Denise Levertov, who was raised in the Church of England.

Her father came from a Hasidic Jewish family and is said to have been a descendant of the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty. He became an Anglican minister. Her mother grew up in Wales and was raised as a Congregationalist Christian.

Levertov was interested in both of her “halves” and wrote much spiritual poetry.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denise_Levertov

7.  If you are interested in receiving a free weekly email newsletter with information about Israel and interfaith families, plus other topics relating to Israel’s current problems in this area, I recommend that you subscribe to:

http://religionandstateinisrael.blogspot.com/

8. Holiday Reminders: I wish all of our American readers a Happy Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 24.

Erev (the beginning) of Hanukkah falls after sunset on Tuesday, December 20 this year and lasts for eight days. Christmas will take place (except for the Eastern Orthodox Christians) on Sunday, December 25. The Eastern Orthodox Christmas will fall on January 7.

9. I am continuing to notify the over 1,000 members of the Half-Jewish Network who contacted us over the last six years that we have a new website and that they can now subscribe to this email blog/newsletter.

Some of them have changed email addresses, so I may not be able to reach them all. I am slowly reconnecting with as many of them as I can reach, one by one.

10. Don’t forget to check the “About/Message Board” on our website and help me respond to the questions from half-Jewish people from all over the world:

http://half-jewish.net/message-board/

Cordially,

Robin Margolis, Coordinator

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