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e l T z o a v M Supplement to Jewish News, October 8, 2012

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DIY Chuppah—

Last-minute addition creates lasting memories by Laine Mednick Rutherford


he day before Gia and Joey Ellington were scheduled to recite their vows, a thought burst through the mental notes to buy flowers, come up with a plan B for the 30% chance of rain that was predicted, and decide whether or not to use fancy plastic plates or china: “What about a chuppah?!” Well, what about a chuppah? Was it necessary? Important? Vital to the success of the ceremony? Probably not, but it would certainly add to the “Jewish-ness” of Gia and Joey’s casual wedding, lend tradition to the ceremony and add another element of beauty to the memories of the day. From the outset (three months prior to the September wedding date), the best description for the wedding—her fourth, his third—would be “informal.” Gia’s aunt Miriam committed the back deck of her home for the ceremony after it was decided the nearby beach might not be the best place for guests with mobility issues. Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg agreed to perform the marriage at Miriam’s home, admiring the commitment the couple had for each other (they originally dated as teens four decades earlier). And friends and family would supply the one thing Gia requested—a white, paper runner for her to walk up the “aisle” on—as well as the hasty addition of flowers, sparkling

cider, a Kiddush cup, cake and cupcakes for the guests, and a light bulb for Joey to crush under his foot during their vows. Missing. Something was missing. And there it was! The wedding checklist was missing the canopy under which Jewish couples are traditionally married—the cloth held up by

The wedding checklist was missing the canopy under which Jewish couples four poles symbolizing the home they are traditionally would share after married—the cloth marriage. Defying popular held up by four poles means of discovery, symbolizing the the wedding’s organizers—Aunt Miriam home they would and family friend Debi share after Stadlin—did not turn to the Internet for ideas once marriage. they decided that the chuppah should be an element in the Ellington wedding. No Google search or hunting through

Pinterest boards for this duo. Both had been to enough contemporary Jewish weddings to know that chuppahs can be as different as the couples who are married beneath them. They’d seen chuppahs created with a tallis and birch

returned this week). The lace was spread out and tacked to the tops of the wooden dowels with four white pushpins that Debi discovered as she was searching for doublestick tape. And, voila, a chuppah was born! Gia was thrilled when she learned about the new addition to her ceremony. She had thought about including one early in the wedding’s planning stages, but had forgotten about it as other, more pressing issues had arisen—what color and style dress to buy, how to wear her hair, and what to write to Joey as part of her vows. Gia was particularly pleased to find, that with the addition of the chuppah, she and Joey could let others participate in the simple ceremony. The poles were short; arms and bodies were necessary to hold the canopy over the couple, and family members happily agreed to do the honors. The wedding was meaningful and brief. Plan B was in effect because of a rainy afternoon and the branchceremony was es, with dyed silk cloth moved into and bamboo poles, with Miriam’s livPVC pipes and sheer ing room. The netting. They were The Ellington’s wedding. runner wasn’t convinced they could used, but the make their own. chuppah definitely was. Miriam headed to K-Mart, the closest Following the couple’s departure to big-box store that might have material or a a reception at a friend’s house, the premade “something” that could fill in as a question came up of what to do with canopy. Debi headed to Lowe’s. Between the the chuppah. A decision was made to pair of them, they ended up with two sheer, dismantle it and store it alongside the gauzy curtains, a lace tablecloth, and four, rarely-used fancy linen tablecloths hanglightweight wooden dowels. ing in a guest room closet. Because, who The consensus was to use the lace table- knows, one day someone else may be cloth (which, literally, was given to Miriam getting married, and at the last minute for free by the store—the sheers will be realize, what about a chuppah? | Mazel Tov | October 8, 2012 | Jewish News | 35

Old becomes new as couples personalize wedding ceremonies by Debra Rubin

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WASHINGTON (JTA)—In the months before his wedding, Jon Cetel cringed at the notion of having his friends dance him to his bride at a traditional bedeken ceremony, where he would place the veil over her face. The concept “was completely foreign to me,” he says. It “felt too traditional.” But his bride, Ashley Novack, 26, was entranced by the tradition. “I love dancing, and this sounded like an amazing opportunity definitely not to be missed,” she says. Rabbi Shira Stutman, director of community engagement at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington and the officiant at their wedding, had a suggestion: Reverse it. “Subverting thousands of years of tradition, I would dance over to Jon,” says Novack, who called it one of her favorite moments of their 2010 wedding. “I was filled with love and joy as the remarkable women in my life encircled me and danced me over to Jon.” Cetel, 27, ended up loving it, too. “The sound of Ashley’s entourage approaching was thunderous and powerful,” he says. “I probably ended up liking it even more than Ashley.” The Conservative-raised Philadelphia couple’s twist was by no means traditional, but it was an example of a growing practice of couples putting new spins on ancient wedding traditions. From adapting non-egalitarian parts of the ceremony to having friends officiate, it’s all part of a trend toward personalizing the wedding ceremony. “It’s very important for people to incor-

porate their voices,” says Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding rabbi of the progressive Ikar community in Los Angeles. “That’s the way the old becomes new.” Sara Cohen of Somerville, Mass., and her bridegroom decided to forego a rabbi, instead asking close friends to officiate at their 2009 wedding. “We didn’t have a rabbi in our life that felt like ours,” says Cohen, 41. “The bigger reason was we really liked the idea of having people who know us really well do the wedding.” They asked a lifelong friend of hers, a Jewish studies professor with Universal Life Minister credentials, and a close friend of his to perform the ceremony. But the couple also consulted with a rabbi about the ceremony, which included the traditional hallmarks. There is no Jewish legal requirement that a rabbi or cantor officiate at a wedding; according to halachah, two witnesses are required to make the ceremony official. Some rabbis are nonplussed by the idea of clergy-free nuptials. “It may make for a lovely ceremony, but it does not serve in any way to connect the couple in an official way to the Jewish community by someone who’s been ordained by the community,” says Rabbi Rex Perlmeter, the Union for Reform Judaism’s worship and spirituality specialist. “I think it’s sad and it’s a diminishment of connection to community and tradition.” He also warned of the loss of premarital counseling by clergy. But Perlmeter praises the notion of having friends participate in the wedding service in other ways. Couples long have

had friends and honored guests recite the seven traditional blessings, but now couples are asking friends to add their own creative translations, blessings or even poetry readings to the blessings. They are “personalizing it and rendering it unique,” Perlmeter says. Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, rabbi in residence at Be’chol Lashon, an initiative of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, says there are practical reasons to have a rabbi officiate, including smoothing over family squabbles. “When the rabbi takes care of it, there’s a pastoral piece involved,” she says. “Weddings are very, very emotional.” Ra’anan Boustan, Abusch-Magder’s brother-in-law and one of the officiants at Cohen’s wedding, dismissed such concerns. Laypeople can do those things just as well or even better than a rabbi, he said, particularly if, as in many cases, the rabbi doesn’t know the couple very well. Noting that he and his wife didn’t know their officiating rabbi well, and did not have premarital counseling with him, Boustan says, “I don’t see that was terribly preferable to the three cases in which I married my best friend from college, my wife’s sister-in-law and a friend from childhood.” More commonly, couples are making egalitarian adaptations to ceremonies that until recently largely had been ignored outside of Orthodoxy. For example, Orthodox brides traditionally encircle their grooms seven times under the chuppah. It’s now common for many brides and grooms to circle one another; typically each circles the other three times, then they walk around once together. Dual-ring ceremonies, long the norm in the non-Orthodox world, are no longer unheard of among Orthodox couples. And the tisch—a traditional time for the men to get together, discuss Torah, celebrate and sometimes be silly while the bride and female guests hold their own party as they await the bedeken—has gone egalitarian, too, with the bride and groom each holding a separate, often mixed-gender tisch.  That’s one of several suggestions that Rabbi Dov Linzer, dean of the Yeshivat Chovevei Rabbinical School in New York, offers to give women a greater role in Orthodox wedding ceremonies.  Linzer also suggests that after the groom

has put the veil on the bride, she wrap him in a tallit; that the couple’s Hebrew names include the mother’s as well as the father’s names; and that women are asked along with men to recite the seven wedding blessings, albeit the woman would do so in translation. Julianne and Justin Miller of Canandaigua, N.Y., each had a tisch at their 2000 wedding and a double bedeken. “At the first part of the ceremony, I put his kipah on him before he put the veil on me,” says Julianne Miller, 38. Not only did that make the ceremony more egalitarian but, Miller says—in jest—it also was a chance to be sure she had the right groom. Her husband is an identical twin. “Before I put the kipah on him, I looked in the crowd to make sure I saw his brother,” Miller says. Rabbi Julia Andelman, 36, and her husband, Eitan Fishbane, a professor at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, opted out of kiddushin, the betrothal portion of the wedding ceremony in which the bridegroom “acquires” his bride by giving her a ring. The couple replaced kiddushin with a nedarim, vows, portion for several reasons, she explains. “We wanted something equally binding for both parties, and God forbid the marriage would not work out, we wanted something that would not require a get,” she said, referring to the religious divorce decree. “You need a get to dissolve to kiddushin, so if you don’t have kiddushin, you don’t need a get.” Additionally, she says, the nedarim provide an equal level of commitment to monogamy for both the man and the woman, and the vow is “something that each person recites for themselves, rather than one person making a statement about the other person’s status.” The couple retained the “nisuin” portion—the seven blessings known as the “sheva brachot”—binding them together as husband and wife. “There are certainly people who could argue we’re not halachically married,” says Andelman, a former congregational rabbi who directs the Engaging Israel Project in North America. She and Fishbane also each wore a kittel, the white robe traditionally worn by men at weddings and certain other special

It’s now common for many brides and grooms to circle one another; typically each circles the other three times, then they walk around once together.

occasions. Some of the creativity at weddings stems from efforts to create meaningful ceremonies within a Jewish framework for same-sex couples, says Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, a senior Jewish educator at the Tufts University Hillel. “There’s a little more permission to look outside the old box,” says Ruttenberg, who maintains a website, the Kiddushin Variations (http://alternativestokiddushin., with postings on rabbinic opinions regarding egalitarian ceremonies. Aaron Dorfman and his bride, Talia Milgrom-Elcott, wanted to eliminate any portion of the ceremony that spoke of


acquisition, including exchanging rings. Instead they borrowed rings from other people and used those rings as exchanges. This way, the rings “could not be perceived as halachically effecting legal acquisition because they were not ours to give,” Dorfman says. As a sign of protest that most U.S. states don’t sanction gay marriage, the couple, who live in New York, borrowed from a Passover tradition: As seder participants reciting the Ten Plagues traditionally spill a drop of wine for each plague in recognition of the pain of others, they spilled some of the ceremonial wine before drinking it to signal some diminishing of joy.

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Electronic invitations a growing trend, but many still want traditional paper keepsakes by Suzanne Kurtz

WASHINGTON (JTA)—My bat mitzvah invitation had bright purple embossed text on a hot pink card with my name enlarged in decorative script at the top and daisies adorning the bottom. Twenty-plus years later, I remember eagerly waiting for my friends to receive the invitations and running home weeks later to check the mailbox for the return of the RSVP envelopes. Secured in a scrapbook, the invitation is a treasured memento. Today, however, a rising trend in simcha invites may be changing the run to the mailbox into a dash for the email inbox and the card stock mementos into computer printouts.

No longer for holiday parties and happy hours only, electronic invitations are becoming an acceptable way for some to announce major life-cycle events, including b’nai mitzvah celebrations and weddings. When Jason Horowitz, a marketing executive in New York, and his partner, Carl, were planning their February wedding, electronic invitations became the solution for one major concern: They were short on time. With more than 200 invitations to send, the couple didn’t want to sacrifice style for haste. Paperless Post, a website launched by a 20-something brother-and-sister team in 2008, was the perfect answer, says Horowitz, 41. “The wedding was very much planned last minute, but we still wanted to give guests 30 days to RSVP,” he says. Horowitz added that using electronic invitations “saved money and it’s environmentally friendly.” Paperless Post invitations are sent by email (or through a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter) with an image of an envelope appearing on screen. The guest’s name can be written on the outside of the envelope in a typeset of your choice, and the inside can include a lining to give the computer image a paper look.  The invitation itself can be designed with the assistance of graphic designers or selected from existing templates. Having received similar invitations from friends for less formal occasions, Horowitz says, “I loved the concept and thought the aesthetics were much better than Evite.” Unlike Evite, Paperless Post invitations are not free, but there are also no pop-up ads.  Margery Klausner, an attorney in Southfield, Mich., used an electronic invitation as a follow-up to the paper invitation for her son Nathan’s June bar mitzvah. Klausner, 41, used the image of the paper invitation for the electronic version. While all local guests and family members received both the paper and electronic invitations, she exclusively sent electronic invitations to guests whom she “wanted to include but wasn’t 100 percent sure that they could come, like those [living] in Israel.” 

Dealing with different postage rates and delivery time, she says, was another factor in opting for an electronic invitation. One of the main advantages to using the electronic invitations was the quick arrival of the responses, says Klausner. Two hours after hitting the send button on her computer, “I received 57 RSVPs,” she says. Additionally, Klausner was able to track the guests who didn’t open the email and contact them directly to find out if there was a problem. “It was beyond awesome,” she says. “It’s really impressive.” Since Paperless Post launched, cofounder James Hirschfeld says, more than 10,000 b’nai mitzvah and 40,000 wedding invitations have been sent over the site. Calligraphers and engravers shouldn’t worry too much, however. Traditional paper invitations are still very much in vogue, says Wendy Katzen, a Washingtonarea event planner. She says that of the dozen or so weddings and b’nai mitzvah celebrations she plans for clients each year, “not one” has opted for an electronic invitation. For those who stick with the paper invitations, people may purchase them online, at a store or privately through someone such as Judy Petock of Just Judy in Norfolk. She notes that some are hesitant to buy invitations online because it is not personal, there’s no one to really help with wording or to figure how many pieces to order. Those who shop with her get the benefit of more than 30 years of experience. She says, “I try to help guide people. You don’t have to have Cranes to have a lovely invitation.” And she says, “I tell everyone to purchase 25 extras. There’s always someone you want to add to the list, or the envelopes that get messed up. It’s less expensive to increase the order in the beginning, than to try to add to it later.” Petock also notes that no matter the cost, she advises her customers to “Get a proof. That’s the time to speak up if, for example, you don’t like the font. It is when you really see what you’re getting.” For Melissa Kanter, 49, the paper invitations for the December b’not mitzvah of her twin daughters, Emily and Rachel, will “set the tone for the affair.”

“It’s an accessory, like the bracelet to the outfit. It pulls the whole thing together,” says Kanter, an occupational therapist in Short Hills, N.J. The invitation will reflect the personalities of her daughters, says Kanter, who worked with a graphic designer. The RSVPs will be with a response card —not directed to an email address—and she’ll create a special postage stamp for the invitations and cards.  After the affair, the invitation will be framed in a shadow box and used to make gifts for the girls—‚jewelry boxes and pillows. “I’d rather have the tradition” of a paper invitation, Kanter says. “It will be a keepsake that I’ll put in their baby book.” Katzen says that in planning a life-cycle event, it’s important to keep in mind that guest lists are often multigenerational and you want to take care not to insult anyone. “There are still [people] who think a BlackBerry is a fruit,” she says. “You want to keep those guests in the loop, too.” That wasn’t an issue for Horowitz — even his guests in their 80s had email addresses.  Days before the wedding, he sent a message through the site clarifying the start time of the ceremony. The flexibility of an electronic invitation made it much easier, he says, “otherwise I would have had to make a hundred phone calls.” With a guest list of more than 1,500, Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, 48, also went the electronic route for her son Noah’s bar mitzvah last December after it was suggested by another mother. “It was brilliant and made it possible,” says Steinlauf, whose husband, Gil, is the rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington. The entire congregation was invited to the bar mitzvah and subsequent kiddush lunch. The Steinlaufs also went the electronic route for a separate Friday-night dinner for family members and a party on Saturday evening for children. “Can you imagine sending out 1,500 paper invitations?” Steinlauf asks. “It saved a fortune and saved many trees. There’s no question, I can’t imagine another way to have done this.”

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Top 10 Jewish Mitzvah Music by Jewish News staff


ho knew there could be such a list as the Top 10 Jewish wedding songs or the Top 10 Jewish B’nai Mitzvah songs? A quick look around the Internet produces several such lists, with some of the same pieces appearing over and over. Take Hava Nagila, for example. It shows up in so many variations on nearly every list. But, of course, that’s really no surprise. It can be found as a Hora medley with Siman Tov (another popular song); with lyrics, without lyrics; with lots of instruments and not. From the award-winning and highly acclaimed 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof, Sabbath Prayer and Sunrise, Sunset show up often on the lists of popular Jewish wedding songs, and the memorable To Life, makes lists for both weddings and B’nai Mitzvot. Debbie Friedman’s And You Shall Be a Blessing, sung in either Hebrew or English, is another favorite Jewish wedding tune.

The aptly named Wedding Song, by Greg Taubman, has been used for more than 25 years during wedding ceremonies. I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas with its chorus of “Mazel Tov!” is also showing up more and more. Hosts of Jewish celebrations can choose live bands or recorded music to play during the events. Locally, it’s a toss-up as to which delivery method is more popular. Kathie Moore of More Music Group in Virginia Beach books both bands and DJs to play at weddings and B’nai mitzvot. She says it “depends on the event and each individual” as to what kind of music guests are going to hear. “A lot of people like to hire DJ’s to hear the most current songs, but we’ve got bands that can play them, too,” she says. Bands with horn sections playing those dance favorites from the 1970s are still very popular, Moore says. For those who have a hard time choosing—it’s best to come up with a list that spans decades, and gets people either “oohing” with sentimentality, or out on the floor dancing.

70,000 gather at Wall for priestly blessing


n estimated 70,000 Jewish worshipers gathered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to hear the priestly blessing. Hundreds of Kohanim, members of Judaism’s priestly class, performed the special blessing, known as Birkat Kohanim,

on Wednesday, Oct. 3 morning during the morning and additional prayers. The prayer is said in Israeli synagogues on Shabbat and holidays throughout the year, and as a mass gathering at the site of the Western Wall on Sukkot and Passover. (JTA)

ho liday

Down on America’s next big etrog farm by Chavie Lieber

(JTA)—Matt Bycer is like any other 33-yearold attorney who wakes up at the crack of dawn to exercise. Except that rather than sweating to a P90X regimen, Bycer, in a T-shirt, shorts and cowboy hat, lugs 170 buckets of water across his backyard in Scottsdale, Ariz., to water his etrog farm. The Phoenix native has been nurturing his citron project since he first started collecting etrogs in 2007. With a 60 percent survival rate for each etrog tree he plants, Bycer is optimistic that he’ll be up for production in five years and able to sell the valuable fruit to Jews across America. The etrog (also pronounced esrog) is one of four plant species that Jews are enjoined to pick up and shake daily during the weeklong holiday of Sukkot, which this year began on the eve of Sept. 30. “I’m a patent lawyer by day and farmer by dawn,” he says. “It’s a lot of work to run this esrog farm, and a lot of people laugh at me and think its kooky, but I have a huge backyard and I like working outside. I’m really dedicated to this.” Bycer started his etrog farm after discovering there was a need for U.S.-grown etrogs—particulary every seventh year during the “shmitah” sabbatical, when the Torah’s command that the land of Israel lie fallow handicaps Israeli etrog farmers. The last time such a shmitah year occurred, in 2007, many observant Jews were forced to rely on a rabbinic loophole to procure Israeli etrogs because of an insufficient supply from the Diaspora. Etrogs retail from a few dollars to several hundred dollars, with most in the $20 to $50 range, or sold as part of a set along with the three other Sukkot species: lulavs (palm fronds), hadassim (myrtle branches) and aravot (willow branches). The only large-scale etrog supplier in the United States currently is a Presbyterian farmer from northeast California named John Kirkpatrick. Bycer says he is aware that many who have tried have failed to grow etrogs, including friends of his in Florida and Texas who found the climate was too humid. The fruits need a dry and sunny climate, which is why most of them are grown in Israel. Southern Europe, especially Italy, also is a

major source for etrogs. With Arizona practically as dry as Israel’s Negev Desert, the Copper State appears to be an optimal place to grow American etrogs. What started as a hobby has become Bycer’s part-time job. He estimates that he puts in at least 15 hours a week and nearly $10,000 every year. His methods for etrog care come from reading material from the horticulture departments of the University of Arizona and University of Florida. His first attempt at etrog farming ended in failure, when he rented a 2,700-foot house and kept the etrogs indoors, surrounding them with florescent lights and tinfoil-covered walls. “The whole thing was a disaster because I had no idea what I was doing. There were bugs everywhere, the plants were too wet and everything just died,” he says, laughing. “But part of being a citrus farmer is catching on as you go, so I learned I had to let the plants dry out in between watering them.” Bycer started again and now has nearly 200 healthy trees. With each tree capable of producing up to 40 fruits, he hopes his sales soon will number in the thousands. After marrying in 2010, he moved the plants outside to a makeshift greenhouse with walls covered in foil. Bycer inspects them on a daily basis. To keep his crop organic, Bycer uses chemical-free pesticide alternatives such as fish oil soap or nicotine-based insecticides. He plants the etrog seeds in small pots right after Sukkot and incubates them inside, then moves the plants outside once they start sprouting six months later. “The community here has been so supportive,” he says. “Everyone donates their etrog to me after Sukkot so I can plant their seeds.” Etrogs grow best in 95-degree temperature; Arizona highs can soar well into the triple digits. So Bycer shields his etrogs with a shade structure and special cloth, and he constantly sprays them with specialized water. When winter sets in and the temperatures drop to near freezing, Bycer wraps the plants in Christmas lights to keep them warm.

“I really have to spend a lot of time being on top of them,” he says. “All it takes is one day of bad weather, even if it’s a drop too cold or the sun hits a tree too long, and the whole plant can die. And all it takes is one spider mite to eat the plant and it’s done.” And, of course, because Jews cannot agree on which etrog variety is optimal,

Bycer has planted an array of specimens: Moroccan etrog, which has an hourglasslike strip around the middle; Chazon Ish or Balady etrogs, which are covered in bumps and are very popular; Yanover or Diamente etrogs, which are greener and smoother; and Yemenite etrogs, which are significantly larger than average. Once the trees begin to produce fruit, Bycer hopes to supply underserved communities throughout the United States that don’t have easy access to etrogs. Bycer says his wife, Elly, encourages his etrog venture, although she’d prefer he’d spend less time outdoors and more time helping with their six-month-old daughter, Nava. “Never mind that I smell like fish oil from inspecting the leaves so much,” Bycer says, “my wife tells me she knows it makes me happy because I’m always smiling when I’m out there.” | Mazel Tov | October 8, 2012 | Jewish News | 41

More Reform rabbis agreeing to officiate at intermarriages by Penny Schwartz

BOSTON (JTA)—Danny Richter and his fiancee, Lauren Perkins, have never been to a Jewish wedding. That’s about to change. This fall, the interfaith couple is planning to be married in a Jewish wedding ceremony. The wedding marks other significant firsts: It also will be the first time that Rabbi Jill Perlman, assistant rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Lexington, Mass., has ever officiated at an interfaith wedding. In fact, it will be the first time that any clergy from the Reform congregation -- Richter’s family synagogue for three generations -- will have done so. While the congregation has approved Perlman’s participation, it has yet to decide if intermarriages may take place within the synagogue itself. The changes under way at Temple Isaiah are part of the new norm in the Reform

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movement as it continues to explore how best to respond to such unions, shifting its approach on the sensitive issue of its rabbis officiating at intermarriages. The movement has “moved away from the debate of whether we should or should not officiate,” says Steven Fox, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinic arm of the Reform movement that represents 1.5 million Reform Jews in North America. “It’s part of the world we live in. The question is how do we engage these families into our synagogues,” he says.

CCAR does not have statistics on how many of its 2,000 Reform rabbis in North America officiate at intermarriages, but when pressed, Rabbi Hara Person, director of CCAR Press, says it’s about half. The organization “believes it is not an appropriate way to judge someone as a rabbi,” Person says of performing the ceremonies. While Isaiah’s senior rabbi, Howard Jaffe, describes the change since he was ordained in 1983 as seismic, Rabbi Daniel Freelander, the Union for Reform Judaism’s vice president, says the change has been

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evolutionary. Everyone interviewed for this story agrees that it has become much more common in the past decade for Reform rabbis to officiate at intermarriages. In fact, CCAR is publishing a Premarital Counseling Guide for Clergy, the first such manual prepared for the organization, according to Person. The manual, written by Paula Brody, director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Outreach Training Institute, is intended for use with all couples, but it also includes a separate section for counseling of intermarried and conversionary couples. The goal is to give clergy more tools to help couples discuss the meaning of their faith background, Brody says. Brody’s exercises delve deeply into both partners’ childhood experiences from their faith backgrounds to enable a couple to be able to discuss the sensitive issue of

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how they will raise any future children. “It means a tremendous amount to the person from a different faith background to know they are being recognized,” she says. In a highlighted section, Brody writes, “The Jewish community has been blessed to have had so many individuals from other faith backgrounds give the gift of raising Jewish children. Tremendous appreciation needs to be expressed by the partner, the partner’s family, and the Jewish community for giving this gift to Judaism.” The manual also includes suggestions for follow up, a key factor that is now lacking, according to many observers. This summer, Brody held a series of training sessions for clergy and professional staff based on the manual. Rabbi Wendi Geffen of North Shore Congregation Israel, a Reform congregation in Glencoe, Ill. that recently announced its clergy would officiate at intermarriages, was among those who participated. She says she initially wondered why non-Jewish partners should be encouraged to think deeply about their religious past. But she came to realize that by discussing these issues of faith, it becomes easier for a couple to eventually talk about how they would bring up their children as Jewish, she says. Some rabbis set conditions—such as joining a synagogue or committing to raising future children as Jews—before they’ll officiate at an intermarriage. Rabbi Lev Baesh worries such conditions turn off couples. “It matters so much for a rabbi to say, ‘yes,’” no matter where the couple is in the process, says Baesh, director of the resource center for Jewish clergy for, a resource and service organization that supports Jewish life for interfaith couples. Knowing how much officiation means to couples is why Geffen will perform her first intermarriage. “I don’t want to shut the door if someone is coming in,” she says. It’s also why Isaiah’s Perlman will do Richter’s wedding ceremony. As a rabbinical student, Perlman says, she was not comfortable with the idea. But she has shifted her views since her 2010 ordination. “It’s a blessing in my opinion to be there in that moment,” she says. Isaiah’s Jaffe, remains deeply committed to the view that Jewish marriage can only take place between two Jews, and that the rabbi’s role is to facilitate this marriage. But, after a year of study and discussion of the subject with Perlman and Cantor Lisa Doob, he says he is comfortable under certain circumstances with his associate rabbi officiating at intermarriages. He also says he is no longer so certain that his personal opposition outweighs the potential loss of a couple from Jewish life.

As more congregants, like Richter, approach him as their family rabbi, he says he recognizes his view of Jewish marriage is seen as a rejection. “I am aware of the impact of my saying, ‘I love you, I want to welcome you into the Jewish community, but I am not able to officiate.’ I know that in most cases, the words, ‘I am not able,’ are heard as ‘I am rejecting you,’ even though that is not the message I am intending,” Jaffe says. Jewish population studies have found that as many as 50 percent of Jewish households include a non-Jewish partner. Observers suggest that the number is even higher when one looks at the dating population. Orthodox and Conservative rabbis do not officiate at interfaith marriages. The Conservative movement does, however, engage in outreach work with interfaith couples at all stages of their lives, according to Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly. In 2008, JTA reported on a series of scholarly studies that challenged the prevailing view that intermarriage itself was causing disengagement in Jewish life. One study, by Brandeis University researchers Leonard Saxe and Fern Chertok of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, noted that homes filled with Jewish rituals and learning had more influence on Jewish continuity than whether the family was intermarried. The researchers urged the Reform movement in particular to encourage Jewish engagement among all families and worry less about intermarriage. Chertoff says there is no research one way or the other on whether rabbinic officiation has a positive impact on later Jewish involvement. Historically, CCAR has opposed its members officiating at intermarriages. In 1973, it reaffirmed that opposition, but also recognized that its members hold divergent interpretations, with each making his or her own decision. A resolution proposed at CCAR’s 2008 annual convention called for dropping the official opposition. To avoid a polarizing debate on the hot button issue, the resolution was tabled. Two years ago a task force on intermarried issued a report affirming that continuity is more likely for inmarriages. But there is a significant opportunity among intermarrieds, as well, the report noted, and called for strengthening outreach efforts and providing more resources to its rabbis. The new premarital counseling manual was an outgrowth of the recommendations. The message, says Rabbi Charles Kroloff, who headed the task force, is “Don’t give up.”

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