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To welcome interfaith couples, this Conservative synagogue hired a rabbi who’s allowed to wed them

(Jewish Journal of Greater Boston via JTA) — Sarah Freudenberger has spent a lot of time being told “no.”

A year and a half out of college, the “no” came from cantorial schools when she applied for ordination. Months later, when she got engaged, it came from the three rabbis she had worked with at a Reform synagogue in Florida, when she asked if they would officiate her wedding.

Both refusals were because – like 42% of married American Jews, according to a 2020 Pew study – Freudenberger’s spouse is not a Jew. Peter, her husband and the father of her three children, is Buddhist.

It took time to find a cantorial program that would allow her to get ordained with a non-Jewish spouse — just as it had taken time before she found a rabbi who would officiate at her interfaith wedding, which took place in 2010.

“It was such a gift to us,” she said. “Looking back, I didn’t realize how much it would have affected me personally, how much regret I would have felt, if I hadn’t had a rabbi at my wedding.”

She added, “I can’t untangle my personal experience from my officiant experience. It is the main reason why I know — firsthand — how much of a blessing it is to be able to do that for people.”

Now, Freudenberger says she is passing on this gift to other Jews like her by offering interfaith wedding officiation as the cantor of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, Massachusetts.

She can’t preside over the ceremonies inside Shirat Hayam’s building, because the congregation is part of the Conservative movement of Judaism, which bars its member communities from hosting interfaith wedding ceremonies. But because Freudenberger did not attend a Conservative seminary and is not part of its rabbinic association, she is free to officiate the weddings elsewhere.

The arrangement illuminates how a changing rabbinic marketplace is opening doors for interfaith families at Conservative synagogues, where the movement’s prohibitions around interfaith weddings have imposed barriers to welcoming intermarried couples.

“Intermarriage and the inclusion of intermarried couples and families are among the most important issues the Conservative-Masorti movement is addressing,” said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, two leading organizations of the Conservative-Masorti movement. (Masorti is the name of the Conservative movement in Israel/outside of North America.)

“Conservative-Masorti rabbis who are members of the Rabbinical Assembly are not authorized to officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies,” he said. “But rather than focusing on intermarriage as a ‘threat’ to Jewish survival – as we did in the mid-20th century – today we are instead exploring ways to engage all couples and families with a Jewish partner in the beauty and meaning of Jewish community and practice.”

In recent years, the movement’s standards on intermarriage have shifted. In 2017, Conservative institutions voted to allow non-Jews to become members of synagogues. The following year, it removed a ban on its rabbis attending interfaith weddings.

In 2020, the USCJ hired Keren McGinity as interfaith specialist; like Freudenberger, her spouse is not Jewish. She recently produced a handbook on interfaith inclusion that Blumenthal says is a vital step in shifting the status of interfaith families within the movement while holding firm on matters of traditional Jewish law, or halacha, which forbids Jews from marrying non-Jews.

Blumenthal said the movement has established a task force that will recommend further steps for welcoming intermarried couples. He said the task force, composed of clergy and lay leaders, will aim to “balance tradition and modernity within the framework of halacha.”

Shirat Hayam has been striving to find ways to include and welcome interfaith families in its community for years. In 2018, Rabbi Michael Ragozin founded an Interfaith Task Force to address an issue challenging many in the community at that time – non-Jewish spouses of Jewish congregants could not serve on the board of directors. Ultimately, the congregation voted to extend full membership privileges to non-Jewish spouses.

“A couple of generations back, intermarriage was a different phenomenon. Intermarriage may have been more likely to walk away from Jewish tradition, Jewish community, raising Jewish kids,” said Ragozin. He noted that today, the data says otherwise.

The 2020 Pew survey of American Jews found that Jews married to other Jews are far more likely than intermarried couples to say they are raising their minor children as “Jewish by religion.” But it also found that the adult children of intermarried couples are “increasingly likely” to identify as Jewish — and that two-thirds of intermarried couples today say they are raising their children with a Jewish identity.

As that data was emerging, long-standing patterns in rabbinic hiring were changing rapidly. In recent years, the number of people seeking to attend denominational seminaries, including the ones operated by the Conservative movement, has fallen sharply, creating a gap between the number of synagogues seeking rabbis and cantors and the number of applicants on the job market. Meanwhile, non-traditional, often low-residency programs have grown — including the Aleph Ordination Program where Freudenberger was ordained in 2022.

Aleph is affiliated with the Jewish Renewal movement but its graduates work in all kinds of synagogues. And when Freudenberger emerged as a leading candidate in Shirat Hayam’s cantor search, Ragozin saw an opportunity.

“The lightbulb went off in my head,” he said. “This is how we’re going to signal to the broader Jewish community that’s on the North Shore, that’s looking at Shirat Hayam for the North Shore – we’re going to signal to intermarried families that this is a place in which you belong.”

Before moving ahead with the plan – for a Renewal-ordained cantor to officiate interfaith weddings for the community – Shirat Hayam leaders checked in with the USCJ. The response they got was that that scenario would not require the synagogue to disaffiliate from the movement, as long as the service wasn’t held on the congregation’s property.

Blumenthal said the new task force is examining cases like Shirat Hayam’s, and putting together a report that will “help us frame important questions like the ones that are raised by the practice in Swampscott.”

During the interview process, the search committee asked Freudenberger if she would be willing to officiate interfaith weddings.

“That sent me a clear message that the synagogue was interested,” she said. “They not only wanted to allow it, but were interested in me doing them for the congregation.”

She was hired in 2021.

“We don’t want to be ‘backroom’ about it,” she said. “We want to be open about it, we want to tell people about it. We want to say ‘You’re welcome here, you’re welcome with us, we want you to be a part of our community.’”

Since her ordination, Freudenberger has officiated at four weddings – two between Jews, and two interfaith.

“People that are coming looking for a Jewish wedding want a Jewish wedding,” she said. “If their answer is no, what does that tell them about being Jewish? What does that tell them about being Jewish as a family?”

A version of this story originally appeared in the Jewish Journal of Greater Boston and is reprinted with permission.

The post To welcome interfaith couples, this Conservative synagogue hired a rabbi who’s allowed to wed them appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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French Government Will Hold Commemoration for Victims of Hamas Pogrom Amid Disquiet Over Far Left Party’s Participation

Posters in Paris broadcasting the plight of Israeli hostages in Gaza covered over with pro-Palestinian messages. Photo: Reuters/Magali Cohen

French President Emmanuel Macron will preside over a special ceremony on Wednesday to commemorate the French victims of the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas pogrom in Israel as a row over the potential presence of far left parliamentarians continues to fester.

A statement from the Elysée Palace on Monday confirmed Macron’s presence at Wednesday’s event, which will take place at Les Invalides in Paris, where the French National Assembly and other leading national institutions are based.

A spokeswoman for Macron’s office pointed out that 42 French citizens were among the more than 1,200 people murdered during the Hamas assault, with a further three still being held hostage in Gaza.

Answering a question from a reporter about whether a similar event would be held for French citizens killed during the IDF bombing of Gaza that followed the assault, she added that a separate memorial ceremony would be held at a date yet to be determined. “It is obvious that we owe the same emotion and the same dignity to the French victims of the bombings in Gaza, and this tribute will be paid to them at another time,” she said. It is not clear how many French passport holders have actually been killed since the French government announced the deaths of two Palestinian children who were French citizens on Oct. 31.

Wednesday’s ceremony will unfold “under the universal sign of the fight against anti-Semitism and through it, all forms of hatred, racism and oppression against minorities,” the official statement from the presidency declared. Each of the murdered victims will be commemorated through the display of a photograph with their name attached. Families of the victims will be present, many of them being flown in from Israel on a special flight chartered by the French government.

The event is already mired in controversy due the announcement of parliamentarians from the far left La France Insoumise  (LFI -“France Rising”) that they plan to attend. LFI has been vocal in its support of Palestinians in Gaza, frequently drawing accusations of antisemitism because of its harsh rhetoric. Earlier this month, the daughter of two LFI MPs was arrested for allegedly antisemitic social media posts in the weeks following the Hamas attack, while another LFI MP faced condemnation over a posting on social media that invoked a popular Japanese manga meme appropriated by antisemites.

In a letter to Macron, members of five of the victims families demanded a ban on the participation of LFI MPs.

“We, families of victims of Hamas terrorists, solemnly demand that any presence of LFI at the national tribute that will be paid to the 42 Franco-Israeli victims of 7/10 be prohibited,” the letter stated.

However, that request is unlikely to be granted. Pointing out that parliamentarians are automatically invited to state-organized ceremonies, Macron’s office stated that “It is up to everyone to assess the appropriateness or not of their presence since the families spoke out and expressed strong emotion,” but notably did not accede to the ban request.

Mathilde Panot, the head of the LFI deputies in the National Assembly, said last week that she planned to attend the ceremony.

“I will be present and I have asked that a tribute be paid to all the French victims of this war in the Middle East, including the Franco-Palestinians killed in Gaza by the Israeli army,” she said.



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Montana Tucker “Bring Them Home” Grammy Tribute for Israeli Hostages Turns Heads

Feb 4, 2024; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Montana Tucker at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards at Arena in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. Photo: Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

Jewish singer and songwriter Montana Tucker showed her support for Israelis still being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza at Sunday night’s 66th Annual Grammy Awards, an annual ceremony held to honor the record industry’s most critically acclaimed artists.

Posing for photographers, Tucker walked the red carpet clad in a beige, diaphanous corset gown ornamented with a yellow ribbon that said, “Bring Them Home.” She also wore a Star of David necklace.

136 Israeli hostages remain imprisoned by Hamas in Gaza. They have been there since Oct. 7, when the terrorist organization committed a massacre of Jews across the southern region of Israel, the deadliest mass killing of Jews since the Holocaust. Hamas’ fighters brutally murdered and rape hundreds, and according to numerous reports, more are being sexually abused in captivity.

Tucker’s wasn’t the only statement made about the Israel-Hamas war. Ann Lennox, Scottish vocalist of the popular 1980s band Eurythmics — most known for its No. 1 song “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” — called for a ceasefire in Gaza in a speech delivered after she performed a tribute to Sinéad O’Connor.

Raising a “Black Power” fist before a much larger audience than Tucker was accorded, Lennox proclaimed, “Artists for a ceasefire. Peace in the world.”

Lennox was alluding to “Artists4Ceasefire,” a small group of entertainers who issued a letter calling on President Joe Biden to “end the bombing of Gaza” that did not mention that Hamas started the war or condemn rising antisemitism. The letter’s signatories include, among other B-list celebrities, Adam Lambert — who in 2009 won second place in the now-discontinued television series American Idol — Jennifer Lopez, Rosie O’Donnell, and Alyssa Milano.

The Algemeiner honored Montana Tucker in 2022 for being one of 100 people recognized for positively influencing Jewish life. A granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Tucker was dogged all her life by assertions that she does not “look Jewish.” Undeterred by the remarks, she committed to proudly representing the Jewish community, and in 2022 produced “How To: Never Forget,” a ten-part docuseries about her grandparents lives in Poland before the Nazi invasion.

“This has been my responsibility to do this, for me and my grandparents and everyone else,” Tucker said at the time, during an interview. “People are used to seeing my very light-hearted, fun dance videos and me collaborating with a lot of different people…It’s rare for me and my content, and rare for the platform in general, to have a docuseries on the Holocaust.”

Other pro-Israel activists wore apparel to the Grammy awards to show. Orthodox Rabbi-Rapper Moshe Reuven, whose song “You Are Not Alone” has amassed over one million streams on Spotify, sported a “Never Is Now” shirt distributed through partnership between civil rights nonprofit StandWithUs and Perspective Fitwear. The shirt’s designer is Karen Margolis.

Taylor Swift’s 2022 record, titled Midnights, won “Album of the Year,” and rapper Jay-Z implied during a speech for accepting the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award that his wife, multi-platinum artists and most-winning Grammy award winner ever Beyoncé, has never won “Album of the Year” because she is a Black woman. The moment was reminiscent of a 2009 incident in which Kanye West stormed the stage of the MTV Awards to denounce Swift’s winning “Best Video by a Female Artist.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Israeli Bank Shutter Accounts of Settlers Sanctioned By Biden

A woman uses an automated teller machine (ATM), outside a Bank Hapoalim branch in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 30, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Nir Elias / File.

The Israeli bank accounts of two of the Israelis sanctioned by the United States government last week were closed on Sunday and Monday. Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich spoke out against the action, saying “I will take action as the finance minister and do what I must. If need be, we’ll advance legislation on the matter.” He further called the instance “unthinkable” that it occurred.

The two Israelis, Yinon Levi and David Chai Chasdai, had their personal and business accounts closed by Bank Leumi and Bank Hadoar, respectively. The other two settlers listed bank with Bank Hapoalim, who also said they would close the accounts, saying “Bank Hapoalim respects the international sanctions and will comply with any legal order.”

The Bank of Israel announced their support for the move, saying “Banking corporations, by necessity of their international activities, are required to establish policies and procedures for the use of international sanctions lists and national sanctions lists of foreign countries and for entering into or carrying out operations with parties declared on such lists. Circumvention of sanctions regimes as mentioned, has the effect of exposing the banking corporations to significant risks, among them, compliance risks, money laundering and terrorist financing risks, legal risks and reputational risks.”

Chasdai, who denies any wrongdoing, said “The fact that a government bank decides in the middle of a bright day to seize the bank accounts of settlers solely because of pressure from extreme leftist organizations and a hostile American government is unimaginable, but the fact that this is happening under the tenure of a right-wing government just after the greatest massacre in the country’s history is a national disgrace first class.”

“We have gone through many oppressors who harmed the people of Israel over the generations, we will also go through the persecution of Biden and his aides,” he added.

US President Joe Biden approved the sanctions last week, saying “The situation in the West Bank – in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction – has reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security and stability in the region.”

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