February 6, 2006

by Reb Yudel
Debra Nussbaum Cohen: Reform Jews Examining Ways to Retain Their Young Men

Writing in the New York Times, Debra Nussbaum Cohen brings coverage of Reform Judaism into the 21st century:

There was a new option among the dozen kinds of worship services available last winter at the biennial convention of the North American Federation of Temple Youth, which attracted about 1,400 young Reform Jews to Los Angeles.

As always at the conventions, there were lots of choices: one service was totally in Hebrew, for example, another used meditation and another was tailored to gay men and lesbians.

But one service, offered for the first time, seemed a throwback to a different time. It was for men only.

Male-only services could be considered a paradox in the Reform movement, a denomination established in the United States in the 1870's with sexual equality at its core. It broke from tradition by introducing mixed seating, bringing women down from balconies and from behind the partitions that had separated the sexes in synagogue sanctuaries.


The key quote in the article comes from the young man interviewed, who pointed out that in his interfaith family, he never really feels fully Jewish, and doesn't understand what's going on in Temple. Let's see, the primary male in his life is not Jewish, his family has no definitive Jewish identity, and he is not well educated enough to feel at home in Synagogue. Perhaps the solution lies somewhere in that mix? It probably pays to have a study done to see which way the interfaith marriages skew; whether towards male non Jewish or female non Jewish partner.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch at February 7, 2006 10:20 AM

I also thought that a weird tangent in the article -- it sounds like she needed an actual teen for the story, and unfortunately stumbled on one whose story had little to do with the subject at hand. He really belonged in a story about outreach to the children of the intermarried; there have to be plenty of Reform boys of Jewish-Jewish marriages who feel alienated from the synagogue. I know my reporters often end up interviewing the children of friends and family -- it sounds lazy, but that's what happens on deadline. I wonder if something like that happened here.

Posted by: andy at February 8, 2006 11:27 AM

Actually, Andy, you're wrong on this one....this was a boy I don't personally know, found through a listserve of Park Slope parents. I find his story relevant, not tangential, precisely because children of interfaith marriages account for such a large percentage of Reform teens -- his not feeling connected to the Reform movement (or Judaism in general) is exactly the point of the article. It's unfortunate you don't see the connection, when my New York Times editors did easily. Perhaps in this case it's the reader, rather than the reporter, who is lazy? -Debra

Posted by: Debra Nussbaum Cohen at March 6, 2006 9:18 PM

Debra, did you find any information that could fill in my question about the way interfaith marriages skew?

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch at March 7, 2006 10:51 AM

Jordan -- the Union for Reform Judaism has done studies of its interfaith families and issues like affiliation depending on which parent is Jewish. Also the Jewish Outreach Institute has....you may find more on their websites. -dnc

Posted by: Debra Nussbaum Cohen at March 7, 2006 11:22 PM
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