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Patrilineal Dissent

Patrilineal Dissent

I’m still getting caught up after last week’s trip to L.A. Which, like every trip I take, was an important reminder that life (even Jewish life) does exist beyond metropolitan New York.

Given that I grew up in Houston and Pittsburgh, went to college in Ohio, spent a year and a half in Israel and more than three in Michigan, you’d think I wouldn’t need such reminders.

But there is something so all encompassing about New York living that it’s shockingly easy to forget the rest of the world.

In any event, last week in addition to talking to people from all over the country (plus Israel and Australia), I had the pleasure of finally meeting in person (as opposed to by phone) Rabbi Heather Ellen Miller, who I featured in a column several years ago about children of intermarriage who grow up and become Reform rabbis.

Rabbi Miller recently became the rabbi/dean of spiritual life at Milken Community High School, the L.A. Jewish day school that is her alma mater.
While she has a Jewish mother, thereby freeing her from the “plight of the patrilineal,” a lot of interesting articles pertaining to folks from differently configured interfaith families have been popping up lately.

JTA writer Sue Fishkoff recently explored why, almost three decades after the Reform movement in the U.S. embraced patrilineal descent, the idea that children of Jewish fathers and gentile moms can be considered Jewish, Reform Jews in other countries still haven’t followed suit. And (Reform) Rabbi Andy Bachman has a thoughtful op-ed (in Another Jewish Publication That I Shall Not Name), in which he champions patrilineal descent, but wishes the Reform movement had taken more steps — such as insisting on routine mikveh rituals before bar/bat mitzvah — to ensure that the patrilineals could be more easily accepted in more traditional circles.

On a related note, yet another Reform rabbi, Naamah Kelman and her husband Elan Ezrahi, have a column in Israel’s Haaretz () synthesizing two tragedies that took place within a day of each other: the assassination attempt on Sen. Gabrielle Giffords (a patrilineal Jew) and the death of Reform singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman.

The piece concludes with the following:

Giffords and Friedman embody the right combination of democratic values and Jewish tradition. While Judaism in Israel is moving further to the margins and concentrating mainly on whom to push out of the fold – the convert, the foreigner, the half-Jew or the new immigrant serving in the Israel Defense Forces – in American Judaism a dynamic of acceptance, embrace and widening circles is developing. This is another measure of the growing gap between Israeli society and the largest Jewish community in the world.

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