Dovetail only encourages the inter among interfaith families

The same Dovetail conference?

Last weekend, I attended a pep rally for families choosing to raise their children in two faiths. Although this conference was promoted as a learning environment for interfaith families making decisions about how to raise their children, it was truly a weekend of people getting together to pat each other on the back for making a religious choice that is unsupported by any institution.

I was asked to speak at the Dovetail Conference, “Rejoice in Your Choice: Finding Common Ground in Interfaith Families,” because I am the program associate of Project Welcome, the Reform movement’s Bay Area outreach effort. Dovetail wanted me to present the opportunities offered by the Jewish community. Dovetail is a national nonprofit organization for interfaith families, which claims it provides interfaith families with “nonjudgmental educational and networking venues and opportunities.”

However, after attending the two-day conference, I learned that Dovetail does not promote nonjudgmental education, but instead presents arguments meant to convince families to practice two faiths concurrently, by openly discussing the downfalls of single-faith homes.

While attending the workshop “Baby Welcoming Ceremonies,” I was given a number of examples of naming/baptism ceremonies, but no discussion was offered of choosing between Jewish naming ceremonies and baptism. Although the workshop was meant to be about baby ceremonies, the conversation quickly turned to b’nai mitzvah and conversion. The representative rabbi extolled the openness of interfaith bar mitzvahs and offered his opinion that children being raised in a solely Jewish home are forced to have bar mitzvahs and look forward only to the party.

He also claimed that synagogues that welcome non-Jewish partners into their communities do so only with the intention of converting that partner. His evidence: The non-Jewish partner cannot participate in all rituals until he or she has converted. As a child of a Jew-by-choice, I was completely offended by these statements. How could the hard work and deep soul-searching required of our converts be dismissed with this quick statement? I looked around the room for more angered faces, but instead found many nodding heads.

In a second workshop, “Learning from Interfaith Children,” four adults spoke about their experiences as children raised in interfaith homes. Two of the four panelists related negative experiences, explaining that they now identify as neither Christian nor Jewish. They both said that they could not raise Jewish children because they do not understand enough about Judaism. No one in the workshop acknowledged the sadness that I witnessed on their faces. Even they seemed sad to have no tradition to pass on.

As a recent college graduate, beginning my adult Jewish journey, I was completely horrified by what I heard at this conference, which attempts to set decades of outreach efforts by the Jewish community into complete reverse. While congregations all over the Bay Area are hosting programs specifically for interfaith couples, Dovetail seems intent on convincing intermarried couples that there is no place for them in synagogues.

My colleague, Alice Hale of the Tiferet Project, summed up our dismay with the question: “Why don’t any of these parents identify themselves as ‘interfaith’? If it is good enough for their children to be ‘both,’ why don’t they embrace both?”

Anna Rachael Marx is a Hayward resident who recently joined Reform Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek. She works in San Francisco for the Union of Reform Judaism’s Project Welcome, supported by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.

Local voices welcomed

J. welcomes your local voice on timely Jewish issues and events of the day. Submissions will not be returned and are subject to editing or rejections. Approximate length: 750 words. E-mail text, not attachments, to the attention of: Woody Weingarten at [email protected]. Fax to (415) 263-7223. Mail to J. the Jewish news weekly, 225 Bush St., #1480, San Francisco, CA 94104