So, while I was gallivanting about Ann Arbor and Pittsburgh (with a very brief, rainy pit stop in Oberlin, Ohio), my intermarried pals Paul Golin and Laurel Snyder were busily advancing The Cause.
What is The Cause, you ask? Why nothing less than promoting and condoning intermarriage in hopes of swelling our movement’s growing ranks. We are hoping to encourage as many Jews as possible to consider marrying gentiles, and we will be arming Jewish parents whose children want to in-marry with guides and iPhone apps full of talking points to persuade them otherwise. Just kidding, folks!
But seriously, Paul and Laurel have been out there promoting inclusiveness in Jewish life. Paul’s “Redefining Who Is A Jew” on the Huffington Post makes some very good points, especially its coining of the term “Born-Jewish Privilege” (which really, if I had been editing it, would have appeared in the lead, not buried in the middle of the essay). The “privilege” term (as in “white privilege” and “class privilege”) brings back disturbing college memories of excessively self-righteous, politically correct classmates competing with each other to prove how enlightened, un-racist and/or oppressed they were, but is nonetheless useful here. As Paul says:
It is a Born-Jewish Privilege to be able to ask someone, immediately upon learning that he or she is a convert, "You mean you actually chose to become Jewish?" -- even as an attempted joke. And it is a Born-Jewish Privilege to then turn around (at perhaps the very same event!) and ask the non-Jewish spouse of a Jew, "Do you plan to convert?"
It is a Born-Jewish Privilege to not do a single thing Jewish all year -- not attend synagogue, not observe Shabbat, not donate to Jewish causes -- yet feel completely 100-percent Jewish while at the same time questioning the authenticity of an intermarried household where the non-Jewish parent is doing all of those things in order to instill a Jewish identity in his or her child.
Meanwhile, Laurel recently published and is busily promoting her children’s book “Baxter: The Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher,” which I am still waiting to get my grubby hands on. (Note to Laurel or her publisher: please send me that review copy!)
According to the review/summary from School Library Journal, “Baxter,” published by Tricycle Press (apparently no Jewish publisher would take it, for fear of offending the anti-pig factions) is about a pig desperate to experience a Shabbat dinner:
He wants to see for himself how “the candles gleam and glow and dance while our sweetest voices lift in song.” When he learns that pork is a forbidden food according to Jewish law, he stuffs his face with kosher pickles and raisin challah, hoping to become kosher. He even tries, unsuccessfully, to become a cow. Finally, an encounter with a kind rabbi sets him straight. She explains that while he's not kosher to eat, never will be, and really wouldn't want to be, everyone is welcome at Shabbat dinner. Baxter enjoys a marvelous evening with the rabbi, pigging out on kugel, a Jewish casserole dish, and realizing that it is much better to be a guest than an item on the menu.
Writing about “Baxter” on the Jewish Book Council blog (an atrociously designed website that looks like something circa 1998 but seems to have good content), Laurel, who has a Jewish father and Catholic mother and is the editor of the anthology “Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes,” says:
I didn’t write Baxter to be an intermarriage book. The idea simply popped into my head one day — a kosher pig! It seemed like a silly idea. A fun idea. I didn’t think I could sell it. I was really surprised when I did.
In fact, it was only once the book was done and actually looked like a book that I was able to read it and recognize it for what it was—a book about inclusion and diversity. In some ways it was the happiest moment of my publishing career so far.
Mazel tov, Laurel. I’m looking forward to reading “Baxter” with my daughters. Perhaps they could help with a sequel called “Baxter: The Pig Who Lost His Mezuzah”?
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