Welcome to Breaking the Glass, from Jewish Rhody Media
Jan. 11, 2023

Episode 6: Breaking New Ground

Episode 6: Breaking New Ground
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Breaking the Glass

Originally published Jan. 12, 2023. 

The final episode of the series features a conversation between Newbery and series regular Rabbi Denise Handlarski about the practical and meaningful ways that community can be constructed. Interspersed with a Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) service from Rabbi Handlarski’s Secular Synagogue and summarizing insights from series guests, this one-on-one interview culminates in important reflections on identity and inclusion for the Jewish community and beyond. 


Links and References:   

Identity Loss or Identity Re-Shape? Religious Identification Among the Offspring of ‘Christian–Muslim’ Couples, Francesco Cerchiaro, Journal of Contemporary Religion: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13537903.2020.1839250

Check out 18Doors’ interfaith wedding toolkit: https://18doors.org/wedding/ 

Read Rabbi Handlarski’s book: The A—Z of Intermarriage  

Learn more about her virtual synagogue space: http://secularsynagogue.org/  

Read Ed Case’s book: Radical Inclusion: Engaging Interfaith Families for a Thriving Jewish Future   

Learn more about the Center for Radically Inclusive Judaism https://www.cfrij.com/  

Check out Imam Imaad Sayeed’s organization:  The London Nikah 


Where to find more Breaking the Glass episodes:  




Episode Transcriptions: 



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Breaking the Glass: Episode 6 - Breaking New Ground

Rabbi Handlarski  00:03

Shana Tova everybody. Welcome. I'm delighted to be here with you at the start of the year. And I'm so glad you found us here. Please feel very, very welcome in our Zoom sanctuary. Please make yourself feel as comfortable as you possibly can in this moment. So if you need to grab a cushion, or a blanket, I was thinking if you want to light a candle, make the space…

Emma  00:34

Welcome back to Breaking the Glass. I'm your host, Emma Newbery, and this is episode six, Breaking New Ground. If you've been following along with us on this journey, we've heard from couples, experts, community and religious leaders, and we've examined some of the major facets of multifaith life. In this final episode, we're doing things a little differently… Breaking New Ground features and extended conversation between me and Rabbi Denise Handlarski, a mainstay and anchor of our series, about where we can go and what we can do, once we've started these crucial conversations around multifaith relationships. Our conversation today is punctuated with excerpts of the Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year service from Secular Synagogue, Rabbi, Handlarski’s online community. It's not the only community that's doing the work to include multifaith families, but it can offer some primary source examples of how communities are leading the way and going beyond tacit tolerance, and really celebrating and reflecting the realities of their communities back to them. I hope this episode can be the beginnings of a blueprint for individuals and communities alike to really walk the walk, once they've started the talk.

Rabbi Handlarski  01:51

I just think in a few generations, there will be so few anti intermarriage, Jews and families, that it won't matter. That's what I believe.

Emma  02:03

For those who might need a refresher on Rabbi Handlarski, she's a rabbi based in Toronto, who is in a multi-faith marriage and who is strong advocate for celebrating multi-faith relationships, and the children of them in her online community, Secular Synagogue. She's also the author of the A to Z of Intermarriage, a guide for couples and families on how to find more joy and less oy in multifaith life—that's linked in the show notes.

Rabbi Handlarski  02:28

And they're really trying to make that not true, right? They're really trying to make sure… But they've been trying now for 30 years, and the rate of intermarriage has gone up and up and up. And so I mean, they can keep banging their head against that particular wall. I personally, don't worry about it a ton, where my energy goes, is helping to be part of the ecosystem of really cool Jewish communities who are over this question largely who are like, let's just not stress about this anymore. The way you keep Judaism going, and you serve Jews and the people who are part of Jewish families, is you just make good Judaism.

Emma  03:09

Over the course of this series, Rabbi Handlarski has encouraged empathy and understanding towards those who come to this idea of multifaith marriage, still thinking of it as a question — a what if — and not the reality and the opportunity that it is. But she also is matter of fact about the reality and makes no space in her own life or within her community, for anything but total acceptance.

Rabbi Handlarski  03:33

I also care about the Jewish people. And that's why I don't want to push people away, who want to have a rabbi at their wedding, who want to possibly raise children in a Jewish way, or partially Jewish or, you know, with Jewish culture. I believe Judaism’s strength is that it’s always adapted. And so this is how it's adapting now. We live in places where Jews are accepted. We don't have to live in Jewish ghettos. We are amongst people who are, you know, from many cultures, and faiths and communities. And that's great. I'm pleased that that's the scenario I live in, and I get to raise kids in. And of course, we fall in love across lines of difference in that world. And I also care about Jews and Jewish people. And so I want us to figure out how we can create Jewish life, Jewish community, Jewish homes with vibrant and alive Judaism, understanding that there can also be other cultures present in those homes, and that it doesn't have to be either or it can absolutely be Judaism and something else, or Judaism can be really central. We know that a lot of people in fact are choosing to raise Jewish children and have Jewish homes. And so it can kind of help assuage those fears around Jewish continuity and the end of Judaism when we actually look at the data and we look at what people are doing, and we say, Hey, I'm a rabbi who's married to someone who isn't Jewish and our kids identify as Jewish. And we have lots of Judaism going on in our home, much more than perhaps in Jewish/Jewish households where both partners are Jewish, but they're not doing a whole lot. And isn't the point to do Jewish, isn't the point to continue Judaism as the vibrant, meaningful force in our lives that we know it to be? And we can absolutely still do that while supporting diverse families.

Emma  05:24

Yeah, I think that's a really interesting point that like engagement in Judaism, really, I think one of the things I've been encountering and speaking with people is that they're wanting to engage, there's no… the only faltering is when they see the institution falter. And they're like, oh, okay, you know, maybe this isn't. And that's, that's the causation. It's not that the intermarriage is the causation of a lack of engagement.

Rabbi Handlarski  05:51

100%. So I see sort of two things. And one I sort of see less often as a rabbi because obviously, if I'm involved in any way, if I'm their officiant, or if I'm their rabbi, they are seeking out Judaism… like they have a rabbi. Of course, you know, some people are just going to leave any religion or culture. That's that's how it goes. And it would be happening regardless. But the other group are people who are, they do consider themselves Jewish, they often do want to engage Jewishly. And then they get rejected from a rabbi who won't officiate their wedding, or they show up at some holiday. You know, they come to Rosh Hashanah services, and people are rude to them. Or they get they hear, you know, terrible things.

Emma  06:36

The short welcome excerpt you heard at the beginning of the episode is from the virtual Rosh Hashanah service from September of 2022, from Secular Synagogue which I attended. Everything about this community counters the very example that Rabbi Handlarski just provided. People are welcoming, kind and come from an array of backgrounds and connections to Judaism. It's the most modern form of opting in, everyone clicked the link. Everyone wants to be there. And that's all that matters. Here's another excerpt.

Rabbi Handlarski  07:07

We have longtime members, some of our OG members are here. We have guests, we have people for the first time, we have folks who have never been to a Jewish service or event before, we have people who have been to more than they care to remember. And to all of you welcome, welcome. delighted that you're here.

Emma  07:31

No one's hearing terrible things about themselves or their partners or families. But as we know from previous episodes, and guests’ stories, those experiences have happened and do continue to happen. And none of that can be undone. This episode is a continuation and deepening of conversations from previous ones. And if you've been following along, you've heard Rabbi Handlarski talk about these experiences before. But here she shared with me a personal angle, about one particularly upsetting myth about an outcome of multifaith relationships, the children. And if you listened to the last episode, you'll know this is something deeply personal to me to do.

Rabbi Handlarski  08:13

You know, I tell a story in my book about right after I'd been married, like just a couple of months later, I met up with some people who I had sort of known a little bit from my Jewish Studies program in Toronto, and they said, Well, you know, if you married someone not Jewish, you should make sure you be careful with your kids because the children of intermarriage are really effed up.

Emma  08:33

Even in upsetting moments, Rabbi Handlarski always provides a sort of light hearted but unyielding take on the falsehood surrounding multifaith relationships that are too often peddled by religious institutions and individuals.

Rabbi Handlarski  08:47

Like what a thing to say to somebody who's just celebrated their wedding.

Emma  08:52

She warmly but firmly bats away false statistics that religious communities have clung to for decades, about the negative impact of multifaith relationships.

Rabbi Handlarski  09:02

First of all, there's no evidence of this effed up-ness, it’s not true.

Emma  09:06

And even if it were true, she points out…

Rabbi Handlarski  09:09

This is not a thing to say to somebody. If you genuinely have that feeling and that concern, then the best thing to do is be as welcoming and open and affirming as possible. What messes people up is when others are hateful to them--that can mess kids up, right? If somebody you know if like a grandparent or aunt or uncle or something like will not associate with a child/parent, like that will cause harm. But that's not internally because of the intermarriage, that's because of how people are responding to the intermarriage. But the other thing is this idea that children are so confused about identity, it's just not bearing out in the adult children of people who are you know, when people were raised either kind of they were raised Jewish, but one parent wasn't Jewish, or they were raised with what we sometimes call Jewish “and” Jewish and Muslim, Jewish and Christian, there is very little evidence to suggest that people like develop identity problems or mental health challenges related to being the child of intermarriage.

Emma  10:10

In past episodes, particularly episode three, we discussed how statistics can be packaged to fit certain negative stereotypes or interpreted to fit trends that they simply don't. People see what they want to see. But Rabbi Handlarski is right. Those assumptions and fears about children aren't bearing out. A study published in 2020, in the Journal of Contemporary Religion conducted in depth interviews with 66 children of Muslim/Christian unions about their religious identity and their senses of self, with answers ranging from a strong religious identity one way or the other, a stronger identification with ethnicity or culture over religion, or a spiritual sense of religion that rejected institutional methods. The study found that offspring’s identities are much more complex and characterized by a reshaping rather than a loosening of religiosity.

Reza Breakstone, who you've heard from in previous episodes, discussed a similar experience in his childhood growing up in a multi-ethnic and multi-faith household.

Reza  11:14

There was like, already in the household that I grew up in a compounding of identities, which could lead children to do any number of things, cling on to one. It can be a cultural one, it could be a religious one. Or what it did to me is it made me sort of think, outside the box, to the extent that I realized that identity can be limiting. And it can be segregating. Whatever identity you choose, I decided to see, okay, there's some transcendence here. How can I transcend to some extent, while not completely being sort of flapping in the wind.

Emma  12:03

To paraphrase the abstract, this article counters the notion that there is a singular process of religious loss among offspring, it simply doesn't exist. And it's not an experience that can be prescribed to children of multifaith marriage. As Rabbi Handlarski puts it…

Rabbi Handlarski  12:20

They don't feel messed up, right, they're generally pretty clear on who they are and how they want to participate. Other people might not like what they're doing, it doesn't mean they're messed up. Right? That particular fear, that still gets peddled all the time. So it gets kind of thrown at people like it's just it's not true. So you can keep saying things that aren't true. Or you can reconcile that you believe the thing that turned out not to be true. So our approach has been really backwards on this, I'm very thrilled to see it changing. But there still are a whole bunch of rabbis and communities who are stuck in that narrative that it's going to destroy Judaism. So they see this as like a real fight for something they care about. And it leads to a lot of ugliness. Because when we're fearful, when we have that anxiety, of losing something so meaningful to us, we kind of come out swinging in a way that is really counterproductive.

Emma  13:12

That's what's interesting, though, about sort of the parallel between the individual level like, I know, when we spoke about parents, for example, who are struggling with their children marrying someone who's not Jewish or not, whatever religion they are, it's like, do you want to get over this? Or do you want to lose your kid? And that's obviously something you care so much about your child your connection with your family that in a lot of cases, parents will work through that because they don't want or will, you know, reach some kind of tenuous like, “it's okay,” situation, because they don't want to lose that family. And, to me, I could see that scaling up into the communal level, but it doesn't seem to totally track.

Rabbi Handlarski  13:55

Sadly, not for everybody. It's amazing how powerful narrative can be even with data, even with hearing stories of people who are doing it, you know, differently, even understanding that, like, you may believe that, but you're just not going to stop it. You know, Jews tried to stop in Germany. It didn’t work, it's not gonna work. They can't think their way out of that narrative. It's so strong. But I agree, I think the hope does come from the individual relationships and families where people have sorted it out. And then that anxiety gets calmed down. You know, I, my own parents, I think would have preferred me to marry somebody Jewish. And now that they, know my husband and our kids participate in Jewish life, like none of those anxieties are alive anymore. It did just work out. And the more people see it workout, I think when they hear like “this will destroy the Jews,” they say, well, that's not true of my family. And that's not true, my friends family and, and so I think that's how we change the narrative. And I want to acknowledge that a whole ton of people are being still hurt. And that's not okay. So while I certainly have hope that ultimately we will turn the tide, there's a ton of collateral damage in the meantime, and it's unnecessary, and it's really unfortunate. It's unfortunate for the Jewish community as a whole as well as for those people and families who are being harmed.

Emma  15:19

The undeniable reality of multifaith partnerships in religious life encourages us to rethink what messaging we're sending into our communities, and what community even looks like. Because the last thing we want, is what Reverend Tim Rich so piercingly described as white knuckling at our own expense.


I think that the more religion becomes engaged in the business of control, the more it does a disservice to the holy and the divine, which is all about expanding beyond anything that we can get our hands around. You know, the more we try to white knuckle belief, the more we just choke out the spirit.

Emma  16:04

Here's what Rabbi Handlarski said about community at her Rosh Hashanah service…

Rabbi Handlarski  16:08

The Hebrew word “Kehilla” means community. And it means more than simply coming together in space and time. It means partnership and belonging. Although New Year celebrations in every culture have their own special rituals, assembling as a community is a custom common to all peoples. The call of shofar welcomes us as we gather to mark the first day of the Jewish year, Rosh Hashanah meaning head of the year, is a time for us to say goodbye to the joys and sorrows of last year, and to look ahead to a new year and what we hope to achieve. We each may have our personal goals for the year to come. But in order to accomplish some of our higher goals for personal enrichment and global betterment, we need each other.

Emma  16:58

Rabbi Handlarski is right, we all lean on each other, and need each other to survive in community. How to accept that and incorporate that fact lovingly and respectfully, can be another matter altogether. For better or for worse, we come out swinging to use Rabbi Handlarski’s term, when we think our community or our identities are being threatened, when we feel that what we need is being taken from us. One way out of this cycle is to think meaningfully about the kinds of communities and resources that we can build and offer, not what we can take, but what can we give and who will come through the door when we do that well. We'll be right back.

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Emma  18:14

So how do we move toward the kind of Kehilla, the kinds of communities we want to see, ones that will actually serve the population seeking them out? Secular Synagogue provides a pretty good template for how to start. I asked Rabbi Handlarski… With secular Synagogue, just in terms of how you structure this space, what are some of the practical considerations that you think about?

Rabbi Handlarski  18:40

I love that question. Um, so first of all, to assume 100% of the time, that there are people who aren't Jewish present, people who are partnered with those who aren't Jewish, and also sort of related and sort of unrelated that there are people there who don't have a ton of Jewish background and experience. Those people could have been raised Jewish, but they didn't get a Jewish education or whatever. So practical things look like I don't have a ton of Hebrew. And wherever there is Hebrew, there's English, so I never will say something in Hebrew that I don't immediately give the English for. And usually I put the English first. “So Shana Tova, Happy New Year, I did email a supplement. So if you choose to have that open, then it will have the words to some of our poems and songs if you'd like to follow along that way.”

Emma  19:34

The supplement Rabbi Handlarski is talking about featured traditional songs and prayers for the new year, but also featured poets like Marge Piercey and Mary Oliver. Musicians like Pete Seeger and Leonard Cohen, and generally had touch points that people who aren't Jewish or people who are more tangentially involved in traditional Judaism would still be able to connect to. It's important to point out that these things did not replace traditions but rather augmented them, opening them up for more people to connect.

Rabbi Handlarski  20:06

I hope you're able to just open to presence and take what you'd like and what you need from the service. If there's anything that doesn't resonate, don't worry about it. Take what you like and leave whatever doesn't work for you.

Emma  20:20

If you can't tell, I loved it. And even as a visitor, I felt the strong sense of community and the vibrant life within it. People were welcoming new babies, folding onesies and other kids laundry during the service, bringing partners relatives, pets on screen, people sang played violin, and everyone laughed as one dog got a little jumpy at the sound of the shofar, the horn traditionally played during the New Year service. I'd felt warmth and welcome at my synagogue growing up. But I don't think I'd ever heard the words “don't worry about it” related to religion. It was a freeing feeling. There are times that are meant for sorrow and contemplation. But there's also an elevated joyousness to the Judaism that goes on at Secular Synagogue that I think is really needed when we understand religion and what people are looking for in modern community.

Rabbi Handlarski  21:13

There's no question about like, Are you Jewish, or you're not Jewish, we never ask. Just like if you're interested in a thing we're doing—do it. So that's part of it, there's no no barriers to how people participate based on their own identity. If you want to be active on the Advisory Council, you can, if you want to come to anything, you can, if you want to be a reader, you can, like whatever we're doing. The other practical thing we do, because we're not just sort of, quote tolerant of intermarriage, we're celebratory of it is we will do things where we, we kind of are loud about that. And so for example, during December, we'll do a photo thing and our you know, we have a Facebook group just for members and we say like, show us your December holiday decorations. And there's gonna be a ton of people who have Christmas trees. And, you know, Hanukkah bushes and Stars of David on top of Christmas trees and elves with like, you know, Jewish stars and like whatever they're doing, and we love it all. So that's some of the practical stuff too, that people know that they are safe to be fully who they are in our community without any judgement. So that's, that's a snapshot of how we do it.

Emma  22:25

That was one of the other things I loved, that the community is not just welcoming. But as Rabbi Handlarski put it, there loud about it. That is crucial for people coming to or reconnecting with religion, who have had negative experiences, or who are navigating multiple intersecting identities. The idea of asking for doubled or even tripled, layers of acceptance can be really difficult. If you remember Jenni Greenman spoke about that. Rabbi Handlarski and I discussed this added importance of affirming intersecting identities with religion, sexuality, race, gender, expression, and more  when in community. I shared some of Jenni's story with Rabbi Handlarski…

Jenni Greenman  23:10

I knew that I would be accepted by my whole family. And yet, it's still there was still so much fear there. That was still terrifying.

Rabbi Handlarski  23:19

Yeah, in my book, I had like a “Q is for queer” section. And that's what I talked about. Some people have to feel they have to come out twice, to their families, you know, at whether it's at the same time or not. That if you know, your family is not, you know, queer-positive, and that's one coming out. And if you know, your family is not going to be cool with you having a partner who isn’t Jewish, it's another coming out. And even the fact that we use the language of “coming out” shows the parallel. And I want to acknowledge lots of things that are not parallel, like, you know, people are rarely, you know, experiencing violence around the issue of intermarriage and this sort of thing. So, I don't want to say it's the same. But for many people, the dynamic can feel similar in terms of the politics of silence, acceptance, feeling like you can't be who you are with your family, things like this.

Emma  24:08

Jenni's experience wasn't exactly like that, as you may remember, but her navigation of the “I'm serious with someone” conversation did look a bit different than others we've heard because of intersecting identities. Here's a story from Jenni that actually wasn't featured in any of the previous episodes that expands on how scary it can feel to constantly reassert your identity and have to affirm yourself and your partner, when there are varying or unknown degrees of acceptance.

Jenni Greenman  24:36

So I have my original Torah book from Hebrew school. And it's interesting because this just speaks to the love that Karen and I—she's sitting next to me but not in the window, which is why I keep looking over at her. This just speaks to the love and respect that we have for each other that like that is on display. And I remember when we were moving I we also have a print that says Shalom, and it's made out of all pressed flowers. So that was prominently displayed in our home, the Torah was on our bookshelf. And there were a couple other little things. And when we were moving and starting to show the house, I actually took all those things down. They took pictures of us down, because they didn't want there to be any reason for someone to not want to buy our house. Karen put all those things back up. And she said, “Absolutely not.” Like, This is who we are, we're selling our house, and these things are gonna stay where they are.

Emma  25:44

As I said before, this story shows the fear that can undergird some of these decisions around identity and when and how to share it. But it's also, as Jenni says, a testament to love between couples who do have to face reactions and opinions about their union. And the importance of celebrating that love and affirming it.

Rabbi Handlarski  26:05

Often we find our partners are doing a ton to support Jewish life in our home, right? Going to get the challah on a Friday, or schlepping the kids to the Sunday School Program, right? They are supporting Jewish life. And sometimes they also participant like I said, they'll dip the apple in the honey, there's nothing scary to somebody who isn't Jewish about eating apples and honey or, you know, often they'll participate really meaningfully in a Passover Seder. They'll want to be part of their child's b’ mitzvah process and they want to be part of it. Right? They try to convince people by saying, you know, marriage is already hard enough, why try to have another obstacle around elements of difference. I hear that all the time. And I mean, that, to me, is one of the most hilarious arguments, around intermarriage because marriage is hard, you know, any long term relationship will have its ups and downs for sure. But in my life and in the lives of the community I serve, the question of intermarriage is generally not one of the major obstacles a marriage has to confront, you know, when people actually have conflict over is often things like money, and, you know, maybe parenting style, this sort of thing. But generally speaking, the people choose their partner because they are quite alike in terms of their values. And even if your particular cultural traditions are different, you know, like, I have a Passover Seder, and my partner didn't grow up with a Passover Seder. What gets said at that Seder around liberation, and inclusion does meet all of our values. So he's happy to be at the Passover Seder. And it is not an area of significant conflict, obviously, like every now and then we have to make a decision about like, will we have a Christmas tree or won’t we have a Christmas tree. These aren't the major conflicts in the lives of most intermarried people. Often when people are talking about, you know, when they're really stuck in the anti-intermarriage narrative, they picture that like, every day you wake up, and there's all these conflicts, well, I'm a Jew, and you're not a Jew, and it's so different. But our day to day lives are actually not so different. And our values are not so different. And so all of that is pretty easy to navigate for, for many couples, not for all couples, sometimes there are significant sticking points. But for a lot of us, it's actually the external opposition, we get to our choice and partners. You know, it's the stuff we deal with from family members, or from our synagogue community, or from our, you know, extended, you know, communities and families, this sort of thing like that is actually what causes conflict, not the partnership, being in conflict. I have a Reconstructionist Rabbi friend who I saw her do a baby naming, and the mother of the baby isn't Jewish. And she made it part of the baby naming to talk about how beautiful it is that the mother is raising the child Jewishly, and what an honor that is that we have, you know, somebody willing to commit so much because Judaism can be a bit demanding in terms of in terms of our practices. And it's so lovely that she is part of that and sort of thanking her and honoring her for that

Emma  29:30

Some of the forms of acceptance we've explored throughout the series both directly and indirectly, have been conditional. It can be hard to let go of long held beliefs about how community should look, especially if they're motivated by a desire to protect and nurture. That root feeling is a shared one. But it's time to reexamine that feeling, if it leads to continued harm and redirect it towards something new and good. No one should have to show up a blank slate, an empty bookshelf, a bare wall. True community welcomes people as they are and celebrates difference instead of trying to tuck it away. It's unrealistic to expect that immediately. And in fact, as we'll hear from Rabbi Handlarski, moving forward jarringly without time to heal can do more harm than good. Instead, she encourages people to look at it this way.

Rabbi Handlarski  30:24

I think that there are many ways that may or may not feel right for any particular community. But it should be an alive question.

Emma  30:33

We'll be right back.

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Emma  31:08

It's important to understand why Rabbi Handlarski wants it to be an alive question. And that's because our communities are alive, growing and changing and responding to current circumstances on a larger scale than the conversation around multifaith partnerships.

Rabbi Handlarski  31:24

These questions of what's going on with synagogue membership are bigger than the question of intermarriage. And it's not actually just Jewish, right, even, you know, a future is in decline, we see the participation in organized by traditional here, I mean, the kind of congregational model traditional, even if your particular congregation doesn't identify as traditional, but that kind of model of Jewish life where if you paid synagogue dues, and you attend things in a building, and the there's a rabbi and a board of directors like that sort of structure is on decline. I'm sure that has to do with the way people have talked about intermarriage, why would people join a synagogue when they aren't welcomed their or their children aren't welcome there. Or they might be sort of superficially welcome. But they're also going to have to hear a whole bunch of stuff about their who they love that, you know, feels hurtful, of course, they're not coming, what I see is sort of that synagogues who have declining membership, sometimes have a conversation, you know, let's say at the board level, sometimes with their membership, where they say, look, we've turned a lot of people away around the intermarriage question, and we need bums in seats. So maybe we should shift our policies to be more, you know, sort of inclusive and welcoming, because we need the membership dollars, which to me is a sort of nefarious reason to do that. I would want it to come from a place of we made a mistake, and we turned people away and caused a lot of harm. And that's ridiculous, if you know, what we want is Jewish engagement and continuity. So let's welcome them truly. Because what I think we find is places who claim to be inclusive and welcoming, but they aren't. And then that just perpetuates the harm. So this is my message to anyone listening who's part of a synagogue, if you are saying you're welcoming, and inclusive, then be welcoming and inclusive. And that means kids will talk about their Christmas trees at the Sunday School. And that means, you know, don't have a real conversation with the whole membership saying, Don't perpetuate the anti-intermarriage narrative here, don't tell people their kids are going to be messed up, don't make claims about how you'd prefer your own kids to marry Jewish and holding that up as an ideal in front of people whose families don't look like that, you know, be actually welcoming and inclusive, or don't claim to be, and will that make your organization irrelevant? Maybe, you know, and that I think that's okay. You know, I be they might not think it's okay. But I think that we're in a moment now where people do have to figure out their ideals, and serve the community they have right now. And maybe it won't be relevant to people to be part of that particular community in 30 or 50 years. But that community will have done its job and served its people. And then there are new communities to serve new people coming up all the time. And I think that's the lifecycle. I don't expect my community to be around forever. And I think that's a mistake we sometimes make in Jewish life where we want our particular institutions to last forever. No institution lasts forever. Right? It serves, it does its job while that job needs to be done.

Emma  34:39

And that doesn't mean that Jews won't be around forever. It's just in these formations. Yeah.

Rabbi Handlarski  34:45

Exactly. If you will look for the place that serves your needs in all kinds of ways. Definitely supporting your type of family arrangement understanding that, you know, your kid might show up at a Hanukkah program and talk about their Christmas tree and wanting to find a place where that will be okay? Might be part of it. But you also might be looking for things that happen mostly outside or things that are more meditation focused or you know, there's just so many ways to opt into Jewish life right now. Some of that is happening in awesome synagogues who are offering all kinds of really cool programs and opportunities for engagement. And some of it is not in synagogues. And that's absolutely the reality of the landscape right now.

Emma  35:29

These conversations around modern community are going on outside of Judaism as well. If you'll remember, Imam Ahmad Saeed of the London Nikah forms the basis of his practice and his work in multifaith spaces around informed and personal relationships with religion. And he derives that from a verse in the Quran.

Imaad  35:50

There is a verse in the Quran that says that there is no compulsion in religion. And I think when you think of it from that perspective, that there is no compulsion in religion, you cannot force anything upon anybody, let them come to their own faith to their own sense of you know, how they want to practice their faith themselves. It's important that they have some sort of blessing, understand that Islam is a very tolerant faith, a very accepting faith, one in which we don't ostracize people, regardless of their faith, or, you know, religious background, and I really wanted the ceremonies to be representative of that.

Rabbi Handlarski  36:24

It's not like people were paying synagogue dues. Even 150 years ago, that wasn't a thing. It was the way it was done for a short period of time. And there were ways it was done before. And there will be ways it's done after, and that is Jewish life. That is Jewish tradition. Actually, that's Jewish continuity. That's what it looks like.

Emma  36:42

As Imam Imaad points out, religion has always had these core tenets of acceptance and tolerance. But it's also okay, if parts of it change over time. Especially if by change, we mean grow.

Rabbi Handlarski  36:57

Outside of the ultra orthodox, very few people do Judaism the way their grandparents did. So why should we expect our grandchildren will do it the way we're doing? Right. And that's just good for all of us to think about, especially for parents for most things. You know, when it comes to raising kids, this is what I say to people who are nervous about the intermarriages of their adult children, say, Look, you did your job parenting, you did your best. You tried to instill your values and your beliefs and your traditions. And now you let go because that person is now their own adult. And they're going to make their own choices. And of course, they're not going to be exactly replicas of you. And of course, we still love them. Right? That is how it goes. And it's how it goes Jewishly. It could be their politics, it could be their practices, it could be where they choose to live, it could be all different kinds of things. Our identities do shift over time. And as parents, we only get to mold our children so much, and then they're gonna go live off their own lives.

Emma  38:00

Doing things differently from the way the previous generation did them seems to be one of the rites of passage in this series. And in life as a whole.

Susan Froehlich 38:09

I actually went through when I was in college, sort of like an identity crisis, not a crisis at all, but just trying to figure out what was meaningful to me, as a Jewish woman, separate from my family, we did it our own way. I guess I could say it that way. We did it our own way.

Reverend Tim Rich 38:28

And the curriculum that we use at St. Luke's is called Confirm not Conform. And so obviously, it's it's a Christian curriculum, and it's an Episcopal curriculum at that. But But what I say to and the confirmation age is around 10th and 11th grade. And what I say to them is, look, I'm I want you to know, I can't speak for your parents, I say, but here's the deal. This is about your faith journey. And And if at the end of our two years together, you decide you don't want to get confirmed. I am totally okay about that. I do not want you to feel like you've got to conform to your parents wishes more to your priest’s wish. All I ask is for you to come out and be thoughtful and reflective about what you believe at least as as you stand in this moment.

Emma  39:27

Even those in our series, who are not themselves in multifaith partnerships, diverged from their parents and grandparents understandings of how to be religious, how to do Judaism or Islam or Christianity. And that doesn't mean that the connection is lost with generations past. In fact, continuing vibrant communities ensures that and it's beautiful metaphors like this one used by Rabbi Handlarski in her sermon for Rosh Hashanah that show just how deeply that connection runs.

Rabbi Handlarski  39:58

The Jewish people as we call it is really made up of diverse communities with myriad cultures that have evolved wherever Jewish history has unfolded. Like rhizomatic plants we have grown multiple roots and branches in many directions. We explore different interests, integrate other cultural aspects and delight in the pleasures for individual and communal lives. So here we are gathered online, yes, but gathered here today whether we are Jewish or not. We are connected to the worldwide Jewish family in some way, be it through Jewish culture or a strong bond with somebody who's Jewish. Our Jewish family connects us to our ancestral roots and histories. On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate those roots and our heritage. As we pass culture and stories on to children, we can inculcate a sense of pride and belonging to the Jewish people dor l’dor, from one generation to the next and into the future. We are united by our stories and Torah, we are united by our stories and history. And we are united by our stories and literature. Stories make us who we are. These stories are our roots, and we decided to take them in new directions, we make them our own.

Emma  41:19

At the beginning of this episode, I said that I hoped it would serve as a blueprint, that we could start to trace the new path that those routes would take us. But actually, before we go forward, we need to go back to see where we missed a step.

Rabbi Handlarski  41:35

I think the step that's missing is what we Jewishly called chuva, which we do at the time of the High Holidays. So repentance, asking for forgiveness, a kind of self-reckoning that leads to change… To shiva or turning means redirection and improvement. Each year, we spiral through the same holidays, traditions and messages, that each year we are evolving. It is the fact of our ever-changing nature that makes our ability to turn and improve possible. We turn away from that which is no longer fulfilling, we turn towards something new, and ripe with possibility. In Alan Lew's book, he argues that the High Holiday period, the Days of Awe are meant to break us open. And let us connect with a higher power. And we've also had a challenging few years, each of us, I feel we arrived here already broken open, some maybe just feeling broken, some feeling ready to be more open.

If people saw something in 2015, they're not looking now, you know, if they got turned off, they got turned off they’re out, you know, they were they felt forced out. There are a number of organizations and individuals who said intermarriage is a threat to Judaism, they were really horrible to people. And now maybe they have changed their mind. And they're looking to explore, which is great—growth is possible. I want that for people, I want them to grow in that way. But we can't skip the step of apologizing, and taking responsibility for the harm that we caused. So when I would love for those are going to, you know, please put those organizations in touch with me and say, you know, like that there's something you can do about that. Issue a statement now that says we signed on to this seven years ago, and we regret it. And here's why. And now here's what we're doing to actually be inclusive, that would be beautiful to see. And that's the piece that I really haven't seen from people who have changed their mind, they just sort of skip over from like, your relationship is terrible and is going to harm my people, to hey, we include you like with no step in between. That's not the way we do relationships. Right? That was a rupture, and in relationships, f there's a rupture, it requires a repair to move forward and I'm looking for the repair. I'm looking for the chuva. And I get that that takes guts. It's hard to say I was wrong. It's hard to say sorry. But that is actually what we need if we want to invite people back in a meaningful way.

Emma  44:13

This entire series, we've seen how individuals and communities changed their ways, do more to bring people in, try harder to understand and broaden definitions of community and belonging. But for individuals and groups who are finding it difficult to open their arms wider, it may be because they're carrying too much already. This series advocates for multifaith couples first, but it is also concerned with maintaining and strengthening community and communities. And a stance against multifaith partnerships weakens us all. Whether or not we know or now include multifaith families in our understanding of religious life. For those still struggling I encourage you to recognize the wait we've imposed upon ourselves to carry in the Jewish community, the destiny we're all but ensuring for ourselves, if we don't relinquish that white knuckled grip on how things should be, have always been. That concept of Judaism is fiction. Multifaith couples have been a growing presence for decades, and the leaders and heroes of our most ancient and revered texts share this experience too. We've carried the stones of Pharaoh, the sheaths of matzah, the trauma of persecution as a people the world over. Now that we can choose to put something down, let it be this. Now that we can choose to receive the love and support from those who aren't Jewish, which we always need, let's let ourselves let go a little. In fact, it's one of the more Jewish things we could do.

Rabbi Handlarski  45:57

Jewishly at this time of year, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we do a ritual called tashlict—into a flowing body of water, we can throw sticks, leaves, stones, whatever is kind of near the body of water and cast those into the water. Some think of these as sins for the past year. Some think of them as negative thoughts, negative experiences, really anything we want to let go of in the past year, the original by the way, is not sin. It's where we missed the mark.

Emma  46:28

Offering up a singular conclusion on how to move forward on this, aside from the fact that we need to move forward, we'll be doing a disservice to the complexity of this series. But I know where we can start. And that's what the Jewish practice of tashlicht, of casting off, letting go.

Rabbi Handlarski  46:48

In the first century, Rabbi Hillel taught, if I care, not for myself, who shall care for me, but if I care only for myself, then what is my life worth? And if not now, when? A common theme during these days of awe is that we have limited time here on this earth. And if we are going to get something done, there really is no time like the present. While much of our High Holidays, meditate on mortality and death, the implicit call to action is an affirmation of life. We are here to make an impact.

You know, you create communities and programs and services and events and opportunities for engagement, that are fun, that are engaging, that are meaningful, where people can learn where people can laugh, when people connect with each other. You don't have to worry so much about haranguing people to, you know, be in Jewish families, if you actually just make it attractive to do Jewish things. You know, that's where my energy is, I do not care whether the people who come to my stuff that I offer are Jewish or not Jewish, like, I don't care, I don't ask them. They might tell me but I don't need to know. You know, are you married to a Jew, you know, did you come to this because your partner is Jewish, because you're Jewish, I don't care. I want to help them live their best lives. And I think we can do that through Judaism. I think Judaism offers a lot in terms of making our lives better, and making the world better. That's why I care about Judaism. That's why I'm a Jewish leader, and professional. That's why I bring my kids to Jewish things, because I think it will help them have good lives. And I think it will help them be agents for goodness in the world. And I don't need people to be Jewish to sign up for that, if it's interesting to them. I just want Judaism to be that force for goodness in our lives in the world and help people connect with it in whatever way. And I'm not the right Rabbi for everybody. Not everybody is a secular, cultural Jew. But what I would love is for, you know, rabbis across the Jewish spectrum, to have that same mission statement and be like, let's not let's worry less about this question and just do Judaism well, and then people will want to come

Emma  49:04

Multifaith relationships, partnerships, marriages, families, they aren't going away. Communities, relationships and peoples evolve. And it does take time. Progress doesn't happen overnight. And questions and strong feelings about religious identity will still be asked and felt

Jenni 49:27

And then she said, Is she Jewish? And I was my reaction was like the, after all, that does it matter? And she was like, yeah, it does.


Had I'm married someone who wasn't Jewish. I think my parents probably would not have been able to process it.

Emma  49:41

But progress is happening.

Susan 49:45

John's mother who went through so much as a young Jewish girl said to me, God bless her. That's your son. You're gonna love your son, and if he marries her, you're gonna love her. You're gonna love your children. However they are.

Emma  49:59

From the stories of those who have opened up their families and communities, to experts and community leaders who are thoughtfully and deliberately guiding us towards a broader definition of togetherness, there is a slow, but steady recognition of multifaith families as an asset, not a threat to religious life.

Imaad  50:18

You know, I think we have to kind of go to the points of kind of tolerance and acceptance, it's so important, very easy to divide, it's very easy to have, you know, to be us versus them. And, you know, I think religion is meant to teach us to be able to overcome these things, live in harmony, not, you know, us being able to live comfortably at the expense of another group, we have to think from a much more higher level and much more noble level in a way that is harmonious among various people.

Emma  50:50

Welcoming people can only add to not detract from customs and culture that we hold dear. And the intolerance and rejection of multifaith families, by communities or individuals actually proves this point. Because when blocked from traditional institutional avenues, multifaith couples have again and again, taken what resonates with them, and made it their own.

Rimini  51:16

It was a blend of religions and a blend of cultures, we had the… I wore a white wedding dress, but then afterwards, we had Indian clothes, and

Reza  51:26

There was Persian music, Indian music, there was dance music, the last song was Al Greens, Let's Stay Together, which is my parents wedding song. So you know, like, so there's so much going on, it's kind of it's kind of awesome that way.


Like the breaking of the glass at the end


To break a glass at the end was my foot and like, you know…


And they're like, Well, can we break the glass?

Guest 51:44

Breaking the glass


We broke the glass


Breaking of glass

Emma  51:49

They continue to find the positive and meaningful elements of traditions that have, in some ways been painful, or limiting, and incorporate them into their lives anyway. It is they, more so than those who aim to safeguard or protect or shroud tradition in these layers of expectations, who show us the beauty and lasting impact of meaningful religious engagement.

Jenni Greenman  52:12

You know, you didn't raise them in a church or a synagogue, you raised them with the beliefs and values that you as a couple and as a family hold, while still taking part in those experiences. And yet still, to see that, you know, your daughter so strongly identifies as Jewish. I think that that really was the biggest shift for mom and dad. Because I think that that made them realize that it's not going through the motions is not what defines you. It's what you believe in and the experiences that you have as a family and the cultural experiences that you have, as a family that define you. And a modern world, these things evolve in different ways.

Emma  52:57

So it is my hope that in the spirit of tashlict, we can ease into that letting go, we can work together to make sure that people who are looking for a religious home can find one that they feel comfortable, and welcome and seen in. A home where they can learn, celebrate, grow love, all while being themselves, and their family in whatever constellation that may look like. To those of you who have joined me on this journey, I can't thank you enough. This not only holds a place in my heart journalistically, and because of my association with the Jewish community, but because of my personal background as well. And it's been an honor to guide you through these stories and bring this into your homes and hopefully conversations as you continue out into the world. So, thank you so, so much for listening to Breaking the Glass.


Today's episode was made possible by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. If you're enjoying Breaking the Glass and you'd like to help support this podcast series, please share it with others, post about it on social media, leave a rating and review and subscribe, and be sure to check out the links and resources included in the show notes. As always, you can head over to JewishRhody.com for more original content with a local spin. And please consider supporting local Jewish journalism including impactful content like this podcast series by visiting JewishRhody.com and clicking donate. Your gift to Jewish Rhode Island will allow us to continue to provide high quality Jewish content that readers, listeners and viewers find beneficial and informative.


Breaking the Glass is produced by Emma Newbery.

Executive producers are Brian Sullivan and Adam Greenman.

Artwork by Alex Foster.

Editorial support from Fran Ostendorf

And music sourced from Storyblocks.

In-studio interviews are recorded at the Residential Properties Limited Studio at the Dwares JCC in Providence, Rhode Island.