In helfman, Third

By Rabbi Jordan Helfman.

Shabbat Vayigash 5775.

I hope everyone was able to take advantage of the Boxing Day deals yesterday. I am waiting for Boxing Day to become more like Black Friday.

Now for those of you who, like me, are not big shoppers, I am going to let you in on a little secret. I was recently awakened to the fact that the proper religious celebration of American Thanksgiving and of Christmas includes shopping the day after. Maybe it has something to do with an ancient Jewish custom from around 3 C.E. in ancient Palestine; relatives would have to wait to go shopping until after the birth for the right colour yarn to knit sweaters. American Thanksgiving doesn’t even exist here, yet everyone knows that the best deals can be had, even in some Canadian stores, on that religious holy day that comes just after – Black Friday.

But to get these deals, you have to line up early in the morning and camp out. However, in the case of Black Friday, I know in America there is new trend of opening stores the night before. That’s right, in addition to Black Friday, stores are calling their employees to work in the middle of the Detroit Lions game so they can offer Black Thursday deals.

I’m waiting for this phenomenon to come to Canada, and especially to come to Boxing Day. Imagine how good it would be to be a Jew if, while all of the Christians are spending time with their families, retailers would make that extra push, and open their stores the day BEFORE Boxing Day! I mean, it would be perfect. In between the Chinese and the movie theatre you could pop by a big box store and stock up on next year’s Chanukah presents!

Of course, I know it would probably never happen, except maybe at our Sisterhood Judaica shop?

What makes this opportunity so tantalizing for us is that, as good of a Canadian as we can become, Christmas will never be Christmas for us in the same way as it is for those born to it. As accepted as we become in Canada, we are still Jews, somehow different, somehow outsiders, walking around on Christmas eve and seeing through the outside of a window, framed families gathered around a festive pine.

Our Torah portion has the first occurrence of Jews settling as a foreign land and being seen, really, as different.

Our Torah portion discusses when Joseph brings his family down to Egypt with him. To get them a good deal, Joseph prepares his father and brothers for their talk with Pharaoh. Egyptians, in our story, don’t like shepherds. So Joseph tells his family, instead of saying that you are shepherds, say that you are the bosses of shepherds. They do so, and Pharaoh lets the family of Israel live in a separate area of land, doing jobs that pay good money, which the locals do not want to do. And they are able to hire the locals as employees.

Hmm, Jews living separately, doing separate, yet well-paid, jobs that makes them the boss over non-Jews.   I haven’t heard this story in my courses in modern anti-Semitism before. Wait… actually I have.

Now, I wish I could read you a rabbinic commentator who says that things will end well in this situation, without Divine intervention. But, unfortunately, all of the rabbinic commentators I know of have read ahead to the book of Exodus.

In Canada, our lives in many ways are different than just described. We are not forced into separate occupations.  Though we live up and down Bathurst Street, we also live in the Beaches, in Mississauga, in Hamilton, Ajax. While we are still sometimes on the outside looking in, our neighbours are curious as well, interested in learning about our menorot. In fact, our non-Jewish spouses, aunts, uncles, our non-Jewish nieces and nephews, sons and daughters in law, they too are curious about Judaism. How our people continues to persist after its long history, what it means to be part of a Jewish family.

Tough many lament it, the proliferation of non-Jewish life partners in our community in many ways shows how integrated we are here in Canada.


This past week, there have been many news reports, not about intermarriage, but about its younger self, interdating.

The youth of the United Synagogue – the conservative movement, have recently updated their policy on interdating.

Previously, the youth of the conservative movement decided that if it was known that one was dating a non-Jew, it would be like using alcohol or drugs on an event, cause you to be removed from your leadership position.

The new clause on interdating read: “The Officers will strive to model healthy Jewish dating choices. These include recognizing the importance of dating within the Jewish community and treating each person with the recognition that they were created Betzelem Elohim (in the image of God).”

While you many have read in the Jewish news that the youth of the conservative movement endorsed interdating, rather it is now ‘allowed’ but frowned upon.

The outgoing president of the youth movement said the impetus behind the language change is hardly to encourage interdating, but is rather to explicitly welcome children of mixed marriages who may have been uncomfortable with the original wording.[1]

This is an important point. The impetus behind the language change is to explicitly welcome children of mixed marriages. To say to these children that you should not feel like outsiders in our community. You have a full place as Jews.

These children ARE Jews, and we need to find a way of including them. Also their parents, the non-Jews who are sending their children on youth events, are members of our community and we need to think of ways of welcoming them as well.

In our Toronto community, the UJA’s analysis of the last census long-form material brings the interfaith marriage rate to 17.3% including the ultra-orthodox.

In our immediate area of the city, that rate is just 11%. Yet, in our souther catchment area, including where my family and many other young families live, south of St. Clair, it is 44%. For the whole city, where both spouses are under 30, the number is around 30%.

I am not presenting these numbers to alarm or to discuss the relative merits or issues with endogamy. I raise these numbers because these young couples are made up of our children, or our nieces and nephews. These numbers are here because we know that the Jewish welcome these young couples receive – the embrace these young families feel – is important.

I am not proposing a synagogue-wide soul-searching conversation. I am not proposing that we spend hours debating whether the synagogue should offer programs or marketing campaigns specifically targeting these groups and singling out non-Jewish partners. This is especially not a conversation about if Endogomy is a Reform Jewish Value.

This is a conversation about feeling like an outsider, in a strange land, when our loved ones or our loved ones’ loved ones enter our homes.

This is about inviting conversations to happen about how we welcome members of our sister’s family. Or maybe our brother’s family where a non-Jew, because of the bond of marriage, is now tasked with continuing Judaism and driving children to religious school. Our spouse who lights the Shabbat candles and bakes challah for our kids when we are travelling for work. About our children’s partners, or our cousin’s partners. How can we be welcoming to them, and help them raise their children as Jews. How can we help them shift from outsiders, from observers, to participants in our family.

It is December. The dilemma is over for this year – how we deal with this season that creates so much tension in families. Now we have the rest of the year to reach out to the outsiders in our own families, in our own communities, and try to make sure that they feel appreciated for the sacrifices they have made to support Judaism and our family’s traditions. To notice and thank how they keep rituals foreign to them alive. And to not forget to wish them a joyous season and a happy new year as they look in at the Christmas lights still hanging well past boxing day, at the menorot still in the window well past the eighth night. As we try to maintain our status as outsiders, let us not forget to let these newer additions to our families in.

Shabbat Shalom.

Benediction:   May this be our December Dilemma: How best can we make our families and this Temple family even more welcoming for those that feel like outsiders, appreciating those who in one way or another have tied themselves to our people and it’s sacred journey.


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