Women’s League for Conservative Judaism launches major initiative with Mishpachah: The Modern Jewish Family

Mishpachah: The Modern Jewish Family


Welcome to the Women’s League year-long conversation about the modern Jewish family. We want your participation, your engagement and your feedback!

One of the most famous stories from the Talmud – one that is applicable to almost any situation – is the one about Hillel who is asked by a non-Jew (BT Shabbat31a):“Teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.” Hillel’s response: “ What you find hateful, do not do to your friend. This is the entire Torah – the rest is commentary.”

Easy enough to decipher for even those not schooled in Talmudic thought. Understanding Hillel’s dictum — simply put, that we should be nice to each other — is the easy part; putting it into practice is an entirely different matter.

Most humans are creatures of habit – we approach change with a variety of responses: we embrace it, we welcome it, we are wary, suspicious, fearful or terrified of it. Change can be disruptive and change can be liberating.

While the Jewish family has endured from time immemorial – beginning with the biblical generations of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants – through exile, dispersion, expulsion, cultural diffusion, immigration and even genocide – it now confronts modernity. Once characterized by mother, father and children, the Jewish family has been eclipsed by social reality. According to the most recent Jewish population survey (2000-01) almost half of Jewish marriages today are intermarriages; many marriages (again almost half) result in divorce; Jews marry later and have fewer children. We know also that there is a substantial percentage of Jews who remain single, either by choice or by situation, and have created a new demographic category: single mother/parent by choice. The last decade has seen a rapidly increasing political and social recognition of same sex families that biologically conceive or adopt.

Our social terrain has changed, remarkably and irrevocably. Now we must begin a dialogue that moves us from the recognition of diversity to the advocacy of pluralism. In social scientific terms, diversity and pluralism are not synonyms. Diversity is variety – pluralism is an acceptance of and engagement with diversity.

The goal of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism’s Mishpachah project is to identify the diverse character of our Jewish families and to encourage our communities to be pluralistic – welcoming, inclusive and open-hearted. Whether it is a mother/father/children, couples with no children, same-sex unions with or without children, single parents, widows, singles, joined families, families with children who are biologically conceived or adopted, a Jewish family defines itself as such, it is not defined by others.

In this year-long conversation, we will offer materials that focus on a variety of subjects affecting today’s families: diversity, continuity, identity, conflict, and celebration. There is truly something here for everyone.

Mishpachah Topics: August 2013 – May 2014

August: Beginning the Conversation: Modern Jewish Families in Their Own Words

September: The Noah Syndrome: The Problem with Programming for Couples Only

October: Be Careful What You Wish for, or a Classic Menage a Trois (Bible Study with Dr. Anne Lapidus Lerner, JTS)

November: Jewish Book Month, Orpah’s List selection: The Mothers, by Jennifer Gilmore and Orpah’s Kids: The Purim Superhero by Elizabeth Kushner

December: Memories from the Kitchen: Creating Family History Through Recipes

January: My Family History: Creating a Family Tree or a Family Map, Creating a Memory Box

February: [1]The Annual Kahn Yahrzeit Bash: Creating Family Rituals and [2]“Behold I Consecrate You Unto Me…” New Approaches to Modern Wedding Ceremonies (Talmud Study with Dr. Gail Labovitz, Ziegler School of Rabbinics, AJU)

March: Jeff/Yankl Doesn’t Eat Here Any More!

April: Shifting Roles: Becoming a Caregiver

May: My Hopes for You … Creating Ethical Wills

Other Mishpachah Activities and Resources

Divrei Hokhmah: Conversation Starters to begin meetings or any occasion with a brief discussion about objectionable or problematic expressions, comments and attitudes.

Book suggestions by subject/topic each month

Wo-Flix: The WLCJ film forum/discussion of movies that focus on family

Short Story Reading Circle: Jewish mothers (5 stories throughout the year)

Torah Fund Campaign: 2013-2014/5774