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The Stranger

A 24-year-old Jewish Upper West Sider helps run the most important Arab-American organization in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, home to 35,000 Arabs

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Jennie Goldstein in Bay Ridge, Jan. 25, 2012. (Rachel Barrett)

Goldstein—like the many Jewish individuals and organizations committed to Arab betterment—is a rebuke to that view. But she makes such a valuable advocate for those in Bay Ridge precisely because she brings to her position a freakish confidence that would be impossible were she less well-parented, less well-educated, and were her Jewishness more separable from her Americanness. When we met in Crown Heights, we walked to find an outdoor spot to talk because the thermometer was near 60. Eventually, she settled on someone’s stoop. “Won’t they mind?” I asked. Her retort: “Are you a New Yorker or what?”

***

When Goldstein studied abroad in Paris at 20, she found herself for the first time without a community on Rosh Hashanah. “I was desperately lonely,” she said. “What they say in those situations is, do what you do at home. So, I found a synagogue. I figured I would be among my people, at least. But I wasn’t. The women were on a higher floor, unable to see anything. There was no child care, so they had to look after the kids, who were running around and making all this noise. The message was, the grown-ups are communing with God and the women are upstairs running after the kids. That was so unfair in what it said about a woman’s relationship to God.”

I was struck by the irony. Didn’t the same thing bother her in the community she serves now? Was it not equally frustrating, especially for someone so accustomed to traversing boundaries, to have to stay out of certain coffee shops, to keep her mouth closed during certain exchanges? Was she not shorting her constituents an opportunity to become more fully American?

“The problem with the synagogue wasn’t that the women didn’t have equal access as men to the tradition,” she said. “It’s that they didn’t have options, like child care. When we do things like have babysitting at English classes at AAANY so that women with children can still come, that’s a response to that lack of access,” she said. Goldstein must have noticed my skepticism, so she went on: “The Arab community didn’t hire me to change its values. I had a girl who got into Wellesley and her parents wouldn’t let her go. She ended up going to a school well below her level. I thought I was going to lose my mind. A girl whose parents say she can’t go away to college? My reaction is: Run away from those parents,” she said. “But looking at the bigger picture, I thought, ‘Is that the right choice for that girl, and do I have any place encouraging her to do that?’ No on both counts. Her relationship with her family is extremely important. There might be a middle ground I’m not seeing, complications I’m not seeing. It’s never my place to tell someone what to do.”

Perhaps, Goldstein seemed to be saying, these girls didn’t want, as she had, to navigate competing personal interests like how to attend Wellesley and remain religious. Then again, perhaps the women in the Paris synagogue didn’t either—but Goldstein didn’t bring up that possibility.

In Bay Ridge, most Arab girls don’t get to take the subway by themselves, let alone aim for universities beyond NYU. Some get pulled out of school to help take care of large families, never to return. Goldstein says she quietly tutors them when the opportunity presents itself. She mentioned one girl who was taken out of school at 16 by her parents. “She woke up at 21 and decided she really wanted to finish,” Goldstein said. “So I tutored her. She got her high-school diploma a month ago. She really wants to go to college. I don’t know where things are now. She only comes by the office while running errands because she’s not allowed to be out by herself. She doesn’t have a cell phone, so sometimes she’ll text me on someone else’s phone, but I can’t really get in touch with her.”

She went on: “You have plenty of kids to help whose parents are pushing them to succeed. All of us who work at the association are role models for our kids, and it would be wrong for us to say, ‘Don’t listen to your parents, don’t listen to your culture.’ Because that’s not what grown-ups are supposed to do. We’re modeling the behavior we want our kids to have, and that means some level of respect for authority.”

That every staff member apart from Linda Sarsour and Roweida Jaber is in his or her twenties only makes that aspiration more humbling. And yet Goldstein is who she is in part because her parents tried to let her find herself instead of following authority. Goldstein’s mother, Cynthia Roney, grew up in a rural mill town in Newfoundland and “fought her way out,” in her daughter’s words, so that now she is a “badass who travels the world” assessing corporate risk for Bank of America. But she struggled to make peace with the fact that her children “weren’t doing jobs that were easily defined to her friends or that were very stable in her eyes.” (Goldstein’s younger brother works on a ranch on the Nevada-Idaho border.) But then Roney struggled against that. “She’s proud of us now,” Goldstein said.

Then again, several weeks of shuttling between Bay Ridge and Manhattan, where I live, reminded me that the unwritten gender separation and social codes that prevail in Bay Ridge prevail almost everywhere. Women avoid certain establishments dominated by certain kinds of males, as whites avoid certain black establishments, and vice versa. Orthodox Jews don’t frequent Bay Ridge, and the Arabs from there don’t go out of their way to visit Borough Park. De facto separation is the natural code of life, and the Arab-American community’s embodiment of it may be more typically, if not ideally, American than the enlightened, progressive futurism of Chelsea and Fort Greene. The United States is no more post-racial than it is post-ethnic. Ironically, this country’s openness to immigrants ensures that. We want our immigrants to trumpet ideals that natives often ignore. Then again, we tend to forgive in others traits that we excoriate in our own.

As for Goldstein, her Jewishness recedes and comes in as the moment insists, like a tide. To a more traditional Jew, this must feel like dilettantism, or heresy. But to someone less bound, like me, this kind of pick-and-choose flexibility can feel like an unscary invitation into religion. That is more or less what Jennie Goldstein tries to offer the Arab-Americans of Bay Ridge: a way into this country on their terms as much as those of America.

Though she will never mistake herself for a Bay Ridge native, the locals have given her something as well: a sense of community. It comes alive especially on Friday afternoons, when she likes to walk over to Mike’s Donuts, which is across Fifth Avenue from the Bay Ridge Islamic Center. She buys a cup of coffee, sits down at the window, and watches the faithful stream out of prayer.

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This is one of the products of intermarriage. Just like the fact that descendants of intermarried Jews in the early 19th century Germany ended up serving in the Wehrmacht and SS. Mazeltov-
“Mama, dont let your children grow up to be shaheeds…”

Bill Pearlman says:

Borg is right. And the analogy is right. How exactly is she Jewish? And I’m not talking about her mother. Gabby Giffords is a case in point. Giffords chose Judaism. Goldstein went the other way and I predict will eventually become moslem.

“Goldstein’s father is Jewish and her mother is Protestant.”

So she is not Jewish and all this article is pointless.

“So, I found a synagogue. I figured I would be among my people, at least. But I wasn’t.”

Exactly. French Jews are real Jews, not fake American Jews. That’s not her people because she is not Jewish.

sharon says:

She is young and naive. It is outrageous that young women in the Muslim community are being under or uneducated. It is outrageous that they cannot go out by themselves. I also find it outrageous that women sit in the back of the bus in orthodox communities in Israel. This young women has not grown up to be a second class citizen, yet she surrounds herself with those who are. Religion is patriarchal and at its worse is killing and abusing women. At its best, they are still less then men. What a cosmic joke.

shavit says:

yeah … i really hate the comments section on this site.

but good article.

The stunning lack of generosity of these three comments so far appalls me. Jennie Goldstein embodies the Jewish values I most cherish – chesed, tzedakah, kavanah, as well as intelligence and humor. I want no part of an exclusionist, rigid, myopic brand of Jewish identity. I don’t deny your right to identify as you please, but I grant you no authority to determine, on my behalf, who is Jewish and who is not.

I am referring to the first three comments. And thank you Tablet
and Boris Fishman for this wonderful article.

Another example of a irrelevant article by tablet. This young mixed-up woman is decidedly NOT Jewish- so why does tablet continue to pretend to its readership that she is?

Marty Janner says:

It fascinates me to see the discourse, whether she be Jewish, non Jewish! This indicates a mentality that misses the point!

This young woman considers herself Jewish, which is accepted by the Reform Movement. I understand that other facets of American Jewry, Halachically do not accept this!

The point is that with a name like Goldstein she is accepted, and respected by an Arab-American entity!

The divisiveness exhibited has no foundation!!!

This lady is a Christian. Why do you call her Jewish?

Corey- so if Timothy Dolan decides that his chesed, tzedakah, etc qualifies him are Jewish values and wants to identify with the Jewish nation, would you accept him?

Corey- so if Timothy Dolan decides that his values are “Jewish”and wants to identify with the Jewish nation, would you accept his declaration?

Joe Blow says:

What a depressing article. Filled with inaccuracies as well. Let’s start with the number of “35000″ Arabs in Bay Ridge. That is wildly misstated. Even lumping together the huge Arab Christian population of Bay Ridge (which would horrify the Christian Arabs, who fled persecution in Muslim dominated lands)in with the less numerous (but more recently arrived) Muslim population, you won’t come anywhere near 35000. That number is simply wishful thinking on Linda Sarsour’s part. Moreover, it strikes me that Goldstein is simply a willing participant in perpetuating a totalitarian belief system that oppresses women. How pathetic to aid in the oppression of others.

Feeling the hate here.
A light unto the nations, indeed.

Corey needs to be told who is Jewish because he doesn’t know. As to Arabs I don’t understand why “progressives” have such big respect for a religion which treats women as half-humans?

A lot of the commentators here consistently confuse a Rabbanite Jewish religious heritage with an ethnic Ashkenazi/Yiddish cultural heritage.

And BTW appreciating the cultural heritage hardly requires positive feelings toward the associated politics.

what a strange article. I couldn’t find anything in the article that would qualify her as Jewish Am I missing something?

Obviously Lyle does not understand the distinction between cultural heritage and religion.

BTW, I have never understood Jewish hostility toward the Lord’s Prayer. Translated into leshon kodesh, it can hardly be distinguished from a Jewish prayer.

Well the Jew police are busy patrolling the boundaries, as usual. I’m sure they will find 96 virgins waiting for them in Haredi heaven

Boris Fishman says:

Dear Defenders of the Faith: This is Boris Fishman, the author, and I’d like to respond to some of your concerns:

1. Re: JG’s Jewishness – technically, you’re right, she’s not, but if we’re going to be technical, why are you reading this publication? Why not keep to the wisdom of the sages? That way, you’ll never be discomfited by having to confront views other than your own. To my mind, JG’s Jewishness is both valid and interesting because she grew up with traditions that, for example, I, a full Jew on both sides, never did, having grown up in the USSR. Not only did she experience those traditions, she is ENGAGING WITH THEM on a daily basis, and not as a Birthright officer or Jewish journalist, but as something far more complex. That’s INTERESTING. It’s not right or wrong; just interesting.

2. Re: Arab inhumanity toward women. Perhaps. Please keep in mind, however, that to the unaided eye the Jewish situation does not seem that different. You may insist that it’s not; fine. That must be because you have special insight that these unaided eyes don’t have; great. Would you afford another view the same consideration? No one is saying Islam treats women like gold. In the same way an Orthodox Jewish woman might say that she doesn’t feel oppressed by Judaism, quite a few Muslim women have explained to me they don’t feel oppressed by Islam.

3. Above all, this article asks for nuance in response. For once, drop your knee-jerk fanaticism and try to think about views other than your own. Not because they’re right – only yours are, of course – but because nothing is going to get solved otherwise. And Bill Pearlman, if you drag the Holocaust into this, you need to attach your e-mail, cause we’ll need to take this off-site.

4. In general, where is the non-shrill sensible majority that I KNOW is reading pieces like this one? Where are your comments? The comments of pieces like this are HIJACKED by lunatics. They have a right to their view but your voices are needed as well.

Boris Fishman says:

PS: Dear Joe Blow: Your facts are off.

1. The Arab community in Michigan (the largest Arab community in the US) is almost entirely Christian. The Brooklyn community is almost entirely Muslim. There are so few Arab Christians in Brooklyn (many of those that were here have moved to New Jersey) that the local Arab Lutheran church closed last year.

2. As for the 35,000 figure: The Population Division at the New York City Department of City Planning estimates the number of Arabs in NYC at approximately 100,000; these are the least controversial numbers available, and Brooklyn has by far the largest Arab community in NYC. As discussed in the piece, at this point estimates have to suffice, but 35,000 is a conservative one for Bay Ridge.

No Boris , it’s lunatics like you who have hijacked Judaism.

What right does this self prophesed non-Jew have to represent us?

This article shows exactly the sort of future that the left wing fanatics who fund this website seek to promote for Judaism.

Boris Fishman says:

I do apologize for referring to holders of such views as lunatics. My frustration got the better of me. It was as shrill as the views I purport to criticize. And, by the way, I had no intention of implying that being a Birthright officer or a Jewish journalist isn’t complex work. It is — I can testify personally in the latter case, and with pride. That, too, was written too quickly; I meant Goldstein’s work is simply complex in a different way. I stand by everything else.

And David, you are of course entitled to the opinion you share in your first sentence, but the facts you mention in the other two are incorrect. At no point does Goldstein profess to be a non-Jew. And you are incorrect about Tablet’s funders. Simply they believe in considering more than one viewpoint, even if it isn’t their own. Research your points before making them.

Encourage more Islamic immigration.

Working on the payroll of one of the most anti-Israel organisations in the US.

Completely repulsed by Synagogues.

Completely infatuated with Mosques.

The wonderful new Jew.

Boris, you poor lad, have certainly chosen a topic here. I look forward to this thread.
Any chance of blocking the anti-semite Joachim Martillo from the site? Pretty please with sugar on top. That person has had so many comments taken down. It is about time he was shown the door.

” And you are incorrect about Tablet’s funders. Simply they believe in considering more than one viewpoint, even if it isn’t their own”

I don’t think I’ve read more drivel since I started perusing this website.

Almost every article is about
1) subtly belittling Israel, or
2) Glorifying the morphing of Judaism into a non-nation.
3) an article about food.

Bill Pearlman says:

Boris, I was referring to Borgs comment concerning guys like Erhard Milch. Jewish father, Christian mother. And the Luftwaffe chief of staff. And has much a Jew has this woman. And again, I wasn’t referring to having a Jewish mother. Gabby Giffords a case in point. This woman is simply not Jewish. Not according to Jewish law. But more to the point not in thought or deed. The Jewish people mean nothing to her. Her thoughts lie with the moslems.

A lovely, well written portrait of a delightfully open-minded, adventurous and responsible young woman. I’m happy she identifies as Jewish, I’m happy Tablet publishes such well written pieces, and I’m unhappy when readers let their yetzers run away with them in these comments! Sarcasm, meanness and reactive anger are terrible habits that lead no where good!

She’s clearly not halachically Jewish. And not even by Reform’s watered down standards, she isn’t Jewish since she wasn’t raised Jewish. Sorry, but even for the assimilationist Reform Movement the 3 main Jewish Holidays include Yom Kippur. Within the Reform Movement their standards say that someone is Jewish if they are raised Reform Jewish even if they have a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother.

Boris, you’re an opinion writer masquerading as a reporter. Just at least get the facts right. Call her half-Jewish. Call her American. Call her naive. Call her idealistic. Call her whatever you want but don’t call her Jewish because by no measure, not even the most charitable definition, is she Jewish.

Boris, your comments about “Defenders of the Faith” is as comic as it is tragic. Maybe some of us care about real Judaism and understand that the traditions separate from a faith in G-d and Torah observance have a shelf life measured in 2-3 generations. This whole story is proof of that.

Even bigger proof are your thoughts in the comments section. In your eyes, it’s praiseworthy for a half-Jewish girl who scoffs at Torah-observant Jews to work for an Arab group which is also openly anti-Israel. Fine, those are your values.

But for Jews to practice authentic Judaism and care about that! Perish the thought, Boris. For Jews to keep Kosher! For Jews to keep Shabbos! For Jews to take prayer and their relationship with G-d seriously! For Jews to take the Torah seriously, this is to be scolded!?

Ya tozhe rodilsya v CCCP, Borya. Podumai chut chut o chom ti pishesh v buduschem. Mi obo Russkiie Evrei, i ya nadeyus shto ti TOZHE naidyosh tvoi korni. Gut Shabbos, droog moi.

The Bay Area has one of the most enlightened socio-political atmospheres of the lower 48 states. I used to have a lot of friends in both Oakland and San Francisco. Good to see people are keeping the old spirit alive because it’s never out of season or fashion as far as I’m concerned.

Oh, excuse me this was Bay Ridge Brooklyn. Guess I was in the wrong neighborhood huh?

Christopher Orev says:

Thanks for the article, Mr. Fishman.

You get shrill yourself in the comments (and, to your credit, acknowledge that misstep), but your letting the invective and close-mindedness of the bulk of the commenters get your goat is exactly why “the non-shrill sensible majority that [you] KNOW is reading pieces like this one” don’t generally comment.

I think those readers are put off by the bigotry and nastiness that reigns here. I’m not talking about the perspectives of the political right or the most frum Orthodox readers — political dissent is healthy and halacha is halacha (and must be wrestled with) — but rather their tone. It simply isn’t conducive to conversation.

Boris Fishman says:

For those brave souls who are still hanging with this thread but don’t speak Russian, Alex’s comment concludes with: “I was also born in the USSR, Borya. Think a little bit about what you write in the future. We are both Russian Jews, and I hope you will ALSO find your roots. Gut Shabbos, my friend.”

Thanks for your comment, Alex. Maybe you’re right and I should have been more literal, taking care to refer to Goldstein as half-Jewish. But – and I know this will be heretical – the halachic designations are not my only guide to Jewishness (if not Judaism). As I pointed out in an earlier answer, I propose – don’t insist, only propose – through the piece that Goldstein is an interesting case because here is someone who got a relatively faint Jewish upbringing, and yet it remains – according to her – a really important part of her identity. I found this hopeful, and even inspiring, because I fall roughly into the same category. But instead of encouraging this shoot of curiosity where none might have grown, you would like to browbeat the likes of Goldstein into following the Torah verbatim, or good riddance to her. And in what tone! Is this how you propose to preserve the Jewish people? If that’s your goal, you should know this kind of — yes, Christopher Orev — frothing, vicious stridency and absolutism is the reason why people like me have such a hard time getting inspired by Jews like you, Alex, Russian or not. You might learn something from Goldstein — “No one is successful in the world because they walk in and say my job is to re-educate.” No one is saying this kind of Jewishness is more pure than yours. I’m only saying it has a right to exist and explore.

One other thing, since you accuse me of being loose with the facts. On what grounds is AAANY “openly anti-Israel”? Is it simply because they’re an Arab organization so they must be, or might you furnish us with actual evidence?

We are very happy that this girl is interested in her Jewish ancestry. It does not make her Jewish, and the fact that she chose to work for a Muslim organization does not speak in her favor. Would you be writing this article if she was working for a Christian group ?

“Is this how you propose to preserve the Jewish people?”

The Jewish people is preserving itself very well – in Israel. The only way to preserve the Jewish people is by not intermarrying. She represents exactly the failure of the Jewish people in America and that’s what is outrageous when you take her as an example – she is the end of the diaspora, by assimilation.

Yeah Jojo…that’s the old stiff necked spirit..go Jojo!

Lets not let political correctness run away with us here. The main reason that Christian Arabs leave their homelands is prosecution by Moslems. The fact is that the only country in the ME where the Christian population is increasing is Israel. In addition the Jewish population in Arab countries went from about 1 million to several thousand. Why? Because of ethnic cleansing by Moslems. To ignore the fact that the Moslem religion is extremely intolerant of other religions is just ignoring the facts.

Carl, that’s a crock. I had a Maronite friend from Beirut who told me that’s a lot of hot air and hasbara.

Tell that one to a tourist.

Zionist propaganda reinterprets the Ashkenazi ethnic group as the pan-Judaic ethnonational group in order to make a ridiculous primordialist claim to Palestine just as German Nazi propaganda equated modern Germans to ancient Teutonic and Gothic tribes in order to claim that only pure Germans had a right to reside in German territories. Neither primordialist claim has a shred of truth, but it is worthwhile to remember that the basic ideas of both German Nazi and also Zionist primordialism developed together in the common fields of Central and Eastern European blood and soil nationalism. The poisonous weeds of German Nazism and Zionism cross fertilized each other.

Modern Germans probably have more Celtic, Slavic and Turkic ancestry than they have ancient Teutonic or ancient Gothic ancestry.

Ethnic Ashkenazim have no ancestral connection to Palestine. The culture, language and religion of Roman period Palestinian Galileans, Judeans, Pereans, Nabateans, and Idumeans were completely unlike those of modern ethnic Ashkenazim.

Progressives should not give any legitimacy to Zionist (really ethnic Ashkenazi Nazi) terminology by using the racist language of Zionism. In 1948 racist ethnic Ashkenazim stole Palestine with concommittant plundering and ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian population. Today, racist ethnic Ashkenazim and racist Zionist colonizers manipulate the US political system to the detriment of the USA for the sake of Israel. These racists squander American wealth and lives to the benefit of their racist tribalism.

But while we’re on the subject of Israeli ecumenity shall we revisit this subject again?

http://972mag.com/could-it-be-the-start-of-an-ethiopian-winter/33961/

Dear Boris Fishman: Thank you for your article!

As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, one of the largest organizations for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage, I appreciate your portrait of Jennie Goldstein.

I was gratified to see that a friendly and intelligent community organizer like herself is a member of the half-Jewish community.

Her work with the Arab community is a mitzvah (good deed).It is nice that the members of her Arab organization get to meet at least one person from the Jewish community who treats them with courtesy and respect.

To the commenters who made snide remarks that Ms. Goldstein is not a Jew because she had a Jewish father and a Christian mother — she said in the article that she was brought up in both faiths, but now identifies the Jews as “my people.” Didn’t you read the article?

Mr. Fishman, the reason most reasonable and polite people who read the Tablet seldom comment on the articles is because we are repeatedly attacked by Jewish people with very rigid views in a very impolite manner.

But anyway, Mr. Fishman, I will see that the people who get the Half-Jewish Network email newsletter will see a link to your article. Thanks again!

Cordially,
Robin Margolis

Robert says:

I am not certain, but I think the term half Jew, “Halb Jude” was coined by the Nazi’s. There is no such person as half Jew, really. You’re either pregnant or you are not.

I believe I have seen the equivalent of half-Jew in medieval texts.

In any case it is hardly unusual for people to employ Jew where they should perhaps use half-ethnic Ashkenazi.

In addition, Jew was a nationality in the Soviet Union and the legal definition had no connection to Halakhah.

It is pure bigotry for Robert and his fellow racists to attempt to impose their prejudiced terminology on everyone else.

While it is possible that Ethiopian Judaic groups are remnants of Hellenistic Judaic communities, they probably originate in one or more forms of Sabbatarianism.

Many Sabbatarian groups passed into the ethnic Ashkenazi community in Eastern Europe.

I read divisive, mean comments like these and think, thank god I’m an atheist.

Joe Blow says:

To Boris Fishman who stated:

PS: Dear Joe Blow: Your facts are off.

1. The Arab community in Michigan (the largest Arab community in the US) is almost entirely Christian. The Brooklyn community is almost entirely Muslim. There are so few Arab Christians in Brooklyn (many of those that were here have moved to New Jersey) that the local Arab Lutheran church closed last year.

Boris, you are patheticaly misinformed about Bay Ridge and the demographic composition of its population. First, Bay Ridge is far greater geographicaly than the tiny (geographicaly speaking) Muslim dominated enclave that has formed around the mosque on 5th Avenue and 69th street. Second, Bay Ridge is home to several long standing and thriving Arab Christian religious communities. For just one example, take a walk by St. Mary’s Orthodox Church one sunday morning. Or the Presbyterian Church on 4th and 68th. You don’t know of the existence of these Arab Christian communities because you are getting all of your information from Goldstein and Sarsour, who are hardly reliable sources on these matters. Third, the Lutheran Arabic church, which is a newly mission to the Arab community, closed its building due to financial problems. The Lutheran Arabic religious community continues to meet in one of the other Lutheran churchs in Bay Ridge. Fifth, your supposition about there being “almost no” Christian Arabs in Bay Ridge is laughable, and would come as quite a shock to the huge community (responsible estimates that I have heard recently are in the 5000+ range) of Lenanese, Syrians and Copts that live in Bay Ridge. These Arab Christian communities, which have blended very well into the overall fabric of life in Bay Ridge far out number the Muslim community, which is probably no more than 10 percent of the total population of Bay Ridge. Finally, your article is a prime example of lazy journalism. You simply repeated what you were told by your sources,who want to exaggerate their own importance.

So discussion of a remarkable profile gets turned into a reductive, circular debate about who “deserves” to be called Jewish. Boris, I’m sorry that the resident Tablet Committee on Ethno-Religious Purity is trying to dominate this discourse. One of the things I treasure in the Jewish tradition I claim is its comfort with ambiguity and nuance. Your piece is all about paradox, shifting boundaries and the unexpected. But complexity and tolerance for complexity, curiosity and openness seem to drive dogmatists crazy and they rush in with their own scaled down narrative about who’s allowed in the club and who’s not. Perhaps they find this soothing in its banal familiarity. Perhaps it helps drown out the human music of a polyglot world. But I trust that each of us who piipes up in appreciation of your telling Jennie’s story represents many more who don’t feel safe in these parts.

While it doesn’t matter to me if the girl is halachically Jewish or not, I was chagrined to see the author’s comments in response.

Namely, his retort that to the outside observer, Haredi women are as oppressed and subservient as any women in fundamentalist Muslim communities.

That’s a defensive teenager arguing, not a journalist.

And this piece really isn’t journalism. It’s a feel good fluff-piece.

Boris Fishman says:

Dear Joe Blow –

I’ll look into the Arab Christian issue further and if I’m misinformed, I’ll be happy to correct myself and prove you right. But if I’m misinformed, why must I be “pathetically” misinformed? Why can’t I just be misinformed? Why the bile? That is coming from somewhere other than your desire to correct the factual record. Maybe you feel I have an ulterior agenda that I’m not copping to; I wish you would find a way to at least imagine, if not believe, otherwise. I have no problem with people holding different views; I have no problem being wrong and correcting myself, though I do reserve the right to project my perspective in a piece I am authoring, as I would hope you would if you were the writer; my only problem is with the disgust with which certain commenters excoriate those opposed to them, as if they were sub-human.

Thank you, Corey Fischer, Robin Margolis, and all those others who’ve been able to comment in a measured, open-minded tone.

Joe Blow says:

Boris, you are supposed to be a journalist. Journalists check their facts before publishing. You made matters worse by responding very illogically to the points I made. Thta’s why I responded as I did.

Actually, I don’t believe that you have an agenda, either hidden or overt. Rather, I think you were taken advantage of (“rolled”) by people with an agenda. It would have required very little effort on your part to fact check the propaganda that were fed, by you chose not to do so.

Bill Pearlman says:

She DOESN’T identify has JEWISH. SHE ISN’T JEWISH. Witness her comment about getting one of our people into office.

MonkFish says:

What does it matter that she’s Jewish or half-Jewish? The girl is a cheeky little cutie pie whom I would love to court and introduce to the beauty of Halakhic Judaism!

another Goldstein says:

It doesn’t matter if she identifies as Jewish or not- to antisemites, she is perceived as Jewish because of her surname, which is my surname too. My family was randomly targeted for a hate crime now being prosecuted- we were chosen because of our name. Google “Cody Meyers”- he was murdered in Oregon in 2011 because his killers thought he was Jewish- because of his name. Neither case involved Arabs/Muslims. It is interesting that Jennifer Goldstein mentions that the immigrants she aids don’t know she is Jewish..she doesn’t seem to be in a rush to enlighten them. Does she wonder what they think of Jews, or is that irrelevant to her?

another Goldstein says:

“The Arabs of Bay Ridge love Jenny back…but few of them know she is Jewish.” Um, maybe Jenny should try a little experiment and wear a Star of David around her neck to see if the Arabs of Bay Ridge respond to her with the same love. If they did, then this would be a really inspiring story. As she appreciates their culture so much- smoking shisha, Palestinian hip-hop posters, admiring the congregants at the Mosque as they gather to pray…perhaps she could introduce some of the immigrants to Jewish culture on the Upper West Side where she lives…a bowl of schav at the deli..a visit to the Shul..

another Goldstein says:

Boris you have seriously been reading the NYTimes too much, as they hammer away at the Orthodox women kerfufel in Israel..hoping to create a false equivalence between status of women in Islamist states and Israeli women. Which evidently you are convinced of.

I think the point of the “kerfufel” isn’t so much that anyone is saying that Israeli women’s status is equivalent to that of women in Islamist countries, but, rather, that some Haredi men in some parts of Israel would like it to be and are bullying everyone they can into buying their agenda.

Anyway, I was astonished to see that neither Tablet nor Forward wrote even a word about the incredible Beit Avi Hai study of faith and practices of Israeli Jews that shows that they are becoming increasingly religious (in the Orthodox way) and that the secular are now a minority.
Weird that nobody here wrote about it.

Joachim says:

While the vast majority of modern Jews belong to a single ethnic group that originates in historic Poland, Muslims belong to many ethnic groups with many diverse cultures.

I am not sure what the phrase Islamist countries is supposed to mean because only one majority Muslim country (Iran) has a political system based in politicized Islam although several majority Muslim countries define themselves as “Islamic.”

Anyway, generalizing about Muslim populations is quite dubious.

The Polish-Lithuanian Tatar Muslim population was part of the Polish szlachta (gentry), tended to be highly Polish-nationalist with modernizing tendencies, and shared the general view of the Polish and Ashkenazi elites that Polish Jewry was backward and needed reform in many areas including the treatment of women.

Thanks for the interesting and informative article Boris. Keep up the good work, and I’d advise you to just not reply to these meshuga commenters whose small minds were locked into place ages ago. No point in arguing with such people.

Sderot says:

Boris is wrong on two fronts; Jennis is not a Jew and there is no “Palestine.” To Dave being pro-Israel and standing up for authentic Judaism means being small-minded. What an ignoramus.
It seems that this article has attracted the usual anti-Israel, nazi nutcases. Not surprising that bigots like these are fans of this dreadful article.

If Boris was around a few decades earlier, he would have fallen in love with Stella Goldschlag, who was Halachically Jewish

Bill Pearlman says:

Martillo, Julius Streichers love child shows up. Like vermin.

Boris, as a young Jewish journalist from a mixed-faith background turned modern orthodox, I appreciate your attempt at nuance. I see both sides here: one, the reality our generation deals with (intermarriage, Palestinians, mixed religious messages); two, the community’s real fear of historical patterns and the apparent erosion of Jewish identity. That you aroused these emotions in your readers means you did something right.
Readers: As for Jennie, writing about her doesn’t change who she is. She may arouse fear and sadness in me, but why should we turn our backs on her and send her running toward the people who do seem to want to take her in? Take heed, this could be your son’s next girlfriend, your daughter’s best friend. What would you do? History has taught us this lesson, too.

John Zimmerman says:

Very nice article. Regarding the negative comments – why? I hope she does not read the hurtful comments. Why not just look at the positives – a lovely young lady doing good & I’m sure building a bridge between 2 people. To condemn her as a hybrid abnormality is unkind – she did not choose to be born into that situation, although it appears obvious that her parents did a good job in raising her. And who are we to judge them.

I wish of all the American Jews will be of the same spirit, attitude and a person should be respected for his person and his work and feelings towards other community members.
This kind of relationships must prevail between all community members, without any discrimination. This is the case being happened in and between the Arab countries, including Palestine.

I support and applause for her efforts and career.

So she isn’t “technically” Jewish, she is half Jewish as are so many American Jews these days (aka almost every other kid on my birthright trip). I think it’s great that she identifies as Jewish and is working with a Muslim population. This is PR that is undoing all the anti-Jewish sentiment out there.

Why would anyone want to exclude someone with a Jewish parent from the Jewish faith? Are we too full so we are just turning people away? Honestly, it sounds to me like she is doing good work and helping a disenfranchised people. Try to put a little love in your heart, people.

Palestiniansareamyth says:

Wasfi, There is no country of “Palestine.” It has never existed just like the so-called “Palestinians.” Arabs are the ones who should show love and compassion toward the Jews instead of hatred and violence.

give her e few years, she will be wearing the hijab and have a clitorectomy. This child is jsut another useful idiot being trumped about as an example of Arab tolerance towards Jews. She is not a Jew, first and foremost, but a typical liberal fool, giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

The answer to Boris comment regarding the fact that treatment of women in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community is not much different from the treatment of women in Islam. This might be true. However, for some reason, “progressives” have respect only to Islam.

Jesse M. says:

Hey, she’s just as Jewish as Sarah Jessica Parker, Gloria Steinem, and Wolfgang Pauli, three examples of people with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. It sounds like she was raised with Jewish culture, as are many children of two Jewish but non-practicing parents in American culture (I wonder what the reactions to this article would be if she was a secular Jew with two Jewish parents); so if she identifies with it, why say she’s wrong to do so any more than other secular Jews? Traditional religious definitions of ethnic “Jewishness” should hold no particular sway for secularists who don’t believe these rules come from G-d, but were simply invented by ancient people as a pragmatic way of dealing with uncertainties in paternity (which no longer need to be an issue thanks to genetic tests). A person with one Italian parent can identify as Italian-American, a person with one black parent can identify as black, and so with Jewishness considered as an ethnicity/culture rather than a religion.

Ephraim says:

I’m pretty sure Joachim Martillo and Galen Sword are the same person.

At any rate, it is Joachim/Galen who is confused. Here and in other places he incessantly harps on his pet theme that Ahkenazim aren’t really Jews because he has decided that they are not genetically related to whomever he has decided were the “real” Jews who lived in ancient Israel.

This is a specious argument and is entirely beside the point. He is applying goyish categories to us so he can define who he thinks we are, but since he is a gentlie, he does not understand what makes a Jew a Jew. It is not race or genetics or anything like that. This is the world of gashmius, or physicality. Jews exist in the realm of ruchnius, or spirituality. In spite of the fact the recent DNA research has established that various geographically dispersed Jewish communities, Ashkenazim included, are more genetically related to one another than they are to the gentiles among whom they live, it would not matter even if it were not true. The only definition of a Jew that matters is the halachic definition: a Jew is someone who is born of a Jewish mother or who is properly converted. Since Miss Goldstein does not fulfill these criteria, she is not Jewish. This is not a value judgment, it is a simple statement of fact. That she has a Jewish parent and has been influenced by Jewish culture to some degree is obviously true. But only the Jewish people as a whole, through their communal institutions (a Beit Din, or rabbinical court, in this situation) has the right to decide who and who is not a member of our community.

If she wants to identify as Jewish in some way no one can stop her, but it does not actually make her Jewish. For example, I cannot just decide that I am, say, French. I could become French by fulfilling whatever conditions the French government has decided are the requirements of citizenship. Until then, I am not French, no matter how much I insist I am.

Jesse M. says:

Ephraim wrote:
“But only the Jewish people as a whole, through their communal institutions (a Beit Din, or rabbinical court, in this situation) has the right to decide who and who is not a member of our community.”

This would seem to be a circular argument–are you *defining” “their communal institutions” in a way that rules groups like North American Reform Judaism (which says that a child born to one Jewish parent is Jewish regardless of the parent), and Karaite Judaism (which says that what’s important is whether the father is Jewish, not the mother)? And since “Jew” functions as both a religions descriptor and an ethnic one, it seems arbitrary to say that only religious “communal institutions” get to set the definition in the first place, I’m sure there are vast numbers of secular Jews (who qualify as Jewish under the matrilineal religious definition) who would make the judgment differently.

Ephraim says:

Yes, what you say is true. Of course there are people who make the judgement differently. However, since I am Orthodox, I use Orthodox definitions. Being Orthodox means following Judaism as it has been defined by the rabbis and sages down through the generations. I am quite aware that many people, Jews included (or, should I say, Jews especially) disagree with us. Fine, so they disagree.

There is no doubt that Judaism involves what most people would refer to as an ethnic component. I do not deny that. Nor do I deny that the fact of Jewishness has given rise to a distinct culture that appears, to some people at any rate, to be capable of existing separate from the religion. I think it can, for a short period of time, at any rate, but not for that long. Witness Miss Goldstein herself. At some point, no religion, no Jews.

I am sure that there are many people in the Reform movement who are actually Jews. However, as a movement, Reform takes as its starting point the proposition that the Torah was not given by G-d and that Jews are under no obligation to observe its mitzvot (commandments). However, the entire concept of conversion is a religious one; once the religious basis of the existence of the Jewish people is denied, as it is in the Refom movement, the whole idea of a “Reform conversion” becomes preposterous.

A Jew who is halachically Jewish is still Jewish even if he is completely secular, in the same way that one cannot sew one’s foreskin back on once one has been circumcised. It’s a shame that there are so many Jews who have turned their back on their religion, but they are still Jews for all that.

I know this may be confusing, but as I said, how we define ourselves may contradict the normal categories that prevail in the gentile world. Jews are a religion and a people all at the same time. Those things that are commonly called “race” or “ethnicity”, which usually seem to denote things like skin color and physical features and such, are really not relevant.

otter354 says:

Perhaps a view of real history is needed:

“Matrilineal descent is the rabbinic norm. It’s not 5,000 years old, however. The ruling really dates back to the time of the restoration of the Second Temple, to the Book of Ezra–which is more like 2,500 years ago. At that time, with the Jewish people facing the difficult task of rebuilding the Temple, Ezra annulled marriages between Israelites and “foreign wives.” Subsequent rabbinic thought builds on this foundation, and that leads us to today.

But if we are talking about tradition, patrilineal descent in Judaism is actually much older than matrilineal descent…”

Read more: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/2000/04/Jewish-Genes.aspx#ixzz1lefQX68M

Ephraim says:

The article speaks of Jewish “genetics”. As I have said, this just isn’t relevant.

The problem in Ezra with foreign wives is plainly stated: the Jews were specifically forbidden to marry foreign women from clearly identified nations because of the cruel, inhumane, and revolting cultural and religious practices of these nations. The reason for this is also given explicitly in the Torah: marrying such women would inevitably cause the Jewish husband to forget G-d and adopt the religious pracices of the non-Jewish wife, with the result that the children would not be brought up in a Jewish household.

This was not always the case, however. The article specifically mentions Joseph’s marriage to Asenath, an Egyptian, as “proof” that children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish women were considered Jews (considering that all of the marriages the article mentions took place before the Torah was given, this point is, perhaps, a bit anachronistic). However, the Torah explicitly says that Ephraim and Menashe were Joseph’s children; that is, they were rasied in his spiritual tradition and were “his” children, not his wife’s, from a spiritual perspective. This can only mean that Asenath abandoned her Egyptian idolatry and, in a sense, “converted” to Judaism as it existed at that time (however that may be understood).

The Book of Ruth describes what can only be a conversion ceremony prior to Ruth’s marriage to Boaz (Boaz’s declaration in the presence of the elders at the gate of the city), so if we are to believe that this story reflects the actual practices of the time there was obviously a way for such “foreign” wives to join the Jewish people.

In any case, Judaism is what the rabbis say it is. It is not the same as it was 5,000 years ago and in 5,000 years from now it may very well be different from what it is now. But it will be changed only by people who accept the tradition, not by those who reject it.

C. Bendavid says:

In Paris, she probably attended a typical Sephardic synagogue where men and women are hermetically separated.

Most French Jews are from North Africa and American Jews don’t always feel comfortable with this type of religious environment because it’s very conservative.

I know from the outside we may look like ayatollahs, but most Sephardi Jews are not necessarily religious. However, their religious practice makes no concession with modernity.

Nonetheless, had she managed to connect with some of these French Jews, she would’ve probably felt wrapped in the arms of a very united and caring community.

As any other Mediterranean community, Sephardi Jews (especially North African Jews), tend to be very welcoming and they would never let anyone spend the holidays alone.
It would be ”hchouma” (sinful)!

As long as you don’t criticise Shas, Likud and Sarkozy, you’ll be fine!

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