Former Mamaroneck pastor co-led Chelsea’s big wedding

One more note on the Chelsea Clinton wedding (yes, I’m sick of hearing about it, too).

It turns out that the minister who co-officiated the wedding with a rabbi was the Rev. Bill Shillady, former pastor of Mamaroneck United Methodist Church.

Lots of Mamaroneck folks probably recall Shillady, who was a very visible figure during his years as pastor (1988-2000). I got to interview him a few times — including about a “Sunday night live” service aimed at teens — and found him to a real engaging clergyman.

I wasn’t surprised when he was chosen to lead Park Avenue United Methodist Church on the Upper East Side, a flagship United Methodist church in New York.

It’s well known that Hillary Clinton is a United Methodist. Chelsea, apparently, is one as well, according to the United Methodist News Service. They say that Chelsea has occasionally attended Shillady’s church in NYC.

The wedding was co-officiated by a rabbi, as the groom, Mark Mezvinsky, is Jewish. The rabbi was James Ponet, the Jewish chaplain at Yale.

The wedding was held two hours before sundown on Saturday — during the Jewish Sabbath — which goes against Jewish tradition. Many Jewish blogs have been filled with Oy Veys about the wedding.

I was on Bob Dunning’s show yesterday on the Catholic Channel on satellite radio, talking about, among other things, Chelsea’s wedding. He wondered why Jenna Bush’s wedding in 2008 didn’t get nearly as much attention. A good question, I think.

UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin

Will Chelsea convert?

So Chelsea Clinton is marrying a Jewish fellow up the road in Rhinebeck this weekend.

There’s a lot of speculation in the Jewish world about whether she will convert.

The Jerusalem Post notes:

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Whatever Clinton eventually decides, already her choice of a Jewish mate and the ho-hum response from the masses indicates how accepted Jews have become in US society.

“In the mid-20th century, Jews were the least prestigious white ethnic group in America,” according to Steven Cohen, an expert on American Jewry. “Half a century later, they are among the most prestigious, most desirable and most sought-after family members for Americans of all backgrounds.”

He pointed out that Clinton has been participating in Jewish rituals such as Shabbat meals and at least one Yom Kippur service, so that whether she formally converts or not, she is already part of a significant trend in American Jewish life.

“Many non-Jewish spouses are going through sociological conversions rather than rabbinical conversions.

They’re becoming in effect members of the Jewish community without official rabbinical instruction or authorization,” he noted. “Sociological conversions may be the biggest denomination of converts today.”

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The Forward wrote up a nice introduction to the groom, Marc Mezvinsky, and his family.

It starts with this:

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With her choice of a mate, Clinton, daughter of a former president and the current secretary of state, is marrying into a family that includes a former U.S. congressman convicted of fraud; another member of Congress who fell on her sword for a future in-law in a vote that ended her political career; no fewer than 10 brothers- and sisters-in-law, and a fervently anti-Zionist uncle.

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Sounds like quite a family.

That’s where the wedding will take place, by the way: Astor Courts in Rhinebeck.

JewishJournal.com raises a bunch of questions about why Clinton should convert — if she’s even remotely interested.

Columnist Danielle Berrin writes:

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We’re dealing with a Clinton here. Not a stupid woman, a dependent woman or a desperate woman. Clinton is well educated, comes from a good family, is independently successful and has ambition in the world. And we’re raising debate over her spiritual future by lobbing facts and figures about the declining Jewish populace and the fact that Conservative rabbis are forbidden from officiating at intermarriages? We’re going to have to come up with a more compelling argument than that. What we should be talking about is what Judaism might bring to her life, to her marriage, to her raising children, to her sense of purpose in the world.

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(AP Photo/Evan Agostini, File)

A ‘Jewish’ wedding for Chelsea?

If Bill Clinton could be the first “black” president, as Toni Morrison famously called him, why can’t Chelsea Clinton be the first “Jewish” former first daughter?

Or something like that.

I came across a fun little AP story about whether Chelsea’s upcoming marriage to her Jewish fiance, Marc Mezvinsky, could entail a “Jewish wedding.”

Or a Jewish-style wedding.

tjndc5-5tfbgykwn3b1iauph2oe_layoutThe story notes that the couple haven’t said anything about their intentions (the picture is of the couple way back in 1996).

However, “The bride and groom have a range of choices, including conversion or a melding their two traditions into one ceremony.”

Chelsea grew up attending a Methodist church with her sec-of-state mom. Apparently, she attended Yom Kippur services last year with her future hubby at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship Conservative seminary in NYC.

The article notes that it could be hard for the couple to arrange a “Jewish wedding” if Chelsea remains a Christian: “Some rabbis will officiate at interfaith marriages even though major Jewish movements bar or discourage them from presiding. Interfaithfamily.com links interfaith couples with rabbis and cantors. Only a small number will co-officiate with clergy of another faith.”

Intermarriage is, of course, one of the most talked about issues in the Jewish community, the chief threat to “Jewish continuity.”

While many rabbis like the Clintons, it could be real hard to find one who would officiate at such a high-profile Jewish/Christian marriage.

But we’re just speculating.

Chelsea and Marc could opt for a justice of the peace.

Clarifying Conservative Judaism’s position on intermarriage and conversion

I mentioned yesterday a Jewish Week article about strains within Conservative Judaism over whether to seek the conversion of non-Jews married to Jews.

Today, the leaders of the Conservative rabbinate issued a statement saying that they are quite united on the issue.

The statement says: “…it is understandable that this misunderstanding exists because the Rabbinical Assembly has boldly selected to embrace two seemingly contradictory points of view – the unconditional welcome of interfaith families and non-Jews within the community alongside the prospect of conversion to those who sincerely feel moved to join the Jewish people.”

In other words, Conservative rabbis want to welcome non-Jewish spouses without any strings or pressures — but will happily work with anyone who is thinking about the whole Jewish thing.

The statement is signed by Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (that’s her), the new chief executive of the RA. I recently profiled Schonfeld (whose official title is executive VP) and noted that she wants the Conservative movement to have a higher profile and be more “vigorous” in its response to public debates and media coverage.

This would be an example of being vigorous.

The statement goes on to say:

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We honor the committed relationships non-Jews have forged with their Jewish partners in our communities. At the same time, we also adhere to the integrity of Jewish tradition and hope, wherever possible, to motivate people to become Jewish. Our first priority is always that the non-Jew experiencing our way of life do so at a pace and in an environment where he or she feels comfortable. Moreover, the unconditional welcome we extend to non-Jews is heartfelt and enthusiastic wherever they are on their journey.

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Here is the entire statement, if you’re interested: Continue reading

Conservative Judaism takes new tack on intermarriage (again)

Conservative Jews have been split for some time over how to reach out to intermarried couples and their children.

It’s one of the most sensitive subjects facing Judaism’s “moderate” movement.

Reform Judaism has had a much easier time, particularly since deciding in 1983 to recognize the children of Jewish fathers as Jewish. Traditionally, Judaism has recognized only matrilineal descent.

In the Orthodox world, intermarriage is rare.

Most Conservative congregations see some members — or the children of members — marry “out,” creating all kinds of potential tensions. How welcoming do you want to be of intermarried couples? How do you serve the spiritual needs of the non-Jewish spouse? What if the mother is not Jewish and their children are not recognized as Jewish by the Conservative world?

In 2005, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — which represents Conservative congregations — took the position that its synagogues should aggressively promote conversion for non-Jewish spouses.

Now, the Jewish Week reports, the Conservative movement is taking a somewhat softer approach. The JW says that the movement is about to produce a pamphlet on intermarriage that says:

All are welcome.
There is a commitment to fostering Jewish marriage and family life.
Interfaith couples are welcome.
There is “nurturing and support for the spiritual journey of non-Jewish partners who join us, to deepen their connections to the synagogue, the Jewish community and to the Jewish people, and to inspire them to consider conversion.”

Rabbi Joel Meyers of White Plains, who retired last week as executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis, told the JW: “The movement is still very much in favor of Jewish family life, and so the question was how does one approach American Jewish communal life today without changing religious standards.”

Jewish spirituality on the rise

A new study shows that Jews 35 and under are becoming more spiritual.

Synagogue 3000 — a group that promotes more vital and approachable synagogues — says that the “spirituality gap” between Jews and Christians is closing.

What’s responsible for the rise in Jewish spiritual-ness?

Rising numbers of Orthodox Jews. Makes sense.

The study also cites Jews who are the children of interfaith couples, who have the example of Christian relatives.

“These family members appear to render their Jewish relatives more open to, and comfortable with, the ideas, expressions and language of spirituality,” says a statement from Synagogue 3000.

The statement also notes: “Even non-Orthodox Jews with two Jewish parents (a shrinking population sector, albeit still a majority) are more receptive to spiritual language than older counterparts.”

Even non-Orthodox Jews with two Jewish parents are open to spirituality!