Jewish and Persian Connections Mission

In response to statements emanating from the Middle East regarding nuclear threat to both the Jewish and Persian peoples, we seek to project an alternative voice on Jewish- Persian relations that disseminates knowledge about the historical and cultural ties between these two peoples, fosters friendship and openings for creative exchange, and contributes to the identity of adults and children of mixed Jewish and Persian ancestry.

Seeking Your Personal Stories and Intellectual Contributions!

Please submit your personal writings on the following topics:
a) Relationships between Persians and Jews
b) Raising a Persian Jewish child
C) Historical and/or current affairs between Persians and Jews/ Iran and Israel
D) Current Debate: Is the current conflict between Iran and Israel inherently tied into the Israeli- Palestinian conflict?

All submissions welcome including poetry, links and other recommendations. Please email any submissions to Authors are responsible for providing respectful, factually accurate, and fully citated submissions as a pre-requisite for inclusion. Articles should be a minimum of 2 paragraphs in length up to a maximum of 10 pages. Please use proper citation when referencing another writer or speaker. Assume no specific religious knowledge and explain all references to any religions. Translate all non-English words used, including Farsi, Hebrew, Arabic, Ladino or Yiddish. Writers wishing to anonymously post may use their first name only. Please send all submissions to All information outside of your submission will remain strictly confidential including your email and contact information. Thank you for your contributions!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mixing it up

By Hailey Eisen. Published Feb 16, 2005

Before an Islamic bride is married, she receives jewels from her close family which symbolize her only inheritance. For Jinous Hamidi, this traditional Persian ceremony was celebrated at the Delta Chelsea in Toronto, the day before she kissed her Jewish groom under the chupaat the Art Gallery of Ontario - avowing their union in the Jewish faith.
"At the time that we were getting married we didn't know many people in mixed marriages," said Hamidi, a non-practising Muslim, born in Iran. But now, nearly three years after the wedding, she knows a lot of couples facing similar challenges.

For Hamidi and her husband Michael Bernstein, who met while studying medicine at the University of Western Ontario, planning an interfaith wedding meant finding a cultural mix that would be sensitive to both Jewish and Islamic traditions.

"We decided to use orchids as our flowers because they are a Persian flower," said Hamidi. "We also incorporated Persian and Jewish music as well as food."

Finding religious leaders to perform the Persian and Jewish ceremonies posed a problem for the young Toronto couple. During their search they found a rabbi from Buffalo and a Supreme Court justice from Iran who were willing to perform the two different ceremonies.

"At our wedding people were happy to put aside their differences and focus on how much they really had in common," said Hamidi, from her home in Toronto. "It was a special lesson to take away. After that you feel like you can do anything."

Hamidi and Bernstein's union put them among the three per cent of Canadians living in mixed unions as of 2001, according to Statistics Canada. But, while a successful intermarriage may feel empowering for the young couple, it is taking time for traditional religious groups to warm up to the trend.

"If there is cooperation in an interfaith marriage it's usually from the more liberal wing of either one of the faiths," said Prof. David Reed of Wycliffe College of the University of Toronto.

Traditional cultures place a higher priority on the family than most westerners, he said. When you marry into an Islamic or Jewish culture, for example, you are marrying a family not just a partner.

Reed recalled a marriage ceremony between a Christian and a Muslim that he performed in New England where he practised as an Anglican minister.

"The groom was quite a liberal guy - he just wanted a nice ceremony," said Reed. "It was his Muslim grandmother and members of his family who, up until 15 minutes before the ceremony, kept sending me messages about what they wanted excluded from the wedding ceremony." One word they wanted out of the service was 'trinity.'

In the end, Reed had to decide what changes he could make without compromising his religion or upsetting both sides too much.

For most religions intermarriage is all about balance.

Having accepted the inevitability of mixed marriage, the Catholic Church encourages couples to combine their religious influences, especially when raising children.

Photo by Hailey Eisen
Rev. Paul Baillargeon, chancellor of the diocese of London says that almost half of Catholic marriages he performs are between interfaith couples.
"Almost half of the marriages celebrated here are between one Catholic and one non-Catholic," said Rev. Paul Baillargeon, chancellor of the diocese of London.

While he recognizes the frequency of interfaith and inter-church marriages, he said that the union of a couple should mean the sharing of life completely - including religion.

"It is important in mixed marriages that couples recognize and appreciate their points of difference," he said. These unions are an opportunity to understand and appreciate differing beliefs, and to heal the divisions between Christian people."

Conversion, he said, is no longer pushed by the church as a solution to interfaith marriage.

"It is important that people are motivated by choice to make a decision such as this."

Baillargeon said choosing to convert should be separate from choosing to get married.

But some Jewish communities are hoping that welcoming interfaith couples into the congregation will encourage conversion, or the continuation of Judaism into the next generation.

"If they feel included in the life of our synagogue then they might want to raise their children Jewish," said Anna Leich, past president of the Or Shalom Sisterhood in London. On Sunday the Sisterhood hosted an interfaith seminar -- its inaugural attempt at formally welcoming mixed couples into the conservative synagogue's congregation.

"My own daughter-in-law is not Jewish," said Leich. "I don't know if she would ever convert, but I don't want her to feel pushed outside the circle - I want her to feel welcome and comfortable."

While welcoming interfaith couples is new to the conservative Sisterhood, some reform rabbis are taking interfaith marriage one step further.

Photo by Hailey Eisen
Rabbi Joel Wittstein of London's Temple Israel will marry interfaith members of his congregation if they abide by a number of stipulations.
"Until this past year, I went along with the Canadian Reform stance, which is that we do not perform intermarriages," said Rabbi Joel Wittstein of Temple Israel, a reform synagogue in London. "But, I was not convinced that I was doing anything for the perpetuation of Judaism by denying the requests of members of my congregation."

Wittstein said he had trouble accepting interfaith couples into his congregation but refusing to perform their weddings. So this year he made a change. He has now performed two or three interfaith wedding ceremonies inside Temple Israel.

But, being married by Wittstein does not come without stipulations.

The Jewish partner must be a member of the Temple Israel congregation or the child of a congregant. The couple must live in London and plan to be a part of the congregation, said Wittstein.

Other requirements include: an introduction to Judaism course for the non-Jewish partner, a commitment by the couple to raise Jewish children and a promise to establish and maintain a Jewish home - not a home with two religions.

"They cannot have a cross hanging in one of the rooms of their house," said Wittstein. "That's not a Jewish home as far as I'm concerned."

And the couple shouldn't expect to have another religious leader co-officiate the ceremony.

"I won't have a priest under the chupa (a traditional canopy that Jewish couples are married under)," said Wittstein.

He accepts the reality of intermarriage and attributes it to living in a pluralistic society.

"If you are going to be out meeting other people, talking about equality of other human beings, then the next thing you know you are going to fall in love with someone who is not your faith," he said.

Statistics Canada's 2002 numbers show that interfaith marriage is significant in both the Jewish and Catholic faiths. While 70 per cent of Jewish men chose to marry a Jewish woman in 2002, the other 30 per cent married women who were mostly of Catholic and Christian faiths.

For Catholics the number of intermarriages is even greater.

While over one-half of Catholic men chose to marry a Catholic bride, the other 40 per cent married women who were Anglican, United or of other Christian or non-Christian faiths.

Like Reform Judaism, the United Church accepts interfaith couples, but individual congregations are free to decide who will be married by the church.

"As a national church we would recommend there would be a marriage preparation course given to the couple," said Jackie Harper, family ministry staff person for the General Council Office of the United Church of Canada. The unlikely union of two faiths - Judaism and Islam - has resulted in a positive experience for Toronto medical residents Bernstein and Hamidi.

For Hamidi's grandparents, who live in Iran, having a Jewish son-in-law has encouraged them to learn more about Jewish customs and to get to know some of their Jewish neighbours.

"My grandfather is the elder of his community in Iran," said Hamidi.

"Recently some Jewish folks moved in down the street and my grandfather was a huge advocate for their integration into the community. This would not have been the case before. Before, he would have just been indifferent."