Sam Friedman is the director of Hillel at Stetson University in Greater Orlando, Florida. The announcement of his selection to this role, back on April 1, 2018, went (Stetson Selects Sam Friedman as Hillel Director): “In this position, Friedman will help shape Hillel as the center of Jewish student life on campus and engage students in Jewish life, learning, and Israel.” There’s nothing wrong with this job description, and Friedman was well suited for the job, having worked before as director of community relations and then as assistant director for Central Florida Hillel; and even earlier as Israel and Global Initiatives Associate for the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.
But then Sam Friedman decided to update his resume as a leader and shaper of young Jewish minds when he started dating an ordained Christian minister named Jen.
“Our first date was a whirlwind of excited conversation around spirituality, ethics and how funny it was that we—professionals in our different religious traditions—were on a date together,” Friedman reported in the Forward last Tuesday (I’m a Hillel director. My fiancé is a pastor. Here is how we are making it work.).
I don’t want to sound mean, but the depth of Friedman’s commitment to what the readers of this article and myself would define as Jewish was best illustrated by the explanation he says he gave his father about the change in his life: “It’s like when one person likes chocolate and one person likes vanilla, but they both hate bigotry.”
It really isn’t. First, because no one has ever been accused of bigotry for their choice of ice cream flavor; and second because the implication that whoever objects to the intermarriage of a Jew and a Christian must be a bigot is terrifyingly shallow and dishonest coming from a Jewish educator in charge of the Jewish experience of young Jewish students.
None of that acceptance and love applies in my opinion to the decision of a paid Jewish educator to preach:
“What if intermarried families are not the problem? What if in intermarried families we find the solution to low rates of affiliation? What if we built bridges to the 58 percent of American Jews who do not have Jewish spouses, instead of barricades to keep them out? We should build a broader, more diverse Jewish tent, built on human connection and the belief that all Jewish families belong, regardless of bloodlines. I like the future where children can feel fully embraced by the Jewish community without feeling like they have to hide half their family. Maybe it’s the Hillel director in me, but a bigger tent is a better tent.”
Friedman’s talk about having to accept fellow Jews “regardless of bloodlines” is infuriating because it depicts traditional Judaism as racist. But any man or woman who wishes to become Jewish has a path to inclusion in the faith: conversion. Their bloodline makes no difference whatsoever. We are deeply grateful to the sincere gentiles who want to join us by accepting the commandments. Not by tearing them up. Making the Jewish tent bigger is not an expression of spiritual enlightenment, it is pure fetishism where the tent is the thing, not the commitment to the mitzvot.
In my humble opinion, had Sam Friedman sent in his resume to become Hillel director on a Florida campus with the above paragraph included, he would have been rejected, laughed out of the office, unless his uncle was on the search committee. That’s why he should probably be let go unless Hillel of Florida is invested in revving up the pace of the disappearance of the Jews of North America.
But what’s most upsetting about Friedman’s silly act of inter-cultural exhibitionism is not the fact that he ignores millennia of Jewish experience, believing he is the first Jew who ever itched for a gentile woman. It’s OK for a Hillel director to be ignorant of Jewish scripture, including that formative episode where Ezra the Scribe forced the men of his community to divorce their gentile wives (Ezra:9). It’s not OK for him to suggest that other Jews should follow his example:
“I never had a Christmas tree and the thought of having one in our house made me queasy. Jen explained that while having an Advent Wreath was more important to her, I agreed to try putting up a Christmas tree to see which traditions worked for our shared-home and which ones didn’t.”
By a show of hands, how many of our readers believe a Christmas tree belongs in a Hillel house? Because this is where the above paragraph is going.
“I am confident in my Jewish identity. I love Jen and I love her commitment to her faith, not despite it. My Judaism cares more about how we treat each other and how we live our lives than the religious identity of our partners.”
And that’s a sad example of how an unlearned Jewish official not only misunderstands the challenge of living according to the commandments but actually attempts to eradicate the very system of moral observance the community is paying him to keep.