Ignorant of Intermarriage? Ignoring Intermarriage?

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I loved Rebecca Ennen’s piece in the Forward, How Can Jewish Leaders Be So Ignorant About Intermarriage?  It’s refreshing to see a 35-year old child of intermarried parents, who works in a Jewish organization and is raising a Jewish child, forcefully explain how Jewish leaders talk about interfaith families “in ways that are frankly ignorant” and call to “hear more from intermarried people and from Jews proud of our mixed backgrounds.” Ennen says the messages from Jewish engagement programs often “are clear and damaging: intermarried families are second-rate, and it’s best to conceal your non-Jewish heritage. What if, instead, we based our ‘welcoming’ programs on the insights of people in and from interfaith families? What if Jews like me were elevated to leadership not despite our families but because of them?” It’s a perspective Jewish leaders would be wise to consider.

I also loved I’ll Take the Wheel, Thanks by Olufemi Sowemimo who talks about falling away from the religion of his upbringing and looking forward to making new traditions with his fiancé, Becky Herring, associate director of InterfaithFamily/Atlanta.

Passover and Easter 2018

There were many stories about interfaith families and the overlap of Passover and Easter this year. Samira Mehta, who has written a new book, Beyond Chrismukkah: The Christian-Jewish Interfaith Family in the United States, wrote an excellent summary of the issues. Other articles with personal examples include Families celebrating both Passover and Easter this weekend say inclusion is key; Interfaith couples blend Passover and Easter traditions; How To Celebrate Easter As An Interfaith Family; and Communication key to interfaith couples celebrating holidays.

I have an issue with articles in the Jewish media about diversity and inclusion that do not mention interfaith families and partners from different faith traditions specifically. One mild example is an excellent piece by Brad Hirschfield, co-president of Clal. In an essay titled “How To Embrace Diversity at Your Seder,” he asks what we can’t have a Passover seder without, and suggests that “we cannot have a seder without genuinely different types of people at the table.” I would have liked to see interfaith couples and partners from different faith traditions explicitly mentioned, but the principle spelled out in the piece clearly applies.

A worse example is 5 Reasons That Passover Is The Festival Of Inclusion. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all in favor of including people with disabilities in Jewish life and communities, and this is an excellent article to support that kind of inclusion. But it often feels like the inclusion agenda has been hijacked by that cause. Just consider the topic headings in the article: recognition of diversity amongst us; making space for outsiders; we were slaves; differences must be accommodated; and ensuring full participation by all. “If we want to act as a family or a Jewish community, we must practice inclusion all year round.” “Every Jew must have an equal and equally participatory place at the table – independent of any difference that may be perceived.” Couldn’t we say “every Jewishly engaged person” should have an equal and equally participatory place at the table?

More Conservative News

The Conservative movement isn’t ignoring intermarriage, far from it. A great update by Ben Sales for JTA, Conservative Judaism’s leadership turns over. Will intermarriage policy be next?  reports that not only are the heads of the United Synagogue and the Rabbinical Assembly stepping down from their positions, but for the first time in years there will be a contested election for vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, with a rabbi considered relatively liberal on intermarriage issues being challenged by one more conservative. (Ari Feldman at the Forward broke the story on the election challenge.) And Rabbi Philip Graubart raises another thoughtful perspective when he questions whether the central concept of covenantal loyalty is removed from “the reality of how American Judaism is lived today.” “Covenant implies a collection of people acting together. But what happens when the great majority aren’t behaving the way we want them to behave? Can there be a covenant without a congregation?”

Intermarriage and Jewish Philanthropy

Jack Wertheimer, who has been very critical of intermarriage, wrote a report on American Jewish philanthropy for the Avi Chai Foundation and a summary for JTA, ‘Engaging’ millennials is all the rage. But is it the best use of Jewish philanthropy? The report is sprinkled with comments expressing concern about intermarriage, including “Given the high rates of intermarriage and assimilation as the generations pass, some of the foundations most committed to contributing to Jewish life turn their backs on Jewish needs.” and “the disinclination of younger Jews to support the large Jewish organizations or in many cases see merit in funding any Jewish causes engenders concern about the future of Jewish giving; so too do high rates of intermarriage, which often lead to alienation from Jewish life.” On the other hand, it mentions funders who prefer to support engagement, including:

Meanwhile, a whole industry had cropped up in response to the massive upsurge of intermarriage. Hoping to draw intermarried families into Jewish life, funders have invested in a range of new programs specially designed to address their perceived needs. Among the new initiatives are free trips to Israel for recently married intermarried couples sponsored by Honeymoon Israel and free Friday evening meals to teach such couples and singles how to welcome the Sabbath (sponsored by OneTable). Others are designed to help intermarried families meet with one another to discuss the challenges they face.

In an important comment on the report, Sandy Cardin, president of the Schusterman Foundation, suggests he’d like to see more discussion of the impact of intermarriage:

[O]ne trend I had hoped Jack would focus on is how big givers are addressing the demographic changes taking place in American Jewish life, especially outside the Orthodox communities. Relatively little appears in his closing recommendations about the extent to which young Jewish adults are marrying and partnering with members of other faith communities (or of no faith community at all). I would be very interested to read his views on both sides of the equation: how does Jack think these demographic shifts will affect large givers in the Jewish community and how does he think major gifts by Jewish philanthropists will affect this fundamental change in American Jewish life?

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