How to welcome interfaith relationships has long vexed the community, so any efforts to address their inclusion should be commended.
As tautologies go, “The heart wants what it wants — or else it does not care” is pretty good. Good enough, in fact, that this Emily Dickinson quote has been in constant use for over a century —there is even a new Selena Gomez song of the same name.
In ever-increasing numbers, Jews’ hearts have led them to intermarry, a fact that has been roiling the community for at least 20 years and was reaffirmed by the statistics in the 2013 Pew Research Center study, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.” Among the sobering numbers in the survey was this one: 71 percent of non-Orthodox Jews who married between 2005 and 2013 did so with someone non-Jewish.
This and other data from the study reinforcing the reality of interfaith relationships in American Jewish life is reflected in the community’s efforts to reach out to these families. While the Reform and Reconstructionist movements have long welcomed interfaith couples and families, the Conservative movement has noticeably lagged. That seems to be changing as well: Our cover package shows how Conservative congregations continue to grapple with how best to welcome these families, including determining what roles the non-Jewish spouse can have in ritual life.
In the Philadelphia area, InterfaithFamily, which has organized the InterfaithFamily Shabbat — taking place throughout this month — for the past eight years, is working with groups like the Collaborative and the Jewish Graduate Student Network to engage Jews in their 20s and 30s and their non-Jewish partners as they plan their — and their families’ — futures.
It may seem like offering congratulations for recognizing the obvious is damning with faint praise, but that is certainly not the case here. How to welcome interfaith relationships — and the children of interfaith marriages — has long vexed the community, so any efforts to address their inclusion are to be commended. But the Pew study has provided us with invaluable ammunition and incentive to make progress. The numbers will only increase, if past precedent is any indicator of future performance. The sooner we work together on cohesive outreach to welcome interfaith families, the sooner their role — postive or negative — in determining the future of American Judaism can begin to take shape.
Just as we need to adapt to the reality of interfaith relationships, we should be working just as hard to alter that reality. This isn’t contradictory. The Pew survey shows that among Jews with a non-Jewish spouse, only 20 percent of them are raising their children Jewish by religion, while among Jews married to a Jewish spouse, that number rises to 96 percent. Children really are our future; our actions now will determine just how Jewish that future will be.