For those not inclined to bury their heads in the sand, it’s time to recognize an established fact: The tide has turned when it comes to intermarriage. While many of us rightly worry about the long-term impact of the escalating number of intermarriages on our community, it is wiser to address the issue openly and honestly than to pretend it doesn’t exist.
We should continue to encourage our children and grandchildren to “marry in” — and to provide identity-enriching opportunities such as Jewish education, Jewish camping and Israel experiences that will more likely lead to that path. But we all know by now that no matter what we do or how many resources we expend, there is no guarantee.
Given this reality, the communal focus has rightly shifted from trying to prevent intermarriage to encouraging interfaith families to participate in Jewish life and raise Jewish children. The Reform and Reconstructionist movements have long paved the way. How successful we are in extending the effort to provide a warm and inviting environment will go a long way in determining whether this phenomenon ultimately spells our doom or instead helps reverse our decline.
We chose to devote this week’s Exponent to the issue of intermarriage because it comes between the November Interfaith Family Shabbat program, in which dozens of congregations focus on the issue, and the Chanukah/Christmas season, when interfaith families grapple with some of their biggest challenges of living with two faiths.
Our cover stories, including a moving personal reflection of one woman’s journey to Judaism, along with two thoughtful opinion pieces from local Conservative rabbis, underscore one common theme: the need to embrace rather than reject. That is also the goal of InterfaithFamily, which has merged with the local InterFaithways, to bolster services and programs in this area.
Many of our synagogues and organizations are filled with interfaith partners who are active participants and in many cases are raising strong Jewish children. Some of them have chosen to convert to Judaism; others have not. None of these individuals would be where they are today, helping to drive our communal energy, if they hadn’t been welcomed with open arms. Those who weren’t most likely are nowhere to be found — they or their children.
As Rabbi Neil Cooper of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El put it: “We move forward as we try to mediate between exclusivity and inclusivity. We move forward, ever so carefully, trying to maintain and be faithful to the delicate balance between our sacred traditions and the modern world.”
When it comes to intermarriage, this is now our only choice.