“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.” The playground taunt makes it all seem so simple. Perhaps, once upon a time, it was.
But these days, each step seems so complicated — from how we find a partner to whom and how we marry to whether that marriage — or any ensuing offspring — will be embraced by the Jewish community.
We’re not trying to take away from the spirit of Valentine’s Day. (OK, we know it technically has its roots in Christian/pagan traditions, but that doesn’t stop most of us from using the occasion to shower a little extra TLC on our loved ones.)
But it is also a good time to address some tough questions: Are we doing enough to help Jews find each other? How do we genuinely reach out to the growing legions of interfaith families, who represent both promise and pitfalls for our community, while also honestly acknowledging that Jews who marry other Jews will more likely embrace Jewish life than those who marry out?
The so-called revival of the “intermarriage debate” between those who advocate for greater outreach and those who preach devoting more resources to in-marriage — a revival presumably spurred by the recent Pew Center study on American Jews — is a misnomer. It never really faded, but it has evolved.
We should all by now be acknowledging the simple reality that intermarriage is a fact of life, with numbers growing at an alarming rate. The Pew survey found that 58 percent of American Jews who married since 2005 have non-Jewish spouses, with that figure rising to 72 percent among the non-Orthodox. Outreach must continue to be high on our communal agenda.
But it’s not an either/or equation. Even as we seek to welcome interfaith families, we should also be pushing for more strategic programs in Jewish education, Jewish camping and Israel experiences. We should be investing wisely in these programs that by all accounts provide compelling and lifelong Jewish commitments.
But these programs serve another purpose as well: They provide connections, developing vital Jewish social networks for teens and young adults as they grow and mature.
As our cover story on matchmaking shows, Jews are still seeking other Jews in their quest for lifelong partners. And this doesn’t even address the thousands who sign up for online Jewish dating services. The need is there, the desire is there. We need to spend as much communal energy on helping adult Jews meet and marry other Jews as we do on reaching out to them once they’ve married — whoever their spouse may be.
That could be the most important Valentine we give ourselves as a community.