Intermarriage And The NY Jewish Community Study
06/12/2012 - 19:30

I’m still processing and absorbing UJA-Federation’s big New York Jewish community study, about which we’ve been writing up a storm lately, including a piece I contributed on multiracial families. From an “In the Mix” perspective, it’s interesting that, in contrast to some other landmark Jewish demographic studies — most notably the infamous 1990 study whose most memorable finding was the (later disputed) 52 percent intermarriage rate — intermarriage, while certainly addressed, really wasn’t this study’s central take-away.

Rather, if I had to sum up the study in a Twitter post, I’d say: Jewish world a seesaw with many Orthodox on one end, ‘Just Jewish’ and disengaged on the other & shrinking numbers in between.

And just as the Jewish “community” as a whole is composed of lots of very different subgroups that have little in common with each other, the intermarried population is similarly diverse and hard to generalize about, with some households virtually indistinguishable from (and in some cases more Jewishly engaged than) non-Orthodox in-married ones and others having minimal Jewish ties.

Here are a few highlights, with my preliminary reactions/commentary:

-Half of the non-Orthodox couples that wed between 2006 and 2011 are intermarried.

Not surprising.

-“On Jewish engagement, intermarried respondents significantly trail the in-married. The intermarried are much less likely than the in-married to feel that being Jewish is very important, feel that it is very important to be part of a Jewish community, or feel attached to Israel. Since 2002, the large gaps observed then persist into 2011.”

Unfortunate, but not surprising.

- “Not all intermarried households are totally detached from Jewish life — more than half light Chanukah candles, nearly half attend a Passover seder, and 3 out of 10 go to Jewish museums and cultural events.”

I love the almost passive aggressive double-negative rhetoric in the first part of this sentence. Shockingly, not ALL intermarried households are TOTALLY lost to the Jewish people.

-“Only 1 in 7 intermarried households belongs to a congregation (in some communities elsewhere in the United States, this proportion is much higher). But among those that do, we find much higher rates of Jewish engagement on almost all measures compared with those intermarried households that do not belong to a congregation. Affiliated intermarried households are close to the congregationally affiliated in-married in their observance of seasonal Jewish holidays, accessing Jewish websites, contributing to Jewish charities, and participating in Jewish cultural events and programs at Jewish community centers.

The finding that synagogue-affiliated intermarried families are similar to synagogue-affiliated in-married families echoes the findings of Boston’s Jewish community study a few years ago.
As for the low number of intermarried households joining synagogues, it’s worth putting this in a little perspective: only 44 percent of all New York-area Jewish households belong to a congregation, and when you take out the Orthodox (over 90 percent of whom affiliate with a synagogue), the numbers are considerably lower. I haven’t had a chance yet to confirm this, but my sense is that, in general, New York has lower synagogue-affiliation rates among the non-Orthodox than other American Jewish communities. Why? My personal theory is that whereas Jews elsewhere feel like an isolated minority and will seek out a synagogue for Jewish social and cultural connections, even if they don’t have any religious or spiritual interest in shul, liberal and secular Jews in New York, with its enormous Jewish population and pervasive Jewish flavor, don’t feel this need. Plus, whereas churchgoing is the social norm in many cities, and houses of worship highly influential, this is less true in New York.

“While some have argued that intermarried households do not feel welcome in Jewish settings, intermarried households do not express more discomfort with Jewish activities than other non-Orthodox groups. At the same time, the fact that relatively few intermarried households belong to a congregation suggests that perhaps expanding congregation-based efforts to engage intermarried households is worth pursuing. Of the 46% of children in intermarried households being raised “not Jewish,” only about a third are being raised in another religion. Another 13% are “undecided,” suggesting that communal efforts to engage intermarried households should support efforts to raise Jewish children.”

Co-author Steven M. Cohen has made this point a lot lately, most recently in a Foundation for Jewish Camp study, that Jewish institutions are plenty welcoming to the intermarried. Not sure what I think of this assessment, but I do agree with the “suggestion” here that “perhaps” expanding efforts to engage intermarried households is “worth pursuing.”

… the affiliated intermarried are far more likely than the unaffiliated in-married to participate in adult Jewish learning programs or study informally alone or with a friend or teacher. They are also twice as likely to volunteer for a Jewish organization and visit Jewish websites, and are more likely to regularly participate in Shabbat meals, feel part of a Jewish community, give to Jewish charities (other than UJA-Federation), and attend services or a program at a Jewish community center.”

This is big, and it reflects what I’ve seen: synagogue affiliation is a much greater indicator of how involved/connected a household is than whether or not the members are intermarried.

Over the years, opposition in the Jewish population to intermarriage and one’s children intermarrying has steadily declined … To learn how attitudes to this issue are distributed in the population, we asked Jewish respondents the following question:
“Say a child of yours married a non-Jew who did not convert to Judaism. Would you be upset with that, or would that not upset you? [WAIT FOR ANSWER. IF UPSET, ASK:] Would you be very upset, or somewhat upset?”
The Jewish respondents’ answers were split almost evenly, with 50.5% not upset and 49.5% upset (33% of the total would be very upset). However, variations among the respondents by demographic and Jewish-engagement characteristics speak to very wide differences in the population. In general, more engaged Jews express greater concern with intermarriage, as do the more traditional ... More than three-fifths (61%) of people who report they contribute to UJA-Federation would be upset … A majority (56%) of non-Orthodox in-married Jews would be upset with their children intermarrying. In contrast, several groups report very low levels of upset with intermarriage. Most notably, only 6% of intermarried Jews would be upset, as would only 12% of the converts to Judaism, 30% of the synagogue unaffiliated, and 20% of Jews whose religion is “none.”

I wish they had offered more options initially other than “upset” and “not upset.” I suspect many people, like me, would have an answer somewhere in between. Something like “somewhat disappointed” or “depends on other factors, like whether or not they plan to be involved in Jewish life and what decisions they’ve made about how they will raise future children.” Or, as my mother (herself intermarried) would no doubt answer, “not upset, so long as partner is a Democrat.”


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The problem is the Orthodox Jews, who wants to be associated with that sorry lot of 17th Century cultists? That is not Judaism and if it is, who needs it? The Because reform Judaism won't stand up to those bizarre bullies, it therefore doesn't deserve to exist.

The results from this UJA survey are exactly what many of us bloggers have been predicting for years, if not decades. What is truly amazing is that it took the secular Jewish establishment 30 years to recognize the absolutely obvious ramifications of a Jewish community whose secular leaders and institutions have no use for Judaism or traditional Jewish education.

A Jewish identity based on popculture nonsense, fundraising for institutions that few people use, and for a Jewish State that few of the donors would ever want their children to live in, was never going to produce the "continuity" that the sloganeers used to talk about years ago.

It turns out, America is NOT different from Europe or anywhere else, and a Jewish community devoid of Judaism is not going to survive very well here, no less than anywhere else.

The only honest thing that the UJA should do now is to reallocate all that money that has gone to these pointless secular continuity programs to day schools and let the Orthodox take over the institutional leadership of the Jewish community. Sooner or later, they will do that anyway. Just as Woody Allen used to say, 90% of life is just showing up. How many secular Jews will there be left in NYC 20 years from now to just show up?

Next to Hindus, Jews are the best educated ethnic group in America. And trends show that the better educated people are, the less likely they are to participate in traditional religions. The religion part is myth to them, and they need to find ways to remain connected to the Jewish people, absent religion. In many ways, I think our very important value of education is reducing American connection to Judaism. So we need to find ways, as Israel does, for those who are not religious to still feel Jewish.

look, the non-orthodox world does its best to take the spiritual aspects out of the Jewish religion. The Reconstructionist movement, for example, regards Halacha, or Jewish law, as nothing but mores. The Reform Judaism defines itself as a non-halachic movement. The Conservative movement, at best, pretends to abide by Halacha. I am not suggesting that everyone should live a halachic lifestyle. But one doesn't have to be Orthodox to understand that these view on Jewish law kill the spirit and the spiritual value of Judaism. The survey just confirms what we all know: decades of neglect of Jewish tradition contribute to the demise of liberal Judaism. The "R"-movements do away with traditional Judaism hoping it will draw people closer (read the article about the boy's Bar mitzah in LA who didn't chant a haftarah). But they achieve the opposite, that is, alienation from core concepts of Jewish tradition.

For the past decade, I have been writing about the trends in the future of American Jewry in various articles and, sadly, these trends have become realities. The trends are happening before our eyes and are confirmed by this recent study of NY Jews----

With more and more assimilation among the non-Orthodox, the trend is not difficult to predict of American Jews: more and more Orthodox Jews since they retain most of their children, have a high birth rate, and low intermarriage/assimilation rate; fewer and fewer Reform and Conservative Jews since there is a low birth rate among their members and a high assimilation/intermarriage rate which leads in most cases to less affiliation with Judaism among most of the children born from the intermarriage who choose not to identify with Judaism at all, and there will be a de facto merger between Reform and Conservative Judaism since there are few theological differences between the two movements and decreasing membership in these movements; and more and more unaffiliated Jews who have no connection to , or interest in, Judaism or Israel and these unaffiliated Jews will become known as '' Americans with Jewish heritage''. The non-Orthodox American Jews are shrinking drastically and will continue to shrink. The '' assimilation genie '' is out of the bottle and cannot be put back into the bottle despite the latest Jewish community's program which, in good-faith, try to do so.

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