The Facts On In-Marriage Advantages
Tue, 02/11/2014
Special To The Jewish Week

I was disappointed by Paul Golin’s piece dismissing in-marriage advocates, although presumably I should be thanking him for not listing me as one of the superannuated, failed has-beens whom he claims made up the meeting on the Pew survey and its implications for the Jewish community (“In Marriage Advocates Are Living In The Past,” Jan. 31). 

Yes, I participated fully in the meeting he mocked as some kind of gathering of the Elders of Zion. Would it shock Golin to know that about half the group consisted of activists younger than him? Most of them were next-generation social entrepreneurs, involved in research, start-ups or programs engaging less affiliated (including intermarried and interfaith people), and at least as hip as he is.

But that is not the main point of contention. In fact, the overwhelming focus of the group was to outline the need for intense educational and magnetic experiential programs that enrich lives. Then the group explored how to get the community to generate and fund initiatives that provide meaning and offer content that all kinds of Jews might seek for themselves and their families. In short, the conference was about the kind of programming and Jewish substance that generate engagement and inclusion, the very approach that Golin affirms is needed.

The difference between Big Tent Judaism’s spokesman and most of the group is as follows. The group heard research showing clearly that – all else being equal – families with two Jewish parents are strikingly more engaged in Jewish community and life, more affiliated with Jewish causes, more identified with and supportive of Israel. Therefore, many in the group concluded that the community should be encouraged to tell its children this truth. If you are proud to be a Jew (94 percent are, according to the Pew study), if you want your future children to identify as Jews and/or support Israel and/or live active Jewish lives, you can significantly increase the odds of achieving your goal if you marry a Jewish spouse. The intended message? Whoever you choose and love, we love you and want you both to be part of us, to participate in our community, to share our destiny. We also owe it to you to tell you how to increase the chance to achieve this together.

Golin believes that even sharing these facts and hopes will be a terrible turnoff to most young Jews. Possibly, possibly not. Would the Reform movement, pledged and practicing “audacious hospitality” to all, really lose its children if it told them about the advantages of in-marriage? I doubt it. I suspect that articulating the advantages of in-marriage, in combination with warmth and assurance of welcome no matter what, would be experienced as full disclosure with integrity – especially if this message is communicated early in life. I believe that truth telling would improve in-marriage rates and later participation in Jewish life.

The insistence on not sharing this information, or communal preference, is an unjustified, absolutist demand that pressures the community to ignore one of its best tools for Jewish continuity. Studies show that Birthright Israel trips powerfully affect participants. Participants come back more committed to prefer in-marriage, to prioritize and choose Jewish identity, and to identify with Israel. So apparently there are programs that intensify Jewish identity and lead to higher rates of in-marriage. And this is done without turning off the large numbers of participating children of intermarried or interfaith families. (Many of them respond positively in the same ways.)

Golin and others have every right to argue for their objections. But taking seriously the Pew survey’s indication that non-Orthodox Jews, in particular, face a devastating demographic plunge in the coming generation – unless they lift their game – should not be dismissed with snark. There should be an urgent and serious community-wide conversation about mounting an effective response to our crisis. Advocating in-marriage, on the merits, deserves to be on the table as a policy for consideration.

We are all in this crisis together. We all need -- and the whole Jewish people will benefit from -- expanded programs and effective policies. This was the spirit in which those who met - including the rather distinguished group of participants that Paul Golin named – convened and acted.

Dr. Yitz Greenberg is a writer, theologian, and author of the soon to be reissued book, “The Jewish Way.”

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

Comments

(part 2 of 2)
And sure, let’s talk about Birthright Israel. I have already addressed why the ulterior motive by some for supporting that program as a driver of in-marriage -- rather than solely as a vehicle for connection to Israel and Jewish identity -- is so unfortunate: http://forward.com/articles/118310/is-birthright-israel-an-intermarriage-panacea/ .
Even with participants “more committed to prefer in-marriage,” there will be as many intermarried households created by Birthright participants as in-married households, and promoting a preference for the in-married sends the same message to the intermarried -- that they are second-class citizens -- that devastated the Conservative movement in recent decades.

The excellent professionals at Birthright of course already understand that and do not overtly promote in-marriage. Birthright demonstrates that even when increased in-marriage is seen to be a positive side benefit, it cannot be sold that way without offending a huge swath of their target population. You will find no messages promoting in-marriage in Birthright’s marketing material, and in fact there is some evidence that they actively discourage their tour operators from discussing it, and may have even broken with their largest one in part because of it: http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new_york/divorce_birthright_family

But again, don’t take my word for it. Go to the professionals working in the field to engage families with young children, or young Jewish adults, half of whom are now born to intermarried parents, and ask them why openly encouraging in-marriage as a matter of communal policy won’t fly.

The idea you floated according to Gary’s original piece, “initiating an ‘outreach corps’ along the lines of Chabad” is very much part of JOI’s strategic plan and we’re actually doing it with success, with boots on the ground in Chicago, Houston, and Middlesex NJ. But if you think it makes sense to lead conversations with the less-engaged Jews we find about how important it is for them to marry Jewish, you are missing the point of how even Chabad’s outreach works.

(part 1 of 2)
Yitz, hope you are well. As I replied to Sylvia here: http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial-opinion/letters/marriage-group-misrepresented, and to the others at that meeting who wrote in to object to my piece, I did not call anyone “old,” I was criticizing the collective long tenure of those in leadership positions who continue to advocate for the failed policy of “promoting in-marriage.” I’m sorry if my sarcasm made that confusing.

And I did not name you because I did not consider you in that camp. Unlike most of them, you actual create content, content that might engage people in their Judaism. Which is why it is so disappointing to learn that the measure of success for you too is who Jews marry and how many Jewish babies they make; fear of demographics over meaning. That approach is doomed to failure.

Nobody is more willing than me to have open conversations about the challenges intermarried households face in raising Jewish children, because that’s what I do for a living. I do not deny that on average, children of in-marriage have stronger traditional measure of Jewish identity than children of intermarriage; there are a variety of reasons for that. The issue I objected to is how that information is used, or in the case of this gathering, distorted. I will explain in a future piece why those statistics are so unhelpful but bottom line, there is no way to “promote in-marriage” without using those statistics as a stick to beat the already-intermarried.

I am not saying that as an “unjustified absolutist,” trying to dictate my own preferences. I am saying it based on historic fact! It has already been tried, and it failed. Which is why it is frankly unbelievable when you wrote, “Golin believes that even sharing these facts and hopes will be a terrible turnoff to most young Jews. Possibly, possibly not.”

Really? You’re not sure? Please, don’t take my word for it. Do a poll of your rabbinic colleagues in pulpits in the non-Orthodox movements, particularly in the Conservative movement. Ask them why, after spending most of the 1980s and 1990s “promoting in-marriage” from the pulpit, often by sermonizing about the dangers of intermarriage, they no longer do, and in fact many are coming to the realization that intermarried households can be some of their most valuable congregants. What caused that change? Was it Paul Golin’s absolutism? If only!

Dear Rabbi Greenberg:

I have the greatest possible respect for your work with CLAL, and I believe everyone in the Jewish world is indebted to your wife Blu's work with the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network -- an organization for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage -- I must, in turn, respectfully implore you to look at the statistics.

Forty-eight percent of all Jewish young people are now adult children of intermarriage. How successful will appeals to them to "marry in" be? Such appeals will be seen as insults to their intermarried parents and themselves.

Will you ask the remaining 48 percent of Jewish young people who have two Jewish parents to marry only each other? That's a very small dating pool.

Or will the younger Jews with two Jewish parents be encouraged to marry their half-Jewish contemporaries? Will those be seen as "in-marriages" or "intermarriages"?

The number of adult children of intermarriage will only increase in the next generation -- 58 percent of all Jews who married between the years 2000 and 2013 married people who are not Jewish.

These marriages will inevitably produce an even higher percentage of adult children of intermarriage in the next generation of Jewish young people.

Candidly, it is too late to mount an anti-intermarriage campaign.

I would suggest that your in-marriage organization shift focus and begin considering ways to outreach the adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage. They are the future majority of non-Orthodox American Jews.

Cordially,
Robin Margolis
Coordinator
Half-Jewish Network

With enormous respect, I have never known any advocate of in-marriage to convey Yitz Greenberg’s “intended message” that “Whoever you choose and love, we love you and want you to be part of us, to participate in our community, to share our destiny.” Proponents of in-marriage don’t typically stop at “your chances of having an active Jewish life are increased if you marry a Jew,” followed immediately by “warmth and assurance of welcome no matter what,” which might work. Instead, they insist on saying that in-marriage is preferable – read, intermarriage is bad – or that in-marriage is a Jewish norm – read, if you intermarry you are a norm-violator. That is a terrible turnoff to most young Jews – especially to the majority of young Reform Jews whose parents are intermarried. It is unnecessary and destructive to mount a campaign to promote in-marriage as justification for the “intense educational and magnetic experiential programs that enrich lives” that all of us want. As Rabbi Greenberg himself notes, those programs often include substantial numbers of interfaith families – and they could include many more, if marketed not as promoting in-marriage, but rather the joy and meaning of Jewish life.
Edmund Case, CEO, Jodi Bromberg, President, InterfaithFamily

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.