Last week, I posted about two people, both Jewish, but of differing perspectives, trying to have a relationship. That obviously raised its own issues. But separate, and in some ways more difficult to overcome, is the educational challenge presented to parents who are raising children against the backdrop of two cultures in one home-life, and in a Jewish community that’s not always welcoming.
With one piscean parent and one avian parent, are these children’s ideals and ideas destined to be fragmented, half in the skies, flying on unstable wings, and half in the waters somewhere between swimming and drowning? Does the community accept them as Jews? Are they given the opportunities they need, inside and out of the home, to connect with Judaism on an experiential, spiritual and active level? What, if anything, is their connection to Israel? In short, does being Jewish matter to them?
According to a recent (but demographically limited) survey released by the Jewish Outreach Institute and quoted in the Forward:
…young adult children of intermarried couples maintain strong cultural ties to the Jewish community, despite low levels of religious identification. Titled “A Flame Still Burns: The Dimensions and Determinants of Jewish Identity Among Young Adult Children of the Intermarried,” the survey was based on 90 in-depth interviews with young adults, ages 22 to 30, living in Boston, Chicago or San Francisco. Although only 30% of the respondents consider themselves “Jewish” by religion, almost 70% affirmed that “being Jewish” is either “somewhat” or “very” important to them, and 78% expressed a desire to “transmit a Jewish ethnic identity to their children.” More than half said they had attended a Jewish cultural event, such as a film festival, art show or book fair, in the past two years.
One respondent, Ben, who has a Jewish father and recorded his religion as “none” in the survey, said he had “never felt that I wanted to be less Jewish â€” it feels familiar and comfortable. However, I don’t see myself as a religious Jew. In fact, nothing about religion is going to work with my personality.” Many sociologists have noted a similar trend among all younger Jews, who have been found to be less likely than their elders to identify with Judaism in an overtly religious way.
Paul Golin, associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute [who runs their blog at the JOI website], said that effective outreach to the children of intermarried, as with anyone, was mostly about “being welcoming and making personal connections.” …The key is to find “entry points into Jewish life and broaden them,” Golin said. “It would be a mistake to write these kids off. For the most part, they’re not practicing another religion and they’re proud of their Jewish heritage. There’s still that spark.”
The problem is that sparks, while sometimes indicate the presence of a burning desire, also sometimes lack the aspiration to ignite. To push the science of flame a little further (and only a little bit further, since I ain’t never been no science major), for a spark to really grow into a flame, it needs oxygen to nourish it (in this case, the child needs the support and encouragement of the community to strengthen his or her relationship to Judaism and Jewish life.
And this is true for children of intermarriage and children of intramarriage alike. The Jewish community–from synagogues to Hebrew schools, youth groups to camps or trips to Israel–needs to be welcoming and provide diverse opportunities and methods to foster connection between young Jews of any stripe, background, or affiliation and their tradition. What can Judaism offer to Ben, who doesn’t feel that religious life in general is for him? How does he connect to Jewish life?
How? That’s the rub, isn’t it? birthright’s a good start. And I happen to think that sites like Jewlicious are also doing our part. But funders and educators–and yes, the parents themselves–need to continue to step up to the challenge of trying to ally an increasingly secular generation with a Jewish way of life that will be meaningful and keep them connected.