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 — 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.

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.

44 Comments

  • Well for many the desire is there…but the jewish community is sometimes less than inviting. There is nothing quite like being invited to someone’s home for a shabbat lunch and being interrogated as to what its like being half-jewish, what to you do on Christmas (“nothing”…shocking!) and then to find out a week later that the same people have told other people about the JEWcy gossip that got about that child of that intermarried couple.

    Being see as a “half-jew” by people even if your mother is jewish is not best feeling, and some people lack the ability to see us as opportunities- and instead see us as being too much effort ..too much patience required to bring us properly into the tribe – not matter how much effort one puts in to learn more about it.
    That why there are so many efforts now in place to stop intermarriage- because many see it as the final nail in the coffin of jewish identity. Still, there are a couple of cool people out there that help along the way and give you books and stuff, but it’s the very few minorty- but they got the biggest jewish hearts!
    Cheers

  • Et.

    the mainstream ‘official’ Jewish policy must be strict because there is only one standard amongst the ortho on this matter. on this they are united maybe only on this from Satmar to Rabbi Avi Weiss.

    However individuals should treat you w/ utmost respect & dignity. they are capables of humanity, even I was shocked this past week, a certain known lawyer in nj, teaneck, shocked me w/ his efforts to help us, this impoverished family of mine.

    I thought he was a typical frum piece of you know what, but he came forwared and offered to help.

    Maybe there is hope for everyone now!

  • Esther, so now we are suppose to stop being worried about intermarriage rate because most of kids come out Jewish somehow anyhow? They go film festivals and book fairs? This sounds to my like Mr. Steinhardt’s plan for Jewish future. I believe we cant stop our efforts to decrease the intermarrige rate and make sure that jews want to be Jews.
    And just a short disclaimer: Anybody who mistreats children of mixed couple is … not such a good Yid. Either he/she s never learnt Torah properly or if one secular then he/she is… I dont know maybe you can tell me?

  • at that meeting they forgot to mention the crucial impact of jewlicious@ the beach on the jewish world at large!!!

  • Client, of course attending a Jewish film festival isn’t the same thing as living a traditional Jewish life. We shouldn’t stop encouraging Jews to marry other Jews; I still think that’s the ideal situation both for any children as well as for the couple itself(although on the previous post, I think we determined that just being Jewish doesn’t ensure compatibility between two people).

    This is a difficult issue, because there is only one set of standards (mom is Jewish=Jewish, dad is Jewish=not Jewish) that the Orthodox will accept, and even so there are many people who fall into the other category who do consider themselves Jewish already. I don’t have any answers, but when these kids come looking for a Jewish connection, we need to be more along the lines of “at p’tach lo,” giving them the context that will help them establish meaningful connections. It’s very hard, and there’s no way to get through it without insulting someone at some point, I’m afraid…

  • Dear Esther, please tell me, if not for the orto standart would be there nation like this. How many Jewish families you know of you have heard of that are reform or conservative for more than 3 generations??
    I agree with you that there are no easy answers. That we can just toss these kids to garbage – they would go along with us to gas chambers. Too Jewsish for the rest of the world, not Jewish enough for the Jews – God thank you for my mom being Jewish!!!

  • This isn’t the first time an organization pushing outreach conducted a small scale survey that supported their views – and contradicted the large trends confirmed by the major surveys.

    Those larger surveys revealed that even in intermarriages in which the gentile spouse converts, the result is a lot of kids who opt back out of Judaism. The demographers call this “single generation Jews”.

    Surprise, surprise – this is far more common when the conversion is non-Orthodox.

    It’s also telling that the survey hit major metropolitan areas, whereas one major trend has been the continued diffusion of Jews into non-Jewish areas of the country. Of course, the Orthodox self-select into tight communities due to Sabbath and kashrut considerations – so the Jews most likely to intermarry are the predominant Jewish population in outlying, non-urban areas.

    It’s nice to talk about a spark, but when *halachic* Jews tell me that they perceive their Jewishness as an ethnicity – it’s hard not to see dying embers, not sparks.

    Of course there are very heartwarming stories, and the renaissance of interest in Judaism can reach these people, but… there is so much outreach to be done, so many Jewish-born kids not getting a Jewish education – do we really have the resources to go after the children of intermarriage?

  • In my community halacha is kept, but we are a real small community, so we are happy with every jew! WHy oh why do we have to make this distinction so strongly? Just be happy with what we got and I rather have a half jew who cares and is actively involved than a jew that doesn’t care at all.
    A friend of mine has a jewish dad and was raised jewish. The jews don’t see her as jewish and the non-jewish world sees her as jewish, which has made her quite bitter (‘ hitler didn’t make that distinction’ ‘there are dna tests these days’) .
    I don’t think it is in the torah that states your mother should be jewish, in bliblical times it had to be your father (like the muslims). In the middle ages rabbis introduced a new rule: mother had to be jewish. It had to do with a lot of progroms that were going on. Raped women were left pregnant, and what to do with those babies?
    It is a complicated issue. The law of return is also more flexible than the rabbis.

  • The Torah doesn’t directly state that the children of a Jewish mother are Jewish. However, it obliquely implies it.

    Dvarim 7, speaking about intermarriage: “He will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others.” If the Torah mentions that he (a non-Israelite father) will turn the children away from Judaism, it means they must be Jews.

    Vayiqra mentions that a child of an Egyptian man and an Israelite woman is a part of the community of Israel.

    However, Moses’ children, with their non-Jewish mother, seem to have also been accepted. But when the Jews returned from Babylon, they left behind their non-Jewish wives and children, which implies that at least by Ezra and Nehemiah’s time, 2500 years ago, matrilineal descent was the order of the day, not to mention already supported by the Torah.

  • yes this is why the reform policy is so insidious. They had to do Patrilinal bec. otherwise they would be out of business. It’s shameful really bec. they have some good ideas to offer but they can hardly be taken seriously by a huge segment of the Jewish world.

  • I find it almost impossible to take the orthodox policy serious. ( I am sick and tired of hearing: nono, it is not that women have less rights, they have other rights). If that was all there was to judaism, I would have left judaism a long time ago and with me many many more.
    The torah is full of non jewish mothers!!

  • Matrilineal descent, and exclusion of patrilineal descent, is not only Orthodox policy. Conservative rejects patrilineal descent. Even Reform requires that the child of an intermarriage perform regular and timely acts of identification with the Jewish community to be considered Jewish. Reform in England rejects patrilineal descent. I don’t know what the rights of women have to do with it other than providing a staging ground for another general attack on Orthodoxy.

    Anyway, matrilineal (and not patrilineal) descent has been Jewish policy since at least the return from Babylon, and is supported by the Torah, by non-Orthodox as well as Orthodox Jews. I don’t understand what the big problem is.

  • yeah and the Torah is full of polygamy. Also please lets not mention the “Hitler definion of a Jew” .Hitler’s definition of a Jew was “a subhuman carrier of plague baccilli” or some crap like that.

  • Without casting aspersions of infidelity onto the Jewish populace, you know what they say: “you always know who the mother is, unless it’s a Lifetime movie where Kate Jackson is a nurse who fakes her own pregnancy and then steals a baby from the hospital where she works.” It’s a very famous phrase…

  • This situation/issue/concept gets so frustrating. I wonder if it differs in small communities versus big ones. The small communities I’ve been connected to are grateful for every Jew (patrilineal or matrilineal), convert, or involved non-Jewish spouse (who, interestingly enough, often convert later after finding a home in Judaism in their own time). However, as I’ve traveled, I have met some Jews (good Jews, for aren’t we all?) whose antipathy towards Jews who don’t meet certain standards (not always Torah standards–sometimes just social) certainly falls under bigotry and borders on abject racism. How can we make the children of intermarriage as well as those with two Jewish parents feel welcome in that kind of environment?

  • In an era of DNA tests, I think matrilineal descent is a very outmoded concept.

    And no, “we’ve always done it this way for 2,000 years” does not seem like a very good argument.

    Now, I am not one to sweepingly swipe at “Tradition”, but this just seems to me like one of the less useful or justifiable rules.

  • Steve, I dont anderstand why in the era of hygiene and deeper understanding of food production issues we shouldn’t abandon our out-of-date dietary laws and … whatever else you ll deceide to choose. But where do you draw the line? Who is authorative enough in this day and age to decide which laws are not applicable anymore? Should we rely on our “Jewish establishment” (plus Spielberg) or maybe we should convey a national referendum?

  • Steve, you could really apply that thinking to anything.

    In an era of multiculturalism and internationalism and increasing outmodedness of backwards ethno/tribal beliefs, why be Jewish?

  • Esther, thanks so much for the entry on our study and for the extra line that you threw in there about our blog — which for some crazy reason the Forward didn’t mention!! 😉 It’s amazing to read the responses generated here at jewlicious, and how widely they range from inclusive to exclusionary. It shows the challenges facing anyone trying to enter the Jewish community from any point other than birth (or birth to a Jewish mother) — newcomers hear different things from different people, and if they don’t know better, they often think the first person they hear from speaks for the entire Jewish community.

    I think it is a diversion to argue halacha in response to how welcoming we as a community are to newcomers. I have seen incredibly welcoming communities in all the movements, and real nastiness in all the movements. People use halacha as a reason for—or an excuse for—their actions on both sides. On the whole I would say our balance sheet is unfortunately heavily tilted toward the unwelcoming, and that’s what we at JOI hope these kinds of findings (and the professional training that will result from them) will change.

    I want to reply to a couple of points by Ben-David: while this study was qualitative in nature not quantitative, we did ask a series of questions that use the same wording as the National Jewish Population Study (I assume that’s one of the “major studies” to which you refer). Our sample population matched up remarkably to the corresponding sample in the NJPS — though you should of course take the NJPS with multiple grains of salt as well.

    More importantly is your overall attitude that I find untenable. You write, “there is so much outreach to be done, so many Jewish-born kids not getting a Jewish education – do we really have the resources to go after the children of intermarriage?” The answer is a resounding yes. This is not a zero-sum game. Adding more outreach does not mean taking away day schools. To say “we have limited resources” is simply an excuse for not dealing with the issues. This is the richest, most free Jewish community in millennia, perhaps ever. We moved millions of people out of Russia and Ethiopia. When Israel is in (REAL) danger, our levels of giving triple or quadruples in a year. This isn’t about resources, it’s about adding priorities. It’s about the will to welcome newcomers; if you don’t have that will, fine, but don’t hide behind “communal resources.”

    More importantly, a more welcoming community means we create a place for ALL who would join us, including the born-Jews you are so worried about losing. We’re either opening our arms, or closing ranks, but it can’t both be done at the same time.

    Which leads me to client’s remarks about “Steinhardt Judaism” (can I coin that phrase or did someone do that already? meaning engagement through cultural events). Well, on that count, Steinhardt’s right. For newcomers, it’s much easier to access Jewish community through cultural events than through the religion. Is that so surprising? (Uh, hello, our religion is in Hebrew! 😉 The thing we at JOI are trying to get at is what we as a community do for these unengaged Jews (including many children of intermarriage) who show up to such events. All too often, it’s: nothing. We sell them a ticket. We put them on a mailing list. They get solicited for membership. Yawn! Same old Jewish community that my parents fled. Instead, JOI tries to train Jewish volunteers and communal professionals on actually TALKING to people, engaging them, welcoming them, collecting names and following-up personally, learning what their interests are and what else in the Jewish community might excite them.

    If our only point of entry is to insist that newcomers already be fully, 100% Jewish (in whatever ways that has meaning for YOU, the “judge”), then it’s no wonder we’re not attracting newcomers. The organizations that “get it” are the ones that offer a meaningful Jewish experience FIRST, then ask questions later (if necessary).

    Esther, I’m trying for your longest blog comment ever. Am I getting close?

  • Nice try, Paul. But we’re a verbose group of Jews here, where we often (but not always) face two challenges: people who say too much in too few words, and people who say too little in too many. 🙂

    Everyone has his or her causes that s/he funds or otherwise supports. I’m not saying that outreach to children of intermarriages should be the main thrust of contemporary Jewry. But creating outreach programs to help Jews reconnect to faith, culture, tradition and practice is a win-win for all parties concerned, and shouldn’t be shelved out of fear that it would siphon off support from other Jewish traditional/educational/communal initiatives.

  • Thanks for your comments Michael & client.

    I am genuinely not trying to be antagonistic, but it is my view that this issue is a little bit different from the laws of kashrut or shabbos. These latter simply represent (at worst) an inconvenience to individuals that they can react to as they choose. But being read out of the tribe based on something which does not appear very substantial, I think that is a different matter.

  • Patrilineal descent was adopted by the reform because without it they would lose more then half of its members, not because it was reasonable. And of course it led to even more intermarriage.After all Jewish men often sought to marry non Jewish women and after that “wise decision” there was nothing holding them back at all.

  • I understand that we all agree that being born out of intermarriage is not a perfect situation as it results in hanging in the mid-air. So why dont we double our efforts and triple our “unlimited resources” and make sure that Jews marry Jews – then we are down to issue of welcoming “100% Jews”. As long as they are not apikrosim of-course. 🙂

  • By Jove, client! You’ve done it!! You’ve solved all our problems. “Make sure that Jews marry Jews.” WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?! It’s…it’s so simple, it’s brilliant! Hey, while we’re at it, let’s also make sure that the 90% of Jews that don’t keep kosher start keeping kosher. Hey Jews! Just say no to BLT! Lady! Step away from the lobster tail and nobody gets hurt.

    This is great. I think it’s working.

    Now back to the real world…where nearly half of all currently married Jews are intermarried. That’s not about intermarriAGE: they’re already marrIED. You can write them off, and their children, and countless (potentially Jewish) generations, but I’m not going to.

  • I think that the Jove is not a part of the Jewish belief system. Be carful some people on this website might call you apikores.:)
    Besides what I ve just said in the other post about our Jewish openness (meaning lack of it) I am not sure who you are preaching to? From the comments I ve understood that anything from Reform to Conservative (and back) are open to anybody who is less than “100% Jew” (I wonder who is 100% Jew anyway?).They just need to do it better. And as far as the Orthodoxy, how can you expect them to be more open if according to those guys these kids are simply not Jewish?
    In my previous comment I was trying to say that we should fight for a healthier future and this should be our main objective.

  • Great! We ve got one!
    If I am allowed to quote Brad Pitt on this website then I say – Is there anyone else?!!

  • (Comment by client)

    …if not for the orto standart would be there nation like this. How many Jewish families you know of you have heard of that are reform or conservative for more than 3 generations??

    My children are fourth generation members of a Conservative shul – in fact, the same shul that their great-grandparents attended.

    (Comment by Ben-David)

    … there is so much outreach to be done, so many Jewish-born kids not getting a Jewish education – do we really have the resources to go after the children of intermarriage?

    In my experience, they may be the same kind of kids and families. Intermarriage is an effect, not a cause; the cause is the failure of all Jewish groups – Orthodox, Conservative/Masorti, Reform, etc. – to foster environments that are appealing enough to attract “lost” non-religious Jews, which would lead to more inter-Jewish social intercourse (did I really just write that?)…. One can argue about Torah obligations and halakha until the morning sun rises and it’s time to say Sh’mang, but like it or not, there is a strong element of democracy with the Jewish people, and they haven’t and won’t come if they don’t want to. It would seem foolish to believe that it’s a desirable effect to dramatically reduce the population of religious-practicing Jews by (self) selecting an increasingly smaller group of frumer and frumer Jews from “100% Pure Bred” Jewish families.

    The problem is that ANY mention of halacha – or ANY mention of the notion that being Jewish involves obligations – interferes with many Jew’s notion that Judaism is just sheilaism ornamented with historical nicknacks

    Perhaps because the halakha has been stagnating for several hundred years in the hands of the “Orthodox” rabbinate? Rather than moving forward and adapting to meet the challenges of the modern enlightened era, there has seems to have been a strong trend to dig-in and entrench halakha. When I think about how disappointing the performance of the rabbinate has been on this matter, it’s difficult not to think of the infamous Bar-Lev line in Israel. The Bar-Lev line, for those unfamiliar with it, was a series of defensive fortifications built along the Egyptian border prior to the 1973 “Yom Kippur” war. The proponents of the line were certain that it was so strongly built (of compacted sand) that the Egyptian’s wouldn’t even bother trying to attack. In reality, the Egyptians chopped though with high pressure water pumps in short order during their initial attacks.

    Any large, static defense is doomed to fail, whether it be the Bar-Lev line or the any rabbinate’s lack of willingness to lead the Jewish people forward rather than backward. The Jewish people are sending a strong, clear message to the rabbinate and those of us “still” religious, and that message is to go take a flying leap into our kosher miqvoth. Now, are we going to listen to that message and respond with positive action, or are we going to sit around lamenting the closing of yet another shul?

  • So we got 2 proud reform Jews with an ichus of more then 3 generations. kol hakavod. I hope there are no intermarriages in your families!?
    But still for… what was it? 12000 visitors only 2 proud reform families? Still not so impressive.
    Where are you all non-ortos? HOW MANY OF YOU COME FROM NON-ORTHODOX FAMILIES FOR MORE THEN 3 GENERATIONS??? Anybody? All secular Jews are welcome to contribuite!!!
    I will start myself. My great great granfather was a secular Jew, a banker.
    So lets see!!??

    And if you are too shy to admit that your grandparents were frum then at least tell Grandmuffti one of your cool/fun sex stories on the other post.

  • So we got 2 proud reform Jews with an ichus of more then 3 generations. kol hakavod. I hope there are no intermarriages in your families!?
    But still for… what was it? 12000 visitors only 2 proud reform families? Still not so impressive.
    Where are you all non-ortos? HOW MANY OF YOU COME FROM NON-ORTHODOX FAMILIES FOR MORE THEN 3 GENERATIONS??? Anybody? All secular Jews are welcome to contribuite!!!

    If you are referring to my post which points out that my children are fourth generation members of a shul, it was a Conservative shul, not Reform, if it matters to you. I’ll also point out that you might actually be please to find out that my family has zero (known) generations, given that my mom is Irish and came from a practicing Catholic family, and my dad is of Italian American with a bit of southern Cherokee thrown into the mix. Intermarriage doesn’t have to be a disaster; all of the movements need to actively reach out and encourage conversion, and we need, need, need to get past playing politics with the acceptance of conversions by various groups (e.g. Reform, Conservative) that are performed according to the halakha set down in the Gemara. Conversion is an approach that has worked for several (originally) inter-faith families at our shul that are quite active religiously, regulars at minion, etc.

  • Ironically almost all Jewish men in the diaspora carry a Y-chromosome that they share with the Jewish community, but most diaspora women do not share mitochondrial DNA with other Jews, what this means is that most Diaspora communities got started off by Jewish men and moainly local women, while this still makes us more of a race in genetic terms than many other ethnicities it also means the idea that matrineal descent is rather invalid.

  • Hey Neo! I mean Mr. Anderson.. I mean Neo-Conservaguy.
    I am neither neither pleased or displeased by the fact that your family has zero generations as you ve said that. I dont understand though how does it make your children 4th generation members of your shul. I do think we should limit the count to the Jewish generations. You are right it does not make difference for me whether you are conservative or reform or orthodox but if it does make difference for you then I m sorry for misclassifing you.
    And I do not, let me repeat – do not agree with you and anybody else who says that Judaism needs more conversions to keep it going. If Judaism cant go on without conversion then let it end! But then again what was that promise that God gave to Abrham saing that the Jewish nation will never disappear?! You really think God meant – provided that you guys will keep the conversion rate satisfactory! C’mon get real!

    and ongoing L’chaim to Jewlicious!

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