True SuckageTrue Life on MTV is an award-winning documentary series that tells the stories of young people and the unusual subcultures they inhabit.

Whether documenting the lives of gay marriage activists, individuals dealing with obesity, or teens in high school — the True Life series tells its stories solely from the varied voices and points-of-view of its characters…

As can be expected, True Life is always looking for unusual content. The Web site states that “True Life is looking for sibling rivals, people moving to Las Vegas, meth addicts and people suffering from Tourettes Syndrome [sic.]…”

There are other unusual subcultures MTV is interested in too. According to the Jewish Outreach Institute’s blog,

an upcoming episode of MTV’s documentary series “True Life” will focus on interfaith relationships in general, and we were contacted to help them find an appropriate representation of a Jewish interfaith couple.

Said Jewish interfaith couple ought to appear appear between the ages of 18-28 and should want to share the challenges and benefits of being in an interfaith relationship.

Bridget Loves BernieUh… hello? Jewish interfaith couples are an “unusual subculture?” That’s so funny it makes me want to cry. The fact is, that in the good old U.S. of A., if a Jewish man marries a Jewish woman, they’re the exception rather than the rule. This sort of thing hasn’t been unusual since the 1973 cancellation of the CBS sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie where

Wealthy white-bread Bridget Fitzgerald and lower-class cabdriver Bernie Steinberg meet, fall in love and marry. Even though their love for each other is never in doubt, both are constantly forced to deal with their parents, who are uncomfortable with their kids’ differences in social status and religion.

Starring real-life interfaith couple David Birney and Meredith Baxter, this was groundbreaking in the early 70’s and CBS had to cancel the show after one season because they were tired of the constant protests and hate mail. Now it’s so common, it’s become banal. Now, rather than flood the producers with letters of complaint, Jews and Jewish organizations will instead try to think of ways to make the non-Jewish partner feel more included – Meredith visits the interfaith mikveh for a non-denominational, pre-snogging, Judaic “baptism” ritual officiated by the local Animist Rabbi …

I can see the True Life episode now, full of hackneyed but heartwarming tales of love conquering cultural and religious differences, saccharine scenes of the happy family celebrating Chrismukah, relived experiences wherein the non-Jew of the couple discusses his or her first geffilte fish and the Jew or Jewess talks about his or her first moving Church service. What’s next? MTV presents Women. Who Love Women – The Shocking Park Slope Story! Man… that’s quality reality television.

Not. Unless the interfaith couple in question are also meth addicts with Tourette syndrome. That I would PAY see! In fact, want to make me happy? Look on the right side of the page. There you will see a box titled JewliciousTalk. Plug a mic into your computer, click on the Say it! button and share with us your best rendition of a Jewish interfaith couple addicted to meth and suffering from Tourette’s. I’ll PayPal $10 to whoever makes me laugh the hardest.

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About the author

ck

Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.

36 Comments

  • As tempted as I am to try to win ten bucks…

    FWIW, True Life doesn’t always have a happy ending. They usually present a balance–the girl with a crush doesn’t usually get the guy, the guy who comes out to his parents isn’t necessarily accepted by them, etc. So yes, I’m interested in seeing what happens…

  • Watch, they’ll get the most hillbilly, southern Baptist redneck Christian girl paired up with the most observant Orthodox Jew you have ever seen on that show. I can see it now, let the matza balls and cheeseburgers fly!

  • Just following an Orthodox family on any given day or Shabbos is weird enough extreme subculture…long sleeves during heat waves, not tearing toilet paper on Sat., 6 hours between milk and meat.

  • I don’t get it either. My guess…MTV is trying to show “diversity” through all segments of the population. Perhaps they’re part of the legitamacy bandwagon,too.

  • One lesson I’ve learned from my newlywed friends is, “Just cause you married a Jew, doesn’t mean you married a Jew like you.” I would rather see the dance between differently observant jews than an interfaith couple. Trust me, clashing minhags (or is it minhagim?) have made me run for cover.

  • I guess the upside of being able to reach and help people via the Internet is balanced by the downside of having people post unwelcoming blog entries without thought of consequences. (Esther, I’m disappointed that you continue to give such an easy pass.)

    CK, at least please get your facts right. In-marriage is not the exception to the rule, there are still more Jews marrying Jews than Jews marrying non-Jews…barely. Try to recognize the impact your hyperbole might have on random passersby.

    While I agree that intermarried families do not represent an “unusual subculture,” and would never call them such, they are disproportionately underrepresented in the organized Jewish community — for many reasons. Messages like yours certainly don’t help welcome those who might join us.

    I know, I know, you lead Birthright Israel trips, you do “outreach” to children of intermarriage on those trips, but I keep seeing this vitriol coming from you and others on Jewlicious and your story of “outreach” is starting to read a lot like those folks who say “I’m not a racist, some of my best friends are black.” Your writings express that you are uncomfortable with, unhappy with, and unwelcoming toward intermarried families. If you really are bringing people in through your Birthright trips, why do you want to undo that work with your angry, adolescent posts here?

    As for my post on JOI.org, when I spoke to the production company I was clear to explain the many possible scenarios of interfaith couples, including those who choose Judaism. That’s the scenario I hope they go with, but I of course have no control over that. Instead of sarcasm and complaints, perhaps you can recommend to them a young interfaith couple that is clearly headed toward creating a Jewish household, and help all those viewers see that it is not interfaith marriage per se that ends Jewish continuity; it’s not raising Jewish children that ends Jewish continuity.

  • “it is not interfaith marriage per se that ends Jewish continuity; it’s not raising Jewish children that ends Jewish continuity.”

    It’s not growing up in a poor neighborhood that makes one poor; it’s not being a hard worker that makes one poor…

    Wait a minute; that’s a logical fallacy and a gross over-simplification!

  • Oyster, I don’t get your analogy. Not having money is what makes you poor.

    I’m sorry you missed my point, but I appreciate your phrase “gross over-simplification” because that’s what I was trying to get at: those who believe intermarriage is the automatic end to “Jewish continuity” are committing a gross over-simplification. If you prefer I don’t speak in catch-phrases, so be it. I will spell it all out literally. Interfaith families are capable of raising Jewish children. In-married families are capable of ending Jewish continuity by not having children or not raising them Jewish. Let’s not oversimplify intermarriage, as the above post does.

  • Paul Golin, I don’t get your point. I am sorry you missed my analogy. The analogy is that you are ignoring context. The same way that if someone grows up in poverty the odds are that they won’t jump up to the upper-middle class, so too that if someone grows up in an intermarried household, the odds are the they won’t become involved, literate Jews.

    Possibility is different than probability. In the same way that it is ‘possible’ for interfaith families to raise Jewish children, it is ‘possible’ for someone to be hit by a meteorite. I am not quantitatively equating their probabilities. Rather, qualitatively, they are both possible.

    Now on to probability. Many studies have shown that the probability of an interfaith family raising their children Jewish is markedly lower than the probability of a Jewish family raising their children Jewish. It is also common sense.

    Do you believe that there’s no difference in raising a child in a 100% Jewish family, versus an intermarried one, and their probability of growing up to be Jewish?

  • All this discussion is redundant. If the kids mother is halachacly Jewish, he/she is Jewish. Bottom line.

    Raising kids of non-Jewish mothers as Jews is selfish on the part of the parents. The kids will one day end up in Israel and be told flat out, the truth – you’re not Jewish.

    Intermarriage is not a Jewish value.

  • I don’t understand, Jew. Do you mean that if they are raised in a temple and are converted outside of Israel, then go to Israel, that they won’t be recognized as Jews in Israel?

  • I can feel my bloodpressure going up already. Hopefully this episode will shed light on the growing failure of American Jewry and the fact that a huge percentage of American Jews intermarry and their children, for the most part, are raised without religion or any deep rooted understanding of Judaism. If anything but this is reflected in the episode, I will probably consider it to be a huge embarrassment…why do I feel like it will be the latter…

  • Jew-I think that kids with non-Jewish mothers who are raised as Jews, understand their “standing” in the Jewish community. People are always willing to point it out–in case they hadn’t heard before 1000 times.

    Read the book Half/Life if you don’t…

    And those aren’t often the kids that make Aliyah. And if they do, then they’ve probably gone to mikvah and done a “just to be safe” conversion.

    (I have no proof or numbers regarding my statement, I’m guessing based on things I’ve seen here and there, things I’ve read, and what I know.)

    And Amira–do you really want MTV to prove how American Jewry is failing? Doesn’t MSM do enonough of that? We really need MTV to…

    Oh my, I almost started to sound like my imaginary Jewish grandmother. “You want to the goyim…”

  • Oyster, I am well versed in the statistics and percentages, perhaps more than you can imagine. So let me ask you: What percentage of interfaith families need to raise their children as Jews before we should stop disparaging them on public Jewish forums like this one?

    I don’t think it’s really about numbers. It’s about whether we welcome people or exclude them. Or worse, insult them.

    Amira, sorry to hear about your blood pressure. But intermarriage is not a failure of American Jewry, despite what you may have had drilled into your head by whomever it is that’s been doing the drilling. Intermarriage is a byproduct of Jewish success in America. A negative byproduct, many might say, but stemming from success nonetheless. As Professor Richard Alba has written, “In the U.S., a low intermarriage rate is not so much a measure of a group’s successfully retaining the loyalty of its young people as a sign of its exclusion from the mainstream.”

    Do you think American Jewry at the turn of the 20th Century — which had single-digit intermarriage rates — was any more Jewishly educated or less secular than the Jews at the turn of the 21st Century? They were not. So what’s the difference? American society, not Jewish-identity weakness or failure.

    How do we combat that? By becoming a community that embraces newcomers and the “Jew-curious” (whether they have two Jewish parents, one Jewish parent, or no Jewish parents) rather than reacting with fear, spite, and a holier-than-thou attitude. NOTE that I’m not asking you to let them read from your Torah or count in your minyan, if you abide by halacha. This is about culture not law. I’m asking that when there is a door, you hold it open rather than slam it in their faces. This website is a potential door in for seekers, but how does disparaging them help?

  • Paul, just because I don’t make a long involved comment on an issue doesn’t mean I’ve given it a pass. My response was to the announcement of this particular program on MTV–I always think it is interesting to see how Jewish traditions are rendered in the popular culture, and how situations that may present challenges for Jews might have teachable moments about pluralism and co-existence, both in the Jewish community and on a larger scale. That’s why I’m looking forward to this show.

    As for the issue itself of intermarriage, I’ve said before and will say again that I would still prefer that Jews marry Jews, and certainly, I would prefer to marry “not just a” Jew, but one who is educated and committed to having a Jewish life. This does not mean that I will ostracize those who make a different decision–somebody in my line of work and in my community knows that love is rare enough to find, and I feel that if one finds love and both partners are committed to making an interfaith marriage work, I think that’s great and the community should find ways to reach out to them and bring them in. Alienation from the community benefits no one.

    Is that better?

    As for CK’s tone or content of this post, you’ll have to take that up with him, as none of us controls the content of other people’s posts.

  • I’m the one who sent the link info to Jewlicious in the first place…
    and my intermarried parents raised me as a nice Jewish girl!

    I have to say that I found much of ck’s post pretty amusing, but I assumed that he was just having fun at MTV’s expense. After all, it’s not as though the other “subcultures” he mentions in the first quote from their site–“individuals dealing with obesity” (approximately 1/3 of the U.S. population these days) or teens in high school (most of us were at one point!)–are so unusual either. Yeah, ck’s extremely exaggerated take on “ways to make the non-Jewish partner feel more included” could be offensive if taken as a representation of reality, but I’m willing to cut him some slack for comedy’s sake. (Just in case ck & others are living in la-la land: newsflash! The organized Jewish community isn’t doing such a bang-up job of making a non-Jewish partner “feel more included”–which needs to start with not assuming that said person is an evil to be avoided [or at best tolerated] rather than a human being who is also potentially a valuable member of a Jewish household…whether that person chooses to convert, as my now-husband did 9 years ago, or to be part of a Jewish family without conversion, as my father has done.)

    I doubt MTV is terribly interested in the Jewish continuity issues that preoccupy our communal leaders: maybe they’ll pick a couple who have kids & are dealing with how to raise them, but I doubt it.

    They do, however, probably want some conflict and challenge, so I presume they will actually choose an interFAITH couple–one where the issues of religion and tradition on both sides really do matter–rather than an “interfaithless” one (where one or both partners no longer have much involvement with or commitment to the religion/faith-tradition in which they were raised). I don’t have the stats at hand, but I’ll bet that the number of intermarried households that are truly interfaith (where two faiths matter, whether or not both are passed on to any children or actively practised in the household) are much smaller than the number where either:
    1) both parties see themselves as more secular than religious and no religion is strongly practised in the household;
    2) only one party has strong views about religion/faith tradition and the other party agrees with that religion being the religion of the household.

    It’s certainly convenient for my Jewish upbringing that my father was not and is not a practicing Christian: my mother wanted a Jewish household and family, and she got it. But if Jews who marry non-Jews don’t have a strong enough attachment to Judaism to bring any Jewish content to their lives…that’s not the fault of their spouses/partners, whatever their religion or background.

  • Christopher, I don’t know where you got that one. I don’t care if they are or aren’t raised in a temple – if they’re mom is Jewish (according to Jewish law) then they are. If someone converts (according to Jewish law, not reform, conservative, recontstructionist, renewel or any other breakoff from Judaism)then obviously that person is Jewish.

    Leah, I hear your point but without numbers you and I will go in circles. I would respond to you that I knew plently of people as a youngster who were told by everyone around them that they were Jewish. They were not. They did not know. When I say “come to Israel” that does not mean aliyah. That could be coming here for 2 weeks. The psychological aspect of lying to the kids his entire life (that lie does not have to be malicious in nature) can be seen by kids who come here for a year abroad and don’t understand why people are telling them they’re not really Jewish.

    Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, people decided being Jewish was inherintly connected to “feeling” Jewish in one’s heart, etc. This is not the case.

  • Reply to Jew: Oy!

    There’s “Judaism,” which I imagine you are identifying with Orthodoxy–and then there’s “reform, conservative, recontstructionist [sic], renewel [sic] or any other breakoff from Judaism.”

    So: over 90%* of American Judaism is not really Judaism, according to you.

    I’m glad we’ve got that clear.

    If you want to understand what others are saying–whether or not you agree with it in terms of theology, ideology, halakha, etc–then you need to remember that there’s a world outside your skull and that not everyone sees it your way.

    So: where did Christopher “get that one”? Presumably from paying attention to what Jews in the Reform movement, which is the largest Jewish movement in America (41% of all synagogue-affiliated households in the 2000 NJPS), has to say about how it determines Jewish status, in the movement’s Resolution on Patrilineal Descent, which was adopted over 20 years ago (March 15, 1983):

    “The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both parent and child, to Jewish life.

    Depending on circumstances, mitzvot leading toward a positive and exclusive Jewish identity will include entry into the covenant, acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Kabbalat Torah (Confirmation). For those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity, other public acts or declarations may be added or substituted after consultation with their rabbi.”
    (see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/patrilineal1.html)

    So: you don’t care if I was “raised in a temple”–but the Reform movement does. You, along with the Orthodox and Conservative movements, consider me Jewish because my mother was Jewish (and I have not actively embraced some other faith)–not because I was raised Jewish and “appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people.” But what if I’d been raised Christian? Then the Reform movement would not consider me Jewish.

    It’s one thing if you think this is rubbish from a halakhic standpoint. But you should at least understand how the Reform and Reconstructionist movements determine Jewish status, for which “‘feeling’ Jewish in one’s heart” will not suffice.

    Just because they don’t play by your rules doesn’t mean there are none.

    *Stats from 2000-1 National Jewish Population Survey–denominational categorization for those who identified themselves as Jews by religion:

    42% identify themselves as Reform;
    38% are Conservative;
    7% are Orthodox;
    5% are “Just Jewish”;
    1% are Reconstructionist;
    remaining 6% identify themselves as “other.”

  • P.S. For the record, I don’t have a vested interest in defending Reform specifically: I grew up in the Conservative movement, my husband converted under its auspices (so I know that you, “Jew,” may well not consider him Jewish), and I now work at a Conservative synagogue.

  • It’s not only I, Becca. It’s Jewish Law. I’m not even religious, but I recognize that Jewish Law and Judaism are not what they have been molded into today, by Reform, etc.

    I’ve been told that Conservative, and only conservative, of all the breakoff streams, may have conversions that are respected by Jewish law. But I’d have to check that one out.

    But hey, assuming that your mother is Jewish, then so are your kids.

  • My wife & I are a subculture! Yea! Seriously, I think they should have called us, but then they’d have made a whole series… ‘Point and Laugh At the Geeks’…

  • Paul: For the record, I based my stat on the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) of 2000 found that 47% of Jews who married in the past five years had wed non-Jews. OK so it’s not over 50% overall but in some parts of the country it’s as high as 72%. Also, given the trends over the last 3 decades, there is every reason to believe that the current figure is over 50% – but there are no recent surveys that I know of that back that up. The point I was trying to make is that intermarried couples are hardly a tiny subculture – they are in fact mainstream. In 1973, the intermarriage rate was about 13% – unusual enough to perhaps be interesting, but now intermarriage is fairly common – and on that there is no question that we agree, right?

    My point was really just that, that as fodder for televised entertainment, the Jewish/Non-Jewish intermarried couple is too common to be interesting. There is nothing in what I wrote that speaks to their involvement in the organized Jewish community. I merely suggested that perhaps an interfaith couple that suffered from Tourette’s and was addicted to meth might be more interesting.

    And what was the overall message? That I hate interfaith couples and that they should, I don’t know, fuck off? Hardly. Please reread what I wrote and contemplate the possibility that you were perhaps projecting a little. You too esther!

    Paul, I know that you are the associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and, as such, you may have a heightened level of sensitivity to the issue. But come on – be fair. This was more about ignorant pop culture than it was about the role of interfaith couples in the Jewish community.

  • Becca,

    Something I neglected to mention:

    I have been through reform, conservative and orthodox Judaism. I know that other ways of thinking and belief exist outside of my skull. The fact that reform is the most common of the breakoffs does not make it legitmate – in other words, a majority behavior or belief does not Judaism make. Throughout history Jews (well before the breakoffs) at periods engaged in behavior on a mojority level – that did not make that behavior or belief Jewish.

    I’m quite familiar with the decisions of the reform movement. Their decisions continue to move themselves away from Judaism and the values held by Jewish tradition (common amongst a majority of non-religious Jews in Israel, by the way).

    I do appreciate your conversation. Many times I am simply attacked for stating what is actually believed by so many (religious and non-religious) here in Israe. Your candor and mature response is truly appreciated.

    Thanks.

  • leah–of course i dont want mtv to prove that, but whats my alternative? sit and watch some propoganda on tv about how intermarriage can work and intermarried couples have beautiful lives? id rather see viewers who date non-jews squirming in their seats than pleasantly thinking “hey this could be my future”

  • CK, you can’t find an intermarriage stat I haven’t seen. When you write, “if a Jewish man marries a Jewish woman, they’re the exception rather than the rule,” it made it sound like it almost never happens. That’s how I define “exception to the rule” – a rare occurance. Maybe in Seattle and Denver it’s the “exception,” but certainly not in New York, not in Cleveland or Boca, and not nationally, yet. There are still plenty of Jews marrying Jews (remarkably many, in fact, compared to other ethnic groups that have been in the US for more than three generations).

    As for this post in general, perhaps it is all just “humor,” but when you “joke” that “Meredith visits the interfaith mikveh for a non-denominational, pre-snogging, Judaic ‘baptism’ ritual officiated by the local Animist Rabbi,” it seems to me that you are arguing the same old canard: that inclusion of intermarried families “waters down” “real” Judaism. (Either that, or it’s a slam on non-Orthodox Judaism in general, to which I also take offense.)

    If I’m mis-“reading through the lines” then I apologize, but am I?

  • Intermarriage is the worst.
    My mom is jewish and my dad is not. I hope the interfaith couple, if they find one breaks up and realize their mistake. This BS that you can raise kids with halfies from both sides is such nonsense. And the commnuity embrace? You MUST be kidding me… There is nothing more illogical.
    Paul nobody is trying to argue that intermarried families waters down real judaism…its a fact already. You can take all the offense that you want..but real judaism does not allow for a mixture of xmas and hanukkah and clever pop songs and code words from the OC and Adam Sandler…and the community whether it be conservative or orthodox does not need to embrace these people if they feel that intermarriage is bad.
    Thats life.

  • Amira-your alternative is to turn off the TV and start working with Jews to do more Jewish. (and maybe you already do.)

    A reason I hate seeing stats being thrown around, is that I believe more in qualitative than quantitative. If the stats scare you, then make a difference in the Jewishness of another Jew. Be a Jewish mentor to someone struggling in an inter-faith relationship. That doesn’t mean demanding a break-up, it does mean helping them in their jewishness.

    It means starting a conversation. As a direct result of the Reform movement taking a bit of a beating here, I’m starting Mitzvah study groups in Chicago.

    (Maybe I hear different conversations because I converted. Maybe born Jews say things to me that they don’t say to other born Jews.)

    Make a difference for one Jew and don’t let the stats scare you. You may not change the whole world or the whole Jewish world, but you will change one life.

    *stepping off soap box and returning to work*

  • Paul Golin wrote: CK, you can’t find an intermarriage stat I haven’t seen.

    Oh jewocrat master of intermarriage statistics, wherefore are your numbers? Your percentages? Your references? You seem very quick to assert your encyclopedic grasp of all such relevant data, yet your responses have all been rhetorical and qualitative. Why don’t you back up what you are saying with statistics, with references?

  • Paul, you correctly note: “There are still plenty of Jews marrying Jews (remarkably many, in fact, compared to other ethnic groups that have been in the US for more than three generations).”

    The reason for this, though, is that Jews have traditionally stressed (more so than other groups) the importance of endogamy.

    Being welcoming to the children and spouses of intermarriage is important. So is encouraging endogamy. While you may be doing important work on the former front, I wish you more candidly acknowledged the importance of the latter. I know it’s a tough balancing act, but you could do much better. Instead, your group, JOI, tends to attack those in the community who even dare open their mouths to stress the importance of inmarriage.

  • Because, Oyster, it’s not about the numbers. It’s about the way you welcome and treat individuals.

    Daniel, Steve Bayme said almost the exact same thing to me when I was on a panel with him discussing intermarriage earlier this year, and here was my (approximate) answer: YES, in an ideal world, all Jews marry other Jews. I’m happy to state that. Oh by the way, also in an ideal world, all Jews only eat kosher food. In an ideal world, all Jews live within walking distance of their synagogues — and actually attend. The problem is, we don’t live in an ideal world. JOI pushes for the community to respond to reality, and the reality is that intermarriage is happening at an astounding rate. Bayme will readily admit that he prefers to deal with ideals; he basically did admit to that during our panel discussion. And why shouldn’t he? His organization is not working on the ground with the actual families who need communal outreach. He is not a practitioner.

    I also pointed out during that panel that when JOI discusses intermarriage we do not shy away from the statement that it is — in general — easier to raise Jewish children when two Jewish adults are helping to do so. Nobody is debating that. The issue is CONTEXT. When does that get said? To whom? In front of whom? Bayme calls for rabbis to shout it from the pulpit. That is a method that has already been proven ineffective (see decades 1970s through 1990s), which is why most rabbis won’t do it any more. But if Bayme is going to put it out there, we are going to point out that it has not worked and will not work.

    The people you claim we “attack” — I prefer the phrase “take umbrage with” — are those like Dr. Bayme who suggest that the community should not spend any resources on outreach to intermarried households, who by now equal or outnumber in-married households. (Here’s your numbers, Oyster: Based on the NJPS, Dr. Bruce Phillips believes that 47% of all existing marriages containing a Jew in 2001 were intermarriages; at the rate of nearly two new intermarriages for every new in-marriage, that 47% household rate must be closer to or past 50% by now. Of course not all those households are Jewish — many are — but those numbers represent a lot of potentially Jewish households that the community tends to push away more than reach out to.) When Bayme says the community should not spend any money on outreach, that’s an attack on JOI, and we respond.

    So where do you talk about endogamy, Daniel? Is your audience receptive? Who are they?

    If they’re students on college campuses age 18-29 who identify themselves as Jewish to survey-takers, then according to the NJPS, a whopping 45% come from intermarried parents (compared to 47% who come from in-married parents and an incredibly 8% who say they have no Jewish parents at all!). I don’t think the message that “you must marry Jewish in order to have Jewish children” is going to resonate very strongly with most of those 45%, who will ask you, “why? My parents intermarried and look, I’m Jewish!”

    Instead of turning people off with the constant harping against intermarriage and the intermarried, why can’t we just work together to provide compelling reasons to be Jewish and create Jewish households (regardless of how many parents are Jewish)? That’s what JOI advocates for, and it’s why I replied to this post. There’s no way CK would ever have asked for people to make him laugh by imitating black people who are “also meth addicts with Tourette syndrome.” But his hang-ups about intermarriage (and the lack of voices to point it out to him, let alone the chorus who applaud it) serve to push still more of that population away.

  • Hey Leah! Gald to see you back here. Please let me know how the Mitzvah Study Groups are going. I am SERIOUSLY fascinated by the concept within the context of Reform Judaism, and I’d love to hear how that progresses.

    Paul: I have no doubt that you have an encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish intermarriage stats. I acknowledge my error on a National level based on 5 year old survey results. My guess is that given the trends, we’ve gone over the 50% mark and despite your issues with mmy terminology, as it stands, a Jewish wedding these days, in all likelihood involves a non-Jewish partner. But we’re not going to quibble over this are we?

    I think you need to chill out a bit and to whatever extent there was a thematic undercurrent in my otherwise benign and humorous post, I stand by it.

    I’m a Sephardic Jew. We’re ovewhelmingly Orthodox by affiliation at least. Other streams of Judaism mean nothing to me and I won’t make excuses or pussyfoot around the issue – I choose not to believe in them. That’s my choice and I expect it to be respected just as I respect the choices of my coreligionists to practice their Judaism any way they see fit, just as I respect anyone’s freedom of religion, as long as it doesn’t infringe upon anyone else’s freedom.

    As you’ve noted before, in my personal life I have cordial and friendly relations with Jews of all levels of practice and denominations. I appreciate the work your organization does and whenever I am in a position to be of any assistance to any person even remotely affiliated with Judaism, even if by my standards they are not technically Jewish, I do it. What I don’t do is pussyfoot around the issue. I have my beliefs and I am not about to alter them. But I am in all cases warm, friendly and open. So please, do not cast aspersions as to how I conduct my life by using that tired old “some of my best friends are…” cannard.

    In my opinion, the ideal domestic situation is one whereby both partners in a marriage are Jewish AND committed to living a Jewish life wherein Judaism plays a daily role. If I am presented with an intermarried couple, my ideal solution to whatever issues arise is that the non-Jewish partner convert to Judaism and that both parties live a life as described above. If the non-Jewish partner is unwilling for whatever reason I still won’t shun the couple! But neither will I compromise my values.

    The down side of that is that I will not attend a wedding of an interfaith couple. I will not agree to a non-Jewish father having an aliyah at his Jewish son’s bar mitzvah. I will not dine at said couple’s residence unless I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that everything served is absolutely kosher. I will not count a non-halachically Jewish person in my Minyan.

    But in pretty much every respect, I will be open and available and friendly. Believe me, your battle is not with the likes of me. There are plenty of Jews, of every denomination and level of practice, who are at the very least unenlightened in their attitudes regarding interfaith couples and converts and at the very worst, out and out racist. Go pick a fight with them.

    And fer crying out loud, allow me to have a little fun! I’m entitled to a harmless laugh once in a while. I mean, really, I ought not be laughing at anyone afflicted by Tourette’s or drug addiction, regardless of whether said person is an African American or a member of an interfaaith couple. But I get irreverent sometimes. It’s what I do. Forgive me this one little caprice!

  • What about capri pants? (You’ve got that old Capri Sun jingle in my head now: “there’s only one…Capri Sun!”)

    But seriously:

    Though I’m “out of the demographic,” as the MTVers would say, I have similar thoughts to those 45% of Jewish-identifying students 18-28 who come from intermarried households, as projected by Paul:

    If they’re students on college campuses age 18-29 who identify themselves as Jewish to survey-takers, then according to the NJPS, a whopping 45% come from intermarried parents (compared to 47% who come from in-married parents and an incredibly 8% who say they have no Jewish parents at all!) I don’t think the message that “you must marry Jewish in order to have Jewish children” is going to resonate very strongly with most of those 45%, who will ask you, “why? My parents intermarried and look, I’m Jewish!”

    Yup: that’s exactly what I say. And then I’m dismissed as an exception. Well:
    1) At 45% from intermarried parents as compared to inmarrieds’ 47%, that’s not looking like so much of an exception after all!
    2) Instead of dismissing me (and a lot of other highly-committed child-of-intermarriage “exceptions” I know, including a past president of Yale Hillel) as an anomaly, why not try to figure out what’s gone right for me & others who are Jewishly active, and how it can be emulated?
    (Having Judaism as the single religion of the children is one big factor–so any programs that can help that happen, like The Mother’s Circle, get a thumbs-up in my book.)
    3) Acknowledging that the intermarried are not the enemy doesn’t mean that living a Jewish life isn’t important: it opens the door for more ways to encourage those who are already marrying someone not Jewish (or raised by such a couple) to make Jewish choices and be part of the community.

    The other big news from the stats Paul brought up there might be those 8% with no Jewish parents, presumably Jews by choice (converts)–some of whom might be convering in the context of a relationship, but many of whom may be independently finding their spiritual, intellectual, and emotional religious home in Judaism. We should remember, when playing Jewish geography or asking where people went to camp, that not everyone grew up Jewish. 🙂

    You don’t have to marry Jewish to have Jewish children. You don’t have to be born Jewish to have Jewish children. You have to “do Jewish,” live Jewish. That’s what makes our community stronger.

    Daniel, that’s the reason–as I see it–that JOI (and I! and maybe that 45% of Jewish students 18-29) takes umbrage at those who “stress the importance of inmarriage.” The real question as I see it is: what’s inmarriage for? It’s often discussed as if it were itself a goal, an end in itself–in ways that demonize intermarriage and treat it (tacitly or explicitly) as outmarriage, in which the Jewish partner is likely to be lost to the community, forgetting that it can also be a gateway into Jewish life for the non-Jewish partner.

    The Jewish community has done plenty in emphasizing the importance of endogamy: if saying “marry a nice Jewish boy/girl” were persuasive, the intermarriage rates wouldn’t be what they are. I don’t care about endogamy for its own sake: I care about making Jewish choices. Stressing the former hasn’t worked–so why don’t we try the latter?

    Sometimes the tone of some of these intermarriage discussions reminds me unfavorably of one aspect of our national political discourse, where everyone claims that they’re the victims and their opponents have all the power. What’s the status
    quo on intermarriage today? To hear the advocates for the intermarried tell it, the norm is a community that’s still obsessed with not giving Hitler a posthumous victory and that is less than welcoming. Meanwhile, the defenders of endogamy claim that the norm is being so openminded that your brains fall out and that only a few brave souls “even dare open their mouths to stress the importance of inmarriage.” The truth lies somewhere in between, and is local/personal: we remember the things that upset or pain us. But rather than arguing who’s David and who’s Goliath, I think we’d be better off trying to work toward a common goal of vibrant Jewish life.

    ck, I think you & I see more or less eye-to-eye on the intent & effect of your post. The only thing I would say in response to your comments is: don’t write off non-conversionary intermarrieds. (Again: that’s who raised me, and did a fine job if I say so myself!) I’m glad you say you “won’t shun the couple” (I’m glad the Jewish community has gotten beyond the sitting-shiva-for-outmarried-child stage)–but do you welcome them? If you do want them to be part of the Jewish community, an outstretched hand will work a lot better than the cold shoulder.

    Maybe the Jewish partner still wants–even needs–to be involved in Jewish life, or will discover that s/he does at some critical juncture. (My mother got very involved in our shulwhen her father died & she went to say kaddish daily—-and became more religiously observant as a result.) Maybe the non-Jewish partner is willing to help create a Jewish household, even though s/he does not currently want to convert. Maybe s/he will discover, to his/her surprise, that involvement in the Jewish community through partner and/or children leads to conversion later on. In my community in New Haven I knew several converts who chose Judaism after some years into their relationships with Jews–one at her son’s bar mitzvah. They became among the most active and involved members of our lay-led minyan, often choosing to have an adult Bat Mitzvah at which they led parts of the davening and/or read Torah and haftarah–and then became part of our regular rotation of volunteers who do so weekly. My husband and I had been a couple for seven years when he decided, a year before our wedding, that he would like to explore the possibility of converting to Judaism. That year of study and community involvement changed both of our religious lives immensely–but if he hadn’t converted, I would still have continued as a relatively observant and active part of the Jewish community (considerably more than a three-day-a-year Jew).

    I agree that you are thoroughly entitled not to “compromise [your] values” with regard to intermarriage issues–but what are your values, and do the approaches that you take fully embody them? In some cases, the issues are clearly halakhic: a non-Jew does not have count appropriate halakhic status to take an aliyah or count in a minyan. (Whether I, as a woman, also do not depends on whose halakhic authority you’re accepting–but we all agree that it’s a halakhic matter.)

    But not attending the wedding of an interfaith couple? (–which might be officiated by a rabbi, as my parents’ was.) Not permitting a non-Jewish spouse on the bimah? (–e.g. at child’s bar/bat mitzvah to do something that is not a matter of hiyyuv or Jewish status, such as doing a reading in English or joining the Jewish spouse in offering their parental blessing and/or reflections to the child.) Subjecting an intermarried couple to greater kashrut scrutiny than an equally involved or uninvolved inmarried couple? These are not so clearly matters of halakha (in the narrow sense: in the broader sense almost everything is, n’est-ce pas?). So: what’s gained by these acts of exclusion, other than a message of “holding the line”?

    I’m genuinely curious: what interfaith weddings have you turned down, and for what reason? If you’re a Conservative or Orthodox rabbi, I understand why you cannot attend, let alone officiate at, an intermarriage–though I don’t agree with the Conservative movement’s stance forbidding its clergy to do either. The argument is: you’re a religious official, and your presence is seen as officially condoning if not endorsing this event. (I think this is something of a fallacy: if many of us would think a vegetarian who won’t join the family for Thanksgiving if others eat turkey is being excessively hard-core…) If you’re not clergy, the stakes for that argument are lower. Why would we assume that your presence constitutes an endorsement of the couple’s religious choices rather than an expression of your love or family loyalty to them?

    Weddings would be a whole lot smaller if only those who wholeheartedly approved of your fiance(e) came!

  • Jew,

    Reform Judaism is not a “breakoff” sect, as you keep repeating. In fact, Reform Judaism preceded Orthodoxy, which was established in response to its proposed reforms. For what it’s worth, I defend Reform Judaism as a nondenomination Jew, who just graduated from a Conservative seminary. This seminary and Conservative Judaism in America were established by German Orthodox Jews in order to provide a Judaism accessible to the new Eastern European immigrants. Let’s not continue to perpetuate the myth that Orthodoxy is somehow legitimate Judaism and everything else is “Judaism Lite.”

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