A recent op-ed in the Jpost proposes a new solution to address the American Jewish community’s elephant in the room: Intermarriage.
The first half of the article bemoans those named “Cohen and Friedman marrying McCarthys or O’Connors, instead of each other,” and calls it a “crisis of unprecedented proportions, one that will only worsen over time if drastic steps aren’t taken, and soon.”
So what might these drastic steps look like? Obviously, another free trip to Israel.
Looking at the “success” of Taglit-birthright israel, the author, Michael Freund, suggests the following:
The idea is very simple: the American Jewish community would give every Jew who ties the knot a free 10-day trip to Israel to be used within the first year of marriage.
All American Jews, regardless of whom they marry, would be eligible to participate, with the goal being to spark their interest in all things Jewish as they set out to build a family.
First of all, the “success” of Taglit-birthright israel is a tricky question. Surely “success” should not be based on attendance, for if I was giving away free 10 day trips to Cancun to all Jewish college students, I’m sure my program would be a huge success as well. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no independently funded studies measuring how many birthright alumni are compelled to marry Jewish or live more Jewish lives because of the program.
Nonetheless, while Freund’s idea for this last-ditch attempt at saving the American Jewish soul is sweet, it is a band-aid solution at best. A connection to Israel does not a Jewish identity make. Why not propose a solution which not only addresses the problem closer to the root, but gives individuals the tools needed in order to know how to build a Jewish household?
The money he proposes the “American Jewish community” ponies up to pay for this would be far better spent making full time Jewish education affordable for all who want it, thus instilling a sense of why one would want to marry a Jew, rather than simply rewarding those who might do so latter in life.
Only a fraction of American Jewish Youth have a Jewish education that extends beyond Bar and Bat Mitzvah age. Just as we start shaping our identities, personal values and world view, the voice of Jewish wisdom is pulled out of our lives. My experience with birthright groups tells me that the majority of the participants lead Jewishly ambivalent lives not so much out of choice but out of ignorance. That is the real problem and another trip to Israel is not going to change it.
So how do we really fight intermarriage?
People say you can’t choose who you love. This is only true to a point. I’ve never seen a girl accustomed to a upper class kind of life fall in love and marry a nice boy struggling to make ends meet while living in his parents basement.
No matter how cute he might be, she will have made a decision, consciously or not, to only pursue relationships with men who can provide her with the kind of lifestyle she wants.
So too with Judaism. If Judaism is important to you, not just as a latent sense of “heritage” but as a daily lifestyle choice, influencing where you live, work, volunteer, give charity to, the books you read, the news you watch, what and where you choose to eat, your sexual ethics, your value system, what you’re doing Saturday afternoon, your daily, weekly and yearly life rhythm, then you will naturally seek relationships with partners who can share in, and provide you with, the kind of lifestyle you’ve chosen.
If Judaism is important to you, it may or may not dictate who you marry. If Judaism is a vital and daily part of your life, it probably will.
Israel is not a magic bullet. Ten fun-filled days can no more repair a relationship between a Jew and Judaism than it could between an long time absentee father and child.