Israel and American Jews: A Growing Divide?

The editor’s column in the Nov. 2 edition of the Canadian Jewish News (not online, unfortunately) made an interesting connection between two studies by the American Jewish Committee. One, titled Teaching about American Jewry in Israeli Education, found that only 14 percent of Israeli schools teach anything about American Jewry; the other, titled Young Jewish Adults in the United States Today, found that only one-third of young Jewish American felt that caring about Israel was important to Jewish identity (Israel placed 11th out of 15 markers of Jewish identity).

Taken together, these two facts suggest that the citizens of Israel and the Jewish citizens of the U.S. are drifting apart and prophesy a future where Jewish-Americans feel a much lower level of connection to Israel.
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JTA on the News Out of Boston

On late Friday, JTA, the Jewish newswire, did its story on the extraordinary news out of Boston: 60% of intermarried families there are raising their children Jewish.

Unlike the Boston Globe story, the JTA story, by Sue Fishkoff, more explicitly makes the connection between outreach and intermarried families raising their children Jewish, starting with the title “Investment in outreach is paying dividends in Boston, study suggests”:

“CJP is the only federation that has made a serious commitment for over 10 years to fund [outreach to interfaith families],” said Paula Brody, outreach director of the Northeast Council of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose organization receives $140,000 a year from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies for a wide variety of adult-education seminars and workshops aimed at interfaith couples and individuals considering conversion. “We offered these programs before the CJP funding, but it has enabled us to expand our offerings and advertise them in the secular press, so we can reach the unaffiliated.”

Our own Ed Case is quoted in the article, also arguing the case for the connection between outreach and interfaith families making Jewish choices.

The JTA story goes into detail how San Francisco, another city with a well-funded, well-organized collection of outreach programs, has also had higher-than-average rates of intermarried families raising their children Jewish:

San Francisco’s Jewish federation experienced similar results, according to planning director Karen Bluestone. That federation was one of the first in the nation to fund interfaith programming, she notes, following a 1986 Jewish communal study that revealed large numbers of intermarried families.

In the 20 years since, the Jewish population has more than doubled in the San Francisco Bay Area and intermarriage has increased, but increasing numbers of those interfaith households are identifying with the Jewish community.

A 2004 communal study showed that 40 percent of the children in interfaith households are receiving formal Jewish education, and 40 percent of the adults indicated that their interest in Judaism has increased in the past five years. The numbers are about the same for Jews and non-Jews, she said.

While Bluestone admits that “there’s no causality in the data,” she said she sees a correlation between increased outreach and increased Jewish identification.

“Due to the investments we’ve made since 1986 in outreach and training to be more welcoming to interfaith families, we’ve seen a rise in the number of interfaith families identifying as Jews and raising their children Jewishly,” Bluestone said.

Brody also makes the important point how there is beginning to be a change in mindset. In the past, the Jewish community viewed those who intermarried as marrying out of the community; but, as Brody says of interfaith families making Jewish choices, “What’s remarkable is that these families see themselves not as where the Jewish partner has married out, but where the Christian partner has married in.”

60% of Interfaith Families in Boston are Raising Children Jewish

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There is extraordinary news this morning: according to a demographic study of Boston’s Jewish community released today, 60 percent of intermarried households are raising their children Jewish.

Michaal Paulson of the Boston Globe did a front-page story on this remarkable development this morning, and the news is clearly striking a chord. As of 9:20 a.m. EST, “Jewish population in region rises” was the most e-mailed story on Boston.com–and rising.

The news is extraordinary for two reasons:
1) As our publisher and president, Ed Case, says in the article, “Boston has the most extensive and most well-funded and most well-organized outreach to interfaith families in the country.” This development shows that for a relatively small investment–only 1 percent of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ annual allocations–outreach can produce tangible, measurable, powerful results.

2) For years leading voices in the Jewish community have been referring to intermarriage as a “threat.” This shows it can be an opportunity, an opportunity to expand and enrich the Jewish community. Why is that? Because 50 intermarried Jews create 50 households, while 50 inmarried Jews form 25 households. If only 25 of the 50 intermarried households–50 percent, that is–raise their children Jewish, they are raising the same number of children as the 25 Jewish households. If more than 50 percent of intermarried households raise their children Jewish–as they are doing in Boston–they contribute to a net increase in the Jewish population, which is what Boston has seen in the last 10 years.

We will keep you regularly updated on press about this extraordinary development.

One of Our Adoption Writers to Appear on TV

Gina Hagler, one of the writers in our current issue, will be interviewed on her local Washington, DC-area station–Channel 24 for News 4 at 4 on Tuesday, November 14.

She was invited to appear on the TV show as the result of another adoption article she wrote for Washington Parent.

You might want to watch her debut TV appearance if you’re in the DC area.

Borat is Interdating

He’s known best for pretending to be a virulently anti-Semitic Kazakh reporter, but Sacha Baron Cohen, the star of Borat, is the son of Orthodox Jews and is dating Isla Fisher, a non-Jewish Australian actress. You might remember Fisher as the crazy sister from Wedding Crashers.

According to this article and other sources, Cohen and Fisher are engaged and are planning a Jewish wedding, on the condition that Fisher convert.

Also, among the six new Jewish representatives to Congress elected on Tuesday, at least one of them is from an interfaith family. See this blurb from the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix article “Ms. Giffords Goes to Congress”:

“My Jewish heritage has really instilled in me the importance of education and caring for the community,” said Giffords, who has a Jewish father and a Protestant mother and said she grew up “with a mixture of my parents’ religions. After visiting Israel in 2001, I realized Judaism is a part of my life I hadn’t focused on before. I consider myself Jewish without any equivocation.”

For the curious, there are now 30 Jews in the House (up from 26), and 13 in the Senate (up from 11).

A Tangled Knot

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As promised, I’m returning to “Untying a civil knot,” where Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer argues that the state should have nothing to do with marriage.

His argument needs to be explained in detail before it can be refuted or critiqued. His fundamental assumption is that marriage is a religious act, and under the principle of the separation of church and state, it should therefore be separate from the state’s control.

He believes the state should instead issue a “civil commitment certificate.” This certificate would essentially be a contract that couples would sign where they would make certain legally binding promises regarding “the exclusivity of the union, how it is to be terminated and what the responsibilities of each party will be at termination and beyond.” Any couple who wants to make their marriage in a religious institution legally binding in the secular world would be obligated to get a civil commitment certificate.

The benefit of this solution is twofold, he argues: one, it frees civil courts from the expense, time and pain of determining divorce settlements because everyone who has a civil commitment certificate will essentially have a prenup; and two, it resolves the contentious issue of same-sex marriage because it would be illegal to bar two homosexual men or women from entering into a contract together.
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Families are much more than just “interfaith”

Reading an obituary of the controversial theater critic Richard Gilman, I found myself pondering a quote of Gilman’s that was referred to in the article. He had said, “I don’t think of myself as a critic or teacher either, but simply — and at the obvious risk of disingenuousness — as someone who teaches, writes drama criticism (and other things) and feels that the American compulsion to take your identity from your profession, with its corollary of only one trade to a practitioner, may be a convenience to society but is burdensome and constricting to yourself.”

Thinking about the quote, I realized that the same thing is true in a different way for interfaith families: The identity as an interfaith family is usually one small part of a family’s overall identity, not something they want to be reminded of all the time–they may be a family with two young daughters, a mom who does x and a dad who does y, close with their friends, family, etc… and also interfaith.

Ronnie F

Interfaith Families at Day School

Not much time to write today, but one important link I forgot to share with you on Friday: the cover story of the Oct. 27 issue of the J., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, was on interfaith families who send their kids to Jewish day school.

The piece is testament to the committed, powerful Jewish choices that interfaith families make, and makes the important point that in some cases, the non-Jewish parent is the driving force behind the children’s Jewish education. (The story even includes the story of a non-Jewish single mother who adopted a child who was born Jewish and decided to send the child to Jewish day school.)

And there’s also this great quote:

“Children are the main thing,” says Dawn Kepler, director of interfaith resources at the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay. “Reasonable adults can make a lot of compromises, but when it comes to kids, it’s the King Solomon thing. In any parenting situation you have to make sacrifices.”

The Link Sink

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Some interesting links:

  • Rabbi Dov Marmur, a major figure in the World Union of Progressive Judaism, has changed his tune on patrilineal descent. He used to oppose the notion of recognizing children of non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers as Jewish, but he’s changed his mind after meeting numberous people of Jewish descent who longed to be part of a Jewish community:

    I have seen the splendid results in many congregations, not least in Europe, that have been soft on the law, but firm on integration. Many children of mixed marriages who otherwise might have been lost to Judaism are now active members of Jewish communities and are raising Jewish children, because rabbis and congregations put people before principles – liberal Judaism at its best.

    Individuals thus integrated are understandably distressed when they are not accepted as Jews. I now believe that, despite halachic “irregularities,” it behooves us all to honour and celebrate their commitment, not to try to disenfranchise them.

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    Diversifying the Gene Pool

    I read a very powerful article in Tuesday’s New York Times about a 43-year old woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This woman, the mother of a young daughter, is intermarried and grateful for the fact that her Ashkenazic genes–which tend to be linked to a bewildering array of genetic diseases–are not the only ones being passed on to her daughter. In fact, in the article she expresses gratitude that she herself is the daughter of an intermarried couple, hence her genes are not all Ashkenazic.

    It’s an article worth reading and reflecting on.