I hardly need to say that intermarriage is not a popular topic. I am often frustrated when Jewish leaders do not agree with me that engaging interfaith families in Jewish life is an issue of such overriding importance for the liberal Jewish community that it should be talked about openly and even aggressively.
Shortly before Passover this year, I had one of those frustrating meetings. When I arrived home later that day, I found in my mail the Passover message to donors to the Boston federation, Combined Jewish Philanthropies from Barry Shrage, CJP’s president.
The contrast in attitudes was striking.
In a two-page letter to people who are certainly key constituents of his federation, Barry Shrage explicitly brought the issue of engaging interfaith families directly into the spotlight. Here is how what he said appeared in the digital edition of Sh’ma:
How will this year’s seder be different from all others? Who will sit at our seder? What questions will they ask and what stories will we tell? As we gather our families and friends around the table, many of us will be sitting with children raised in interfaith households and young adults who have returned from Taglit-Birthright Israel trips to Israel. Those children and grandchildren may be asking surprisingly spiritual questions. (A recent study found that the next generation of Jews is actually more spiritual than the last and that the children of intermarriage are the most spiritual of all.)
Hopefully in the future, statements from Jewish leaders, that recognize the reality and presence of people from interfaith relationships in the Jewish community, and say something positive about that reality, will become increasingly more common.
By the way, Barry’s answer to his question is extraordinary too, and well worth remembering:
• In a time that lacks vision and prophecy and that yearns for meaning, our stories are carrying an ancient faith in an ancient God so that our children and grandchildren will have spiritual options to fill their lives with light and joy.
• In a time of greed and selfishness, our stories are part of an old – a very old – tradition of caring for strangers – love of the poor and oppressed – and responsibility for widows and orphans, the elderly and handicapped.
• In a time of forgetfulness, our stories are part of a living chain of learning and literature in the world, inheritors of an ancient and hauntingly beautiful culture.
• In a time of anomie and loneliness, our stories are imbued with a thirst, and we maintain a commitment to creating community and providing a sense of belonging.
• In a time of rootlessness and alienation our stories are connected to a religious civilization with a 3500-year-old history and an infinite future and the ultimate responsibility for the betterment of humankind in the name of the God whose story is at the heart of our existence.
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