A Stupid, Ill-conceived Approach from Israel

Yesterday Ha’aretz reported that MASA, which it describes as “an organization that works to strengthen ties between Israel and Diaspora Jews,” had “launched a scare-tactic campaign that urges Israelis to combat assimilation in North America by working to prevent the “loss” through intermarriage of their own Jewish acquaintances.

This has got to be the most stupid, ill-conceived effort coming out of Israel in many years.

MASA is a partnership between the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government that helps finance and market semester- and year-length Israel programs for Jews outside of Israel. (The Jewish Agency for Israel is the organization in charge of immigration and absorption of Jews from outside of Israel.)

According to Ha’aretz, the 10-day Hebrew-language campaign features a video clip with a top Israeli TV reporter stating that more than 50% of young Jews assimilate. It likens Jews who marry outside of the religion to missing persons, with fake notices and pictures that as part of the campaign will be plastered on walls around Israel. MASA hopes the campaign will spur the Israeli public to commit to the cause of preventing marriage to non-Jews, which Jewish Agency officials believe is tantamount to a “strategic national threat.”

Equating intermarriage with assimilation is the classic mistake that Israeli leaders repeatedly make, as anyone who follows the Israeli press knows. I have long thought that Israeli leaders have no conception whatsoever of the realities of intermarriage in North America. (Last year when the annual convention of the United Jewish Communities was held in Jerusalem, I proposed a session to be called “What Israelis Should Know About Intermarriage in North America,” but the idea was rejected.)

Israeli leaders simply do not understand that many intermarried couples, and the adult children of intermarried parents, are actively engaging in Jewish life.

And they most certainly do not understand that many more would do so if they were welcomed, not described as a “strategic threat” by the community they want to participate in.

Indeed, the “strategic threat” to the liberal Jewish future lies in not doing whatever can be done to attract and support Jewish choices by people in interfaith relationships.

The MASA campaign is a step in exactly the wrong direction. According to Ha’aretz, the ad asks anyone who “knows a young Jew living abroad” to call MASA and concludes, “Together, we will strengthen his or her bond to Israel, so that we don’t lose them.” Half of those “young Jews living abroad” have intermarried parents and many of the rest are put off by condemnations of intermarriage. If MASA thinks it will successfully recruit those young Jews to its programs by marketing them as an antidote to intermarriage, it is very sadly mistaken.

It wasn’t that long ago that Jewish identity building programs in North America – birthright Israel, Jewish summer camps, day schools – marketed themselves as preventing intermarriage. After some effective lobbying took place, that rarely happens today. A significant percentage of birthright Israel trip participants have one Jewish parent, and the leaders and funders of that program realized that denigrating intermarriage would deter that population from participating. The leaders and funders of camps and day schools likewise realized that they couldn’t sell their programs to intermarried parents by arguing that they would prevent their children from intermarrying.

My hope is that the North American leaders of the United Jewish Communities and the philanthropists who have funded these programs and who have influence with the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel will use that influence wisely to lobby for an end to MASA’s counter-productive campaign.

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17 thoughts on “A Stupid, Ill-conceived Approach from Israel

  1. I absolutely support this campaign.  The truth must be told about the dire consequences of intermarriage in the Jewish community.  It’s only thought to be “stupid and ill-conveived” by people who want to make Judaism into another branch of Christianity.

  2. I support this campaign also.  Intermarriage has been very bad for the Jews as a whole.  Statistics do not lie.  My own family was destroyed through intermarriage and conversion out.  For some people. the truth is do tough to deal with.

  3. People who support divisive programs such as this fail to realize the emotional damage done to children of intermarried couples. More families will be brought into Jewish life if intermarried couples are welcomed and supported.

  4. The MASA campaign noted that people were assimilating, not necessarily intermarrying. The decision to infer that this meant intermarriage was your deduction. Before you slander a group and their reputation, get the facts straight.

  5. Dear Friends:

    Ed Case has absolutely called this one correctly.

    The MASA video ad is very destructive. It does Israel no favors.

    I’m the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, the largest international organization for adult children and other descendants of intermarriage, and I’m 300% in support of Ed Case on this one.

    Here are the statistics: 48% of all college age Jews in America are currently adult children of intermarriage — a campaign like MASA’s,  depicting their intermarried Jewish parents as kidnapping victims due to intermarriage will totally turn them off to MASA, the Jewish Agency and the Netayahu government.

    Apparently no one told the office of PM Netanyahu, the Jewish Agency or MASA that particular statistic.

    Second, if you review the blogs of 20something Jews (with two Jewish parents) all over the web today, nine out of ten of their blogs attack or laugh at the ad. The nicest thing they’ve said about it is that it is “disgusting.”

    They are deriding the video ad as typical old-fashioned, out-of-date Israeli attitudes towards the Diaspora.

    Now wasn’t the ad supposed to bring young Jews into MASA’s programs? Looks like it did just the opposite.

    With regard to the people saying that the ad is about “assimilation” not intermarriage — you may want to stick “MASA” into Google, and read the news interviews with the head of MASA who talks about MASA’s perception of the threat of intermarriage as the reason the ad campaign was launched.

    MASA has made it very clear in interviews with the press that the video ad is about intermarriage in the Diaspora. And the MASA website claims that long-term Israel residency programs will reduce the rate of intermarriage, etc.

    Also, it is hypocritcal of Israel to fund an ad campaign against intermarriage for Diaspora Jews, when Israel has thousands of half-Jewish Russian Israeli citizens and their intermarried parents, all of whom are basically second-class citizens in Israel.

    Israel would never run a television ad campaign showing its intermarried Russian Jewish citizens as “lost” because they intermarried. The Russian Jewish “mixed” families, as they call them, might finally mutiny and stop paying taxes and serving in the IDF.

    I interact with three Israeli Jewish organizations fighting Israel’s legal and social discrimination against interfaith families –the Association for the Rights of Mixed Families, the Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the New Family. They conduct court cases and lobying about Knesset legislation that might harm (further) or help interfaith families, creating projects to help Israel’s “mixed families” learn more about Judaism, and integrate into Israeli society.

    The $800,000 spent on this very counter-productive ad campaign could have been spent on those three small, under-funded Jewish Israeli organizations and been of direct benefit to their thousands of “mixed families” Israeli clients.

    Sincerely,
    Robin Margolis

  6. I wholly agree with this article. Did the makers of this ad forget that it would be seen by tens of thousands descendants of intermarriage and their parents in Israel, not to mention in the Diaspora? It will do far more harm than good for Jewish continuity. The final call to report the names and details of foreign Jews to MASA is chilling.

  7. From some of the earlier comments:

    “…the dire consequences of intermarriage in the Jewish community.”
    “Intermarriage has been very bad for the Jews as a whole. Statistics do not lie. My own family was destroyed through intermarriage and conversion out.”

    Intermarriage is not The problem (or even A problem).  As I see it, the problems are:
    - Lousy attitudes towards those in inter faith relationships  Telling someone who has just fallen in love or married their significant other that they’re “finishing Hitler’s work” brings them closer to Judaism how exactly?
    - Lack of support, formal and informal.  We’ve been shunning Jews who “marry out” since forever.  Isn’t it time we asked the question “how’s that working out for you?”.  Instead of shunning those who’ve found a life partner who’s a “Not” (i.e. not Jewish), we should celebrate with them while providing the tools and support to enable them to run a Jewish home and raise Jewish children.
    - Lack of clarity.  Broadly speaking, all major streams within Judaism regard it as a religion (or regard religion as the cornerstone of and passport into peoplehood).  If it’s a religion, then surely someone who practices Judaism is a Jew.  Stop the unseemly, invasive enquiries into the family tree and at least give those making the effort “the presumption of Jewishness”.

    Yes, there’s still lots of details and paperwork to be sorted out (e.g. we all want a formal process for someone to enter the tents of Jacob), but most of all we need a 180 degree change in attitude towards the intermarried.

    Once again, intermarriage is not the problem.  The attitude and approach towards the intermarried and their offspring is the problem.

    http://blog.maskil.info/

  8. Just so happens that I’m in the mist of writing a paper on just this subject and let me tell you that Ed Case is totally off base with this one.  I’m was married to a non-Jew, I’ve interviewed many intermarried couples and have found that more then less are NOT bringing their children as Jews, are not teaching their children about Judaism and do not seem to care what their children follow in the young or later life.  I’ve been there, I’ve done that and it does not work!  So Mr. Case, look around, ask people, see what’s really happening out there.

  9. The issue, with regard to Doreen’s post, is this: Yes, it may well be true that intermarried Jews are not raising their kids as Jews. As Maskil so eloquently points out, when intermarried couples are treated badly by Jewish communities, why would they even want to raise their children in that kind of hostile, unwelcoming environment? When intermarried couples are rejected, the children suffer. The children of intermarriage are the most obvious “low-hanging fruit” of any possible outreach demographic – yet we remain largely ignored. How can this possibly make any sense if the goal is Jewish continuity? How can anyone claim this is the goal while behaving in ways that directly inhibit achieving it? There is an insidious unspoken message in this behavior that only the “real” Jews are special enough to be allowed in the inner circle – that spiritual knowledge must be concealed and withheld from the unwashed masses. Meanwhile intermarriage, in and of itself, is not powerful enough to turn people away from Judaism. Narrowness and judgment turn people away. By all appearances this is exactly the desired outcome. If tikkun olam is about bringing more love into the world, this is not how to do it.

  10. I am pleased to report that the MASA ad campaign has been pulled according to [url=http://blogs.jta.org/philanthropy/article/2009/09/08/1007698/jewish-agency-changes-course-on-masa-ad]a JTA article with statements from MASA[/url].

    The JTA article refers to [url=http://blogs.forward.com/jj-goldberg/113535/]a great blog post[/url] on the issue by the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg, who linked to our initial post, among others.

  11. It’s unbelivable to me that an ad that promotes Jewish marriage is controversial.  Intermarriage is a problem when statistics show that only 10% of grandchildren of intermarried couples identify as Jews.  I’m no way attacking the non-Jewish spouse or the children.  The children should be welcomed into the Jewish community if they want to live a Jewish life.  

    I don’t blame the non-Jewish spouses if they don’t care or want their children to be brought up as Jews.  They have every right to pass their religion and heritage to their children just as much as their Jewish spouse.  I’m bothered by what I see as bullying from a lot of Jewish men who pressure their non-Jewish fiances to negate their traditions and bring up their children as Jews.  It’s especially infuriating when the Jewish spouses were not even observant to begin with.   Jewish marriage is the best way to achieve a Jewish household.

  12. Dear The Truth: Maybe marrying Jewish is the best way to cultivate a Jewish household – but what is the best way to create a loving household that upholds the values we cherish – like kindness, recognition of multiple paths to God, respect for the natural world of which we are a part, our own spiritual evolution, the “radical amazement” spoken of by Heschel and a reverence for the miracle of life – what is the best way to make a more [b]loving[/b] world? I agree only narrowness would cause a person to foist his traditions on a partner – or anyone else, for that matter. If what we’re interested in, ultimately, is making a better world and becoming more aware of God in our daily lives, surely we can recognize that Judaism is a means to that end (what are we here for?) not an end in itself – and thus respect other traditions while honoring our own – ?

  13. Dear Friends:

    I was so disturbed by the MASA ad that I accepted the kind invitation of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) of Reform Judaism to write an article about it for their blog:

    http://www.irac.org/blog/post/Intermarr … ppers.aspx

    In the article I outline how damaging such anti-intermarriage advertising is to the adult children and other descendants of intermarriage, and how ruinous it is for Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jews.

    I also discuss how the $800,000 wasted on this ad campaign by MASA would have been a windfall for three small Israeli Jewish organizations fighting Israel’s discrimination against its own thousands of intermarried Jews and their spouses and adult children.

    Sincerely,
    Robin Margolis
    http://www.half-jewish.net

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